Christmas at the Mysterious Bookshop – 3 stories

Christmas at the Mysterious BookshopChristmas at the Mysterious Bookshop
by Otto Penzler
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9781593156770
Publication Date: January 1, 2010
Pages: 257
Genre: Mystery
Publisher: Vanguard Press

Each year, for the past seventeen years, Mysterious Bookshop proprietor Otto Penzler has commissioned an original Christmas story by a leading suspense writer. These stories were then produced as pamphlets, just 1,000 copies, and given to customers of the bookstore as a Christmas present. Now, all seventeen tales have been collected in one volume, showcasing the talents of:

Charles Ardai
Lisa Atkinson
George Baxt
Lawrence Block
Mary Higgins Clark
Thomas H. Cook
Ron Goulart
Jeremiah Healy
Edward D. Hoch
Rupert Holmes
Andrew Klavan
Michael Malone
Ed McBain
Anne Perry
S. J. Rozan
Jonathan Santlofer
Donald E. Westlake

Some of these stories are humorous, others suspenseful, and still others are tales of pure detection, but all of them together make up a charming collection and a perfect Christmas gift for all ages.


I’m done reading this one – my stack of Christmas TBR still looks a bit daunting, but I’ve read the first three stories, which I think are re-reads I’ve long forgotten about.

Each of the stories in this anthology was written as a Christmas present to customers at Mysterious Books.

Snowberries by Megan Abbott:  Good writing, with a noir vibe, but a weird story; more of a snippet, really.

Give Till it Hurts by Donald E. Westlake:  Silly; not in a good way.

Schemes and Variations by George Baxt: Best of the three, in terms of story (it actually had a plot).  The writing tried too hard to be witty, but sometimes succeeded.

The Folio Book of Christmas Ghost Stories

The Folio Book of Christmas Ghost StoriesThe Folio Book of Christmas Ghost Stories
by Various Authors
Rating: ★★★★★
Publication Date: January 1, 2005
Pages: 288
Genre: Fiction
Publisher: Folio Society

The 20 tales gathered together here range from the familiar - Charles Dickens, Walter de la Mare and MR James - to stories even the most ardent fan probably won't have come across before.

Howling winds and winter snows, rambling old houses and isolated inns, characters whose apparently ordinary lives hide guilty secrets and murky pasts, even a sinister Punch and Judy show - all the classic ingredients are here. Wonderful, spooky, full-colour illustrations by Peter Stuart add the finishing touch.


I started reading a few stories from a new (to me) anthology, Victorian Christmas Ghost Stories, and became frustrated by the lack of ghosts in the stories I chose, which prompted me to pull this down off my shelves, to re-read a few stories.  All I can say is that should you ever run across this in a used bookstore – and you enjoy a good ghost story – you cannot go wrong splashing out on it.  The ghost stories are good and the book is just gorgeous, with full color illustrations throughout.

I re-read three stories for this Christmas season:

Afterward by Edith Wharton:  I’m not actually sure why this story is included; it must take place during Christmas, but the holiday is not even a bit player in drama.  But it is a great ghost story; the subtle kind that creeps up on both the characters and the reader, so that it isn’t until Afterward that you know you’ve been haunted at all.

When Satan Goes Home for Christmas by Robertson Davies:  Not quite a ghost story but come on, it’s Satan.  And it’s a funny and oddly touching story in the most unexpected ways.

The Shop of Ghosts by G.K. Chesterton: This is a short one that starts off rather heartbreakingly, but ends not only with hope, but left me chuckling as well.  A masterful reminder that there truly is nothing new under the sun.

There are so many others I’d like to re-read this season, and I might, but with my to-do list being as long as anyone else’s this time of year, I’m calling it read and again recommend this for anyone who would enjoy an excellent collection of ghostly holiday cheer.

The Twelve Jays of Christmas (Meg Langslow, #30)

The Twelve Jays of ChristmasThe Twelve Jays of Christmas
by Donna Andrews
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9781250760180
Series: Meg Langslow #30
Publication Date: October 12, 2021
Pages: 320
Genre: Fiction, Mystery
Publisher: St. Martin's Press


Another successful Christmas instalment of the Meg Langslow series.  Finishing this, I’m now officially ready for the Christmas season.

