Cherico’s newlywed librarian Maura Beth Mayhew is back from her honeymoon and she and Jeremy McShay are settling into married life. But as the holidays approach, Cherico’s economy is struggling, and there’s even a mysterious crime spree afoot. Maura Beth decides what the community needs is a healthy dose of Christmas cheer—which means a special meeting of the Cherry Cola Book Club...
Along with the delicious potluck offerings everyone has come to expect, Maura Beth has invited members and the public to share their most uplifting stories—and share they do. In fact, Cherico’s residents infuse the gathering with so much hope and courage they just might inspire a culprit’s confession, and conjure a miracle that could save the town—and Christmas…
“An intrepid librarian, a book club feast, and a cozy, heart-warming Mississippi
mystery—what’s not to love?” --Jamie Ford, New York Times bestselling author Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet
About the Author
Ashton lives in Oxford, MS, enjoying the amenities of a university town that many writers have called home. Readers can like Ashton Lee at: facebook.com/ashtonlee.net.
Read an Excerpt
A Cherry Cola Christmas
By ASHTON LEE
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2015 Ashton Lee
All rights reserved.
Bad News Travels Fast
Who would have guessed that everything would go south so fast in Cherico, Mississippi, during the two weeks Maura Beth and Jeremy enjoyed their honeymoon in Key West? Their sunny, carefree days were filled with hand-holding strolls along Duval Street, a mandatory visit to the Ernest Hemingway House and Museum with its lovely lacework balconies and extra-toed cats lounging around like royalty, and frequent appearances at Sloppy Joe's for margaritas and the Schooner Wharf Bar for shrimp and lots of live music before retiring to the joys of their creative and athletic lovemaking. The bride and groom had a few surprises for each other, but none that was not wickedly delightful and worthy of return engagements. Amazing what a little salt air and lots of salted rims could do for the imagination and libido!
Of course, it was not like they had left things in bad shape prior to their departure. Nor had Maura Beth received any cautionary cell phone calls or e-mails from her trusty assistant, Renette Posey, that The Cherico Library or any other institution was in trouble. Instead, their stay in Florida had tumbled by all too predictably like the tide ebbing and flowing and without a thought of the extreme northeast Mississippi corner of the world that they shared.
To be sure, it had taken a great deal of patience and all the compassion she could muster for Maura Beth to resolve her lifelong issues with her mother, Cara Lynn, which the wedding had brought to a head like an annoying prom night pimple that refused to pop in time for the festivities. But the two women had embraced in tears and exiled their conflict once and for all, and Maura Beth had fully expected to return to Cherico rejuvenated and ready to tackle such ongoing issues as the new library under construction and the always-devious behavior of Councilman Durden Sparks.
In fact, it seemed to be a very good sign that Cara Lynn Mayhew was reasonably restrained in demanding the details of her daughter's honeymoon over the phone that first evening back. "Of course, you know your father and I will want copies of all the pictures you and Jeremy took. But take your time. I remember that it took me forever to wind down after our honeymoon ended."
"We'll get you a copy of the CD soon," Maura Beth told her, pleased with her mother's understanding tone.
"Make that two copies while you're at it," Cara Lynn added. "Your Cudd'n M'Dear wants a copy, too. It's the least you can do after she gave your library that enormous endowment. I assume you've written your thank-you note to her."
"Of course I have. It was the first one I wrote. Not to mention all the postcards I sent her from Key West. So, two copies of the CD it is. And what is our dear cousin up to now?"
"Something outrageous as usual," Cara Lynn continued, practically hissing through the phone. "She's apparently called up all the New Orleans television stations and demanded that they give her time for a telethon to — get this — eliminate static cling and static electricity!"
"I know. And of course, they're having absolutely nothing to do with her, so she's bending my ear all the time about what a serious issue this is and how she's sick and tired of getting shocked after walking across the shag carpet and having her delicates clinging to her thighs and backside when she pulls them out of the dryer. Face it, Maura Beth, she needs something to do with her life, and this is her latest attempt."
