Book Review: The Usual Santas, Foreword by Peter Lovesey

The Usual Santas
A Collection of Soho Crime Christmas Capers
Foreward by Peter Lovesey
Soho Crime, October 2017
ISBN 978-1-61695-775-9

Here’s a collection that is sometimes amusing, sometimes dark, sometimes teaches a lesson, and is always entertaining. Set in most time periods, the stories will take the Christmas season all around the world. Thieves, murderers, revenge seekers and even cranky old women take their turns in making a memorable holiday.

In an outstanding collection, to my personal taste (yours most certainly may differ), some stand out. In a book with three different sections, the first being “Joy to the World: various acts of kindness at Christmas,” the lead-off story is a hoot. Suffice it to say, “don’t mess with ninety-year-old ladies. In “An Elderly Lady Seek Peace at Christmastime” by Helene Tursten, Maud is sick of the man in the apartment upstairs abusing his wife. The blows, the cursing, the sobbing destroy every vestige of her peace. And so, she takes matters into her own hands.

All the stories in this section are surprising. With a cast of authors like Timothy Hallinan and Teresa Dovalpage, among others, it’s what you can expect.

The second section is “Silent Night: the darkest of holiday noir.”  My favorite—or perhaps I should say, most standout story, one that stays with me, is by James R. Benn titled “Red Christmas.” The tale involves a discharged soldier arriving in a small town to give details of his friend’s death in a North Korean POW camp to the parents. He just doesn’t quite know how to begin. As he remembers back to their time in the POW camp, the events are dark indeed. Colin Cotterill, one of my favorite authors, also has a story in this section, as do Henry Chang,   Ed Lin, Stuart Neville, and Tod Goldberg.

The final section, “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus, and other Holiday Secrets,” will certainly give a fresh slant on cozy kisses, peace on earth and all the other tropes whether 1920s  Bombay with Sujata Massey or Niccolo Machiavelli and Cesarev Borgia, those fine sons of Italy, with Gary Corby.

The foreward by Peter Lovesey, along with the final story in the book, gives fair warning. Be prepared to see the season in a whole new light. Could it be the Christmas star? Because every story is a shining star.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, April 2020.
Author of The Woman Who Built A Bridge (Spur Award Winner), Yester’s Ride,
Hometown Burning and Five Days, Five Dead: A China Bohannon Novel

Book Review: Abney Kelly & the Yuletide Shenanigans by SamiJo McQuiston @SJMcQuiston @YABoundToursPR


Title: Abney Kelly & the Yuletide Shenanigans
Series: Abney Kelly Series, Book 1
Author: SamiJo McQuiston
Publication Date: October 9, 2020
Genres: Dark Fantasy, Young Adult


Purchase Links:
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Abney Kelly & the Yuletide Shenanigans
Abney Kelly, Book 1
SamiJo McQuiston
SamiJo McQuiston. October 2020
ISBN 978-0578678283
Trade Paperback

From the author—

Abney Kelly seems like your typical thirteen-year-old trying to find her place in the world. She’s shy, awkward, has no friends, and is bullied constantly. However things are not always as they appear, after being pushed into a clover patch, a creature who says he’s her assigned guardian whisks her off to a school in Tìr na nÓg, called Yule.

Turns out she’s a Changeling, and it’s time she learns what that means. Between making new friends, discovering that all the monsters in her nightmares are real, and starting at a new school, Abney didn’t think life could get any harder as she splits her time between the human and Fae realms.

That is until her house matron warns them about Nicholas Kringle. He is stalking his prey throughout realms and collecting the hearts of those on his so-called nice list. At a New Year’s Eve party, Abney and her new gang use an Ouija board and discover that one of their friends is on Kringle’s list.

Determined to stop their friend’s death, Abney and company set off on a chilly adventure, to try to change fate, but only one thing is for certain… This year they’ll end up on the naughty list or die trying.

I’m not usually in the mood for Christmasy books in October but snarky humor always floats my boat and I got that vibe from the description. Also, everything else in this world of ours is kind of topsy-turvy these days so why not read a Christmas story before we even get to Thanksgiving, right?

