by Cynthia Chow
& Sandra Murphy
This week we have reviews and giveaways of a bunch of Christmas mysteries to fill your Christmas stocking-Christmas Cocoa Murder by Carlene O’Connor, Maddie Day, Alex Erickson, Have Yourself a Beary Little Murder: Shamelessly Adorable Teddy Bear Mystery by Meg Macy, Marry Christmas Murder: Wedding Planner Mystery by Stephanie Blackmore, Christmas Cow Bells: A Buttermilk Creek Mystery by Mollie Cox Bryan, Silent Knit, Deadly Knit: A Knit & Nibble Mystery by Peggy Ehrhart, A Merry Murder by Kate Kingsbury, and a bonus giveaway of Read and Gone by Allison Brook which we reviewed in 2018. Details at the end of this post on how to enter to win a copy of all 7 books, along with links you can use to purchase them. If you have ad blocker on you won’t see the Amazon links at the end of each review.
Christmas Cocoa Murder by Carlene O’Connor, Maddie Day, Alex Erickson
Review by Cynthia Chow
Prepare for the holiday season with this trio of Christmas-themed mysteries featuring cups of hot chocolate that are as deadly as they are luscious. In Carlene O’Connor’s titular Christmas tale set in Ireland, Christmas Cocoa Murder, recent Templemore Garda College graduate Siobhan O’Sullivan is set to soon become a garda in her hometown of Kilbane, County Cork. Even though she is still working at her family-owned Naomi’s Bistro and preparing for the big Christmas extravaganza, Siobhan can’t resist the heart-breaking tale of a missing stolen dog. Promising to find the dog as her first case, Siobhan is quickly derailed by a crime that is definitely not keeping with the spirit of the season. A hot cocoa dunk tank was an absurd fundraising stunt even before it ended with death, and now that the town “Santy” is floating in the chocolaty concoction, Garda O’Reilly very reluctantly enlists Siobhan in his investigation to track down Santa’s killer. Siobhan finds that knowing everyone and everyone else’s business can be annoying, but it definitely helps when trying to find out who tried to kill their town’s Christmas Spirit.
In Maddie Day’s Christmas Cocoa and a Corpse, Robbie Jordan is eager to herald in the season with a festively decorated Pans ‘N Pancakes country store and diner. Unfortunately, an awkward dinner with an unpopular real estate owner and his wife leads to Robbie’s store being suspected of poisoning Jed Greenberg, with the result that all of her carefully prepared gift packets of Mexican Hot Chocolate are confiscated. Determined to clear her beloved store of any culpability, Robbie begins investigating a plant toxicologist, protective animal rescuer, and even the town mayor. As fun as the completely unpredictable mystery is the use of Southern Indiana’s diner food jargon. Adam and Eve on a raft (poached eggs on toast) and cowboy with whiskey down (western omelet with rye toast) may make some logical sense, but good luck with Noah’s boy run through a Wisconsin garden (ham and cheese sandwich with lettuce, tomato, and onion). At least heart attack on a rack (buttered biscuit with sausage gravy) is appropriate for this deliciously fun romp of a mystery.
Wrapping up the collection is Alex Erickson’s Death by Hot Chocolate, where a Christmas escape room becomes a literal locked-room mystery. Nudged along into participating in the trendy puzzle pastime by her friend Rita Jablonski, bookstore owner Krissy Hancock finds herself trapped with six suspicious strangers when their escape room host is poisoned by hot chocolate before they can complete their mission. Following the escape room clues will lead them not just to freedom, it will allow Krissy to put together the missing pieces to solve an elaborate murder.
All of these authors place their distinct and creative twist on the delicious chocolaty drink, making hot cocoa either the means or a McGuffin for murder. Get cozy under warm blankets and a comfy chair and enjoy this blend of seasonal tales perfect for any time of the year.
