The Chocolate Bunny Brouhaha (Chocoholic Mystery Series #16)

The Chocolate Bunny Brouhaha (Chocoholic Mystery Series #16)

by JoAnna Carl

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From the national bestselling author of The Chocolate Falcon Fraud comes an Easter-candy caper featuring chocolatiers Lee Woodyard and her aunt Nettie, and a killer who’s hopping mad…
The approach of Easter means a rush of business at TenHuis Chocolade, and Lee Woodyard and her aunt Nettie need all the help they can get to make their famous chocolate bunnies. Unfortunately, new hire Bunny Birdsong is a klutzy basket case. But to Lee’s surprise, she’s a wiz with computers and fixing the store’s website, so they decide to keep her.
However, Bunny receives a few visitors they could do without: Her soon-to-be ex-husband Beau, his wealthy aunt Abigail, and his new girlfriend and her brother all descend on the shop one day and have a bitter argument. Lee hopes they can find a peaceful way to settle their dispute, but when Abigail’s body is discovered in the vacant store next door, it’s clear to Lee there’s a bad egg in her midst. Now she’s on the hunt to find out who it is…

Includes tasty chocolate trivia!

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780451473837
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 11/07/2017
Series: Chocoholic Mystery Series , #16
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 240
Sales rank: 223,816
Product dimensions: 4.10(w) x 6.60(h) x 0.80(d)

About the Author

JoAnna Carl is the pseudonym for a multipublished mystery writer. She is the national bestselling author of the Chocoholic Mysteries, including The Chocolate Bunny Brouhaha, The Chocolate Falcon Fraud, and The Chocolate Clown Corpse. She spent more than twenty-five years in the newspaper business as a reporter, feature writer, editor, and columnist. She holds a degree in journalism from the University of Oklahoma and also studied in the OU Professional Writing Program. She lives in Oklahoma but summers in Michigan.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1

I always think of it as the afternoon of the Birdsong invasion.

It began with someone pounding on our back door and ringing the doorbell at the same time. TenHuis Chocolade seemed to be shaking with the sounds.

"What on earth?" I stood up and moved toward the door. "Whoever is out there must have three hands. It would take more than two to pound and punch that hard in unison."

I flipped the lock and swung the door open. "What's the matter?"

Bunny Birdsong rushed in, nearly knocking me flat. She's short, and I'm tall, and the two of us managed to get all mixed up. Arms and legs were every which way. I felt like a marionette with tangled strings.

Bunny was in a panic. "Quick! Quick! Close the door!"

She freed herself from our knot, whirled around, and slammed the door hard. She locked the dead bolt. Then she leaned back against the metal surface, panting. Her spiked blond hair was standing up straight, and her gray eyes were as big as poker chips.

"Thank God you were there to let me in, Lee! I was so frightened."

I stared. "What were you scared of, Bunny?"

"It was that man again! The one with the ski mask! He followed me down the alley!"

"Let me have a look," I said. I took Bunny by the arms and moved her aside. Then I unlocked the door and took hold of the handle.

But before I could turn it, Bunny had shoved herself in front of me again. "Don't open it, Lee! I'm sure he's dangerous!"

I beckoned to Dolly Jolly, who was sitting at one of our break room tables, staring at our performance. Dolly joined me at the door, and I spoke to Bunny, trying to keep my voice calm. "It's okay."

Dolly is more than six feet tall, husky, with brilliant and bushy red hair. I'm just a shade under six feet myself, not thin, with blond hair. Side by side, the two of us can make a big impression.

"Dolly and I are each as big as Goliath and as tough as Godzilla," I said. "We can scare anybody away."

"No, no!" Bunny sounded terrified.

I pushed the door open, and Dolly and I both peered around it. Then we stepped outside and looked up and down the alley. It was a crisp, sunny winter day in west Michigan, and there was no one near the back door of the TenHuis Chocolade shop.

Dolly yelled, "Nobody there!"

Dolly has one social flaw. She can't speak in a normal tone of voice. Everything she says comes out in a shout.