As it turns out, there isn’t much humor here, snarky or otherwise, but I wasn’t really too far off of “proper” timing because this has a distinct feeling of Halloween. Abney is a girl who doesn’t always have an easy time of it—much worse, in fact, than most teens—but she plugs along until life suddenly takes a dramatic turn, thrusting her into a world of magic and wondrous beings, and she learns that she’s actually a Changeling with a whole ‘nother future ahead. First, though, she and her new friends hear the real legend of Santa aka Nicholas Kringle and it’s a very different tale indeed, full of dark mischief and destruction. Unfortunately for them, it’s more than just a fable and they’re going to have to do something about the evil Kringle.

Abney Kelly & the Yuletide Shenanigans is a complex story with much interweaving of mythology and fairy tales mixed with a good deal of horror and I enjoyed it thoroughly. Fair warning, though—this is not the charming Good Saint Nick story you’ll want to share with the little kids in your life 😱 😈


An Excerpt from
Abney Kelly & the Yuletide Shenanigans

Chapter 6
The Story of Nicholas Kringle

A thick, stew-like fog encircled Oberon House. Th e Pucas were supposed to be taking them to see the enormous Christmas tree in the square, but there was no way to go out safely. If you stuck your hand into the mist, it disappeared before your eyes, and in general, had a strange-uneasy feel to it. Everyone was very content to stay in and help decorate the house Christmas tree in the Ocean Room.

The decorations were colorful and random; Agatha didn’t do themes for her tree like Abney’s family did, but it was still fun, and everyone chipped in. Blythe taught them to string popcorn, and Wilbur and Snozbert were taking colored glass beads and morphing them into
different shapes and figures by request. It was like watching master glassblowers at work, but they never heated the marbles. They were able to manipulate them with their bare hands.

“I love Christmas trees,” Abney said as she looked transfixed at the glowing masterpiece.

“It’s a Yule tree,” Feo said as she came in with a tray of sweet orange tea and began pouring cups.

“Is there a difference?” Abney asked curiously.

“Oh, most definitely. Christmas trees are a pagan tradition you know, taught to Fleetlings by the Fae,” Feo said carefully. “Anyway, the most important difference is that a Yule tree is always a live tree. Fleetlings use fake trees and all sorts of nonsense these days. They’ve forgotten the traditions of old, but a Yule tree must be alive.”

“I think it’s time for a story,” Agatha said from her armchair by the fire. She took a deep drag from her hookah pipe through the black hole in her neck. “Come closer, sugars, closer,” she bid them, and they all sat on the floor near her feet. “You are all aware of the legend of The Santa Claus?”

“Everyone knows that one,” Zoey replied.

“Ya, ya,” Domino agreed. “The dude who knows if you’re naughty or nice. We all know how it goes.” Abney wasn’t sure why but she suddenly
felt edgy, and goosebumps rose on her arms.

“That’s the one, honey,” Agatha agreed. “I suppose you know him as a fat, jolly, man who passes out gifts?”

“Every December the 25th,” Domino smiled.

“That’s the version known to most Fleetlings,” Agatha continued.

“But I’m going to tell you the real story. Heed my words. They are much more paramount now than they have been in many years.” The teenagers and Pucas moved closer to the fire, unconsciously wanting to chase away the dark and its accompanying shadows.

“This story starts out as all good tales do. Once upon a time, in a faraway land, there lived a lonely king. Not just any king though, The Winter King, Jack Frost, himself. Blythe, a little help please?” Agatha breathed out. Blythe whispered a few words and blew them into Agatha’s smoke. A sad man appeared in the escaping vapor, and the story took to life as Agatha started to speak again, “He longed for a child to love and fill his days with joy, but no maid could carry the child of the frozen monarch. Frustrated and grief-stricken, he sought out the great witch, Baba Yaga.

“‘Grandmother,’ he begged. ‘I am alone and childless. Is there anything you can do to help me? Is there a way for me to have a child?’ Baba Yaga thought for a moment, looked deep into his heart, and knew he was sincere. She decided to help The Winter King, but he must bring her three things: Snow, from the coldest peak, coal from the deepest mine, and a feather from the brightest Phoenix.

“So The Winter King scoured the Earth until he had everything the witch had asked for. First, Baba Yaga took the snow and patted it into the shape of a girl, then she picked up the coal and wrapped the phoenix feather around it, the coal ignited melting the feather into it. Finally, she
forced the coal into the snow girl where her heart would have been. The winds picked up and whirled violently around them, but The Winter King and Baba Yaga stood fast, and when the snow settled again, a small pale girl stood before them. Her skin was blue, like a frozen glacier, and her hair white as snow, with a hint of the Northern Lights about it. The King loved her instantly, but as he reached for her, Baba Yaga stepped between them.

