Review: The Drowning Kind by Jennifer McMahon

The Drowning KindThe Drowning Kind by Jennifer McMahon
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Sisters, Jax and Lexie, the x-girls, were fairly close when they were growing up. They spent every summer at their Grandmother’s property in Vermont and have a lot of great memories from that time.

Lexie, the older of the two, was different than Jax, however, in a lot of ways. Lexie was more like their father, flighty, free-spirited and at times, manic.

The older the girls got, the more apparent the differences in their personalities became. It was clear that Lexie’s mental health was not well. She struggled to remain rooted in reality. It became a real problem for her.

Jax was always the more grounded of the two. She followed the rules, excelled in school and became a social worker. Over the past year, she’s also been estranged from her sister.

When Jax receives nine calls from Lexie one night, none of which she answers, she assumes her sister is just having another one of her episodes.

The increasingly frantic messages Lexie leaves don’t even make sense. Jax isn’t dealing with it. Not her problem.

The following day Jax receives news that Lexie is dead; drowned in the pool on their Grandmother’s estate, Sparrow’s Crest, which Lexie had inherited.

Jax is shocked. Why didn’t she pick up the phone when Lexie called? Heart-broken and full of regret, Jax makes the journey to Vermont to bury her sister and settled up her affairs.

Once there, reunited with family, including her Aunt and Father, Jax discovers that Lexie had been researching the history of their family and the property.

It turns out Sparrow’s Crest has a dark past and it could possibly be linked to Lexie’s death. Jax dives into the research herself, mostly centering around the property’s infamous pool and the natural spring it is fed from.

As with Jennifer McMahon’s other stories, The Drowning Kind follows two timelines. The present, mentioned above, and then a historical perspective focusing on the history of the property.

The more the Reader learns from the historical perspective, the more the pieces of the puzzle begin to fall into place for Jax. It is such a spectacular format. The pace is excellent!

I have found that sometimes when an author tries this dual timeline format, one of the perspectives will be more interesting than the other. Because of that, you rush through one perspective in order to return to the other.

That is definitely not the case here. Both the present and past timelines are equally foreboding and intriguing. I was fully committed to both.

Another aspect of McMahon’s work that I always enjoy is her sense of place. Sparrow’s Crest is a character. It is so well developed, you can almost hear it talking to you.

The idea that places remember, that pieces of history live on through the land and the structures upon them. I love that whole concept and it is tangible within this story.

In short, this is a phenomenally constructed multi-generational ghost story that will stick with me for a long time.

The ending, chills. Exceptionally well done. I can certainly say I didn’t see it coming!

Thank you so much to the publisher, Simon & Schuster Audio, for providing me with a copy of this to read and review.

I highly recommend it and cannot wait to see what McMahon comes up with next!

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Review: The Maidens by Alex Michaelides

The MaidensThe Maidens by Alex Michaelides
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Mariana Andros, a dedicated group therapist, has suffered a lot of trauma in her life. Therefore she exhibits a great amount of empathy and patience for her clients.

Due to a large inheritance, Mariana doesn’t need to work, however she continues her practice in order to help others.

Mariana has lost almost everyone she has ever loved. In fact, the only family she has left is her niece, Zoe, currently a student at Cambridge University.

That’s why when Zoe calls her one night, extremely distraught, Mariana boards a train the next morning to go to her. She must help.

Arriving in Cambridge stirs up a lot of memories for Mariana. She attended school there as well and wasn’t prepared for the emotional repercussions of being back on campus.

She tries to push her own emotions aside, however, in order to better focus on Zoe. Apparently, a dead body found the previous evening has been identified as Zoe’s good friend. It is obvious the girl has been murdered.

After conversations with Zoe about her dead friend, Mariana begins to suspect Edward Fosca, a popular and captivating Greek Tragedy professor may be the culprit.

Sure, he has an alibi, but not one that Mariana considers to be reliable; his secret society of young women students, known as The Maidens, would most likely be willing to lie for him.

Mariana successfully inserts herself, through various connections, into the investigation, putting herself on a collision course with the undeniably charming, Professor Fosca.

The Maidens is compulsively readable. Once I started it, I could not put it down!