"Bunny, I don't see a soul," I said.

Bunny still looked scared. She sank into a chair and covered her face with her hands. "I know I didn't imagine it."

"It was probably just some guy headed for the back door of the wine shop," I said. I tried to make my voice calm and soothing.

"I hope that's all it was," Bunny said. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to cause any trouble."

She got to her feet, and her chair fell over behind her. She picked it up, knocking it into the edge of the table. The can of Diet Coke I'd been drinking teetered. I caught it. Then Bunny went toward the restroom, her head drooping and her feet dragging.

As soon as we heard the restroom exhaust fan start, Dolly spoke in the loud hiss that she used for a whisper. "I'm so sorry for that poor little thing." Then she moved closer to me. "But your aunt's right. She's got to go."

I nodded and gave a sigh that came up from my toes. "You're right," I said. "Darn it."

I'm business manager for TenHuis Chocolade. We produce and sell fabulously delicious bonbons, truffles, and molded chocolate.

My aunt and uncle, Nettie and Phil TenHuis, apprenticed in the chocolate business in Amsterdam forty years ago, then opened their shop in Warner Pier, Michigan, the most picturesque resort on Lake Michigan and their hometown. My uncle Phil died seven years ago, and three years later Aunt Nettie remarried, becoming Nettie TenHuis Jones when she tied the knot with Warner Pier's chief of police, Hogan Jones. She remains president and chief chocolatier at TenHuis.

I handle the money. I'm Lee McKinney Woodyard, from the Texas branch of the family, and I serve as business manager.

Because much of our operation is mail order, we employ people year-round. Many Warner Pier businesses are not able to do that. They focus on the tourist season, from Memorial Day to Labor Day. But TenHuis keeps making truffles and bonbons all winter, fall, and spring. We're not a large operation; we have around thirty-five employees.

And Aunt Nettie refuses to fire a single one of them.

That doesn't mean that TenHuis Chocolade never has an employee who simply does not work out and has to be let go. No, it means that the job of firing people falls to the business manager. I have to do it.

And yes, I hate firing people just as much as Aunt Nettie does. But she's president and sole owner of the company. The Boss. Besides, I owe my dear aunt more than I can ever repay. Twice in my life-when I was sixteen, and my parents got a divorce, and when I was twenty-seven, and I got one myself-she took me in and told me I was going to get through the heartbreak. I love and respect her to the nth degree. I do what she tells me to do.

So if she says, "Take care of it, Lee." I say, "Yes, Aunt Nettie," even if I have to fire somebody. But I don't have to like it.

As if there wasn't enough going on already, I told myself. The regular responsibilities of my job included keeping the accounts, paying the taxes, sending out the bills, supervising our retail shop, ordering supplies, and a million other details. Plus, we were in the middle of preparing for Easter, a major marketing effort for the chocolate business, and my computer had picked this time to act up.

But the biggest problem was that we had launched a remodeling project that was going to double the size of our physical plant. We had bought the building next door, and we were starting the process of adding it to our current building.

The project, of course, was going to require at least twice as much time and twice as much money as we had anticipated. Everybody who had ever been through an expansion project like ours had warned me that would be true. Naturally I hadn't believed them until I was up to my hips in architects.

So I didn't have time to take the bad guy role and fire people. But in the case of Bunny Birdsong, it had to be done that day. Whether I wanted to do it or not.

I considered slashing my wrists. Then I pictured Aunt Nettie's reaction. "Lee, before you go to the hospital to be sewn up, would you please tell Bunny that we're letting her go? While you take care of that, I'll call an ambulance. And try not to bleed into the white chocolate vat."

I couldn't get out of it.

So when Bunny came out of the restroom, I spoke. "Bunny, as soon as you sign in, please come up to my office for a few min- utes."

Bunny nodded, though her head drooped even lower. My head was drooping just the same way as I walked up front and sat down behind my desk.