"Well, I'm just happy she gave me the wedding present to end all wedding presents. The library will never want for anything now."
"Isn't that the truth!"
Thus, a new day had truly dawned between mother and daughter. Maura Beth had never gotten off this easy in any long-distance conversation since her college days, and it made her feel like there was nothing out there she couldn't overcome.
Imagine her dismay, then, when the first thing that greeted her upon her return to work was a breathless and anxious-looking Renette, who did not even offer so much as her usual girlish smile or ask for any of the delicious honeymoon details.
"Councilman Sparks wants to see you in his office as soon as you get settled!" Renette told her, the urgency clearly registering in her voice.
"And it's good to see you again, too, Renette!" Maura Beth replied, still managing a smile. Then she welcomed her sweet-natured, teenaged assistant into her open arms for a heartfelt hug.
"Oh, I'm sorry, Miz Mayhew — I mean, Miz McShay. I'm gonna have to get used to your married name now," she continued as the two women walked into Maura Beth's crowded little office and sat across from each other. "It's just that so much has happened since you left — and none of it good."
"Really? I can't imagine what could have you this upset. Although I understand the part about Councilman Sparks. I should have had you wear a garlic necklace until I got back. Did he tell you what he wanted with me?"
"No, he was just very rude with me over the phone. He told me to tell you the moment you got back from Key West, and I quote, 'To get your little gallivanting, honeymooning, librarian self over to his office.' It's not a stretch to say he's probably up to no good as usual."
Maura Beth shrugged, tossing her auburn curls with definite nonchalance. She had been there and done that more than once with Councilman Sparks. She had won a year-long operational reprieve for the old, worn-out library she still occupied, and then with a little help from her friends had boldly finagled the construction of a brand-new, state-of-the-art facility from Cherico's virtual dictator.
So, what could she possibly fear now? Surely Councilman Sparks could not even be thinking about scuttling further construction of the new building! Why, the foundation had already been poured out at the edge of Lake Cherico, and even before she left for Key West, the first of many concrete pillars had risen to outline her pride and joy and the legacy she would leave to the quirky little town of Cherico.
"Of course, whatever Councilman Sparks has in mind is not the only bad news you'll have to deal with," Renette continued after an awkward pause. "Some more stores are closing, and there's also been some unexpected criminal activity since you left. It's almost as if someone was waiting for you to leave to go into action. It happened down at The Twinkle when no one was looking — some big tips right out on the tables were stolen. It makes me so nervous since I was broken into once and had all my electronic stuff carried off. I don't think I could stand going through that again — I couldn't get a good night's sleep for weeks!"
"Yes, I remember you telling me about what happened to you," Maura Beth said. A thoughtful frown broke across her forehead. "But why didn't you let me know about any of this while I was in Key West?"
Renette drew back, giving her a thoroughly skeptical glance. "And ruin your honeymoon? Now, Miz ... McShay — ha, got it right this time! I was not about to call your cell and tell you stuff you couldn't do a thing about way down there at the tip of Florida — at least not until you got back!"
Maura Beth's laugh was brief and gracious. "Good point. I'm sure I would have been annoyed if you'd actually done that." Her frown lines grew even deeper as she reflected. "Wow! Was anyone hurt at The Twinkle? Is Periwinkle okay?"
"Yes, she's fine. Everyone down there is fine, except for the missing money."
"Have they started investigating it?"
"Yes, they have. It's the talk of the town. Miz Periwinkle can give you all the details when you catch up with her, but I can tell you she's really upset that someone would do somethin' that mean and low-down!"
Maura Beth was squinting now, trying to visualize criminal activity at The Twinkle, of all places, but there was a complete disconnect in her mind's eye. "These days, I'm surprised nothing's been caught on someone's security camera."
"Miz Periwinkle doesn't have one. But she was in here the other day asking if I'd heard anything from you, and she said she was seriously considering adding a camera to protect her restaurant. But she was shaking her head all the time about it and saying things like, what was the world comin' to with people nasty enough to snatch up Miz Lalie Bevins's tips!"
