by Cynthia Chow
This week we have a group of Christmas mysteries for holiday reading-Dying in a Winter Wonderland: A Year-Round Christmas Mystery by Vicki Delany, The Gift of the Magpie: A Meg Langslow Mystery by Donna Andrews, Mistletoe, Moussaka, and Murder: A Kebab Kitchen Mystery by Tina Kashian, and Mrs. Morris and the Ghost of Christmas Past: A Salem B&B Mystery by Traci Wilton. 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.
Dying in a Winter Wonderland: A Year-Round Christmas Mystery by Vicki Delany
Review by Cynthia Chow
After being forced out of her dream life as a lifestyle magazine editor in Manhattan, Merry Wilkinson never expected that she would find so much joy opening up Mrs. Claus’s Treasures in her hometown of Rudolph, New York. On Christmas Eve it would take a lot to dampen Merry’s spirits during the busiest time and highlight of her Christmas-themed town. Well, Luanne Ireland is a lot. The spoiled young woman initially hired Merry to be her wedding planner/consultant for a summer wedding, but now the bridezilla insists on moving her wedding up to being in just seven weeks to snag her dream wedding venue. Along with the rapid time escalation comes a massive increase in guests and and expenses, and it becomes readily apparent that the bride is more enamored of the wedding event than of her intended groom. A drunken Luanne crashes a Wilkinson family dinner to embarrassingly declare her love for Merry’s brother Chris, and she is followed by a jealous fiancé who punches Chris out. The timing couldn’t be worse for all involved, not just for Chris, but especially for the intended groom who ends up murdered.
While Merry would for once prefer to let the police take over the investigation, Luanne’s hysterical antics place Chris at the forefront of the suspect list. Leaving her beloved curio shop in the hands of her acerbic assistant manager, Merry quickly discovers that the late Jeff Vanderhaven and his family had more than their share of enemies. The Vanderhavens were not only involved in a land scheme to build an amusement park in Rudolph’s rival town of Muddle Harbor, an enraged ex-girlfriend was intent on declaring that she was Jeff’s true love. Merry’s own boyfriend Alan Anderson continues to be the ideal toymaking boyfriend for a woman whose father is the town’s Santa, and they become a delightful team as they investigate by attending impromptu high school reunions that lead to a New Year’s Eve confrontation.
Now more than ever readers will be looking forward to a Christmas-themed mystery that can be enjoyed all year round. The self-centered Luanne refreshingly evolves into a much more sympathetic character, sprinkling in moments of humor as well as frustration. Eventually Merry is going to have to confront her managing skills – or lack of them – that are costing her good employees due to her power-mad assistant. Merry’s Saint Bernard, Matterhorn, along with her Christmas-named family members, enhance the setting with the perfect amount of cozy, holiday good will. The mystery is deftly plotted and carries the reader along by adding numerous red herrings while continually laying out clues. This charming and fun novel crafted by a reliable and prolific author is the perfect gift one needs to start off the holiday season.
The Gift of the Magpie: A Meg Langslow Mystery by Donna Andrews
Review to Cynthia Chow
It wouldn’t be Christmas if blacksmith Meg Langslow didn’t have a hundred things to do and no time to do them. This year has amped up and extended her List-that-tells-her-to-breath as a result of the well-intentioned Ladies’ Interfaith Council’s Helping Hands for the Holidays. Something of a Make-A-Wish program for adults (but without the accompanying terminal illness), Helping Hands assigns volunteers to do good deeds repairing homes, running errands, and completing major projects. It has fallen to Meg to tackle the hoarding home of Harvey the Hoarder, whose relatives are threatening to call Adult Protective Services. Harvey Dunlop’s neighbors are none too pleased either with the state of his property-value-lowering house, but it’s apparently a random spittoon that falls and leads to his fatal head injury.
As Meg juggles the growing list of Helping Hands tasks, she also has the Christmas Carnival and her husband’s one-man staged production of A Christmas Carol to attend. As Harvey’s avaricious relatives descend on the property demanding entry and carting off his belongings, Meg is enlisted by the police to again use her natural investigative skills to navigate through the motives and shenanigans of these infiltrators.
After twenty-seven previous entries in this delightful series, readers should be prepared for the usual dozen tasks Meg must handle in order to keep her family and the town of Caerphilly running. Grandfather is currently obsessed with the return of the magpies he’s been studying, Corvidae avians he believes have been unjustly lured away by cousin Rose Noire. Meg’s uber-organized mother is one of the leaders helping to sort through Harvey’s deluge of belongings, while Meg’s twin sons are on a mission to find everyone the perfect present. These are characters whom readers have grown to love and just love spending time with as they engage in hilarious antics and normal chaos. This has always been one of my favorite mystery series at the top of my To-Read list, and every installment never fails to entertain with its unique plots and usual pandemonium.
