Thursday, December 31, 2020

Mistletoe by Alison Littlewood

After losing both her son and her husband, Leah is looking for change. 

And change is what she's getting after leaving the city behind and moving to Maitland Farm. The farm had been her husband's idea, originally. Leah is a Maitland, after all, so it seemed fortuitous when he found the listing. Now Leah has taken on the responsibility of bringing the farm back to life on her own, in hopes the massive undertaking will provide distraction as well as a fresh start. 

But Leah soon discovers that Maitland Farm has a dark history. A history that hangs over the land and weighs on everything it touches. A history that Leah isn't certain she wants to claim as her own. 

I don't recall when I first heard about the Victorian tradition of telling ghost stories on Christmas Eve, but it's a tradition I am 100% here for—reading, rather than telling in my case. And when you pair that with the delightful Icelandic tradition of gifting books on Christmas Eve and then spending the evening reading said books, well it's book nerd heaven!

I was trying to decide what this year's Christmas Eve ghost-y read would be when I stumbled upon a list of creepy holiday tales, a few of which I'd read and a few of which, including Mistletoe, I hadn't. It was kismet :)

I will start by saying that I expected to have a tough time reading this one. It's about a woman who's lost her son and her husband, neither of which are things I want to consider! Fortunately, Littlewood's expertise at atmosphere and chilling stories outweighed my post-partum anxiety associated with anything about dying kids!

Leah is moving to the middle of nowhere after her life has been upended. And it's understandable. It's the holiday season and she's alone, so why not start over in a place where you won't be reminded of the life you once had. 

Almost from the start, Leah experiences weirdness on the farm. Sounds that have to be more than the old house settling, a feeling of being watched...and then she spies a little boy playing in the barn. But both the boy and the odd doll he's carrying are very real—at least real enough for Leah to touch. The vision she has after touching the doll, though, that's a different story. 

As I mentioned, Littlewood is great at building atmosphere! The combination of remote setting, snow upon snow upon snow, and the sadness that hovers over Leah and her new home make Mistletoe an absolutely perfect creepy read for winter. And the folklore around mistletoe adds to that. 

Mistletoe isn't actually out in the States, so you'll have to order it through a venue that'll bring in imports. For that I am sorry—the Brits really do excellent horror, though!—I'm also sorry that I didn't get this one posted in time for a Christmas Eve recommendation if you also seek festive scary reads. But you can savor it any time (or save it for next year). 

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Excerpt: Marion Lane and the Midnight Murder by T.A. Willberg

Happy almost New Year, readers! Today I'm excited to share a bit of T.A. Willberg's debut, Marion Lane and the Midnight Murder, but first, a bit about the book:

Marion Lane and the Midnight Murder plunges readers into the heart of London, to the secret tunnels that exist far beneath the city streets. There, a mysterious group of detectives recruited for Miss Brickett’s Investigations & Inquiries use their cunning and gadgets to solve crimes that have stumped Scotland Yard.

Late one night in April 1958, a filing assistant at Miss Brickett’s receives a letter of warning, detailing a name, a time, and a place. She goes to investigate but finds the room empty. At the stroke of midnight, she is murdered by a killer she can’t see―her death the only sign she wasn’t alone. It becomes chillingly clear that the person responsible must also work for Miss Brickett’s, making everyone a suspect.

Marion Lane, a first-year Inquirer-in-training, finds herself drawn ever deeper into the investigation. When her friend and colleague is framed for the crime, to clear his name she must sort through the hidden alliances at Miss Brickett’s and secrets dating back to WWII. Masterful, clever and deliciously suspenseful, Marion Lane and the Midnight Murder is a fresh take on the Agatha Christie-style locked-room murder mystery, with an exciting new heroine detective.

I am always on the hunt for a great new detective series and I cannot wait to start this one! Thanks to the publisher, I get to share the opening pages with all of you!

by T.A. Willberg


Somewhere in London
Friday, April 11, 1958
11:40 p.m.

Envelope encased, the carrier cylinder traveled through miles of pneumatic pipes from its place of origin to the dark, deep dungeon of the Filing Department—falling neatly from the end of the pipe and into the corresponding receiver box, as if by some magical, invisible postman.

A bell chimed as the envelope landed in receiver box fifty-five.

Michelle White’s eyes shot open as she lurched back from the edge of sleep. She blinked at the flashing yellow light on the noticeboard above her. It was her job to ensure all letters were sorted out the minute they arrived: those that met agency requirements were to be organized by date and slipped into the Inquirers’ in-box for later investigation. Those that did not went straight into the rubbish bin, and those of which she was unsure what to do with, into a looming pile on the desk. But crime and crookedness had been on the decline the last few weeks in London and so, assuming the letter would be a lead on something petty, Michelle White staggered across the Filing Department in no particular hurry.

She lifted the lid on receiver box fifty-five, the endpoint of a six-mile pneumatic tube that fed off from a letter case hidden in Passing Alley in Farringdon.

Envelopes and letters pulled from the receiver boxes were usually addressed to the agency in general: Dear people under the ground, or similar.

But tonight was different.

To Miss M. White, Inquirer.

It was odd, yet she couldn’t help smile at the thought of it. Michelle had once dreamed of becoming an Inquirer; she had come so close to the reality, too. But she was just not good enough. Not clever enough, not brave or talented enough. Not quite anything enough.

Ten years ago, at the age of twenty-two, she’d been recruited from a textile factory where she’d toiled long hours as a quality control assistant. But like everyone who came to work in the sunless labyrinth, Michelle had swiftly and without much consideration renounced the liberties of her previous, lackluster life in exchange for the opportunity to begin a new and thrilling vocation as an Inquirer, where she’d hoped to finally make use of her very particular set of skills.

But things had not quite turned out that way, which is why—instead of scouring London’s streets for criminals and delinquents—Michelle had ended up here, spending her evenings as the night-duty filing assistant in the establishment’s dullest department. In fact, had it not been for her other, far more satisfying role—that of Border Guard, protector of the secret—then perhaps she would have quit years ago.

But now Michelle wondered, as she stared at the envelope in her hand, how whoever had sent it knew where she worked or why they had considered her the worthy counsel of their troubles. She ran her thumb over the words—Miss M. White, Inquirer—as if they might be absorbed through her skin and become true.

For a moment, she was reluctant to open the envelope, concerned it might be a joke. One of the young apprentices playing a trick. She clenched her jaw at the thought, breathed, then entered the letter’s details into the register file: time and date received, receiver box number and her initials. But when she opened the envelope and read the final detail—the nature of the inquiry—her breath began to quicken.

The letter was short. A name, a time, a place and one simple revelation. And yet it unleashed a torrent of angst.

Several weeks ago, something had gone missing from her handbag—something invaluable, irreplaceable, something that might dredge up a secret long since buried across the Border. At first she’d been so certain of who had taken it, and for countless nights thereafter she’d turned in her sleep, anxious the nasty thief would soon come looking for the paired device she kept locked in her private office, and with that the secret would be uncovered.

But if the letter she’d just received was to be trusted, Michelle’s anxieties had been misplaced—the secret had already been discovered. She wasn’t sure how, or even why, but if she followed the letter’s directions, she might soon find out.