Have Yourself a Beary Little Murder: Shamelessly Adorable Teddy Bear Mystery by Meg Macy
Review by Cynthia Chow
The Silver Hollow Annual Tree Lighting and Festival of Lights Parade attracts visitors from all around Southern Michigan, and it’s only one of the holiday events being celebrated in the tourist-friendly town. Having recently won a Teddy Bear Keepsake Contest, the Silver Bear Shop and Factory is promoting their Beary Potter Keepsake wizard bear along with the theme of “The Magic of Christmas.” Having moved back from Ann Arbor after a painful divorce, Sasha Silverman is thrilled to help her family’s teddy bear business flourish, offering additional teddy bear repair clinics and special tours. Mayor Cal Bloom even dons a “Santa Bear” costume and serves as the mascot for the parade, but his recent re-election has some contesting the result with very little goodwill-to-all-mankind holiday cheer. When the bear-costumed-clad mayor is found dead on a bench before the parade, only Sasha’s father quickly stepping in to be a more mundane Santa Claus prevents a Grinch-like disaster for the children.
While the investigating detective reminds Sasha what happened the other times she meddled in murder – namely, nearly become a victim herself – her mother demands that Sasha clear Cal’s wife of suspicion. Despite early declarations that the mayor died by natural causes and that such a beloved man could never have been murdered, evidence quickly mounts indicating not just that Cal Bloom was murdered, but that there are a surfeit of suspects with motivations for wanting the mayor dead. Accusations of inappropriate behavior, hefty life insurance policy, disgruntled rival candidate, and discontent within the Bloom’s Funeral Home business all have Sasha juggling her investigation with a just-as-full holiday teddy bear production schedule. A Teddy Bear Cookie Bake-Off Contest, Bear-zaar sale event, and the re-marriage ceremony between her Aunt Eve and ex-husband all make for a to-do long enough to rival’s list of children naughty or nice.
This third in the appropriately named Shamelessly Adorable Teddy Bear Mystery series is perfect for the holidays, filled with descriptions of tasty Christmas meals, delicious cookies, and of course cleverly cute teddy bears. Suspects and plot twists abound, making the final reveal a surprise to even the most jaded mystery reader. Cookie contest saboteurs, a meddling mother, an ex returning with a new fiancé, and a massive ring threaten to make a Scrooge out of Sasha, but her supportive sister and friends keep her buoyant throughout the chaos. Boyfriend Jay Kirby even ventures through the snow to visit her from up north, although the woodworking classes he teaches away from Silver Hollow are forcing her to make decisions on their future. A thoroughly satisfying ending delivers the emotional moments one needs during the turbulent holiday season, ensuring that this is indeed an adorable and very witty Christmas mystery read.
Marry Christmas Murder: Wedding Planner Mystery by Stephanie Blackmore
Review by Cynthia Chow
Christmastime is professional wedding planner Mallory Shepherd’s favorite time of the year. To better enjoy the holiday, she and her sister Rachel block out the week between the Noel and New Year, ensuring that no stressful weddings are planned and that no bridezillas will disrupt their good cheer. Mallory’s best friend Olivia March would of course never be one of these, but her wedding to surgeon Toby Frank won’t be celebrated until the following spring. At least, that is until an overly-emotional Olivia declares her wish to be married before Christmas, and Mallory finds herself with just over two weeks to plan the perfect wedding.
The March family already had her attention with the Paws and Poinsettias animal shelter charity auction they were sponsoring, a fund-raiser in support of a wonderful cause even as it smoothes the way for the Marches into Port Quincy society. Not everyone is happy with the March Homes new developments in Pennsylvania, and the new housing tracts will undoubtedly change the cozy atmosphere of the small town. Adding to the chaos is another early holiday arrival, Mallory and Rachel’s stepfather and mother, the latter of whom is sure to strain their nerves with her well-intentioned meddling. Not only are Carole and Doug moving to her daughters’ hometown, Carole is intent on taking on a new career as a professional home stager. That means that Carole inserts herself into Mallory’s wedding, hoping to snag the March family’s home development business as clients. Which is very much a problem for their current home stager Lacey Adams, and even more of a problem for Carole when Lacey turns up dead. For not only has Carole managed to take over Lacey’s job barely a day after her death, Carole was the one who gave Lacey the poisoned Hawaiian blue punch at the Paws and Poinsettia’s gala.