This is not a rehab facility, I told myself. This is a business. Our employees must be productive. If they aren't, then we must replace them. We are not a charity. Our purpose is to make a profit. It's the American way.

Darn it! And darn Joe Woodyard, too! I included my husband in the curse because he had recommended Bunny to us in the first place.

Bunny Birdsong had had a rough time in life. She needed a break for once, and Aunt Nettie and I had hoped we could give her one. But Bunny just hadn't worked out in the chocolate business, even at an entry-level job.

Some people think that low-level workers are dumb or unambitious or lazy or incompetent. That attitude makes me furious. Maybe it's because I come from a blue-collar family, but I have the highest respect for the people who do routine jobs.

I call the ladies who work for TenHuis our "geniuses." They must have great coordination; how many people can swirl a hundred tiny chocolate loops on top of a hundred bonbons and have the hundredth one be as even as the first? How many people can roll a half ounce of nougat into a ball that will become the filling for a truffle, do it two hundred times, and have every single ball be exactly the same weight as all the others? Yes, it's routine work. But it's also highly skilled. And yes, we pay above minimum, and we offer all the benefits we can afford.

But after three months at TenHuis Chocolade, Bunny just wasn't cutting it. Her bonbon decorations were messy. Her truffle production was slow, because she still weighed every single ball of nougat. She had once filled a bowl with milk chocolate and left a trail across the workroom floor when she carried it to the table where she was going to work. And then she stepped in her trail, slipped, and fell down. She could scrub the enrober-a sort of shower bath for truffles and bonbons-until it was spotless, but she could never remember how to reassemble it. After three months, she still required constant supervision.

Then there was this business of being afraid, of thinking someone was trying to hurt her. Bunny was continually fearful. If she got a phone call, there was a weirdo on the line. Her mail was full of crank letters. Or, like today, if she walked down the alley, a strange man followed her.

Yet I liked Bunny. She was sweet. She brought cupcakes-homemade and decorated crookedly-for the break room. She was cheerful, even when things were going askew. She told jokes-silly ones, but endearing. She was interested in her fellow workers. She was kind, and she never gossiped.

She was lovable, but she didn't produce chocolates. All I would be able to do was give her an extra month's salary and promise her a good recommendation.

Darn it again, I thought. Why does life have to be full of bad choices? Bunny's jerk of a husband was divorcing her. She had suddenly faced life without financial support, and now I had to tell her she couldn't handle a routine job making chocolates.

There was no good way to resolve this problem.

My office is in the front of the business so I can oversee the retail shop while I'm working. By the time I was at my desk, I was fit to be tied. So when the phone rang, it didn't help. Especially when the phone call came from one of our more demanding clients.

Stella Drumm is a chief buyer for a major department store chain. She spends a lot of money with us, and she expects a lot of service.

"Lee, I sent you an e-mail yesterday," she said angrily. "Why haven't you answered me?"

"I'm sorry, Stella. I haven't seen an e-mail from you. Can you send me a copy?"

"Never mind. We need to order six thousand eight-inch Easter bunnies in time for a promotion beginning March first. Will that be a problem?"

"Of course not, Stella." Six thousand! I'd get 'em there if I had to make every one myself. An order like that would pay for a lot of electricity and heat.

Stella kept talking. "We want the standard Easter colors, of course. Which reminds me, I hope the colors on your Web page aren't the real colors. Those are lousy. Too harsh. They look like a discount store."

"You're right, Stella. The colors didn't come out well on the Web page. My computer guy is supposed to fix them. I guarantee that the actual bunnies will be decorated with soft pastels."

"They'd better be, or they'll be shipped back to you. Collect. And we want the bunnies divided between the ones with baskets, the ones with wheelbarrows, and the farm boy bunnies with rakes and shovels. Have you got that?"

Yikes, that was going to require a lot of hand decorating, which meant overtime. We could turn the molds-reuse them-only once an hour. I'd have to beg my buddy at the mold company for extras, and they'd have to be sent overnight.

I figured rapidly. "You said two thousand of each?"

