Book Review · Books

Christmas is Murder by Val McDermid [BOOK REVIEW]

Christmas is Murder by Val McDermid [BOOK REVIEW] As a whole collection of short stories, I quite enjoyed Christmas is Murder.

As a whole collection of short stories, I quite enjoyed Christmas is Murder. As I do with every book that contains multiple stories, I rate them all individually and my final rating is the average rating of them all.

Christmas is Murder by Val McDermid [BOOK REVIEW] As a whole collection of short stories, I quite enjoyed Christmas is Murder.

Pages: 246

Genre: Christmas, Short Stories, Crime, Mystery, Thriller

Publisher: Little, Brown Group

Format I read it in: Paperback

Rating: ★★★★

Christmas Is Murder wasn’t very Christmassy and festive as a whole, but it was very atmospheric, cold, spooky, and with a few stories indeed set during the holidays. This is the type of book you would read next to your fireplace, or Christmas tree, wrapped in a warm blanket with a cup of hot chocolate. It has a lot of twists and will keep you entertained until the very last story. 

Huge thanks to the team at LoveReading, for sending me a copy of the collection.

Below is a breakdown of my thoughts and ratings for all the stories in Christmas Is Murder, and to end on a beautiful note, special credit to Angela Harding, who illustrated the cover. Her artistic style in “October, October” was so beautiful that as soon as I laid eyes on this cover, I could immediately guess who the creator was.

01 – Happy Holidays – ★★★★

A great introduction to Tony Hill and Carol Jordan, although in retrospective, this is the only short story featuring them. I liked the plot and the immediate mystery. The only reason it’s not a 5 star is because I felt the ending was slightly rushed. However, despite that, I loved the mystery, the part where they profiled the killer and the Christmas spirit. 

02 – A Wife in a Million – ★★★★★

What an incredible short story that managed to touch on unemployment and what it can make a person do out of frustration. Very fast pace, with an unexpected twist at the very end.

03 – A Traditional Christmas – ★★★★★

Amberley House is a place full of traditions. And when someone wants to change the status-quo, not everyone in the family will allow it. But where tradition comes into place, not all disputes are resolved in a traditional way. The story was spooky, with a twist at the end, and I really enjoyed it.

04 – The Long Black Veil – ★★★★

“Everybody here in Mariott knows where and when Kenny Sheldon died, and most of them think they know why.”

I loved the small town vibe in this story, the atmosphere was intriguing and exciting. It was beautifully crafted into two different timelines, and with a short story, that can be quite hard to achieve, but Val McDermid did it beautifully!

05 – The Girl who Killed Santa Claus – ★★★★

I found this story quite funny and wholesome. The girl knows Santa doesn’t exist, and when a burglar turns up to her house on Christmas Eve, everything escalates. One thing I didn’t expect from this collection of short stories was to make me laugh out loud, but I am so glad it did!

06 – Holmes for Christmas – ★★★★

I was pleasantly surprised to see Holmes and Watson in action, especially with a nod to my lovely Balkans. It was a story inspired by the First World War assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand by Gavrillo Princip. It was an interesting read and slightly longer than the rest of the stories.

07 – Ancient and Modern – ★★★★★

Wow, this story was something else! The raw emotion and the vivid descriptions blew me away. The emotional love story between Ellie and Alan. And when Alan is killed in a traffic collision, the unfair justice system strikes and brings Ellie so much pain and not nearly enough justice. Then the ultimate plot twist happens and I am so impressed by how the author manages to piece everything together so neatly. This is my favourite short story in the collection so far, without a shadow of a doubt.

08 – The Devil’s Share – ★★★★★

Waterfalls, a barrel of whiskey and a secret lying dormant for 50 years is a hell of a good plot for a story. I enjoyed this one so much, the present and the past meeting in a very powerful way, with great characters. I quite liked the fact that George Orwell was indirectly involved in the story as well, and our character inadvertently helped him finish “1984”. A lovely story with a slightly sad ending that touched my heart.

