Review: Stay Sexy & Don’t Get Murdered by Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark

Trigger Warning: This book is a dual memoir of two people who have an interest in true crime so heinous acts are referenced including sexual assault and murder. There are also stories shared about their own near misses with assault and child endangerment. People should also be aware that they both discuss addiction, eating disorders, and one of them relays the experience of losing their mother to Alzheimer’s which could be especially distressing to those with personal experience with that kind of loss.

I’ve been a My Favorite Murder listener for a couple of years now and my feelings about it kind of wax and wane, especially since it has become only about 50% murder and 50% sad/weird/disaster things. However, I still appreciate the podcast and when I heard this book was coming out I knew I’d read it but it took me til November to actually give it a read. I’m so glad that I did.

Even if you are not a listener of this podcast, the writing is solid and I laughed and cried at different times throughout. It’s not easy to get me to do either thing so the fact that they were both able to make me express both says something.

I also enjoy that it’s a unique format by writing a dual memoir. Even though there is a decade between the two, their stories and perspectives are very in sync and touch on broad human experiences. There is also less talk of murder than you would expect though they do explain how and why they came to love the macabre subject and what their friendship and its bond over true crime has meant to them.

Stay Sexy & Don’t Get Murdered is a poignant, well crafted memoir and stands alone as a work apart from the podcast or the true crime genre in general.

Review: The Fairy Bride by Tess Mallory

This is the last Mallory work I’ll review here and it’s going to be quick because it was a novella. Mallory wrote The Fairy Bride with the intent to possibly go back and flesh it out to become a full length novel. At this point I don’t believe she’s done this but you can tell that she was writing something she loved when you read this story.

The prose is very reminiscent of a fanfic story you write in high school and that is not an insult. High school fanfic writers are as varied in talent as any grown up, published author. What they have that sometimes gets lost over time is a deep love of what they’re writing that translates from page to reader. Mallory is clearly dipping into a world that’s been on her mind for awhile and I really appreciated getting that sense from her which was nostalgic for me. Unfortunately, that’s about all I can say for the story.

It’s a simple tale of a fairy king who has to marry or his country will be invaded (there’s bloodline stuff involved in this) and there is a soulmate for him to find and once he does they will both be in love. He is sent to where his soulmate is and there she is, a human who is engaged to a dick of a man (a trend in Mallory’s writing). She ends up leaving him, she falls instantly in love with the fairy king as he does with her, and they thwart an evil plan to overthrow the kingdom and everything ends happily.

It don’t have any specific complaints here as I did in the last works by this author. It just didn’t grab me and I found some of the worldbuilding hurried and a bit complicated. If she did write this series I don’t think I’d read it simply because fairies aren’t typically my jam and how they are in this series isn’t bad but definitely doesn’t speak to me. If you enjoy fairies and felt things as a child while watching Thumbelina (and to be honest I did too but then Dmitri happened) you should give it a read. It’s not a huge time investment and it may spark the desire to go back to doing some fanfiction writing yourself.

Review: Highland Fling by Tess Mallory

To continue the metaphor from Highland Dream, you know when you’re eating that thing that you’re not really enjoying but it’s hitting something you can’t identify so even though you finish it and think oh god thank god it’s done but then you grab ANOTHER serving of it? That was this book’s experience.

In Highland Fling, the heroine is a briefly mentioned friend of Jix’s, Chelsea, who is a Boring, Spinsterish, Plain, Hopeless, Wallflower of a woman whose friends constantly try to remake her, tear her down constantly, and then slut shame her when she wears something spicy in an attempt to embrace her sexuality a bit. Oh, also she’s a PhD level scientist who is brilliant but gosh dang if she doesn’t have babies her life is worthless! This isn’t me extrapolating, it’s pretty explicitly expressed by Sam who continues her reign as rancid bitch (I did not read the third book because it featured her and I do not feel Sam deserves an HEA tbh).

There is a lot of time traveling in this book and I enjoyed the unique premise. This premise is the friend from the first book, Griffin, travels to contemporary Scotland and runs into his friends who had successfully gone back to their time at the end of the first book. Chelsea’s friends refuse to let her in on what happened, leaving her feeling left out and hurt which is completely understandable. She grows close to Griffin and they end up time traveling to the old west to find his cousin who he discovers accidentally traveled there and was hung for a crime Griffin is sure he could not have committed.

