Review: In Another Light by A. J. Banner

Release date: October 5, 2021

Publisher: Lake Union

Genre: Mystery/Thriller

Synopsis:

Three years ago mortuary cosmetologist Phoebe Glassman lost her husband in a tragic accident. No longer the hopeful wife and mother she once was, Phoebe is disappearing into her grief and into the quietude of her job—restoring to the dead the illusion of life. Then the body of a woman named Pauline Steele arrives in the mortuary, and for Phoebe, everything changes.

Pauline is unmistakably Phoebe’s mirror image and bears an alarmingly familiar tattoo. Even more startling is that among Pauline’s effects is a faded photograph of Phoebe. Aided by an eccentric colleague, her curiosity sparked, Phoebe investigates her doppelgänger’s life and death—and uncovers surprising clues to a shared past.

Phoebe’s emotional journey soon leads to shocking revelations about those closest to her…and even herself. When she’s driven to the brink, how much of what she discovers can she trust?

Review:

I really liked the premise of this one, the idea that everyone has a doppelgänger is so interesting and I haven’t read many books about the subject, so I was hooked right away. As usual with the author this was a binge worthy read, I never want to put her books down once I start them and always finish them in just a few sittings and this was no exception. She does such a great job at conveying a sense of dread and paranoia in her books and Phoebe had so many reasons to be suspicious and paranoid which just heightened the intensity. She also always manages to throw these curveballs at the reader in a sly way where I tend to wonder if I had been paying closer attention maybe I would’ve figured it out but she’s just so damn good at NOT saying things that make you assume something and then when other things are revealed you’re like, Oohh you sneaky thing you got me! I know that probably doesn’t make sense but iykyk, just know she has this quiet, subtle style that sneaks up on you. A definite page turner written in such a compelling way!

Overall rating: 4/5

Thanks to the publisher for my review copy.

Review: Nick and Noel’s Christmas Playlist by Codi Hall

Release date: October 5, 2021

Publisher: Sourcebooks Casa

Genre: Contemporary Romance

Synopsis:

Curl up this Christmas with a sparkling romance filled with:
• Irresistible friends-to-lovers romance
• The kiss that changed everything
• Warm nights on the family Christmas tree farm
• All your favorite Christmas songs!

Nick Winter is just out of the military, and his Christmas homecoming is not going as planned. What was supposed to be a memorable holiday with his long-time girlfriend goes sour when he learns she cheated on him while he was stationed overseas. At least Nick can rely on his usual shift at the family Christmas tree farm with his best friend, Noel Carter, and her endless supply of Christmas tunes to lift his spirits. A night of fun together is just what he needs to forget about his ex.

But then they kiss. And it feels…so right.

If Noel can turn Nick’s Blue Christmas merry and bright, this might be the last Christmas Nick spends with a broken heart. This year, they’ll be Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree as a couple―as long as Nick’s ex doesn’t go standing under any mistletoe.

Review:

If you’re looking for charming and sexy read to add to your December TBR consider this one! Friends to lovers is usually just ok for me but I really liked it here and so enjoyed seeing Nick and Noel’s relationship go from friends to something more. Although I really liked both of them the secondary characters really stole the show for me. They have a hilarious group of friends and Nick’s family was delightful, I’m thrilled this is a start to a series because I need more of these people. There is also plenty of depth here too as Noel is grieving the loss of her parents so it’s not just all laughs, though it is really funny too! While there is some Christmas charm it wasn’t overly holiday heavy so you could definitely read this anytime. Overall just a really well balanced and entertaining read!

Overall rating: 4/5

Thanks to the publisher for my review copy.

The George McKenzie Thriller series by Marnie Riches @bookouture

Good morning everyone! Today I’m helping to celebrate the US release of a series by author Marnie Riches. I’ll leave some more info about the books as well as a link to my review for the first book and a post from the author about the series.

Book summaries:

The George McKenzie series follows George, criminologist and the most kickass heroine you’ll find since The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Over the course of five books, she faces some of the worst killers around… but doesn’t hesitate to pursue justice and help save the innocent.