“‘Nothing is free, Winter King,’ she said. ‘A time will come when I will ask you for a favor, and you must agree to do as I ask.’ The King, being so close to his heart’s desire could do nothing but agree. Baba Yaga released the girl to him with a warning.

“‘She is snow and ice, but her heart is fire. She must never lose control of her emotions. You must teach her to remain calm in even the worst of storms. If she loses control, your daughter will melt and return to the water from whence she came.’


About the Author

SamiJo is a first-class shenanigator, decorated coddiwompler, narrator, and author of, The Abney Kelly series. She lives in Wyoming with her dog, two cats, and four chickens. She participates in tomfoolery frequently and plans to get into waggishness in the future. Vive La Pete!






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Book Review: Eggs on Ice by Laura Childs @BerkleyMystery

Eggs on Ice
A Cackleberry Club Mystery #8
Laura Childs
Berkley Prime Crime, December 2018
ISBN 978-0-425-28172-7

Eggs on Ice is the eighth in Laura Childs’ Cackleberry Club Mysteries so for those of you who are fans of this series the characters will be familiar.  For those of you who are new to the series I think you’ll catch up quickly.  The main character is Suzanne Dietz, one of the co-owners of the Cackleberry Club and an amateur investigator.  As the story begins, Suzanne and one of her co-owners, Toni, are helping with costumes, sets, and lighting for their neighbors who are rehearsing for a production of “A Christmas Carol”.  The rehearsal comes to an abrupt halt when lawyer Allan Sharp who is playing Scrooge is murdered by the Ghost of Christmas Past.  Suzanne chases the Ghost but stops when he, she, or it turns on her and threatens her with a knife.

The investigation is complicated by the fact that no one liked Allan except his law partner, but the investigation quickly focuses in on Amber, a woman who worked for Allan for a short while but quit when he sexually harassed her.  Amber and Suzanne have a mutual friend and that friend suggested Amber ask Suzanne for help.  However, it soon becomes clear that Amber has a motive for killing Allan but so do several others and narrowing the suspect field is more difficult than Suzanne anticipated.  Enlisting Toni’s help, Suzanne begins her own investigation much to the annoyance of the Sheriff and the fears of her fiancé, a doctor at the local hospital.

Eggs on Ice is a cozy mystery with well-drawn characters and a couple of nice twists.  It’s set during the holiday season and the cold and snow might be just what you need when our sweltering August/early September heat and humidity return.

Reviewed by Melinda Drew, August 2019.

Book Review: Carols and Chaos by Cindy Anstey


Title: Carols and Chaos
Author: Cindy Anstey
Publisher: Swoon Reads
Publication Date: October 9, 2018
Genres: Historical, Romance, Young Adult


Purchase Links:
Barnes & Noble // Kobo // iBooks // Amazon // Indiebound


Carols and Chaos
Cindy Anstey
Swoon Reads, October 2018
ISBN 978-1-250-17487-1
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

A lady’s maid and a valet become entangled in a yuletide counterfeiting scheme in this romantic Christmas YA adventure.

1817. The happy chaos of the Yuletide season has descended upon the country estate of Shackleford Park in full force, but lady’s maid Kate Darby barely has the time to notice. Between her household duties, caring for her ailing mother, and saving up money to someday own a dress shop, her hands are quite full. Matt Harlow is also rather busy. He’s performing double-duty, acting as valet for both of the Steeple brothers, two of the estate’s holiday guests.

Falling in love would be a disaster for either of them. But staving off their feelings for each other becomes the least of their problems when a devious counterfeiting scheme reaches the gates of Shackleford Park, and Kate and Matt are unwittingly swept up in the intrigue. Full of sweetness, charm, and holiday shenanigans, Carols and Chaos is perfect for fans of Jane Austen and Downton Abbey.

I don’t usually start reading Christmas-y books before we’ve even gotten to Halloween and I also don’t usually read romances but something about this one caught my attention and drew me in. Partly, it’s the really appealing cover but perhaps I also had a yen to go back to the Regency era, at one time a favorite period for me. At any rate, I threw caution to the wind and I’m glad I did.