"I don't blame her. Here I was thinking that Cherico, Mississippi, would be the last place on earth to worry about crime of any kind," Maura Beth observed, her face a study in disbelief. "Looks like even we aren't immune to it way up here in the middle of nowhere."
Renette took a deep breath, exhaling the weight of the world she'd been carrying around on her shoulders all the time she'd been in charge of the library. More than once, she'd told Maura Beth that she really didn't like the responsibility, but she'd never had any choice in the matter. The library had no assistant director — not even a children's librarian who could take over in Maura Beth's absence. "So when are you gonna up and go see you-know-who at City Hall?"
"I think I'll keep our favorite councilman waiting a tad bit," Maura Beth said. "I see I have tons of mail to sort through, and I'm sure I have lots of e-mails to answer and so forth. Besides, I don't want him to think he can just snap his fingers and I'll appear like something out of I Dream of Jeannie to grant his wishes. I know how he views all women, including that submissive wife of his, but I decided long ago that that just wasn't part of my job description."
They both leaned in and laughed like girlfriends. "Yep, you've really stood your ground with him and the other councilmen, Miz McShay — and it's paid off. You've always been my role model, you know."
Maura Beth's wink reflected the genuine camaraderie the two women had generated in a very short time; then she sighed. "Well, the honeymoon's over, literally. Back to work — and then over to City Hall to deal with the devil."
Renette wagged her brows, but a frown soon followed. "Oh, I forgot some more bad news. Emma's husband is still taking tests to find out what's wrong with him. She's so afraid it might be Alzheimer's. It's got her so upset, she just isn't herself. She said she might have to consider quitting to keep an eye on Mr. Leonard. She said she needed to talk to you as soon as you got back."
Maura Beth suddenly felt even more deflated. Mrs. Emma Frost, her other front desk clerk, was not particularly knowledgeable or educated, but she was always on time and never complained about the long hours or being on her feet during her shift. Plus, the plain-faced, sixty-something grandmother was a holdover from Miz Annie Scott's library regime, and Emma had made a point of emphasizing that she definitely needed her paltry salary to help make ends meet. And she had been very thankful to get the recent raise that had been provided by Cudd'n M'Dear's extremely generous library endowment — Maura Beth's ultra-spectacular wedding present from the most eccentric of her New Orleans relatives.
"I'm so sorry to hear it," Maura Beth said. "I was afraid of something like that when Emma kept saying that Leonard couldn't seem to remember the simplest things these days and would even wander around the backyard looking for something. But he could never tell her what it was. She said he'd even wandered out of the house now and then, and she had to track him down out on the sidewalk, thankful that he hadn't been hit by a car. So, she's taking it all really hard?"
Renette looked completely distraught. "Honestly, Miz McShay, there are times when I've heard her mumbling things to herself during the shifts we shared while you were gone. I know something like Alzheimer's isn't contagious, but she's doin' an awful good imitation of someone who might have it, too. And then, when I've asked if there's anything I can do for her, she just shrugs and kinda pushes me away."
"That isn't like her. She's always worn her emotions on her sleeve here at work, the way she'll get upset if she tells the wrong thing to a patron and comes to me all flustered until I tell her to calm down and that everything'll be just fine."
"I think she's just worried to death about her husband. I'm sure I prob'ly would be, too."
"Same here." Maura Beth paused to gather her thoughts, genuinely worried. "I'll see what I can do to comfort her when she comes in tomorrow. Meanwhile, Councilman Sparks is over there at City Hall, busy spinning his web. But this is one little fly that won't get trapped!"
The magic spell that Key West had cast over Maura Beth was beginning to fade with each City Hall front step she climbed. The three-story white columns towering above almost seemed to be frowning down upon her. For a brief moment, she actually contemplated how convenient it would be to return to that laid-back, semitropical environment — perhaps permanently. There would be nothing more difficult to deal with down there than the swaying of royal palms in the constant breeze off the Gulf — unless one of those frequent hurricanes came roaring in during the season. Unfortunately, she was about to face Cherico's very own hurricane in the form of Councilman Durden Sparks — always plotting, fomenting discord, and pitting folks against one another in the manner he had perfected over the past several decades. The man had "storm warning" written all over his face.