The Girl Who Wouldn’t Die: after a bomb goes off in a university campus, George McKenzie, criminology student, is recruited to help Detective Paul van den Bergen work the case. But is it terrorism… or something even worse?

The Girl Who Broke the Rules: women are dying on the streets of Amsterdam. And to get answers, George McKenzie will have to face jailed serial killer Dr. Silas Holm. But is she walking into his trap?

The Girl Who Walked in the Shadows: a killer called Jack Frost is stalking the shadows, leaving no trace behind… Only George McKenzie and Detective Paul van den Bergen can crack the case… and its strange link to the tragic disappearance of two children.

The Girl Who Had No Fear: when George McKenzie receives a plea for help from the father she’s not seen since she was a small child, she’ll stop at nothing to find him and get answers after years of silence. No matter the risks…

The Girl Who Got Revenge: someone is killing Amsterdam’s war heroes. As George and Detective Van den Bergen investigate, they realize that the sins of the past cast long shadows…

Buy links:

The Girl Who Wouldn’t Die

The Girl Who Broke the Rules

The Girl Who Walked in the Shadows

The Girl Who Had No Fear

The Girl Who Got Revenge

About the author:

Marnie Riches grew up on a rough estate in north Manchester. Exchanging the spires of nearby Strangeways prison for those of Cambridge University, she gained a Masters in German & Dutch. She has been a punk, a trainee rock star, a pretend artist and professional fundraiser.

Her best-selling, award-winning George McKenzie crime thrillers were inspired by her own time spent in The Netherlands. Dubbed the Martina Cole of the North, she has also authored a series about Manchester’s notorious gangland as well as two books in a mini-series featuring quirky northern PI Bev Saunders.

Detective Jackson Cooke is Marnie’s latest heroine to root for, as she hunts down one of the most brutal killers the north west has ever seen at devastating personal cost.

When she isn’t writing gritty, twisty crime thrillers, Marnie also regularly appears on BBC Radio Manchester, commenting on social media trends and discussing the world of crime fiction. She is a Royal Literary Fund Fellow at Salford University’s Doctoral School and a tutor for the Faber Novel Writing Course.

https://marnieriches.com/

https://www.facebook.com/MarnieRichesAuthor/

https://www.instagram.com/marnie_riches/

https://twitter.com/Marnie_Riches

A link to my review of the first book can be found here

And finally here is a blog post from the author!

Crime – the ultimate world traveller by Marnie Riches

Always a keen reader of world news, when I began writingmy George McKenzie series, aka The Girl Who books, I realized that the trans-national traffic of drugs, people, weapons and even exotic animals had embedded itself in my subconscious. I was fascinated and horrified in equal measureby the tales of criminals’ subterfuge and victims’ suffering. 

The Girl Who Wouldn’t Die deals principally with the illicit trade in drugs and movement of women across borders as unpaid sex-workers. The book should throw up certain moral questions for readers. If a drug user buys heroine on the streets of the UK or the US, does he/she give any thought to the fact that it has probably been grown in the Helmand and Kandahar provinces of Afghanistan, lining the pockets of warlords? Growing poppies for heroine manufacture is more profitable for impoverished opium farmers than growing food crops, and only Russia seems to have an interest in destroying those crops. 

As is the case in the US, a surprising number of British citizens are recreational drug takers. If you buy coke on the streets of the UK or US, do you realize that the countries of Central America act as a transit route for drugs traffickers, ensuring that violence and corruption in those poverty-stricken areas is endemic? Where there are drugs, there are arms, too, so the murder rate in affected countries is ludicrously high, with gang-membership supplanting family, and criminality becoming more attractive than pursuing education and employment. Corrupt governments suck dry financial resources that should be used to support the infrastructure of their countries, thereby exacerbating poverty in already poor communities. And if the first world drug-destination countries like the UK and US crack down on Class A drug imports, the traffickers must make their money from something else – women, children, slave labor, organ harvesting… If it turns a profit, it’s fair game.