09 – Ghost Writer – ★★★★★

Intriguing story with a paranormal element. Gavin wants to be a writer, but for the love of God, cannot think of a plot line. One day, he goes to a writing course and meets Natasha. She can’t write, but she has the best story ideas and they start working as a tandem. I won’t say what happens next to keep the suspense up and avoid any spoilers, but I liked the plot twist and the ending as well. Very spooky and completely unexpected. Also, the author has a weird fascination with people dying on bicycles, it seems. 🙂 

10 – White Nights, Black Magic – ★★★★

Very cold story, like the Russian winter nights, but full of emotion. I was invested in the long distance love story of the two doctors, and how revenge is a syringe best served cold.

11 – Heartburn – ★★★

Short and sweet, and a very evil story. It took me a moment at the end and then I gasped. What a reveal, and how cleverly executed (pun intended). I enjoyed this one, but it was slightly too short, and a bit underwhelming, except for the very end.

12 – Four Calling Birds – ★★★★

Lovely story about the harsh reality miners were facing during the reign of the Iron Lady. A story about four ladies working as Bingo callers and the change of management that creates all sorts of chaos. Despite this chaos, I saw a son, whose love for his parents and justice is so strong, he is willing to do everything to make things right again.

About The Author:

Christmas is Murder by Val McDermid [BOOK REVIEW] As a whole collection of short stories, I quite enjoyed Christmas is Murder.

Val McDermid is a No. 1 bestseller whose novels have been translated into more than thirty languages, and have sold over eleven million copies.

She has won many awards internationally, including the CWA Gold Dagger for best crime novel of the year and the LA Times Book of the Year Award. She was inducted into the ITV3 Crime Thriller Awards Hall of Fame in 2009 and was the recipient of the CWA Cartier Diamond Dagger for 2010. In 2011 she received the Lambda Literary Foundation Pioneer Award.

She writes full time and divides her time between Cheshire and Edinburgh.

Website: https://www.valmcdermid.com/

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Book Review · Books

All That’s Left Unsaid by Tracey Lien [BOOK REVIEW]

All That’s Left Unsaid by Tracey Lien [BOOK REVIEW]

If you are looking to try a different take on mystery, All That’s Left Unsaid is a great book to start. It has the right amount of mystery and emotion to get you invested and keep you intrigued until the very end.

All That’s Left Unsaid by Tracey Lien [BOOK REVIEW]

Pages: 400

Genre: Contemporary Fiction, Mystery, Thriller

Publisher: HQ Stories

Format I read it in: Paperback, Uncorrected Proof

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis

Just let him go. These are the words Ky Tran will forever regret. The words she spoke when her parents called to ask if they should let her younger brother Denny out to celebrate his high school graduation with friends. That night, Denny–optimistic, guileless, brilliant Denny–is brutally murdered inside a busy restaurant in the Sydney suburb of Cabramatta, a refugee enclave facing violent crime, an indifferent police force, and the worst heroin epidemic in Australian history.

Returning home to Cabramatta for the funeral, Ky learns that the police are stumped by Denny’s case: a dozen people were at Lucky 8 restaurant when Denny died, but each of the bystanders claim to have seen nothing.

Desperately hoping that understanding what happened might ease her suffocating guilt, Ky sets aside her grief and determines to track down the witnesses herself. With each encounter, she peels back another layer of the place that shaped her and Denny, exposing the seeds of violence that were planted well before that fateful celebration dinner: by colonialism, by the war in Vietnam, and by the choices they’ve all made to survive.

My Thoughts:

“You can’t be there for everyone. You can’t be everything to everyone. People will make their own choices, no matter what you do.”

My goodness, this book is beauty and heartbreak, brilliantly put together. It will hold a special place in my heart. All That’s Left Unsaid is quite close to me, not because Ky will lose a brother. I’ve never felt such loss and I hope to never feel it. But Ky speaks to me because of who she is and where she comes from. Being an immigrant myself, I could connect with Ky’s story in a way that I didn’t anticipate I would. I’ve read many books with this topic before, and didn’t quite click with a character in a way I clicked with Ky. The culture differences and the lost sense of belonging casts a shadow on every written page.

“When I’m away from Cabra, I feel like I’ve shed my own skin. But whenever I come back here, it’s like I didn’t shed anything at all. It’s like I’ve just flipped a switch, you know? And my old self was there all along.”

I devoured this book, because it entwined these motives into an interesting and emotional mystery. Ky is trying to find out who her brother has become in her absence from home. And why he is now suddenly dead. Everyone is keeping secrets and Ky is not sure who to trust.

