Teenagers handed out candles to the people who had come to watch. Each dog and cat received a light that could be attached to a collar with a carabiner-style clip. They glowed in the shapes of stars. A bell rang once, silence fell over the crowd, and the children sang “Away in a Manger.”
And “Jingle Bells.” And even “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree.”
Not a single person in the crowd didn’t smile as they continued their performance. At midnight, the church bells in the bell tower rang out, just like I remembered from my childhood. It was Christmas Day. The procession of candles and darting stars as people and their furry friends walked home was almost as special as the children singing.
“Ouch, ouch, ouch!” Zelda whispered.
“I told you to wear gloves,” muttered Shelley.
I could barely make them out on the dark porch. It was one in the morning, and Wagtail was slumbering. If it hadn’t been for the moon, I wouldn’t have been able to see them at all.
“Gloves are too cumbersome,” Zelda groused.
“I don’t know how you can place the lights precisely with woolly fabric on your fingers.”
I shivered as a cold wind swept through. My elf tights with one red leg and one green leg weren’t thick enough to keep out the chill. We stood on Marie Carr’s front porch, hastily wrapping colorful lights on the Christmas tree we were delivering. Shelley passed me the cord of lights. I wrapped them around my section of the tree and handed them to Zelda. “Hush, you guys,” I hissed. “Two kids live here. You’ll wake them!”
Wagtail, a small town in the mountains of Virginia, had experienced a boom year by catering to visitors who brought their dogs and cats for a vacation where they could be part of the fun. This year, instead of exchanging gifts with our neighbors or having secret Santas, the town had decided to make the holidays merry for our less-fortunate residents. My grandmother, whom I called Oma, German for grandma, had installed a suggestion box in the lobby of the Sugar Maple Inn, which we ran together. Anyone could stop by and drop off a suggestion for a deserving neighbor or a resident in need. And then the semisecret Elf Squad was dispatched.
If I see or hear the word, cat, related to any book, I normally buy it. I'm a collector of all things cats, including some live ones... So when I saw, Not A Creature was Purring, a book in the Paws and Claws Mystery Series by Krista Davis, I immediately downloaded this Christmas special, and loved it...Now, I'm starting from the first in series, by the way, and finding that the main characters remain the same, but the story changes in each book, making it a perfect series for me to recommend as a cozy or amateur detective series, whichever you prefer. I normally continued using cozy since I find that whenever I want something I know I'll enjoy, thinking about a cup of tea to curl up with, "cozy" just seems to me to be the more appropriate name for these books.
While the kitten in the series, Twinkletoes, a calico who is known as the feline ambassador of the Inn before Holly came, she quickly accepted Holly as "hers..." You cat owners will know what I mean by that. Twinkletoes is not the main character, but I still enjoy how each writer develops a unique personality to seduce us cat lovers into buying the books. Actually, Trixie, a Jack Russell Terrier, is the main animal character... And, with her special skill, it's no wonder she's a star. You see, her smelling skills leads her to all the victims in each cozy mystery--in other words, she finds the dead body! Yikes! Not a skill that is especially endearing to Holly and we readers, but it does set up the amateur detective, Holly Miller, who is the main character.
Holly has come to visit her grandmother who runs the Sugar Maple Inn in Wagtail. I immediately wondered whether Wagtail was the town's name before...or after. You see, this little town has taken advantage of the love of cats and dogs by so many people, and have directed the entire community in garnering and hosting all those who love to take their pets with them wherever they travel. Honestly, I was immediately enchanted how every single detail has been afforded each and every animal visitor, and, of course, their loved ones... Davis is one of those authors that I commend for creating an upfront directory of both the main characters who continue from book to book, but also who will appear in each book. This has always helped me as "the plot thickens" and I want to refresh my memory of who the visiting characters are.
Trixie was picked up by Holly on her way to visit...Trixie was hitchhiking and chose Holly to rescue her. Now, there is no way that Trixie is ever left behind when Holly is out and about. And if she does leave him behind for safety's sake, Trixie has learned the Inn's secrets from Twinkletoes, who has become a good friend and playmate, and they quickly are out and about on their own, sometimes getting in trouble!
One other ongoing character deserves acknowledgment at this point. Holmes Richardson, a childhood friend from Holly's early life when she came during the summers to visit and help at the family Inn. Secretly, Holly has never lost her romantic feelings for him, even though both she and Holmes are engaged to somebody else! One advantage, however, both grandmothers in the families would very much like to see Holly and Holmes together! It's a side plot that is fun to watch as all of these characters flow through each story and become enmeshed in the mysteries.
Dare you contemplate a town where all animals meet and play together, with people food on restaurant menus, made especially and safely for your pets' consumption and their dinners are served on the floor near you while you dine? Sound too good to be true? Well, probably so, since there's always murder afoot in Wagtail. But, the level of detail in creating such a town and community is one of the best creative storylines I've read and which adds so much to each book.
I'm reading Murder Most Howl right now, which features a Murder Mystery Weekend at the Inn. The Ghost and Mrs. Mewer and Murder She Barked set a good foundation for the series while including a murder mystery for readers to try to solve. Given my reading in the series so far, I can almost guarantee that anybody who loves pet characters in murder mysteries will be thrilled with Krista's tails, oops, I mean tales, from Wagtail! Highly recommended for the characters, stories and the mysteries!
I hope you are enjoying the Christmas Season! I also hope my thoughts about Krista Davis' Paws and Claws Mystery Series will bring you joy now and as you read this and her other series...
May the new year begin with the sure knowledge that O Holy Night is the reason for the season! Remember, Celebrate the Birth of Jesus on that Night!