Murder by the Seashore (California Bookshop Mystery: Book 1) by Samara Yew

Publisher: Crooked Lane Books

Date of publication: October 17th, 2023

Genre: Cozy Mystery, Mystery, Fiction, Adult, Amateur Sleuth, Contemporary

Series: California Bookshop Mystery

Murder by the Seashore—Book 1

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

Goodreads Synopsis:

Perfect for fans of Jenn McKinlay and Ellery Adams, Scarlett Gardner’s dream was to open a bookshop in Southern California, but it soon becomes a nightmare when she finds the dead body of a customer—and becomes the prime suspect.

Southern California is where dreams come true—or so Scarlett Gardner thought. When she came out and opened the Palm Trees and Page Turners bookshop, she thought her boyfriend and business partner would be part of the story. When he leaves her for a better job, Scarlett finds herself struggling to keep her new business afloat. That’s not the only thing she has to worry about—she discovers something underneath the pier by her bookstore that she didn’t outline for her life’s story: the dead body of a book-buying customer.

After Scarlett gives a statement to the police, she thinks her life can go back to business as usual. But when a lawyer, representing someone named Lorelai Knight, tells her that Scarlett now stands to inherit a small fortune, Scarlett is left with more questions than answers. Before she can think about any of it, the police bring her in for questioning; the body she found was Lorelai Knight. And the evidence they have against Scarlett doesn’t look good—not only does she have a motive because of her inheritance, but a bottle of the same poison found in Lorelai’s system was discovered near the bookshop. Business is booming as Scarlett returns to the bookshop, but for all the wrong reasons – they want to question the last known suspect of the murder.

Who could really be behind all of this? And why frame Scarlett? To clear her name, she’s going to have get creative—and hope she can remain one page ahead of the killer.

First Line:

The involuntary morning mantra that had been running through my head every day for the past four months began at its usual time, nine thirty a.m.

Murder by the Seashore by Samara Yew

Important things you need to know about the book:

Pace: Murder by the Seashore had a medium-paced storyline. I wasn’t a fan of the pacing. I felt that it could have gone a little faster. It seemed like the author drew out certain events because of the pace.

Trigger/Content Warning: There are no trigger or content warnings in Murder by the Seashore.

Series: Murder by the Seashore is the first book in the California Bookshop Mystery. Since it is the first book, you don’t have to worry about missing information on characters or plotlines. You can dive right now in and enjoy.

Sexual Content: There is no sexual content in Murder by the Seashore. The main character doesn’t have time to have sex or kiss anyone.

Language: There is very light language used in Murder by the Seashore.

Setting: Murder by the Seashore is set entirely in Oceanside, California.

Representation: There is Asian representation (Hiroki Yoshida, one of Scarlet’s friends, is Japanese) and Latina representation (Lucia Armenta, Scarlet’s best friend, roommate, and lawyer is Hispanic).

Tropes: The Unlikable Victim, Outsmarting the Criminal, The Red Herring, The Protagonist is the Suspect, Twist Ending

Age Range to read Murder by the Seashore: I went back and forth with the rating. But, because it is a clean book (no sex, light language), I would recommend 16 and over to read.

Plot Synopsis (as spoiler-free as I can get):

Scarlet was living the dream of running a seaside bookstore with her boyfriend. But that dream crashed when her boyfriend ditched her and left her responsible for the shop. Struggling for months, Scarlet is finally making headway when two things happen-she finds the body of a murdered customer under the pier by her shop, and she is contacted by a lawyer who says she has inherited a small fortune from the murder victim. Declared the main suspect in the murder and wondering if the surprise inheritance has anything to do with it, Scarlet starts her investigation to clear her name. But even she is surprised by the twists and turns her investigation takes her. Will she clear her name? And will she figure out why the victim chose her as a beneficiary?

Main Characters

Scarlet Gardner: I like Scarlet. She was trying to keep her dream (the bookshop) alive but was slowly drowning. Her horror at finding Lorelai Knight came off the page, as was her disbelief over how the investigation was going. But things went a little sideways for me when she started looking into the case. Instead of the confident woman at the beginning of the book, she becomes obsessed with finding her killer. She jumped on the bandwagon for each suspect that she and Lucia came up with. At a point in the book, I wondered if the killer would be revealed with all the distractions being thrown around. By the end of the book, though, I did like how she made headway with her case. I also liked that she talked to her suspects and explained why she thought they killed Lorelai.

Secondary characters: There were a lot of secondary characters who had a lot of page time (Lucia, Evelyn, Connor). While I liked the extra depth they brought to the storyline, some fell flat.

My review:

Murder by the Seashore was an OK mystery for me. I had difficulty getting into it because of the book’s pacing and how the murder/inheritance played out. But once I got into it, I enjoyed reading it. I did get a little grumpy with the police investigation. I can understand naming Scarlet as their primary suspect, but to freak out on her when she opens her backdoor and finds a dead man on her stoop? With her lawyer friend/roommate as her alibi? A little much. I did like how the author wrapped up the book and was surprised at who the murderer ended up being.

The main storyline centers on Scarlet, the murder of Lorelai Knight, her inheritance from Lorelai, and who the murderer is. As I mentioned in the previous paragraph, I wasn’t a massive fan of how the police’s investigation of Lorelai went. The single-handed focus on Scarlet wore on me, and I couldn’t wait for the actual murderer to be revealed. What also wore on me was Scarlet’s investigation into Lorelai’s murder and why she was given the inheritance. I was glad when the author finally brought both together and revealed the killer. That was a huge surprise because I didn’t see that person coming at all.

The mystery angle was all right. I was halfway right about Lorelai and her reasons for giving Scarlet her money. But the reason why didn’t surprise me. The reason why Lorelai was killed did surprise me. The motive and who did it was a massive twist at the end of the book. I felt terrible for that person, but they did stupid things and paid the consequences.

The end of Murder by the Seashore was typical. I liked how the author wrapped everything up. I loved how Scarlet dealt with Connor (I was internally cheering). I also liked how the author set up book 2!!

Many thanks to Crooked Lane Books, NetGalley, and Samara Yew for allowing me to read and review this ARC of Murder by the Seashore. All opinions expressed in this review are mine.

If you enjoy reading books similar to Murder by the Seashore, then you will enjoy these books:

Black River Orchard by Chuck Wendig

Publisher: Random House Publishing Group – Ballantine, Del Rey

Date of publication: September 26th, 2023

Genre: Horror, Fantasy, Fiction, Thriller, Paranormal, Adult, Halloween, Suspense, Supernatural, Mystery

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

Goodreads Synopsis:

A small town is transformed by dark magic when a strange tree begins bearing magical apples in this new masterpiece of horror from the bestselling author of Wanderers and The Book of Accidents.

It’s autumn in the town of Harrow, but something else is changing in the town besides the season.

Because in that town there is an orchard, and in that orchard, seven most unusual trees. And from those trees grows a new sort of apple: Strange, beautiful, with skin so red it’s nearly black.

Take a bite of one of these apples and you will desire only to devour another. And another. You will become stronger. More vital. More yourself, you will believe. But then your appetite for the apples and their peculiar gifts will keep growing—and become darker.

This is what happens when the townsfolk discover the secret of the orchard. Soon it seems that everyone is consumed by an obsession with the magic of the apples… and what’s the harm, if it is making them all happier, more confident, more powerful?

And even if buried in the orchard is something else besides the seeds of this extraordinary tree: a bloody history whose roots reach back the very origins of the town.

But now the leaves are falling. The days grow darker. And a stranger has come to town, a stranger who knows Harrow’s secrets. Because it’s harvest time, and the town will soon reap what it has sown.

First Line:

Calla Paxson, age twelve, lurched upright in her bed, her heart pounding as if the nightmare she’d been having was still chasing her.

Black River Orchard by Chuck Wendig

Important things you need to know about the book:

Pace: Black River Orchard goes between medium and fast-paced. It is medium-paced until Dan loses his ever-loving mind (around the middle of the book). Then, it starts amping up the pace until the pacing is almost frantic. Then it slowed down again.

