Thoughts on Books (#27): THE FAMILY GAME • THE LAST PARTY • AT SUMMER’S END

The Family GameTHE FAMILY GAME by Catherine Steadman
My rating: 4.25 of 5 stars

BOTM pick from December (’22)

THE FAMILY GAME was wildly entertaining! Harriet (who goes by Harry) was orphaned at age 11. Today, she’s a successful, newly published author who’s engaged to the man of her dreams. The one wrinkle is that Edward is estranged from his uber-wealthy, mysterious, old money family, and Harry hasn’t met them. Yet. When they do meet, it’s clear that the Holbecks want Harry to help bring Edward back into their fold. Edward’s intimidating father slips Harry a tape containing what sounds like a shocking confession, which gets her wrapped up in a deadly family game.

The first half of this book was a slow burn, but I was riveted. I loved watching Harry’s dive into this bizarre family’s world. The last part was crazy fast-paced and heart-pounding as Harry uncovers the disturbing secrets revealed on the tape. Yes, it was over the top, but so fun to read! I was left with a few unanswered questions, but overall it wrapped up with a satisfying conclusion. Highly recommended!


The Last Party (DC Morgan, #1)THE LAST PARTY by Clare Mackintosh
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This was a BOTM club pick for November (’22), and unfortunately it was a struggle for me to get through. It’s about two detectives investigating the murder of a has-been singer in Wales.

What I liked:
• The Welsh setting. I love reading about Wales, and I don’t come across many books set there (maybe I’m not looking hard enough!).
• The relationship between the two main characters, Ffion and Leo. They were two flawed and compelling characters, and I enjoyed their exchanges.

What I didn’t like:
• The story was very slow-paced with too much filler and too many time jumps.
• The victim was repugnant and I didn’t care why he was killed.
• There was a huge (HUGE!) cast of characters to keep straight, and most were unlikable or dull.

I’ve read and loved previous books by this author (I LET YOU GO is one of my all-time favorites), but THE LAST PARTY wasn’t for me.


At Summer's EndAT SUMMER’S END by Courtney Ellis
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Being a woman artist in the 1920s was far from easy. Bertie Preston is thrilled when an invitation arrives from the Earl of Wakeford, asking her to spend the summer painting at his estate, Castle Braemore. She’s surprised to find a family still suffering in the aftermath of WWI, especially the earl who fought in the war, and now remains isolated in his chambers. The family is also hiding painful secrets that Bertie will soon uncover.

I was drawn to this book by the nod to the Beauty and the Beast fairytale. Bertie is a unique and compelling character for the time, a woman wanting to live independently as an artist. AT SUMMER’S END is a beautifully written historical romance that brings post-WWI England to life.

Thank you to the publisher and NetGalley for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Thoughts on Christmas Cozies: FRUIT BASKETS AND HOLIDAY CASKETS • AN EGGNOG TO DIE FOR • TWELVE SLAYS OF CHRISTMAS

Fruit Baskets and Holiday Caskets (Down South Café Mystery, #5)FRUIT BASKETS AND HOLIDAY CASKETS by Gayle Leeson
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

It was fun to revisit the Down South Café at Christmastime. I’d read the first couple of books in the series a few years ago, and it’s good to see the gang still as charming and quirky as ever.

This time around, café owner Amy Flowers is trying to clear a friend’s name who’s suspected of murdering an employee. She’s also busy creating an enormous cake float and hundreds of cookies for the town’s Christmas parade.

While I thought Amy was clever with her investigation, I thought the mystery itself was just ok. I think it’s because a lot of it was telling and not showing, and the ending felt abrupt. However, the whole scene at the end of catching the killer was pretty cute!


An Eggnog to Die for (Cape Cod Foodie Mystery #2)AN EGGNOG TO DIE FOR by Amy Pershing
My rating: 4.25 of 5 stars

AN EGGNOG TO DIE FOR is a smart and funny cozy mystery set in the small town of Fair Harbor on Cape Cod. Food writer Samantha Barnes finds the body of the man playing Santa for the town’s Christmas celebration while scoping out a new trendy local restaurant. But who would murder Saint Nick? Turns out the guy in the red suit may have been on the naughty list. With the help of her Harbormaster boyfriend Jason, Sam is determined to catch a killer.

Sam is a delightful character, clever in her investigations and so funny with her snarky comments. The mystery was puzzling with plenty of red herrings to keep me guessing. Each time I decided on a culprit, something changed my mind, and in the end I was completely wrong!