The Girl Who Broke the Rules begins with a scene where a Somali prostitute is found eviscerated in Amsterdam’s red-light district, but the book is decidedly not a slasher story,with women as victims of violent sexual predators. I chose to write about slave labor and the vulnerability of refugees and economic migrants from countries torn apart by civil war, such as Somalia and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Young Somali men, in particular, are very likely to get embroiled in criminal activity, once they have reached Europe. With little education and often, no support from elders, they make easy pickings for gangs. 

Perhaps the most disquieting element of trans-national trafficking is the illicit movement of children across borders. It is this subject that I tackle in The Girl Who Walked in the Shadows – specifically highlighting the vulnerability of South Eastern Europe’s Roma communities, where young people, hoping for a better life and the prospect of work in othercountries, can too easily become entrapped by traffickers asdomestic slave labor or sex workers in Western European. The brothels and nail bars of the UK alone are populated by young women from Eastern Europe, the Far East and Africa, who leave their homes in the hope of securing legitimate paid work. Instead, they find themselves without passports, dependent on their human traffickers and forced to work for free to pay off a never-dwindling debt.

I hope I’ve created stories and characters that hold a mirror up to real life. I chose to write international thrillers, rather than UK-set police procedurals, because crime knows no borders. Its terrible ingenuity is limitless. Where there’s a profit to be made, there are commodities to be trafficked. It’s a heart-breaking state of affairs, and we owe it to the victims of trafficking to educate ourselves – through good fiction, if you’re a fan of crime writing – about their plight and to avoid contributing to this exploitation of the world’s most vulnerable citizens.

Audiobook Review: The Inn at Sweetbriar Lane by Jeannie Chin

Goodreads

Release date: September 28, 2021

Publisher: Hachette Audio

Genre: Contemporary Romance

Synopsis:

June Wu always has it all together—only now, she’s in over her head. Her family’s inn desperately needs guests, her mother’s medical debts are piling up, and the surly, if sexy, stranger next door is driving away the customers she has left! When he asks for June’s help, though, she can’t say no. After all, his new bar could be just what the upcoming Pumpkin Festival needs to bring in more tourists. But with the fierce attraction between them, will working together be playing with fire?

Ex-soldier Clay Hawthorne prefers being on his own. He’s moved to Blue Cedar Falls for one reason—to carry out his best friend’s dream of opening a bar in the hometown he’ll now never return to. But the town’s business association is trying to stop Clay’s progress. June soon becomes his biggest supporter, and while their partnership is supposed to be only temporary, for the first time Clay wants something permanent—with June. Can two total opposites really learn to meet each other in the middle?

Review:

This was a such a strong start to a new series, seriously the potential is great! Don’t let the cute little cover fool you either, yes it’s a cutesy little romance set in a small town but there’s so much more than that. While the town was described beautifully it isn’t portrayed in a way that makes it seem like the totally perfect place to live. Not everyone is welcoming and many residents are resistant to change, especially when the change comes in the form of a new bar coming to town. It doesn’t help that the new bar owner is an outsider either. There was a great balance between light and heavy here as well, Clay is a veteran dealing with issues from serving the country and June’s mom is dealing with some health issues so you have characters that are flawed and struggling and the author did such a good job of exploring their issues. Also an Asian American lead character and LBGTQ+ made the representation here awesome! This was also really sexy too, see what I mean, don’t let the pretty cover fool you this one has depth! Katy Tang and Zachary Webber we’re both A plus narrators and their voices exactly matched what I had in my head, amazing!

Overall rating: 4/5

Thanks to the publisher for my review copy.

Audiobook Review: No Ordinary Christmas by Belle Calhoune

Goodread

Release date: September 28, 2021

Publisher: Hachette Audio

Genre: Contemporary Romance

Synopsis:

The quaint New England town of Mistletoe is thrilled to welcome back one of their own, Dante West. Now a famous Hollywood action star, Dante is filming a movie in town to help the local economy, as well as make amends with the people he hurt when he abruptly left Mistletoe all those years ago.