Even though Mallory is dating the Chief of Police’s son Garrett, Truman Davies is unable to overlook the fact that her mother has the motive, means, and opportunity for murder. When evidence appears further pointing towards Carole’s guilt, Mallory refuses to allow her mother spend Christmas in the clink. Investigating will not only have Mallory delving into the complicated March family, it places her in path of the Judge Ursula Frank, Garrett’s intimidating mentor. When Santa nearly perishes in a fire, Olivia’s car vandalized, and Mallory’s Bed and Breakfast invaded by an intruder, the wedding planner must unravel a web of lies to stop the biggest Grinch in Port Quincy.
Full of descriptions of holiday décor and party planning, the fifth in the series doesn’t shy away from examining complicated family relationships and generational differences. While Carole doesn’t hesitate to voice her opinion concerning her eldest daughter’s lack of a wedding ring or grandchildren, she also regrets giving up her own career in order to raise a family. Mallory sees those she loves facing similar decisions over whether to prioritize a prestigious career over happiness, as both Garrett and Olivia must choose the sacrifices to be made. As complex the characters and themes become throughout the novel, it never loses the fun interactions between mothers and daughters or witty exchanges between Mallory and her friends. This is a mystery that combines all the delightful chaos of weddings, holidays, and family.
Christmas Cow Bells: A Buttermilk Creek Mystery by Mollie Cox Bryan
Review by Sandra Murphy
Although Brynn McAlister went to college to study chemistry, she’s using her knowledge for something fun—making cheese. She and her then fiancé, Dan, found a farmette and planned their future. Unfortunately, Dan’s future also included a woman named Jolene. When Brynn found out, she gave Dan the boot and moved to the farm on her own. Now she makes small batches of fresh cheese and learning to be single during the holidays.
Next door, a woman who has a similar dream is renovating an old church to act as a backup for the farmer’s market. When the church is burned to the ground, her friend suffers smoke inhalation and dies enroute to the hospital. Brynn feels the fire marshal and police aren’t doing enough to solve the mystery of how the fire started.
Between caring for three cows, including one who is depressed, making cheese, and working on the CSA (community supported agriculture co-op), Brynn hardly has a minute to spare. Still, how long could it take to ask a few questions?
It’s not long before she receives threats of her own. The townspeople are clear that they don’t like change, but efforts to scare Brynn seem extreme. What does she know that puts her in danger?
This is the first in a new series. Brynn is a likable person, eager to fit into her new community, and an animal lover. Based on the reception of the first cheeses she shares, her business is likely to be a success. She’s also making friends and hires an apprentice.
Find recipes for Pimento Cheese, Not Your Mama’s Cheese Balls, Quick and Easy Cream Cheese Danish, Christmas Pie, Brynn’s Spicy Hot Cocoa, and Wes and Max’s Baked French Toast. Brynn notes it is easy to make your own cream cheese. I only wish she’d explained how.
Bryan also writes the Cumberland Creek series (five books plus two novellas) and the Cora Crafts books (four). Find an excerpt of Assault and Beadery following the recipes.
Silent Knit, Deadly Knit: A Knit & Nibble Mystery by Peggy Ehrhart
Review by Sandra Murphy
Pamela Paterson has a bad habit of finding bodies. Dead bodies. Apparently, that tendency can be inherited because this time the corpse was discovered by her home-from-college daughter, Penny. She’d gone to the nature preserve to sketch and discovered the dead woman and called the police but now she’d like her mother with her as reality sets in.