Though sirens of warning blared in her head, Michelle had already made up her mind. Of course she could take the letter to someone more qualified than herself, but it had been addressed to her—whoever had sent it had entrusted her with this, a most precious and urgent secret. And besides, as the letter had said, if only for tonight, Miss White was an Inquirer.

As instructed, she lit a match and held the letter under the flame. Once the paper had turned to ash, she packed up her things, grabbed her handbag, locked the office and rushed up the staircase toward the library. She stopped at the lock room gate, far on the other side of the grand hall of glorious bookshelves. The gate was ajar, just as she’d expected.

She stepped inside, pausing immediately as a wave of something cool and cutting passed in front of her, a curious thing. She rubbed her eyes and looked around the dully lit room, at the hundreds of steel drawers, safes in which were kept the agency’s most hallowed files and documents. The lock room, with its thick walls and high ceiling, was always chilled, but tonight it felt particularly so.


Something split from the wall behind her. She turned to the sound but saw only a shadow move across the room and something that looked like a large black box being removed from inside the wall. She hesitated, then moved a little closer. But it came again—a wave of cool air, dancing in front of her. She dabbed her eyes with the cuff of her sleeve; they were now surely playing tricks on her, for everything had turned to a strange blur of nothing. Michelle started to panic, her thoughts as unfocused as her eyesight. Her head began to spin. Her limbs to tingle. This might have been the moment she ran for her life, out of the lock room and away from the evil she now knew had been waiting for her there. But terror had immobilized her. There was nothing she could do to get her legs to move, not even when she heard the rush of footsteps, some behind her, some in front. Not even when she felt the brush of air against her neck.

“What’s happening,” she asked in a staggered groan. “I know you’re there…I know it was you…” She trailed off, the words in her head no longer making sense.

She dropped her handbag. Something hard rolled out and across the floor. She was too disorientated to realize what it was.

In a drawn-out moment that seemed to last forever, Michelle’s senses grew dull and viscous. She could no longer trust her eyesight, her ears. She might have seen an amorphous shape crouching in front of her. She might have seen it lift something from the floor. Certainly, however, she felt the sharp burn of a cold, ragged blade as it sunk quickly and easily through the delicate skin across her throat.

Warmth, darkness and nothing more.

Excerpted from Marion Lane and the Midnight Murder @ 2020 by Tessa Gukelberger, used with permission by Park Row Books/HarperCollins.

Author Bio: T.A. Willberg was born in Johannesburg, South Africa, and holds a chiropractic masters degree from Durban University of Technology. MARION LANE AND THE MIDNIGHT MURDER is her debut novel and launch of her detective series. She currently lives in Malta with her partner.

What an excellent opening! 

Huge thanks to the publisher for providing the excerpt today! For more on T.A. Willberg and her work you can visit her website here. You can also like her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter and Instagram

Marion Lane and the Midnight Murder is out on shelves now, so be sure to snatch up a copy and settle in ASAP!

Monday, December 28, 2020

The Arctic Fury by Greer Macallister

Virginia Reeve is a woman with an undeniable talent for guiding people through tough terrain. Which is why the widow of Sir John Franklin hires her to lead an expedition to find the remains of her husband and his crew in the Arctic. 

The team is to be made up of women only, most of Jane Franklin's choosing. Her hope is that they will succeed where no team of men has before and bring back, if anything, proof of her husband's successes. 

But over a year later, Virginia is on trial, accused of having murdered one of her team. And Lady Franklin lays no claim at all to the expedition. 

So, I'm no stranger to the subject of this book. In fact, when I heard it was about the Franklin expedition, it immediately went to the top of my must-have-as-soon-as-humanly-possible list! It's a topic that's piqued my interest for a very long time. 

If you don't know, in 1845 Captain Sir John Franklin set sail with a crew and two ships, Erebus and Terror, to explore the Northwest Passage. The expedition did not end well. 

Much has been made about the quality of the canned food that was to get them through their trip. This particular aspect of the voyage is one that I studied in medical anthropology in the way back when times when I was in college. The solder used to seal the cans was lead and some have surmised that the crew were suffering from lead poisoning, which exacerbated conditions after they were trapped in the ice. 

Though the wreckage has been found, the final days of the expedition are excellent fodder for fiction. Dan Simmons's The Terror is just one and now there's The Arctic Fury

Let me first say that there was never an all female expedition to find Franklin. That aside, I absolutely love that Greer Macallister imagined what it would have been like had there been one! 

Limitations on women are a big part of this book, for obvious reasons. And Virginia, though she's a trusted guide, is undoubtedly held to a higher standard than a male counterpart simply by sake of the fact that she's on trial when the book begins. Of course the prosecution claims she tricked people into following her, blah, blah, blah. 

Macallister does a great job illustrating just how harrowing an adventure this would be. And I loved the characters she filled the team with. Some certainly could have done with more fleshing out, but with a large cast of characters, I thought she did a wonderful job of giving voice to their stories. I have a few favorites, as I'm sure most readers do :)

Virginia herself is fabulous! I quickly realized what her back story was, simply by recognizing some of the clues Macallister provided, but I won't ruin it for the rest of you. 

The Arctic Fury is not a light read by any means, but if you're a fan of historical fiction and snowy adventures, this is the read for you!

Order a copy from your favorite indie via Bookshop!

Monday, December 21, 2020

A Princess for Christmas by Jenny Holiday

Leo Ricci never expected to be driving an actual princess around New York City. But when his sister Gabby insists he pull over for a damsel in distress, that's exactly what he ends up doing. 

Leo and his sister have been managing as best they can since their parents passed away. Leo, dropped out of college and has been driving a taxi part time and working as the super in their apartment building the rest of the time to make ends meet and support his eleven-year-old sister. With the holidays looming, all he can hope for is a quiet Christmas together, with their friend and cousin Dani, in front of the cardboard fireplace they put up to mimic the one they used to have in the family home. 

But their quiet plans for Christmas are upended when they meet Marie Accola, Princess of Eldovia!

Marie is only in New York for a few days to handle affairs of state in her father's place. But when her hired car dies en route to pick her up, leaving her stranded and dangerously close to missing her next appointment. Which is why she finds herself in an off duty cab driven by Leo Ricci. After hiring him to drive her the rest of the weekend, she finds herself warming to the NY native and even invites him and his sister to spend the holiday in Eldovia. Of course one thing leads to another and Marie finds herself falling for this completely innapropriate man. But at the very least, she's determined to enjoy her time with a man who makes her feel like a normal woman rather than royalty. 

Jenny Holiday's latest is a steamier version of a Hallmark Christmas movie and I am so here for it! See, I can be brought over to the light and happy side—occasionally!

In true holiday movie style, Leo is an everyday man and Marie is a princess. The tongue-in-cheek homage to Hallmark movies is not only obvious, it's played up to the nth degree with Leo regularly comparing the happenings to the famously kitsch holiday movie fare. 

Eldovia, a tiny kingdom in Europe, is a Christmas village in actual practice, even going so far as to celebrate with an annual Cocoa festival and ball every holiday. But both Leo and Marie enjoy the holiday season a little less these days thanks to personal loss. Leo's parents died in a car accident two Christmases ago and Marie's mother died just days before the holiday three years ago. Ever since, the holidays have had a little less magic for both of them. 