Trigger/Content Warning: Black River Orchard does have content and trigger warnings. If any of these trigger you, I suggest not reading the book. They are:

  • Violence (on page): This is a violent book right from the beginning. At first, it is subtle violence, but the violence is in your face by the middle of the book. It is graphic.
  • Blood (on page): This is also a bloody book. It is graphic and goes hand in hand with the violence.
  • Murder (on and off page): A murder sets the tone for the book, and the murders continue throughout the book. Some are described, and some are graphic.
  • Animal Death (on and off page): There are scenes towards the middle of the book where an initiation takes place, including murdering baby animals. I am not going to say much more because it is a spoiler. But it is graphic and almost fever-dreamish when described.
  • Homophobia (on and off page): There is homophobia directed at Emily throughout the book. There are blatant words spoken, and there are things done/threatened. There are other instances of homophobia throughout the book.
  • Grief (on and off page): Grief is one of the prominent undercurrents in this book. Dan is grieving the death of his father (years earlier), Calla is mourning the unexpected loss of a loving father, Emily is grieving her loss of self, John is mourning the deaths he caused during the first Gulf War, and Joanie (later on in the book) is grieving about something (I know it is vague but it is a spoiler).
  • Addiction (on page): The entire main storyline centers on the Harrowsblack apple addiction.
  • Suicide (on and off page): There are scenes where Dan remembers finding his father’s body after his suicide. Also, there is a scene where a police officer takes his service revolver and kills himself in front of Calla.
  • Abusive Relationship (on page): Emily’s wife changes after eating the apple and becomes abusive towards her (mentally, verbally, and physically). Dan becomes verbally and physically abusive to Calla.
  • Attempted Murder (on page): Joanie is almost killed by Prentiss in her house. Dan almost kills Calla.
  • Cheating (off-page): Emily cheated on Meg, so they moved to Harrow. Emily remembers it in a flashback, and Meg brings it up several times during the book.
  • Cults (on page): The book shows two different cults formed around the Harrowsblack apples. Since this will be a spoiler, I won’t say anything more.
  • Gun Violence (on and off page): Guns are used throughout the book to subdue and kill people.

Sexual Content: There is nongraphic sexual content in Black River Orchard. The author only gives bare minimum details about orgies. There is the remembrance of a sex scene between Emily and Meg, but it isn’t graphic.

Language: There is foul language used in Black River Orchard.

Setting: Black River Orchard is set almost entirely in Harrow, Pennsylvania. John Compass has a few side trips to New Jersey towards the middle of the book.

Representation: There is Native American representation (folktales, language) and queer representation (bisexual, genderfluid, lesbian, homosexual, and asexual) in Black River Orchard.

Tropes: Humans Can Be Evil, Monsters, Cults and Religious Extremists, Traumatic Past, Defeated Monster Comes Back to Life.

Age Range to read Black River Orchard: 21 and over

Plot Synopsis (as spoiler-free as I can get):

John Compass is searching for two things. One is a rare apple, the Harrowsblack, and the other is his best friend, who disappeared five years earlier. Careful tracking leads John to the small town of Harrow, Pennsylvania. It also is revealed that his friend had found the Harrowsblack before he disappeared. Meanwhile, in Harrow, a new apple has appeared. So red that it appears black, it is an instant hit at the farmers market. People who eat this apple cannot stop eating it, and they notice that when they eat the apple, they become stronger and heal faster. As John continues his search, the town slowly starts changing. In the middle of everything is Dan Paxson, the orchard owner. What is with the apples? How did Dan get them? What happens when John discovers the truth?

Main Characters

Dan Paxson: I felt for the guy at the beginning. He was determined to clear his father’s name and make something of the orchard that was his father’s. He was a loving father to Calla (almost too permissive, if I am going to be honest) and was somewhat of a pushover. But, the more he ate the apples, the more he changed. I almost hated to see him turn into what he became at the end of the book. It was nothing like he was initially written.

Calla Paxson: Calla is Dan’s seventeen-year-old daughter who wants to get into Princeton and is a wanna-be social influencer. I didn’t exactly like her at the beginning of the book. She came across as selfish and whiny. But she noticed something wasn’t right with the apples immediately. Calla started knowing that the more people ate them, the weirder they got. I liked her character’s development throughout the book.

John Compass: John is a Gulf War veteran haunted by what he did in the Middle East. He is so haunted that he becomes a Quaker (but will use violence to protect himself). John also becomes a hunter of rare apples. He becomes aware of the Harrowsblack apple when his best and probably only friend went missing five years earlier. I liked seeing John’s character progression in the book. But, what I liked the most was reading about the Native American legends attached to the Harrowsblack and seeing John piece everything together.

Emily Price: Emily is new to Harrow. Meg Price’s wife is feeling out of her element in a small town and in her marriage. Emily did something that strained her marriage and caused Meg to move them to Harrow. Their strained relationship becomes abusive after Meg starts eating the apple. So, I thought Emily was whiny, and she wallowed in self-pity until she met John. Then, I saw a side of Emily that I liked. At first, it was just a tiny glimpse, but by the end of the book, the true Emily was shown, and I loved her.

Joanie Moreau: Joanie showed up almost in the middle of the book. She was a character, and I liked her. She had an open marriage, rented her house out for sex parties (indoor only), and enjoyed teasing her neighbor, Prentiss. But things started to change when the Harrowsblack began making its rounds. It was after a specific event that Joanie showed how strong she was. It was also during the events at the end of the book that showed her character.

Secondary characters: The secondary characters in Black River Orchard made the book. They added so much to this book. The plotline was more flushed out, and the storyline had extra depth.

My review:

Black River Orchard was a well-written horror story that has made me never want to eat apples again. I was engrossed (and horrified) by how the storyline progressed. I couldn’t put my Kindle down. I needed to know how this book ended.

The main storyline in Black River Orchard centers around the five main characters and how those apples changed and affected their lives. It was a scary and often disgusting storyline that repulsed me and made me want to continue with the book.

The storyline with John and his search for the Harrowsblack and his friend was interesting. I didn’t know that there were people who went looking for rare strains of apples (so I learned something new). I liked that John wasn’t afraid to stand his ground when looking for his friend. By the middle of the book, John was central to figuring out how the Harrowsblack ended up in Harrow and who was behind it. He also was prominent in the events at the end of the book.

The storyline with Dan and Calla was sad. I hated seeing their relationship suffer the way it did because of the apples. But Calla was right about everything. When things started to change (and Dan started becoming abusive), Calla was right to begin to think things were wrong. I don’t think she realizes how bad it is until almost the end of the book.

The storyline with Emily and Meg was sad. But I did get annoyed with Emily at various points in the book. She was wallowing in remorse and self-pity until the middle of the book. Yes, she cheated, and her wife did something out of character (moving back to Harrow). But in no way did Emily expect what was going to happen. Her friendship with John was a lifeline.

The storyline with Joanie disturbed me. The amount of hate that she faced was unreal. It was that encounter that snowballed into the tragedy at her house. And the hatred by the cops when they came gave me shivers. But Joanie became a haven for Calla and her friends after everything. Even more so at the end of the book.

The horror angle was written perfectly. The gradual morphing into what happened at the end of the book was fantastic. I can’t get the images of those trees out of my head.

The end of Black River Orchard couldn’t have been written any better. The author ended all the storylines in one swoop. It was honestly shocking how he did it. I also liked the epilogue. But it was the very ending that made me go, hmmmm.

Many thanks to Random House Publishing Group – Ballantine, Del Rey, NetGalley, and Chuck Wendig for allowing me to read and review this ARC of Black River Orchard. All opinions stated in this review are mine.

If you enjoy reading books similar to Black River Orchard, then you will enjoy these books:

Other books by Chuck Wendig:

Love Interest by Clare Gilmore

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

Date of publication: October 10th, 2023

Genre: Romance, Contemporary, Contemporary Romance, Adult, Fiction, Chick Lit, New Adult, Adult Fiction

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

Goodreads Synopsis:

A sparkling adversaries-to-lovers romcom set at a magazine publisher in Manhattan. When Casey and Alex are forced into proximity, they soon realize falling for each other is just as much of a risk and as it is a reward.

