B O O K R E V I E W : Reckless Girls by Rachel Hawkins

Amma and Brittany can think of no better way to end their trip around the world than with a visit to an isolated, uninhabited, yet very Instagrammable island in the Pacific. In Hawaii, they find Nico, who is willing to captain a boat for the journey—especially for the fee they are willing to pay—as long as his girlfriend, Lux, agrees to come along.

After a multi-day sail, Nico’s boat arrives at Meroe Island—a rumored site of shipwrecks and cannibalism—only to find another party already anchored. Disappointment quickly turns to camaraderie, though, as Eliza and Jake welcome the newcomers with a bounty of food and alcohol.

As the sunny days pass, the six twenty-somethings enjoy leisurely days lounging on the beach or exploring the interior of the island, dense with vegetation, home to an abandoned WWII refueling station with epic parties in the evening. However, the idyllic paradise hides simmering tensions, tragic pasts, and deeply held secrets, and the vacationers realize they don’t know each other as well as they think.

The arrival of a third boat, with Robbie, a crew of one, disrupts the fragile equilibrium as his subtly threatening demeanor puts everyone on edge. When one is found dead and one missing, it’s unclear if any will leave the island alive.

The story is told in dual timelines, Now and Before, from multiple points of view which works well with this book as it contributes to the uncertainty about which characters are trustworthy. It took some time to establish the setting and story; I would have preferred this to have been condensed. However, once Robbie arrived on the island, the action picked up, and there were many unexpected bombshells, although I also noticed a few confusing plot points.

If you liked the movie A Perfect Getaway or the true crime book And the Sea Will Tell, this is a book for you! Look for it at your favorite bookstore on Tuesday, January 4, 2022!

Thanks to @stmartinspress and @netgalley for an advanced reading copy in exchange for an honest review!

B O O K R E V I E W : Mrs. Claus and the Santaland Slayings

Mrs. Claus and the Santaland Slayings 
Liz Ireland
Kensington Books

April, a hotel owner on the coast of Oregon, falls in love with Nick when he stays at her inn. She’s more than a little shocked to learn that he is Nick Claus, younger brother of Chris Claus, but still marries him. After Chris dies in a freak accident, Nick must don the famous red suit per family tradition.

Acclimating to the North Pole is no easy task. April must learn to endure the extreme cold and master the strict rules of etiquette for Mrs. Claus. At the same time, Nick is acting Santa for the first time, figuring out his duties. One of his tasks is judging the ice sculpting competition.

Elf Giblet Hollyberry, who has a public argument with Nick after placing second in the competition is found dead, killed by a black widow spider. At first, Constable Crinkle declares the death an accident, but soon rumors swirl that Nick is responsible for the elf’s death.

To save Christmas, April decides to secretly investigate Giblet’s death. Her attempts to create peace in Santaland might backfire and put her in the killer’s sights.

While the mystery is solid with lots of possible suspects and unexpected threads tied together, what is most fun about the book is Ireland’s creative world-building. Santaland is populated with the royalty-like Clauses, elves, snow monsters, snowmen, and a multitude of rituals around Christmas including the Reindeer Games.

The characters are also endearing, particularly Quasar, a klutzy one-antlered reindeer who lives in the castle; Jingles, the castle’s head elf; and Nick’s sister, Lucia, a Valkyerian animal lover. However, I do wish there had been more characterization of Nick and interaction between Nick and April.

This cozy mystery really embodies the spirit of Christmas. Read for an intensive immersion in the holiday!

B O O K R E V I E W : The Enemy You Gnocchi by Catherine Bruns

The town of Harvest Lake has united for the annual Festival of Lights, a fundraising event for a different local nonprofit each year.

Only one ingredient makes things less than merry— Mario Russo, a newcomer to the town and owner of the Espresso Lane whose new coffee shop is stealing business from the beloved Java Time by undercutting their prices.

The business owners of the community are unhappy when the mayor’s office selects Mario to play Santa when the usual Father Claus is struck down with the flu.

No one expects Mario to be stabbed the first night of the Festival of Lights—or for Archie Fenton, owner of Java Time to be arrested for his murder. Archie has always taken care of Tessa and her cousins, Gabby and Gino.

Although a respected entrepreneur and chef at her restaurant Anything’s Pastable, Tessa began amateur sleuthing fourteen months ago when her husband died in a car fire. Confident of Archie’s innocence, she and Gabby begin an investigation of their own, to the chagrin of Gino, the detective in charge of the case.

Tessa identifies a plethora of suspects—business owners Mario wronged, two shady men who arrived the day Mario died, lovers he mistreated, and husbands of women he was seeing. Even her assistant chef acts suspicious. Tessa doesn’t have much time to find the killer to ensure that Christmas in Harvest Lake isn’t stolen by the grinch of a criminal.

The Enemy You Gnocchi (Third in the Italian Chef Mystery series) by Catherine Bruns was published in October, but I read it yesterday to celebrate Christmas. It’s a satisfying, solid cozy mystery with a touch of romance. I love the cover which features Tessa’s tuxedo cat, Luigi. Includes recipes!

I loved the relationship between cousins Tessa and Gabby, the shenanigans at the mayor’s office, and the final confrontation with the killer.

Remember to add to your reading list for next Christmas. In the meantime, you can catch up with the first two books!

Thank you to Poisoned Pen Press for an advanced reading copy of the book!

M E R R Y C H R I S T M A S!

Merry Christmas to those who celebrate; peace, love, and joy to all!

I will light candles this Christmas,

Candles of joy, despite all sadness,

Candles of hope where despair keeps watch

Candles of courage where fear is ever present,

Candles of peace for tempest-tossed days.

Candles of grace to ease heavy burdens.

Candles of love to inspire all my living,

Candles that will burn all the year long.

—Howard Thurman

B O O K R E V I E W : How Not to Fall in Love by Jacqueline Firkins

Harper Jamison works in her mother’s bridal shop and has seen too many bridezillas focus on appearances and seating charts to believe love is behind marriages. Her best friend, Theo Turner, however, falls in love after a first date—and always gets his heart broken.

Harper finally tires of seeing Theo in distress and promises to teach him to date without falling in love. Harper, though, as far as Theo knows, has never dated, so he challenges her to follow her own lessons. She didn’t realize how hard it would be to keep from falling for Felix, the handsome athlete she started dating to prove her point or how painful it would be to see Theo with someone who might appreciate his quirky personality. Most challenging of all is being honest to herself about her true feelings.

I loved Theo! Smart, romantic, and unabashedly himself, he eschews fashion, sword fights at LARP events wearing hand-crafted chainmail, and hangs out in a windmill-shaped tree house. If you are familiar with Don Quixote, you might recognize the inspiration for Theo.

I really felt for Harper who had a lot of responsibility for a teenager and thought Pippa was a delightful character.

The book included two steamy scenes (without sex) that I thought were more effective than most sex scenes I’ve read in adult romance novels.

A great choice when you want to read a sophisticated YA romance with multidimensional characters you’ll become invested in.

Thanks to @marychasewrites for organizing a fun buddy read and @jfkillsdarlings for an advanced reading copy of the book. Mary also set up a Zoom with Jacqueline that was so fun! She was so generous in her responses to our questions about the book and her writing process.