I loved meeting Sam’s parents (the ‘rents) and hearing about the family Christmas traditions. I’m not a big seafood fan, but Sam’s Feast of the Five Fishes sounded delicious!

This is the second book in the Cape Cod Foodie Mystery series, but it can easily be read standalone.


Twelve Slays of Christmas (Christmas Tree Farm Mystery, #1)TWELVE SLAYS OF CHRISTMAS by Jacqueline Frost
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

TWELVE SLAYS OF CHRISTMAS is a wonderful start to Jacqueline Frost’s Christmas Tree Farm Mystery series. When Holly White gets dumped by her fiancé two weeks before their wedding, she packs up her meager belongings and heads home to Mistletoe, Maine. With the holiday season in full swing, Holly offers to help out at her family’s tree farm.

Tragedy strikes when the president of the Mistletoe Historical Society is murdered on their property. Margaret Fenwick was a grump known for pressuring businesses to stick to stringent historical guidelines for the town or else, but did it make someone mad enough to kill?

This was a fast-paced and well written mystery with plenty of holiday cheer and a bit of romance. I loved the cold, snowy, cozy atmosphere of the book. Mistletoe felt like a real place. I enjoyed trying to fit all the pieces of the mystery into place. I was very shocked to discover the culprit, but it made total sense. Looking forward to continuing this series…next Christmas!

BECAUSE I COULD NOT STOP FOR DEATH by Amanda Flower

Series: An Emily Dickinson Mystery, #1
Publisher: Berkley Books
Publication Date: September 20, 2022
Source: Review copy from NetGalley
Rating: ★★★


This book is the first in a new historical mystery series with poet Emily Dickinson and her fictional maid Willa as main characters. Set during the politically turbulent time just prior to the Civil War, this mystery finds Emily and Willa investigating the death of Willa’s brother. Police say it was an accident, but Willa believes he was murdered, and Emily’s inquisitive nature leads them into an investigation of their own.

The book is well-researched and I enjoyed the historical details, though the mystery itself isn’t very strong or complex. I also felt like the characters were dry, and their dialogue was stiff and simplistic. The series has potential with such a haunting and curious character as Emily Dickinson, but this first book fell a bit flat for me.

Thank you to the publisher and NetGalley for a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

THE PLOT AND THE PENDULUM by Jenn McKinlay

Series: A Library Lover’s Mystery, #13
Publisher: Berkley
Publication Date: October 11, 2022
Source: Review copy from NetGalley
Rating: ★★★★½


I greatly enjoyed this spooky literary cozy mystery! I’m new to the Library Lover’s series and was hesitant to jump in at the 13th book, but I’m glad I did. THE PLOT AND THE PENDULUM can easily be read as stand-alone, but it did make me very curious about the previous twelve.

In this one, library director Lindsey Norris is thrilled when a wealthy local family donates their extensive collection of rare books to the library. However, her visit to the creepy Dorchester estate to collect the books lands her in the middle of a “runaway bride” cold case from 1989.

I enjoyed meeting this cast of characters, with their funny moments mixed in with more serious scenes. The foreboding atmosphere was perfect for the mystery and setting. Readers in the mood for an eerie Halloween cozy should pick this one up!

Thank you to the publisher and NetGalley for a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

STEEPED TO DEATH by Gretchen Rue

Series: Witches’ Brew Mystery, #1
Publisher: Crooked Lane Books
Publication Date: September 6, 2022
Source: Review copy from NetGalley
Rating: ★★★★¼


This was an enchanting start to a new mystery series! Main character Phoebe Winchester has just inherited a spooky gothic mansion and cozy tea/bookshop from her Aunt Eudora in Raven Creek, Washington. Yep, I spent a good portion of the book trying to figure out a way to jump inside. My dream! The descriptions of the brews and baked goods were to die for.

The mystery comes into play when a deceased man is found outside Phoebe’s store, possibly murdered as he was trying to break in. What was he after, and who wanted him dead? Phoebe also discovers that Eudora was a witch (that tidbit wasn’t just a town rumor!), and she may have inherited more than just an estate from her dear aunt.

This was an enjoyable read with a little magic, romance, and a solid mystery element. Plus a delightful cat named Bob! I can’t wait for the next book. If you love witchy/paranormal cozies be sure to pick this one up.

Thank you to the publisher and NetGalley for a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.