CeeCee’s Cozy Christmas Corner


I’ve been a busy bee this holiday season reading more books than I can possibly review in this lifetime! And though Christmas is over, you can still enjoy the festive season all year round with these mysteries and romances filled with murder, mayhem and stolen kisses under the mistletoe! That’s the magic of reading. No matter where—or when—we are in life, we can always transport ourselves through books! All it takes is a quick stop at the library or bookshop to map out a destination. This year, CeeCee and I traveled across the globe—sometimes back in time—through these glorious reads. Here, she is spotlighting some highlights and lowlights from our travels. So sit back, grab some spiked cider and enjoy our annual holiday reading roundup!

Murder, She Wrote: Manhattans & Murder

I’ve read a lot of fabulous Murder She Wrote books but this one might just be the best! Once again, the perennially classy JB Fetcher is the first to witness a multitude of murder scenes during her glamorous book tour in Manhattan. What a glamourous life she leads! We’re talking interviews with the New York Times and one-on-ones with Oprah and Donahue. In between press conferences and book signing events, she was pulling off some cloak-and-dagger stunts in the bellows of New York’s seediest neighborhoods as she pursued her mission to solve the mystery of the gunned-down sidewalk Santa. And this wasn’t just some random stranger peddling for loose change on the busy New York streets. Oh no–he was, in fact, one of Cabot Cove’s most infamous residents who fled the town in disgrace after an ill-fated drug-smuggling operation. And just by some stroke of luck, JB happened to be taking random tourist photos right when the murder went down. I mean, what are the odds? If I didn’t love her so much, I’d tell people to avoid her like the 2017 flu because she’s essentially the harbinger of death. Either way, I got a kick out of this book–especially the part when the media dubbed her as the “Madame of Mayhem.” Even in the age of fake news, it’s impossible to deny the truth to that story. Summed up, this is one of the best Christmas cozies I’ve read in a while, mainly because JB is such a delight and that there’s so much action packed into this fun adventure—from death-defying plane rides to corner store holdups!

Mistletoe and Murder by Robin Stevens

I had to buy—not download—this book because the cover is gorgeous and there’s even illustrated maps of the Cambridge campus! Needless to say, it was well worth the price of a hardback. Essentially it’s the British version of a Nancy Drew/Hardy Boys super thriller with a twinge of swoony teenage romance. I absolutely loved the scenes of our two sleuths, Daisy and Hazel, strategizing their crime-solving plans over tea and crumpets at the cozy little coffee shop. I felt like I was right there in jolly ol’ England celebrating the season in the midst of murder and mayhem! Since this is technically a children’s book, I was surprised that Daisy and Hazel encountered not one—but two—dead bodies! In true Nancy Drew fashion, they keep copious notes and character sketches of all the boys—and one very suspicious girl—who all have motives for knocking off a rather uncouth prankster. They reluctantly team up with two of their male rivals (and crushes!) who have the freedom to roam about the university without a babysitter. Why? Because they’re boys and girls needed to be chaperoned at all times in 1930s England. As for the murder mystery, I’m not ashamed to admit that I was kept guessing until the very end, which is a hard feat for authors to pull off! All in all, this is a Jolly good read for young adult (at heart) readers who love holiday-themed whodunnits.

In Peppermint Peril by Joy Avon

Thanks to NetGalley, I scored this e-book for free (in exchange for an honest review) before it hit the book shelves! This is the first book in a new series that follows the tried-and-true cozy mystery formula. You know the drill: single young professional returns to her hometown to work at a cute little shop and stumbles upon the dead body of someone from her past. Lo and behold, the victim in this mystery is a longtime caretaker of Haywood Hall, the town’s most illustrious estate. It appears as though he was involved in some shady dealings with a blackmailer who wants a cut of the Haywood family fortune. It’s up to our amateur sleuth, Callie, to ferret out the killer before an innocent man gets locked up for life! The story takes an interesting turn when Callie develops feelings for a displaced Boston Terrier and the town sheriff. Like I said, it’s true to the formula. I have lukewarm feelings for Callie, mainly because she sticks her nose in other people’s family business, which really isn’t cool. Also she’s on the fence about adopting the most adorable homeless dog that bonded with her since the moment they met. Other than that, the mystery is well plotted and there’s plenty of suspects (maybe too many) to sort out. My biggest gripe is that the book is mostly comprised of dialogue, which left a lot to be desired in terms of scenery and character development. Maybe it’s just time for me to take a break from the cozies and sink myself into an atmospheric thriller by Wendy Webb or Amanda Stevens