I loved how Michaelides wove together all of the different aspects of this story. I thought it was wonderfully crafted. I was so engaged, I had to remind myself to come up for air.

The setting of Cambridge was extremely vivid. It starts as this beautiful, pristine and exclusive place. Then over the course of the narrative, a dark underbelly becomes exposed as Mariana digs further into the mystery.

I absolutely loved that. So is life, am I right!?

Additionally, Mariana had such depth of character. I loved learning about her and watching her try to push past her own anxieties and fears, to try and help Zoe.

She became laser-focused in her search for the truth and I was cheering her on the whole way. I wouldn’t say she is overly likable, in the traditional sense, but I certainly found her to be believable.

I could swoon about this for days, but will spare you that and wrap it up by saying, I loved this book!

I thought it was so fun, super entertaining and memorable. The setting, the characters, the twists and turns; it is WICKED!!!

I actually think I enjoyed this more than The Silent Patient, and that’s saying a lot. I already cannot wait to see what Michaelides comes up with next.

Thank you so, so, so much to the publisher, Celadon Books, for providing me with a copy of this to read and review. I appreciate it more than I can say. This was one of my most anticipated books of the year and I cannot wait for it to release!!!

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Review: The Echo Wife by Sarah Gailey

The Echo WifeThe Echo Wife by Sarah Gailey
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

**4.5-stars rounded up**

Oh wow, you really brought this full circle, didn’t you, Sarah Gailey?! You clever, clever, clever human.

I read the majority of The Echo Wife in one sitting today and I had so much fun with it. There are a lot of great themes and ideas to think about with this one.

This is the first novel I have read by Sarah Gailey, but absolutely will not be the last. I have already added three of their other books to my TBR.

This novel follows Evelyn Caldwell, who is an award-winning research scientist in the field of genetics; more specifically, her work deals with genetic cloning.

We hear this entire story through Evelyn’s perspective, which personally, I found quite refreshing actually. It seems like most novels I read are multiple perspective, so it was nice to just sit with one narrator the whole way through.

Evelyn’s husband, Nathan, has betrayed her with another woman who just so happens to be a clone of Evelyn.

Essentially, he has replaced her with a version that will be more compliant with his wants and needs. More docile in their relationship, something Evelyn never was.

When Nathan ends up dead, Evelyn’s clone, Martine, suddenly becomes a very real problem for her. One that could end her career as she knows it.

Evelyn needs to get control of the situation, and Martine, before everything she has worked for is taken from her.

As Evelyn and Martine begin to work together, Evelyn is shocked when she begins having actual feelings for the clone; like she is a real person.

This novel explores so many fascinating, and frankly, frightening topics. Set in the not too distant future, it examines the ethical issues that arise when you are involved in cloning and cloning research.

What makes something human? What are the parameters that should be followed in this type of research? What if something goes wrong, or a clone goes rouge? Who has the authority to decide the clone’s fate?

In addition to the fabulous scientific elements, I really enjoyed getting to know Evelyn Caldwell. I felt she was such a well-developed character.

We learn how Evelyn’s parent’s relationship shaped the woman she would become. Her parents had quite a contentious relationship and Evelyn was the silent observer to it all.

Her Father was brilliant, he taught Evelyn so much and set her on the career path she ends up on, but he also was a raging tyrant.

Her Mother taught her another set of skills entirely. While she viewed her Mother as mild and cowardly, her experiences with Nathan and Martine caused her to re-evaluate those beliefs.

While this is just a subplot to the greater story, it contributed quite a bit to my enjoyment. I felt it added a lot of depth to Evelyn’s character and allowed me to better understand her choices and motivations.

I really connected with Evelyn. I’m sure many will find her cold, but I think she is more determined and driven than uncaring. Choices she made, if made by a man, would probably be viewed differently by a lot of people.

Overall, this is an extremely intelligent and well-constructed story. My one very small negative, was that I was pitched Thriller and was expecting that. To me, this really isn’t much of a Thriller even though it is quite compelling.

I do highly recommend this. I think it would make an incredible Book Club selection, or Buddy Read, as there are a ton of deep issues to discuss.

Thank you so much to the publisher, Tor, for providing me with a copy of this to read and review. I cannot wait to pick up more titles from this author!

