in the dead of winter
College student Ivy Towers reluctantly returns to Winter Break, Kansas to settle the estate of her late, great-aunt Bitty Flanagan, owner of Miss Bitty’s Bygone Bookstore. Bitty’s fall from a library ladder seems suspicious to Ivy, and items are missing from the store. An anonymous note confirms Ivy’s worst fears. Someone in Winter Break murdered Aunt Bitty. But why? Ivy and her former boyfriend, Deputy Sheriff Amos Parker, search for the truth about Bitty’s death and discover dark secrets that are worth killing for. As harsh winter weather rages all around Winter Break, another storm brews deep in Ivy’s heart. Everything she believes will be tested, and in the end, she will discover that love lurks in the most unexpected places.
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In the third round of Heartsong Presents: Mysteries, a new bookclub from Barbour Publishing, Nancy Mehl’s creation of Winter Break, Kansas, and the ensuing cast of characters make you want to settle in a rocker in front of a fire to read this faith-filled mystery set literally in the dead of winter before Christmas.

Ivy Samantha Towers (what was her mother thinking, Ivy asks herself) is called from the holiday break before her last semester of college to attend the final affairs of her great aunt Bitty. Bitty, the owner and proprietor of a wonderful book business in tiny Winter Break, which Ivy admits to not fully understanding or appreciating during her childhood years, was found dead at the foot of her rolling ladder. Since Ivy’s parents had left the country, Ivy takes it upon herself to deal with funeral and estate matters.

Although Ivy grew up in Wichita and spent summers and holidays in Winter Break, she took her identity from her childhood vacation spot. When Ivy’s parents went to fulfill a life-long dream to serve as missionaries in China, Ivy, who had always felt superfluous, decided to create a new identity. She left all childishness, including her name and everyone in Winter Break, behind her. Upon looking at Winter Break through adult eyes, Ivy discovers that while the comfortable and challenging memories stayed the same, she has never really left Bitty’s life and faith lessons after all.

Despite a medical and police report that state Bitty’s death is an accident, a mysterious note leads Ivy to believe otherwise. Ivy enlists the help of childhood chum-turned-sheriff, Amos, for help in breaking a coded list left by her ultra-conscientious aunt. Suspects include her aunt’s boyfriend, the store clerk and the handsome stranger who distracts Ivy from Amos’s attentions. When we learn that Bitty had been honored with the secret recipe for the infamous Redbird Burger, all bets are off.

Mehl replays the crime through the accuser’s interpretations to reveal the real killer’s motives. I feel at home in Winter Break, even in late June shortly after the last snow pile in Wisconsin melted. Mehl’s enjoyable characters and their personal growth make them compelling. In the Dead of Winter is great fun.

Lisa Lickel

Reviewing a cozy mystery is a new experience for me, but I became an immediate fan of the genre. Nancy Mehl weaves her cozy spell so skillfully that I was enthralled from page one. Ivy Towers is an appealing heroine, Winter Break, Kansas the ideal location, and supporting characters lend depth to the delicious plot.
Ivy Towers holds fond childhood memories of Winter Break and her Great Aunt Bitty. Ivy's parents are missionaries to China. Bitty nurtured the girl in her parents' absence. Many happy, comfortable times were spent in Miss Bitty's Bygone Bookstore. Now Bitty has died, leaving everything she owns to Ivy, including the book store. Winter Break is a tiny Kansas town where winter comes early and leaves late. The book store never changes. Outside a wintry wind blows sleet and snow against the windows, but inside Bitty's store Ivy finds a familiar sanctuary: the scent of lemon oil and smell of old books, a warming fire crackling in the fireplace, the old grandfather clock, and a purring cat. Cozy. Safe. Comforting. Ivy knows Aunt Bitty considered death to be a "home-going" and not a loss, but the truth is immediately apparent and troubling. Bitty's death was not the accident it seemed at first, and someone helped Ivy's aunt get to heaven prematurely. The small town book store owner and doting aunt was an expert in rare books and had clients all around the world. Did someone kill Bitty to possess a rare book? Or is the cause of death more sinister than that?
Mehl scatters tantalizing hints and red herrings throughout the story for readers to unravel. Did one of the colorful locals murder Bitty? Maybe the kindly owner of the Food-a-Rama didn't love Bitty as much as he pretends. Did her hired assistant weary of his labors and do Bitty in out of spite? And why is Amos Parker, Ivy's childhood friend turned sheriff, so insistent that she leave town immediately? I can almost guarantee readers won't solve the mystery before Ivy does.
Laurel Johnson, Midwest Book Review