Casey Maitland has always preferred the reliability of numbers, despite growing up the daughter of two artistic souls. Now a twenty-four-year-old finance expert working in Manhattan, Casey wonders if the project manager opening at her company – magazine powerhouse LC Publications – is a sign from the universe to pursue a career with a little more sparkle. That is, until she’s passed over for the job in favor of the board chairman’s son.

Alex Harrison is handsome, Harvard-educated, and enigmatic. Everybody loves him – except for Casey. But when the two are thrown on the same project, they both have something to prove. For Casey, it’s getting tapped for a transfer to the London office and fulfilling her dreams of travelling. For Alex, it’s successfully launching a brand that will impress his distant father.

As work meetings turn into after hours, Casey and Alex are drawn to each other again and again, but neither can avoid the messy secrets and corporate intrigue threatening to tear them apart. What they discover about their workplace might change everything – including the dreams each of them is chasing.

First Line:

The meeting invitation appears on my cell phone screen when I’m halfway up the subway staircase.

Love Interest by Clare Gilmore

Important things you need to know about the book:

Pace: Love Interest is a medium to fast-paced book. While the pacing suited the book, the author could have slowed it down. I had to go back and read some significant parts of the book. There is a lag in Love Interest. The lag didn’t affect how I liked the book.

Trigger/Content Warning: Surprisingly, there are no trigger or content warnings in Love Interest. After reading many books with triggers, it was refreshing to read one that didn’t.

Sexual Content: There are sexual scenes in Love Interest. Seeing that this is a modern-day romance, I wasn’t too surprised that there was. The sex scenes are explicit enough to be hot but didn’t cross the line into TMI.

Language: There is foul language used in Love Interest.

Setting: Love Interest is set entirely in New York City.

Representation: There is queer and BIPOC representation in Love Interest. Casey is white and straight, but she has friends who are BIPOC and queer (which is fantastic). Alex is half Korean and straight. His friends are Casey’s friends.

Tropes: Enemies to Lovers, Forced Proximity, Workplace Romance

Age Range to read Love Interest: 21 and over

Plot Synopsis (as spoiler-free as I can get):

Casey is a financial advisor for a magazine who wonders if she can insert a little pizzazz into her life. So, when a position for project manager becomes available in her company, she applies. Casey is mad when she is passed over for the job for the chairman’s son, Alex. She is furious when assigned to the project that Alex is heading. But her fury wanes as she gets to know Alex, and she starts to catch glimpses of the real him. A friendship evolves that soon turns into a not-so-hidden workplace romance. But, as rumors swirl about the fate of the magazine and the project Casey is on becomes Alex’s chance to show his father what he can do, can their romance survive?

Main Characters

Casey Maitland: I will be the odd one out here, but I didn’t initially like Casey. Her attitude towards Alex was awful. Yes, I get that it was fueled by disappointment and anger, but it made her seem like a teenager instead of the adult she was. But, by the middle of the book (when she and Alex started dating), I liked her. This was an infrequent case of a character redeeming herself. She became a supportive girlfriend who wasn’t afraid to tell it like it was. But she also kept her sense of self. She had plans, and those plans were going to happen, if Alex was in her life or not.

Alex Harrison: I initially liked him, but he had Daddy issues. His sense of self was wrapped up in getting approval from a distant and cold father. But I liked that he didn’t use nepotism to get the job at the magazine (but I am sure that’s what got him the job if it makes sense). I liked how he handled Casey at the beginning of the book. But he did change a little towards the middle of the book. He had stated at the beginning of the book (shortly before Casey and he started hooking up) that he didn’t believe or want relationships because he didn’t want to be tethered. Yet, by the middle of the book, he was only with Casey. I liked that the author did have Alex come to terms with his father by himself.

Secondary characters: I know this paragraph is the same in every review, but in this case, the secondary characters did make the book. Each character added extra depth, nuance, and flair to the storyline. If the book weren’t about Alex and Casey, I would have been happy to read about the secondary characters. That is how much oomph they brought to this book.

My review:

Love Interest was an interesting and good read. I got involved with the main characters and was rooting for them to overcome their obstacles. I also loved the secondary characters and the vibrance they brought to the book.

The main storyline of Love Interest focuses on Casey and Alex as they navigate their romance and project together. I liked that the author made this storyline relatable and believable. I wanted them both to succeed at what they were doing and their romance. I was caught up in this storyline and was very happy with the ending and the epilogue.

I liked the romance angle of Love Interest. I liked that Casey and Alex’s romance happened organically (as organic as a romance novel can get). It wasn’t Instalove by a long shot.

The end of Love Interest was sweet. I loved how the author ended all the storylines and tied them into Casey and Alex’s storyline. I also loved the epilogue. After reading that, I went to sleep with a massive smile.

Many thanks to St. Martin’s Press, St. Martin’s Griffin, NetGalley, and Clare Gilmore for allowing me to read and review this ARC of Love Interest. All opinions stated in this review are mine.

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

Mary Not Broken by Deborah L. King

Publisher: Red Adept Publishing

Date of publication: October 10th, 2023

Genre: Fiction

Series: Glory

Glory Bishop—Book 1 (review here)

Glory Unbound—Book 2 (review here)

Mary Not Broken—Book 3

Purchase Links: Kindle | B&N

Goodreads Synopsis:

In 1930s Mississippi, Mary Johnson hates the oppressive heat, working on her family farm, and having to attend her minister father’s church several times a week. But she loves Mason Carter, her musician boyfriend. Both fantasize about living the high life up north in the big city.

When William Bevers, a wealthy old preacher, comes to court her, he promises a life of luxury along with money and status for her family. Mary wants nothing to do with him, but her parents decide for her. Determined to avoid a forced marriage, Mary elopes with Mason to the bright lights of Chicago.

But life up north is not the dream they expected. Multiple tragedies push Mary to the brink, and she soon returns home to the very world she tried so desperately to escape.

Too numb to stave off the pressure from her father, Mary considers accepting William’s proposal. But she soon realizes that life as the preacher’s wife might not provide the safety and security she craves.

First Line:

Hidden in the shadows of the front room hallway, fifteen year old Mary Johnson tugged at the front of her shirt and fanned the sweat that dripped down her chest.

Mary Not Broken by Deborah L. King

Important things you need to know about the book:

Mary Not Broken is the 3rd book in the Glory series. You can read this book as a standalone. This book explains how Mary morphed into the woman portrayed in the first two Glory books. Even though you can read this book at any point in the duology, I would recommend reading Mary Not Broken first and then Glory Bishop and Glory Unbound afterward.

Mary Not Broken alternated between medium and fast-paced. I had no issues with the pacing, but I did have to go back and reread paragraphs before certain events sunk in. But I blame that on being sick and unable to focus (thank you, Nightquil!!). There was a little lag towards the end between Mary leaving Mississippi and meeting Glory’s father. But, it did not affect how much I enjoyed the book.

There are trigger warnings in Mary Not Broken. If any of these trigger you, I suggest not reading the book. They are:

  • Domestic Violence (on-page and graphic)
  • Abortion (on and off page)
  • Miscarriage (on and off page)
  • Infant Death (on and off page)
  • Teenage Marriage (on page)
  • Forced Marriage (on page)
  • Drug Use (off-page)
  • Drug Overdose (on page)
  • Child Death (on page)
  • Grief (on page)
  • Cheating (on page)

Sexual Content: There is sexual content in Mary Not Broken. But none of it is graphic. The author keeps it nondescriptive. It worked for me because if the sex scenes were explicit, it would have taken away from the storyline.

Language: There is foul language used in Mary Not Broken.

Setting: Mary Not Broken is set mainly in Mississippi, in the towns of Flora and Jackson. A couple of chapters are set in Harlem, New York, and the last half of the book is set in Chicago, Illinois.

Plot Synopsis (as spoiler-free as I can get):

Mary Johnson hates living in Flora, Mississippi. But what she hates even more is that her father has arranged her marriage to an older preacher. A strong-willed girl, Mary flees with her sweetheart to Chicago and then Harlem. But when a tragedy forces her home, Mary is again pressured to marry. Numb from what happened, Mary agrees to the marriage, only to find herself in a situation that becomes unbearable. Instead of breaking, Mary learns to bend and rely on only herself. Will Mary ever be free of her husband? Will she be able to live the life she wants? And, most importantly, will Mary have a child to love?