Kate Darby is a nice young woman, not a lady precisely, according to the class distinctions of her time, but she works hard, cares for her mother, and is clever and genuinely friendly. Matt Harlow is hardworking, too, and has a certain kind of loyalty to his position and the family he works for. He and Kate have eyes for each other but, really, they don’t have time right now for such goings-on, especially after it comes to light that some nefarious activity is going on at the manor.

Drama ensues, along with holiday frivolity and the expected dynamics between upstairs and downstairs. I especially appreciated having servants as the main characters rather than the high society folks we generally get and the mystery of the missing footman and perhaps related skulduggery brings Kate and Matt together as quite capable sleuths.

Apparently, Carols and Chaos is a companion or spin-off to another of the author’s books which I haven’t read but I never felt that anything was lacking because of that. More dialogue would be nice, especially between Kate and Matt, but this is a charming lighthearted entry to the holiday season and I recommend it for those who enjoy the Regency era, a bit of romance and a good mystery to solve.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, October 2018.

About the Author

Whenever she is not sitting at the computer, throwing a ball in the backyard, gardening or reading, Cindy can be found–actually, not found–adventuring around the world with her hubby.

She has lived on three continents, had a monkey in her yard and a scorpion under her sink, dwelt among castles and canals, enjoyed the jazz of Beale St and attempted to speak French.

Cindy loves history, mystery and… a chocolate Labrador called Chester.

Author links:
Website // Twitter // Facebook // Goodreads


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Book Review: The Usual Santas, Foreword by Peter Lovesey—and a Giveaway!

The Usual Santas
A Collection of Soho Crime Christmas Capers
Foreword by Peter Lovesey
Soho Press, October 2017
ISBN 978-1-61695-775-9

From the publisher—

This captivating collection, which features bestselling and award-winning authors, contains laughs aplenty, the most hardboiled of holiday noir, and heartwarming  reminders of the spirit of the season.

Nine mall Santas must find the imposter among them. An elderly lady seeks peace from her murderously loud neighbors at Christmastime. A young woman receives a mysterious invitation to Christmas dinner with a stranger. Niccolò Machiavelli sets out to save an Italian city. Sherlock Holmes’s one-time nemesis Irene Adler finds herself in an unexpected tangle in Paris while on a routine espionage assignment. Jane Austen searches for the Dowager Duchess of Wilborough’s stolen diamonds. These and other adventures in this delectable volume will whisk readers away to Christmases around the globe, from a Korean War POW camp to a Copenhagen refugee squat, from a palatial hotel in 1920s Bombay to a crumbling mansion in Havana.

Includes Stories By (In Order of Appearance):
Helene Tursten, Mick Herron, Martin Limón, Timothy Hallinan, Teresa Dovalpage, Mette Ivie Harrison, Colin Cotterill, Ed Lin, Stuart Neville, Tod Goldberg, Henry Chang, James R. Benn, Lene Kaaberbøl & Agnete Friis, Sujata Massey, Gary Corby, Cara Black, Stephanie Barron and a Foreword and story by Peter Lovesey.

Short stories are not my usual cuppa but, for some reason, I feel differently about it during the Christmas season. Maybe their brevity appeals to me because I’m so busy with other things at this time of year and like to sandwich in a story here and there, more satisfying than just a chapter or two of a full-length novel.

Christmasy short stories can be a lot of fun and those included in The Usual Santas certainly are but some of them are definitely darker and they take place around the world (as might be expected from authors from Soho Press which focuses largely on non-American work). And what a terrific group of authors these 18 are!

From Timothy Hallinan comes a story about Chalee, a street kid in Bangkok who draws a special picture for a younger child and Stephanie Barron takes us back to 1804 Bath, England, telling the tale of sleuth Jane Austen who has been invited to join Lord Harold Trowbridge’s family as they celebrate New Year’s Eve, not anticipating that she’ll become involved in the theft of a magnificent necklace. Mette Ivie Harrison offers a look at a Mormon community just before Christmas when two families’ sons are about to go out on their missions while Peter Lovesey has Fran and Jim Palmer going on a small adventure—supper with the unknown Miss Shivers—where Fran learns a secret from her past, a secret that is overshadowed by an encounter with a very special young man.

Those are just a sample of the gems in The Usual Santas and I highly recommend this anthology to anyone with a fondness for Christmas tales.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, December 2017.


I’d love to send somebody my very
gently used print advance reading
copy of The Usual Santas. Leave a
comment below and I’ll draw
winning name on Wednesday evening,

  December 20th. This drawing is open
to residents of the US & Canada.

