by Sandra Murphy
We have a bunch of reviews and giveaways of Christmas mysteries this week, including one of Lark! The Herald Angels Sing by Donna Andrews. Donna also have a fun Christmas guest post for us. Details at the end of this post on how to enter to win a copy of Lark! The Herald Angels Sing, a link to purchase it from Amazon, and an indie bookstore where a portion of the sale goes to help support KRL.
Lark! The Herald Angels Sing: Meg Langslow series By Donna Andrews
Review by Sandra Murphy
Meg Langslow leads an active life, what with helping at the church, being married to Michael, and mother to twin boys. That’s not counting the things her mother volunteers her for, or her dad, or even grandad. No wonder she carries her planner with her at all times.
It’s hard to corral pre-teens for a Christmas pageant rehearsal, but Meg can keep them in line with a good Mom Stare. It’s a surprise to all when the baby in the manger is not Baby Jesus or even his real life stand-in, Noah. This baby is a girl. A note pinned to the baby’s outfit seems to implicate Meg’s brother as a responsible party which he denies. His fiancé isn’t easily convinced.
Meg is able to figure out the baby wasn’t dropped off because she’s inconvenient but because she’s in danger. There’s a search underway for a murderer in Clay County. Is there a connection? The women’s shelter Christmas party is on her schedule, plus shopping and wrapping her own gifts.
With no foster parents available, Meg and Michael keep Lark with them. When the social worker shows up with the baby’s mom, Meg has reservations and pushes to not let the woman take the child.
The Clay County police force is corrupt, from the top down to the patrol officers. It’s a worry that when the suspected murderer is caught, he won’t live long enough to serve his sentence.
As usual, anything Meg is involved it, turns out to be more convoluted than first imagined. There’s always something going on with family—she has a houseful of relatives coming to visit. Her dad is unpredictable unless you think he’ll do something totally crazy and mostly it will work out. Her mother puts herself in charge of decorating Meg’s house and it’s easier to let her than argue. It’s typical holiday family angst times ten (or more).
Luckily, Meg knows everyone in town and can call on others to help in times of frequent crisis. In fact, the police dispatcher, answers the phone with, “Hi, Meg.”
This is the twenty-fourth book in the series. The Christmas spirit will get you in the mood for the holidays while Meg’s family will remind you to put away the breakables and make more cookies. The ending is one you won’t see coming but will find satisfying as well as humorous. One of the nicest things about this series is, you can jump right in with this book and not worry about the backstory. On the other hand, you may want to put the first twenty-three books on your holiday wish list.
My Worst Christmas
By Donna Andrew
I’ve done five Christmas mysteries. I’m about to work on a sixth. People ask me sometimes if it isn’t hard to write a mystery set at Christmas. Well, yes. We all feel the pressure to be kinder and gentler around the holidays—that expectation carries over into books. We still have to kill someone, mind you—but the pressure is on to keep the tone lighter, more festive than at other times of the year. I did once kill Santa Claus—okay, not the REAL Santa Claus, but the human grinch who for reasons too complicated to explain here was playing Santa in the local Christmas parade. But it was okay. Meg’s Dad took over the job and did it brilliantly. But still—in a Christmas mystery you have to careful who you kill and how you kill them.
And then there’s the fact that my editor is a certified Christmas addict. That’s one reason he loves getting me to write Christmas books—because he loves the season. Whenever I have trouble getting into the Christmas mood, I just imagine Pete behind me, shouting, “More tinsel! More mistletoe! More carols! More evergreen! And more snow! A whole lot more snow!”
He lives in New York. I live, and my books are set, in Virginia. We don’t often have white Christmases here. (I had to break that news to my editor recently. He’s still feeling sorry for me.) According to the National Weather Service, a white Christmas is officially defined as “a morning snow depth of 1” or greater (measured at 7 a.m. EST).” Most places in New York, outside of New York City, have a better than 50/50 chance of having a white Christmas. The probability of that happening in Northern Virginia, where I live, is about 10%. My imaginary town of Caerphilly is south of Northern Virginia, though north of Richmond, Virginia, which has only a 6% probability of a white Christmas. The last time Norfolk, Virginia, had a white Christmas was in 1966. I figure the odds in Caerphilly are probably around 8%. A probability that I resolutely ignore. If it’s Christmas in Caerphilly, there’s probably snow. I think Meg has had more white Christmases in my six Christmas books than I’ve had in my whole life.
But I think the toughest thing about writing a Christmas book is that I haven’t yet figured out how to make really good use of the story of my worst Christmas ever.
So here it is.
I have no idea how old I was, but definitely still in the milk-and-cookies-for-Santa stage. And there was something I wanted for Christmas. I mean, really wanted; I knew I’d just DIE if I didn’t get it.
Strangely, I no longer remember just what it was.
Anyway, the usual drill on Christmas was that all the presents to and from family were wrapped and under the tree by Christmas eve, and the stockings hung on the fireplace. Then in the morning my brother and I were supposed to stay upstairs in our bedrooms until our parents came to the foot of the stairs to call us down, and we’d all walk into the living room together to see what Santa had brought.
Normally I was a late sleeper, but I was up that Christmas morning when the sky was still barely light. I tried to go back to sleep—no luck. I opened my bedroom door and sat at the top of the stairs for a while. I could wait there for my parents. Even my brother, the traitor, was still asleep.
I gave in to temptation and crept downstairs. Just to see if Santa had brought me my heart’s desire (whatever it was.)
Santa hadn’t come.
The wrapped presents were still there, looking pretty puny when compared with the expected loot from the North Pole. The stockings still hung limp. I don’t recall whether the milk and cookies were gone. I was too stunned to look.
I slunk upstairs, crawled back into bed, and spent the most miserable hour or two of my life.
Clearly I had screwed up big time. And so had my brother, apparently. I had no idea what we’d done, but whatever it was had to have been pretty heinous.
I wonder if my parents found it puzzling that I was so difficult to rouse, and in such a leaden mood as I trudged down the stairs. They didn’t know yet. But as soon as we all walked into the living room they’d know. And the interrogation would begin.
Imagine my astonishment when I walked into the living room and found that Santa had come after all. There were presents spread under the tree. Lots of them. Our stockings were bulging at the seams. The usual thank you note from Santa was lying by the empty plate and glass.
I was relieved—but still a little shell-shocked. Not only do I not remember what it was I had coveted so badly, I can’t remember if I got it. It took a while to bounce back from my earlier misery.
I later decided that Santa must have been running late that year, and for some reason we were near the end of his route. I’d just gone down a little early. I vowed never to make that mistake again. Because I had no desire to repeat my worst Christmas ever.
Sometimes the worst Christmases make the best stories, though.
To enter to win a copy of Lark! The Herald Angels Sing, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “lark,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen December 15, 2018. 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.
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