Librarian Lucy Marshall isn’t thrilled to see Dante. He was once her best friend and first love until he left her behind without a word of goodbye. When Dante makes her an offer she can’t refuse — use of the library as a filming venue in exchange for a lucrative donation, Lucy finds herself spending a lot of time in Dante’s company. With the magic of Christmas in the air, Dante and Lucy begin to forge a new bond. But can two people leading such different lives find lasting love the second time around?

Review:

Hi Hallmark Channel, I found your next book to movie adaptation! Seriously though this was adorable and would be the cutest Christmas movie. Second chance romance usually has to be pretty special for me to enjoy it and I definitely was won over here. I liked that Dante is now a celebrity who wants to give back to the community he grew up in by filming his new movie in his hometown, I mean how fun is that?! Lucy is a librarian and I pretty much liked her based on that alone, but she was super endearing as well. The town itself was depicted beautifully, think I could convince my entire family to spend Christmas back east in some little small town with a giant Christmas tree in the town square?! This was more sweet than sexy and super cozy, definitely best read with some hot chocolate by a fire while it’s snowing outside! Also my first from the author but I’m checking out her backlist ASAP. It was also the first book I listened to that was narrated by Mela Lee or Tre Hall and I applaud the use of two narrators, they were both great!

Overall rating: 4/5

Thanks to the publisher for my review copy.

Audiobook Review: The Christmas Wedding Guest by Susan Mallery

Release date: September 28, 2021

Publisher: Harper Audio

Genre: Contemporary Romance

Synopsis:

The Somerville sisters believe in love, but they’ve lost faith it will happen for them. Reggie hasn’t been home since the end of the world’s shortest engagement. When her parents decide to renew their vows, she buffs up her twinkle to help with the Christmas wedding. Unexpectedly, Toby, her first love, is back too, and the spark between them shines as brightly as ever. In the spirit of the season, will they let go of past hurts and greet the New Year together?

Done waiting for the one, Dena is pregnant and on her own—on purpose. But then a gorgeous, sad-eyed songwriter checks in to a room at her inn. Micah, unable to write since he lost his wife, finds inspiration in Dena’s determination to be a mom. One snowflake-speckled kiss and he’s a goner. But Dena is afraid to believe that a rock star could fall for a cookie-cutter small-town girl like her.

As the Christmas wedding draws closer, these two sisters just might unwrap the most treasured gift of all—love.

Review:

A new Susan Mallery series is always cause for excitement for me and I have to say this one is off to a strong start. You have the cutest little town with some zany traditions that everyone takes seriously, TWO romances in this installment, and heartfelt storyline set around the holidays. Need I say more?! Ok fine, it also has the authors trademark humor and wit, she always writes these endearing characters with a great sense of humor, you know the kind of people that you wish you could be friends with for real? Those kind. There’s also super cute kids, super cute dogs and a supporting cast of characters that added so much to an already engaging read. When I’m looking for a holiday read I want something that will bring the season to life and also make me feel warm and fuzzy by the end and this delivered. I’ve also taken to listening to most of the authors books because I really enjoy Tanya Eby’s narration, she has a delightful voice and she brings some added charm to the book. Definitely recommend adding this one to your December TBR it was lovely.

Overall rating: 4/5

Thanks to the publisher for my review copy.

Audiobook Review: A Little Christmas Spirit by Sheila Roberts

Goodreads

Release date: September 28, 2021

Publisher: Harper Audio

Genre: Contemporary Fiction

Synopsis:

Single mom Lexie Bell hopes to make this first Christmas in their new home special for her six-year-old son, Brock. Festive lights and homemade fudge, check. Friendly neighbors? Uh, no. The reclusive widower next door is more grinchy than nice. But maybe he just needs a reminder of what matters most. At least sharing some holiday cheer with him will distract her from her own lack of romance…

Stanley Mann lost his Christmas spirit when he lost his wife and he sees no point in looking for it. Until she shows up in his dreams and informs him it’s time to ditch his scroogey attitude. Stanley digs in his heels, but she’s determined to haunt him until he wakes up and rediscovers the joys of the season. He can start by being a little more neighborly to the single mom next door. In spite of his protests, he’s soon making snowmen and decorating Christmas trees. How will it all end?

