The Secret, Book, and Scone Society is a cozy mystery about four women trying to solve a murder in the small town of Miracle Springs, North Carolina. The water from Miracle Springs is reported to have healing powers so people flock to the town. The main character, Nora Pennington, owns the local bookstore and is a “bibliotherapist”. As a bibliotherapist, Nora listens to her customers’ troubles and then prescribes a series of books. If the books are read in the prescribed order, they should help the customer resolve their problems. Aiding Nora’s bibliotherapy is local baker Hester. Hester, after talking with a customer, makes a custom “comfort scone” that will remind the customer of long-forgotten happy memories.
The book begins with a property developer named Neil visiting Nora’s bookshop because he wants her help. Nora recommends he purchase a comfort scone and return for a bibliotherapy session. Later that day, Nora is told by local hair stylist Estella that Neil was hit by a train in an apparent suicide. Nora is immediately suspicious because Neil confided he was involved in some shady business and was thinking of confessing to the police. His business partners just happened to be on the train that hit him.
Nora, Hester, and Estella meet June, who works at the springs. June had recommended bibliotherapy to Neil after the springs failed to alleviate his worries. The four women decide to investigate Neil’s death since the local sheriff isn’t inclined. But, all four women have troubled pasts that make them scared of getting close to others. They decide the only way to trust one another is to share their deepest, darkest secrets.
By sharing their secrets and investigating Neil’s death, the four women become friends. They also realize by having isolated themselves for years, they don’t have people they can rely on. Investigating is dangerous and they don’t know who they can trust. This is made clear when Estella is arrested for murdering one of the other property developers.
Things I liked:
- The friendship between these four women. It felt authentic. They’d get along, support one another, but also rub each other the wrong way.
- The mystery was different. I read a review saying every other cozy has an evil developer plot but I haven’t read any. I don’t want to reveal the exact nature of the evil plan, but it’s apparently a thing that happens in real life.
- June and Estella seem like awesome people and I want to be their friends.
- The characters are flawed but also sympathetic.
- No one’s deep, dark secret was what I thought it would be.
Things I didn’t like:
- The sort-of magical realism of what Nora and Hester do. After reading a few of Nora’s bibliotherapy sessions, Nora’s work seemed less magical and more like a well-read person with high emotional intelligence offering reading advice. Although I was still annoyed that she’s never taken even one psychology course but is somehow able to prescribe the perfect books. Hester’s comfort scones defy all logical explanation. After a short conversation, that apparently doesn’t involve her asking the customer about their happiest memory, she can make a custom scone with flavors that invoke that memory. The rest of the book is realistic (for a cozy) and what Hester does is straight up magic. It doesn’t make sense in relation to everything else in the book.
- The book seems very reminiscent of Louise Penny’s Three Pines/Inspector Gamache series. At times, it seemed like Adams was trying to copy Penny’s style of prose, but it wasn’t a great copy. I find Penny’s writing lyrical whereas Adams seemed forced, kind of like when a person first starts writing and hasn’t found their rhythm. Miracle Springs had a slight Three Pines feeling in that damaged souls find comfort there.
- Everyone was so damaged and had so much baggage. Has no one heard of therapy? Like real therapy, with a licensed therapist.
- It took forever for the four character’s secrets to be revealed. And in the end, we still don’t know Nora’s boyfriend’s secret.
- All the literary references. They were scattered throughout the book and never explained, which made them seem like pretentious in-jokes. Sometimes the references didn’t make sense in relation to the passage. It left me wondering if I just didn’t understand the chapter or wasn’t well-read enough to understand how it related. A good book doesn’t make the reader feel stupid or uneducated.
All in all, it was an interesting book and held my attention. I’m willing to consider some of the rough spots were just part of setting up a new series. But I’m not sure I’ll continue with it.