“It wasn’t the punishment itself that Ky feared. It was the look. The look that said, I expected more from you. I’m disappointed in you. You should be ashamed of yourself.”

I also enjoyed how her past friendship ends up having a role in her present life. The author can portray broken relationships in a very relatable way. Drug abuse and drug dealing are a main topic in this book and they often come up – so please be aware if this may trigger you whilst reading.

“Would an explanation of why something was not done in the past make you feel better? Because if it would change your life for the better and put happiness in your heart, pull up a chair and I will explain everything I have never done.”

About The Author:

All That’s Left Unsaid by Tracey Lien [BOOK REVIEW]

Tracey Lien was born and raised in southwestern Sydney, Australia. She earned her MFA at the University of Kansas and was previously a reporter for the Los Angeles Times. She lives in Brooklyn, New York. All That’s Left Unsaid is her first novel.

Website: https://www.traceylien.com

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Book Review · Books

Away With The Penguins (Veronica McCreedy #1) by Hazel Prior [BOOK REVIEW]

Away With The Penguins (Veronica McCreedy #1) by Hazel Prior [BOOK REVIEW]

Away With The Penguins took me on such a journey, a winter adventure that I never knew I needed!

Away With The Penguins (Veronica McCreedy #1) by Hazel Prior [BOOK REVIEW]

Pages: 391

Genre: Contemporary Fiction

Publisher: Black Swan – Penguin Books

Format I read it in: Paperback

Rating: ★★★★★

Synopsis

Veronica McCreedy is about to have the journey of a lifetime

Veronica McCreedy lives in a mansion by the sea. She loves a nice cup of Darjeeling tea whilst watching a good wildlife documentary. And she’s never seen without her ruby-red lipstick.

Although these days Veronica is rarely seen by anyone because, at 85, her days are spent mostly at home, alone.

She can be found either collecting litter from the beach (‘people who litter the countryside should be shot’), trying to locate her glasses (‘someone must have moved them’) or shouting instructions to her assistant, Eileen (‘Eileen, door!’).

Veronica doesn’t have family or friends nearby. Not that she knows about, anyway… And she has no idea where she’s going to leave her considerable wealth when she dies.

But today . . . today Veronica is going to make a decision that will change all of this.

My Thoughts:

“There are three types of people in this world, Very. There are those who make the world worse, those who make no difference and those who make the world better. Be one who makes the world better, if you can.”

I honestly don’t know why it took me so long to read Away With The Penguins. I knew I wanted to read it during the winter season, though, and I am glad I did. The scenes of Antarctica and the stories about the penguins, especially out penguin Pip (Patrick) made me glad to be wrapped in a warm blanket.

Veronica is such a funny character!

I warmed up to her instantly, and I think if she were to ever team up with the gang from “The Thursday Murder Club”, she’s be a remarkable addition to the team. I loved how opening an old box and ready her old diary set her on a few new adventures that changed her life. It was interesting also having Patrick’s point of view in the book – Veronica’s grandson. There was an incredible contrast of lifestyles and personalities between him and granny. It created a realistic atmosphere and opened up a mystery I enjoyed reading so much.

Antarctica was beautifully described and when Veronica was there with the scientist, I could almost feel as if I was there with them too. With Veronica’s arrival, it was interesting to see how the scientists accepted her arrival and got used to her as time went on, but weren’t too keen at first. Their dynamic changed and Hazel wrote this amazingly. Away With The Penguins took me on such a journey, a winter adventure that I never knew I needed! There was a lot of raw emotion, the guilt of time lost, of the things that never happened, of the life that just keeps on going and the years pass on by.

I couldn’t help by feel the loss that Veronica felt, reading about her part, and seeing how it intertwined with her present. It was incredible, though, her stubbornness to keep fighting and try to do good in the world. Her resilience. Alongside her, I loved watching Patrick grow as a person too – his journey was also not very easy. But together, these two polar opposites (pun intended) found each other when they needed a companion the most. The messages this book sends are powerful; about the penguins, the extinction of other animals, saving the planet. But also about love, life, joy, being brave and being one of those people that tries to make the world a better place. Avery warm recommendation from me!