A Gift of Bones by Carolyn Haines

It’s been a long time since I’ve read a book in this long-running series, so this was like reconnecting with old friends! After reading a few formulaic cozies, I realized that the Bones books offer so much more in terms of character development and a sense of place. Ms. Haines knows Southern culture and her expertise shows in the distinct Mississippi dialect. And then there’s the small town setting! I felt like I was right there with Sarah Booth on midnight horseback rides through the dark and spooky woods, or on the dancefloor at the local honkytonk with Tinkie by our side! In this 19th installment (wow!), she and her bestie Tinkie are on the case again—this time to find a kidnapped pregnant lady before she gives birth on Christmas Eve. The clock is ticking—in more ways than one as Sarah Booth navigates this tricky mystery as well as her fledgling relationship with the town sheriff. Let’s just pause for a moment and acknowledge the miracle of those two finally getting together after so many years of push and pull. Please, Sarah Booth, I bet you to not mess this up! I must admit that I wasn’t on board with her lying by omission to Sherriff Coleman when her other BFF CeeCee asked her to solve the case on the sly. But then again, I can’t fault her too much for being loyal to her friend. I could go into detail and give away spoilers, but what fun would that be? All I can say is that this is one of my most favorite books in the series and that I highly recommend it to fans of Southern mysteries. Once again, Sarah Booth and Tinkie are forces to be reckoned with and I loved every moment we spent together on this wild ride! Side note: this book is best “read” on audio because the narrator Kate Forbes is the best in the business! Another side note: mad props to Ms. Haines for taking a risk by addressing some heated political issues that may or may not please her target audience.

A Holiday by Gaslight by Mimi Mathews

I wish I didn’t listen to this on audio because the narrator pretty much ruined the whole experience. Let’s see…how can I describe this? Oh, I know—imagine what it would be like to have a funeral director read an entire book to you in a hushed, somber tone. And then there’s the whiny female voices…egads. Aside from that snafu, the novella is a sweet love story that paints the grim reality of advantageous, loveless marriages in Victorian England. In this tale, Sophie, a woman with a strong pedigree (because women were in the same class as dogs back then) and Edward, a nouveau riche businessman, are coupled up in a courtship of convenience. He needs to enter London’s polite society and she needs his money. You see, she and her family are house poor because her father can’t stop spending all their money on lavish home improvements. He even spent his daughters’ dowries (a woman’s only means for survival!) on Gaslamp expenses. Let’s just pause for a moment and reflect on the oppressive lives of women back then—and how they needed to be sold to husbands like cattle at an auction. That said, this relationship is as good as dead right from the get-go because they’re both using each other. However, things take an interesting turn when Sophie puts the cards on the table and they’re forced to be honest with each other while celebrating the holidays at her family’s homestead. Soon enough, the dashing Mr. Sharpe is whispering sweet nothings to her on moonlit strolls and the tension between them really starts to simmer! I’ll stop right here before I give away the ending but since this is a holiday romance, I’m sure you can guess how it’ll be tied up in a neat little bow!

