Friday, November 25, 2016

Feliz Navidead by Ann Myers

This cozy mystery was a delight to read. It has all the elements I require for a satisfying novel.

Reading this novel was my introduction to the Santa Fe Cafe series. This one takes place at the Christmas season. Chef Rita Lafitte of Tres Amigas Cafe is trying to entertain her mom, visiting from Minnesota. She's also keeping track of her teenage daughter performing in the outdoor Christmas play. When Rita discovers a dead actor during the first performance, she swears she is not going to investigate. Try as she might, she is soon involved in a very dangerous situation.

I love the characters in this novel. Rita is good but the side characters make this novel so much fun. I love the Knit and Snitchers, an elderly group of ladies who who knit pieces they sneak onto statues, stop signs, and other items. One of them even makes her own moonshine. She was kicked out of the farmer's market when she tried to sell it there but was a hit for one day. These women provide inside information for Rite and are a hoot.

There are other great characters too, like Rita's mother who is a little out of her element. I like how she adapts to her daughter's life in the south. Other entertaining characters include a Native American witch casting spells, a zen focused woman spreading healing herbs, and a villain who is really mean. There are even quirky animals, like the miniature donkey who loves baked goods, snitching muffins from admirers.

The setting is wonderful, Santa Fe at Christmas. I learned a great deal about the Christmas celebrations they put on. I also suffered from drooling over all the ethnic food described. Myers provides several recipes and the bizcochitos sound delicious.

I like it when I am entertained and informed by a novel. Myers has included information on a serious issue for Native Americans. Many Hopi artifacts have been recovered and taken from sites over the years as there is a lucrative market for them, especially sacred items. Many local tribes are asking museums to return items and this is a thought provoking issue.

I like how, as the plot progresses, the possible motives for murder multiply, as do the suspects. And there is a good bit of suspense and danger near the end. Even so, an added plus in this mystery is humor. It is a welcome treat throughout the novel.

I recommend this novel to those who enjoy a cozy mystery with quirky characters, an informative and entertaining setting, and an issue to think about. I suggest you only read this novel on a full stomach as the food described is mouth watering.

I am taking part in a blog tour of this book. Click here to view the 'Feliz Navidead by Ann Myers' Tour Participants.

My rating: 5/5 stars.

Ann Myers writes the Santa Fe Cafe Mysteries. The first book in the series, Bread of the Dead (2015), introduced cafe chef and amateur sleuth, Rita Lafitte. Rita and her friends stir up more trouble in Cinco de Mayhem (March 2016) and Feliz Navidead (October 2016). She and her husband live in southern Colorado. You can find her online on Facebook and her website.

Book Details:

Genre: Cozy Mystery, Christmas
Published by: Avon
Publication Date: October 25th 2016
Number of Pages: 352
ISBN: 0062382322 (ISBN13: 9780062382320)
Series: Santa Fe Cafe Mystery #3

Feliz Navidead Can Be Found on: HarperCollins, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Goodreads.

Read an excerpt:

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.”

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