Have Yourself a Deadly Little Christmas (A Year-Round Christmas Mystery: Book 6) by Vicki Delany

Publisher: Crooked Lane Books

Date of publication: September 19th, 2023

Genre: Mystery, Christmas, Cozy Mystery, Contemporary

Series: A Year-Round Christmas Mystery

Rest Ye Murdered Gentlemen—Book 1

We Wish You a Murderous Christmas—Book 2

Hark the Herald Angels Sing—Book 3

Silent Night, Deadly Night—Book 4

Dying in a Winter Wonderland—Book 5

Have Yourself a Deadly Little Christmas—Book 6

Purchase Links: Kindle | B&N | Kobo

Goodreads Synopsis:

It’s beginning to look a lot like murder in the sixth installment of this charming cozy mystery series, perfect for fans of Donna Andrews and Jacqueline Frost.

It’s the beginning of December in Rudolph, New York, America’s Christmas Town, and business is brisk at Mrs. Claus’s Treasures, a gift and décor shop owned by Merry Wilkinson. The local amateur dramatic society is intensely preparing a special musical production of A Christmas Carol. But it’s not a happy set, as rivalries between cast and crew threaten the production.

Tensions come to a head when a member of the group is found dead shortly after a shopping excursion to Mrs. Claus’s Treasures. Was someone looking to cut out the competition? Everyone in the cast and crew is a potential suspect, including Aline, Merry’s mother, and Merry’s shop assistant Jackie O’Reilly, who was desperate for a starring role.

It could be curtains for Christmas—and for Merry—unless the killer can be ferreted out of the wings.

First Line:

There are two types of people in the world: those who love picnics and those who hate them.

Have Yourself a Deadly Little Christmas by Vicki Delany

Christmas is taken very seriously in Rudolph, New York. It has been named America’s Christmas Town, and the month of December is when tourism is at its peak—knowing that, the local theater group decides to put on a musical version of A Christmas Carol. But tensions are rampant throughout the cast, with rivalries threatening the production. Things get even more perilous when the actress playing Mrs. Crachit is murdered in Merry’s shop. With a short time until the musical debuts and needing to get her shop reopened, Merry must find out who the killer is and why. Can Merry do it? Or will the musical and Christmas be ruined?

Have Yourself a Deadly Little Christmas is the sixth book in The Year-Round Christmas Mystery series. While it is book six, you can read this as a stand-alone. But I suggest reading the first five books before picking this one up. I wish I did because I needed clarification about different characters. On the plus side, the author does not refer to the previous books, which was enjoyable. I was just left to muddle out the characters.

I loved the premise of this book. A town where Christmas is celebrated year-round is adorable. Plus, I loved the name Rudolph. The author also explored what it was like to live in a small town in Have Yourself a Deadly Little Christmas. The gossip and information grapevine was terrific and mostly on point. I also liked that Merry was friendly with most other people in town (except for the grumpy bookstore lady).

The main storyline of Have Yourself a Deadly Little Christmas centers around Merry, the murder of Paula Monahan (Mrs. Crachit), and Merry’s amateur investigation into the murder. It took a while for the murder storyline to get going. The author did an extensive job of laying down Paula’s backstory (and how unlikable she was). While the storyline was well-written and well-fleshed, the author could have trimmed down some aspects, like the journey to the neighboring town or Merry finding out that Ian was cheating on his wife. Neither had any bearing on the storyline (except to distract from who the killer was). But I do wonder if they will be part of the next book.

I liked Merry, and I could see myself being friends with her. She was grounded and an average person. Her reaction to her mother’s theatrics was funny (did I say that out loud was said a lot). She truly cared about the townspeople, even if some of them (Jackie) drove her up the wall. I also liked the way that she looked into Paula’s murder. She didn’t do it as a super sleuth but as an average person trying to figure it out. I loved seeing her thought process and the moment she realized who it was.

The secondary characters made the book. They were each fleshed out and had distinct personalities and quirks. They made the book so much more interesting to read. I also suspect that Noel (Merry’s father) is Santa.

The storyline of the musical did make me laugh. It was a realistic look at what happens when a group of passionate people get together. It also showcases how egos can ruin a show and how people must take constructive criticism. Aline, Merry’s mother, was the only one who stayed out of the pettiness, and that was because she was a famous opera singer. She dealt with that type of stuff for years. I loved that she put the verbal smackdown on the group towards the end. Someone should have done it sooner.

The mystery angle was terrific. I wasn’t a fan of it getting off to a slow start, but the author showcased all the suspects and the motives. I had a plethora of people to pick a suspect from. But I couldn’t. The author did an excellent job of throwing out red herrings. I was blindsided by who the killer was. It was the last person I would have even suspected. And that person’s motive was ridiculous.

The end of Have Yourself a Deadly Little Christmas was great. The author wrapped up the murder storyline in a spectacular way. I also liked how the murderer confessed (twice). It was like that person could have cared less about being in jail.

I would recommend Have Yourself a Deadly Little Christmas to anyone over 16. There is mild language, violence, and no sexual situations.

Many thanks to Crooked Lane Books and Vicki Delany for allowing me to read and review this ARC of Have Yourself a Deadly Little Christmas. All opinions stated in this review are mine.

If you enjoy reading books similar to Have Yourself a Deadly Little Christmas, then you will enjoy these:

Other books by Vicki Delany

The Golden Gate by Amy Chua

Publisher: St. Martin’s Press, Minotaur Books

Date of Publication: September 19th, 2023

Genre: Historical Fiction, Mystery, Fiction, Thriller, Historical, Crime, Mystery Thriller, Adult, World War II, Historical Mystery

Publication Links: Kindle | Audible | B&N | AbeBooks | WorldCat

Goodreads Synopsis:

Amy Chua’s debut novel, The Golden Gate, is a sweeping, evocative, and compelling historical thriller that paints a vibrant portrait of a California buffeted by the turbulent crosswinds of a world at war and a society about to undergo massive change.