A Nancy Drew Christmas by Carolyn Keene

I must confess that, yet again, I bought this book because of glossy cover depicting the lovely Nancy Drew on a horse-and-buggy ride in a winter wonderland. I really shouldn’t let myself be romanced by a gorgeous cover, but how could I refuse a Nancy Drew mystery set at a posh ski resort in the midst of the Christmas season? There’s a lot packed into this book…maybe too much. In fact, I must admit that I got a tad confused—OK a LOT confused—with the storyline. There’s corporate espionage, insider trading, workplace sabotage and dozens upon dozens of suspects. I was hoping for a light and fluffy YA mystery for my morning commute; instead I got a tangled web of clues and red herrings that would likely befuddle Miss Marple! Needless to say, it’s rather demoralizing to get completely lost in a book that I found in the intermediate readers section. Best to stick to the classic Carolyn Keene mysteries from here on out.

CeeCee’s Christmas Cozy Roundup!

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When it comes to Christmas, there’s nothing like waiting til the last minute. Cards, presents, cooking supplies – all those things are purchased in a mad flurry a couple of days before Santa wiggles his butt down my imaginary chimney. As for Christmas cozies – I get started on those before Turkey day! What can I say? Priorities.

So without further ado, here are CeeCee’s top picks from this year’s Christmas cozy roundup!

Mrs. Jeffries and the Merry Gentlemen by Emily Brightwell

17166223One look at this cover and I knew this book had to be mine. How could I turn away from a British version of Murder She Wrote set in Victorian London? It was fun tagging along with the many amateur sleuths as they all questioned suspects. Many of whom had ample motives for killing a high-society “stock promoter” who pushed a number of people to invest their riches into a faltering foreign mine.  Who was angry enough to whack him with a shovel? Was it a bitter mistress? An unhappy investor? Or could it have been one of his servants? It’s up to inspector Witherspoon and his intrepid team of housekeepers to ferret out the killer before another goose is cooked!

Though I had a hard time keeping track of the zillions of characters, I enjoyed the atmospheric descriptions of Victorian London. I really felt like I was joining Wiggins for a merry drink of grog at the working-class pub. I could practically smell the good ol’ fashioned English cooking in Mrs. Goodge’s kitchen. And I could clearly envision the bustling city streets as Witherspoon’s underground spies set forth on their mission.

As for Mrs. Jefferies, I’m wondering why she only popped up sporadically throughout the book. Come to think of it, there really isn’t a main character to follow. Maybe that’s why I had a hard time connecting with anyone in the story. I wonder if that’s the case for other stories in this series. Guess I’ll have to keep reading to find out. Whether I’ll become a loyal reader of this series, the verdict is still out.

The Twelve Dogs of Christmas by David Rosenfelt

28220750Here’s a fun book for legal thriller fans. The cover threw me off because I was expecting a cozy mystery filled with cute little puppies romping under the Christmas tree. This is really more of a hard-boiled mystery in the guise of a holiday-infused whodunit for animal lovers. I have to hand it to the marketing team, they had a target audience in mind and I was lured in—hook, line and sinker!

Though the story was lacking in puppy action (seriously, where are the twelve dogs of Christmas?), I really enjoyed the puzzling mystery. It’s told by a dog-loving lawyer, Andy Carpenter, who sacrificed his holiday downtime to clear the name of a longtime friend who inexplicably got framed for multiple murders.

The woman in question, Martha “Pups” Boyer, is a big-time misanthrope who dedicates her life to rescuing puppies (cool points!). Someone framed her for murder and it’s up to Andy to find the real killer before the dying woman keels over alone in her cell.

Since I just had to say a final goodbye to my 19-year-old furbaby, I wasn’t in the mood for a heavy-hearted  story about a dying animal rescuer. But alas, I was glued to the mystery when more and more mounting evidence pointed to none other than Pups as the killer.

I have to hand it to the author, he’s very crafty and has a knack for red herrings and snappy dialogue. The mystery was great, but I most enjoyed the hilarious quips between Andy and Pups. I’m sure I’ll be revisiting this series again in the near future.

Rest Ye Murdered Gentleman by Vicki Delany

24611862This fun series has Hallmark Mysteries and Movies written all over it! It’s set in an idyllic Main Street USA town with snow, quaint shops and colorful characters galore. The author has the formula down to a science, and I couldn’t ask for anything more!