Merrily, of course. A certain Christmas ghost is going to make sure of that!

Review:

Ok y’all this one is just begging to be made into a Hallmark movie! It was completely heartwarming, it had all the holiday vibes and I think it would appeal to a few different types of readers because it wasn’t just a straightforward romance. At its heart it’s about an unlikely friendship between Lexie, a single mom and her neighbor, Stanley. Stanley is a grouchy old man who is mourning the loss of his wife and he wants nothing to do with the holidays, in fact he really wants nothing to do with the outside world period. Until Lexie’s son decided Stanley would make a perfect stand in grandpa and he begins seeing his late wife’s ghost. Or is he cracking up? So an adorable premise and it was executed so well, I really enjoyed this one. I liked that romance was a very small part of the story and that it was really about found family and embracing the holiday spirit with friends instead. It sure made me get into the right frame of mind a few months early 😉 but I definitely recommend it when you’re ready for a warm and cozy holiday read! The audio was also fabulous, Ann Marie Gideon also narrated the authors previous series and I’ve grown to love listening to her!

Overall rating: 4/5

Thanks to the publisher for my review copy.

Audiobook Review: The Ex Hex by Erin Sterling

Goodreads

Release date: September 28, 2021

Publisher: Harper Audio

Genre: Contemporary Romance

Synopsis:

Nine years ago, Vivienne Jones nursed her broken heart like any young witch would: vodka, weepy music, bubble baths…and a curse on the horrible boyfriend. Sure, Vivi knows she shouldn’t use her magic this way, but with only an “orchard hayride” scented candle on hand, she isn’t worried it will cause him anything more than a bad hair day or two.

That is until Rhys Penhallow, descendent of the town’s ancestors, breaker of hearts, and annoyingly just as gorgeous as he always was, returns to Graves Glen, Georgia. What should be a quick trip to recharge the town’s ley lines and make an appearance at the annual fall festival turns disastrously wrong. With one calamity after another striking Rhys, Vivi realizes her silly little Ex Hex may not have been so harmless after all.

Suddenly, Graves Glen is under attack from murderous wind-up toys, a pissed off ghost, and a talking cat with some interesting things to say. Vivi and Rhys have to ignore their off the charts chemistry to work together to save the town and find a way to break the break-up curse before it’s too late.

Review:

If you’re looking for a seasonal read to get you into a fall state of mind this one would be ideal! I don’t really read paranormal romances but this sounded too cute to pass up and I enjoyed it so much that I think I’m actually ready to branch out into some more paranormal romance so if you have any recommendations I would love them!

I think what worked best for me here was witches in a contemporary setting so it wasn’t too far out of my comfort zone but it was edgy enough for me to just be delighted with all the witchy vibes. Since I was really in the mood for a fall read I was the ideal audience for this one but then it was also seriously funny too. I genuinely laughed out loud quite a bit and the romance between Vivi and Rhys was sweet and super sexy. I really just adored this one from the small town cozy vibes, to the humor to the supporting cast of characters that added some additional quirkiness and fun to an already zany read. Audio narration here was fantastic and engaging as well and this totally made me want to light a fall candle, grab a cozy sweater and maybe say a little hex on those who wronged me myself 😉

Overall rating: 4.5/5

Thanks to the publisher for my review copy.

Audiobook Review: Catch Us When We Fall by Juliette Fay

Goodreads

Release date: September 21, 2021

Publisher: William Morrow

Genre: Contemporary Fiction

Synopsis:

On her own since the age of eighteen, Cass Macklin dated brilliant, troubled Ben McGreavy, convinced he was the smartest person she’d ever known. They partied their way through their twenties, slowly descending into a bleak world of binge-drinking and broken promises, inebriated for most of a decade. Now Ben is dead, and Cass is broke, homeless, scared…and pregnant.

Determined to have a healthy pregnancy and raise Ben’s baby, Cass has to find a way to stop drinking and build a stable life for herself and her child. But with no money, skills, or sober friends or family, the task seems insurmountable. At wit’s end, Cass turns to the only person with the means to help her: Ben’s brother Scott, third basemen for the Boston Red Sox, a man with a temper and problems of his own.