Before Maura Beth knew it, she was sitting across from the charming rascal himself in his spotless, designer showroom-like office with the smell of the rum-flavored cigar he was smoking lingering in the air. That was a new touch, she observed. Perhaps he thought smoking cigars made him even more of a good ole boy than he already was. Of course, getting all the meaningless pleasantries out of the way as fast as she could was the first order of business.
"Yes, Councilman, you're absolutely right," she was saying, sounding a bit bored. "Jeremy and I thoroughly enjoyed our honeymoon. It was everything we hoped it would be and more. But I'm sure you'll understand what I mean when I say that it was over all too soon."
He nodded perfunctorily, flashing one of his best reelection smiles. "That's the nature of honeymoons, of course. They really don't prepare any of us for the real world we live in, do they? Speaking of which, I have some very bad news to share with you today."
Maura Beth sat up straighter in her chair, looking alert and confident. She was ready for anything he had to throw at her these days. "I already know what you're going to say. It's about the stolen tips down at The Twinkle, isn't it?"
Councilman Sparks looked momentarily surprised, pulling back slightly. "Well, yes, that was a part of what I wanted to discuss with you. And I see you've been properly briefed."
"My assistant, Renette Posey."
Councilman Sparks cast his eyes at the ceiling for a moment or two. "Yes, that sweet little teenaged thing you've got working for you down there behind the front desk. Is she old enough to drive yet?"
Maura Beth refused to bristle. "She's a high-school graduate going on nineteen. But enough about Renette. Why don't you continue with your bad news? I know you're just bursting to tell me."
He cleared his throat loudly and then put the cigar down in the nearby ashtray where the smoke continued to curl upward lazily. "Yes, well, I'll get to the stolen tips bid'ness later. But first I wanted to tell you that Spurs 'R' Us, the cowboy boot manufacturer that was going to locate in our new industrial park, has backed out of the deal at the last minute. Said they're looking into another location up near Nashville. Dillard Mills, their two-faced CEO, had the gall to tell me over the phone he thought their boots would sell better if people knew they were made in the country music capital of the world and not here in Cherico. What an asinine reason! Who'd care about something like that? Anyway, I don't have to tell you that that's a real blow to our economy. It would've meant hundreds of new jobs for us, and we really need them. Our sales tax is lagging way behind last year, too. The town's in a real slump that shows no signs of ending soon. If it keeps up, Cherico's not gonna have much of a Christmas this year. I guess you could say that Spurs 'R' Us has Scrooged us!"
Maura Beth nodded sympathetically but remained wary. She could not see where he was going with this where she was concerned. "I'm sorry to hear that. I know you were excited about them being the first industry to locate in your park — the park to end all industrial parks."
