I have secrets, I have books, and now I have scones! I went through a phase at the turn of the decade when I read a lot of cozy mysteries. Like Nancy Martin’s Blackbird Sisters Mysteries, Laura Levine’s Jaine Austen Mysteries, Ellen Byerrum’s Crime of Fashion Mysteries – I had to look all of these up, I haven’t read any cozy mysteries since 2011. Though The Secret, Book, and Scone Society doesn’t exactly have the same feel as the ones mentioned. But I was very much attracted to the title; when you judge books by their covers, it encompasses much more than just the physical cover. I love books, I love scones, and secrets make literature oh so interesting/frustrating.
The Secret, Book, and Scone Society is about a fictional town with healing properties. Visitors come hoping to cure their ills. The story launches with an out-of-towner being killed. He ordered a scone from the baker and made an appointment with the bookstore owner, Nora, before being pushed off a cliff. The sheriff is pushing to rule his death a suicide. But the bookstore owner is doesn’t believe that, and neither does the baker. So they team up with two other friends to prove the murder.
“Stories are just like people. If you don’t approach them with an open mind and a healthy dose of respect, they won’t reveal their hidden selves to you. In that event, you’ll miss out on what they have to offer. You’ll walk through life an empty husk instead of a vibrant kaleidoscope of passion, wisdom, and experience.”
I don’t know if this book would qualify as magic realism, but there is a tiny hint of it. The Scone in the title are the signature “comfort scones” the baker customizes for each person, designed to heal you emotionally. There aren’t any secret or magical ingredients; the combination of those ingredients reminds you of happier times and helps you become at peace with where you are now.
The bookstore owner is a self-taught bibliotherapist, who recommends books to help you through what is weighing heavily on you. We already know how life-changing books are, so this is a more intentional use of that magic. But back to the scones.
I haven’t made scones in a long time. Okay, so I’ve only ever made them once. Which is a shame, considering how much I love jam and clotted cream. Scones feature prominently throughout this book; the baker makes a comfort scone for nearly every character. She used all kinds of mix-ins for other people, but she made Nora a plain scone sandwiching mixed berry jam. The recipe I used is adapted from Bigger Bolder Baking. (As mentioned in my last food-related post, I rewrite recipes for myself.)
4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup unsalted butter, frozen
6 tsp baking powder
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup milk
2 eggs, beaten
Jam, to serve
Preheat oven to 425°F, line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
In a large bowl, whisk flour and baking powder.
Grate frozen butter into the flour mixture.
Mix with hands until crumbly.
Stir in the sugar.
In separate bowl, whisk the milk and eggs.
Pour half the milk mixture into the flour, stirring with a spoon or mixing with hands.
Add more milk a little at a time, until a dough forms.
Transfer the dough to a floured surface and press dough to 1 1/2 inches thick.
Cut scones out with 2-inch round cookie cutters.
Place on baking sheet, and glaze tops with the remaining milk and egg mixture.
Bake for 20 minutes until golden brown.
Cool on wire rack; serve warm or fully cooled with jam.
Coincidentally, Nora’s comfort scone happens to be how I like my scones – plain with a bit of jam. And a lot of clotted cream, but I don’t have clotted cream nor the time to try making it for the first time. The jam is strawberry, since that is what I have on hand.
The Secret, Book, and Scone Society started off slowly (despite the murder happening in Chapter 1). It was sort of a plodding pace, without a sense of urgency, and very little danger in the beginning. The author focused more on developing the characters than on the actual murder, which is fine, especially if this is the start of a new series. It started picking up about halfway through the book, with the anxiety for the characters starting at around the three-fourths mark. It’s definitely more of a “cozy armchair by a fireplace” read than an “edge of your seat omg please don’t die” novel.
The antagonists were very one-dimensional. I’ve gotten sophisticated enough in my reading that I would like to relate a bit to the villains, to feel empathy for how they ended up being the bad guys, while still rooting for justice to be served. I don’t like going into and coming out of a book feeling like the antagonists deserved to die. And that’s how I felt about these characters, from beginning to end.
While I know the entire story is built around secrets that we are ashamed to share with even those closest to us, lack of communication frustrates the hell out of me. We are living in 2018, people need to be woke about these things! Has no one learned anything from Romeo and Juliet? (Romeo and Juliet is not a love story, much less the greatest love story of all time.)
Beyond that, not a bad read overall. I give it 3.5 stars. And will probably check out the next book in the series.
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What’s your favorite scone? What murder-mystery series do you enjoy/recommend?