Set in an upstate New York town called Rudolph, the story is brimming with Christmas cheer. Adding to the yuletide merriment is the dead body of a travel writer! He came to Rudolph to write a fluff piece about holiday hotspots. Who in their right mind would want to snuff him—and his free marketing—out? Who poisoned him with a toxic cookie from Vicky’s adorable bakery? Was it a rival baker vying to put her out of business? Or maybe it was the town’s resident mean girl who failed to charm the dead man into writing a fluff piece about her knickknack store. It’s up to the town’s head Mrs. Claus to solve the mystery before her best friend loses her bakery—and more!

Needless to say, this book hit the spot. I’ve been through a lot in 2016 (who hasn’t, right?), so this was the perfect light read. I highly recommend it to all my fellow cozy fans.

Bootseez, the newest member of the Sinn family, approves this message.

Bootseez, the newest member of the Sinn family, approves this message.

On this balmy Christmas eve, CeeCee, Bootseez and I wish you all a joyous holiday—and a very happy 2017! May Santa bestow you with lots and lots of wonderful books!

 

Gizzy’s Victorian Christmas Reading Roundup

gizzyxmasJiminy Christmas! It’s already the eve of Christmas Eve and I have yet to post about one of the many Christmassy books I’ve been reading this month. Why does it feel like this month is always in fast-forward? Lucky for you, Gizzy and I put a hold on our holiday chores to bring you a bounty of festive reads. And just for fun, we paired each of these books with holiday drink recommendations!

Murder on St. Nicholas Avenue by Victoria Thompson

   24586778 WARNING: This is NOT a Christmas book. Don’t be fooled by the cover and the premise that offers a holiday-infused mystery. It appears as though the publisher took advantage of the season to sell more books. Boy was I duped! False marketing aside, I must admit that parts of the book were rather entertaining. Just when I was about to hit the return button on Audible, the plot took an unexpected turn and I was anxious to uncover the secrets that were hiding in a mansion full of gossipy scullery maids. This is my first foray into the Gaslight Mystery series, so I’m not familiar with the dozens upon dozens of characters. In addition to the nonexistent Christmas setting, my other big gripe is that there were WAY too many characters. So as you could imagine, listening to this on audio was not a good idea. When my mind drifted—which happens sometimes when I’m grumbling to myself in a traffic jam—I got completely lost in the vast sea of characters. Whether or not I’ll read another Gaslight Mystery remains to be seen. I’m not totally sold. This book is best paired with a very weak glass of steaming apple cider. Looks enticing, but lacks the powerful punch of holiday spice.

Away in the Manger Rhys Bowen

23848062If you only have time to read one holiday mystery this year, let it be this one! This I my first Molly Murphy mystery and it won’t be my last. Set in turn-of-the-century New York, Molly—a feisty red-headed Irish lassie—and her detective husband are preparing for a cozy Christmas at home with their two little kiddos. But, alas, their holiday plans go awry when the big-hearted Molly finds two stranded kids in dire need of their missing mother. Though homeless kids are often ignored on the harsh streets of New York, she can’t bring herself to leave them in the lurch and go about her business. Needless to say, she is a woman after my own heart. This is a fabulous little Christmas mystery with all the sentiments of the season. I’m excited to pick up the first book of the series so I can watch the love story unfold between Molly and her crime-fighting husband.

This book is best paired with my favorite holiday drink of all time: A gingerbread latte with extra whip cream. So worth the splurge!