Main Characters

Mary Johnson: I read this book with a preconceived notion about Mary because of the previous two books. If you have read the Glory series, you understand what I am talking about and why I disliked her. But, as I read her story and saw what she went through, my dislike was tempered. Everything that happened to her (from the deaths of her first four children to Glory’s birth) tempered and shaped her into the woman she was in the first two books. I pitied her by the end of the book, and I understood her. But I could never like her.

Secondary characters: The secondary characters in Mary Not Broken were beautifully written. There were some that I couldn’t stand, others that annoyed me, and others that I liked. Each character adds their nuance and depth to the storyline.

My review:

Mary Not Broken was a good read. As I mentioned above, I went into this book not liking and not wanting to understand the main character. But, the author did an excellent job of writing this younger character of Glory’s mother in a way that I pitied and, to an extent, understood. The storyline was wonderfully written, and I enjoyed the recipes at the end.

The entire storyline centers on Mary and the years before she gave birth to Glory. The author was able to add depth to a character that I despised and was able to make me pity her. The author also showed that a strong-willed young woman can morph into the abusive mother portrayed in the Glory series. I almost didn’t want that transformation to happen, if I am going to be honest. I wanted Mary to heal from everything that happened to her.

The end of Mary Not Broken held so much hope and love. I almost wanted the author to rewrite the Glory series to what I glimpsed there. But, knowing what I know, it made me so sad to read what I read.

Many thanks to Deborah L. King for allowing me to read and review Mary Not Broken. All opinions stated in this review are mine.

If you enjoy reading books similar to Bright Lights, Big Christmas, then you will enjoy these books:

Other books by Deborah L. King

Bright Lights, Big Christmas by Mary Kay Andrews

Publisher: St. Martin’s Press

Date of publication: September 26th, 2023

Genre: Christmas, Romance, Holiday, Fiction, Contemporary, Chick Lit, Women’s Fiction, Adult, Contemporary Romance

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

Goodreads Synopsis:

From Mary Kay Andrews, New York Times bestselling author of The Homewreckers and The Santa Suit, comes a novella celebrating love and the warm, glittering charm of the holiday season.

When fall rolls around, it’s time for Kerry Tolliver to leave her family’s Christmas tree farm in the mountains of North Carolina for the wilds of New York City to help her gruff older brother & his dog, Queenie, sell the trees at the family stand on a corner in Greenwich Village. Sharing a tiny vintage camper and experiencing Manhattan for the first time, Kerry’s ready to try to carve out a new corner for herself.

In the weeks leading into Christmas, Kerry quickly becomes close with the charming neighbors who live near their stand. When an elderly neighbor goes missing, Kerry will need to combine her country know-how with her newly acquired New York knowledge to protect the new friends she’s come to think of as family,

And complicating everything is Patrick, a single dad raising his adorable, dragon-loving son Austin on this quirky block. Kerry and Patrick’s chemistry is undeniable, but what chance does this holiday romance really have?

Filled with family ties, both rekindled and new, and sparkling with Christmas magic, Bright Lights, Big Christmas delivers everything Mary Kay Andrews fans adore, all tied up in a hilarious, romantic gem of a novel.

First Line:

Kerry Clare Tolliver couldn’t remember a time when the smell of a Fraser fir tree didn’t make her smile.

Bright Lights, Big Christmas by Mary Kay Andrews

Important things you need to know about the book:

Bright Lights, Big City was a fast-paced book. It took me over two days to finish reading. The author could have slowed the book’s pacing down a little, but considering that it takes place from Thanksgiving to Christmas, the pacing suited it. There was some lag toward the book’s latter half (during the search for Heinz), but it didn’t affect my enjoyment.

There are trigger warnings in Bright Lights, Big Christmas. If any of these trigger you, I suggest not reading the book. They are:

  • Bullying (on page: Kerry and Murphy experience bullying from their competition)
  • Cheating (off-page: Kerry reveals her parents divorced because of her father’s cheating)
  • Death (off-page: Heinz’s boyfriend died three years into their relationship from a brain aneurysm)
  • Depression (off and somewhat on page: Heniz suffered from a deep depression for years over George’s(his boyfriend) death)
  • Divorce (off-page: Kerry’s parents are divorced)
  • Homophobia (off-page: Heinz reveals that his parents disowned him because he is gay)
  • Theft (on page: The competing tree stand steals Murphy’s cart that he uses to deliver Christmas trees)
  • Illness (on page: Heinz is severely ill with the flu)
  • Violence: (off-page: Murphy settles a dispute with the competition that results in bloody knuckles)

Sexual Content: There is no explicit sexual content in Bright Lights, Big Christmas. There are a couple of kissing scenes and one scene where I think Kerry and Patrick hooked up (not sure).

Language: There is some mild language in Bright Lights, Big Christmas.

Setting: Bright Lights, Big Christmas is set mainly in Greenwich Village, New York City. There is a chapter where the book is set in Tarburton, North Carolina.

Plot Synopsis (as spoiler-free as I can get):

When Kerry Tolliver’s larger-than-life father, Jock, suffers a heart attack and has surgery afterward, she volunteers to go to New York City to sell Christmas trees in his place. Since losing her job, Kerry has been floating along, and she figures that New York City is perfect to reinvent herself. At first, New York City is everything that Kerry thought it would be. But, with competition set up a block away and the stand losing business, Kerry needs to focus on how to get those trees to sell. What Kerry wasn’t expecting was her attraction to Patrick, a single dad living in the brownstone the stand is in front of, and her growing affection for the residents of the street. Is Kerry and Patrick’s romance just a holiday romance? Or will they be able to make it work? What about the elderly neighbor? Will they be able to find him?

Main Characters

Kerry Tolliver: I had mixed feelings about her character. She both annoyed me and made me laugh. I know it’s a weird combination, but that’s how I feel. Kerry wasn’t the best employee (she left the stand with people she didn’t know a few times) and was kind of rude to people. But, she had a great heart. She cared about the people she met, even after knowing them for weeks. Her attraction to Patrick was a given from the first moment they met. I was looking forward to them having an enemy-to-lover type relationship, but it flipped soon after.

Patrick McCaleb: I liked him, but I did wonder if he had some complex when it came to women. His ex was difficult (and that is saying it mildly), and Kerry was a little immature for him. But he was a great guy and a great father to Austin. He also supported Kerry regarding her choices (at the end of the book).

Secondary characters: The secondary characters made this book. They added extra flavor and depth to the plotline. My favorite secondary characters were Heinz, Austin, Murphy, and Claudia.

My review:

Bright Lights, Big Christmas was a good, sweet read. The plotline was simple, and I didn’t need a diagram to understand what was happening. I didn’t need to reread chapters or pay much attention to the characters’ backstories. It was a good, clean read that made me happy and sad.

The main storyline centers around Kerry and her time in New York City. I liked the author’s version of New York City (no rude people, kind neighbors, or police that understood agreements) but found it slightly unrealistic. But that unrealistic part made this book so good to read. I liked seeing Kerry interacting with the brownstone tenants and her brother. I also loved reading about her blooming relationship with Patrick (and Austin by default). My only quibble is that their romance was Instalove and what I said above about New York City.

The other storyline centers around Kerry, Patrick, Austin, and Heinz. This storyline was a sweet storyline that made me tear up a little bit. I also got very aggravated with Austin’s mother for her assumptions, but no harm was done at the end of the day. Heinz’s backstory, almost at the end of the book, was heartbreaking. I also loved what he offered Kerry.

As much as I dislike Instalove, I did like Kerry and Patrick’s romance. It was cute, and I liked how the author did try to let it grow organically at first. The romance felt forced by the end of the book, but I chalked that up to what was going on and Kerry’s decision.

I saw the end of Bright Lights, Big Christmas coming since the middle of the book. I liked that the author wrapped everything up the way she did. But I did have questions about Murphy and Claudia. I hope the author writes their story next.

Many thanks to St. Martin’s Press, NetGalley, and Mary Kay Andrews for allowing me to read and review this ARC of Bright Lights, Big Christmas. All opinions stated in this review are mine.