Once in the old west there is some fun stuff that happens. Chelsea comes out of her shell a bit when she’s taken in by the Madame at a saloon and does some dancing and enjoys herself for probably the first time in her whole life. Griffin reunites with his cousin and there’s a good old fashioned jailbreak. The protagonists are also both virgins and that’s not common, especially when you have a contemporary person in one of the pair. I was happy for them when they got their HEA, happier than I was in the first book because I actually liked Chelsea even though I wanted to shake her and tell her that her friends were toxic and she should get therapy for her low self-esteem. I was also happy to see Griffin get his HEA because he was a sweetheart in the first one and a genuinely good character. The two deserve each other in the best way. In hindsight I think I enjoyed this one better than the first (at least after they left behind Sam and Jix) but again, I don’t feel compelled to read on because Sam deserves nothing good from this world and I don’t know or care about the characters in the rest of the series.

Highland Dream by Tess Mallory

Trigger Warning: Domestic Violence

You know when you bite into something, like a greasy junk food, and there’s a part of you that’s like “ugh this is conceptually gross and I don’t even totally enjoy it” but you can’t stop eating it? That was me and this book.

Highland Dream is a time travel romance featuring possibly my least favorite heroine I’ve ever read. Jessica Isobel Xavier (who goes by Jix) is known for a couple of things: her tragic past with tone-joltingly rough domestic violence and lying. About everything. For fun. Just for kicks. Cuz she’s Just That Quirky. She is meant to instill a consistent vein of humor throughout the novel but most of the time it just read like slapstick which is a medium best presented visually. Oh, also Jix gets prophetic dreams, so that also adds to her Quirk factor.

The basic premise is that Jix has a dream where she sees her best friend Sam in a wedding dress next to a gorgeous Scotsman. The trouble is that her friend is currently engaged to a guy who’s a jerk and Sam’s father enlists Jix’s help breaking up the relationship because apparently Jix is the only person allowed to make her own choices and grow through mistakes and everyone else must have their autonomy violated. So quirk, so fun. She pulls this off not by having a serious talk with her friend about her concerns but by getting her friend drunk on the plane and transferring them to a plane headed to Scotland where they are going to stay at an airbnb. If a man did what Jix did this would be the plot of a Lifetime movie but Jix is Quirky so it’s all just in good fun.

Fast forwarding past Sam’s very valid anger and bewilderment at being brought to Scotland, ruining her wedding and taking her to another country against her knowledge or will, and Jix demanding it’s fine because after all Sam tried to talk Jix out of her marriage before and this is the same thing. Probably. Sure.

They get to Scotland and who opens the door to the old Scottish manor house they’ll be staying at but the very gorgeous Scot that Jix saw in her dream? Jamie MacGregor has a backstory about how he’s in the CIA or some equivalent but honestly it hardly comes into play so just know that he’s gorgeous, he’s trained to Fight, and he’s there. He and Jix immediately hit it off and Jix keeps trying to force Sam to be around the guy when the woman just wants to go to bed. This turns into a clumsy scene where they are all touching the man’s sword (not a euphemism) and Jamie speaks his family’s motto in gaelic and the sword glows and poof they are transported to Highland times Scotland.

In this interpretation of time travel your hair and clothes automatically also change so when they get to Highland times Jix’s hair has grown long and flowing and his is also longer. No clue how Sam’s hair looks because she isn’t there. They are captured and brought to a castle where their identities are mistaken for the contemporary MacGregor clan and an agreement is struck that Jamie will help them with a heist and marry his “sister” Jix to the clan leader and they will get the sword back. Jix keeps insisting that he fall in love with Sam, he has no idea why she’s so determined and even though they are literally back in time she doesn’t think he’ll believe her if she tells him that the reason she’s so insistent is because she has prophetic dreams. They fall into a pattern of arguing, boning, her being distant for no reason and lying to him consistently about why, her being mad when he lies about things, wash, rinse, repeat. They eventually find Sam and that’s a whole complicated thing about Romani people that was a bit cringey.