Until this year! Yes, this year brings magic and romance for them both. And of course it's a romance that cannot be, since Marie is royalty and Leo is anything but. We even know from the outset that not only does Marie have to marry strategically, but she's also already engaged! What we don't find out until later is that her engagement is one that neither she or her betrothed in any way wants. 

The book doesn't really offer any surprises, per se. But A Princess for Christmas is fun and charming. It's also, as I mentioned, much more steamy than any Hallmark movie you've watched lately :) Even more fun is the fact that it's not a one off: Jenny Holiday is planning three books in this vein—the second features Dani and there's a little excerpt at the end of this installment to tease you along!

Definitely a recommended read in these final days leading up to the holiday. 

Order a copy from your favorite indie via Bookshop!

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

The Adults by Caroline Hulse

Even though Matt and Claire are divorced and each seeing someone new, they want to spend the Christmas holiday together for the sake of their seven-year-old daughter, Scarlett. And so they've planned a weekend away at Happy Forest!

Alex isn't certain spending the holiday with her boyfriend and his ex and her new partner is the best idea, but she's willing to go along with it because it's what Matt wants. But when Scarlett and her imaginary friend, Posey, find out Alex is a scientist, sabotage is the first thing on their minds!

Patrick's own children don't have much to do with him since his divorce from their mother, which is why he wants to do the best he can by Claire's daughter, Scarlett. And if going along with a trip with Claire's ex is what it takes to prove he's the better man, he's certainly game for it. 

It's to be a weekend full of swimming, archery, spa treatments, and happy holiday celebration. But things start to go wrong almost from the very start. And by the end, well, to say things have gone awry would be a gross understatement. 

November was a heavy reading month! And I'm still not done with the Nordic Noir reads, but even I'll admit that with the gloomy winter weather and continued crap of 2020, some lighter reads aren't totally unwelcome. 

And then I came across Refinery29's "26 Holiday Books That Will Bring a Little Joy Back to 2020," which featured multiple titles in my TBR! Happy coincidence :)

The Adults released just days after I had my son, and I really wasn't getting much reading done at that point at all. So it lingered on my shelves, waiting for me to pick it up and dive in. 

The book begins with a call to emergency services after someone has been shot by an arrow. Which sets the tone quite nicely for this train wreck of a holiday vacation! 

Alex is, as mentioned, a scientist. And Matt is a bit of a mess. She forgives him when he forgets to tell her that Claire wants them all to spend the holiday together. She kind of has to, considering the trip has already been booked by the time he springs it on her. And it starts off rocky before they've event left, with Claire providing a suggested list of items for each couple to bring. 

Patrick, like Claire, is a lawyer. He thinks the weekend away is a terrible idea, but want to support Claire. Even more, he wants her to be okay with his decision to do an Ironman and he knows going along with the weekend away will get him that. 

All four of them are adults. They can be civil, friendly even. But of course things don't work out the way anyone planned! 

This one's not as breezy as In a Holidaze, but it is light. It's a dry and amusing read, one that actually moves quickly and is spurred on by the desire to find out how the holiday can devolve so dramatically as to end up with someone being shot! I'd love to see this adapted as a movie. I think it'd be excellent holiday film fodder, especially with a great British cast. 

Order a copy from your favorite indie via Bookshop!

Monday, December 14, 2020

Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe by Fannie Flagg

I cannot believe that I have never read Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe before now! I've seen the movie a million times but never read it before. Now there's a sequel, though, and I thought it was high time (so that I could read the sequel and not feel like a terrible reader!). 

I won't include a synopsis here because I think pretty much everyone knows what the book is about. If you don't, Evelyn Couch, a woman on the brink of menopause, meets Ninny Threadgood while visiting her mother in law at a nursing home. Ninny regales Evelyn throughout the book with tales of her hometown, Whistle Stop. She hooks Evelyn with the hint of a murder but it's the people that keep Evelyn coming back. 

The book is told through flashbacks, newspaper articles, and Evelyn's story (which includes visits to the nursing home). 

This is a story about women and friendship and found family and love! So much love! That said, the book gave me a lot of laugh-out-loud moments, but the really heart-wrenching stuff hits so much harder in the movie. 

I will say that the movie is surprisingly pretty true to the book. It's more streamlined and simplified, but quite true. One difference is that Ruth doesn't show up until after Buddy dies, so she's not in love with him at all in the book. Also, the movie is told much more linearly than the book. 

We also get a little peek at Buddy Jr and other characters who really don't appear much or at all in the movie, and I really appreciated that. Even more specifically, the book delves into the life experiences of the black people in Whistle Stop more than the movie. Theirs are still side stories, but we get, for example, the different experiences between two brothers and their children. 

One of the things that surprised me the most was the difference between the way Ruth and Idgie's stories are treated between the book and the movie. The book was published in 1987, the movie released in 1991 and while I knew the movie hinted at Ruth and Idgie's relationship, it's clear in the book that they're together. Which was a pleasant surprise! No one takes issue with them being together! When Ruth returns, she flat out tells Idgie's parents that she'll never leave her again, which prompts Idgie's mother to comment about her not knowing what she's in for. Honestly, it was so refreshing knowing that this book has existed for so long and while I'm sure it's out there, I've never come across anyone complaining about this book or its content. 

Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe is pure enjoyment. It's a feel good book that'll make you mostly root for humanity again. What's more, it's a book that looks at women in particular. 

(By the way, I listened to this one on audio and the narrator is wonderful! She sounds like Jessica Tandy! The sequel's audio is read by the author herself.)

Order a copy from your favorite indie via Bookshop!

Tuesday, December 8, 2020

Excerpt: The Last to See Her by Courtney Evan Tate

Good morning, readers! Today I get to share a taste of Courtney Evan Tate's The Last to See Her, courtesy of the publisher. 

Before we dive in, though, here's a bit about the book:

Genevieve, a writer, is about to finalize her divorce from her cheating husband Todd. So when her sister Meg, an ambitious physician, has a convention to attend in New York City, she invites Gen along to celebrate her return to single life. It will be a perfect sisters' getaway in the big city! But things go awry when, on their first evening at the hotel, Gen decides to take a late night walk and disappears without a trace. Eventually she is officially declared a missing person.

Suspicion soon falls on her sister Meg, who was the last person to see her.

Through twists and turns, it is revealed that Meg has been sleeping with her brother-in-law Todd... And then there is a question of a newly purchased insurance policy that just has just gone into effect before Gen’s disappearance. Both Todd and Meg deny any knowledge of it.

But has an actual crime been committed? Can it be proven? And if so, who is really the guilty one?

This kind of thriller is catnip for me, especially right now when I'm looking for fast-paced reads that I can really get lost in! How about you? 

Well, if that is your kind of thing, then buckle up! Here are the opening pages from The Last to See Her:

The Last to See Her
by Courtney Evan Tate


Genevieve tipped the courier and set the certified letter on the coffee table.

She knew what it was. She’d been waiting for it for almost a week.

Every day, she’d wondered, Will it be today?

And each day it wasn’t.

Until today.

Nervous energy buzzed through her fingers and toes, tingling through her veins, like ants scurrying in a thousand directions. She paced for a minute, stopping at the floor-to-ceiling windows, staring at the magnificent cityscape lining the horizon. Buildings burst through the hazy pollution, their tips scraping the clouds.