If you enjoy reading books similar to Bright Lights, Big Christmas, then you will enjoy these books:

Other books by Mary Kay Andrews

Stalking Around the Christmas Tree (Christmas Tree Farm Mystery: Book 4) by Jacqueline Frost

Publisher: Crooked Lane Books

Date of publication: October 17th, 2023

Genre: Christmas, Cozy Mystery, Mystery, Fiction

Series: Christmas Tree Farm Mystery

Twelve Slays of Christmas—Book 1

‘Twas the Knife Before Christmas—Book 2

Slashing Through the Snow—Book 3

Stalking Around the Christmas Tree—Book 4

Purchase Links: Kindle | B&N

Goodreads Synopsis:

Tis the season to solve a murder—and innkeeper Holly White knows she’ll have to make her list and check it twice if she wants to catch the killer in the fourth Christmas Tree Farm mystery from bestselling author Jacqueline Frost.

For inn keeper Holly White, Christmas time in Mistletoe, Maine, is the ultimate holiday gift. Business at the Reindeer Games Inn is booming, her wedding to Sheriff Evan Gray is nearly here, and the annual parade is about to begin. The town is lucky to have another gift this year with the state’s ballet company staying for several performances of The Nutcracker. But disaster strikes when Tiffany, the lead ballerina, shows up dead on a float during the parade, the Rat King’s mask nearby. Holly will have to spruce up her sleuthing skills if she wants to catch the killer before Christmas—and her wedding day.

Immediately, Holly discovers that Tiffany had more than a few secrets. She finds out that the star of the show had a super fan that no one knows anything about. And the show’s understudy slips some other intriguing information Holly’s way: not only was Tiffany secretly seeing someone romantically, but there seems to be more than one rat in this company. When Holly discovers a secret passage leading to Tiffany’s dressing room, with footprints leading out; she wonders if this is evidence of a secret lover—or a stalking killer.

With an impending snowstorm and the ballet company on the way out of town, Holly must act quickly if she wants to find the person responsible for this terrible murder. Will she be able to save Christmas—or will her investigation turn cold like the weather?

First Line:

“Hold that pose, Mrs. White,” my best friend, Caroline, called.

Stalking Around the Christmas Tree by Jacqueline Frost

Christmas in Mistletoe, Maine, is always special; this year is no exception. With an upcoming wedding to plan, charities to donate to, and a booming business to run, Holly doesn’t have a minute to breathe. Things get even more hectic when the prima ballerina, Tiffany, collapses during the town’s annual Christmas parade and is later pronounced dead from arsenic poisoning. Holly immediately starts investigating and finds several clues pointing to a superfan, the choreographer, the Rat King, and the understudy. Will Holly uncover who killed Tiffany?

Stalking Around the Christmas Tree is the 4th book in the Christmas Tree Farm series. You can read this as a standalone book. But, and I always say this, I do recommend reading books 1-3 first. That way, you better understand the characters and their backstories.

Stalking Around the Christmas Tree was a fun read for me. I wasn’t expecting it to be, if I am going to be honest. I am not a fan of picking up books mid-series. In my experience, I usually end up missing something when I do that. But this is a rare case of that not happening. The plot was fast-paced, the characters were well-fleshed out, and the mystery was twisty.

Stalking Around the Christmas Tree’s main storyline centers around Holly and her investigation into Tiffany’s death. The author didn’t veer from this storyline too much and kept it focused on its objective: To find Tiffany’s killer and the motive. The storyline was well-written, and it kept me glued to the book.

There were several secondary storylines in Stalking Around the Christmas Tree. The two main secondary storylines were Holly’s wedding and Libby’s stalker. The author kept both secondary storylines separate from the main storyline and the author did something that surprised me. She kept the storylines separate throughout the book. Did they crisscross? Absolutely but in no way did either storyline join the main one, and I loved it.

The storyline with Tiffany’s murder and Holly’s investigation was twisty. The author did a great job of keeping how the killer was under wraps until the end of the book. I was surprised at who it was and why that person did it. Oh, and how they did it too.

The storyline with Holly’s wedding was sweet. Since this has been a storyline that continued from the last book, I am sure that readers of the series were thrilled with how it ended. I know I was!!

The storyline with Libby and her stalker was sad. Again, this was a storyline the author carried over from the previous book (maybe books?). Once Holly confronted Libby with what was happening, I figured out who the stalker was. It did break my heart a little bit to read the ending scenes (where the stalker is caught) because of why this person did it.

The end of Stalking Around the Christmas Tree was terrific. I loved how the storylines ended. I hope there is another book in the series.

I recommend Stalking Around the Christmas Tree to anyone over 16. There is mild violence, mild language, and fade to black sexual situations.

Many thanks to Crooked Lane Books, NetGalley, and Jacqueline Frost for allowing me to read and review Stalking Around the Christmas Tree. All opinions stated in this review are mine.

If you enjoyed reading this review of Stalking Around the Christmas Tree, then you will enjoy reading these books:

Other books by Jacqueline Frost:

Last Word to the Wise (Christie Bookshop: Book 2) by Ann Claire

Publisher: Random House Publishing Group – Ballantine, Bantam

Date of publication: October 3rd, 2023

Genre: Mystery, Cozy Mystery, Fiction, Adult, Family, Books about Books

Series: Christie Bookshop

Dead and Gondola—Book 1 (review here)

Last Word to the Wise—Book 2

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

Goodreads Synopsis:

The Christie sisters and their bookshop cat, Agatha, flirt with cold-hearted crime when bookish matchmaking turns into a date with death.

Sisters Ellie and Meg Christie share a love of books, reading, and their new roles as co-caretakers of the Book Chalet, their family’s historic bookshop tucked midway up a scenic Colorado mountain. But romance? That’s another story. Ellie and Meg joke they’re in sisterly competition for worst relationships. So, when their cousin signs them up for her newest business endeavor, matchmaking based on bookish tastes, the sisters approach their blind double dates with foot-dragging dread.

While Ellie’s date meets her low expectations, Meg’s match, a book-loving romantic straight out of classic literature, charms her over a lovely dinner. The next morning, Meg is giddy with anticipation of a second date—until she’s stood up without a word. She fumes that she should have known better. However, her date had a good reason for ghosting her. He’s dead. Murdered, the police later confirm.

As the last known person to see the victim alive, Meg becomes a prime suspect in his death. She grimly quips that at least her dating record can’t get any worse. But it does. A thorn from Meg’s romantic past returns to little Last Word, espousing motives too sweet to believe.

To sleuth out the truth, the sisters must sift through secrets deeper than the February snowfall. Clues accumulate, but so do suspects, crimes, and betrayals. Ellie and Meg can’t afford to leave any page unturned. Romance may not be their forte, but hearts and lives are on the line, and the Christies know how to solve a mystery—especially when murder is involved.

First Line:

Never had I so dreaded a trip to the library.

Last Word to the Wise by Ann Claire

Things you need to know before reading the review:

Last Word to the Wise is the second book in the Christie Bookshop series. Last Word to the Wise can be read as a stand-alone book. But I suggest reading the previous book to understand the characters and their backstories.

Last Word to the Wise is a medium to fast-paced book. The pacing of the book suited it. The author was able to speed up and slow down the plotline without losing my attention or creating too much lag. There was some lag towards the middle of the book. But, it wasn’t enough to distract me or make me lose any enjoyment in reading the book.

There are no trigger warnings in Last Word to the Wise.

Sexual Content: There is no on-page sexual content in Last Word to the Wise.

Language:  There is no graphic or offensive language in Last Word to the Wise.

Setting: Last Word to the Wise occurs entirely in the fictional city of Last Word, Colorado.

Plot Synopsis (as spoiler-free as I can get):

Ellie and Meg Christie are doing great as co-caretakers of their family’s bookstore in Last Word, Colorado. But, in the romance department, they could be doing better. Ellie hasn’t been in a relationship since before she moved back to Last Word, and Meg, well, she hasn’t been in one since she was stood up at the altar by her daughter’s father fourteen years previously. So, they reluctantly agree when their cousin asks them to test the water of her new business, matching people together due to their reading habits and tastes.