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Review: If I Disappear by Eliza Jane Brazier

If I DisappearIf I Disappear by Eliza Jane Brazier
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

**3.5-stars**

With a story as strangely compelling as its cover, If I Disappear, is perfect for Readers who prefer an unconventional narrative.

After her divorce, Sera Fleece is a boat adrift. She spends her days listening to, and obsessing over, her favorite True Crime podcast, Murder, She Spoke.

When the podcast’s host, Rachel Bard, suddenly stops posting, Sera doesn’t take it well.

In fact, she suspects foul play is behind Rachel’s sudden disappearance from the air waves.

Further, Sera believes, armed with clues left within the podcast episodes, she will be able to find Rachel and possibly save her.

With this in mind, she travels to Rachel’s hometown, Happy Camp, in Northern California to investigate.

Once there, she is able to locate Rachel’s family ranch and secure a job through one conversation with Rachel’s greatly eccentric mother, Addy. Her duties will include working with the horses and general maintenance around the ranch; two things she’s not necessarily qualified for.

Doubts aside, Sera sees this as the best opportunity to delve into Rachel’s life and possibly discover what happened to her.

The strangest part is, no one else seems to be disturbed by Rachel’s disappearance. Not her parents, her brother, the other ranch hand, or any of her previous acquaintances in town.

Sera is able to make some progress and soon it is clear, something is not right with the Bard family.

Even though she realizes she is putting herself in danger, Sera cannot leave without solving the mystery. She is the only person left to advocate for Rachel.

While the content of this story is extremely intriguing, the writing style did not work that well for me. I never settled into the fact that it is told in the second person.

I wish it wasn’t, but honestly, I can’t imagine it otherwise. I think it just didn’t work for my taste.

I definitely needed to keep going. I wanted to find out the mystery of Rachel’s disappearance as much as Sera did; even though Sera, as a protagonist, drove me a little batty.

Some of the elements involved in building the mystery seemed off for me, but overall it is a good story. It’s tense and dramatic, with a whole host of suspicious characters, including Sera herself.

Additionally, there is some solid commentary in here on the treatment of girls and women within our society. I found that aspect interesting as well.

Overall, this is a solid debut and I look forward to reading more from this author in the future. I would absolutely pick up more stories from her.

Thank you so much to the publisher, Berkley, for providing me with a copy of this to read and review.

If I Disappear is slated to release on Tuesday, January 26th!!

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Review: The Initial Insult by Mindy McGinnis

The Initial Insult (The Initial Insult, #1)The Initial Insult by Mindy McGinnis
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

**4.5-stars rounded up**

Tress Montor and Felicity Turnado were best friends when they were younger. Not anymore.

Now in high school, Tress has an ax to grind with Felicity. She wants some answers to a long-standing mystery and she believes Felicity has them.

When the girls where in the fourth grade, Tress’s parents disappeared late one night while driving Felicity home from their house.

Felicity was found bruised and bleeding at the side of the road, but the Montors were never seen again.

After that, Tress loses her life as she knew it. With no parents, and no one else to claim her, she is forced to live with her drunken grandfather at what the locals call the ‘white trash zoo’.

There are animals that Tress helps to feed and care for. A zebra, an ostrich, an alligator, a panther, among other things. Life is hard.

Tress is not cared for as a child should be and becomes a social pariah at school. Literally abandoned by the entire town, she has no one to advocate for her.

Felicity feels guilty for all that has happened to Tress. Part of her wants to comfort and care for her ex-best friend, but she doesn’t dare. What would people think?

Felicity keeps her true thoughts tucked deep inside her, like she’s been taught, all whilst exuding that Queen Bee attitude that everyone expects.

She’s rich, beautiful, popular and has a secret way to suppress her negative thoughts.

Tress has had enough of it all, so she develops a plan to get the answers she seeks.

It involves a crowded costume party at a deserted house, a coal chute, a lot of bricks and mortar. Felicity is going to talk, one way or another. Tress has nothing to lose.

Alternating between Tress and Felicity’s perspectives, this novel follows the girl’s friendship from the start, to the present, and through various stages in between.

Both girls keep a lot of things to themselves. There is anger, guilt and plenty of low self esteem to go around.