People far below her were bustling here and there, quick to walk, slow to linger. They had things to do, places to be, and she didn’t.

Not anymore.

She ripped open the envelope, pulling the banded documents out, scanning through the words, hunting for the official stamps and signatures that declared this an official act of the court.

They were all there.

This was real.

It was finally happening.

She focused her gaze on the words before her.

Honestly, they were simple.

The black-and-whiteness of them was stark and startling. There were no gray areas, no areas open to interpretation.

They reduced the last ten years of her life into a handful of legal phrases and technical terms. Incompatible differences associated with adultery, marriage dissolution and absolute divorce.

She stared at the words.

Soon, she would be absolutely divorced. She just had to sign the papers.

It had only taken six months of her life to iron out the details. To separate all of their worldly possessions into two camps, his and hers, to figure out who got what. Divorcing a lawyer was the only thing worse than being married to one. No matter that he was the one in err, because he repeatedly fucked someone else, he was out for blood and it took months to sort it all out.

But thank God no children were involved.

That’s what people kept saying, like it was a good thing or a blessing.

But if she’d had a child, she wouldn’t be all alone, and someone would still love her.

She felt like she was floundering. For so long, she’d put all of her energy into a man who hadn’t deemed her worthy to stay faithful to. That had done something to her self-confidence. Something terrible. It wounded her in places she hadn’t known she had, and now she had to figure out who she was without him.

She wasn’t Genevieve Tibault anymore, one half of a whole. She was Genevieve McCready again, and what was Genevieve McCready going to do now, now that she had to stand alone?

She pushed herself off the couch and ran water in her coffee cup. It was a habit Thad had taught her. He hated it when the cups developed coffee rings. She stared at the running water, and then set her cup down.

She didn’t have to do what he wanted anymore. If she wanted coffee rings or tea rings or any kind of fucking rings, she could have them.

It was an epiphany.

She was her own person again. It had been so long since she was a me instead of a we.

She looked around, at the condo she had fought so hard for…the marble floors that they couldn’t agree on—she’d wanted slate, he’d wanted marble—at the modern light fixtures that he’d gotten his way on, at even the tan wall colors. She’d wanted gray.

Why had she even wanted this place?

It was all Thad, and none of Genevieve.

A sense of exuberance, a strange jubilation, welled up in her as she searched online for a realtor and then dialed the phone.

Bubbles of excitement swelled in her belly as she arranged a time for the realtor to come see the place.

And then again, as she stared at a map.

Unlike Thad, someone who had spent years building up his legal practice and honing his networking skills in this one city, she could work from anywhere.

She wrote novels.

She could work in Antarctica if she wanted to.

She didn’t want to, but she could.

She already had a plan. She knew where she was going, and what she was doing. She just had to have the courage to do it.

She picked up the phone and called her only sister, Meghan.

“Meg, I’m moving home.”

Her sister paused. “Home as in…?”

“Cedarburg.” There was a long pregnant pause now.

“Um. Why would you want to move back to Wisconsin? You haven’t lived there in…”

“In eighteen years. Since I left for college. Yes.”


“I don’t know,” Gen said honestly. “I just feel a need to get back to my roots. I love Chicago, but the traffic and the noise…” She stared out from her twentieth floor windows again. Even from up here, even though the vehicles looked like Matchbox cars, she could still hear the honking. “This feels like Thad. I want to feel like me.”

“There’s nothing there,” Meg said carefully. “Nothing but fields and cold and—”

“And friendly people,” Gen interrupted. “And our parents, and familiarity, and open spaces, and distance from Thad.”

“But I won’t be there,” Meg reminded her gently. “I’m not moving back. I think you need to be near me, Gen. You need a support system. Divorce is no joke.”

“I know that,” Gen said patiently. “I’m the one living it. You’re still with your Prince Charming and point five children living the American Dream, and I’m the one sitting in an empty condo.”

She fought to keep the bitterness out of her voice, as she compared Meg’s bustling, messy home to her own stark and empty condo in her mind’s eye.

“I’ll tell Joey that you’re counting him as a point five,” Meg chuckled.

“Well, he’s only five, so it’s fitting. I mean, honestly. He’s not a whole person yet.”

They laughed again, and then Meg sobered up.

“Is this really something you want to do?”

Gen nodded. “Yeah. I think so.”

Meg took a big breath. “Well, let’s do it, then. I’ll help you with your condo, and finding a moving company, and looking online for a house there, and hell’s bells, we’ve got a lot to do!”

“You don’t have to help with all that…” Gen trailed off, but Meg interrupted with their life-long pact.

“Sisters forever,” she decreed. They’d used that pact since they were kids. Whenever one didn’t want to do something, the other would remind them “sisters forever,” and they would concede.

Gen realized she wasn’t going to get away with not letting Meg get her hands in all the new plans.

“Sisters forever,” she agreed.

“But first, you promised to go to my convention with me,” Meg reminded her.

Gen hesitated.

“Don’t tell me you forgot. New York City? Spa days, shopping—you need a new wardrobe, sis—and nights on the town. You promised.”

Gen paused again, and Meghan cajoled, “Pleassssse. We need this. You need this. It can be your divorce party.”

“Okay,” Gen found herself saying. “Fine. I’ll still come.”

Her sister squealed and Gen hung up before Meg could get too excited. She was moving away from everything she’d known for over a decade. Even though the world seemed unsettled and uncertain, for the first time in at least five years, she felt at peace.

Excerpted from The Last to See Her by Courtney Evan Tate, Copyright © 2020 by Lakehouse Press, Inc. Published by MIRA Books

Courtney Evan Tate is the nom de plume (and darker side) of the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Courtney Cole. As Courtney Evan Tate, she is the author of Such Dark Things and I'll Be Watching You. Courtney grew up in rural Kansas and now lives with her husband and kids in Florida, where spends her days dreaming of new characters and storylines and surprising plot twists and writing them beneath rustling palm trees. Visit her on Facebook or at courtneycolewriters.com

Huge, huge thanks to the publisher for inviting me to take part in the tour today! 

The Last to See Her officially releases on December 15, so be sure to pre order a copy now!

Monday, December 7, 2020

In a Holidaze by Christina Lauren

Maelyn Jones and her family have always spent Christmas at a cabin in Park City. But this might just be their last!

Maelyn's parents and their best friends from college have made the cabin an annual tradition. It's meant that Mae and her brother grew up alongside Andrew and Theo, the owners' sons. In spite of that, or maybe because of it, Mae has had the most massive crush on Andrew since she was thirteen. Which is why it's such a shock that a couple of glasses of egg nog led to her making out with Theo! What's worse, Andrew saw the whole thing and Theo blows her off in the most awkward way!

But when Mae and her family are in a wreck just after leaving the cabin, she wakes up to find herself on a plane headed to the cabin...again. Of course she's thoroughly confused, but when it happens again she realizes the universe might be trying to tell her something. With her future and her fate in her hands, Mae gets a do-over like no other. And this time, she wants to be sure she does things right!

In a Holidaze is just as cute as you'd imagine a Christmas themed Groundhog Day to be in the hands of Christina Lauren! (Note this is my first time reading them, but I have heard wonderful things about their work and knew I was going to be in for a fun ride!)