Book Review: Feliz Navidead by Ann Myers

feliz-navideadFeliz Navidead
A Santa Fe Café Mystery #3
Ann Myers
William Morrow, November 2016
ISBN 978-0-06-238231-3
Mass Market Paperback

From the publisher—

Holly, jolly, and downright deadly—the third Santa Fe Café mystery unwraps surprises both naughty and nice… It’s the most picturesque time of the year in Santa Fe, and Chef Rita Lafitte of Tres Amigas Café hopes the twinkling lights and tasty holiday treats will charm her visiting mom. Rita is also planning fun activities, such as watching her teenage daughter, Celia, perform in an outdoor Christmas play.

What she doesn’t plan for is murder.

Rita discovers a dead actor during the premier performance but vows to keep clear of the case. Sleuthing would upset her mom. Besides, there’s already a prime suspect, caught red-handed in his bloodied Santa suit. However, when the accused Santa’s wife begs for assistance—and points out that Celia and other performers could be in danger—Rita can’t say no. With the help of her elderly boss, Flori, and her coterie of rogue knitters, Rita strives to salvage her mother’s vacation, unmask a murderer, and stop this festive season from turning even more fatal.

If you ask me, a cozy is the best kind of mystery to read during the holiday season. Sure, murders don’t exactly go along with the program but, in a cozy, they’re a kinder, gentler sort, you know? There’s also humor, loyalty, friendship, family, the love of those friends and family and maybe, just maybe, a touch of romance. What more could we ask for in a season meant for comfort?

In addition to all that, a cozy gives us a puzzle to solve and Feliz Navidead is just the ticket. When Chef Rita reluctantly puts on her sleuthing cap once again, she at least has a little experience at such things, having solved one or two murders in the past. To help her investigate, Rita can count on a crew of elderly ladies who knit, purl and snoop up a storm and it’s these ladies I loved the most, especially because they are yarn bombers. We have one here in town and it’s loads of fun when we spot one of her creations on a road sign or a fence post. The Knit and Snitchers cracked me up and I quite simply fell in love with them.

Other characters like Rita’s boss, Flori, and Rita’s mom and daughter are not too shabby either, not to mention a food-stealing donkey, and Rita herself is intelligent, caring and very likeable. Getting to the solution of the crime leads Rita and the gang down a variety of danger-laden paths and I found myself pegging first this possible perp and then that one before the denouement.

One last note—Santa Fe is a lively and intriguing character itself and my years-long wish to visit is even stronger now. Besides getting a firm sense of setting and culture, the food in the Tres Amigas Café sounds divine and the author has very nicely included some scrumptious recipes.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, November 2016.



Purchase Links:

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Indiebound // HarperCollins


An Excerpt from Feliz Navidead

Mom stopped mid-stroll, thumping one hand to her chest, gripping a hip-high adobe wall with the other.

“I need to catch my breath, Rita,” she declared, rather accusatorily.

I murmured, “Of course,” and issued my best good-daughter sympathetic smile. I did, truly, sympathize. At seven thousand feet above sea level, Santa Fe, New Mexico, can literally take your breath away, and my mother had flown in only a few hours earlier from the midwestern lowlands. Adjusting to high altitudes takes time. About a week, the experts say, although I’ve called Santa Fe home for over three years and still blame the paltry oxygen when I pant through my morning jog and puff under overladen burrito platters at Tres Amigas Cafe, where I’m a chef and co-amiga. I’ve even postulated that the thin air makes my thighs look larger. Lack of atmospheric compression, that unscientifically tested theory goes. The more likely culprit is my steady diet of cheesy chiles rellenos, blue corn waffles, green chile cheeseburgers, and other New Mexican delicacies.

Mom took deep breaths beside me. I wasn’t too worried. If Mom was at risk of anything, it was overacting. I strongly suspected she was making a point, something she likes to do indirectly and with drama.

Things Mom doesn’t like? High altitudes, dry climates, hot chiles, and disturbance of her holiday routine. I knew she wasn’t thrilled to spend Christmas away from home. My goal was to win her over, and lucky for me, I had Santa Fe’s holiday charm on my side.

I leaned against the wall, enjoying the warmth of solar-heated adobe on my back. A group of carolers strolled by, harmonizing a bilingual version of “Feliz Navidad.” String lights and pine boughs decorated the porticos along Palace Avenue, and pinon smoke perfumed the air. To my eyes, the self-proclaimed “City Different” looked as pretty as a Christmas card. Once Mom got over the initial shock of leaving her comfort zone, she’d come around.