For Ellie, her date was a disaster, but she had been expecting that. But Meg, on the other hand, her date was excellent and a perfect match. But, when her date doesn’t show up for brunch like he promised, Meg figures he either forgot or ditched her. Well, as it turns out, it was neither. Her date had been murdered. Since Meg was the last person to see him alive, she is the prime suspect.

Determined to prove her sister’s innocence, Ellie digs into the victim’s background. What she uncovers shocks her and gives her a list of scorned lovers. Can Ellie prove her sister’s innocence? Can she figure out not only who killed the victim but why?

Main Characters:

Ellie Christie: I liked Ellie and how she supported Meg, even when all the evidence was pointing to her. Ellie was the main person who chased down leads. She was a great sister, aunt, and granddaughter. Ellie is also the main person who puts everything together (well, with the help of her cat at the end of the book). She did bumble through most of the investigation, but she also made some surprising connections between Joe’s murder and other townspeople.

Meg Christie: I like Meg. But man, did she have it coming from all sides. First, with Joe’s murder, then being told she was a prime suspect, and her ex (her daughter’s father) showed up. I was shocked that she didn’t have a breakdown. I also felt terrible that the first date she went on in years ended like it did.

Joe Darcy: While Joe was only alive for the first chapter or so of the book, his murder had a vast (and negative) impact on the Christie sisters’ lives. He was not a good guy. That’s all I can say about him without giving away major spoilers.

Secondary Characters: As with other books, the secondary characters supported and enriched the storyline. The characters that stood out the most to me were Lorna, Dr. Waldon, Rosie, Gram, Detective Sam Iberra, Sheriff Sunny, and Cameron.


I enjoyed reading Last Word to the Wise. I enjoy reading cozy mysteries and have been drawn to them in the past year. There is something about reading a book about a closed-room mystery and figuring out who did it and why. And Last Word to the Wise pushed those buttons for me.

The main storyline is centered around Meg, Ellie, Joe Darcy’s murder, the police investigation, and Ellie’s investigation/quest to clear her sister’s name. It was well-written and easy to track, even when Ellie’s investigation went haywire. I was very surprised by who the murderer was, but I wasn’t surprised once I read that person’s confession. I was a little sad, to be honest.

The mystery angle was well-written and kept me on my toes while reading it. I went to the end of the book thinking it was one person and was surprised when it was another. It is challenging to get one over on me, mysterywise, and Last Word to the Wise did that. As I said above, I was surprised and then sad by who the murderer ended up being.

The end of Last Word to the Wise was interesting. The author wrapped up the main storyline in a way that I liked. She also left enough there for me to hope for another book.

Many thanks to Random House Publishing Group – Ballantine, Bantam, NetGalley, and Ann Claire for allowing me to read and review this ARC of Last Word to the Wise. All opinions stated in this review are mine.

If you enjoy reading books similar to A Traitor in Whitehall, then you will enjoy these books:

Other books by Ann Claire:

A Traitor in Whitehall (Parisian Orphan: Book 1) by Julia Kelly

Publisher: St. Martin’s Press, Minotaur Books

Date of publication: October 3rd, 2023

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

Series: Parisian Orphan

A Traitor in Whitehall—Book 1

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

Goodreads Synopsis:

From Julia Kelly, internationally bestselling author of The Last Dance of the Debutante, comes the first in the mysterious and immersive Parisian Orphan series, A Traitor in Whitehall.

1940, England: Evelyne Redfern, known as “The Parisian Orphan” as a child, is working on the line at a munitions factory in wartime London. When Mr. Fletcher, one of her father’s old friends, spots Evelyne on a night out, Evelyne finds herself plunged into the world of Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s cabinet war rooms.

However, shortly after she settles into her new role as a secretary, one of the girls at work is murdered, and Evelyne must use all of her amateur sleuthing expertise to find the killer. But doing so puts her right in the path of David Poole, a cagey minister’s aide who seems determined to thwart her investigations. That is, until Evelyne finds out David’s real mission is to root out a mole selling government secrets to Britain’s enemies, and the pair begrudgingly team up.

With her quick wit, sharp eyes, and determination, will Evelyne be able to find out who’s been selling England’s secrets and catch a killer, all while battling her growing attraction to David?

First Line:

“Miss Redfern!” snapped Miss Wilkes, causing me to jerk up and my pencil to skitter across the page of my notebook.

A Traitor in Whitehall by Julia Kelly

Important things you need to know about the book:

A Traitor in Whitehall is the first book in the Parisian Orphan series. Since it is the first book in the series, you don’t have previous books to read. You can dive into this without worrying about previous storylines or characters appearing and throwing the main storylines off.

A Traitor in Whitehall was a medium-paced book for me. There were some areas (mainly towards the end) where the pacing did speed up. But it was consistently medium-paced throughout the book. There was some lag in the middle of the book (during Evelyne and David’s investigation). It didn’t affect my enjoyment of the book.

There are trigger warnings in A Traitor in Whitehall. If any of these trigger you, I suggest not reading the book. They are:

  1. Bullying: While Evelyne didn’t experience Jean’s bullying tactics, the other women in the typing pool did. Jean caused one woman to quit her job because she threatened to expose her secrets—several other women experienced blackmail by Jean.
  2. Death: Besides the obvious (Evelyne finding Jean’s body), the book details the questionable death of Evelyne’s mother.
  3. Divorce: Evelyne remembers her parents’ contentious divorce and custody battle over her. It had made the papers, and the newspapers painted her mother badly.
  4. Murder: Evelyne and David are investigating Jean’s murder. Evelyne suspects that her mother was murdered.
  5. Sexism: Evelyne experiences era-appropriate sexism.
  6. War: A Traitor in Whitehall takes place in World War II. Evelyne experiences drills, blackouts, rations, and bombing throughout the book.

Sexual Content: There is no on-page sexual content in A Traitor in Whitehall. It is alluded that Jean is having affairs with some ministers and their staff.

Language:  There is no graphic language in A Traitor in Whitehall.

Setting: A Traitor in Whitehall is set in World War II in London, England.

Plot Synopsis (as spoiler-free as I can get):

Evelyne Redfern is working in a munitions factory in World War II-era London. A chance meeting with a childhood friend of her absent father, Evelyne finds her working as a secretary in a top-secret location for Winston Churchhill’s war department. Soon after her arrival, Evelyne stumbles upon the body of one of the secretaries (Jean). That starts Evelyne’s investigation into Jean’s murder and puts her in the path of the mysterious David Poole. When David reveals that he is undercover investigating a possible mole and that Jean could be a link, Evelyne and he team up. Can they discover who the mole is? Can they figure out who killed Jean? And lastly, can they connect the mole and Jean?

Main Characters

Evelyne Redfern: I liked Evelyne. She was bright, loved reading mysteries (Agatha Christie was her favorite), and didn’t miss a thing. She was also straightforward to talk to, which was helpful when she and David were interrogating people. Evelyne used her real-life contacts and what she learned from the mysteries she loved to read to figure out parts of Jean’s murder that otherwise would have gone missing. I also enjoyed that Evelyne liked looking at David (he was good-looking) and wasn’t ashamed about it. She did have faults, though. She tended to go off alone (surprising David at the gambling hall was one) and pushed boundaries (Charlotte and Patricia’s stories come to mind).

David Poole: I initially didn’t know what to make of him. He was very mysterious and was often abrupt with Evelyne. But the more he appeared in the book, the more I liked him. He let Evelyne take the lead in Jean’s murder investigation. I liked how he low-key put people in their place so they would answer her questions. I also liked how David asked for and listened to her input about the mole. He was always there, backing her up, and was instrumental in helping catch Jean’s murderer and the mole. I also liked how the author slyly brought him into Mr. Fletcher’s work.

Secondary characters: There were numerous secondary characters mentioned throughout the book. Each character added their nuance and depth to the storyline. The characters that stood out the most to me were: Mr. Fletcher, Mrs. White, Moira, Irene, Patricia, Aunt Amelia, Mr. Pearson, Inspectors Maxwell and Plaice, Caroline, Mr. Faylen, and Charlotte.

My review:

I enjoyed reading A Traitor in Whitehall. I have a weakness for World War II-era books, and when I read the blurb for this one, I knew I wanted to read it. I am glad I did because this book was a good read.