One of the reasons I think I kept reading was that Mallory isn’t a poor writer. The pacing was good, it was crafted well, and I loved a side character in the novel who became a friend of Jix’s and I bought and read the second because it featured him getting an HEA.

In the end of course it’s all happy and fine but it takes 75% of the book before Jix tells Jamie the truth. I just can’t with consistent lying you guys. That’s probably one of the reasons I really struggled with Jix. Still, as I said, I did buy and read the second book because there was just this strange pull to Mallory’s work. Most reviews talk about how hilarious they found the book so I might just be a snob or it may have just hit me wrong for some reason. I’d say give it a shot but be aware that if you don’t like when the major conflict is people not just talking to each other, this is going to be a hard one for you.

Review: A Wreath of Snow by Liz Curtis Higgs

I read A Wreath of Snow to fulfill the Sherlock Holmes Times (aka Victorian era) requirement for the Reading Embrace. It was a novella, a trend you may be picking up on at this point. Basically I hit a certain month (I want to say November) and realized I was roughly 19 books behind schedule so I started just binging novellas. It isn’t cheating because it is still books!

The synopsis for this novella was a little darker than I expected. The heroine, Margaret Campbell, is heading back to her home instead of spending Christmas with her family because her brother is an utter shit. He’s rude, demanding, and critical and no one feels they can criticize him because he’s been this way since he was paralyzed from the waist down when a drunken curler yeeted a stone at his back by accident when he was 10. Margaret has always blamed herself because she was there and his big sister but couldn’t protect him or make it better. Now she feels guilty because she can’t bring herself to stay and deal with her brother’s assholery and to that I say brava. There need to be more stories with characters who don’t let family treat them like crap just because they share blood and it’s the holidays. Unfortunately for Margaret her plans are halted when their train hits too much snow and she and the rest of the passengers are forced to walk back to town.

Also on this train is Mr. Gordon, an attractive newspaperman who keeps glancing at Margaret as if he knows her but won’t introduce himself. They finally get to know each other as they walk back though it takes him awhile to share an important truth with her – He isn’t “Mr. Gordon” as he’s been letting her call him, he is Gordon Shaw, the man who drunkenly maimed her brother in a Christmas curling accident years before. He fled town after that horrible accident when he was not allowed to apologize or try and make amends and his family left as well which he always felt was because of his reputation.

The two get back safely where Margaret is met by her parents who are not critical as she would anticipate but instead very grateful she is safe and eager to invite her, and the handsome stranger who walked with her, to their home for Christmas. Margaret begs Gordon not to ruin her family’s Christmas by sharing the truth with them but all comes out, including a family secret no one could have anticipated.

I don’t read many stories where redemption is a primary theme. It was also a very chaste romance and felt almost like an Inspirational Romance but I can’t say for sure it was because I haven’t read any of those. It was a fairly quick read and it didn’t make much of an impression on me but it was pleasant and fit the season well.

Review: Reindeer Falls Series by Jana Aston

Merry Christmas!

This is going to be a three-in-one post because these three are all short novellas and set on/around Christmas! Also, I really enjoyed them! I feel like some of my reviews recently have been a little snarky and while I stand by those opinions I don’t want it to seem like I’m some book Scrooge who hate reads things just to share grumpy snarks on her blog.

Quick primer on the world so I don’t have to repeat as I go and you all have a baseline of understanding of the world these stories inhabit. Each of these stories are about a different Winter sister (Holly, Ginger, and Noel) in their Christmas loving small town of Reindeer Falls. Picture a Hallmark movie except there’s hot sex and you get this world. Also, the books run concurrently and overlap a bit which was actually done well and didn’t get confusing for me so shoutout to Aston for that.

Book 1. The Boss Who Stole Christmas

Middle sister Holly is up first in the series. Her story is a bit of a billionaire and enemies to lovers mix. She works at the local toy company and has a grinch of a boss,, Nick St-Croix, who always seems to rain on her parade. They are expanding a service that she’s in charge of and because it’s based on a store in Germany (where grinch boss lived for a few years) heĀ  insists she come with him to talk with the people in charge and get inspiration. She rails against it but ultimately goes along. In Germany, grinch boss shows a softer side and their flirtation goes from snarky to full on fooling around in an old cathedral. She nearly ruins things forever when she immediately jumps to pretending like it’s just casual and she doesn’t want anything more, assuming that’s what he wants, and hurts his feelings because guys… this grinch’s heart has grown three sizes along with other things over their holiday hookup and he has caught feelings for Holly.