Mae is not in a good place. She's unhappy with her job, living with her mom, and hasn't had a decent date in quite some time. But a drunken makeout session with one of her childhood friends isn't going to fix anything. In fact, she's afraid it could ruin everything considering their families are so close. But it's the news that the cabin is going up for sale that's more shocking than anything. 

So when she's given a chance to do it over, she can't actually decide what her mail goal should be: saving the cabin or finally confessing her feelings to her longtime crush. 

I adored Mae! She's at that age when she recognizes that she isn't happy but isn't too sure what to do about it. Expectations mean that she's already floundering simply by living with her mom. Plus, there's been all kinds of pressure for her end up with Theo, linking the families officially. But this is her chance to figure things out and, hopefully, get it right. And who hasn't ever dreamed of that? (It's certainly the theme of lots of books and movies!)

This latest from coauthors Christina Hobbs and Lauren Billings is full of yuletide cheer, lots of laughs, and a ton of awkward moments. It's also kind of steamy!

In short, it's an excellent feel-good read that just begs to be read in one sitting, which makes it perfect for the season! And it's exactly what I was looking for: a fun and light read that transported me temporarily away from the stress of everyday life (and Covid)! Mae and her extended family of longtime friends made for great weekend companions. 

Order a copy from your favorite indie via Bookshop!

Tuesday, December 1, 2020

The Third Sister by Sara Blaedel

Ilka Jensen is ready to give up. She's done all she can to keep her father's funeral home afloat, and she's failed. Now all she has to do is tie up loose ends and she can head home. 

But then Artie, her father's business partner, is brutally attacked. And then Sister Eileen lets slip something big concerning Ilka's father. Now Ilka has no choice but to stay in the States as she tries desperately to protect those around her! Unfortunately, the fallout from all of her father's secrets may finally prove to be her undoing. 

It's December and I know I'm not alone in feeling like this year has gone by incredibly slowly. Fortunately, I've had a string of great reads to get me through! 

I had absolutely no idea how Blaedel was going to tie up this series at all. And I must say, The Third Sister really was a satisfying conclusion. 

Of the series as a whole, this is the one that is most solidly crime fiction. Until this point, the first two were more family drama than crime (though it was absolutely there, it took a backseat to the rest of the story). But this one really does bring the crime 100%. 

Ilka has decided it's time to go home. This was my one beef with the trilogy, her waffling back and forth about leaving in the first place. It's understandable, given the circumstances (which Blaedel does explore), but the number of times she commits to leaving and decides not to certainly did start to become a bit of an alright-already! situation. 

But this time, she's really going to leave. Until some pretty heavy stuff goes down! First, Artie is attacked. And Ilka thinks she knows who's responsible, but she has no idea why they'd resort to such tactics. 

And then Sister Eileen, who's definitely been hiding things throughout the series, reveals something huge! And it really does explain her behavior in the previous two books :)

Now Ilka is more than stuck, she has to stay and finally, finally get to the bottom of what had been going on with her father. 

And she gets there! She finds out, through the series, why he left (which was all she wanted), why he stayed, and exactly what he'd been up to the whole time he'd been in Racine!

This is such a great read and such a perfect trilogy to binge! I read this third book in one day, which really has been a rare event since having a kid! And it was so much fun!

The Third Sister released in paperback last month, which is pretty perfect if you're looking for a great gift for a mystery fan (or a treat for yourself) this holiday season! And I absolutely do recommend arming yourself with all three books. Trust me, you will want to read these back to back!

Order a copy from your favorite indie via Bookshop!

Monday, November 30, 2020

1222 by Anne Holt

Hanne Wilhelmsen is on her way to meet an American specialist about her back injury. Partially paralyzed and confined to a wheelchair since being shot on the job, the former police officer is hoping that some of the side effects of her condition can be lessened. 

But when the train crashes in a remote part of Norway, Hanne and the other passengers are rescued by locals and put up in an old off season hotel. They're lucky in multiple ways: the only fatality was that of the driver; the train was full of doctors on their way to a conference; and though the crash happened in a very remote portion of the country, they'd just left the station for the hotel. 

That, unfortunately, appears to be where their luck runs out. A snowstorm is barreling down on the region, cutting the survivors off from immediate rescue. And then the cell towers go down as well, leaving them with no way to communicate with the outside world. 

All that would be fine—they've got sturdy shelter and plenty of food to last, even a top quality chef to prepare their meals and hotel rooms aplenty to hole up in—but then a man is murdered. And the rest of the survivors soon find out about it, creating a panic that's hard to suppress. Hanne soon finds herself reluctantly drawn into investigating the murder, if only to try to keep the rest of the passengers calm. But then another man is killed, and it seems rescue may not come soon enough to save the rest of them!

This is the eighth book in the Hanne Wilhelmsen series, which kind of kills me. I mean it really does hurt my slight OCD not to start at the beginning! (It'll be ok, I checked out the first two books from the library!) What's interesting is that this particular book was released in the States in 2011 as, and I could be wrong her, her debut US title. 

So apparently Anne Holt is one of, according to Goodreads anyway, "the most successful crime novelist in Norway." She's also a former cop, former lawyer, and the former Minister of Justice. AND her series features a lesbian detective. I only point that out because her books have been in print since 1993 and that's a bit of an oddity even in the genre today! Jo Nesbo calls her the "godmother of modern Norwegian crime fiction." I mean...I can't believe I haven't read her before now!

Though this is the 8th book in the series, 1222 works well as a starting point for new readers. The book does allude to, and outright spell out, earlier incidents that are likely part of the previous books. Certainly the person behind Hanne's injury that landed her in a wheelchair in the first place. But, again, the book does stand on its own. 

A passenger train crashes in a remote area just before a massive storm hits. They're lucky in that only the driver is killed. But that night, someone is murdered. And although they do try to keep it a secret, the rest of the survivors holed up in the main building of the hotel do find out and it creates and understandable panic. 

Hanne definitely doesn't want to be pulled into the investigation. In fact, her mobility is such that she can't actually investigate anyway. But even she can't deny her own curiosity and her skills as an investigator are absolutely needed!

I loved the atmosphere in this one. The remote setting and the storm of course lend this to being a locked-room style murder mystery. All of which makes it a perfect read for the season or the year, whichever you're considering when picking your next read. I'm looking forward to reading more in the series and getting to know Hanne better!

Unfortunately, it does appear that 1222 may actually be out of print in the US (but still available on audio...). Sorry!

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Evil Things by Katja Ivar

Hella Mauzer's talents as an investigator are being wasted in the tiny town of Ivalo. Much of her time is spent on a drunk using the local doctor's doormat as a urinal! But it is 1952 and Hella is an oddity as a formally trained officer rather than a polissyster. 

When she hears of a report of a missing man in a northern town that sits near the Soviet border, she insists on being sent to investigate. The deal is that if it is indeed a criminal investigation, she'll get paid for her time. If not, then she got a little vacation time to see the remote northern town. 

Almost as soon as Hella arrives, a body is recovered from the nearby woods. And it seems Hella might be wrong in her hunch that something untoward has happened to the missing man. But the body is that of a woman and Hella finds evidence of murder rather than the bear mauling everyone believes it to be. 

As she investigates, it occurs to Hella that the people in the tiny town are hiding things from her. But does that make one of the townspeople a killer? Or is there something larger at play? And when she identifies the body of the dead woman, she knows without a doubt that this is one case that those in charge would rather leave unsolved. 

