by Sandra Murphy
& Cynthia Chow
This week we have reviews and giveaways of a fun group of Christmas mysteries, along with a couple of non holiday mysteries-Death of a Russian Doll: A Vintage Toyshop Mystery by Barbara Early, The Peppermint Mocha Murder: A Chocolate Whisperer Mystery by Colette London, In Peppermint Peril: A Tea and a Read Mystery by Joy Avon, Death in Paris: A Death in Paris Mystery by Emilia Bernhard, and Mardi Gras Murder: A Cajun Country Mystery by Ellen Byron. Details at the end of this post on how to enter to win a copy of all 5 books, along with links you can use to purchase them. Amazon links are not visible if you have ad blocker turned on for your browser.
Mardi Gras Murder: A Cajun Country Mystery by Ellen Byron
Review by Sandra Murphy
Mardi Gras on the bayou means parties, costumes, and good food, gumbo in particular. When a dead body shows up after sudden flooding at the Crozat Plantation, in Pelican, Louisiana, Maggie Crozat needs to find out who the dead man was and why he was on her family’s property.
Another victim of the flood is the opening for an exhibit about the Louisiana Orphan Train. It’s little known in modern times but orphans from the East Coast were shipped by train to potential employers or adopters in the Midwest and points beyond. Farmers and manufacturers got cheap labor, the kids got off the streets and into a home, and it was considered a winning situation for both parties—unless it wasn’t. Some of the children were treated more like slave labor than employees or family. Siblings were separated and seldom heard from since they had no idea where a brother or sister had gone.
Maggie has been persuaded (read roped into) being on the Miss Pelican Mardi Gras Gumbo Queen pageant committee in lieu of her Grandmother who is ill. She’s happy to help out but has a lot on her plate already. When a member of the committee is killed, Maggie is the only one who thinks it might be connected to the body from the flood.
This is the fourth book in the popular series and always the first I read when a package of books arrives. Maggie has more energy than the Energizer Bunny, more patience than a saint, and a curiosity that knows no bounds. Family comes first with her and that includes friends.
For a look into life on the bayou, a place where Mardi Gras is so much more than a mere event on the calendar, and history seamlessly woven into the storyline, this book will satisfy. Byron offers a “Lagniappe” (something given as a bonus or extra gift) with more fascinating information about the Orphan Train, Mardi Gras, and Louisiana’s festivals. There are also dueling potato salad recipes from Ellen Byron and Gaynell at the back along with Oyster Soup, Banana Bon Temps Cocktail, Banana Pancakes with Brown Sugar Butter, Easy-Peasy King (Bundt) Cake, and two Gumbo Recipes. Byron is a talented, witty, and entertaining writer whose series should have a long life.
Death of a Russian Doll: A Vintage Toyshop Mystery by Barbara Early
Review by Cynthia Chow
For someone with a fear of dolls – they always look as though they are nefariously planning to take over the world – working in a specialized toy store is probably not the ideal place of employment. It was a far too young viewing of a particularly traumatizing Twilight Zone episode that sparked Liz McCall’s phobia, but it’s something she’s going to have cope with as she continues work in her father’s Well Played vintage toyshop in East Aurora.
Liz’s holiday spirit is being challenged as they assist in repairing and restoring dolls for needy children, especially when it means cooperating with new hair stylist Marya Young. Marya had recently been introduced to Liz as the wife of East Aurora Police Chief Ken Young, which was shocking not just because Liz was dating Ken, but because he had failed to mention that he had ever been married at all. It only gets worse when Liz overhears the couple fighting, with Marya turning up strangled to death by a hairdryer cord the following day. When the mayor temporarily suspends Ken due to his personal connection, it is Liz’s retired police chief father who must once again resume his duties to investigate the murder of the Russian émigré.