I hoped . . . Mom reached for a water bottle in her dual-holstered hip pack. “Hydration,” she said, repeating a caution she’d first raised nearly two decades ago, when I embarked for culinary school in Denver and its mere mile-high elevation. In between sips, she reminded me that proper water intake was the key to fending off altitude-induced illnesses ranging from headaches to poor judgment. She tilted her chin up and assessed me through narrowed eyes.

“You’re not drinking enough, Rita. I can tell. Your cheeks look dry. Your hands too. And your hair…”
Mom made tsk-tsk sounds. “Perhaps a trim would keep it from getting so staticky. You do look awfully cute when it’s short.”

I patted my shoulder-length locks, recently cut into loose layers that emphasized my natural staticky waves. I could use a drink. A tart margarita on the rocks with extra salt would do. My mouth watered. Behave, I chastised myself. It wasn’t even two in the afternoon, way too early for tequila. Plus, I loved my mother and her cute silver-flecked pixie cut. Most of all, I was delighted that she’d come to visit me and my teenage daughter, Celia. It was nice of Mom. No, more than nice. The visit bordered on maternal sacrifice.

As far as I knew, my mother, Mrs. Helen Baker Lafitte, aged sixty-eight and three quarters, of Bucks Grove, Illinois, had never left home for Christmas before, nor had she wanted to. Mom is a retired high school librarian, a woman of card-catalog order and strict traditions, otherwise known as doing the same thing year after year. Under usual circumstances, Mom keeps our “heirloom” artificial Christmas tree perpetually decorated and stored in the garage until the day after Thanksgiving, when she takes it out, dusts it off, and installs it to the left of the living-room fireplace. She places electric candles in each front window, hangs a wreath on the door, and wraps the holly bush in tasteful, nonflashing white lights. All of her holiday cards are mailed by the twelfth of December.

Food traditions are similarly strict. The Christmas Day lunch begins promptly at noon and is typically attended by my Aunt Sue, Uncle Dave, Aunt Karen, and younger sister Kathy and her family. Kathy’s husband, Dwayne, watches sports in the den, while their three kids hover between completely exhausted and totally wired from their morning gift frenzy. My mother and aunts whip up a feast of roasted turkey and stuffing, scalloped potatoes, sweet potato casserole with mini-marshmallows, Tater Tot hot dish, amazing monkey bread, Aunt Sue’s famous (or infamous) Jell-O surprise featuring celery and cheese cubes, and my favorite dish: pie, usually apple, mincemeat, and/or pumpkin. It’s a lovely meal, which I truly miss when I can’t attend. However, I also love Santa Fe and want to make my own traditions here.

“That’s one benefit for your sister,” Mom said, polishing off her second water bottle. I swore I heard her stomach slosh. “The beach is at sea level.”

“Yep, that’s the beach for you,” I replied in the perky tone I vowed to maintain for the rest of Mom’s visit. “Kath and the kids must be loving it. What a treat! A holiday to remember!”

“I warned Kathy about jellyfish,” Mom said darkly. “Rip currents, sharks, sand, mosquitoes. . . . It simply doesn’t seem right to be somewhere so tropical for Christmas, but Dwayne went and got that package deal.” Mom’s tone suggested Dwayne had purchased a family-sized case of hives.

I gave Mom another sympathetic smile, along with the extra water bottle she’d stashed in my purse. Of course she was out of sorts. Once the kids learned that they’d get to open their presents early and go to Disney World and the beach, Mom and the holiday hot dish hadn’t stood a chance. I, meanwhile, saw my chance to get Mom to Santa Fe.

I employed some of the guilt she usually ladled on me, telling her truthfully that Celia and I couldn’t get away this year between my work and Celia’s extracurricular activities. Mom, the master of loving manipulation, countered with how much my Illinois relatives would miss us. I was also single, she needlessly pointed out, implying that I could easily uproot. Furthermore, I lived in a casita, a home with tiny in its very name. She wouldn’t want to put me out, she said. Mom then played her wild card, namely Albert Ridgeland, my junior prom date. Wouldn’t you know, Mom had said. She’d recently run into Albert and he was divorced just like me, and with his own successful dental clinic and a mostly full head of hair and he sure would love to catch up.