Star of the East by Tasha Alexander

22718596This is a cute novella for those who don’t have a lot of time to read. An odd concept, but apparently this is an affliction that affects many of us during the dizzying holiday season. Funny…I can’t get my Christmas chores done in time (cards were sent out this morning), but I always manage to read oodles of books in four weeks. Guess it’s all about priorities. Anyhoo, this is a very G-rated whodunit that is devoid of murderous fiends and dead bodies. The Nancy Drew-esque mystery begins when a cursed ring disappears at a holiday gathering. The case is rather curious since the small pool of suspects have no motive for pilfering the priceless piece of jewelry. It’s up to Lady Emily to interrogate her fellow houseguests and ferret out the thief before Christmas morning. This is a nice little taste of the Lady Gray series, which is quite delightful. This book is best paired with a most pleasant glass of hot cocoa—whipped cream and all!

A Christmas Hope by Anne Perry

17568759Impatience got the best of me when I ditched this audiobook last year. Why they chose a pompous Masterpiece Theater-esque narrator is a mystery all onto itself. I decided to give it another chance, and eventually the stuffy old man grew on me. I can see why Anne Perry is so popular….most likely with the older ladies. The protagonists are all endearing and the Victorian setting is devoid of those pesky anachronisms. I enjoyed accompanying Claudine Burroughs as she doggedly hunted down clues and interrogated suspects to clear an innocent man’s name. I immediately felt for her when she described her dismal marriage to a heartless man who cares only about social status. Her only joy in life is her volunteer work at a clinic for downtrodden women. This book paints a grim yet realistic portrait of a time when women were treated like pretty little dolls and social climbing was a means for survival. I’m glad I forged through with the story, but my next Anne Perry book will be in paperback. This book is best paired with a steaming cup of earl gray tea. Rich in flavor, but could use a dose of cream to lighten things up.

Gizzy’s Christmas Reading Roundup!

gizchristmas3_zpsf679dc40Christmas is s almost here and I’m scrambling to get all of my holiday reading done before the fat man in red drops down my chimney with a bag full of more books! I love the holidays, I really do, but December is becoming a dizzying month of nonstop rush, rush, rushing.  Can you believe I haven’t even had time to get a stinking tree? But don’t fret, my dear readers. I do have  priorities, and I vow to never let the holiday chaos interfere with precious reading time. If you’re looking for something Christmassy to read by the fire after battling it out at the mall, here are some hits and misses.

The Twelve Clues of Christmas by Rhys Bowen

13542533I scored this on Audible for a mere five bucks, and it’s worth every penny and more! The narrator is top notch, and the characters are highly amusing.  This is my first venture into the the Royal Spyness mystery series, and I assure you it won’t be my last! Set in the Great Gatsby era, the irrepressible Lady Georgiana is stuck in Scotland with her bumbling brother and his odious family. Seriously, these creatons could give the Dursleys a run for their money.  As luck would have it, she gets hired as a holiday party hostess at stately old manor in a picturesque English village. It all seems too perfect, until the dead bodies start stacking up. From the moment she arrives, people drop off like flies in a series of “accidental deaths.” Do these freak accidents have something to do with a long-standing witchy curse? Or are escaped prisoners to blame? You’ll have to read the book to find out!  If you like jigsaw puzzle mysteries with a dash of humor and romance, this book’s for you.

13586680Elvis and the Blue Christmas Corpse by Peggy Webb

I must confess, the cover is the reason why I bought this book. How can you go wrong with a dog detective who might just be the reincarnation of Elvis Pressley? The slapstick humor is front and center of the mystery, so this should appeal to those who like their whodunits loaded down with zany hijinks and slapstick banter.  Amidst the silly shenanigans, there’s a mystery involving a murderous Ebenezer Scrooge with a vendetta against mall Santas. The mystery begins when Callie’s beloved uncle Charlie almost dies in an “electrical accident” while sitting in Santa’s throne.  The hijinks ensue when she teams up with her binge-eating cousin/BFF to ferret out the killer. Complete with a cast of eccentric Southern women, this series is somewhat of a mashup of Steal Magnolias and Janet Evonovich’s Stephanie Plum series. The off-the-wall antics got a little tiresome, but I’d be lying if I said that some of the girls’ ill-fated escapades weren’t amusing. Plus there’s some romantic intrigue going on between Callie and her soon-to-be ex hubby.

