BETTER LUCK NEXT TIME by Julia Claiborne Johnson


Publisher: Custom House
Release Date: January 5, 2021

Set in 1938, BETTER LUCK NEXT TIME gives a snap shot of life on a Nevada dude ranch for out-of-state wealthy women seeking a quickie divorce. They simply live there for six weeks to establish residency, and then they’re free.

The story is told through Ward’s eyes, a young man working as a ranch hand at the Flying Leap. He becomes entangled in the drama and shenanigans of two clients, Emily and Nina, one leaving a cheating husband in San Francisco, and the other an heiress working on divorce number three.

The unique premise grabbed my attention, because I love 20th century historical fiction, especially pre-WWII. While the book had plenty of charm, overall it wasn’t a good fit for me. Maybe humorous fiction isn’t my cup of tea? I did enjoy watching the friendship grow between the unlikely pair of Emily and Nina, though their relationship didn’t end up how I expected it to, and at times they were hard to take.

The book begins in 1988, with Ward in a nursing home telling what happened the year of 1938 at the Flying Leap to an unknown character. At times I would forget that I was in Ward’s head, with him just describing what was going on with other characters. Then he would go off on a tangent about something else, which was jarring. I think this was a case of loving the premise, and not the execution.

BETTER LUCK NEXT TIME has a lot of heart, and mixes comic relief into the sad & stressful situation of these characters. Maybe not as enjoyable as I thought it would be, but I know many readers will love it. — 𝓓𝓲𝓪𝓷𝓪

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WINTER COUNTS by David Heska Wanbli Weiden


Publisher: Ecco Books
Release Date: August 25, 2020

WINTER COUNTS is an impressive debut novel from David Heska Wanbli Weiden. It’s a gritty and often dark crime thriller that follows Virgil Wounded Horse, a hired vigilante living on the Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota. When tribal police and the feds fail to deliver justice, Virgil takes the law into his own hands. He finds himself personally involved in a dangerous case when his nephew falls prey to hard drugs being pushed on the reservation.

This was a compelling slow-burn mystery, as well as an eye-opening look at the hardships Indigenous people face in this country. Lakota traditions and history are woven throughout this story. I loved the well-drawn cast of characters. Virgil struggles with his Lakota identity, and I greatly enjoyed watching his character grow as he fought to save his nephew. — 𝓓𝓲𝓪𝓷𝓪

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THE PERFECT GUESTS by Emma Rous


Publisher: Berkley Books
Release Date: January 12, 2021
Source: Review copy from NetGalley
Rating: ★★★★½


The USA Today bestselling author of The Au Pair returns with another delicious, twisty novel—about a grand estate with many secrets, an orphan caught in a web of lies, and a young woman playing a sinister game.

1988. Beth Soames is fourteen years old when her aunt takes her to stay at Raven Hall, a rambling manor in the isolated East Anglian fens. The Averells, the family who lives there, are warm and welcoming, and Beth becomes fast friends with their daughter, Nina. At times, Beth even feels like she’s truly part of the family…until they ask her to help them with a harmless game—and nothing is ever the same.

2019. Sadie Langton is an actress struggling to make ends meet when she lands a well-paying gig to pretend to be a guest at a weekend party. She is sent a suitcase of clothing, a dossier outlining the role she is to play, and instructions. It’s strange, but she needs the money, and when she sees the stunning manor she’ll be staying at, she figures she’s got nothing to lose.

In person, Raven Hall is even grander than she’d imagined—even with damage from a fire decades before—but the walls seem to have eyes. As day turns to night, Sadie starts to feel that there’s something off about the glamorous guests who arrive, and as the party begins, it becomes chillingly apparent their unseen host is playing games with everyone…including her.


Delightfully twisted! THE PERFECT GUESTS is an entertaining combination of Gothic mystery and family drama that kept me glued to the pages. The timeline flips back and forth between Beth in 1988 and Sadie in 2019, with an unknown narrator woven in between.

It’s the mysterious country estate of Raven Hall at the center of this book. Both main characters end up there as a pawn in a dangerous game, 31 years apart. I found the story cleverly plotted with several twisty surprises. There’s a large group of secondary players, and I had fun trying to figure out how they fit together.