Mom might be indirect, but she’s never subtle. Ever since my divorce from Manny Martin, a policeman with soap-opera good looks and accompanying philandering tendencies, Mom’s been after me to move back “home.” She sends me clippings of employment ads and monitors eligible bachelors. Peeved that Mom had dragged a divorced dentist into the debate, I went for the guilt jugular, reminding Mom that she was retired yet hadn’t visited in nearly two years. My tactic worked, possibly too well. Mom was staying for nearly three weeks—to get her money’s worth out of the flight—and I’d feel terrible if she didn’t have a good time.

I looked over and saw Mom eyeing a brown paper lunch sack perched a few feet down the adobe wall. The bag was open at the top and slightly singed on the sides. I could guess the contents. A votive candle nestled in sand.

Mom stepped over to peek inside.“It’s a wonder this entire state doesn’t burn down,” she declared. “Remember when your middle school band director, Mr. Ludwig, put on that world Christmas festival in the gymnasium? He almost set the bleachers on fire with one of these . . .” She paused. “What do you call them?”

“A farolito,” I said, proud to show off my local knowledge. “Some people call them luminarias, but Santa Feans are very particular about terminology. Here, luminaria refers to small bonfires. Farolitos are the candles in paper bags. There are electric farolitos too. You’ll see a lot of those along the rooflines of hotels and businesses. They’re pretty but nothing compared to the real ones on Christmas Eve. You’ll love it, Mom. You’ve never seen anything like it.”

Mom shuddered, likely imagining Santa Fe bursting into a spontaneous inferno rather than aglow with thousands of flickering lights. I decided not to tell her about the amazing three-dimensional paper lanterns I’d once seen soaring above the adobe city, lifted by the energy of the candles burning inside them. I needed to work on Mom before I exposed her to flying flames or peppers for breakfast.

Mom was rooting around in her hip pack. “I thought I had a granola bar. This time change and the lack of air are making me light-headed. You need to keep eating too, Rita.”

Eating, I always had covered. I also had a better idea than a squished fanny-pack snack.
“It’s the holidays, Mom. Let’s get some pie.”


About the Author

ann-myersAnn Myers writes the Santa Fe Café Mysteries. The first book in the series, Bread of the Dead (2015), introduced café chef and reluctant amateur sleuth, Rita Lafitte. Rita and her friends stir up more trouble in Cinco de Mayhem (March 2016) and Feliz Navidead (October 25, 2016). Ann lives with her husband and extra-large house cat in southern Colorado, where she enjoys cooking, crafts, and cozy mysteries.

You can find Ann online on Facebook at and her website


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11/20 Review, Guest post, Showcase @ Lauras Interests
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11/22 Showcase @ The Reading Frenzy
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11/25 Review @ Book Reviews From an Avid Reader
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12/12 Review & Guest post @ Jane Reads
12/12 Review @ Writing Pearls
12/13 Review @ sunny island breezes
12/14 Review @ Hezzi-Ds Books and Cooks
12/15 Review @ Booked on a Feeling
12/16 Review @ Reading Authors
12/18 Interview @ Cozy Up With Kathy
12/19 Review @ Wall-to-wall books
12/20 Review @ Book Babble
12/21 Review @ Bookishly me
12/28 Review @ JBronder Book Reviews
12/29 Showcase @ Bound 2 Escape
12/31 Review & Guest post @ Brooke Blogs


Partners in Crime Book Tours

Book Reviews: Poisoned by Steve Shukis, The Boy Problem by Kami Kinard, and The Diva Wraps It Up by Krista Davis

Chicago 1907, a Corrupt System, an Accused Killer, and the Crusade to Save Him
Steve Shukis
Title Town Publishing, September 2014
ISBN 978-099119381-3

Poisoned is the true account of a man tried and sentenced to life in prison for the deaths of six members of the Vrzal family. The mystery begins in 1903 with the death of the first victim, although at that point no whisper of murder surfaced. That would take several more deaths and a few more years.

It’s important to realize how corrupt officials of that time in Chicago, Illinois, could be. It seemed everything they did, every action they took, was first examined under the microscope of “what’s in it for me?” And some politicians were not above slanting facts in a direction they wanted them to go.

Too much crime in Chicago? Then trying and executing a murderer was bound to pander to outraged public opinion. Was he guilty? Well, that wasn’t necessarily the first criteria. And the burden of proof? That is what this book is all about.