"No! We're putting them in a hundred stores. That would be six thousand!"

"Isn't that what you said?"

"No! It's three thousand of each, Lee. Nine thousand."

"I'm sorry I misunderstood." That wasn't what she had said, but for an order that size, I could grovel.

I repeated the order back to her, and she okayed it. She was still snappy, but somewhat mollified.

"I'll send you confirmation immediately," I said. "But I'm concerned because I didn't get your e-mail."

"I sent it through your Web site."

"Oh. We've had some trouble with the Web site. Do you have my regular e-mail?"

Stella and I double-checked to make sure we each had the proper e-mail address. "It's easier to use the Web site," she said.

"I know it is, and I'm going to call the tech immediately to make sure it's working right. If you're having problems, other people may be, too. It gives me the shudders."

We hung up, and I spoke firmly to the computer. "You'd better not cause any problems this Easter," I said. "I have a large mallet in the storeroom with your name on it."

Someone chuckled. I looked up and saw Bunny standing in the doorway. She had added a regulation food-service hairnet since we'd talked earlier. It was crooked, of course.

"Computers are not intimidated by force," she said. "What's this one doing?"

"I've had three cases when people sent me messages through the Web site, and I didn't get them. And our colors aren't true on the Web site."

"That may be your program. What are you using?"

Our conversation grew technical, and immediately I was in over my head. Bunny, however, spoke confidently, advising me to get a new computer program and specifying which one should work. She even sat down at my computer, improved the Web site colors, and tweaked the e-mail function. By the time she got up, I was ready to hug her.

"Bunny! That's great! Why didn't you tell me you knew computer grape juice! I mean, graphics! I didn't know you knew computer graphics."