Call Me Mrs. Miracle by Debbie Macomber

7957814I don’t typically read Debbie Macomber books because they tend to be a little too sugary sweet. I also shy away from any story that revolves around a struggling mother with needy little children. Sorry to be a total grump, but I don’t like whiney kiddos muddling up a romantic moment. But when Christmas rolls around, I turn into a softy and end up reading one of her cozy little romance novels. To be honest, the Lifetime movie version of this book was more entertaining, mostly because the kid was a lot less annoying. Yes, the movie was contrived and somewhat silly, but Lauren Holly really stole the show as the over-the-top dragon lady boss. She was HILARIOUS!  Oh and Doris Roberts is just the perfect master manipulator/guardian angel. I loved how she seamlessly moved things in the right direction while completely befuddling people in the process. In the book, however, the stoic Mrs. Miracle takes more of a backseat to the paint-by-the-numbers love story. My advice: skip the book and watch the movie. I know that seems very backwards, but I’m just being honest!

Holiday Grind by Cleo Coyle

Holiday-GrindIt’s Christmas in the city and Clare Cosi is busy experimenting with new holiday-themed frothy drinks. From fa-la-la-la lattes to candy cane cappuccinos, the Christmas-infused coffees must be better than ever in order to boost sales.  But all the caffeine-induced yultide cheer comes to a roaring stop when the local Santa is found dead in the snow.

As usual the lazy city cops claim it’s nothing more than a random mugging, leaving Clare with no other choice but to strap on her gumshoes and ferret out the killer herself. With some help from her hilariously sardonic barista, Esther, she traces Alf’s (aka Santa) last steps and discovers quite a few shady characters on top of his naughty list.

Things get complicated when Alf’s daughter, who happens to be a former Village Blend barista, asks Clare to investigate a blackmail scheme. Was Alf peeking inside an apartment building before the sniper took him out? And was he willing to commit extortion just to keep his failed restaurant afloat?  Seems like this Santa wasn’t all cookies and milk after all.

On top of solving her friend’s murder and keeping her own restaurant in the black, Clare is dealing with some serious man drama between her sexually frustrated ex-hubby and commitment-phobe boyfriend.  The ex is clearly hung up on her, but can she really get back together with the man who left her broke and heartbroken? He’s clearly unhappy with his socialite girlfriend and it’s only a matter of time until they both have a moment of weakness. As for the sexy NYPD boyfriend, he needs to stop putting his job in front of his lady – especially during the holidays. And what’s the deal with him hanging out with that mean red-haired supermodel?

Mmm...doesn't a peppermint mocha sound good right about now?

Mmm…doesn’t a peppermint mocha sound good right about now?

Clearly Clare has some investigating to do. And she better solve the mystery soon – before her own good is cooked! As she moves in on the killer, crazy things happen. Let me tell ya, there was one jaw-dropping moment that had me glued to the pages until the very end! I won’t give away any spoilers, but I will say that if I ever take a ride on a ferry in the icy Atlantic Ocean, I’m steering clear of the rails.

 Overall, this book is the perfect cozy holiday read. The author does a fine job gradually introducing readers to the eclectic mix of characters and Clare’s backstory. Her love for New York City really shines in her lyrical descriptions of the snow-covered cityscape and iconic landmarks. Although I’ve never been to New York, I can imagine the hustle and bustle of holiday shoppers and the ice skating at Rockefeller Park. Since I loathe crowds and city transportation, I doubt I’ll ever experience Christmas in New York, but it’s fun imagining myself catching snowflakes in Central Park and sipping frozen hot chocolate at Serendipity.

Needless to say, I’m a fan of Cleo Coyle’s fun little coffeehouse mystery series. She can weave a tightly-plotted whodunit without skimping on the romance and cozy coffeeshop ambiance. If you’re in the mood for a holiday thriller, give this one a shot. I’m now on to her Haunted Bookshop mysteries, which should be a lot of good, cozy fun!