In Berkeley, California, in 1944, Homicide Detective Al Sullivan has just left the swanky Claremont Hotel after a drink in the bar when a presidential candidate is assassinated in one of the rooms upstairs. A rich industrialist with enemies among the anarchist factions on the far left, Walter Wilkinson could have been targeted by any number of groups. But strangely, Sullivan’s investigation brings up the specter of another tragedy at the Claremont, ten years the death of seven-year-old Iris Stafford, a member of the Bainbridge family, one of the wealthiest in all of San Francisco. Some say she haunts the Claremont still.

The many threads of the case keep leading Sullivan back to the three remaining Bainbridge heiresses, now Iris’s sister, Isabella, and her cousins Cassie and Nicole. Determined not to let anything distract him from the truth―not the powerful influence of Bainbridges’ grandmother, or the political aspirations of Berkeley’s district attorney, or the interest of China’s First Lady Madame Chiang Kai-Shek in his findings―Sullivan follows his investigation to its devastating conclusion.

Chua’s page-turning debut brings to life a historical era rife with turbulent social forces and groundbreaking forensic advances, when race and class defined the very essence of power, sex, and justice, and introduces a fascinating character in Detective Sullivan, a mixed race former Army officer who is still reckoning with his own history.

First Line:

Inside an alabaster palace one January afternoon in 1930, a six year old girl hiding inside a closed armoire felt truly alone for the first time in her life.

The Golden Gate by Amy Chua

Detective Al Sullivan is at the elegant and luxurious Claremont Hotel when one of the staff informs him that one of the guests, a former presidential candidate, Walter Wilkinson, has been the target of an assassination attempt. Moving his room and posting police outside, Al heads home, only to be called back because Wilkinson has been killed. While investigating that murder, Al finds links to another death ten years earlier—Iris Stafford, the granddaughter of the hotel owner. He also finds ties to a local Communist party and an underground railroad hiding Japanese citizens from internment. How does everything fit together? Who killed Walter and why? The answers he uncovers could send a ripple effect across Berkely.

Before I get into the review, I want to let you know there are trigger warnings. They are racism (explicit and on page), bigotry (explicit and on page), poverty (explicit and on page), mental illness (on and off page), and child abandonment (on page).

I love reading good historical fiction. I also like reading mysteries and books in the World War 2 era. So, when St. Martin’s Press sent me the widget, I decided to download the book after I read the blurb. I was curious how the author would meld everything together and keep my attention.

There are two storylines that The Golden Gate is centered around. I liked how the author intertwined these storylines. She did so gradually by letting hints about Iris’s death appear in the investigation of Walter’s murder. By the end of the book, both storylines are entangled together.

The storyline centering around Iris and her death was heartbreaking. From flashbacks to the written testimony of Mrs. Bainbridge, you get to see how Iris’s life was up to her death. The author also showed how Iris’s death affected everyone around her. But the author did something clever. She held off telling exactly how Iris died until the end of the book. And you know, even then, I doubted whether her death was an accident or not. The confession at the end of the book, tied to Walter’s murder, didn’t sit right with me.

The storyline centering around Al and his investigation into Walter’s murder was a ride. The twisty plotline made me guess who could have killed him. Every so often, I forget that this book was set in 1944, so when Al just entered a house to get information or threatened a Hispanic worker with deportation and taking her kids, I was shocked. But, it did go right with how things were in that era. I did like that Al wouldn’t let go of this case and kept looking for a motive. As I mentioned above, this was a very twisty plotline, and the author didn’t give up the murderer until the very end of the book.

I liked Al and felt terrible that he had to hide the fact that he was mixed race (Mexican and white). But, in that era, you couldn’t get ahead in life if you were anything but lily-white. So, he did what he thought was right. That meant changing his last name to his mother’s maiden name and passing himself as white. What I also liked about Al is that he is flawed. He said and did things in the book that he regretted later on (the scene where he told Miriam he wasn’t her father broke my heart). He was also a good detective and determined to solve Walter’s murder and Iris’s death. By the end of the book, I felt that Al had matured. He was steps closer to accepting who he was. He also did something that I didn’t see coming.

The secondary characters truly made this book pop. From accurate historical figures (and the author has a very cool connection to one of them) to fiction, they added depth to this book.

The historical fiction angle was terrific. You could tell that the author did her research. I could picture myself standing among these people and not having an issue believing what she wrote.

The mystery angle was just as good as the historical fiction angle. The author did something that happens next to never: she stumped me on Iris’s death and Walter’s murder. Not only was it not who I thought it was, but it ended up being the last person I would have expected. I loved it. I was a little disappointed that Walter’s murderer wouldn’t face justice.

The end of The Golden Gate was terrific. The author brought together Iris’s death and Walter’s murder (see what I wrote above). I liked how she ended it with something very positive. But how she ended made me wonder if another book might be written in this universe. If so, I would love to read it. Also, the afterword was wonderful and detailed all the research she put into the book.

I would recommend The Golden Gate to anyone over 16. There is language, violence, and very mild sexual situations. Also see my trigger warnings above.

Many thanks to St. Martin’s Press, Minotaur Books, NetGalley, and Amy Chua for allowing me to read and review this ARC of The Golden Gate. All opinions stated in this review are mine.

If you enjoy reading books similar to The Golden Gate, then you will enjoy these:

Other books by Amy Chua:

Sandymancer by David Edison

Publisher: Tor Publishing Group, Tor Books

Date of publication: September 19th, 2023

Genre: Fantasy

Purchase Links: Kindle | B&N | WorldCat

Goodreads Synopsis:

A wild girl with sand magic in her bones and a mad god who is trying to fix the world he broke come together in SANDYMANCER, a genre-warping mashup of weird fantasy and hard science fiction.