Liz had thought that with her father’s retirement she was finally through with worrying about his dangerous and stressful occupation, and now she must again deal not just with that but with the possibility that her ex could be arrested for murder. Ken always objected to Liz’s involvement in the past, but there’s no way she can sit on the sidelines with so much at stake. When Liz learns that a local private investigator was also interested in Marya’s activities, she manages to finagle her way in assisting, unexpectedly finding herself in the middle of senior speed dating and battling between Ken’s extremely protective guard-dog-like sisters. The arrival of an FBI accountant sparks up both the investigation and Liz’s interest, although she already has her hands full with a handsome prospective donor. When even Ken tosses out feelers about possibly restarting their relationship, it becomes of an example of when it rains, it floods.
The humor of this novel is outstanding, with Liz’s wry commentary and observations resulting in more than one laugh-out-loud moment. Liz and her father’s genuine appreciation for puns delivers some good-natured eye-rolling moments, although nothing can top the use of “Claus-trophobic.” They have a natural and respectful relationship with one another, which makes Liz’s concern with his resuming a law enforcement career understandable, as it stems from a lifetime of missed childhood events and fears for his safety. This balance of heartfelt emotions and humor ensures that this is yet another rewarding mystery by the author, who also writes under the name Beverly Allen. After all, who can resist a heroine who chugs cola and Pixy Sticks to stay awake, wears Wonder Woman and Batgirl pajamas, and is willing to use a grown man’s affection for My Little Pony as blackmail?
The Peppermint Mocha Murder: A Chocolate Whisperer Mystery by Colette London
Review by Cynthia Chow
For professional chocolate specialist – a chocolate whisperer, if you will – Hayden Mundy Moore, the Christmas season is the slowest time of the year. It’s when non-chocolately treats such as fruitcake and mince pies take over, leaving the compulsive problem-solver at loose ends and with too much time on her hands. It explains why she jumps at the offer to join Travis Turner on a trip back to his home in Sproutes, Massachusetts, although in truth Hayden didn’t really need a reason to learn more about her mysterious financial advisor.
Hayden revels in the chance to celebrate a true old-fashioned Christmas in New England, but Travis is returning to Sproutes to support his childhood best friend, Albany Sullivan. Albany wrote a best-selling fictionalized memoir of her life, and now it is being made into the musical theater Christmas in Crazytown and debuted in their hometown. From its title it can be assumed that Albany’s family may not entirely approve of their depictions, and it appears that someone may have taken lethal steps to stop production when Hayden finds one of the producers headfirst in a wassail punchbowl.
With the actress portraying Albany on hand, as well as a near look-alike jealous little sister, the actual intended target comes into question with so many clones running around Sproutes. Celebrity sitcom star Tansy Park claims to be in fear of a stalker, but her hiring a bodyguard is based more on the body protecting her than any actual threat. It’s more than just a happy coincidence that security expert Danny Jamieson has been hired to protect the sex symbol, but his presence promises that Hayden will finally have the perfect “Friendmas” celebrated with her two best buddies. That’s not to say that there isn’t a whole lot of confusing feelings and attraction ricocheting off between the trio, with a very stubborn Hayden vacillating between resisting the sparks and engaging in reckless flirtations. The best way for Hayden to avoid confronting her emotions is to investigate the murder, which has her curious monkey brain determined to solve puzzles and relentlessly furrow out secrets. That means delving into the personal life that Travis very much would like to keep private, confronting some very unwelcome feelings of competitive jealousy, and entering the world of Regional theater.
This continues to be an incredibly lively and intricately plotted mystery series full of clever banter and sparkly dialogue. As much as Hayden would like to pretend that her relationships with Danny and Travis are platonic – except for that one memorable incident – she’s going to have to face down her fears of entering into a serious relationship. New characters introduced come to life and are just as entertaining as our heroes, especially when they include local residents along with the visiting celebrities. Social media influencers, questionable law enforcement, and of course Hayden’s hilarious observations ensure for a read that is as entertaining as it is compelling. Hayden’s drive for justice, not to mention her often innocently blunt assertions, make her admirable and a delight. While this is a treat perfect for any time of the year, it also highlights the genuine love and affection between friends that delivers a true holiday “Friendmas.”
