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by Shelley Freydont
Berkely, September 2013
304 pages
ISBN: 0425252388

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

In the town of Celebration Bay, Christmas time is a treasured time of the year. There are parades and contests and most importantly Santa attends events and walks through town. To keep Christmas truly magical, the town has decreed that Celebration Bay will have one official Santa and will not allow any other Santas in town. This way, children will not be confused or dispirited by seeing several different Santas that do not look alike. Hank Ousterhout has been the official Celebration Bay's Santa for several years and plans to be Santa for several more years. Unfortunately this year, there is a counterfeit Santa!

Grace Thornsby runs Trim the Tree, a chain store specializing in mass market cheap Christmas items. Her store replaces the beloved Newland's Four Season Gifts, which also specialized in Christmas items. However, Newland's was sold and Grace moved in. Grace is an abrasive woman who is not interested in holiday charm but in the bottom line. In fact, she has decided to hire her own Santa this year. The fact that he smokes in public (i.e. in front of the children) and appears to be drunk does not matter to her.

The business community is up in arms about this woman and her tacky store. Her hiring of Santa is the last straw for many people. In fact, Hank, the town's official Santa, is so upset by her blatant disregard of town tradition that he threatens Grace.

It is up to town event planner, Liv Montgomery to resolve the situation. Before Liv has the chance to do much more than verify the fact that Grace has hired a new Santa, Santa is discovered murdered in Trim the Tree. And to make the situation worse, it looks like Hank might be the murderer. Now Liv, with the help of her business partner Ted Driscoll, must solve the murder and clear Hank's name. Only by solving this murder will Liv be able to restore holiday tradition and spirit to the town of Celebration Bay.

My favorite part of this book was Whiskey, Liv's dog. Unlike some cozies that feature animals, Liv's dog does not talk to her, does not have magical powers, does not lead her to clues and in fact just behaves like a dog. It is refreshing to have a dog that acts like a dog. In fact, what makes him memorable is the fact that Ted has been teaching the dog to sing! It is true that Whiskey's barks occasionally sound like the chorus to several Christmas favorites and he is determined to wear a red collar, but this makes him endearing and realistic rather than the super dogs that appear in many books.

Sarah Dudley, with a BA in English Literature, currently lives in PA with her herd of cats.

Reviewed by Sarah Dudley, November 2013

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