All Caralee Vinnet has ever known is dust. Her whole world is made up of the stuff; water is the most precious thing in the cosmos. A privileged few control what elements remain. But the world was not always a dust bowl and the green is not all lost.

Caralee has a secret—she has magic in her bones and can draw up power from the sand beneath her feet to do her bidding. But when she does she winds up summoning a the former god-king who broke the world 800 years ago and has stolen the body of her best friend.

Caralee will risk the whole world to take back what she’s lost. If her new companion doesn’t kill her first.

First Line:

The day the monster stole Caralee’s future started out as a dull and shiny as any other—with children and young folk scattered around the sandy circle that served as a gathering place for the families of the nameless village.

Sandymancer by David Edison

Caralee is your typical teenager living on a dying planet. But she has a secret. Her secret is that she is one of the few in her world that can control the elements. While out with her foster brother, Caralee draws too much power and sets free, the last thing she expects. Who did she set free? The god-king who broke the world over 800 years ago and who has now taken over the body of her foster brother. Caralee would do anything to get her foster brother back, including accompanying the god-king on his journey to fix the world. But there are obstacles in the way. With the help of an aging sandymancer and a sentient protector, Caralee and the god-king will travel the world to right the wrongs. Can they do it? Can the god-king and Caralee fix the world and restore her foster brother to his body? Or will everything they have gone through be for nothing?

When I read the blurb for Sandymancer, I was intrigued. I have a soft spot for fantasy books involving teenagers, reawakened gods (or kings or both), magic, and dying worlds. Based on what I read, I decided to read Sandymancer. I won’t lie and say that I liked the book, but at the same time, I won’t lie and say that I disliked it either.

The main storyline for Sandymancer revolves around Caralee, The Son (the god-king), and their journey to fix the world. It was a meandering storyline that left me with many unanswered questions. There were references to The Son’s ancestors coming from space and terraforming this planet but not where they came from (I assumed Earth). There were references to The Beasts but no explanation of how they came to be. It was frustrating because everything was left hanging. But there were some parts of the storyline that I did like. I loved the spidermoths that Caralee’s foster mother owned. I liked seeing the Jewish culture represented in the book. And I liked that the author included how The Son rose to be god-king before he was taken down. And the magic, let’s remember that. I found it fascinating.

I wouldn’t say I liked Caralee. I found her to be very annoying throughout the book. She was almost too much in parts of the book, and I wished that the author had toned her down a little. She also seemed to forget that she was the one who caused Joe to run off, and that caused him to get possessed by The Son. It was her temper tantrum that freed The Son in the first place. I did like that the author took her unlikableness and used it to thwart the Metal Duchy. But, even I got an eye twitch when reading her interactions with Elinor.

The Son started as an exciting character that morphed into one that bored me. He gave long-winded speeches about magic and physics. I also found it funny that he thought he was god’s gift to people and expected people to fawn all over him. His family fascinated me, and I liked that the author took the time to explain his backstory. What he had to do was heartbreaking. Did he want to do it? No. Did he have to? Yes.

I liked the fantasy angle of Sandymancer, but I wished the author had explained more about The Son’s magic or even Caralee’s. I also wish the author had explained more about the critters and people that lived on Caralee’s planet.

The end of Sandymancer was left up in the air. None of the storylines (except for The Son’s backstory) ended. I was left with more questions than answers about what the heck happened.

I would recommend Sandymancer to anyone over 16. There is mild language, violence, and sexual situations.

Many thanks to Tor Publishing Group, Tor Books, NetGalley, and David Edison for allowing me to read and review Sandymancer. All opinions stated in this review are mine.

If you enjoy reading books similar to Sandymancer, then you will enjoy these books:

Dreambound by Dan Frey

Publisher: Random House Publishing Group – Ballantine, Del Rey

Date of publication: September 12th, 2023

Genre: Fantasy, Fiction, Adult, Science Fiction, Mystery, Mystery Thriller, Adult Fiction, Science Fiction Fantasy

Purchase Links: Kindle | Audible | B&N | Kobo | WorldCat

Goodreads Synopsis:

In this thrilling contemporary fantasy novel, a father must uncover the secret magical underbelly of Los Angeles to find his daughter, who has seemingly disappeared into the fictional universe of her favorite fantasy series.

When Byron Kidd’s twelve-year-old daughter vanishes, the only clue left behind is a note claiming she’s taken off to explore the Hidden World, a magical land from a series of popular novels. She is not the only child to seek out this imaginary realm in recent years, and Byron—a cynical and hard-nosed reporter—is determined to discover the whereabouts of dozens of missing kids.

Byron secures a high-profile interview with Annabelle Tobin, the eccentric author of the books, and heads off to her palatial home in the Hollywood Hills. But the truth Byron discovers is more fantastical than he ever could have dreamed.

As he uncovers locations from the books that seem to be bleeding into the real world, he must shed his doubts and dive headfirst into the mystical secrets of Los Angeles if he ever hopes to reunite with his child. Soon Byron finds himself on his own epic journey—but if he’s not careful, he could be the next one to disappear…

Told through journal entries, transcripts, emails, and excerpts from Tobin’s novels, Dreambound is a spellbinding homage to Los Angeles and an immersive

First Line:

Dear Mom and Dad, If you’re reading this, I’ve already left.

Dreambound by Dan Frey

Byron Kidd’s world was turned upside down when his twelve-year-old daughter, Liza, disappeared. But he soon has hope. Then, an Instagram picture of his daughter in Los Angeles surfaces. Using his investigative journalist skills, Byron heads to Los Angeles to find his daughter. When it becomes apparent that the fantasy series his daughter loved has roots in reality, Byron must discard everything he knew about the world to save his daughter. Can he find Liza? Or will he disappear like his daughter?

I was not prepared for how much I enjoyed reading this book. I had seen it on the Random House Publishing Group – Ballantine’s NetGalley page, read the blurb, thought it was exciting, and wished for it. When I got the email that the wish was granted, I was happy but not overly so. Then I read the book, and I was hooked.