I loved this first in the Hella Mauzer series! I know nothing about the history of Finland. And this is set in the aftermath of WWII, largely based in a town that is so close to the Soviet border that it's citizens often cross over to do their shopping. In fact, there's plenty of suspicion with regards to the townspeople and their loyalties throughout the book. 

The time period is definitely something that makes this a stand out. Ivar includes a bit of history in the afterword of the book, pointing out that Finland did indeed have female officers in the first half of the twentieth century, but they were as rare as Hella herself. 

And Hella comes up against a lot of barriers as a woman. She's not taken seriously as an officer. She's transferred from her first position for being too emotional. And she's all too aware that she needs more to back up her theories than her male colleagues. 

Hella is excellent! She's a little surly (understandably) and very clever. She's the daughter of a spy and she dropped out of medical school before becoming a cop. She's also nursing something of a broken heart from her time in Helsinki. She's got her own quirks and her own deep-set ideas. In short, she's a perfect lead for a series and I absolutely can't wait to read more!

Order a copy from your favorite indie via Bookshop!

Monday, November 23, 2020

The Tenant by Katrine Engberg

An elderly man stumbles upon his dead neighbor. Literally. Kicking off an investigation into a truly twisted series of crimes. 

Partners Jeppe Korner and Annette Werner are two of the officers assigned to the investigation. And at first it seems fairly clear cut. They believe the woman, who shared the apartment with a friend who was confirmed to be out of town, was killed by a spurned lover. 

But the case takes an odd turn when Korner and Werner learn that the murder is a real life copy of a fictionalized on in an as yet unpublished novel being written by the girl's own landlord. 

By the time a second body is discovered, the police are no longer certain who their prime suspect should be: the retired professor with a drinking problem whose novel seems to be the killer's template? Someone from the girl's past? Or someone with a connection to her well-heeled father? What they are certain of is the fact that the killer has only just begun. 

What did I say? More Nordic Noir reviews to come :)

This Danish-set mystery is the first in a new series featuring Korner and Werner (and there are jokes within the book about the similarity in their names). 

I loved the bookish aspect of this one. A killer who somehow has access to an unpublished manuscript and is using it as inspiration for the murders? That's right up my alley! 

Of course this seems to narrow Korner's and Werner's list of suspects and they do have a few theories, some of which are incredibly frustrating considering they're what the police even acknowledge as the easy way out. And yet, each time they come close, something throws them off the trail. 

There's a nice twist in this one even if it was one that I saw coming when it was finally revealed. I also loved getting to know Korner in particular. Considering, though, that this is billed as the Korner and Werner series, I really didn't think that we got much from Werner in this first outing. I'll be interested to see what Engberg does with her in the follow up title, due out in Jan. 

All in all, this is a fun first in a new series and one that I hope will draw more readers into the Nordic Noir subgenre!

Order a copy from your favorite indie via Bookshop!

Friday, November 20, 2020

Eva's Eye by Karin Fossum

Eva and her daughter discover the body of a man washed ashore. Eva says she's going to call the police, but calls her father instead. She never mentions the dead man. 

Rather, it's another witness who reports the body. And Inspector Konrad Sejer is assigned the case. 

The dead man is no stranger to Sejer. In fact, he'd been reported missing months ago. And it's not the only case that's been nagging at Sejer either. A prostitute was murdered just a few weeks before the man went missing. And the one thing both cases turn out to have in common: Eva. 

Fair warning, there's going to be a lot more Nordic Noir to come! As I mentioned in my post on social distancing, the genre has been largely responsible for getting me through some pretty gnarly reading ruts this year. And there's been a ton of new releases this year alone. Which is why when I learned that there were two separate Nordic Noir readathons going on through November, I hopped into both with a fervor bordering on a reading obsession!

Eva's Eye is the first book in Fossum's Konrad Sejer series, which now includes a total of 15 titles (only 13 of which are currently available here). 

Sejer is our narrator for only about half the book. The other half is told from Eva's perspective, which is interesting but a strange way to set up a series featuring Sejer as the protagonist, in my opinion. As a stand alone, however, it is an interesting choice. 

Sejer is haunted by two unsolved cases. That of a dead brewery worker and another that involves the murder of a prostitute. 

Eva, as we soon learn, knows them both. 

The dead prostitute was Eva's childhood friend. They ran into each other serendipitously one afternoon while Eva, in desperate need of funds, is attempting to return an item for cash at a store. Sejer learns all of this when he questions Eva after the body is discovered. But it's Eva's part of the story that reveals more. 

I liked both Sejer and Eva. Sejer lives alone with his dog and skydives in his spare time. He has a grandson he loves dearly and shows tenderness to witnesses, like the son of the dead man. Eva, an artist, is struggling to make ends meet. A divorced mom with an elderly father, both of whom she provides for as best as she can. She's desperate when she runs into her long lost friend. A little less so when she crosses paths with Sejer.  

Again, this one reads a bit odd as the kick off to a series. But I did enjoy the story and am planning to read further. Fossum's latest release here, last year's The Whisperer, is one I've heard very good things about. I have a hard time bringing myself to starting a series at the end, however!

Order a copy from your favorite indie via Bookshop!

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

The Children of Red Peak by Craig DiLouie

Fifteen years have passed since David, Deacon, Beth, Angela, and Emily escaped the Family of the Living Spirit. Just five children, out of a group of over 100, survived what happened at Red Peak on that final day. And they've never told anyone about it. 

But now Emily is dead, bringing the group—minus Angela—together once more to mourn her loss. As David, Deacon, and Beth recount their final days, it becomes clear that they should return to Red Peak and face those final hours once again. But each of them has a different recollection of the events of that last day. And each of them has been haunted by it ever since. Emily was just the first to succumb.

This latest by Craig DiLouie is a little hard to sum up. It's also one I'm still mulling over how I feel about. 

There seem to be an absolute bevy of cult books on the market of late. Given DiLouie's backlist, I went into this one expecting a horror novel about a cult. And it is that, but only in part. 

David and Angela, siblings whose mother joined the Family of the Living Spirit when they were children, have grown up to be a counselor focused on cult extractions and a cop, respectively. Deacon, whose mother was in love with their leader, is trying to make it as the lead in a band. And Beth, whose parents also found solace in the group when she was young, is a therapist. 

All of them are struggling with the fallout of their time with the Family. In fact, all of them share their own POV, with the exception of Angela (who I found to be quite interesting, maybe because we never really get her story). 

The Family of the Living Spirit was, as they can all agree, a safe and trusting environment to grow up in for a time. Led by a charismatic, if narcissistic, man who believed joy in life was just as important as faith, it was more a commune than a cult at the start. And the story unfolds with each character telling their piece of the tale as it led to its tragic end. 

As each of them examines their internal struggles and their memories of the final days with the Family, they each have their own revelations about those days. I don't want to spoil anything by giving too much away, but I thought the book took a turn that didn't feel as satisfying as I had hoped. And I really think that it's because beyond David and the build up to what really happened at Red Peak, I wasn't as interested in Deacon and Beth. I wanted Angela's story (which we don't get). 

Ultimately, I wanted more resolution. And more horror. 