This story is extremely heavy. There is a ton of baggage between these two girls. Even when they aren’t the ones doing things to one another, they are there to bear witness.

They’ve been intertwined in one another’s lives for a long time. As a reader, you can feel the weight of that history. It’s almost tangible.

I found this entire storyline unique and completely engaging. Once I started reading, I could not put this down.

It’s just so well written. I know that this story will not be for everyone, but I think the people who are going to enjoy it, are REALLY going to enjoy it.

McGinnis was not afraid to go dark and stay there. There is not one moment of lightness in this novel and I was here for it.

I cannot believe how this one ended up. The final few scenes, my word.

Thank you so much to the publisher, Katherine Tegen Books, for providing me with a copy of this to read and review.

I really, really enjoyed this and cannot wait to see how this duology turns out!!!

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Review: Tristan Strong Destroys the World by Kwame Mbalia

Tristan Strong Destroys The World (Tristan Strong, #2)Tristan Strong Destroys The World by Kwame Mbalia
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Tristan Strong Destroys the World was my most anticipated Middle Grade novel of 2020.

I had so much fun reading Kwame Mbalia’s debut, Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky, last year. I fell in love with Tristan, as well as Mbalia’s wit and compelling writing style.

I was blown away by the fact that it was a debut. The quality of the story, as well as the world-building, were top notch.

The Tristan Strong series is published by the Rick Riordan Presents imprint.

If you aren’t aware, this imprint is focused on publishing novels that allow Middle Grade authors from underrepresented cultures and backgrounds tell stories inspired by the mythology and folklore of their heritage.

I have read many of the books published through this imprint and I must say, each and every one has been absolutely fantastic.

If you are sleeping on the Rick Riordan Presents books, I highly encourage you to give one a try. There is truly something for every Reader among the releases.

My biggest observation of Mbalia’s writing is that he writes with HEART.

Tristan is such a well-imagined character. I absolutely adore his perspective, his humor and the many admirable qualities he is developing as he grows through the adventures held within these pages!

In this second installment, Tristan is forced back to Alke, the magical land of African Gods and African American folk heroes, after his beloved Nana is stolen away by a mysterious villain out for revenge.

There he is reunited with many old friends from the first book, including my favorite, the dynamic Gum Baby.

As with the first book, this installment offers up nonstop action and humor.

I was biting my nails in anticipation, while simultaneously laughing at Tristan’s thoughts or witty dialogue.

This book ended with a lot still at stake. I am so excited for the third book. It honestly cannot come soon enough.

If you haven’t checked out this series yet, now is the perfect time to do so. Tristan Strong Destroys the World is releasing October 6th, so you have just enough time to get in the first book before its release!

Thank you so much to the publisher, Disney-Hyperion and Rick Riordan Presents, for providing me with a copy of this to read and review.

I appreciate it so much and also appreciate the thought and dedication that goes into this entire imprint.

I have been exposed to so many new myths and legends from cultures around the world through RRP and for that, I am truly grateful!

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Review: To Sleep in a Sea of Stars by Christopher Paolini

To Sleep in a Sea of StarsTo Sleep in a Sea of Stars by Christopher Paolini
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Originally, I was planning to give To Sleep in a Sea of Stars 4.5-stars and round up.

After having some time to reflect on my reading experience, however, I can give this nothing but 5-stars. I CANNOT STOP thinking about it.

This novel is quite the accomplishment for Paolini. If I am remembering the Author’s Note correctly, he worked on this project for nine years and it shows; as close to perfection as you can get.

In the beginning of the story, we meet and follow Kira Navarez, a xenobiologist, who discovers an alien relic while on a survey mission to an uninhabited planet.

The relic isn’t as dormant as it first appears and ends up contaminating and binding with Kira. This event has lasting repercussions, leaving her feeling responsible for some negative events that follow.

This is a story of first contact. I wasn’t aware of that going in, although it says it directly in the synopsis, I missed it somehow.

I love first contact stories. It’s actually one of my favorite subgenres of Science Fiction. It is so well done here, you can definitely tell that Paolini is a Sci-Fi fan himself.

This story is so vast, it is hard to give brief plot points that would sum up the entirety of this novel’s scope. There is so much that happens from the first time Kira comes in contact with the alien suit to the stunning conclusion.