Dreambound isn’t written in your standard novel format. The author chose to write it differently. He used interviews, journal entries, text messages, emails, excerpts from Annabelle Tobin’s books (it is a series), and excerpts from a folktale book to tell the story. At first, I admit, I was a little iffy about it. I had read several books in this format (mainly journal entries) and wasn’t impressed with them. But the author made it work and did it in a way that kept me glued to the book.

The main storyline of Dreambound centers around Liza, her disappearance, and Byron’s search for her. It is a fast-paced storyline that has a ton of twists and turns to it. It is also well-written, and I loved the lore the author created.

I didn’t like Byron at first. I sympathized with him, but he was such a dick during the book’s first half (and well into the second). His ego was enormous, and his drinking was out of control. But, even though I didn’t like him, his love for his daughter showed through. He was willing to do whatever it took (faking emails from a publisher/breaking and entering) to find Liza. By the end of the book, my dislike of him did lift a little, but it never went away.

Liza broke my heart because I could see myself (at twelve) in her. She was awkward, loved reading, and loved anything fantasy. Liza used fantasy to cope with her father’s drinking and her parents fighting. So, it wasn’t a stretch for me to believe she could have been groomed by someone she met online and lured to Los Angeles.

The fantasy angle of Dreambound was fantastic. I couldn’t get enough of it. The author used a lot of folklore/myths to create the Hidden World and explain some of what was going on in the real world.

The end of Dreambound seemed almost fever-dreamish. What happened to Byron and what he did was nothing short of heroic for the Hidden World and Earth. I liked that the author had Byron’s story turn out the way it did. After everything that he went through and did, it made sense for what happened. The book section (where Annabelle reads the first chapter of her new book) of the ending was trippy, too. And lastly, what Liza did at the end made me wonder if there will be a book two or another book in this universe.

I would recommend Dreambound for anyone over 16. There is no sex or sexual situations. But there is language and violence.

Many thanks to Random House Publishing Group – Ballantine, Del Rey, NetGalley, and Dan Frey for allowing me to read and review this ARC of Dreambound. All opinions stated in this review are mine.

If you enjoy reading books similar to Dreambound, then you will enjoy these:

Other books by Dan Frey

Thank You for Sharing by Rachel Runya Katz

Publisher: St. Martin’s Press, St. Martin’s Griffin

Date of publication: September 12th, 2023

Genre: Romance, Contemporary Romance, Jewish, Contemporary, Adult, Fiction, LGBT, Queer, Adult Fiction, New Adult

Purchase Links: Kindle | Audible | B&N | AbeBooks | WorldCat

Goodreads Synopsis:

Daniel Rosenberg and Liyah Cohen-Jackson’s last conversation—fourteen years ago at summer camp—ended their friendship. Until they find themselves seated next to each other on a plane, and bitterly pick up right where they left off. At least they can go their separate ways again after landing…

That is, until Daniel’s marketing firm gets hired by the Chicago museum where Liyah works as a junior curator, and they’re forced to collaborate with potential career changing promotions on the line.

With every meeting and post-work social gathering with colleagues, the tension (and chemistry) between Daniel and Liyah builds until they’re forced to confront why they broke apart years ago at camp. But as they find comfort in their shared experiences as Jews of color and fumble towards friendship, can they ignore their growing feelings for each other?

With sexy charm and undeniable wit, Rachel Runya Katz’s sparkling debut, Thank You For Sharing, proves that if you’re open to love, anything is possible.

First Line:

“Cohen-Jackson, huh? That’s quite the odd combo.”

Thank You for Sharing by Rachel Runya Katz

Liyah Cohen-Jackson and Daniel Rosenberg hadn’t talked in fourteen years after a disastrous summer camp romance ended. So, imagine Liyah’s surprise when she sits beside Daniel on a flight home from San Fransisco. Thinking the flight will be the last she sees of him, Liyah is surprised when Daniel is the representative chosen to meet with Liyah to help market her new exhibit. Forced to confront what happened in summer camp, Liyah and Daniel discover they have much in common. The more time they spend together, the more their chemistry grows. But will they stay just friends, or will they step towards being something else?

When I read the blurb for Thank You for Sharing, the blurb caught my attention for several reasons. One, because this was the second book that I had read the blurb for that featured the Jewish religion or had references to it, and both main characters were people of color who were Jewish. The other was that it was billed as an LGBTQIA+ book. So, with these reasons in mind, I downloaded Thank You for Sharing. I am glad I did because this was a sweet romance.

The main storyline in Thank You for Sharing centers around Liyah, Daniel, their friends (and their friends were a significant part of the storyline), and their personal/work relationship. The storyline was well written. It kept my attention, and I couldn’t put the book down.

Liyah did a lot of growing up in Thank You for Sharing. In the beginning, she was a stress ball who held on to grudges and slights like they were lifelines. I thought she was immature and obnoxious during her scenes with Daniel. But, the more she interacted with Daniel and the more was revealed about what happened fourteen years ago, I didn’t blame her for being mad. Without giving away spoilers, she was right. Men (and boys) are continually celebrated for stuff like Daniel did, while women (and girls) are shunned and called names. I liked how she dealt with the casual racism and sexism throughout the book. Some scenes (like the one in the Temple) had me steaming. By the end of Thank You for Sharing, I liked her. She had morphed into a strong woman who wasn’t afraid to admit she was wrong.

Daniel was everything that any woman would want in a boyfriend. He liked to talk about his feelings. Daniel supported his partner and wanted the best for her, even if that meant putting himself first. He was in touch with his emotions and wasn’t afraid to cry. Daniel also admitted when he needed help (his mental health suffered a blow after his father died). I did think he was a bit of a sadist for dealing with Liyah. But I also saw that being around her pulled him out of his depression and made him want to be a better man. I also liked his tattoo (the reason behind it was funny).