Pamela is at Bettina and Wilford’s house, just across the street from home so all three go to the scene. Making matters worse, the victim is someone they know. It’s Millicent, owner of an arts and crafts store in town.
The spouse is always the first suspect, especially when the deceased is wealthy. In this case, Pierre doesn’t seem to be too broken up by Millicent’s death which comes so soon after she inherited her mother’s estate.
Pamela and Bettina have been involved in investigations before. Now Penny feels invested in the case as well. In addition to Pierre, suspects include a man who wanted his crafts sold at Millicent’s store, a mousy business associate, the sister Millicent didn’t know she had, and more.
When last seen, Millicent was wearing a colorful and recognizable scarf Bettina had knitted. Pamela has spotted a young man wearing it around town but wasn’t fast enough to catch up with him. Not so Penny, who meets him, thinks he’s innocent, and cute. What if she’s wrong?
This is the fourth book in the series. Pamela enjoys her life and still resists Bettina’s encouragement to get closer to their neighbor, Richard, although she may be weakening. She’s not above taking an unnecessary risk but does keep them to a minimum. The friendship between Pamela and Bettina is one to envy, as is Pamela’s relationship with Penny. I do hope book five moves Pamela and Richard into a more-than-neighbors relationship. The mystery is a good one but it’s the relationships between the characters that will draw readers back again and again.
At the back of the book find a pattern for fingerless gloves and a recipe for Pamela’s poppyseed cake. Find photos of each at www.PeggyErhart.com.
A Merry Murder by Kate Kingsbury
Review by Sandra Murphy
Christmas at the Pennyfoot Hotel has everyone looking forward to the annual pantomime. It’s always popular but not so much because the performance is good but that there’s always a series of minor disasters that make for a laugh. The hotel had been a country club for a bit but is now back in the hands of Cecily and her husband, Baxter.
In past years, the pantomime has been a nice distraction from more gruesome disasters, murder, that is. Cecily hopes for a year without a body but is rather resigned to the fact she probably won’t get her wish.
Downstairs, near the wine cellar, men are allowed to play high stakes card games. It’s supposed to be only for those staying at the hotel but one man does manage to sneak in. Indeed, it’s his body found in the laundry room by one of the maids. The man was an unsavory sort who won’t be much missed, even by his wife, who seems rather relieved by the whole thing.
With a number of suspects to investigate, the local police decide the man was coshed on the head by one of the hotel’s maids, who swears she’s innocent. Cecily is determined to find the truth.
In the stable, there are other secrets. And there’s the new maintenance man who is rather cheeky, but also so handsome. There’s potential for romance. Cecily and Baxter are coming to terms with her interest in solving crimes and his interest in keeping her safe. The below-stairs characters are equally interesting, with Gertie, Charlotte, Mazie, and Mrs. Chubb in the kitchen and Charlie and Henry in the stable/garage. Set when the suffragettes are demanding the vote, horses and carriages are giving way to horseless carriages, and when women want to be more than decoration, readers will enjoy the change of pace and the realization, then or now, above stairs or below, people are all pretty much the same.
This is the tenth Pennyfoot Holiday mystery. There are also a dozen non-holiday Pennyfoot books, nine Manor House mysteries, three Bellhaven books written under the pen name of Rebecca Kent, and writing as Allison Kingsley, four in the Raven’s Nest Bookstore series.
Six years ago, the Pennyfoot Hotel mysteries ended. Thanks to demands by the characters and by fans of the series, Kingsbury brought the hotel back to life. I hope this is a sign it will continue. There are a few threads that weren’t tied up by the end of this book and like other readers, I want to know what happens next.
To enter to win a copy of all 7 books, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “christmas stocking,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen December 14, 2019. U.S. residents only, and you must be 18 or older to enter. 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 Apple Podcasts, Google Play, and Spotify. A new episode went up this week featuring a Christmas Mystery short story by Donna Andrews.
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