I'm super pleased to have Ellen Byron visiting my blog today. When I finished the final Catering Hall mystery, I admit sadness creeped in. What would I read next? I should have known the prolific Ms. Byron would have another yummy book before long. In fact, she came up with a new series! I have a few questions for the author before I give you a mini review of her latest book, Bayou Book Thief, A Vintage Cookbook Mystery.
Bon Vee, the family home out of which Ricki James-Diaz runs her vintage cookbook shop is infused with the spirit of Vee Charbonnet, the legendary restauranteur and chef who revived the Charbonnet’s
family business and social standing after decades of decline. Is she based on a real person?
She is! Vee is inspired by Ella Brennan, scion of New Orleans’ most famous restaurant family, the Brennans. Ella began working in her brother Owen’s restaurant in the French Quarter when she was nineteen. When he passed away unexpectedly, she helped keep his restaurant going. In 1973, there was falling-out in the family and Ella went her own way, taking over and revitalizing the iconic Commander’s Palace Restaurant in the Garden District. The family eventually patched things up and Ella visited the flagship Brennan’s restaurant in 2014 for the first time in almost forty years.
That's a long grudge. Speaking of characters who might hold a grudge...Theo, nephew of family matriarch Euginia Charbonnet, is, well, the reader won’t know whether to love him or hate him. At the end of the book, there’s a hint of redemption. Will Theo become an accepted member of the gang? Or is it too soon to tell?
Yes and no. How’s that for an answer? He is a member of the gang. But he can also still be very annoying, lol.
Throughout the story, some characters place an emphasis on family name and social standing. Is this
something you’ve found prevalent today in both LAs? Louisiana and Los Angeles?
From my experience, the two cities couldn’t be more opposite. While New Orleans still has a fairly rigid social structure, Los Angeles seems to have none. I think because New Orleans’ social scene is so tied to Mardi Gras – the maids and queens in the Krewe courts are local debutantes – it’s more visible than in many cities. They even televise the meetings of the kings of the two most famous Krewes, Comus and Rex, at the end of their balls, which signifies the end of Mardi Gras. There may be debutantes around Los Angeles somewhere – Pasadena, for sure, where there’s “old money” - but you never really hear about them. In Los Angeles, there’s never any publicity about the socialites who attended big galas, like there would be in New Orleans, New York, or even San Francisco. Here in LaLaLand, you only hear the names of celebrities.
Ricki’s late husband, host of the Cris-azy! reality show dies after an extremely embarrassing (and hysterical) stunt involving marshmallows. What’s the craziest thing you’ve witness in Hollywood? (Okay. Hearing about it second hand counts, too.)
I can’t think of anything I witnessed but I will tell one of my favorite stories. There was an assistant casting director on a show I worked on whose main claim to fame with the staff was that she’d once had a fling with Eagles musician Don Henley. She told me that in the 80s or 90s, she somehow wound up at an all-girls slumber party hosted by Madonna. The one thing all nine or ten women had in common? They’d all had flings with Don Henley!
I have to admit. You had me at Vintage Cookbooks. Why do you think cooking and cookbooks connect people?
It’s the emotional tied to the familial. We all – or almost all of us – can remember our parents or grandparents using a specific cookbook for meals, or a particular recipe that evokes fond memories. I remember having sleepover dates with friends where we made caramels or taffy from “Joy of Cooking” recipes. I’ll always have a special place in my heart for The Peanuts Cookbook, which my mother bought for my brother. To this day, the recipe for Lucy’s Lemon Squares is the best one I’ve ever used for that treat.
When will the next in the series be available? (I know. I know. I just finished the first book.)
It’s available for pre-order at this very minute!
Thank you, Ellen. And now, on to my review.
Bayou Book Thief Mini Review
Cozy author Ellen Byron is back with a new series, and readers should hold onto their hats.
The debut novel in the Vintage Cookbook Mysteries, Bayou Book Thief, takes place in New Orleans, home to food-loving free spirits. Ricki James-Diaz, recovering from two personal tragedies,
flees Los Angeles and returns to her birthplace, seeking to start over.
She opens a vintage cookbook store in Bon Vee, the ancestral home of the Charbonnet family, where tourists eagerly visit the former home of Vee Charbonnet, a New Orleans legend known for her cooking and her character. When an irritating tour guide turns up dead, Ricki winds up gathering clues for the short-staffed police force.
Byron’s love for Louisiana shows in her descriptions of the people and locations. And the food! Fortunately, the author includes recipes in the back of the book. But she doesn’t give LA a free pass. Both Los Angeles, CA, and New Orleans, LA, are in for some gentle chiding. Characters occasionally come close to swearing, which gives this novel a deliciously edgier tone than her Cajun Country mystery series. But cozy readers should have no fear. The series still abides by the usual rules—no explicit violence, sex, or swear words.
Bayou Book Thief introduces a new cast of quirky characters that will be a blast to follow. I’m looking
forward to the next in the series.