Mental health is brought up quite a bit throughout Thank You for Sharing. Both Daniel and Liyah see therapists. Daniel starts seeing one to help get over his father’s death. Liyah sees one because of a highly traumatic incident in college and has continued to see her over the years. Both therapists had great advice and let Daniel and Liyah come to terms with their trauma independently. But, I did like that Liyah’s therapist wasn’t afraid to push back at Liyah (the scene after Liyah confesses to Daniel about what happened to her).

The secondary characters made the book. Siobhan, Jordan, Alex, and Neen were excellent. I liked the club they all formed (with Neen being an honorary member). I loved the notes at the end of the “meetings.” They were freaking hilarious. While here, I want to add that I loved Neen. They were the best friend that Liyah needed. They were not afraid to tell it as it was, and they weren’t afraid to force Liyah to face the truth about things (i.e., Daniel).

I liked the romance angle, but it was predictable. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing—sometimes, you need things to be predictable. But I loved reading how the author had Liyah and Daniel go from enemies to lovers. It wasn’t an Instalove situation; instead, it took several months and a couple of profound apologies from Daniel for them to get to that point.

Now, Liyah and Daniel did have some serious chemistry. It was electric, and I was on pins and needles, waiting for them to sleep together. That sex scene was one of the best sex scenes I have read to date. It wasn’t too graphic, and the feeling behind it was chef’s kiss. There were other sex scenes, but they didn’t have the amazingness of the first one.

The end of Thank You for Sharing was your typical HEA. I loved that Neen told Liyah to get over herself. That made for a fantastic makeup scene. I also loved that the author had an epilogue three years in the future.

I would recommend Thank You for Sharing to anyone over 21. There is language, mild violence, and sexual situations.

Many thanks to St. Martin’s Press, St. Martin’s Griffin, NetGalley, and Rachel Runya Katz for allowing me to read and review this ARC of Thank You for Sharing. All opinions stated in this review are mine.

In you enjoy reading books similar to Thank You for Sharing, then you will enjoy these:

Scenes of the Crime by Jilly Gagnon

Publisher: Random House Publishing Group – Ballantine, Bantam

Date of publication: September 5th, 2023

Genre: Mystery, Thriller, Mystery Thriller, Fiction, Contemporary, Adult, Whodunit

Purchase Links: Kindle | Audible | B&N | Kobo | WorldCat

Goodreads Synopsis:

An ambitious screenwriter tries to solve her friend’s disappearance by recreating their fateful final girls’ trip in this riveting locked-room mystery from the author of All Dressed Up.
A remote winery. A missing friend. And a bunch of sour grapes.

It should have been the perfect spring break. Five girlfriends. A remote winery on the Oregon coast. An infinite supply of delicious wine at their manicured fingertips. But then their center—beautiful, magnetic Vanessa Morales—vanished without a trace.

Emily Fischer was perhaps the last person to see her alive. But now, years later, Emily spots Vanessa’s doppelganger at a local café. At the end of her rope working a lucrative yet mind-numbing gig on a network sitcom, Emily is inspired to finally tell the story that’s been percolating inside her for so long: Vanessa’s story. But first, she needs to know what really happened on that fateful night. So she puts a brilliant scheme into motion.

She gets the girls together for a reunion weekend at the scene of the crime under the guise of reconnecting. There’s Brittany, Vanessa’s cousin and the inheritor of the winery; Paige, a former athlete, bullish yet easily manipulated; and Lydia, the wallflower of the group.

One of them knows the truth. But what have they each been hiding? And how much can Emily trust anything she learns from them… or even her own memories of Vanessa’s last days?

Suspenseful, propulsive, and interspersed with scenes from Emily’s blockbuster screenplay, Scenes of the Crime is an unforgettable mystery that examines culpability, the shiny rearview mirror of Hollywood storytelling, and the pitfalls of female friendship.

First Line:

I’d made it about thirty precent of the way through the most glaringly insane round of script notes known to man when a ghost walked into the coffee shop.

Scenes of the Crime by Jilly Gagnon

Emily is struck by inspiration after seeing the doppelganger of her missing friend in the cafe where she was revising a television script. She decides that Vanessa’s (her friend) story needs to be told. But to do that, Emily must solve a fifteen-year mystery: What happened to Vanessa the night she went missing? The answers lie with three other people there that night: Brittany, Paige, and Lydia. Emily leans on Brittany to have a girls’ weekend at the vineyard where they last saw Vanessa. But not everyone wants to be there, and everyone has secrets about that night. Will Emily be able to tell Vanessa’s story? Will she solve what happened that night fifteen years ago?

When I read the blurb for Scenes of the Crime, I knew I wanted to read this book. I, along with millions of other people, love reading about cold cases. This book would be just that: the reopening of a cold case. And it was. But it was also a story about secrets, friendships, and how those secrets can destroy lives.

What was interesting about Scenes of the Crime was how the author wrote it. The author told the present-day story from Emily’s POV, with Brittany, Paige, Vanessa, and Lydia having their chapters. But, it was also written as a screenplay to tell the story fifteen years ago, complete with editing notes. I liked it because it gave insight into the girl’s frame of mind the night Vanessa disappeared and the girl’s weekend.

The main storyline was well-written and kept my attention up to the point when the author started to reveal the girls’ secrets. Everything after that, though, I thought was overkill. I had figured out what happened to Vanessa reasonably early in the book. So, to add that extra bit of drama about her grandparents disowning her and the will didn’t do it for me.

The mystery angle of the book was well written, but the author stretched it thin. How? Well, at one point, five different mysterious scenarios were going on. The author did a great job of keeping them separate, but I still got them jumbled up. The primary angle (what happened to Vanessa) was twisty, turny, and often unbelievable. I wasn’t surprised at the considerable twist that occurred almost at the end of the book (see previous paragraph), but I was surprised at who was involved. Then, I was astonished at what happened to that person. It was almost too much.