In the last book, Murder Most Fowl, one of my complaints were that there was very little in the way of birds in the background – or really, any of the delightful menagerie of animals that have made appearances throughout the series.  Andrews made up for it in spades with this book as we not only get 2 mockingbirds and 12 bluejays, but 2 wombats as well!

Meg’s family was back in force too, although it seems gone are the days when we could delight in the same level of eccentricities that were so amusing in earlier books.  Still it’s always fun to read about the seemingly endless family and their ability to organise themselves and create massive buffet meals at the drop of a hat.

The murder mystery was mostly average; even thought the focus of the book was whodunnit, I imagine most readers will be more caught up in the holiday cheer and family togetherness that’s surrounding the murder.  While it wasn’t a badly crafted murder plot, I think the narrow suspect pool just made it difficult to be really stumped, and if I wasn’t willing to commit 100% to who the murderer was, I was absolutely certain about the plot twist.  Well, the second one anyway – I didn’t see the first one coming at all and I thought it was a very nice touch.

While I would never want Andrews to be the kind of author that phones it in for the sake of production, I have come to see these Christmas mysteries as an integral part of my personal season tradition, so as long as she has it in her to write them, I’ll continue to look forward to them.

Victorian Christmas Ghost Stories: How Peter Parley Laid a Ghost

The Valancourt Book of ​Victorian Christmas Ghost Stories: Volume OneThe Valancourt Book of ​Victorian Christmas Ghost Stories: Volume One
by Tara Moore (Editor)
Rating: ★★★
isbn: 9781943910564
Publication Date: January 1, 2016
Pages: 291
Genre: Fantasy, Fiction, Historical
Publisher: Valancourt Books

The first-ever collection of Victorian Christmas ghost stories, culled from rare 19th-century periodicals

During the Victorian era, it became traditional for publishers of newspapers and magazines to print ghost stories during the Christmas season for chilling winter reading by the fireside or candlelight. Now for the first time thirteen of these tales are collected here, including a wide range of stories from a diverse group of authors, some well-known, others anonymous or forgotten. Readers whose only previous experience with Victorian Christmas ghost stories has been Charles Dickens’s “A Christmas Carol” will be surprised and delighted at the astonishing variety of ghostly tales in this volume.


My first thought as I started reading this – a story aimed at Victorian children – was that the writing shines a sorry light on the state of today’s education.  I doubt many children today would be able to pass a reading comprehension quiz based on this story, purely based on the vocabulary.  I could be wrong, but the writing here is certainly more sophisticated than that of most of today’s books aimed at adults.

How Peter Parley Laid a Ghost by Anonymous was better than Conan Doyle’s Captain of the Pole-Star; more interesting, amusing, and frankly, better written.  But it’s still not a true ghost story; it’s a morality tale aimed at the folly of superstition.  In this context, it’s a brilliant story; in the context of a spooky ghost story … not so much.

The Santa Suit

The Santa SuitThe Santa Suit
by Mary Kay Andrews
Rating: ★★★½
isbn: 9781250279316
Publication Date: September 28, 2021
Pages: 210
Genre: Fiction
Publisher: St. Martin's Press

When newly-divorced Ivy Perkins buys an old farmhouse sight unseen, she is definitely looking for a change in her life. The Four Roses, as the farmhouse is called, is a labor of love—but Ivy didn't bargain on just how much labor. The previous family left so much furniture and so much junk, that it's a full-time job sorting through all of it.

At the top of a closet, Ivy finds an old Santa suit—beautifully made and decades old. In the pocket of a suit she finds a note written in a childish hand: it's from a little girl who has one Christmas wish, and that is for her father to return home from the war. This discovery sets Ivy off on a mission. Who wrote the note? Did the man ever come home? What mysteries did the Rose family hold?

Ivy's quest brings her into the community, at a time when all she wanted to do was be left alone and nurse her wounds. But the magic of Christmas makes miracles happen, and Ivy just might find more than she ever thought possible: a welcoming town, a family reunited, a mystery solved, and a second chance at love.


This book had a dubious beginning with a main character that was flat and wooden, a romantic interest that was a little bit too forward at the start, and a charming house, dog, fabulous Christmas decorations, and lovely small-town friendliness holding it together.