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The Chocolate Bunny Brouhaha 4.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 9 reviews.
SewWrite More than 1 year ago
I have been a long time fan of Joanna Carl. Once again, she does not disappoint.
Dollycas More than 1 year ago
Dollycas’s Thoughts It’s all about the BUNNIES! TenHuis Chocolade is getting ready for Easter with plenty of bunnies on order. The also have a Bunny on the staff, Bunny Birdsong. She seems to be an accident looking for a place to happen, but she does have her talents and Lee finally finds out what those are. Both are surprised when her ex’s aunt shows up at the shop, soon followed by the ex himself with his new girlfriend. A little drama in the sales area that Lee quickly tries to handle. When the aunt becomes the latest murder victim in Warner Pier it isn’t good for “anybunny”. Disruption in the shop has everyone on edge and Bunny on the top of the suspect list means Lee has a basket full of trouble. She is hopping into the investigation to find the real killer so everyone can get back to making all those tasty holiday chocolates we all love. This is a perfect “EGGSCAPE”. My senses skipped right over Christmas to spring and Easter the minute I started reading. The expansion of TenHuis Chocolade continues with just a little pause for the police to collect their evidence. Lee and her Aunt Nettie are doing their best to keep all the workers and employees focused on their jobs while they and Police Chief Hogan focus on the murder. JoAnna Carl’s stories never disappoint. I jump right in and they brighten my day. I love the characters, I love the setting and I love the chocolate! Don’t let the number of pages in this book fool you. It is a fantastic cozy mystery that will have you laughing out loud and then on the edge of your seat. So well written and plotted precisely, it has an excellent flow. Family, romance, humor, mystery, everything in the right proportions. Ms. Carl tells a top-notch story. I also enjoy the trivia she includes throughout the book. Think this series is too far along to jump into, it’s not. The author gives you enough detail without revealing or spoiling anything from previous books in the series. Try one and you are going to want to read them all. You just may want to have some chocolate in the house because this book will have you craving a truffle or 2.
judiOH More than 1 year ago
i've read every one of joanna carl's books and have never been disappointed in them. i love all of them, but this one really was more than a fun read.! i absolutely loved it!!!
Carstairs38 More than 1 year ago
What Mess Has Bunny Brought to TenHuis Chocolade? As I sat down to read The Chocolate Bunny Brouhaha, I began to wonder why this was the first time in the long running Chocoholic Mysteries series that we were visiting Lee Woodyard and TenHuis Chocolade in their gear up for Easter. I mean, that is a huge holiday for chocolate makers, especially the makers of gourmet chocolate. Granted, it’s rare that the theme plays a huge part in the story, but as this book opens, it is later winter, and the shop has transitioned from Valentine’s Day hearts to Easter bunnies. Lee and her aunt Nettie, who actually owns the shop, have recently hired a new employee, Bunny Birdsong, a woman going through a divorce. Unfortunately, Bunny isn’t quite working out in the chocolate making portion of the business, and Lee is about to fire her when she suddenly sees Bunny might be the help she needs on the office side of things. Bunny comes with a lot of baggage in the form of her soon to be ex, his current girlfriend, and his aunt Abigail, who is determined to keep Bunny and Beau together. After an afternoon of drama in the shop from the extended group, Abigail’s body is found in the building next door, currently under constructions so TenHuis can expand into it. However, all the doors into the buildings and between the units should have been locked. Who had access to the keys? The police think Bunny had a good motive, but Lee doesn’t think the woman has the personality to commit murder. Can she clear her employee’s name? The books in this series are always a little shorter than most of the others I read. This one is no exception at 227 pages. Yet the author doesn’t waste a minute. We jump into the story right away and things continue to advance from one complication to another until we reach the climax. Yes, everything does make sense by the time we reach the end, including the variation on the locked room mystery set up here. I do often complain that because the books are short, we don’t get to see much of the supporting players, but a couple of them get more page time in this book, which I really appreciated. The main trio, Lee, her husband Joe, and Aunt Nettie are here as always, and I really enjoy spending time with them. And the characters introduced for this story are as strong and entertaining as ever. I did catch an error in the timeline, one of my pet peeves, as characters started talking about something that happened “yesterday” when it was really several days before. Fortunately, that editing error didn’t impact anything else in the book, and it is clearly just that, an editing error. Instead of recipes, this series has always included chocolate trivia scattered throughout the book. This time, we look at several key figures in the development of chocolate as we know it today stretching from Christopher Columbus to Milton Hershey. This time around, we do get one comfort food recipe for a delicious sounding potato soup mentioned earlier in the book. I’ve been reading the Chocoholic series since the very beginning, and I truly am hooked on these delicious mysteries. If you suffer from the same addiction I do, you’ll be delighted with The Chocolate Bunny Brouhaha. NOTE: I received a copy of this book.
CozyMysteryLover1 More than 1 year ago