The end of Scenes of the Crime was almost anticlimactic, and I wasn’t a fan of it. With everything that went on that weekend, this is how it ended up. I was happy for Emily, but dang.

I would recommend Scenes of the Crime to anyone over 21. There is language, violence, and sexual situations.

Many thanks to Random House Publishing Group – Ballantine, Bantam, NetGalley, and Jilly Gagnon for allowing me to read and review this ARC of Scenes of the Crime. All opinions stated in this review are mine.

If you enjoy reading books similar to Scenes of the Crime, then you will enjoy these books:

Other books by Jilly Gagnon:

In Darkness: The Werewolf by L. Diane Wolfe

Publisher: Dancing Lemur Press

Date of publication: September 5th, 2023

Genre: Paranormal, Romance

Purchase Links: Kindle | Kobo | Apple Books

Goodreads Synopsis:

Souls shrouded in darkness…

On her own in England, Vicki trains at a prestigious fencing school. Face marred by a birthmark, she’s suspicious of Nicholas’ attention. A dinner date reveals his genuine interest and they begin to connect. Nicholas is attractive and she wonders why he’s so shy and reclusive.

Then one evening she happens upon him changing into a lycan. Every werewolf legend is shattered by the gentle, fearful creature before her. Vickie accepts his secret, but Nicholas knows he’s an unpredictable beast. Can they trust love enough to overcome their physical challenges?

First Line:

“I wonder why he’s always watching me?” Vicki mumbled.

In Darkness: The Werewolf by L. Diane Wolfe

Vicki is attending a prestigious fencing school in England when she meets Nicholas, her landlord’s handsome son. She is suspicious of his attention since she has a large birthmark that covers half of her face. But she is soon swept away by Nicholas’s attention. One night, Vicki accidentally sees Nicholas changing into a lycan. But she isn’t afraid of him. But Nicholas is fearful for her because he knows his beast is unpredictable. Can their love overcome everything? Or will they be forever apart?

I am a huge sucker for paranormal romances and have a secret obsession with werewolf romances (thank you, Dreame app!!). So when Dancing Lemur Press invited me to read In Darkness: The Werewolf, I immediately accepted. I am glad that I did because this was a great novella.

In Darkness: The Werewolf is a short book. It is around 125 pages, and it is a quick read. But, I found depth in the characters and the story for a novella. I was disappointed when it ended because I wanted more.

The main storyline of In Darkness: The Werewolf centers around Vicki, Nicholas, his secret, and their romance. The author fleshed out the storyline and kept my attention. As I said, I was disappointed that the book ended because I wanted more.

The paranormal angle of In Darkness: The Werewolf was interesting. There was a brief explanation about how Nicholas became a lycan and mentions of a pack (or clan) in Scotland. The author did a great job of describing a half-turned-lycan and making him at least somewhat dangerous. I did like the extra spin that she put when Nicholas and Vicki started to get intimate. All I could think was, “Growing pains,” and I laughed slightly.

The romance angle was adorable. I liked that Nicholas saw past Vicki’s birthmark to the beautiful person underneath. I also liked that Vicki accepted that Nicholas was a lycan. Their love wasn’t quite Instalove but it bordered it.

The end of In Darkness: The Werewolf was left open and made me wonder if the author would write another book in this world. I would love to see Nicholas and Vicki present day.

I would recommend In Darkness: The Werewolf to anyone over 16. There are fade-to-black sexual situations, mild language, and mild violence.

Many thanks to Dancing Lemur Press and L. Diane Wolfe for allowing me to read and review this ARC of In Darkness: The Werewolf. All opinions stated in this review are mine.

If you enjoy reading books similar to In Darkness: The Werewolf, then you will enjoy reading these books:

Other books by L. Diane Wolfe:

Seams Deadly (Measure Twice Sewing Mystery: Book 1) by Maggie Bailey

Publisher: Crooked Lane Books

Date of publication: September 5th, 2023

Genre: Mystery, Cozy Mystery, Sewing

Series: Measure Twice Sewing Mystery

Seams Deadly—Book 1

Purchase Links: Kindle | Audible | B&N | Kobo | WorldCat

Goodreads Synopsis:

When seamstress Lydia Barnes finds a dead body soon after moving to a new town, she will need more than shear luck to find the killer, in this novel perfect for fans of Molly MacRae and Anna Gerard.

Lydia Barnes is excited for a fresh start when she moves to the quaint mountain town of Peridot, Georgia. Her friend, Fran, offers her a job at the Measure Twice fabric store and even sets her up on a date with the handsome Brandon Ivey, who also happens to be Lydia’s new next-door neighbor. Finally, things are looking up. But after a disaster first date that ends with a fist bump instead of a kiss, Lydia doesn’t think her night can get any worse. She’s soon proven wrong when she later stumbles upon Brandon’s dead body.

Considered the prime suspect by the police, Lydia calls on her friends to help her hunt for the truth and prove her innocence. But when another body is soon found inside the Measure Twice store, Lydia knows that the killer must be close by, and that this town has more than its fair share of secrets. Who would want to frame the newest addition to Peridot for these terrible murders—and why?

Lydia may discover that while sewing might have a pattern, killing rarely does. Will she be able to stitch together the clues and clear her own name before the killer strikes again?

First Line:

“Did you at least put your hair with a nice clip?”

Seams Deadly by Maggie Bailey

After finding her husband in bed with his intern, Lydia retreats to the town of Peridot, Georgia, to heal. With the help of her friend, Fran, she works at Measure Twice, a fabric store, and she is going on her first date with Brandon, a clerk at a local bookstore and Lydia’s next-door neighbor. When the date doesn’t go well, Lydia decides to check in on Brandon and stumbles across his body. The police then named her as the prime suspect. Wanting to clear her name, Lydia calls upon her friends to help her solve Brandon and Ava’s murder. Can Lydia clear her name and find out who killed Brandon and Ava? Or will she end up a victim of the real killer?