A large city full of recent immigrants, many who knew little English, sets the stage for this case. In the early 1900s a great many Bohemians entered the states. The Vrzals were one such family. The Billiks another. Of this latter clan, Herman Billik was the patriarch. His occupation? It seems to have been bilking other hard-working immigrants out of their earnings. He was known as a fortune teller, a healer, and a magician. Rose Vrzal, wife of Martin and mother to a large family of children, contacted Herman and asked him to tell her fortune. Their relationship soon grew into a romance–on her side, at any rate. Billik seems to have been more in love with her money. Rose, we’re told, seems to have thought her husband and her children stood in the way of her happiness. And so the children, one by one until only three remained, died. So did her husband.

That short synopsis is a short outline of what happened. The book, Poisoned, tells what happened next. It takes the reader through the testimony of Herman Billik’s trial, the circumstances of how each person died, and what witnesses were allowed to say–what they were encouraged to say, true or not. One only hopes such a slap-happy trial could not occur today. Into the mix, a champion does emerge, one man who never believed the murders were perpetrated by the accused. Billik, by the way, escaped the hangman’s noose but was sentenced to life in prison.

Well researched, and complete with photos taken at the time, this is a book to put on your shelves not only because it’s a rousing good lesson concerning our justice system, but an extraordinary picture of life and death in those hard times.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, December 2014.
Author of Three Seconds to Thunder.


The Boy ProblemThe Boy Problem
Notes and Predictions of Tabitha Reddy
Kami Kinard
Scholastic Press, May 2014
ISBN 978-0-545-57586-7

The Boy Problem (Notes and Predictions of Tabitha Reddy) by Kami Kinard is a story about middle school student Tabitha Reddy, who is desperately wanting to find “the one.” She goes as far as making several predictability charts that will determine when, where, and how she will find this new beau of her life, despite her best friend Kara telling her that it will never work. As an adult reading a story based during middle school years, I do not miss being 12 years old one second.

Along with the math equations and the shout out to a subject many middle school students most likely hate, Kinard does a nice job at depicting what the typical middle schooler is like. They think their parents are “super annoying and boring”, school is a time for them to catch up with their friends and the daily gossip and they are the age where they can make friends and enemies in a day – within the same person. After reading this and observing the children of the same age during youth group lessons, Kinard nails describing this age group on the head of the nail.

But in between the “boys, boys, boys” plot, Kinard also explores friendship and community. The main character, Tabbi, finds a friend in somebody whom she always assumed to be one of the most annoying students in her year because of the way she acts, dresses, etc. When her uncle and his family feel the effects of Hurricane Sandy hit their town, she sets up a cupcake fundraiser (and also uses it as a class project) to help out. The book is the second in a series but seems to stand-alone as well. If you have a child who is in the 5-8th grade range, this book is right for them – and they’ll most likely want a cupcake when they finish!

Reviewed by Kristina Akers, November 2014.


The Diva Wraps It UpThe Diva Wraps it Up
A Domestic Diva Mystery
Krista Davis
Berkley Prime Crime, June 2014
ISBN 978-0-425-25814-9
Mass Market

Ms. Davis has created a delightful Christmas mystery. Set in a small town that is close to fanatical about celebrating the Christmas season with holiday cheer, Sophia and her neighbors vie to create the most spectacular interior and exterior house and yard decorations. Amidst putting Santas on the roof, wrapping several zillion lights around every immovable object in the neighborhood, and non-stop baking Christmas treats, one of the neighbors is murdered in the most un-Christmas-like manner.

Intrigue, convoluted family dynamics and Christmas goodies abound as Sophia and her friends try to solve the crime, much to the dismay of Sophia’s sweetheart, a member of the local police force. One of the neighbor’s extended and unwelcome family members arriving for the holidays further complicate the possible list of suspects. But with enough eggnog, spiced tea and chocolate coated treats, the questions are stripped away, leaving everyone aghast when the real murderer is revealed. Of course, not until the killer has cornered Sophia and her life is just a sugar sprinkle away from death.

If you are delighted by Christmas cheer and reindeer, mixed with your ‘who-dun-it,’ you’ll enjoy this cozy mystery.

Holiday recipes at the end of the book, some of which are incorporated within the story, add to the charm of this Christmas mystery.

Reviewed by Elaine Faber, July 2014.
Author of Black Cat’s Legacy.