Reading this, I became so attached to her and the other characters as well. The crew that Kira travels with, defending the Universe, are the perfect rag-tag group of lovable rebels.

I loved how Paolini incorporated humor and witty banter into this story. It made the characters seem so real; they were reacting how you expect people in real life to react to such crazy and dire circumstances.

I was so engaged throughout my time reading this. It did not feel like a close to 900-page story. I got through it way more quickly than I had anticipated.

I would note this is straight-up, good old-fashioned Science Fiction. If you are thinking this will be more SFF, based on Paolini’s past works, you could be disappointed.

If you do not normally enjoy Science Fiction, you may not like this. If you are a fan of Sci-Fi though, you will eat this up. The delicious science bits are woven throughout. Start-to-finish, the details are incredible.

Also, if you do pick this book up, be sure to read through the Appendices at the end. There’s definitely a lot of interesting supplemental material there.

My favorite being a timeline of events that lead up to the world as we find it at the beginning of the story. It basically fills in the blanks between our current world through Kira’s time. It’s not very long, but I found it to be a thoughtful addition to the story.

The audiobook is fantastic as well, if you think that would be a good option for you. At first, I was thinking, why didn’t they go full cast, as there are quite a few characters. After getting into it, however, I never thought of it again.

The narrator, Jennifer Hale, did an absolutely tremendous job bringing this story to life. She is such talented voice artist and I was shocked to learn that this is actually her first audiobook. Talk about coming out swinging!

I am going to be thinking about this story for a long time to come and would love to read it again someday.

Highly, highly recommend!

Thank you so much to the publisher, Tor Books, for providing me with both an e-book and audiobook copy of this release to read and review.

I had so much fun with this story and hope Paolini continues to write Science Fiction for a long time to come!

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Review: Night of the Mannequins by Stephen Graham Jones

Night of the MannequinsNight of the Mannequins by Stephen Graham Jones
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Delightfully brutal and mentally horrific.

Jumping into this Stephen Graham Jones novella, I wasn’t sure what to expect.

To be honest, I never even read the synopsis. I see his name and immediately pick books up. It’s a compulsion.

Night of the Mannequins follows Sawyer and his group of childhood friends when a prank goes horribly wrong.

Disguising a discarded mall mannequin as a patron at the local movie theater seemed like the perfect way to get back at the stuffy assistant manager, who happened to recently punish the friend group for sneaking into a movie unpaid.

What starts off as a fairly innocent prank, however, turns more deadly than this group of teens could have ever imagined and it seems Sawyer is the only one with a plan to limit the destruction.

First, let me just swoon for a bit over how much I love SGJ’s writing. I promise not to let it go on for too long.

The style is edgy AF, yet feels like classic horror all the same. I love the humor and witty dialogue that he is able to bring to such dark tales.

Also, his books always go there, all the way to the deepest, darkest crevices of the human mind. It’s weird. It’s powerful. It’s freaking disturbing.

With this being said, I was really into this novella, loving everything about it until about the 70% mark.

Then I started feeling lost. While I understand the ending, some of the choices of events leading up to the ending didn’t seem to fit. It made the ending seem a little abrupt and disjointed for me.

Overall though, this novella is fantastic. You cannot deny the level of creativity it takes to write a story like this.

One that leads you in one direction, flips that on its head and then smacks you in the face with a healthy dose of depressing reality.

Sawyer is a very special protagonist. One whose inner thoughts will stick with me for a while.

I would highly recommend this to any horror fan or any person who just enjoys a bizarre tale.

Thank you so much to the publisher, Tor, for providing me with a copy of this to read and review.

I was really looking forward to more SGJ and this did NOT disappoint!

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Review: His & Hers by Alice Feeney

His & HersHis & Hers by Alice Feeney
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

My first Alice Feeney novel!!!

And, yeah, I can definitely see what all the fuss is about.

This gripping, Adult Thriller, follows three perspectives: his, hers and a mystery individual, that could be him, it could be her or it could be some completely unrelated individual.

Intrigued yet?

Here is what I can tell you, the her of this equation is BBC-television reporter, Anna Andrews.

