Brownies and Broomsticks by Bailey Cates

For the next in my foodie magic series, I’ve picked up the first in a series of murder mysteries set in and around a magical bakery store.

Brownies and Broomsticks

“We’re going to sell a ton of these,” I said to Lucy as she came back into the kitchen, fuzzy feline safely ensconced back at her and Ben’s town house.

She peered over my shoulder and breathed deep. “Don’t I know it. But let’s add a little something to ensure that.”

“Maybe some bacon?” I laughed. “Because everything’s better with bacon, right?”

“I was thinking more along the lines of this.” She retrieved a Mason jar full of dried greenery from a shelf in the overflowing pantry. “Sage. From my garden.”

“Sage and cheddar are a great combination,” I agreed. “We should try that.”

The front door jingled open. Quickly, I wiped my hands on a towel and walked out front. Behind me, Lucy said something. I stopped and turned. She stood over my scone dough, crumbling dried sage from the Mason jar into it and muttering under her breath.

When Katie Lightfoot moves to Savannah to open a bakery with her aunt and uncle, she’s well aware that it will involve a lot of hard work. The appearance of a deeply unpleasant woman demanding they cater her event before the store is even open comes as a surprise, but it isn’t beyond the realms of her experience. But what she isn’t expecting is for that same woman to turn up murdered almost on their doorstep… or for her aunt to reveal that she’s a witch.

When I’m not reading fantasy and sci fi, I often enjoy curling up with a gentle murder mystery, and I have a particular soft spot for culinary mysteries — since I used to work as a baker myself, the early mornings and food prep details are all very familiar to me. While I was looking for books featuring foodie magic, I happened across this series, which blends magical elements into the cozy mystery format.

This book sticks to pretty much all the standard tropes of the modern culinary cozy. It’s set in a small town with a close-knit community, and when our baker-heroine happens across a body, someone she loves is suspected of the crime. With little help from the local police, she must use nothing more than her wits to save the day and clear his name. Well… almost. In this case, Katie can draw on her wits and a light sprinkling of magic, with the help of her aunt’s book club, and a magical heritage she’s only just discovering. But magic aside, there’s a lot of familiar ground here, including the obligatory love triangle, and plenty of delectable treats described in mouthwatering detail (with a couple of recipes in the back).

Magic in this book is grounded heavily in Wiccan practice, with its amalgamation of candles and herb lore, spellwork and tarot cards. Of the book club witches, each has her own strengths and specialisms, and they work together to support one another’s magic. My one concern within this group was the frankly racist attitude that some of the other witches display towards Cookie, a Haitian woman, and the magic associated with her Voodoo background; although this is realistic, in that such prejudice does exist, it felt a bit out of place in an otherwise feel-good read. Katie, coming in to the community from outside, gives us an observer’s perspective on the interpersonal politics, even as she’s trying to learn her own place in the magical community.

Katie is a great character, with a lot more common sense than many other heroines in the cozy genre: although she does go charging into danger to look for evidence, she isn’t above asking for help to do so, meaning she takes fewer risks than most. She applies her level-headed approach to the matter of magic, too, approaching the idea with a healthy skepticism that is gradually worn down by the evidence. I was less convinced by the two love interests, who are both very persistent in the face of Katie’s polite requests that they tone it down as she’s on a break from romance following a bad break-up, but as always with these series, it will be interesting to see how the relationships develop over the course of future books.

The mystery plot itself has a satisfying number of twists and false leads to keep things interesting, and the magic doesn’t provide a shortcut to the solution — only a few hints along the way. Overall, Brownies and Broomsticks is a cute, quick read that will happily fill a space on my shelf of “comfort reading”.

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