I enjoyed Emma Rous’ first novel, THE AU PAIR, and her follow-up is just as wonderful. I’m ready for her next. :)

Disclosure: I received a copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Vintage Domestic Suspense: DO EVIL IN RETURN by Margaret Millar


Publisher: Avon Books
Release Date: 1974 (first published 1950)
Rating: ★★★★


Girls like Violet often came into Dr. Charlotte Keating’s office. Violet wore a wedding ring, but then they all did. They bought them at the dime store just before the appointment. And Charlotte’s response was the same each time: firm but sympathetic refusal.

But there was something about Violet. Perhaps it was her cheap clothes, or her forlorn predicament; perhaps it was her air of terror and grief. Charlotte went to visit her…and found instead a shabby rooming house full of sinister characters, all of whom claimed that Violet was gone and had left no forwarding address. All too soon poor Violet was found—and a chain of events began which would subject Charlotte to a harrowing ordeal like none she’d ever experienced!


Very good! DO EVIL IN RETURN is a mystery/domestic suspense novel first published in 1950. It was considered controversial at the time because the victim in this case is a young woman seeking an abortion (which would be illegal for another two decades in the United States).

Protagonist Dr. Charlotte Keating is torn — she wants to help Violet but doesn’t want to break the law. Violet runs away in frustration, but later Charlotte tries to track her down to see if there’s some way to improve her circumstances. Unfortunately it’s too late for Violet, and Charlotte’s interference puts her career and safety in jeopardy.

The mystery was twisty and surprising. I thought I had it figured out, but no! Some of the language and attitudes are dated, of course, but I thought that Charlotte was a compelling heroine.

TO KILL A MOCKING GIRL by Harper Kincaid


Series: A Bookbinding Mystery, #1
Publisher: Crooked Lane Books
Release Date: May 12, 2020
Source: Review copy from NetGalley
Rating: ★★★★


Bookbinder Quinn finds herself in trouble when her ex’s fiance turns up dead and if she’s not careful, her days might be numbered in this debut series perfect for fans of Kate Carlisle and Eva Gates.

Quinn Victoria Caine is back in her quirky town of Vienna, Virginia, starting her new life as a bookbinder in her family-owned, charm-for-days bookshop, Prose & Scones. With her trusty German Shephard RBG-‘Ruff Barker’ Ginsburg by her side, what can go wrong? Okay, sure, bumping into her ex, Scott, or her former high school nemesis, Tricia, is a drag. It certainly doesn’t help they have acquired the new hobby of shoving their recent engagement in her face every chance they get. But that doesn’t mean Quinn wanted to find Tricia dead in the road. So why does half the town think she may have done it?

Quinn is determined to find Tricia’s killer, even if it means partnering with her cousin-turned-nun, Sister Daria, and Detective Aiden Harrington, her older brother’s too-movie-star-handsome-for-his-own good, best friend. They believe she’s innocent, but of course that doesn’t influence the police, who peg her as their prime suspect. Or, at least until she’s poisoned.

But there is no way Quinn is going to stop now. Vienna is her town and-for better or worse-Tricia was one of their own. Someone may have killed the mocking girl, but no one’s going to stop the notorious QVC.


Totally charming! TO KILL A MOCKING GIRL kicks off the new Bookbinding Mystery series by Harper Kincaid. Though it breaks one of my rules for cozy mysteries, I ended up really enjoying it. My rule is that the mystery needs to be the main focus of the book, and in Mocking Girl, the mystery got lost at times in the wonderful “other” stuff — intriguing characters and their entangled relationships. I felt like I got to know everyone on a personal level.

Every chapter begins with a quote, and I was so impressed with the choices!

“Most everything you think you know about me is nothing more than memories.” ― Haruki Murakami

So what’s the mystery? Main character Quinn Caine has returned to her hometown in Virginia to work in her family’s bookshop. She gets thrown into a police investigation when her “frenemy” from high school is murdered. Quinn’s sidekick in sleuthing is her quirky cousin Sister Daria, an Anglican nun in training. I enjoyed how the mystery wrapped up. Not what I was expecting! If you’re into cozies with lots of witty dialogue and fun pop culture references, then I’d recommend giving TO KILL A MOCKING GIRL a try.

“The truth does not change according to our ability to stomach it.” ― Flannery O’Connor

Disclosure: I received a copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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