Excerpted from A Cherry Cola Christmas by ASHTON LEE. Copyright © 2015 Ashton Lee. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Books by Ashton Lee,
1 - Bad News Travels Fast,
2 - Dreaded Birthdays and Hot Tips,
3 - The Eyes and Ears of Cherico,
4 - The Sinkhole,
5 - Yes and No,
6 - True Confessions,
7 - The Downside of Shelling Peas,
8 - A Short Walk to the Truth,
9 - Be Careful What You Wish For,
10 - Dinner Guests,
11 - Hanging by a Thread,
12 - Story Hour,
13 - Charles Durden Sparks — Step One,
14 - Frank Gibbons,
15 - Charles Durden Sparks — Step Two,
16 - Pamela Linwood,
17 - Charles Durden Sparks — Step Three,
18 - James Hannigan,
19 - Bonjour Cheri,
20 - Connie McShay and Cara Lynn Mayhew,
21 - Botulism and Populism,
22 - Enter Waddell Mack,
23 - Crème Brûlée Saves the Day,
24 - A Cherry Cola Christmas,
Recipes from Fat Mama's Tamales and The Twinkle, Twinkle Café,
A CHERRY COLA CHRISTMAS,
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This is the fourth in the Cherry Cola Book Club Series set in Small town Cherico, Mississippi. I did not read the first three but had no problem following the story. The main character is newlywed and head librarian Maura Beth who has just returned from her honeymoon with her husband Jeremy McShay. She has just returned to work when she is summoned to town hall by the local councilman. She is informed that the Cowboy Boot company they have been counting on to build a factory in their newly established industrial park, has reneged and decided to locate elsewhere. Businesses can no longer remain in Cherico and residents are moving to find work. Maura Beth has no issues with the library staff due to a healthy endowment from a relative, but she steps it up to help the community. Another problem the town is dealing with is that someone in the town is on a crime spree making everyone just that little bit more uneasy. The book club members all have their own issues as well, so when Maura comes up with the idea of hosting a special Christmas event of the book club to lift everyone's spirits and remind them all what this time of year is all about. She opens it to everyone in town to participate. Fortunately for Cherico, they happen to know the right people at the right time to help them deal with their problems. This was a sweet and perfect cozy read that would make great reading anytime but especially at Christmas. The characters are varied, which makes the book fun to read. There are eccentrics, bullies, introverts and know it alls, but they all come together for Cherico. A nice story for a cold weekend.
Title: Cherry Cola Christmas - Cherry Cola Book Club 4 Author: Ashton Lee Published: 9-29-15 Publisher: Kensington Books Pages: 304 Genre: Contemporary Fiction Sub Genre: Holidays ISBN: 9781617733437 ASIN: B00RRT305Y Reviewer: DelAnne Reviewed For: NetGalley . Maura Beth Mayhew has returned from her honeymoon and she and her husband, Jeremy McShay are just beginning to settle into their cottage. Their beloved town of Cherico, Mississippi has suffered a rash of petty and low level crimes. With long standing business closing and a promise of a large business locating in Cherico falls through tsking the hope of new jobs with it. Cherico is slowly dying. Failing health of many of their seniors and the loss of friends and family are taking its toll on Cherico residents. To revive the town's Christmas Spirit and sense of pride in their town once again. Calling the Cherry Cola Book Club together to see what they can do. Knowing good food and good company is always a way to offer comfort the plan a potluck dinner and a sharing of memories for the town. It is the season for miracles and Cherico needs a dose of Christmas cheer. A warm and heartfelt story filled with reminders of why there is no place like home for the holidays where there are shared memories and history with neighbors and friend. A story to touch the reader no matter the season. 4 out of 5 stars.
A Cherry Cola Christmas by Ashton Lee is the fourth book in The Cherry Cola Book Club series. Maura Beth McShay and her husband, Jeremy are returning from their honeymoon in Florida (The Keys). She returns to find out that someone stole tip money off a table at The Twinkle. Also, several businesses are closing or relocating to another town. Things are not looking good for Cherico, Mississippi. Maura Beth decides to hold a special meeting of The Cherry Cola Book Club for Christmas. She is hoping that many of the townspeople will come and she wants people to share inspirational stories. Maura Beth is hoping the stories will inspire the people of the town (to find a way to save their town) as well as put them in the right mood for Christmas. I liked the quirky characters in this book. I found Cherico, Mississippi to be a lovely town with good Christian values (I would love to find a town like this). This is the first book in the series that I have read, but it can be enjoyed without having read the first three books in the series (though it would be helpful). I give A Cherry Cola Christmas 4 out of 5 stars. If you enjoy Christian stories with just a hint of a mystery (that was child’s play to solve), you will enjoy A Cherry Cola Christmas. This book will put in the mood to celebrate Christmas in a different way (without all the gifts and hoopla). I received A Cherry Cola Christmas from NetGalley (and courtesy of the publisher) in exchange for an honest review.
FTC Full Disclosure - A copy of this book was sent to me by the publisher in hopes I would review it. However, receiving the complimentary copy did not influence my review. FTC Full Disclosure - A copy of this book was sent to me by the publisher in hopes I would review it. However, receiving the complimentary copy did not influence my review.