Anna was such an interesting character. I loved reading from her perspective. She’s far from perfect and she’s pretty honest about all of that with the reader.

The him is none other than Anna’s ex-husband, intrepid-Blackdown DCI, Jack Harper.

Jack also was a great perspective to read from. You can tell he is a man with a lot of wounds just trying to do his best anyway he can. You can also tell he still carries a spark for Anna.

When Anna gets sent to Blackdown to report on a recent homicide, Jack is surprised to spot her on his crime scene.

Until very recently, Anna had been working in-studio, reporting the mid-day news, not trotting around in the field. Unfortunately for Anna, that cushy position was nabbed back by her colleague returning from maternity leave.

Their brief reunion doesn’t go well. Jack is much closer to this case than he’s letting on and the last thing he needs is his ex digging around.

Thinking this is an isolated incident, Jack is hoping Anna will just return to London, but the killer has other plans.

Soon, more bodies are dropping and Anna seems to have a connection with all of the victims. Could she be next?

The alternating perspectives were such a great way to watch this story unfold. My mind was spinning trying to piece together what was happening and who the mystery perspective was.

I thought that was super clever. There were moments when I thought that mystery perspective was every single character I had met thus far.

My earliest inclination of who it was, was incorrect and I was glad. Feeney played me and I love that!

There were a couple of plot points I found to be slightly confusing and one of the red herrings I thought was implausible and unnecessary, but a lot of other readers may disagree with me.

My slight criticisms are totally personal preference and nothing to do with the author, or her skill at weaving an intriguing tale.

As you learn more about the victims, and their connections with Anna, that was my favorite part.

Some truly terrible things had happened in Anna’s village and I definitely think she was in the right to leave it far behind. Regrettably, we all know buried secrets seldom stay buried.

If you are looking for an intense, fast-paced read to pick up this summer, you should definitely give His & Hers a shot! I doubt you’ll be disappointed.

Thank you so much to the publisher, Flatiron Books, for providing me with a copy of this to read and review. I had a blast and really appreciate getting to it early.

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Review: Murder, She Wrote: The Murder of Twelve by Jessica Fletcher and Jon Land

The Murder of Twelve (Murder She Wrote #51)The Murder of Twelve by Jessica Fletcher
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Channeling heavy, And Then There Were None vibes, The Murder of Twelve, the 51st book in the beloved Murder, She Wrote series, brings almost everything I love in a Cozy Mystery to the table.

This was ridiculously good fun and kept me glued to the pages well into the night!

In this installment, we find Jessica Fletcher calling the Hill House Hotel in Cabot Cover her home.

Her house is currently under repairs and she has been making due at the ritzy local hotel.

On the eve of the blizzard of a century, guests begin to check in for a destination wedding weekend.

Jessica has her doubts that the wedding will even be able to happen, what with the massive storm front blowing in. Nonetheless, she ends up befriending some of the guests and even gets invited to attend.

The first night includes the rehearsal dinner and even though the bride and groom have yet to show, the dinner will go on.

Jessica dutifully attends and as with many events she has attended before, an attempted murder occurs.

As the storm rages outside, bodies start dropping as fast as snowflakes and Jessica needs to put her crime solving abilities to the test!

This was an absolute blast to read. As you begin to learn about the guests for the wedding, you just know it is going to be a juicy conclusion. It did not disappoint.

While I could still tell that this wasn’t written by the late and great, Donald Bain, I felt that the new author for the series, Jon Land, is starting to get into a groove with these characters and setting.

Land is an experienced author and I know the more he contributes with this series, the more it will continue to grow with him.

I know that long-time fans of this series will absolutely enjoy this installment.

If you have never read a book in this series, just know, you can start anywhere. These books can be read out of order and this is as good a place to start as any!

Also, if you like a good old-fashioned, locked-room mystery, you should absolutely check this one out.

Bonus points, if you love stories where the characters become stranded somewhere due to inclement weather. Oddly specific, but it is a trope I gravitate towards often!

Thank you so much to the publisher, Berkley Publishing, for providing me with a copy to read and review.

I have been a fan of this series for decades and will continue to read them as long as they are printed. A special thank you as well, to the author, Jon Land, for continuing on the tradition and investigatory prowess of Ms. Jessica Fletcher!

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