REVIEW – Always the Last to Know by Kristan Higgins

{Available June 9, 2020} Always the Last to Know is a perfect summer read. We follow the Frost family – parents Barb and John and sisters Sadie and Juliet. When John suffers a stroke, the Frosts come face to face with issues and uncovered secrets that will test their strength as a family.

Told from different perspectives (mostly Sadie and Barb, with some chapters from Juliet and a few chapters from John) Higgins is able to give each character a distinct voice and personality. Always the Last to Know felt very realistic for a family drama – it covers some tough topics but never feels heavy. The characters deal with their issues in very authentic ways, often using humor (and oh boy, did this book make me laugh!)

None of the Frosts are perfect – you’ll be rooting for a character in one chapter, and wanting to yell at them in the next. But that’s what makes this book so good. It’s a lighter family drama without a lot of baggage. There are some sugary sweet moments, but they don’t feel forced.

Thank you Berkley for sending me a NetGalley ARC of this book!

COZY MYSTERY REVIEW – Death by Auction by Alexis Morgan

This was a really enjoyable cozy that focuses almost primarily on the murder mystery at hand (the town takes a backseat in this one). When a dead body is found in the parking lot at a military fundraiser, Abby finds herself in the middle of yet another murder investigation.

The worst part? She ends up playing host to the prime suspect (who also happens to be her tenant’s ex-wife). This is a classic whodunit style story – with a fun cast of suspects and a “you’re the investigator!” feel.

Thank you Kensington Books for the NetGalley copy of this book!

REVIEW – The Second Home by Christina Clancy

{Available June 2, 2020} The Second Home is a family drama that starts with a life-changing summer on Cape Cod – the effects of which ripple out for 15 years before coming to a head when Ann, Poppy and their adopted brother Michael see each other again after more than a decade apart.

The characters in this book are rich and developed, each having a distinct personality. All three siblings have heartbreaking stories, in their own way. The paths they each end up taking align perfectly with their personalities, and there’s nothing incredibly surprising here.

I’ll be honest – these character-driven, family sagas aren’t my usual cup of tea, but I found myself really loving this story and dying to know where they would all end up. I think this will be a very popular book this summer – it would be a great beach/vacation read for those who want something a bit heavier and in-depth.

Content warning: there’s a pretty descriptive and upsetting rape scene in this book.

Thank you St. Martin’s press for the digital ARC of this book!

COZY MYSTERY REVIEW – Botched Butterscotch and Marshmallow Malice by Amanda Flower

I recently read two cozies from the same series – Botched Butterscotch (a novella) is Amish Candy Shop Mystery #4.5, and Marshmallow Malice is #5.

Botched Butterscotch is a novella tucked in the middle of a cozy mystery series – Bailey runs a candy shop with her grandmother. She donates some treats to a local fundraiser, but things quickly turn sour when the box of donated cash and checks is emptied.

This was such a sweet (I couldn’t help myself…) little story! My first experience with the Amish Candy Shop Mysteries certainly won’t be my last. This is pretty short – I read it in one sitting. It was nice to have a short glimpse into a series I haven’t read, and a lot of ground was covered in a short amount of time! I highly recommend this either for fans of the series, or for anyone interested in checking the series out (it’s a nice way to get a feel for the writing and the characters without dedicating time to an entire book).

Marshmallow Malice picks up right where Botched Butterscotch leaves off. Bailey is the maid of honor (and cake expert!) for her boyfriend’s mom’s wedding. There’s some drama at the ceremony when an uninvited guest crashes the wedding and tries to put a stop to things. When the wedding crasher ends up dead the next morning, Bailey works to solve the murder. This has just the right balance of fun and seriousness – I love learning about the Amish community and the writing feels purposeful throughout the entire story.

Thank you Kensington Books for the NetGalley ARCs!

COZY MYSTERY REVIEW – Proof of Murder by Lauren Elliott

Bookshop owner Addie finds herself helping appraise rare and old books for a local estate sale, in a rumored-to-be-haunted house. When a dead body turns up in a seemingly locked room, Addie has to clear her name and try to track down the killer.

This was such a fun read! Addie’s a great character and I loved how well the murder mystery was tied in with books and literature. There’s a little bit of a ghost element here too, which made it extra fun (and chilling at times!)

Feeling a little like Sherlock Holmes himself, I figured out who the culprit was a bit before the reveal – which, to me, can be the mark of a good mystery. The author gives enough clues that you might be able to solve the mystery along with the main character, but nothing was so obvious that I felt like it was a “no duh.” I had my suspicions, but I wasn’t totally sure until the end.

Thank you Kensington Books for the NetGalley ARC!

COZY MYSTERY REVIEW – Murder in the Storybook Cottage by Ellery Adams

Murder in the Storybook Cottage begins as Storyton Hall resort owner Jane is preparing to host a children’s book conference. When a dead body turns up in the new storybook village on her property, Jane has to work to keep her guests safe (and unaware) and help solve a murder.

This was the first book I’ve read in the Book Retreat series – it was a cute, cozy read. I’m considering going back to the beginning to read the first five books.

