Book Review: A Cup of Holiday Fear

A Cup of Holiday Fear
Ellie Alexander, 2019

New Release! I received a copy of this book from NetGalley for the purpose of review.

Premise: Jules runs a bakery in charming artistic tourist town Ashland, Oregon, where she is kept busy preparing for the Christmas rush and snooping around after an out-of-towner ends up dead.

I've read quite a few Christmas-themed cozy mysteries by now. Most of them are readable but nothing special.

It wasn't immediately clear from the publisher's description that this takes place well into a series, but it was obvious from the first page. Backstory and past relationships are recapped at length, even when they have nothing to do with the plot of this book.

I have two fairly substantial issues with this book, and in the end, I can't give it a pass.

The first is the mystery itself; it's just uninteresting.

The killer is the obviously mean character, the victim was a horrible person, and the resolution takes place entirely off-screen in a complete anti-climax. Plus there's no reason I can find in this book for this character to be running about questioning people. Why is she involved? I know many cozy mystery series have this problem, but most of the ones I've read at least pay lip service to the "Murder, She Wrote phenomenon," where the local cops recognize that this person is always tripping over crimes and poking her nose in other peoples business.

Eventually, her stepfather (with the police) does ask for her help, but as I recall, this is after a bunch of random prying. The book tells me that Jules cares about the people affected, but I don't know why. There are so many characters who swing through briefly, and she seems to care about all of them, although few get any development in this volume.

My other problem is with the setting.

Ashland is a real place, and the Oregon Shakespeare Festival is a real company. Lance, the fictional artistic director, is a major character in this volume, and... well... he is so stereotypical, with his too-clean chic house, flamboyance, fashion, and cattiness. It bugged me. However, it only started to really piss me off after I checked and found out that as of this year, the actual artistic director of the Festival is an accomplished black woman, and the previous AD was a Tony-Award-winning director dedicated to increasing diversity and commissioning new work. To see all that represented in such a bland "flighty gay man runs a Shakespeare theater" way makes me sad.

The family-run inn where the murder takes place is a real place too, and they really do a special Dickens feast for Christmas. One of the major red herrings for the murder hinges on this family's relationship difficulties. The whole thing makes me uncomfortable. It's one thing to lightly fictionalize a real place or real people, or to have your characters work at a real company that's big enough to have plenty of anonymous employees, but to flesh out characters who are so clearly replacing real people in this way makes me uncomfortable.

The more I think about it, the less I like it, and the writing just isn't nearly good enough to justify the moral quandary. I would like to visit the real Dickens event, though.

1 Star - Didn't Like It