COZY MYSTERY REVIEW – Hot Fudge Murder by Cynthia Baxter

Looking for a quick, mindless read? This fits the bill. Hot Fudge Murder is frothy fun – focusing a bit more on the ice cream shop than the actual murder mystery, these books don’t offer a lot of substance but they will leave you craving a scoop or two of your favorite flavor.

Other than the delectable descriptions of a wide variety of ice cream flavors, the real star in this series is the relationships between the characters. Kate’s relationship with her grandmother and niece is heartwarming and fun. There are definitely cozier mysteries out there and more mysterious cozies, but this is a great option for something to read while spending a lazy day at the pool or beach.

Thank you Kensington Books for sending me a copy of Hot Fudge Murder!

REVIEW – The Boy Who Followed His Father into Auschwitz by Jeremy Dronfield

“The boy is my greatest joy. We strengthen each other. We are one, inseparable.”

This is probably one of the most incredible WWII stories I’ve ever read. I’ll admit, I was hesitant to pick this up – not because I didn’t want to read it, but because life is weird and difficult right now and I wasn’t sure I wanted to dive into something so heartbreaking. This book is nonfiction, but it reads like fiction most of the time – the writing flows easily and the people Dronfield writes about leap off of the page. I loved reading about each family member – while the story is primarily about Gustav and his son Fritz, we do get a glimpse into what life during the war was like for the rest of the family. They all end up on different paths, and some endings are horrific.

“It took strength and character to share and love in a world where selfishness and hate were common currency.”

I was right, this book is incredibly heartbreaking. But it’s also joyful. And hopeful. The love between Gustav and Fritz kept them going. Their resilience is inspiring and, at times, it’s almost unbelievable. Their bravery was just one small factor in their eventual survival – they also experienced incredible luck (which is so hard to say, given the circumstances) and they ended up building a small community of friends within the camps who lifted them up and pushed them through. This book examines the absolute worst of humanity but also highlights some of the best. The sacrifices people made (and were willing to make) for the good of the cause. The danger they put themselves in to save others.

“No matter what occurred in the world, no matter how near danger might be, life went on, and what could one do but live it?”

Something that I feel is glossed over sometimes when it comes to WWII books – nonfiction and fiction alike – is what the survivors experience once they are back home and safe. Even though Gustav and Fritz survived many years in unimaginable, cruel conditions, they still struggled when it came time to rejoin society and get “back to normal.” There truly was no normal after WWII for many survivors, and the trauma and pain of those years in the camps impacted the rest of their lives.

Thank you Harper Perennial/Harper Books for the ARC!

REVIEW – A Mother’s Lie by Sarah Zettel

If you’re looking for a quick, heart-racing thriller, this is the book for you! Beth has worked so hard to keep her daughter Dana safe – which has meant keeping her away from Beth’s family. When a woman approaches Dana claiming to be her grandmother, everything unravels.

I read this in less than 24 hours – it’s definitely a page-turner with quick, punchy chapters that kept me wanting (NEEDING!) to know what was going to happen next.

As far as the thriller genre goes, I wouldn’t say this one is particularly memorable, but it is one of those great books that’s perfect when you’re searching for an easy thriller read.

Thank you Bibliofinder and Grand Central Publishing for sending me a copy of this book.

REVIEW – Truths I Never Told You by Kelly Rimmer

{Available April 14, 2020} Presented in dual timelines (the early to mid-1950s and a few weeks in 1996) The Truths I Never Told You is somewhat presented as a mystery, with maybe a thriller edge, but is really a story about family secrets, the seemingly mysterious death of our main character’s mother, and the surrounding events. This book is sad, but it’s also filled with love and hope.

The family’s strength really shines through in this one – both the present-day situation with the four siblings and the sacrifices made in the past.

I think this story will resonate most with mothers – women who have experienced the ups and downs of pregnancy, childbirth and the early months and years of parenting. As someone without children, I could still understand the anxiety, fear and depression that both Grace and Beth faced, but only on the surface level.

Content warning: mentions of abortion and suicide.

Thank you Graydon House for sending me an ARC of this book!