Everything with a “Peppermint-Mocha” twist! Bonus recipes are included with delightful “Notes from Hayden” to make your Treat special: Peppermint-Mocha Cookies with Peppermint-Vanilla Icing & Candy-Cane Sprinkles, Easy Peppermint-Mocha Fudge, Peppermint-Mocha Dipped Pretzels with Candy-Cane Crunch, Peppermint-Mocha No-Bake Mini Cheesecakes with Chocolate-Cookie Crust, and Supersize Peppermint-Mocha.
In Peppermint Peril: A Tea and a Read Mystery by Joy Avon
Review by Sandra Murphy
It’s Christmas time and Callie Aspen has returned home to Heart’s Harbor to spend time with her great-aunt Iphy who owns Book Tea. Each sweet contains a clue to a book and customers delight in trying to discover just which book it is.
When Callie arrives, it’s in time for a special tea party to where the rich but lonely widow Dorothea Finster plans to announce changes to her will, always a bad sign in any mystery book. However, her plans are hijacked when Sheila uses the event to announce her daughter’s engagement to an unsuspecting groom-to-be and an embarrassed bride-to-be. The flashy diamond ring is hidden in the cake just before it’s revealed so when the ring isn’t there, it causes quite a stir.
That is nothing compared to the excitement caused by finding a dead body in the conservatory. An arrest follows for the theft of the ring while police gather evidence of murder as well. Callie feels responsible since she was the last one to handle the ring before it disappeared.
With all the crimes, how will anyone enjoy the holiday season? And what did Dorothea plan to tell her relatives, friends, and enemies before she lost control of the party?
Callie and Iphy are people you’d like to know, especially since they love to make desserts. For a sure way to get in the holiday spirit, take a trip to Heart’s Harbor and hang out with them for a bit. Look for Sweet Tea and Secrets in June 2019. Put both books on your holiday wish list.
Death in Paris: A Death in Paris Mystery by Emilia Bernhard
Review by Sandra Murphy
If you’re an American, married and living in Paris, and you find out an old lover has died, of course, you’d be sad. If you find out he drowned in a bowl of soup, you’d also be curious, enough to plot with a friend to help find out if it was an accident or murder. After all, who drowns in soup? It’s almost a joke.
The police say an accident. Rachel says murder. She overhears a mourner at the funeral say there was a bottle of Rosé found on the table with the killer soup. It was well-known that Edgar hated Rosé and wouldn’t have it in the house. Unfortunately, finding suspects who did like it wasn’t the best way to eliminate possible killers.
The suspects include Edgar’s ex-wife who anticipated an inheritance, his current lover who was delighted by her mention in the will, his assistant who was shocked by being included, his son who was down and out, or an odd-looking pair of men who were seen near the apartment. A second death convinces Rachel she’s on the right track while the police are sure it was an accident, too.
Rachel and her friend ask more questions than are answered, arrive at conclusions, discard them, and start over as more information becomes available. See Paris through the eyes of an American who’s been there for many years while unraveling the mysterious death by soup. Rachel will be happy to show you around.
To enter to win a copy of all 5 books, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “christmas and more,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen December 8, 2017. U.S. residents only. If entering via email please include your mailing address (so if you win we can get the book sent right out to you), and if via comment please include your email address. You can read our privacy statement here if you like.
Check out other mystery articles, reviews, book giveaways & mystery short stories in our mystery section. And join our mystery Facebook group to keep up with everything mystery we post, and have a chance at some extra giveaways. Also listen to our new mystery podcast where mystery short stories and first chapters are read by actors! They are also available on iTunes and Google Play.
You can click on the links above to purchase any of these books from Amazon and the one below to purchase from Mysterious Galaxy. If you have ad blocker on you may not see the Amazon links:
Disclosure: This post contains links to an affiliate program, for which we receive a few cents if you make purchases. KRL also receives free copies of most of the books that it reviews, that are provided in exchange for an honest review of the book.