by Cynthia Chow
& Sandra Murphy
This week we have a fun group Christmas mysteries for your holiday reading-It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Murder: A Catering Hall Mystery by Maria DiRico, Twisted Tea Christmas: A Teashop Mystery by Laura Childs, Death at Holly Lodge: A Daisy Thorne Mystery by Louise R. Innes, and Murder at the Christmas Cookie Bake-Off: A Beacon Bakeshop Mystery by Darci Hannah. Details at the end of this post on how to enter to win a copy of all 4 books and links to purchase them at the end of each review–you may not be able to see the Amazon links if you have ad blocker on.
It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Murder: A Catering Hall Mystery by Maria DiRico
Review by Sandra Murphy
Some neighborhoods have a friendly rivalry as to whose Christmas decorations are the best. Then there’s Astoria where over the top is just the beginning. Mia’s grandmother is a diehard decorator in competition with other neighborhoods, and she’s determined to win, by whatever means necessary. She’s even converted the new neighbors to her extreme decorating style.
Mia knows there’s no use trying to corral her grandmother. At work at the catering hall, Mia’s got her hands full with a secretary whose goal is to never work but be paid well, a hysterical teenage girl who’s planning her Sweet Sixteen party, and a one year old celebrating his first birthday with the Nativity-themed party his parents have their hearts set on.
Mia’s always been about to count on Jamie’s friendship, based on common interests like keeping their parents out of jail. It’s not just family, it’s Family. Now that Mia’s father has gone straight, she’s determined to keep him legit. In her spare time, she visits her brother in jail. His path has been known to take a wrong turn or two.
Jamie learns his parents have kept a secret from him since he was born. Angry, he spends time with Lorenzo, who claims to be Jaime’s long-lost brother. Lorenzo says he has DNA proof, but Mia thinks his story has more holes than Swiss cheese.
When a body turns up in Santa’s workshop, part of a holiday display in a neighbor’s yard, it spells trouble for all concerned. To keep the peace in the Family, Mia agrees to investigate. Making matters worse, Mia’s mother who she rarely speaks to or sees, drops by for a visit but isn’t in a hurry to leave.
This is the second book in the series. I love Mia. It’s a wonder she keeps a shred of sanity with all that goes on but she manages. All she has to do is solve the murder, reunite Jamie with his parents, rein in her grandmother with the decorations (that’s a losing battle), and keep the catering hall running smoothly even though there are live Nativity animals including one pregnant goat and a herd of ‘I’m so cool, I gotta look bored’ teenagers. Mia is vying for a permanent position on my Best of the Year’s Reviews list. Fire up the Christmas lights, grab a hot drink and some cookies, and try to keep up with Mia and her Family.
Recipes include: three cheese baked rigatoni, shrimp, crab, and artichoke cavatelli, almond Florentine lace cookies, rummy tiramisu, Christmas frittata, mushroom pasta alla carbonara, and Christmas tarrali (filled cookies, in this case, grape jam). There are also event tips so your parties run smoother than some Mia’s hosted.
Twisted Tea Christmas: A Teashop Mystery by Laura Childs
Review Sandra Murphy
Theodosia and Drayton are catering a posh event, a Victorian Christmas, for Drucilla Heyward, one of the wealthiest women in Charleston. The elderly woman is decked out in diamonds and Tiffany earrings and having the time of her life. She confides in Theodosia, she’s going to give away large portions of her wealth and will announce the plan at the party.
The security alarm goes off but Drucilla said not to worry, it happens. She quickly turned it off and went back to the party. When the loud buzzing started again, only moments later, the noise continued. Theodosia went to find the alarm box to turn it off and instead, found Drucilla on the floor. Thinking she’d collapsed, Theo tries to help, only to discover a syringe stuck in Drucilla’s throat. A happy event, turned sad, is really murder.
With so many guests, it’s a suspect nightmare but the main question is, who would have had a syringe with them? Drucilla’s diamonds are missing and mysteriously, a reputed Renoir off the hallway wall. It’s not something a thief could conveniently hide in a pocket. This just might be the case Theodosia can’t solve—it’s also the first time ever than the cranky Detective Tidwell asks for her assistance instead of warning her off.
This is book twenty-three in the popular series. Theo’s business is booming thanks to Drayton’s knowledge of teas, Haley’s fine Southern cooking, and Theo’s own creativity in finding tea-related items for the retail portion of the tea shop. Find the recipes for fried coffee cake, lobster hush puppies, hot crab dip, lemon cream scones, fried green tomatoes, pork chops with apples, chicken and chutney tea sandwiches, holiday cranberry sauce, shrimp cheese ball, eggnog, fudge, ham glaze, and pumpkin pecan dump cake, at the back of the book. There are also tea time tips for six different tea parties and a list of tea resources as well as a visitor’s guide to Charleston.
Childs has written the Scrapbooking mysteries (16), the Cackleberry Club series (9), two anthologies, and two Afton Tangler Thriller books. Most have been reviewed here.