Mistletoe, Moussaka, and Murder: A Kebab Kitchen Mystery by Tina Kashian
Review by Cynthia Chow
Lucy Berberian and Katie Watson are best friends. It would take a best friend to get them both agreeing to run into 40 degree water for a charity Polar Bear Plunge into the ocean, where they are joined by many of the business owners in Ocean Crest, New Jersey. It’s a generous act that also gives Lucy a distraction from planning her upcoming wedding to Azad Zakarian, head chef at her family’s Mediterranean restaurant. That Azad is her parents’ dream fiancé for their daughter is as much a detraction as it is an asset, especially in light that as the manager Lucy will continue to work side-by-side with her future husband. Her mother’s success as a matchmaker continues with baker Susan Cutie and Jake Burns, but Deacon Spooner seems intent on destroying all of their planned dreams. Not only does Deacon’s outrageous pricing put a kabosh on Lucy’s hopes for a wedding reception at his Sea View historical estate, his drowning during the Polar Bear Plunge places Susan high on the suspect list as his murderer. Deacon’s lies about a ruined wedding jeopardized Cutie’s Cupcakes reputation and future, and Susan’s own threats back make hothead focus of the investigating detectives.
Infuriated that so many other suspects may be ignored in place of an easy arrest, Lucy quickly begins tracking down the many bridezillas and businesses with reasons to have wanted Deacon dead. Azad and her friends patiently accompany and often enable Lucy’s investigations as they manage to incorporate them into actual wedding planning. What is as alarming to Lucy as a roaming murderer are her worries about her marriage to Azad and fears that they could become her parents. A lifetime of living and working together has the senior Berberians seeming to love fighting as much as they do making up afterwards, and that’s the last thing Lucy wants for her life.
Author Tina Kashian makes this Christmas-themed must a standout by adding a Mediterranean twist to the traditional holiday delights. Lucy’s Armenian-Lebanese-Greek background and lack of general cooking skills have her learning family recipes from her mother, and readers will be able to enjoy not just the step-by-step descriptions but recipes of moussaka and pilaf at the end. Family is everything for the Kebab Kitchen restaurant, and especially during the holidays, they stand by another and support their endeavors. Drug dealers in high schools, bridezillas, and wedding dress shopping all threaten to put an early end to Lucy’s Christmas, but stubbornly supportive friends and family will save her from becoming a Grinch. While Lucy may nearly stumble her way to a confrontation with the real killer, one never doubts her determination or loyalty. Christmas cooking, wedding planning, and the Berberian family escapades guarantees a delightfully fun holiday read.
Mrs. Morris and the Ghost of Christmas Past: A Salem B&B Mystery by Traci Wilton
Review by Cynthia Chow
On the 17th of December, Charlene Morris still isn’t quite feeling the spirit of Christmas. Her parents have been visiting Charlene in Salem, but in only two days her critical mother has been taxing her patience. At least the charity auction at Bella’s Italian Restorante benefiting the Felicity House for Children takes the focus off of Charlene, who donated a stay at her Bed-and Breakfast for the cause. Attracting the most attention is David Baldwin, the part-owner of the restaurant and recent winner of a ten-million-dollar lottery. It seems that outrageous wealth has brought David neither luck nor happiness, as there’s no one seems happy with the gifts that he hands out. His new, younger wife is rumored to have returned after straying with her personal trainer, David’s son comes for a handout, and the restaurant co-owner seems less-than-pleased with their business agreements. So when David is soon killed by a hit-and-run accident there is no shortage of suspects, or those looking for an immediate payout.
Unknown to most but what shouldn’t be surprising for a witch lore-filled town like Salem, Massachusetts, is that Charlene’s home is also the residence of Dr. Jack Strathmore, a ghost haunting the place of his murder. Jack isn’t shy about expressing his jealousy towards Salem Police Detective Sam Holden, and their romantic rivalry would be unreasonable even if Charlene wasn’t still mourning the death of her husband. When living Jack was somewhat younger than David, and the ghost’s knowledge of their high school proves to be as instrumental to their investigations as any paranormal interference. With a fortune at stake as the widow closes off the funds and charities are left hanging during Christmas, Charlene, Jack, Sam, and even her parents begin putting together puzzle pieces that will hopefully end in brining good will to all.
This charming third in the mystery sees Charlene moving through her grief and embracing her new life in Salem. The family she has created within her bed-and-breakfast helps her to mend bridges with her own parents, especially the mother who truly does want what’s best (or what she thinks is best) for her daughter. It may not be in the town of Chicago, though, as Salem and its rich history is proving to be an entrancing draw for the recovering widow. Even Jack may finally be coming to accept his no-longer-living status, although that does not include being gracious to the police detective. Holiday celebrations, Christmas preparations, and charitable actions to those needing it ensure that this mystery is as seasonal as it is a compelling mystery read.
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 reading” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen December 12, 2020. 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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