The Children of Red Peak is a weird book that will inevitably appeal to different readers for different reasons. Those who come at it with the mindset that I did are likely to have the same take away that I did. But those who are a little more open to gray endings are probably going to get more out of the read. 

It is a book that sticks with you because it asks the reader, as well as the characters, to draw their own conclusions. I admit, though, that I'm not always the best audience for those stories. (Or, a better way to say it is, it depends what mood I'm in when I read it. Given the things going on this year, I've certainly been gravitating towards easier reads.)

Order a copy from your favorite indie via Bookshop!

Monday, November 16, 2020

Her Father's Secret by Sara Blaedel

Ilka Jensen is trying to make it work with her father's funeral home, but with creditors calling and even the IRS hounding them, it's not been easy. 

When a local woman is killed in what appears to be a run of the mill home invasion, her husband reaches out to Ilka to handle the funeral. It doesn't take long for Ilka to discover that the woman had a connection to Ilka's father. And that connection is enough for Ilka to wonder about the woman's death. But Ilka's digging into that mystery is complicated when she becomes entangled in her father's other family's drama! 

Let me tell you how much I thoroughly enjoyed this trilogy! I read the first on audio and physical, the second solely on audio, and dove immediately into the physical copy of the third installment, which I managed to finish in just one day! (It's been so long!)

This second in the series finds Ilka in a whole heap of trouble. She blew it when it came to selling the funeral home in the first book and now it appears she's made enemies in the industry. Everywhere she turns there are unpaid debts, making it increasingly difficult to keep the business going. And even though her father abandoned her and her mother so many years ago, she feels it's her responsibility to try and keep the business afloat, if for no reason other than to help the two employees she now feels an obligation to. 

In spite of their situation, she agrees to take the body of a recently murdered woman after the husband pleads his case. And it's somewhat fortuitous because it leads Ilka to a pretty big discovery about her father's past. 

But, as mentioned, she has new family drama to deal with as well. Her father's wife and his two daughters have been anything but welcoming to Ilka. But that doesn't stop her from wanting to offer support when she finds out they're in trouble. Little does she know, her reaching out to them upends just about everything she thought she knew about her father!

Ilka's main goal as the books progress is to learn about her dad. To understand, in some way, why he left his family behind to start over in Racine. Her Father's Secret brings Ilka multiple steps closer to that goal! 

It's pretty important that you start this series with the first book. They don't really stand on their own very well considering the entire trilogy arc is Ilka's family's drama. But the series as a whole is an absolutely perfect binge read! 

Quick shout out to Libro.fm who has all three books availble on audio. The narrator, Molly Parker Myers, really does a phenomenal job of giving voice to Ilka, making these truly enjoyable to listen to!

Order it from your favorite indie via Bookshop!

Monday, November 9, 2020

We Hear Voices by Evie Green

Billy was on the brink of death, one of many to catch J5X, the virus ripping its way through the population. But just when all hope is lost, Billy recovers. And that's when Delfy appears. Or rather, doesn't. 

Rachel believes Delfy is Billy's new imaginary friend adopted, she thinks, as a response to having been close to death. But what Rachel doesn't know is that Delfy isn't the only imaginary friend to have appeared after a recovery from the "flu." In fact, a local doctor has begun focusing exclusively on such cases. And he knows that it's only a matter of time before Delfy starts to have increased influence over Billy's behavior. 

As Rachel struggles to support her family and deal with Billy's increasingly disturbing acts, his sister Nina, one of a handful of students accepted into an elite space program, has started her own investigation into Billy's new friend. Soon it becomes clear to all of them that there is nothing normal about Delfy at all. 

We Hear Voices is a near future science fiction with some great horror undertones. It's also a weird one to read in this current climate, but don't let Covid deter you!

Rachel, her partner, and her three children live in a London that is similar to today's except for a few things. First, a mega corporation has bought up most of the city's land and housing and a good portion of the city is employed by said company. Second, the world is on the literal brink of sending people to live in space. 

People refer to J5X as a flu, but it's nothing of the kind. There's no cure and it's killing swaths of people across the world. And yet some people do recover. Billy is one of the lucky few. Which is why Rachel doesn't see what Nina sees from the start, that Billy's new "friend" isn't an innocent response to isolation and loneliness. 

We Hear Voices is not without flaws. I was somewhat underwhelmed by the ending, especially considering the momentum that drives the plot up to that point. But I did love Rachel and Nina and the world-building involved in this particular story. And even with Covid running as background noise throughout my reading, I found this to be excellent escapism. I'm actually kind of hoping that there'll be a sequel, but I'm not at all sure if that's in the plans (the deal announcement is only for the one book, sadly).

If you're not necessarily a fan of science fiction or horror, I should point out that this is more in line with a thriller that has a lot of family drama components. The main thrust of the novel is Rachel's concern about her family. The genre elements definitely take a backseat to this, making the novel one that I think will appeal to a very broad audience. 

We Hear Voices is out December 1 from Berkley!

Preorder a copy from your favorite indie via Bookshop!

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Sleep Donation by Karen Russell

Trish is excellent at her job. Recruiting people to donate sleep for the growing insomnia outbreak, using the story of her own sister to get people to sign on, is something she excels at. And the company she works for says they're committed to providing dreams to those who need them. 

But when Trish becomes a bit too interested in Baby A, a universal donor who's own parents are conflicted about her use, she starts to uncover some shocking information. In the midst of this, another anonymous donor has started a worse outbreak. That of a shared nightmare resulting from his own donation. 

Things start to come to a head when the public becomes more and more afraid of potential nightmares and Trish becomes more and more disillusioned with her job. 

What a weird little book to read during a pandemic. 

Vintage rereleased this novella last month, making it available in print for the first time. They also added illustrations to this creepy and magical little tale. 

Funnily enough, I read this during a bout of insomnia! Maybe that's not funny. It actually made it quite eerie to read. And as a longtime sufferer who is also a newish parent, I found myself equally sympathetic to Trish and Baby A's parents. It wasn't exactly a comfortable place to be!

And again, a weird book to read during a pandemic. Even if you don't suffer from insomnia, it's impossible not to draw parallels between our current situation and this book. And to wonder just how far you'd go for a cure...Sleep Donation is unsettling, but also quite entertaining. 

Russell's writing is something I've been delving into for the first time this year. She's a truly gifted talent, blending the weird and outright paranormal with familiar themes. Her stories (that's all I've read thus far) are quirky and easy to sink into. They also haunt you long after you finish!

Order a copy from your favorite indie via Bookshop!

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

The Witch Hunter by Max Seeck

Roger Kaponen is well known for his occult thrillers. But no one ever expected a murderer to use his books as a blueprint for their crimes. And yet, when Kaponen's own wife is discovered brutally murdered in their home, it seems someone has done just that. 

Jessica Niemi is one of the investigators on the case. And she's the first to draw the connection between the books and the crime. Soon, she and the rest of her team realize they're being manipulated by a murderer who is always one step ahead. And with Kaponen's books as guides, they know there are more bodies to come. 

I have been all about Nordic Noir of late. In fact, I'd say it helped get me out of a pretty major (and understandable) reading slump this year! Thankfully, there's a ton of backlist to delve into and just as many new releases on the horizon!

Max Seeck's debut is one of the latest and is out on shelves today. 