One thing I love in this book and the rest is the relationship between the sisters. They’re not afraid to call each other out on their BS and after Ginger gets after Holly for her behavior and reminds her that the other person in that relationship didn’t get to say how he felt before she told him how she decided he felt. Holly makes a grand gesture and they figure out the relationship and they get their holiday happily ever after because Aston knows what we’re looking for in romance.

Book 2. If You Give a Jerk a Gingerbread

Baby sister Ginger (yes she’s a redhead) is the heroine of the second story. She is a baker who longs to open her own bakery one day and even has the property picked out for when she can afford the down payment and mortgage. She is currently involved in a Great Gingerbread Bake Off competition which, if she wins, will help make all her dreams come true. Also a dream coming to life? Running into renowned celebrity British baker Keller James who pops into her bakery and admires her wares. She assumes he’s going to be a judge for the competition and feels betrayed when she finds out that he is actually a fellow contestant. In James’s defense, he never pretended to be anything else, and it is a genuine mixup. The pair get to know each other and their chemistry and steamy near-kisses are captured on camera and mentioned in the first book. It was fun to see how these scenes actually played out in this one. I won’t give away how the contest plays out but suffice it to say everyone’s dreams come true and Keller and Ginger find a way to be together to bake and cook and be adorable together for the rest of their lives.

Book 3. The One Night Stand Before Christmas

Finally, oldest sister Noel gets her story. She helps manage a charity drive which, due to the holiday, includes Santa. Her coworker guarantees that her younger brother will be around to help dress up so when an attractive younger looking man shows up and Noel asks if he’s the guy he agrees and becomes her Santa. Then that night Noel lives her best Santa Baby life by taking him home for a one night stand. Except this guy wasn’t her friend’s younger brother, he’s actually the grandson of one of the elderly clients of Noel’s who wrangles her into a blind date with him. As the truth comes out (a simple case of shared names and mistaken identity), the two have to deal with the growing feelings they share for each other and ultimately decide if they can be satisfied with just one night together.

Spoiler alert: Of course they can’t, they definitely end up together, HEA or bust.

The series as a whole is about 300ish pages and I read through them quickly. At times almost too cheesy, it was still exactly what it advertised and I was surprised by how well written it was especially when it came to the sibling relationships. I was happy for each couple and I understood why they were together. If you’re looking for a light, fun, holiday themed romance read, this little series is a good choice.

Review: Scary Stories to Tingle Your Butt:7 Tales of Gay Terror by Chuck Tingle

Guys this is going to be short because what can a person say about Chuck Tingle?

My book club read Scary Stories to Tingle Your Butt: 7 Tales of Gay Terror for October’s genre: Tingle Time. Some of us devoured the book and had long conversations about things we were uncomfortable with (less about the giant fur covered dicks and more about the clumsy metaphors for transphobia). Some of us barely got through a single story and anyone who has read Tingle knows they’re really short. Chuck Tingle is a real take him or leave him author and reader, I took him.

 

Real Murders by Charlaine Harris

I came to this series from a really roundabout way.

I was introduced to Charlaine Harris around the time the True Blood series started and it was one of the first series I ever tracked and bought every book from and even though things went off the rails towards the end and had issues throughout, I was hooked. I occasionally saw the Aurora Teagarden series mentioned on her website but never looked into it. When I saw those books at the library I noticed a lack of vampires and walked on by.

Fast forward a few years and I’m looking for something from the Hallmark channel to watch online because sometimes you just need something that will be ok in the end no matter what happens. I watched the first Hallmark adaptation of Real Murders and kept watching them because they were just the right amount of ridiculous to put on in the background while I baked or cleaned the kitchen.

Fast forward again to this year when I decided it was time to try reading the books. I don’t think I regret it but also I wasn’t missing much.