About The Author:

Away With The Penguins (Veronica McCreedy #1) by Hazel Prior [BOOK REVIEW]

Hazel Prior is the author of ELLIE AND THE HARP MAKER and Richard & Judy Book Club number one bestseller AWAY WITH THE PENGUINS (UK title)/HOW THE PENGUINS SAVED VERONICA (US title). Her third book, CALL OF THE PENGUINS, will be out in the UK this November and is available to pre-order. Hazel is also a freelance harpist. She lives in Exmoor, in England, with her husband and a huge, ginger cat.

Website: https://www.hazelprior.co.uk/home

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Book Review · Books

Bindle Punk Bruja by Desideria Mesa [BOOK REVIEW]

Bindle Punk Bruja by Desideria Mesa [BOOK REVIEW]

I loved reading Bindle Punk Bruja by Desideria Mesa, especially during the spooky season.

Bindle Punk Bruja by Desideria Mesa [BOOK REVIEW]

Pages: 400

Genre: Fantasy, Historical Fiction

Publisher: Harper Voyager US

Format I read it in: Uncorrected Proof, Paperback

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis

A part-time reporter and club owner takes on crooked city councilmen, mysterious and deadly mobsters, and society’s deeply rooted sexism and racism, all while keeping her true identity and magical abilities hidden –inspired by an ancient Mexican folktale.

Yo soy quien soy. I am who I am.

Luna–or depending on who’s asking, Rose–is the white-passing daughter of an immigrant mother who has seen what happens to people from her culture. This world is prejudicial, and she must hide her identity in pursuit of owning an illegal jazz club. Using her cunning powers, Rose negotiates with dangerous criminals as she climbs up Kansas City’s bootlegging ladder. Luna, however, runs the risk of losing everything if the crooked city councilmen and ruthless mobsters discover her ties to an immigrant boxcar community that secretly houses witches. Last thing she wants is to put her entire family in danger.

But this bruja with ever-growing magical abilities can never resist a good fight. With her new identity, Rose, an unabashed flapper, defies societal expectations all the while struggling to keep her true self and witchcraft in check. However, the harder she tries to avoid scrutiny, the more her efforts eventually capture unwanted attention. Soon, she finds herself surrounded by greed and every brand of bigotry–from local gangsters who want a piece of the action and businessmen who hate her diverse staff to the Ku Klux Klan and Al Capone. Will her earth magic be enough to save her friends and family? As much as she hates to admit it, she may need to learn to have faith in others–and learning to trust may prove to be her biggest ambition yet.

My Thoughts:

Luna / Rose is a character I loved so much. Even now, a month after reading the book, she still holds a very special place in my heart. It’s quite shocking that if I wasn’t aware this is a historical fantasy, I would have thought it’s a contemporary fiction. That shows the issues we are still having in the world when it comes to prejudice. Sure, it struck me as very off that Luna had to hide her hispanic roots and marry to be able to own a jazz club and succeed in her business life, but it didn’t seem impossible. I’ve heard things and I’ve met people who I know would be capable of this. And despite everything, Luna was able to shine her own light, write her own story, live her own life as she wants, adding her sprinkle of family magic to the world. Speaking of magic, I really enjoyed that fantastical element. It added a lift to the book in its own way.

“The promise of a greater future without the barriers of corruption carried them forward, though the price of assimilation would steal away at my own identity, my heritage just a whisper on the breezes like the old folklore that we tell. My mother’s recipes and my own native language fade every day that I’m Rose, burying Luna in the earth beneath the riverbeds.”

Quite an important section of the book was Luna’s identity. She is hiding, being Rose and trying to fit into a world that can only accept a portion of her. As I kept reading, Luna started peeling her layers and because her unapologetically herself. And honestly, seeing someone be whoever they want to be is always an incredible moment, and the reason I will always treasure my experience with Bindle Punk Bruja.

“Because there will always be those who will never see who we truly are. But if we waste our energies punishing their ignorance, we will drown in our own bitterness.”

About The Author:

Bindle Punk Bruja by Desideria Mesa [BOOK REVIEW]

Desi (shockingly) has an eclectic taste, her favorite novels ranging anywhere from Anne of Green Gables and The Help to Mistborn and Ready Player One. Getting lost in a historical, sci-fi, or high fantasy novel will likely be her ultimate demise besides crafting her own stories, of course. Her sassy writing style eventually gained her representation by Rachel Brooks at BookEnds Literary Agency who landed the self-proclaimed pirate a two-book publishing deal with Harper Voyager. Having battled through the query trenches herself, Desi has extensive experience with the querying process, agent research, and manuscripts. Aside from churning out novels, she enjoys writing songs, poetry, and short stories.