At just over 50%, Ivy finally started acting like a human being.  I kept expecting some big reveal about her childhood that would explain her complete lack of emotion about anything and everything, but it never happened.  This is one of those rare times when a little introspection on the part of the MC might have helped the reader develop some empathy and understanding, but without it, I just really didn’t connect with Ivy, with one exception: her scenes with Lawrence felt sincere and were the only times when it seemed Ivy came alive to any degree.

Phoebe’s side story with Cody worked out pretty much exactly the way I thought it would, although their meet-cute was a nice touch.

I’d have liked to have a seen a little more resolution concerning her relationship with the woman who owned the candy company – that felt unfinished to me.

The romantic ending of the story felt pretty rushed and awfully optimistic, (this coming from someone who’s relationship could be accused of being rushed and optimistic) but it’s a Christmas novella, so I guess I’m meant to just go with it.

But most of all, and the reason I ended up giving this story 3.5 stars instead of 3, I loved the back story about Bob and Betty Rae.  I love how they never lost their joy around the holidays, how they made such a quiet impact on the town during their lifetimes, and above all, I loved that they were Jewish.  NOT because of any religious nonsense, but because they were able to be the bright spark of the Christmas season for this small town without compromising their own faith.  I like reading stories about people coming together in the middle, rather than having to be one way or the other, and about being able to celebrate lots of different traditions without the stigma of turning your back on your own.  It was an unexpected twist I enjoyed, and let’s face it, I totally fell for all the talk about vintage ornaments and bubble lights.

For a story that started off with so little potential, it ended up being a sweet and somewhat charming holiday tale.

Jane and the Twelve Days of Christmas

Jane and the Twelve Days of ChristmasJane and the Twelve Days of Christmas
by Stephanie Barron
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9781616954239
Series: Jane Austen Mystery #12
Publication Date: October 1, 2014
Pages: 329
Genre: Fiction, Historical, Mystery
Publisher: Soho Press

Christmas Eve, 1814: Jane Austen has been invited to spend the holiday with family and friends at The Vyne, the gorgeous ancestral home of the wealthy and politically prominent Chute family. As the year fades and friends begin to gather beneath the mistletoe for the twelve days of Christmas festivities, Jane and her circle are in a celebratory mood: Mansfield Park is selling nicely; Napoleon has been banished to Elba; British forces have seized Washington, DC; and on Christmas Eve, John Quincy Adams signs the Treaty of Ghent, which will end a war nobody in England really wanted.

Jane, however, discovers holiday cheer is fleeting. One of the Yuletide dies in a tragic accident whose circumstances Jane immediately views with suspicion. If the accident was in fact murder, the killer is one of Jane’s fellow snow-bound guests. With clues scattered amidst cleverly-crafted charades, dark secrets coming to light during parlor games, and old friendships returning to haunt the Christmas parties, whom can Jane trust to help her discover the truth and stop the killer from striking again?


My first Christmas read of 2021, and a library loan that was the most reluctant of my choices that day.  I’m wary of books that use real historical figures as the main characters of their novels – they rarely turn out well – and a mystery series involving Jane Austen solving murders felt almost blasphemous, as well as an attempt to cash in on Austen’s popularity.

It was actually pretty good!  I know next to nothing about Austen’s life beyond the basics, so I can’t say her voice was accurate, but it’s definitely an accurate representation of many of her characters’ voices, which could be argued to be, in part, small pieces of herself as well as her observations of others.  There were lines in this book that felt like re-constructions of dialogue straight from Austen’s novels – not quotes or rip-offs, but the author definitely nailed the style, probably from deconstructing dialog from the books.

What I found really intriguing were footnotes in the text – probably not more than 1 or 2 per chapter – from the editor, clarifying historic events, or offering small amounts of historical background, for places, characters and events used in the plot.  I’ve never seen this meld of fiction and non-fiction before and I really appreciated the extra information, and that it was offered judiciously.

The mystery itself was average; the setup was good and the flow of clues and information worked well, it’s just that the murderer, in spite of being very well hidden beneath all the family secrets and political intrigues, was obvious to me from the start, as was at least one familial intrigue.

So, even though the mystery itself was a bit predictable, I ended up thoroughly enjoying the read.  This isn’t the first book in the series – it looks like there are quite a few before this one – but I had no trouble at all following along.  Two allusions were made about previous exploits, and these were footnoted with the titles they came from – the only two footnotes not about historical references.

I’m not sure if my library has any of the others, but I’m definitely interested in reading more of them.