This is a fun one because, in addition to the regular Scandi Crime darkness, it's got an extra creepy layer that makes it a perfect Halloween-y read!

A woman is found in her own home, murdered and gruesomely posed. The placement bears a striking, and later confirmed, resemblance to a murder that takes place in her own husband's bestselling crime series. 

Jessica Niemi is a smart cop with a secret past. Throughout the book, she's not the only one keeping secrets. Her mentor is ill and trying to keep his health concerns under wraps as best he can. But the case is all consuming, which means he doesn't have much time to worry about his own diagnosis. Especially when it becomes clear that Jessica has caught the attention of the killer. 

Seeck throws bodies at the reader pretty continuously as the book goes on. Any time the police think they may have a lead, there seems to be yet another murder to add to the growing list!

Jessica is a fascinating character. There are flashbacks to a trip to Italy that takes place when she's 19. How these figure into the story as a whole don't really become clear until the very end, but it's yet another part of her past that she's intent on not revisiting. 

Interestingly, Goodreads has the book listed as Jessica Niemi #1. A quick search reveals there is indeed a second book that has just been released overseas. I'll be looking forward to reading more and seeing what happens next with Jessica. 

Order a copy from your favorite indie via Bookshop!

Monday, October 26, 2020

Social Distancing With Nordic Noir

Reading through the pandemic has been a challenge but I seem to have caught my stride by diving into the things I like to read the most, darker fiction. Horror, thrillers, dark sci fi, all of them have been serving well as distractions as we muddle our way through the current situation this year. 

I know this isn’t the case for all readers. Many are finding comfort in lighter reads. For me, darker fiction has always been my jam and one of my favorite genres is Nordic.

Nordic Noir is simply crime fiction set in Nordic countries (Iceland, Finland, Denmark, Norway, and Sweden). But any fan of these books can attest to the fact that there’s a definite aesthetic to the genre that sets it apart from crime fiction from other regions.

Nordic Noir is brutal. It’s gritty and dark and features some of the most twisted and depraved criminals I’ve ever seen in fiction. So it’s definitely not a genre for everybody. But it is a genre that has a huge fan base, so much so that there multiple festivals celebrating these books in various countries!

Henning Mankell is one of the most well known authors of the genre. His Kurt Wallander series made its way to the English language readers early on and was adapted into a Swedish film series and TV show as well as an English TV show starring Kenneth Branagh. But it was Stieg Larsson’s The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo that really kicked the genre into the mainstream.

My own introductions were Kirsten Ekman's Blackwater and Peter Høeg’s Smilla’s Sense of Snow. Though the latter not considered true Nordic Noir, it is helmed as a predecessor to the trend. I don't recall much about Ekman's book at this stage. It was her first to be translated to English and I read it around 1996, so it's been a while. 

I recall more of Smilla's Sense of Snow thanks to having seen the movie so many times! In the book, a child falls off the roof of a building and dies but Smilla is convinced it wasn’t an accident. When no one listens, she decides to take matters into her own hands and investigate. It’s an odd read, but as a teenager I loved it and it opened the way to my reading more Nordic authors!

One of my longtime, current favorites is Yrsa Sigurðardóttir. Her Thóra Gudmundsdóttir is heavily inspired by actual events and history in Iceland and each book always has just a hint of the supernatural to it. One is even based on the Icelandic folklore around trolls! The first in the series, and the author’s debut, was Last Rituals, a book that finds Thóra, an attorney and single mother, aiding in the investigation of the murder of a college student.

Sigurðardóttir has recently kicked off a new series as well, this one featuring a psychologist. The first book is called The Legacy. I was lucky enough to be in Houston on the very day she was doing an event last fall and got to hear her speak!

As a longtime reader of mysteries and thrillers, it’s always a treat to find an author who can keep me guessing straight through to the end and Danish author Jussi Adler-Olsen is one of those authors. His Department Q series is an absolute favorite of mine and features a grumpy detective relegated to sifting through cold cases thanks to his bad attitude. Unfortunately for the powers that be, Carl Mørck and his misfit cohorts prove to be better at their jobs than anyone expected. The Keeper of Lost Causes is the first book in the series and it is fabulous. Be warned, though, it is incredibly dark! (The movie adaptation is fabulous as well and I highly suggest seeking it out! There are actually movies based on the first four books, but the last one hasn't made it's way to the States as of yet, sadly.)

This year saw me reading my first Lars Kepler novels. These are penned by a husband and wife team. The series kicks off with The Hypnotist. If you read the blog often, then you've also seen my recent coverage of Ragnar Jónasson, Sara Blaedel, and Søren Sveistrup. Other well known and excellent authors in the genre include Jo Nesbø, Jenny Rogneby, and Camilla Läckberg amongst others.

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

The Daughter by Sara Blaedel

Note: This book was previously published as The Undertaker's Daughter

Ilka Jensen hasn't seen her father in over a decade. And now he's died and left her a funeral home in Racine, Illinois. And so she travels from Denmark to the US to settle her father's estate in spite of her mother's warnings. And her mother is well within her rights to warn Ilka. After all, Paul Jensen abandoned them, leaving her mother in charge of a funeral home in Denmark that was buried in debt. 

As it turns out, Paul's gambling and penchant for racking up debts didn't change when he moved to the US. The funeral home is struggling and the IRS is ready to seize its assets to cover Paul's massive liability. And yet, Ilka is hesitant to go against her father's wishes in regards to the business. 

As if dealing with those issues weren't enough, Ilka finds herself in a confusing power play with the other employees of the funeral home. And, to make matters worse, one of their most recent pick ups turns out to be a man who was accused of murder many years ago. Just having his body in their cold storage seems to have made them a target for the town's ire, which hasn't faded one bit over time. 

It's been ages since I read Sara Blaedel. In fact, this year has seen my return to numerous Nordic Noir series and authors I've long been familiar with. But it's Blaedel's Louise Rick series that I've read and this, The Daughter, is a completely different series. 

I love Ilka! She's got spunk and attitude! 

Ilka is a photographer. She's also a widow. And she's already dealt with and moved past her father's abandonment of her when she was a child. Or so she thought. 

She also thought clearing up his estate would be easier than it turns out to be!

Ilka is dropped into the middle of everything. Her first day in town, she has to meet with the family of a deceased woman and discuss their funeral plans! She also has to pick up a body at the morgue. Some of it is a bit of a power play, some of it is frustration at the fact that she hasn't much paid attention to what's going on around her. She signed papers taking over the funeral home without realizing what they were—after warnings to read them prior to signing!

And strangely, though her father apparently felt no responsibility towards his first child, she feels an obligation to his business. 

The Daughter is a mystery, but it's also a bit of a family drama. And it's the first of three books, which becomes more and more apparent the closer you get to the end. Yep, there's something of a cliffhanger and an actual "To be continued..." at the end of the last page. 

While I expected it to be heavier on the mystery plot after reading a few of the Rick books, I was overall quite pleased with this new series from Blaedel. As I said, I really liked Ilka. She's forthright and pretty clear in her motivations. Unraveling her father's issues and finding the core of them—and why he left in the first place—is her overall goal but she also cares about the business and the people coming to them in their time of need. 

Ilka's story continues in Her Father's Secret and The Third Daughter. All three titles are out now (I've already got Her Father's Secret queued up and ready to go on audio!). 

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