REVIEW – When You Read This by Mary Adkins

“This whole time I thought my real life hadn’t started yet. Turns out that was my life. I have six months or so to make that okay, somehow.”

Oh, this book. I was intrigued by the premise initially, but I loved this book so much more than I would have anticipated. We follow our three main characters – Iris (recently deceased), her boss Smith and her sister Jade – through a series of emails, text messages and blog posts. The format of this novel made it a very quick and easy read – I flew through the majority of this book in a matter of a few hours.

“We are not special. We do not survive death. We only think we are, and do.”

This is an amazing portrayal of grief, presented in snippets. Smith is grieving the loss of his friend and coworker. Jade is grieving the loss of her sister. And through Iris’ blog posts, we witness her grieving the loss of “what could have been.” It’s sad and it’s funny (like, laugh out loud funny). It’s cliche to say “I laughed, I cried,” but, truly…I laughed. I cried. There are a few notable side characters, like Carl (you’ll hate him, then you’ll kind of love him).

“‘We die as we lived,’ some guy wrote. But how did I live?”

Thank you Harper Books/Harper Perennial for sending me a finished paperback copy of this book!

REVIEW – Please See Us by Caitlin Mullen

{Available March 3, 2020} Please See Us is an absolutely breathtaking debut novel. More of a mystery than a thriller, we follow two main characters in Atlantic City – a teenage psychic struggling to make ends meet and a young woman who has moved back home following a traumatic personal event.

Mullen absolutely NAILS the atmosphere here. I could feel the summer heat and humidity. I could see the rundown and condemned parts of the city – everything felt dull and gray and gritty. The seedy, faded casinos and motels just add to the overall icky and hopeless feeling of this book, which is a testament to the quality of the writing. There is some REALLY good writing here.

I love how Mullen examines the different types of women who end up as victims throughout the story. They come from different backgrounds. They have different thoughts and feelings. Each has a personal journey that led them to Atlantic City and, ultimately, to their deaths. The chapters that focus on the “Janes” are some of the best, and some of the hardest to read. After one towards the end, I found myself needing to pause for a moment before diving back in to the rest of the story.

There are some DARK themes explored here (I mean, besides the obvious…) but every piece feels absolutely necessary to the story.

Thank you Gallery Books for sending me this ARC!

REVIEW – Westering Women by Sandra Dallas

“Being part of our group of women has been the greatest adventure of my life. …I have been part of a remarkable journey with you and the others. We are sisters. We are a band of sisters.”

Westering Women is the story of 44 women (and two ministers) making the journey west on the Overland Trail from Chicago to California. The intent is that the women will find husbands once they reach their destination, but many of the travelers have dark secrets that threaten their lives (and, ultimately, the lives of those traveling with them).

“I do not know the meaning of death, but there is meaning to life.”

The good? The eventual bond between these women is great. They stand up for each other, they protect each other, they keep each other’s secrets. The women are tough and resilient, despite the conditions they face on the trail, including disease, death, violence, rough terrain and harsh weather. Mary, especially, is an incredible character, and I would love to read a book focusing on women like her during that time. She quickly takes on a leadership role for a multitude of reasons, and she’s the shining star in this book despite not being the main character.

The not so good? I found the dialogue to be a bit stilted at times, but this could be a symptom of the time period in which it’s set (I haven’t read many books set in the 1800s so this might be my issue and not the book’s). I also found it to be inconsistent in its approach to hardships – it seemed like some of the issues and events were very brutal and upsetting for the overall tone of the book, but other issues were just kind of brushed aside too easily.

And the problematic? I felt that the story glossed over the role of Native Americans during this time period, and applied a harmful, racist lens overall. Although those traveling to California were attacked by Native Americans on the trail, it seemed like the book did little to dispel the “savage, violent, greedy” stereotype that had incredibly harmful repercussions, the effects of which are still evident today.

I do think this book will go over well with a lot of people – it has enough “grit” that it’s interesting but is also precious and fluffy enough that many readers will still find it palatable.

Content warning: assault, attempted rape/rape (at times involving children), death of children.

Thank you Bibliofinder and St. Martin’s Press for sending me a copy of this book.