The storyline centering around Jean’s murder and Evelyne’s investigation was well written. I couldn’t figure out who the murderer was. The author had so many red herrings that I thought it was someone other than who it was. I was shocked at who was revealed and the motive behind the person killing Jean.

The storyline centering around the mole was interesting. Later in the book, it is introduced and intertwined with Jean’s murder. I did figure out half of this storyline reasonably early. But I was surprised at who else was involved. Again, it took me by surprise.

Both storylines merge at the end of the book. I won’t talk about what happened, but I will say this: the murderer and the mole are the same person. There is someone else involved, too.

As I stated above, the mystery/thriller angle was well written. The author kept me on my toes for the entire book. It isn’t very often that I can’t figure out who the killer is.

I may be imagining this, but I saw a possible romance between Evelyne and David. Their chemistry was beautiful in the book, and I can’t wait to see how they work together in upcoming books.

The end of A Traitor in Whitehall was great. I liked how the author united and solved Jean’s murder and who the mole was. But it was after that mystery was solved that I loved it. I can’t wait to see Evelyne and David work together again!!!

Many thanks to St. Martin’s Press, Minotaur Books, NetGalley, and Julia Kelly for allowing me to read and review this ARC of A Traitor in Whitehall. All opinions stated in this review are mine.

If you enjoy reading books similar to A Traitor in Whitehall, then you will enjoy these books:

Other books by Julia Kelly

Love in Winter Wonderland by Abiola Bello

Publisher: Soho Press, Soho Teen

Date of publication: October 3rd, 2023

Genre: Romance, Christmas, Holiday, Young Adult, Contemporary, Young Adult Romance, Contemporary Romance, Fiction, African American Romance

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

Goodreads Synopsis:

‘The Sun Is Also a Star’ meets ‘You’ve Got Mail’ in this YA Christmas love story set in a London Black-owned bookshop.

Charming, handsome Trey Anderson balances the pressures of school popularity with a job at his family’s beloved local bookshop, Wonderland.

Quirky, creative Ariel Spencer needs tuition for the prestigious art program of her dreams, and an opening at Wonderland is the answer. When Trey and Ariel learn that Wonderland is on the brink of being shut down by a neighborhood gentrifier, they team up to stop the doors from closing before the Christmas Eve deadline—and embark on a hate-to-love journey that will change them forever.

Heartwarming and romantic, this read is the gift that keeps on giving, no matter the season.

First Line:

I’m about two seconds away from committing murder.

Love in Winter Wonderland by Abiola Bello

Important things you need to know about the book:

Love in Winter Wonderland is a medium to fast-paced book. The book starts fast, slows down around the middle of the book, speeds back up, and then slows down for the ending. I had no issues with the pacing of the book. It allowed me to digest some things that the author brought up and discussed. There was some lag in the middle (right around Trey’s shop party for Blair), but it didn’t affect how I liked the book.

There are trigger warnings in Love in Winter Wonderland. If any of these trigger you, I suggest not reading the book. They are:

  • Alcohol: Trey and Ariel underage drink throughout the book (in England, the legal drinking age is 18; both are shy of 18). Trey drinks until he is blackout drunk during Blair’s second birthday party.
  • Anxiety: Ariel suffers from anxiety due to bullying. Trey and his mother suffer from anxiety over the bookshop closing down.
  • Bullying: Ariel is bullied throughout the book by Blair and Bebe. She is bullied because of her weight, her painting (her hands are usually covered in paint), and her friendship with Trey. It is painful to read because, until almost the end of the book, Ariel doesn’t say anything back to them and internalizes everything.
  • Cancer: Ariel’s father passes from cancer before the book starts.
  • Cheating: I went back and forth on including this and eventually decided to include it. Trey emotionally cheats on Blair with Ariel. It never gets physical but emotional; he’s all in. Ariel discourages it at first but then gives in to it. Trey’s friends (including Blair’s sister) encourage his relationship with Ariel, which I found weird.
  • Death: Ariel’s father died from cancer earlier in the year.
  • Depression: Ariel’s mother suffered from a deep depression after Ariel’s father died. But she has come out of it by the time the book starts.
  • Eating Disorder: Ariel binge eats during the book. It is mentioned that she had an issue with binge eating and worked to keep her compulsion to do so under control.
  • Fat shaming: Blair and Bebe bully Ariel over her weight. Blair because she is insecure over Ariel’s relationship with Trey and Bebe because, well, Bebe is a colossal jerk.
  • Grief: Ariel is grieving the death of her father throughout the book.
  • Gentrification: Wonderland is a Black-owned business in an area that is in the process of being gentrified. Trey mentions that the area used to have multiple small businesses owned by different cultures that white developers were buying out. These white developers are looking to buy Wonderland, so Trey decides to save his family’s bookshop.

Sexual Content: There is sexual content in Love in Winter Wonderland. It mainly centers around Trey and Blair. There is a nongraphic sex scene, where Blair shows Trey her boobs (after he spends the night with her), scenes where they kiss, and one scene where Blair strips to her underwear and attempts to have sex with Trey. There are also a couple of near-miss kiss scenes between Ariel and Trey.

Language: There is a lot of language in Love in Winter Wonderland. There is swearing. There is also language centered around bullying.

Setting: Love in Winter Wonderland is set entirely in Hackney, England. Hackney is a borough of London. The author does a great job of describing Hackney and its community. She made it to a place that I would love to visit. I would also love to visit Wonderland!!

Plot Synopsis (as spoiler-free as I can get):

Trey hates working in his family’s bookstore, Wonderland. He doesn’t want to run it. Instead, he wants to be a singer. But his thinking changes when two things happen. First, his mother tells him that Wonderland is on the verge of closing and is considering a developer’s offer to buy it out. The second, Trey’s father falls and breaks his leg. The shop becomes his responsibility and, soon, his passion. He would do anything to save Wonderland.

Ariel is a quirky, shy artist who has known Trey from afar for years. When she gets invited to apply to the same art program her father attended, Ariel knows she needs a part-time job to cover the tuition. So, when the job at Wonderland falls in her lap, Ariel accepts. She becomes deeply involved in Trey’s plans to save Wonderland. But, with a monetary amount that is staggering (50,000 pounds) and a two-week time limit, she needs to think fast. What Ariel doesn’t take into consideration is her developing feelings for Trey. As the Christmas Eve deadline looms and the developers become brazen in their attempt to buy Wonderland, Ariel wonders if they will make it. She also wonders if her heart will survive working so close with Trey. Can Trey and Ariel save Wonderland? Will Trey realize that Ariel is the girl for him? Or will he miss his opportunity?

Main Characters:

Trey Anderson: I didn’t like Trey when the book first started. But his character growth throughout the book was terrific. He went from being a slightly self-involved kid only interested in his needs to this fantastic young man who wanted to save his family’s legacy. My only quibble with him was that he strung Blair and Ariel along. It wasn’t intentional, but he did it. And his treatment of Ariel when she missed the interview was awful, considering who was behind her missing the interview and how it happened.

Ariel Spencer: I loved her. Her character growth over the book was similar to Trey’s. I liked that she finally told Bebe and Blair what she thought of them. Of course, not before being put through hell by them. I loved her strong and supportive friend base (Annika and Jolie were her true ride-and-die friends). My only quibble with her is that she kept letting Trey in, and he kept hurting her. I wondered how the future would be for both of them.

Secondary characters:

Each of the secondary characters was great. They were just as fleshed out as Trey and Ariel. Of course, some of them did get what was coming to them. Others were great as the supportive best friends or parents. The main secondary characters are:

Trey’s parents and younger brother (Clive, Mrs. Anderson, Roen), Trey’s best friend (Dre Denton aka Boogs), Boogs girlfriend (Santi Bailey), Santi’s identical twin sister and Trey’s girlfriend (Blair Bailey), Bebe Richards (Ariel’s bully, Blair’s frenemy, and Annika’s cousin), Noah Spencer (Ariel’s younger brother), Annika (Ariel’s best friend), and Jolie (Ariel’s other best friend).