EVERYTHING in this town is book-themed. EVERYTHING. It’s a book for book lovers – there are so many cute little literary references and it feels like a bookish Stars Hollow. There’s somewhat of a fantasy-ish element to this book – it’s revealed early on that Jane is the Guardian of a secret library. It seems like many people (both good and bad) have shown interest in what the secret library holds, with some dangerous consequences. Many of Jane’s staff at Storyton Hall serve dual purposes – they might run something at the resort, but they also might be one of her team of security to help protect and defend the secret library.

The murder in this book is pretty dark (for a cozy) and there is an underlying feeling of unease throughout the book – the danger that Jane and her friends and family could be in seems very real.

Thank you Kensington Books for the NetGalley ARC!

COZY MYSTERY REVIEW – Murder Can Confuse Your Chihuahua by Rose Pressey

{Available April 28, 2020} I found myself in need of a quick, light cozy and this fit the bill! Murder Can Confuse Your Chihuahua had me laughing from the opening of chapter one.

As Celeste is prepping for a weeklong craft fair, she comes across a dead body by the river. What unfolds throughout the next few days is a twisty whodunnit, filled with suspicious characters. There’s also a slight supernatural element in this story.

There were a few repetitive parts – one plot point in particular was revealed twice, but I assume that will be fixed in the final copy.

Thank you Kensington Books for the ARC!

COZY MYSTERY REVIEW – Pulp Friction by Julie Anne Lindsey

{Available April 28, 2020} Pulp Friction is the second book in the new Cider Shop Mystery series (which I am loving, by the way). Winnie’s newly opened cider shop is doing well, and the book opens with a wedding in the orchard’s barn. The wedding atmosphere is super cozy and dreamy and makes me miss summer…until the groom ends up dead and foul play is suspected.

This book solidifies my desire to live in Blossom Valley with Winnie, Granny, Dot and Colton (yes, of course, Colton. So handsome!) This series hits all of the points that make a cozy series great – an adorable small town, a sweet little shop (I want apple cider and delicious pastries all of the time now), a wonderful cast of characters and murder mysteries that are just chilling enough to feel serious without ruining the overall lighthearted vibe of the book.

I had my theories about who the murdered could be in this book and I was spot on in some aspects and WAY OFF in others – which just made the entire experience more fun! This book ends on somewhat of a cliffhanger and sets the series up for a larger story – which I’m guessing will be explored more in-depth in the next book.

Thank you Kensington Books for providing me with the NetGalley ARC!

REVIEW – The Familiar Dark by Amy Engel

{Available March 31, 2020} Less than a thriller and more of an examination of familial relationships (primarily mother/daughter and brother/sister), The Familiar Dark is a gritty story with an of-the-moment setting. Anyone who has watched Ozark on Netflix will easily be able to picture Eve’s tiny, poor town in Missouri. The book gives off the same gray, unsettling vibe as the show, too.

After Eve’s daughter and her best friend are murdered on a run-down playground, Eve takes it upon herself to investigate the murders and exact revenge on the killer. What she uncovers is more horrific than she could have ever imagined.

There are some heartbreaking twists/reveals in this story, and the entire thing feels very desolate and hopeless. I wasn’t impressed with the ending when I first read it – some of it seems very out of character and almost like a stretch. But the more I think about it, and the more I think about the setting and the personal background of each character…i’m not ENTIRELY convinced that it’s plausible, but i’m starting to come around that maybe it was an inevitable conclusion for these characters. Just be forewarned: it’s dark and it’s sad and there are no winners in this book.

Thank you Dutton Books for the NetGalley ARC!

REVIEW – The Undocumented Americans by Karla Cornejo Villavicencio

{Available March 24, 2020} There are eleven million undocumented immigrants in our country. In our communities. They could be our neighbors, coworkers or classmates. We interact with them at restaurants and stores. They give everything they have to our country and receive so little in return. This is the legacy of our country and it’s infuriating. This is also nothing new, but it’s an especially hot political topic at the current moment.

From a writing standpoint, this book is good. Villavicencio is a solid writer with a knack for getting straight to the point. This book meanders at times, but everything is important and supportive of the overarching narrative.

Villavicencio isn’t just a writer, she’s a storyteller. She talks a lot about how she basically adopts the people she talks to – she pours her heart and soul into these relationships and tells their stories with such care. She doesn’t gloss over anything. The people portrayed in this book are REAL (of course) and their personalities leap off of the page. They’re angry. They’re grateful. They’re hurt and hurting. They’re funny and fun and loving. They’re weird and they’re interesting. They’re people (yeah, duh). They aren’t a “faceless brown mass” (to borrow words from a recently controversial author…)

They’re all different, with different lives and different experiences. Some have had more luck than others. Some have faced more hardships or heartbreak than others. But they do share the trauma of being undocumented in the United States. The fear of deportation. The lack of legal support when they are taken advantage of. Each section of this book focuses on a different city in the United States and I thought the chapters on Cleveland and Flint to be the most impactful (keep in mind I am from Ohio, in a city that’s about a 20-minute drive to the Michigan border, so these chapters were bound to feel more tangible to me).

Ultimately, my words and thoughts aren’t what matters here. It boils down to this – read this book. Read other books like this book. Gain some perspective from people who are not like you. Learn about the experiences of others (especially of marginalized groups). LEARN. GROW. Be better. Do better. Most importantly – LISTEN. Don’t listen (or read) to respond or discuss. Listen (and read) to learn. To hear. To bear witness to their lives and their stories.

Thank you Random House/One World for the NetGalley ARC.