I know I mentioned this in other reviews, but I am a sucker for a cover with an animal. So, when I saw the cover of Seams Deadly, it caught my attention, and I knew I wanted to read it.

Seams Deadly is the first book in the A Measure Twice Sewing Mystery. Since this is the first book in the series, I won’t put my usual drivel here (read the previous book).

The main storyline of Seams Deadly centers around Lydia, the murders, and Lydia’s investigation into them. The storyline was well written with a twist in the mystery surrounding the murders of Brandon and Ava. But, there was a lot of lag while Lydia and her friends were investigating and I felt my attention wandering while reading.

I didn’t like Lydia. I did feel bad for her because of what happened to her (caught her ex sleeping with his intern). But, as I got deeper into the book, the more she got on my nerves. She lived in her head and often missed when people were talking to her. She was selfish and thought only about herself. By not explaining patterns, she made sewing boring for me (and I was excited to read about sewists). The only thing I liked about her was that she adopted Baby Lobster from the shelter.

I thought the mystery angle was well written, and who the killer was surprised me. The author did a great job of throwing red herrings out. She also did a great job of introducing suspects. I liked that she had Lydia and her friends do round table-type meetings, where they throw out theories. Of course, none of the ideas worked out, but it was still fun to read. The scene where the killer was revealed was surprising, and I did not see it coming. As for the reason for the murders, again, I was surprised by the motives.

The end of Seams Deadly was interesting. The author left enough wiggle room for a book 2. She also left me wondering what was going on with Fran. The author revealed a surprise in the last chapter that I saw coming. As much as I disliked Lydia, I want to read book 2.

I would recommend Seams Deadly to anyone over 16. There is mild language, violence, and no sexual situations.

Many thanks to Crooked Lane Books, NetGalley, and Maggie Bailey for allowing me to read and review this ARC of Seams Deadly. All opinions stated in this review are mine.

If you enjoy reading books similar to Seams Deadly, then you will enjoy these books:

Other books by Maggie Bailey:

The Blue, Beautiful World by Karen Lord

Publisher: Random House Publishing Group – Ballantine, Del Rey

Date of publication: August 29th, 2023

Genre: Science Fiction, Fiction, Adult, Speculative Fiction, Science Fiction Fantasy, Fantasy, Adult Fiction

Series: Cygnus Beta Series

The Best of All Possible Worlds—Book 1

The Galaxy Game—Book 2

The Blue, Beautiful World—Book 3

Purchase Links: Kindle | Audible | AbeBooks | WorldCat

Goodreads Synopsis:

As first contact transforms the Earth, a group of gifted visionaries race to create a new future in this wondrous science fiction novel from the award-winning author of The Best of All Possible Worlds.

The world is changing, and humanity must change with it. Rising seas and soaring temperatures have radically transformed the face of the Earth. Meanwhile, Earth is being observed from afar by other civilizations … and now they are ready to make contact.

Vying to prepare humanity for first contact are a group of dreamers and changemakers, including Peter Hendrix, the genius inventor behind the most advanced VR tech; Charyssa, a beloved celebrity icon with a passion for humanitarian work; and Kanoa, a member of a council of young people from around the globe drafted to reimagine the relationship between humankind and alien societies.

And they may have an unexpected secret weapon: Owen, a pop megastar whose ability to connect with his adoring fans is more than charisma. He has a hidden talent that may be the key to uniting Earth as it looks towards the stars.

But Owen’s abilities are so unique that no-one can control him, and so seductive that he cannot help but use them. Can he transcend his human limitations and find the freedom he has always dreamed of? Or is he doomed to become the dictator of his nightmares?

First Line:

The emissary kept on digging his own grave, centimeter by centimeter, word by word.

The Blue, Beautiful World by Karen Lord

First contact has always been something that the people of Earth regarded as a myth. But, to a small, select group, the truth is known. Aliens have been on Earth for a while, gathering intel on the people. With the climate crisis reaching its pinnacle, the aliens have decided to make themselves known. Their emissary is a pop megastar, Owen, who is an alien. Owen has abilities that can unite Earth after first contact. But, there is a dark side to Owen, and it calls to him. Can Owen keep his dark side suppressed to help the people of Earth? Or will that dark side take over and have him become Earth’s dictator?

When I read the blurb for The Blue, Beautiful World, I was intrigued. I like reading science fiction, and seeing that the author would integrate VR technology into the plotline, I wanted to read it. While the book was great in some areas, it was lacking in others, which killed the book for me.

The Blue, Beautiful World is the third book in the Cygnus Beta Series. Readers cannot read this book as a standalone. You must read the first two books to know what is happening in this one. This was a significant issue for me because I read book three first.

I will be blunt: I was not too fond of this book. I found it very hard to follow at the beginning. But, towards the middle of the book, it got better to follow. Not by much, but I wasn’t as lost as in the book’s first half.

I did like the science fiction angle and loved that the author had VR as a significant part of the plotline. It made for exciting reading, even if it did get dry and repetitive at points. I wish the different civilizations (aliens) were introduced at the book’s beginning. There was a brief rundown (around when the Lyraen spies were caught). But nothing was mentioned about any of the races (and there are a bunch of them).

The characters were meh to me. The only one I connected to and liked was Kanoa. All the others (Owen, Noriko, Berenice) either I didn’t like or weren’t as fleshed out as they should be. I also needed clarification on the different names that the same characters went by. It drove me up the wall to discover that what I thought was a singular main character was exactly two (for example, Tareq is two separate people: Kirat and Siha).

The end of The Blue, Beautiful World was different. I had to reread it twice to understand what was going on. And even then, there is going to be a book 2? I needed clarification on that.

I recommend The Blue, Beautiful World to anyone over 21. There is violence and mild language, but no sexual situations.