The Chocolate Bunny Brouhaha written by JoAnna Carl is an exciting addition to the series. TenHuis Chocolade, located in the small town of Warner Pier, is home to Lee Woodard and her Aunt Nettie. They work their magic to create scrumptious handmade chocalates that will leave your mouth watering. As Easter approaches, the ladies in hairnets are busier than ever, so when Bunny Birdsong is hired to help out, Lee and Aunt Nettie hope to keep up with the orders. Unfortunately, Bunny is a walking disaster, she trips, knocks and drops just about everything. Her constant paranoia of being watched begins to put her job in danger. Lee discovers some hidden talents in Bunny and soon finds a place for her in the shop. As Bunny settles in, family drama begins,her cheating husband Beau and his eccentric Aunt Abigail visit the shop and have a family battle in front of everyone. Abigail vows to write Beau out of her will, which means his lavish lifestyle will take a nose dive. When Abigail is found dead and other local residents are attacked, Lee begins to investigate and soon uncovers some ugly truths. I have read all the books in this series and each one just gets better and better. I enjoy all the wonderful people in the story, however, I would like to see something exciting happen for Lee and her husband Joe. I fear that eventually the series will end, and nothing big or exciting will have happened in their lives. I received an ARC of this book from the publisher and NetGalley in exchange for my fair and honest review.
LisaKsBooksReviews More than 1 year ago
Imagine sweet milk chocolate dipped in rich dark chocolate, and dipped again in milk chocolate, and there you have the yummy goodness of the Chocoholics Mysteries! THE CHOCOLATE BUNNY BROUHAHA, the sixteenth adventure in the Chocoholics Mysteries, is every bit as delicious at the first fifteen. Being back with Lee and her Aunt Nettie at TenHuis Chocolade is always so inviting. Seriously, I can smell the chocolate as soon as I open the book! We just seem to keep getting those pesky dead bodies showing up. Who am I kidding? That’s what keeps us coming back as much as the chocolate! ;-) Easter is fast approaching in this newest installment from Joanna Carl, and the ladies at TenHuis are hard at work. But they are having Bunny problems. Not bunny of the chocolate variety, Bunny as in the new hire variety. See, she’s a sweet girl, but a bit of a klutz. Too make matters worse, trouble comes knocking by way of Bunny’s family. Let the mystery and mayhem ensue! Author Joanna Carl serves up a wonderfully tasty story with THE CHOCOLATE BUNNY BROUHAHA. Everything that makes this series wonderful and enduring is present and accounted for. Likable characters, humor, mystery and intrigue, yummy tummy growling chocolate, Carl uses all her writing finesse to pen a great cozy that that will delight readers both old and new to the Chocoholic Mystery series. Readers will also enjoy the “Who’s Who in Chocolate” feature that can be found throughout the book, as well as a cozy recipe that has nothing to do with chocolate! (We have to eat something else once in a while, don’t we?)
prussblue10 More than 1 year ago
We all need a 'cozy mystery' now and then. The author writes well and is an engaging storyteller. My wife found the series not that long ago in a 'to read' pile long forgotten. She started reading them and passed them on to me knowing I needed something not too intense or academic. We wound up buying all in the series, 16 titles, and hear rumor that a number 17 may be on the way. If so, we will get it!
KrisAnderson_TAR More than 1 year ago
The Chocolate Bunny Brouhaha by JoAnna Carl is the sixteenth book in A Chocoholic Mystery series. Lee McKinney Woodyard is the manager of TenHuis Chocolate Shop in Warner Pier, Michigan and is busy with Easter orders. But she has a problem with employee, Bunny Birdsong. Bunny has not been able to get the hang of making chocolates (she is very accident prone—reminds me of myself). It is Lee’s job to let her go. When Lee discovers that Bunny has computer skills (excellent ones), she gives her a new job handling their web site. Bunny needs a job because she is separated from her husband, Beau. Beau found a new, younger model and threw Bunny out of the house (he’s a real gem). Then Beau’s Aunt Abigail comes to town. Abigail is a very formidable woman (does not take no for an answer). She is determined to get Beau and Bunny back together. It all comes to a head in TenHuis with a fight in the chocolate shop between Abigail, Beau, Anya Hartley (the new girlfriend), and Anya’s brother, Andrew. Abigail states that she is changing her will and leaving her money to Bunny (instead of Beau). The next day when Lee goes to check out the construction of their new addition to TenHuis, she finds Abigail—dead! There is no lack of suspects in Abigail’s death. Can Lee track down the killer? Join Lee on her latest escapade in The Chocolate Bunny Brouhaha. The Chocolate Bunny Brouhaha is easy to read and can be read alone. The author provides the reader with the needed information (the main character’s background and details about the TenHuis) to read and enjoy the novel. The killer was apparent which was extremely disappointing (I like a challenging mystery). I could puzzle out who would die and the identity of the killer as soon as the fight erupted in TenHuis. I found the townspeople to be gossipy busy bodies for the most part. I give The Chocolate Bunny Brouhaha 3 out of 5 stars (it was okay). This is the second book in A Chocoholic Mystery series that I have read. I read the first book years ago (still have it) and have not read one since. I thought I would give the series another opportunity. I am sticking with my original opinion. The series is cute, but I prefer more complicated whodunit in my cozy mysteries.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Good mystery. Author keeps story moving.