My review:

Love in Winter Wonderland is a well-written book focused on Trey and Ariel’s budding relationship and Trey and Ariel trying to save Wonderland, Trey’s family bookstore. This book touches on numerous subjects, from bullying to gentrification. The author did it in a way that it didn’t feel forced down your throat, and you wanted Trey and Ariel to succeed.

The storyline centers around Trey, Ariel, and their rush to save Wonderland. I liked that it was written realistically. Trey tried raising the money without the internet before listening to Ariel and posting about the shop’s plight. And, it took traction. I liked that while I knew it was a foregone conclusion that Ariel and Trey would save the shop, the author didn’t cement that idea at the end of the book. I also liked that Trey’s father slowly realized that he needed to modernize how he sold books. If Trey’s father wanted his business to survive, his store had to compete with the boxcutter bookstore down the street. It was painful to read, but I am glad he finally saw the writing on the wall.

The storyline centered around Trey and Ariel, and their relationship was cute. I liked seeing how they went from frenemies to friends to something more. But I wasn’t a huge fan of Trey cheating on his girlfriend. I want to clarify that he was emotionally cheating (he checked out of their relationship emotionally right after Ariel started working at the shop, so 3-4 chapters into the book). That aside, I loved the back-and-forth and the banter that Trey and Ariel had. Of course, they ran into issues (that pesky girlfriend), but they overcame them by being open with each other.

The end of Love in Winter Wonderland was what I expected. I did like how the author wrapped everything up. I also liked how she left it as happy for right now instead of a happily ever after. And the author’s note broke my heart. Before I forget, the author also does include a playlist for the book. At the beginning of each chapter (be it Ariel or Trey), she had a Christmas song sung by Black artists. I wrote each one down so I could listen to them (and yes, Mariah is featured).

Many thanks to Soho Press, Soho Teen, NetGalley, and Abiola Bello for allowing me to read and review this ARC of Love in Winter Wonderland. All opinions stated in this review are mine.

If you enjoy reading books similar to Love in Winter Wonderland, then you will enjoy these books:

Other books by Abiola Bello:

A Cold Highland Wind (Lady Emily Ashton Mysteries: Book 17) by Tasha Alexander

Publisher: St. Martin’s Press, Minotaur Books

Date of publication: October 3rd, 2023

Genre: Mystery, Historical Fiction, Fiction, Scotland, Mystery Thriller, Historical Mystery, Historical

Series: Lady Emily Ashton Mysteries

And Only to Deceive—Book 1

A Poisoned Season—Book 2

A Fatal Waltz—Book 3

The Bridal Strain: Emily and Colin’s Wedding—Book 3.5

Tears of Pearl—Book 4

Dangerous to Know—Book 5

A Crimson Warning—Book 6

Death in the Floating City—Book 7

Behind Shattered Glass—Book 8

The Counterfiet Hieress—Book 9

Star of the East—Book 9.5

The Adventuress—Book 10

That Silent Night: A Lady Emily Christmas Story—Book 10.5

A Terrible Beauty—Book 11

Death in St. Petersburg—Book 12

Amid the Winter’s Snow—Book 12.5

Uneasy Lies the Crown—Book 13

Upon the Midnight Clear—Book 13.5

In the Shadow of Vesuvius—Book 14

The Dark Heart of Florence—Book 15

Secrets of the Nile—Book 16

A Cold Highland Wind—Book 17

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

Goodreads Synopsis:

In this new installment of Tasha Alexander’s acclaimed Lady Emily series set in the wild Scottish highlands, an ancient story of witchcraft may hold the key to solving a murder centuries later.

Lady Emily, husband Colin Hargreaves, and their three sons eagerly embark on a family vacation at Cairnfarn Castle, the Scottish estate of their dear friend Jeremy, Duke of Bainbridge. But a high-spirited celebration at the beginning of their stay comes to a grisly end when the duke’s gamekeeper is found murdered on the banks of the loch. Handsome Angus Sinclair had a host of enemies: the fiancée he abandoned in Edinburgh, the young woman who had fallen hopelessly in love with him, and the rough farmer who saw him as a rival for her affections. But what is meaning of the curious runic stone left on Sinclair’s forehead?

Scotland, 1676. Lady MacAllister, wife of the Laird of Cairnfarn Castle, suddenly finds herself widowed and thrown out of her home. Her sole companion is a Moorish slave girl who helps her secretly spirit out her most prized possessions from the castle: her strange books. Her neighbors are wary of a woman living on her own, and when a poppet—a doll used to cast spells—and a daisy wheel are found in her isolated cottage, Lady MacAllister is accused of witchcraft, a crime punishable by death.

Hundreds of years later, Lady Emily searches for the link between Lady MacAllister’s harrowing witchcraft trial and the brutal death of Sinclair. She must follow a trail of hidden motives, an illicit affair, and a mysterious stranger to reveal the dark side of a seemingly idyllic Highland village.

First Line:

At first glance, blood doesn’t stand out on tartan. At least not on the tartan worn by the dead man sprawled next to a loch on a Highland estate of my dear friend Jeremy Sheffield, Duke of Bainbridge.

A Cold Highland Wind by Tasha Alexander

Lady Emily, her husband, and their three sons are vacationing at their friend’s castle in Scotland. On the first night there, the body of the gamekeeper is found murdered on the beach of the adjoining loch. And curiously, there is a runic stone sitting on his forehead. Who killed the gamekeeper and why? And what is the connection between a former Moorish slave, the former lady of the castle, and a trial for witchcraft in 1676 and the murder in 1905?

I am a sucker for Scotland and will buy/read any book set there. So, when I saw this book in the SMP Influencer email, I accepted the invite. I didn’t know (mainly because I didn’t pull it up on Goodreads) that this was the 17th book in the series. I admit I had second thoughts about reading it. But the lure of Edwardian-era Scotland was too big of a pull, and I dove right in.

A Cold Highland Wind is the 17th book in the Lady Emily Ashton Mystery series. Yes, you read that right, book 17. But, surprisingly, readers can read this book as a stand-alone. There are mentions of past cases that stay just mentions.

A Cold Highland Wind is a slow-paced book. I tend to read books relatively fast; this book took me two days to read. But, the slow pace worked. There were parts of the book where I wanted it to move more quickly, but that was just me.

The first storyline centers on Lady Emily’s investigation into the gamekeeper’s death. This well-written storyline had me guessing who killed the gamekeeper (and the housekeeper later in the book). She was a thorough investigator who left no stone unturned during the investigation. The lead-up to the big confession was heartbreaking (for all involved), but what happened after shook me. I was teary-eyed at the end of that storyline.

The second storyline held my attention more than the first one. It follows Tansy (or Tasnim), Rosslyn, and a witchcraft trial. Again, this was a well-written storyline. But Tansy’s plight kept my attention more than the 1905 storyline. She was kidnapped, sold as an enslaved person, suffered unimaginable situations, and ended up in Scotland. I was astonished at how this storyline ended up. From how it began and what it ended up as was different from what I expected.

The characters in A Cold Highland Wind were interesting. I liked that Lady Emily and Tansy bucked the traditional perceptions of women of their times. I did find some of the secondary characters a little flat, but they weren’t the ones that were important.

The author keeps the two storylines separate for the entire book. They are only connected at the end of the book when Lady Emily’s friend mentions items prevalent in the second storyline.

The mystery angle of A Cold Highland Wind was terrific. The author did a great job of keeping me guessing what would happen in the 1676 and 1905 storyline. With 1676, I expected the last half of the storyline to go differently than it did. I thought it was going to go another way. In the 1905 storyline, I did not expect the killer to be who he was or what that person did. As I stated above, I was distraught by what happened and got teary-eyed.

The end of A Cold Highland Wind was typical. The author wrapped up both storylines and connected them. I liked how she left enough room to wonder if another book would be.

I recommend A Cold Highland Wind to anyone over 16. There is violence and a very mild sex scene but no language.

Many thanks to St. Martin’s Press, Minotaur Books, NetGalley, and Tasha Alexander for allowing me to read and review A Cold Highland Wind. All opinions stated in this review are mine.

If you enjoy reading books similar to A Cold Highland Wind, then you will enjoy these books:

Other books by Tasha Alexander: