Review: The Appeal by Janice Hallett

The AppealThe Appeal by Janice Hallett
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

**3.5-stars**

After a member of a small local theater trope, The Fairway Players, is murdered, another member ends up imprisoned for the crime.

There’s reason to believe that the incarcerated person is actually innocent, however, but if they are, who is the murderer?

As the Reader, you are supplied with all of the documents a criminal researcher may use when studying this case. You have access to emails, text messages, etc., from all the major players.

They’re presented chronologically, so what you get is actually a fairly thorough picture of what has occurred among this interconnected group of characters; and what a group of characters they are.

Janice Hallett’s The Appeal is definitely a fun change of pace in the standard Murder Mystery genre.

The format was unique and well composed. I felt like I was getting a secret peek into these people’s lives that I shouldn’t have been having. A bit illicit, if you will.

With this being said, the mystery itself wasn’t super-engaging for me. Even when I found out who was murdered, I wasn’t particularly bothered by it, or really compelled to discover who did it.

There were a ton of shady players, involved in all sorts of super shady activities. I’m frankly surprised only one person ended up dead.

So, while I give the author top marks for thinking outside the box and getting super creative with her format, the story itself was just average for me.

I think it is a good book that a lot of Readers will enjoy, it just didn’t blow my hair back as I expected it to.

Thank you to the publisher, Atria Books, for providing me with a copy to read and review. I appreciate the opportunity to provide my opinion.

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Review: Eight Perfect Murders by Peter Swanson

Eight Perfect MurdersEight Perfect Murders by Peter Swanson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Years ago, when he first started working at a local bookstore, Malcolm Kershaw, running the store’s online presence, wrote a blog post titled, Eight Perfect Murders.

The mystery aficionado made of a list of what he considered to be the genre’s most unsolvable murders. Little did he know that one seemingly inconsequential post would come back to haunt him.

Presently, Malcolm owns his own Boston bookstore and while he still loves books, he hasn’t been reading as many mysteries as he used to.

After suffering the loss of his wife, a lot in Malcolm’s world changed.

On the day of a terrible snow storm, Mal is in his shop alone when an FBI agent arrives. According to her, she’s investigating a serial killer who appears to be using Mal’s list to commit his crimes.

Mal’s shocked to hear this. How would the killer have even found that old post?

When it starts to appear that the killer not only found the list, but is keeping an eye on Mal as well, Mal begins to think it’s personal. So, he takes matters into his own hands and starts to look for suspects.

Y’all know I love an amateur sleuth trope, and a book seller main character! What a fantastic set-up for a Mystery!

I listened to this audiobook on my drive home from Christmas holiday and it kept me thoroughly entertained. It was a great way to pass the hours.

I loved the narration. It had a sort of film noir quality to it that I felt really fit this story. I would definitely recommend the audio if you are planning to read this yourself.

This was my first Swanson novel and I appreciated how he didn’t hold back. This was completely wild and over-the-top. It was full of unbelievable things, but that’s what made it so fun.

I would definitely be interested in reading more of his work. I know this one had some mixed reviews, but I was pleasantly surprised by it. I think Swanson and I could turn out to have a beautiful friendship.

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Review: A History of Wild Places by Shea Ernshaw

A History of Wild PlacesA History of Wild Places by Shea Ernshaw
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Five years after popular Children’s author, Maggie St. James, goes missing, her parents hire Travis Wren to search for her. Known for her dark fairy tale-style stories, it seems Maggie may have wandered into her own nightmare.

Travis, although a last resort of sorts, has an uncanny ability for finding people; one that channels his own very unique set of abilities.

Chasing one particular clue, Travis heads out alone into a cold, unforgiving stretch of forest in search of a place known only as Pastoral.

Founded in the 1970s, Pastoral is a commune, where the residents gathered searching for a simpler way of life. Fully self-reliant, Pastoral was essentially able to cut itself off from the rest of the world.

According to local lore, the commune shouldn’t exist anymore, but after Travis stumbles upon it, he disappears just like Maggie before him.

Years later, a commune member, Theo, breaks the rules of the community and explores past the marked boundary. It is at that time that he discovers a broken down old truck once owned by a man named Travis Wren.

Theo and his wife, Calla, come to believe that Travis wasn’t just in Pastoral at some point, he’s been in the their house. They both become completely focused on solving the mystery.

Who was Travis and what was he doing there? They believe it had something to do with a woman named, Maggie, but they don’t know her either.

The more they dig, the more the couple come to understand that the community they thought they knew so well, may not be the safe oasis they’ve always believed it to be.

Calla’s sister, Bee, who has been secretly engaged in a romantic relationship with the community’s charismatic leader, begins to come to her own unsavory conclusions about Pastoral. Have they all been living a lie?

A History of Wild Places is a unique and contemplative story, channeling all the haunting vibes of The Village.

I really enjoyed how this story began. Getting to know Travis, his abilities and the case he was currently assigned to. I became attached to him very quickly and was shocked when he disappeared.

For me the pace slowed a bit once I was introduced to our main characters in Pastoral. Eventually it picked back up, most notably after Theo and Calla begin investigating who Travis was and what might have happened to him.

Overall, I felt a little detached from Calla and Theo. While I liked them both, they were initially so rigid, it was hard to relate to them in a way. As the story progressed, however, I felt them both loosening up as their commitment to the community began to wane.

The pace steadily increases from there as Calla, Theo and Bee continue to lift the veil from Pastoral.

Ernshaw’s writing is absolutely beautiful. There’s something so enchanting about it, as she truly has the ability to build out a sense of place. I could picture the setting of Pastoral perfectly in my mind. She really excels at atmosphere.

This is an intricate story; one I had to think about quite a bit upon completion. I was torn on how to rate it. I did really, really enjoy this story, but it never crossed the line into love territory for me. I think mainly because it slowed down a bit too much for my taste around the middle.

With this being said, this is Ernshaw’s Adult debut and I think she did a fantastic job expanding into that space. This is a great book, one that I know so many Readers are going to absolutely adore.

Thank you so much to the publisher, Atria Books, for providing me with a copy to read and review. This one will stick with me for a long time!

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Review: A Flicker in the Dark by Stacy Willingham

A Flicker in the DarkA Flicker in the Dark by Stacy Willingham
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

**4.5-stars**

When Chloe Davis was 12-years old, her father was arrested for the kidnapping and murder of six teenage girls, based on evidence that Chloe herself had uncovered.

After her father was taken away, Chloe, her mother and her older brother, were left trying to put back together the pieces of their shattered lives.

It was rough. In their small Louisiana town the shroud of guilt was always upon them. They ended up moving to try to hide from the scandal.

People were suspicious of her Mom, that she possibly knew something she didn’t reveal. It wasn’t a good situation. Traumatic to say the least.

Twenty years later, Chloe is a psychologist working with young girls suffering through varying levels of trauma, like she did herself.

Chloe is also preparing for her wedding to Daniel, a man she has known for just a year.

Her brother, Cooper, thinks the marriage is too quick. He and Daniel have never been warm and fuzzy with one another.

That alone is stressful enough, but when local teen girls begin to go missing, one of them a patient of Chloe’s, she’s triggered into a really dark place; her past.

Chloe’s worked so hard to forget her childhood trauma; to move on and find a bit of happiness for herself in spite of all she’s been through. Now it seems the past has come back to haunt her.

The pattern of the current crimes isn’t just similar to that of her father’s. It’s identical. Is there a copycat working in Baton Rouge?

Before she knows it, Chloe finds herself steeped in the investigation. She needs to get to the bottom of it. It seems too close to home, like it’s intentional. Like this new killer is trying to draw her in.

Is Chloe paranoid and seeing connections where there aren’t any, or is she dangerously close to the truth?

A Flicker in the Dark is a hugely promising and intense debut. Willingham’s writing style is extremely fluid and fast-paced, sucking me in from the very first chapter.

I loved Chloe as a main character. Her flaws made her not just believable, but relatable. Her struggles were real. I felt them; the (view spoiler) being particularly impactful.

While I found certain aspects of the story toed the line of predictability, I nonetheless had a fun time reading it.

If this is her debut, I predict a long and successful career in Willingham’s future. I definitely plan to be following along.

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

This is a great book. One that every Mystery/Thriller Fan should pick up!

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Review: Shiver by Allie Reynolds

ShiverShiver by Allie Reynolds
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Shiver brings the chills and the thrills!

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When Milla receives an invitation to Le Rocher, a ski resort in the French Alps, to reunite with her old friends, nearly all former pro-snowboarders, she’s anxious to go.

It has been 10-years since they were all together and they hadn’t parted under the best of circumstances.

That final winter, they were staying at Le Rocher and fiercely training for a snowboard competition.

It was the winter that Milla’s frenemy, Saskia, disappeared, presumed dead. Lost to the brutal forces of the mountain.

Upon arrival, things are a little awkward. There’s a lot left unsaid. One can easily tell there is a giant elephant joining the friends on this weekend getaway.

Awkwardness aside, it doesn’t take long before the five friends realize that something sinister may be in the works.

The resort is completely deserted and as soon as they are deposited there, the cable cars that brought them stop working, their cell phones disappear and the game begins.

It’s an ice breaker game aimed at drawing out everyone’s secrets. Disturbingly, everything about this scenario is making them think of Saskia.

Who would do this? Who would want to reunite them, strand them and then bring up such a terrible tragedy? They’re all just trying to move on, aren’t they?

The thing is, they’re the only guests, so one of the five friends must be behind it, right?

As more and more frightening things begin to occur, and with a serious snowstorm on the way, Milla realizes they are well and truly stuck.

Escaping from the resort, down the mountain, could prove just as dangerous as what, or who, has brought them there.

This was a really entertaining locked-room mystery with a final line that gave me chills.

One of my favorite tropes is when a group of people get stranded somewhere remote due to inclement weather. Reynolds not only included that within this story, she excelled at it.

I felt the stress and pressure these characters were under, particularly Milla. It felt claustrophobic. I swear, I wanted to get out of there as much as they did.

I also had fun with the past timeline, as we learn more about what happened the winter they were training together for the competition. Saskia was a vibrant character. You could see why she had such an impact on everyone around her.

As past and present begin to merge, the truth edges closer and closer to being exposed. I felt Reynolds pulled off that merge, and the subsequent reveals, very well.

It kept me at the edge of my seat and I absolutely flew through this one. I really wanted to know what had happened. Everyone was a suspect.

Overall, I was really impressed with this as a debut. I loved that it included the character’s sport, training and competition elements. It seems, as an athlete herself, that may be a theme Reynolds continues to incorporate into her stories.

I am really looking forward to her next release, The Bay, set to release in Summer 2022!!

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Review: A Cornish Christmas Murder (Nosey Parker Mystery #4) by Fiona Leitch

A Cornish Christmas Murder: A gripping and hilarious murder mystery perfect for fans of Richard Osman (A Nosey Parker Cozy Mystery, Book 4)A Cornish Christmas Murder: A gripping and hilarious murder mystery perfect for fans of Richard Osman by Fiona Leitch
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

**3.5-stars rounded up**

When Jodie Parker’s old school chum, Lily, invites her to cater a charity event for children hosted by a notorious millionaire, she graciously accepts.

The event is set to be held just three days before Christmas at an old abbey on Bodmin Moor. The location is remote and the property is currently being transformed by Lily and her employer into a boutique hotel.

As Jodie arrives on the night of the event, with her mother, daughter, best friend and dog in tow, the snow begins to fall in earnest.

Over the course of the night, with all the festivities going on, Jodie is too busy to notice that it never really stops. By the time things are wrapped up and Jodie and friends have cleaned and packed, it’s too messy to leave.

Although communication with the outside world is spotty, they do receive word that the roads through the Moors are blocked. They have no choice but to stay the night.

There are plenty of rooms, heat and food to accommodate the group left over, which includes, in addition to the caterer and her staff, Lily, her employer, the millionaire, his son and assistant, a Santa impersonator, a small group of Japanese eco-tourists and a stranded couple trying to travel home from a dinner party.

Early the next morning, one of the guests is discovered dead in his room. From the looks of the scene, it wasn’t a natural death.

Luckily, Jodie Parker, isn’t your standard caterer. She’s recently resigned from the Metropolitan Police and this isn’t the first murder she’s investigated.

Able to briefly contact her DCI boyfriend, Nathan, Jodie explains the situation and has Nathan call help for them.

Now she just has to keep the scene under control until the police force is able to arrive. Easier said than done.

I had so much fun reading this. It has a classic set-up and likable, hilarious characters.

Further, it featured some of my favorite Mystery tropes. This Cornish Cozy gave me exactly the vibe I was hoping for rolling into the holiday season.

I know the more books that I read in this series, the more attached I am going to get to these characters. Rest assured, I will definitely be reading the other books in this series.

The investigation was a hoot. The dynamic between Jodie and her family had me giggling throughout. The narrative is wacky, wild and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Leitch has got quite a sense of humor.

Thank you so much to the publisher, One More Chapter, for providing me with a copy to read and review.

I recommend picking this one up over the holiday season. Give yourself an escape for a bit. Sit back, put your feet up and have a laugh!

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Review: Not a Happy Family by Shari Lapena

Not a Happy FamilyNot a Happy Family by Shari Lapena
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

What could be better than a holiday dinner with family?

Yoga class, walking the dog, your favorite pair of leggings, reading, online shopping, taking your bra off after a long day at work, sitting by a crackling fireplace, trying a new beverage at Starbucks, getting your period, going to the dentist…okay, apparently there are a lot of things that are more enjoyable to holiday dinners with your family.

You know what I’m talking about. You know.

Maybe you have too much to drink. Maybe everybody has too much to drink. Comparisons between you and your siblings come up. Maybe even the dreaded political discussion and the next thing you know, you’re throwing on your favorite wool peacoat and storming out into the night in a huff of thinly-veiled rage.

I mean, I guess it depends on the family.

The family in this story, the Mertons, although wealthy, are not a happy family. Their holiday dinners get very messy indeed.

When the family comes together for this particular Easter dinner, things get especially uncomfortable.

The patriarch of the Merton family, Fred, seems to take great pleasure in making his three adult children, Catherine, Dan and Jenna, miserable. It’s like he is actively trying to make their lives more difficult.

The night ends fairly early, with everyone leaving a little disgruntled. Ahhh, dinners with family, am I right?

The following morning, when Irena, the family’s long-time domestic help returns to clean-up, she finds the bodies of Mr. and Mrs. Merton. They’ve been murdered.

Now everyone in the family is a suspect. They all had a motive. Most of them had an opportunity. Who done it?

Going into Not a Happy Family, I will admit to being apprehensive. I’ve had a hit or miss relationship with Lapena, so had no clue how this one would be for me.

My favorite aspect was how the story was formatted.

The short, alternating chapters, made it an incredibly fast read and I was fully engaged. After each perspective, I was sure I had it all figured out.

Alternating between everyone, you get a full picture of what being a part of the Merton family was actually like. It wasn’t pretty.

All of the children were treated poorly by their father and the mother never seemed to stick up for them. She certainly didn’t put a stop to it.

Also, there’s a large inheritance involved, so that always adds a layer to the motive cake.

With this being said, there were other players involved, so don’t narrow your focus too much. You never know who could be out to get jerks like this.

From the very first chapter I was hooked into this story. Lapena wastes no time jumping into the nitty-gritty and it kept me guessing until the very end.

The audiobook was quite good. I definitely recommend that as a format to take this story in.

This is my favorite Lapena thus far and I am looking forward to reading more of her work!

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Review: Homicide and Halo-Halo (Tita Rosie’s Kitchen Mystery #2) by Mia P. Manansala

Homicide and Halo-Halo (Tita Rosie's Kitchen Mystery #2)Homicide and Halo-Halo by Mia P. Manansala
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Homicide and Halo-Halo is the second installment of Mia P. Manansala’s new Cozy Mystery series, Tita Rosie’s Kitchen Mysteries.

I really enjoyed the first book, Arsenic and Adobo, so was quite excited to join back up with our feisty protagonist, Lila Macapagal, to solve another case!

Picking up a few months after the conclusion of the first book, Lila is still recovering from the horrifying events that occurred at her aunt’s Filipino restaurant, Tita Rosie’s Kitchen.

She is continuing to work with her best friend to get their new cafe up and running, but Lila is feeling a little blocked with regards to creating new recipes. She hasn’t really been talking about it to anyone, but it’s starting to weigh on her.

She needs to get out of her own head for a while, so when the town officials decide to resurrect the Miss Teen Shady Palms Beauty Pageant, it seems like just the distraction she needs.

Lila, who actually won the pageant years ago, is asked to participate this time around as a judge.

Lila has some mixed feelings on the pageant, but she knows it means so much to the girls that participate, so she agrees to help out.

As the pageant kicks into high gear, Lila is forced to work closely with the other judges, pageant contestants and their often overly-involved mothers.

When the head judge ends up dead, Lila’s frenemy-slash-cousin, Bernadette, is considered the number one suspect. As much as Bernadette irritates Lila, she knows Bernie is no killer.

Therefore, Lila must dig deep into another mystery in order to clear her cousin’s name before it’s too late.

I had a ton of fun reading this. I was so happy to be back with these characters; Lila and her large, boisterous family, are a blast to read about.

I liked getting to know Lila more in this one. Her backstory is filled in a bit in regards to her complicated relationship with her mother and I felt like that really added depth to her character. I began to understand more about her insecurities, which helped me to relate to her.

There are still two very eligible bachelors flitting about Lila’s periphery, but I like how that is not a main focus of the book.

Lila has expressed that she isn’t ready to start anything with anyone yet and I like how she is sticking to her guns a bit on that. Instalove haters have no fear, you won’t find that here.

Overall, this is a fun, fast-paced, deliciously cute Cozy Mystery that you can really sink your teeth into. I loved the pageant activities and setting; the contestant and judge drama never let up.

If you are looking for a new Cozy series to start, or maybe you are just looking to get into Cozy Mysteries as a genre, you cannot go wrong with the Tita Rosie’s Kitchen Mysteries. Pure fun on the page!

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

This is one of my most anticipated sequels of 2022 and I was beyond thrilled by the fact that I got to read it early. I hope this series runs for a long, long, long time!!

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Review: The Night She Disappeared by Lisa Jewell

The Night She DisappearedThe Night She Disappeared by Lisa Jewell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

**4.5-stars**

In 2019, 19-year old Tallulah heads out on a date with her live-in boyfriend, Zach. The young couple have a beautiful baby boy, Noah, so don’t get to spend a lot of time alone together.

Kim, Tallulah’s Mom, who the kids live with, is happy to sit Noah for the night. Tallulah works so hard going to college and being a Mom, she deserves a nice night out.

Later that night, Kim receives a text from Tallulah that she is heading to the home of one of her friend’s from college. Kim tells her to enjoy. She’s happy Tallulah is letting loose for once.

But as the sun rises the next day and Tallulah still isn’t home, Kim begins to worry. Not returning home, and not notifying Kim as to why, is far from typical behavior for rule-following Tallulah.

Calling Tallulah’s friends, Kim quickly discovers no one knows where she is. Now Kim knows for sure, she feels it in her gut, something has happened to Tallulah.