Death at Holly Lodge: A Daisy Thorne Mystery by Louise R. Innes
Review by Sandra Murphy
Daisy Thorne’s official job is owner of the Ooh La La hair salon in Edgemead, England. Secretly, she loves solving crimes. Now that she’s passed her test on profiling criminals, she’s surprised and delighted when DCI Paul McGuinness asks her to accompany him during his investigation.
Daisy is visiting friends Floria and Mimi at the old Holly Lodge. It’s been vacant for years and needs a complete rehab but Mimi’s an international pop star and can afford it. As the trio are taking the tour, a loud crash is heard and that can’t mean anything good.
The workmen found boards up inside the fireplace. Pulling them down, they got more than they bargained for when the dead body of Santa tumbled out, too. The Santa lookalike was murdered. It was thought at the time, two years ago, the man had run off with his barmaid girlfriend, leaving his wife and daughter behind.
It’s Christmas again. The village is decorated and experiencing a rare snow. During the annual sale in the square, the killer strikes again. Daisy and McGuinness are having a hard time connecting the two murders. Will they solve the case before the real Santa makes an appearance?
This is book three in the series. The attraction between Daisy and McGuinness is apparent to them both but he seems to be at a loss as to what to do about it. Luckily, Daisy is willing to take a chance. Readers will look forward to book four to find out what happens next. Of course, the hair salon is the meet and gossip location for the village making it easy for Daisy to gather clues, especially with Krish, one of her hairdressers who loves dish the dirt.
Get yourself in the mood for the holidays, minus murders, of course, with a trip to England to catch up with Daisy and all her friends.
Murder at the Christmas Cookie Bake-Off: A Beacon Bakeshop Mystery by Darci Hannah
Review by Cynthia Chow
Despite a history of ovens breaking down, decorated trees falling over, and cakes being eaten by a Newfoundland puppy, Lindsey Bakewell is determined that this year will be the year that the family Christmas is perfect. Clark Griswold-level outdoor lights, delicious holiday baking, happy visiting parents, the works. Running the Beacon Bakeshop out of a lighthouse on the shore of Lake Michigan definitely has her running on all cylinders, especially since she’s short an assistant baker during one of the busiest times of the year. Throwing yet another wrench in Lindsey’s plans to avoid chaos is the surprise announcement by an ebullient Felicity Stewart that there will be a town Great Beacon Harbor Christmas Cookie Bake-Off, in just one week. As the owner of the year-round Christmas specialty Tannenbaum Shoppe, Felicity goes overboard during “her” time of the year, and for this holiday she has brought in celebrity food critic Chevy Chambers to judge the event. Seeing this more of a tourist-attracting promotional event than wanting to actually compete in the televised bakeoff competition finale, many store owners quickly inundate Lindsey and her bakery for specialty cookies to offer as entries. There are definitely those vying for the blue ribbon, though, and a lecherous Chevy Chambers seems to have no problem offering ways to influence his vote.
Lindsey’s dreams for her first perfect Christmas are in dire jeopardy when cookies are stolen and a frenetic Felicity attempts to get her disqualified. In what seems to be another attempt to lock Lindsey out of the competition, she is locked in a storeroom and nearly misses the winning announcement. It turns out that the decision will never be made though, as a romantic interlude under the mistletoe with her beau Rory Campbell instead has the couple discovering Chevy’s dead body. A note and one of Lindsey’s signature lemon cookies were used as bait to lure Chevy to his death, so she can’t help but feel that she as much as Chevy was targeted. With her young assistant shop clerks able to help run the shop while an absolute treasure of Mrs. Nichols as the new assistant baker, Lindsey has the time to investigate the shenanigans of a less-than-honorable television cooking show host. Her best friend Kennedy Kapoor enthusiastically enables Lindsey as they question contestants and rivals, but this is as much to taunt and torment Rory as it is to help Lindsey. Lumberjack-looking Rory good-naturedly joins along in their escapades, while Lindsey’s parents and neighbors become a senior Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys mashup.
This second in the series by the prolific author of cozy and historical mysteries transports readers into this envious Beacon Harbor town during the Christmas season. Lindsey’s oversized Newfie pup Wellington is joined by her parents’ Westies Ireland and Brinkley, both who were named after the retired model’s famous rivals. The banter between Rory, Kennedy, and Lindsey are hilarious without being mean, perfectly establishing the bond between friends and their significant others. A particular highlight of this novel are the descriptions of Lindsey’s bakery creations, with recipes for the many cookie entries included at the end. The mystery spins into an unexpected direction that should catch readers completely off-guard and set up an unexpected ending and reveal. For readers who are always hungry for holiday foodie mysteries, this is a mouth-watering gift full of giggles, clever plot twists, and charming characters.
To enter to win a copy of all 4 books, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “christmas” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen December 4, 2021. U.S. residents only, and you must be 18 or older to enter. If you are entering via email please include you mailing address in case you win, it will be deleted after the contest. You can read our privacy statement here if you like. BE AWARE THAT IT MAY TAKE MUCH LONGER THAN USUAL FOR WINNERS TO GET THEIR BOOKS DUE TO THE CURRENT CRISIS.
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