Follow @DesideriaMesa on Twitter for writing discussion, slightly inappropriate jokes, and more information on her historical fantasy debut, BINDLE PUNK BRUJA, set to come out in 2022.

Instagram: desi_mesa | Twitch.TV: DesideriaMesa | Facebook: @DesiMesaAuthor

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Book Review · Books

Murder on the Christmas Express by Alexandra Benedict [BOOK REVIEW]

Murder on the Christmas Express by Alexandra Benedict [BOOK REVIEW]

All aboard a cozy murder mystery on the Christmas Express. Think Agatha Christie meets anagrams, hidden word searches, a recipe and a pub quiz. It’s the perfect mysterious festive read. 

Murder on the Christmas Express by Alexandra Benedict [BOOK REVIEW]

Pages: 341

Genre: Cozy Mystery, Thriller

Publisher: Simon & Schuster UK

Format I read it in: Hardcover

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis

Eighteen passengers. Seven stops. One killer.

In the early hours of Christmas Eve, the sleeper train to the Highlands is derailed, along with the festive plans of its travellers. With the train stuck in snow in the middle of nowhere, a killer stalks its carriages, picking off passengers one by one. Those who sleep on the sleeper train may never wake again.

Can former Met detective Roz Parker find the killer before they kill again?

My Thoughts:

“That was the magic of trains. The world seemed to pass you by while you were still, yet somehow you got to where you wanted to go. If only life were like that.”

I enjoyed this book so much, and reading it made me feel the Christmas spirit this year. It’s my first read in December and I couldn’t be happier to start my festive year with this title. The synopsis promises a similar plot to the famous “Murder on the Orient Express” by Agatha Christie, but you couldn’t be more wrong. Yes, it was probably inspired by the title, and someone dies on a train so everyone is a suspect, but this is where the similarities end. The plot continues to thicken and no one can be trusted. Even Roz, the former detective, starts to make people question her integrity. I quite liked the open interrogation and the many twists that happened at the very end.

“Make lots of mistakes, Rosalind. Make them frequently. And do not give up who you are to be someone else, or someone you think you should be. It never works. Find your strengths and use them. You have many. No one can figure things out like you can. No one stands up for victims like you do.”

My favourite part was how interactive Murder on the Christmas Express is. I tried so hard to find all the anagrams, but I didn’t have too much luck, without knowing what page or chapter to look for. However, I thoroughly enjoyed finding all of Kate Bush’s songs that were hiding in plain sight. I also enjoyed the Christmas pub quiz and I will definitely be borrowing some questions this year. 

When it came to the ending of the book and the killer, I wasn’t surprised.

I had my suspicions on a group of people, and it tied in nicely. A lot of signs and clues were already around, so it didn’t feel like too much of a surprise. I would have loved to get to know some of the characters more, and add a few of their secrets to thicken the plot a bit more. Some of the insight information that Roz received could have added to the suspense. As a cozy murder mystery, Murder on the Christmas Express made me feel exactly how I wanted it to; excited for Christmas, entertained and engrossed in solving a lot of mysteries. If you know a reader, this will be their perfect Christmas gift for them.

“Memories are like a tray full of water. They might seem clear to you, but they’re coloured by your own ink, your schema, made up of your past experiences, the way you view the world, your own sense of time, cultural identity and values, and so many other factors. If you lay a sheet of paper on top of the tray, then it will be one colour, one set of memories. But everyone else’s memories are shaded with their own ink, and if two or more of your memories mix, then they marble together and cannot be separated. If you lay a piece of paper on top, a very different image will emerge from the first. Bartlett’s theory of reconstructive memory. No one will give quite the same version of the same event.”

About The Author:

Murder on the Christmas Express by Alexandra Benedict [BOOK REVIEW]

A K Benedict read English at Cambridge and Creative Writing at the University of Sussex. She writes in a room filled with mannequins, clowns and teapots. She is currently writing scripts, short stories, a standalone psychological thriller and the sequel to The Beauty of Murder. She lives in St Leonards-on-Sea with her dog, Dame Margaret Rutherford. 

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