Harris’s trademark slut shaming and judgmental heroine combo comes through full force with Aurora Teagarden, whose name conjures images of embroidered pillows and tea cozies. This is the character who has an opinion about everything, is pursued by everyone, and gets in everyone’s business. She’s a Sookie Stackhouse prototype if I’ve ever read one. The book has some cringey moments where it really showed its 1990 sensibilities regarding race and sexuality. The concept of having a true crime friend group was interesting, especially when you look at the time period which was pre-My Favorite Murder or Netflix docs making serial killers a topic of interest people casually announce without fearing judgment. I don’t feel compelled to continue the series because I don’t really care about Aurora in the way I somehow did care about Sookie. But if you want to read some classic Harris with interesting crimes, this is a series for you.

Review: Remembering a Witch by Lauren Connolly

I was especially excited to get to this review because I know the author! Kind of! We both listen to Heaving Bosoms and are in the fan cult (which we had before MFM) and that’s how I heard about this book! You guys know that I love supporting self-publishing authors so here is another opportunity!

Remembering a Witch was the book I ultimately read for the Because Witches category of the Reading Embrace, after I disqualified Slouch Witch for that title. I’m so glad I did this. In the words of the author herself, “REMEMBERING A WITCH is a 16,000 word paranormal romance novelette perfect for people who like pumpkins, pit bulls, and professors with sexy ginger hair! This story is inspired by the autumn equinox and is just the thing to welcome in the colder seasons.”

Guess who loves all of those things?

*points at self*

Specific reasons I loved this include excellent pacing, likable characters, good sex, and a satisfying mystery and conclusion. It’s hard for me to share much because it is so short that I don’t want to spoil anything so those are the broad strokes. The synopsis does a better job selling you on this book than anything I could write, honestly. If you like those things, this book has those things. If you don’t like those things, you may still like it cuz it’s written well but also that’s ok and there are other books out there for you.

Review: The Department of Sensitive Crimes by Alexander McCall Smith

It’s time for another book club book review! We read The Department of Sensitive Crimes in September for our Humor genre. I was the only one who liked it but I don’t begrudge my fellow book club members for not enjoying it. It was, for all intents and purposes, a hard book to get a grasp on in a lot of ways.

Let’s start at the start with a quick synopsis. The book focuses on a Swedish team of investigators who look into Sensitive Crimes (aka weird and of no huge consequence but can’t be ignored crimes). The main character is Ulf Varg (Wolf Wolf)(Not a werewolf)(Wasted opportunity? Je pense oui) and he is our primary perspective throughout the novel as he and his team investigate who stabbed a man in the back of the knee, the mysterious disappearance of a girl’s boyfriend, and werewolves(?).

Going into the book I anticipated it to be a bit of a Law & Order satire but that isn’t really what happened. It sort of felt like The Office mixed with a Cozy Mystery mixed with a very dry British comedy except instead of British they are Swedish and there are fish jokes. There was an almost-romance subplot between Ulf and his married cohort Anna which I dreaded. It never came to fruition but it feels like something that’s going to happen eventually and he’s just drawing it out. I could write an entire post about my hatred of investigation partners having sex and catching feelings (and how it ruined my reading of Tana French’s In The Woods) but this is not the post for that.

Maybe what I loved most about this book, other than laughing at some of the absurd but lowkey things that happen throughout, was the therapist character.

Guys, it is so hard to see a therapist depicted well in media. In movies and shows they’re either lampooned or just throwing out Deep Sincere Buy-it-on-a-LOOKHUMAN-mug quotes or they’re screwing their patients which is nausea inducing to me, a therapist. This therapist puts his foot in his mouth a bit. He doesn’t have all the right answers. He does offer new perspectives. He also has this bit about wondering about what his clients lives are like when they leave his office which hit me right in the middle of my (at the time) nearing graduation and terminating with all of my clients heart. We only see this character at the beginning and ending of the book but I adored him.

I also liked the book because I didn’t know how to feel about it. I couldn’t settle into a certain mindset or tone with it because I hadn’t read a book like this before. For most of my book club members I think this was unsettling and contributed to their dislike of it, but for me it was exciting and I embraced it. I want to read the next in the series when it comes out next April, The Talented Mr. Varg, to see if I still enjoy it and if it feels different reading it now that I have context.