In 2018, Sophie moves with her boyfriend, Shaun, to the campus of a boarding school in Tallulah’s hometown, where he will be the new head teacher.

Sophie, a Murder Mystery writer by trade, learns early on of some local missing persons cases and becomes interested.

After she finds what appears to be a clue to one of those cold cases, she begins her own investigation. The case in question, that of Tallulah and Zach.

This intriguing mystery novel follows multiple perspectives as past and present begin to merge. I was gripped from the very first chapter. Jewell immediately pulled me in.

My fabulous niece, Alyssa, and I actually Buddy Read this one together. We had a great time discussing various theories and plot points along the way.

The way Jewell structured this was so clever. Getting Tallulah’s perspective, in addition to Kim’s and Sophie’s, it built-out the truth of Tallulah’s ill-fated night on the town in such an interesting way.

I loved Tallulah as a character. She seemed so real to me. What she was going through, feeling and experiencing in early motherhood and with her relationship with Zach, it was very compelling and I felt myself growing quite attached to her.

Getting to know her friend group and the various players involved in the disappearance was extremely addicting. There were some bad actors, that’s for sure.

Sophie’s investigation also drew me in. Y’all know, an amateur sleuth is one of my favorite tropes in a mystery. Sophie was believable in that role and I loved the fact that she was actually an author of Mystery books.

Additionally, this one kept me guessing until the very end, which is never a bad thing.

I would say, thus far, this is my favorite Jewell to date. There were a few parts where I felt the pace dragging just a little, hence why I couldn’t give it a full 5-stars, but overall, this is a sensationally fun Mystery!

I would definitely recommend all Mystery Lovers add this one to their TBR!!

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Review: The Hidden by Melanie Golding

The HiddenThe Hidden by Melanie Golding
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

**4.5-stars rounded up**

The Hidden was one of my most anticipated Mysteries of the year. As you can see, it did not disappoint.

I absolutely loved Little Darlings by Melanie Golding when I read it back in 2019.

At the time, I thought that was a stand-alone novel. Because of that, I was absolutely elated when I discovered Golding was writing this new book also featuring DS Joanna Harper.

Harper’s character really drew me in during the investigation in Little Darlings, so I was psyched to get the opportunity to crack another case with her.

Called to the home of a seemingly-single man, Joanna initially believes it will be a homicide investigation, as the man was found bludgeoned to a pulp, unconscious in his bathtub, but it turns into much more than that.

Observing children’s toys and other evidence of a family, Joanna wonders where they could be.

Just prior to the man in the bathtub, in a small seaside town, the police are called after a little girl is found wandering alone down a beachside street.

After the stricken mother suddenly appears, she is briefly questioned and the officers involved believe it was an accident; the child slipped away, nothing more. The two are released.

Watching video footage of the abandoned toddler incident, Joanna is shocked to discovered she knows the alleged mother. It’s her estranged daughter, Ruby.

Are these two cases related? That’s what Joanna needs to find out, and if they are, what is Ruby doing with this little girl? It’s certainly not her child, is it?

I love Golding’s writing style. The way she sets up her stories with that captivating is it supernatural, is it not supernatural feel. I absolutely adore it.

In this story, there is a character who purports to be descended from the mythological selkies. I loved how that lore was woven into this story.

There were many different layers to the mystery and I was completely engaged the entire way through. As it all started to come together, my mind was spinning, how was it going to end!?

Golding did a great job of pulling it together, while also continuing to build intensity. Additionally, I loved having the opportunity to learn more about Joanna and her family. I hope this means this won’t be the last we see of her.

I did listen to the audiobook and I would highly recommend that. There is an element related to the selkie lore that required a bit of singing on the narrator’s part, and wow, what a great job she did!

It was haunting. I felt the narration style truly added to the story. I was hooked once I started listening.

Thank you so much to the publisher, Crooked Lane Books and Dreamscape Media, for providing me with a copy to read and review.

I had such a great time reading this novel and will be keeping my fingers crossed that Golding delivers more DS Joanna Harper in the future!!!

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