The two make a deal that neither one of them is sure they can live up to. As Cass struggles to take control of her life and to ask for help when she needs it, Scott begins to realize there’s a life for him beyond the baseball diamond.

By turns heartbreaking and humorous, with its message that change is not impossible, that forgiveness can be freely given, and that life, though imperfect, is worth embracing, Catch Us When We Fall is a novel you will never forget.

Review:

Wow this was one powerful read. I knew from the description that it would be heavy but I didn’t realize just how emotionally charged it would be. Right from the start you’re thrust into the lives of Cass and Scott on one of the worst days of their lives as they’re burying Scott’s brother and Cass boyfriend, Ben. So it gets you right in the feels immediately and it truly never lets up once. It’s very character driven and the author crafted these people who seem so real, especially in their struggles. Cass is truly a wreck, a broken soul and seeing her journey was heartbreaking but ultimately inspiring. Her strength comes through over and over as she battles her addiction and comes into her own and it was a beautiful story. She was the kind of character that you develop and attachment to and I was sad to finish this one up. I do want to add that I had planned on switching between the print and audio but the audio was so well done and compelling that I listened to the majority of this so if you like audio this is the way to go. Recommended for fans of emotional, character driven books with strong writing!

Overall rating: 4/5

Thanks to the publisher for my review copy.

Audiobook Review: The Matzah Ball by Jean Meltzer

Goodreads

Release date: September 28, 2021

Publisher: MIRA

Genre: Contemporary Romance

Synopsis:

Oy! to the world

Rachel Rubenstein-Goldblatt is a nice Jewish girl with a shameful secret: she loves Christmas. For a decade she’s hidden her career as a Christmas romance novelist from her family. Her talent has made her a bestseller even as her chronic illness has always kept the kind of love she writes about out of reach.

But when her diversity-conscious publisher insists she write a Hanukkah romance, her well of inspiration suddenly runs dry. Hanukkah’s not magical. It’s not merry. It’s not Christmas. Desperate not to lose her contract, Rachel’s determined to find her muse at the Matzah Ball, a Jewish music celebration on the last night of Hanukkah, even if it means working with her summer camp archenemy—Jacob Greenberg.

Though Rachel and Jacob haven’t seen each other since they were kids, their grudge still glows brighter than a menorah. But as they spend more time together, Rachel finds herself drawn to Hanukkah—and Jacob—in a way she never expected. Maybe this holiday of lights will be the spark she needed to set her heart ablaze.

Review:

Every year when I’m deep into my reading of holiday novels I always try and find books with some Jewish representation and y’all, it’s damn near impossible. I adore Christmas romances, it’s some of my favorite reading I do every year but it’s a shame that it’s so hard to find Hanukkah romances when there are a zillion Christmas ones. So last year when I saw the announcement for this book I was so excited! I’m not Jewish just to be clear, but I still love to read about different traditions and I love that the publishing world is starting to diversify romance a little more, this book is definitely a huge step in the right direction and the author proved that Hanukkah romances can be just as warm and cozy as any Christmas one, I need more!!

The premise of this was so fun with Rachel being from a prominent Jewish family and a secret Christmas romance author, talk about a juxtaposition! I loved that her secret was harmless but super funny and could relate to her love of all things Christmas in a major way. While I adored Rachel as a character, especially seeing how resilient she is as she struggles with a chronic illness, the whole cast of characters were such a delight as well. Her best friend Mickey was so much fun and their friendship was so special. As someone who knows very little about Judaism myself this managed to share special parts of the culture and religion in a way that I think would appeal to both Jewish readers and those who know nothing about Judaism which I think can be a tricky balance but it was handled so well here. This was so funny, warm, sweet and tender, everything I want in a holiday romance for sure. The audio was also fantastic, Dara Rosenberg captured Rachel’s voice perfectly and was exactly who I would’ve handpicked myself to narrate.

Overall rating: 5/5

Thanks to the publisher for my review copy.