Many thanks to Random House Publishing Group – Ballantine, Del Rey, NetGalley, and Karen Lord for allowing me to read and review The Blue, Beautiful World.

If you enjoy reading books similar to The Blue, Beautiful World, then you will enjoy these books:

Other books by Karen Lord:

Night of the Living Queers: 13 Tales of Terror Delight by Shelly Page, Alex Brown, Ryan Douglass, Kalynn Bayron, Sara Farizan, Kosoko Jackson, Tara Sim, Rebecca Kim Wells, Trang Thanh Tran, Vanessa Montalban, Em X. Liu, Maya Gittelman, Ayida Shonibar

Publisher: St. Martin’s Press, Wednesday Books

Date of publication: August 29th, 2023

Genre: Horror, Young Adult, Short Stories, Anthologies, LGBT, Queer, Fantasy, Paranormal, Fiction, Lesbian

Purchase Links: Kindle | B&N | AbeBooks | WorldCat

Goodreads Synopsis:

Night of the Living Queers is a YA horror anthology that explores a night when anything is possible exclusively featuring queer authors of color putting fresh spins on classic horror tropes and tales.

No matter its name or occasion, Halloween is more than a Hallmark holiday, it’s a symbol of transformation. NIGHT OF THE LIVING QUEERS is a YA horror anthology that explores how Halloween can be more than just candies and frights, but a night where anything is possible. Each short story will be told through the lens of a different BIPOC teen and the Halloween night that changes their lives forever. Creative, creepy, and queer, this collection will bring fresh terror, heart, and humor to young adult literature.

Contributors include editors Alex Brown and Shelly Page, Kalynn Bayron, Ryan Douglass, Sara Farizan, Maya Gittelman, Kosoko Jackson, Em Liu, Vanessa Montalban, Ayida Shonibar, Tara Sim, Trang Thanh Tran, and Rebecca Kim Wells.

First Line:

Her grandmother told her once that the sea gets what it wants.

Welcome to the Hotel Paranoia (Night of the Living Queers) by Vanessa Montalban

I know I have said this before and will keep saying it: I dislike reviewing anthologies. Do I like reading them? Absolutely. But reviewing them is a different story, bringing me to Night of the Living Queers. I knew this was an anthology, but I still downloaded it.

I went back and forth on how to review Night of the Living Queers and decided to review it as I have past anthologies. I will give my opinion on the story and if I liked it or not.

Before I get into the review, I want to say this book would be perfect to read around Halloween. Also, a blue moon is featured in every single story, and all of the characters are lesbian, gay, trans, or queer.

So, without further ado, here are the stories in Night of the Living Queers:

Welcome to the Hotel Paranoia: This is an interesting story about a girl, Anabel, who is invited to a party at an abandoned bed & breakfast. When she gets there, things go from spooky to frightening. As I was reading this story, I got Hotel California vibes, even more so at the end of the story. While this wasn’t my favorite story, I didn’t dislike it.

The Visitor: This was another interesting but creepy story. Toya and her father have a ritual every Halloween. They decorate the house, watch scary movies, and grieve for Toya’s mother. The vibe of this story settles somewhere between creepy and heartbreaking. The end of the story was a big twist. I also couldn’t believe what Toya did, but I understood why. This story was one of my favorite stories.

A Brief Intermission: With this one, I figured out what the story was about within the first couple of pages. It wasn’t very scary, but it was very creepy. I couldn’t understand the end of the story, and I had to reread it a couple of times before a lightbulb went off. It was in the middle of my like scale.

Guested: This story was different from what I thought it would be, but I wasn’t expecting how it turned out!! Talk about a twist in the plotline. Being told in 2nd person added up the creepiness factor. When Nina got to the party, I knew something horrible would happen to her. This story was one of my favorite stories.

Rocky Road with Carmel Drizzle: This story broke my heart into a million pieces. I can’t get more into it except that Julian’s attackers got what was coming to them and then some. This story was my favorite story.

The Three Phases of Ghost-Hunting: This silly story focuses on two girls wanting to talk to Terrifying Bob, the ghost who haunts the food court at the local mall. I say silly because Terrifying Bob wasn’t that terrifying. I liked how it ended. This story was one of my favorite stories.

Nine Stops: Out of all the stories in this book, this one was the creepiest. It combined grief and opening spam links. It reminded me of The Ring but stopped short of being exactly like it. The author did a great job of scaring the crap out of me. It was one of my favorite stories.

Leyla Mendoza and the Las House on the Lane: This book was not scary. It is creepy in parts and unbelievably sad in others, but not creepy. It was also told in 2nd person. I did tear up during the scenes in the house and loved how it ended.

In You to Burn: This story was fantastic. Again, it was not precisely scary per se, but creepy. The author took their time explaining what was happening between Luce and Harley. Once it was explained, the author twisted the storyline. I loved it. Again, it’s a favorite story.

Anna: I wouldn’t say I liked this story. It was creepy, but I couldn’t get into it. And the ending was a little cliche.

Hey There, Demons: I was a little iffy with this story. It was not creepy or scary. Instead, it read more like a queer YA paranormal romance. The end was cute but had no scare factor.

Save Me from Myself: I liked this story but didn’t find it creepy. I was fascinated by the Indian lore (gods and goddesses). I also liked that Mona got to view herself from her crush’s perspective. The end was sad and not what I expected.

Knickknack: This story was a tribute to homicidal ghost clown stories. I loved reading it. Knickknack died horribly, and every year since, he takes a kid. I liked how the author just had fun with this story. The ending was typical but still fun.

I would recommend Night of the Living Queers to anyone over 21. There is language, violence, and no sexual situations.

Many thanks to St. Martin’s Press, Wednesday Books, and the various authors for allowing me to read and review Night of the Living Queers. All opinions stated in this review are mine.

If you enjoy reading books similar to Night of the Living Queers, then you will enjoy these books: