“In the woodland village of Shady Hollow, animals live side by side, predator and prey alike. Life is quiet, and the harmony is threatened by nothing bigger than local gossip. Reporter Vera Vixen is a recent transplant, and she doesn’t let anything stand in the way of getting the scoop. The most recent piece of news was the crowning of a new spelling bee champion, eight-year-old Ashley Chitters. When local grouch Otto Sumpf is found dead in the mill pond, the suspicious circumstances shake up the town and bring several issues to light. Vera is hot on the trail of the killer, putting herself in the direct path of danger. Has Miss Vixen met her match in murder, or will her nose for news solve the case before more bodies appear?”
I’m going to keep my spiel short and sweet, just like “Shady Hollow.” If you’re the kid who grew up watching Franklin and Little Bear on Nick Jr., this is the adult version with a pinch of murder and a dash of sleuthing. The setting is just as charming as the book cover advertises, and the story is the embodiment of cozy. Did I mention there’s a map of the town à la Hundred Acre Wood? My ideal day now has a new look: coffee at Joe’s Mug, hours of shopping at Nevermore Books, and lunch at the Bamboo Patch.
I flew through 219 pages and bought the other three books in the series before the ink had a chance to dry on Vera Vixen’s newspaper article. The pace is so soothing, and my only regret is picking this up during the heat of summer because it’s much more suited to a blanket nest and pumpkin spice latte; I would add chilly weather to the list, but I live in California so that only happens on one random week day in February, if we’re lucky. I’m struggling not to award this book with every star in existence, but the big reveal broke up the comfortable rhythm, not bad but more abrupt than it needed to be. My rating is an optimistic four stars, and I’m fully prepared for this to become a new favorite series and obsession I won’t shut up about. I’m dying from the adorableness as I speak so I’m leaving now to pick up the sequel because life outside Shady Hollow isn’t worth living.
Blood, Death, & Violence: The murder investigation involves blood, drowning, a head wound, poison, stabbing by knife, & descriptions of dead bodies.
A character is revealed to be a former surgeon whose license was revoked after a patient died during what should’ve been a routine surgery.
There’s an attempted attack, the attacker loosening a boulder to roll down a hill & crush the victim; the victim suffers a few bruises from jumping out of the way.
During a knife attack, the victim suffers a paw wound & multiple cuts from broken glass after an escape attempt through a window.
Religion/Spirituality: Brief mention of spending one year living & praying in silence at a monastery
During Otto’s funeral at the cemetery, we’re introduced to Parson James “Dusty” Conkers, a clergyman from Shady Hollow Church.
Sensual/Sexual: There’s a character who’s treated with contempt due to her reputation as a serial dater who entertains many different men at her home, at least one of them married. Throughout the book, she’s referred to as “Home Wrecker,” “Hussy,” “Mistress,” & “Lover.”
Single Parenthood: Joe has been a single father to his son Joe Jr. ever since his wife left them without reason or warning.
“When his Uncle Henry retires, Max Miller moves to Turtle Beach, North Carolina, to take over his aquarium and sea turtle hospital. Little does he know the business is struggling, and he’s being called in to captain a sinking ship.
After a recent heartbreak that left her feeling lost, Molly Prince is desperately trying to find her direction in life. That’s easier said than done when you’re distracted by a new puppy named Urusla and overbearing advice from parents who own the beachfront house you’re living in.
Max and Molly meet during a near-drowning incident and feel instant attraction, but their acquaintance is quickly put to the test when uptight Max decides an aquarium is no place for a mermaid and her puppy, with or without the lobster costume. His first day on the job is a disaster, and he realizes his rash decision cost the aquarium its heart and soul. The town points their justified anger towards him, and he almost caves, but there’s something about Molly’s attitude that puts his defenses back up. He sticks by his decision and tries to manage the financial mess in front of him without thinking about the blonde mermaid who happens to be his next door neighbor. When things start to look up thanks to a fundraising idea from Molly and the unique ability of her puppy to sniff out sea turtle nests, the pair realize they might have no choice other than working together. Will they be able to get along and save a business they both love, or has the sun set on their chance at both friendship and romance?”
I don’t often dive into the romance genre, pun intended, but “A Line in the Sand” spoke to my inner child. As a 90s baby and 2000s kid, I was obsessed with Aquamarine, H2O: Just Add Water, and Lisa Frank. Summers were reserved for waking up early and swimming in the pool for at least three hours. Needless to say Teri Wilson’s romance between a marine biologist and mermaid might as well have been plucked from the imaginations of millenials.
There were side elements that gave this book potential as a nice summer read. The North Carolina island setting almost made me feel positive towards summer, which is a feat if you know me as the cold-loving November baby that I am. The snippets of the senior citizen activity agenda had me feeling exhausted; that lively group put my sedentary life on blast, and I’ll admit I felt shamed into being more busy. Ethel Banks, Opal Lewinsky, and Mavis Hubbard, known around town as “Charlie’s Angels,” were hilarious, always sticking their noses where they don’t belong and trying to move things along between a certain couple. My favorite part was learning about the day-to-day operations of the aquarium and sea turtle hospital. If the Angels are giving a tour with complimentary frozen Milky Way lattes anytime soon, count me in!
Unfortunately this is where the aquatic fun ends. Even though it was supposed to be the crowning jewel, the romance was a huge letdown. There was a muddle of tropes: several handfuls of enemies to lovers with a dash of fake dating and insta-love. I don’t mind tropes, but pick a lane if none of the scenarios are going to go far enough to be worth the time. Everything felt skin deep and not fleshed out enough to make me feel invested in Max and Molly’s relationship. I was left feeling “meh” which is probably why I felt irrationally irritated by the overuse of Ursula’s breed “Cavalier King Charles Spaniel.” I know that breed is special to the author, but I think Ursula’s adorable face on the cover and the first or second mention of the full name is enough. I also didn’t love Molly as a character, although her love of The Great British Bake Off was a redeeming trait. She came off as petty and whiny at times which annoyed me as someone who’s more like Max, very serious and a little awkward in situations meant to be loose and fun.
I was much more invested in the last fourth of the book and flew through it so my rating is rounding out to three stars. This was not a new favorite, but perhaps it will work for readers more acquainted with the genre. I would recommend this book to romance fans but only those who genuinely enjoy an easy, fluffy read. Think of it as the literature version of a Hallmark movie, and you should be fine. Play an ocean ambience video for extra beachy vibes!
*Disclaimer: I read an uncorrected ARC so certain things might change in the final copy.
Alcohol: Rosé, Whisky, Wine, general mentions of alcohol, & one instance of being drunk
Language: Molly uses the term “lady bits” while referring to her mermaid tail.
Ethal, Mavis, & Opal wear sun hats to SandFest, two of which say “Cheers Beaches” & “Resting Beach Face.”
Ethel & Opal argue over a game of Scrabble because one of them wants to use “vayjayjay” as a word.
Steaminess: Ethel Banks remarks in chapter 5 that Max is “even more good-looking dry than he is wet,” referring to his appearance after nearly drowning at the dog beach.
Max and Molly constantly admire and think about each other’s physical assets (i.e. Max’s abs & Molly in her clamshell bustier & mermaid tail). Their physical contact stays in the realm of hand holding, hugging, almost-kissing, & kissing.
Toxic Relationship: There are several mentions of Molly’s previous boyfriend who cheated on her.
Violence: Max has a complicated relationship with his Uncle Henry; in chapter 3, he’s upset & contemplates killing Henry for real, though it’s not a serious threat.
“The Sinister-Winterbottoms are looking forward to a family summer, but their parents abruptly change the plans in the middle of the night. Twelve-year-old twins Alexander and Theodora and their older sister Wilhelmina are dropped off with Aunt Saffronia, now stranded at a strange house in the care of a relative they’ve never met for the next few months. It quickly becomes clear she has no experience with children so her suggestion to visit a waterpark is eagerly accepted . . . until the siblings arrive at the front gates and realize Fathoms of Fun is equally as strange as their new accommodations. There are coffins instead of inner tubes and mausoleums instead of cabanas; the waterslides are tongues jutting out of the mouths of gargoyles sitting atop a tall, dark tower. Alexander, Theo, and Wil try their best to enjoy the vacation they’ve been handed, but the kookiness is too much to ignore and leads them to a disturbing mystery: The waterpark owner disappeared inside the Cold, Unknowable Sea, otherwise known as the wave pool. When Wil goes missing following a lead, the twins are left to sleuth on their own. Will they be able to save their sister and the waterpark before it’s too late?”
I grew up in the “A Series of Unfortunate Events” era so the cover of “Wretched Waterpark” was enough to grab me, but the synopsis pushed it over the top. Lemony Snicket’s famous series has been mentioned along with Scooby-Doo for marketing purposes, but allow me to enlighten you on something even more synonymous with the Sinister Summer series: the Addams Family. *snap snap* Aunt Saffronia is Morticia’s twin with pale skin, long hair, and a black dress that makes her appear as though she’s floating instead of walking. Fathoms of Fun is a dream, nay, nightmare for the lost souls in search of a resting place . . . pardon me, vacation spot. The mystery is simple and easy to solve for adult readers, but I’m not holding that against a book aimed at a middle grade audience. The macabre atmosphere and humor are immaculate, and the tease of book two has me jumping out of my skin in anticipation of the September sequel. My rating is five stars, and I’m urging you to walk, DON’T RUN, to pick up this book if the summer heat has you missing spooky season.
*Disclaimer: I read an uncorrected ARC so certain things might change before the final copy is printed.
Adoption: It is briefly mentioned that the oldest Sinister-Winterbottom sibling Wilhelmina is adopted.
Blood: There is a conversation about blood in chapters 12 & 13.
Dark Humor: The siblings have to sign paperwork before entering the waterpark, & it mentions drowning & lost souls.
Upset about the summer plans forced on her & her siblings, Theo says she’s “gonna walk into traffic now.” Alexander responds by offering to test out the sharpness of a knife on her hand. When Wilhelmina doesn’t respond in a responsible way, they wonder if texting her about getting matching tattoos or ingesting small doses of poison would get her attention. Later on the twins tell Wil a man offered them candy & a ride in his van, which receives the same distracted response.
Disappearance: The owner of Fathoms of Fun walked into the wave pool one day and never came back out; this occurred off-page but is described a few times. More missing persons are mentioned later on.
Spooky: If you’re trying to gauge how dark this book gets, especially for young readers, I would recommend you compare it to things like “A Series of Unfortunate Events” & Scooby-Doo but especially the Addams Family. That is the exact level of macabre atmosphere & humor the reader needs to be comfortable with. Expect a casual mention of coffins or a character with the surname “Widow” or a joke about death. If you’re curious about the direction of the series, the next book is about vampires.
“Every Thursday, the Jigsaw Room in Coopers Chase retirement village is reserved for The Thursday Murder Club and their cold case discussions. Each of the four members comes from a unique background: former spy Elizabeth Best, former psychiatrist Ibrahim Arif, former nurse Joyce Meadowcroft, and former trade union leader Ron Ritchie. Crime is exciting to dissect from afar, but when a murder happens on their doorstep, the club jumps at the chance to solve a case in real time, even if their input is unwanted by local police. They contribute life experience and wisdom, but the victim is the unpopular owner of their retirement village so the suspect list is endless, and every answer leads to more questions. Will Elizabeth, Ibrahim, Joyce, and Ron be able to bring the killer to justice, or is a murder investigation too much to handle for four seventy-year-old retirees?”
Seeing rave reviews beforehand drove my expectations sky high, but thankfully I had a pleasant reading experience. The small English village setting where everyone knows everyone gave me the cozy mystery vibes I was looking for. Warning: Do not expect a thrilling amount of action! Aside from the descriptions and discussions of criminal cases ranging from smuggling to murder, you’re following four sleuthing seventy-year-olds who live in a retirement community. They’re plucky and capable of more than expected but still have their limits. If you align your expectations with the acitivity levels of Marple or Poirot, you’ll have a much better chance of enjoying this slow but steady mystery.
Despite more than ten characters and one hundred chapters, the Thursday Murder Club stays front and center, mentioned or appearing in approximately seventy-five percent of the book. Included in those ninety chapters are twenty-five diary entries from Joyce Meadowcroft, giving personal updates as the murder investigation moves along. Joyce is definitely my favorite character so far. She brings medical knowledge to the table as a former nurse, and I relate to her being underestimated just because she’s quiet. Using that to her advantage, she gets the inside scoop and spreads the word before you even know she was there. Turning lemons into opportunity. I love it! I’m assuming the next three books will feature POV chapters from the other club members which is a nice way to get acquainted with the main characters. I’m excited to learn more about them, especially enigmatic, former spy Elizabeth. She has secrets, and I want to know every single one.
Let’s go back to what I discussed earlier because the one element holding “The Thursday Murder Club” back from a perfect rating is pace. I’ve read and loved slow burn mysteries before but this time found my attention wandering every few pages. I had to purpose to sit down and focus because I wasn’t feeling eager to dive back in. Eventually I got into a reading groove and enjoyed the story, even getting emotional a few times. It was interesting to read about an age group looking at the end of their life and dealing with the circumstances that come with that. The main characters carry some heavy burdens such as disrespect from younger persons, loved ones with dementia, and grief over the constant loss of friends and acquaintances. That kind of subject matter makes you realize there is no age when you know everything, and your days are smooth sailing. Every phase of life come with its own set of challenges, and you will always be a student, learning through the ups and downs. Struggles aside, I’m so glad I picked this up because the age aspect was outside my comfort zone and thought-provoking. I’m settling on four stars and recommend this book to cozy mystery fans who don’t mind a slow burn and a tear or two.
*WARNING: This section of my review is thorough and might contain SPOILERS.
Alcohol & Smoking: Mentions of a bar/pub, beer, being drunk/tipsy, B&H cigarettes, brandy, cigarette & pipe smoking, cuban cigars, a flask, gin & tonic, whisky, & wine
Crime: Mentions of arson, drug dealing, money laundering, murder, robbery, & smuggling
Drugs: Mentions of cocaine, counterfeit viagra, death by overdose, drug addict(s), fentanyl, heroin, opioids, a syringe of parpobarbital, & unspecified drugs as well as a company used as a front for drug dealing
Blood & Violence: There’s a discussion in chapter one about the murder of a woman stabbed multiple times with a kitchen knife under the breastbone; the case is mentioned a few more times with added detail such as the victim being left to bleed out & die.
Brief mention of a hypothetical bullet wound in the shoulder
One mention of a scoutmaster burned to death
A character is described as the type to break your arms or kill you if things don’t go his way.
One mention of torching someone’s car because of an argument
A murder is described as it happens in chapter ten: the victim is hit on the left temple with a spanner, & the blood pools around the body. There are many discussions later on about the circumstances using terms like “bludgeoned” & “blunt force trauma to the head.”
There are numerous mentions and a description of a pub shooting that left a young drug dealer dead, the bullet piercing his stomach. The driver who helped dump the body was also shot as a precaution to cover up the murder.
One mention of a situation in which foxes were killing ducks so a man killed the foxes.
During a discussion about the murder case, the mafia & triads are mentioned.
The Thursday Murder Club inspects & discusses the bones of a man they believe to be a murder victim shot in the femur.
Description of a bullet wound in the leg that bleeds out & leads to death
Two instances of death by syringe
Death & Loss: One mention of a character losing his mother at the age of 19; she died of a stroke while alone in her home.
Chapter 88 deals with grief over the loss of a spouse
Illness: Multiple appearances by former Thursday Murder Club member Penny who is bedridden & hooked up to a heart monitor. Doctors suspect she can’t hear anything, but her husband sits with her daily, & Elizabeth frequently visits to share all the Coopers Chase gossip.
In Chapter 24, there is heartbreaking detail about Elizabeth’s husband Stephen who has some form of dementia. She takes care of him the best she can, simultaneously trying to keep her own mind healthy. He makes a few appearances throughout the book.
Misogyny: While having a business conversation, Ian thinks about the woman across from him, picking apart her appearance which disgusts him: her fifty-year-old face with no botox, her un-moisturized hands, & her wardrobe which implies to him that she’s given up on life. He manages to slip in the thought that they’re the same age, but men & women are different when it comes to age & aging. Major eye roll!
DCI Chris Hudson says “OK, folks, I’ll show you mine if you show me yours” in jest, meaning he’ll share his latest discoveries in the case if his team will share their latest discoveries.
Joyce tells Bernard a story from her nursing days about a junior doctor who got his “bits trapped in a Hoover nozzle.”
One brief mention of a police interviewee with an “I kill coppers” tattoo
Prejudice: While scoring murder suspects including members of the Thursday Murder Club, a drunk Ron gives Ibrahim a seven, one reason being he’s an immigrant who the public views as someone who comes in & steals jobs. This is said in jest between friends but still a hurtful thing to say.
Religion: The retirement village Coopers Chase is built on the land of an old convent so there are frequent mentions of Catholicism, nuns, priests, & a statue of Jesus Christ.
There’s a major conflict over digging up the old convent’s cemetery Garden of Eternal Rest which holds the bodies of nuns who passed away while serving; some digging does occur.
While discussing a murder, Ron implies that the Catholic church is involved, saying they always have their hand in one thing after another.
Ron drinks a can of Stella beer while sitting at the feet of a Jesus Christ statue.
Sensual/Sexual: One brief mention of porn
Ron asks Ibrahim if he thinks Bernard is banging Joyce.
VAGUE SPOILER -> -> -> -> -> An intimate relationship from the past is discussed, a romance between two people serving the Catholic church who were supposed to be celibate.
There’s a discussion about the dating apps Grindr & Tinder; it’s mentioned that most use the app for one night stands, some single & some married.
Sexual Violence: After a Tinder date tried to grope her, Donna “punched him in the balls.”
A character tells a story about inviting a man back to her place where it’s implied they were about to sleep together before he, already naked, attacked her & ended up dead from self defense.
Suicide: Suicide by pills in chapter 88
Description of a discovered body in chapter 100, suicide by hanging
There are a few other brief mentions of suicide throughout the book.
Weight: A character internally worries that her daughter is too thin due to her new boyfriend.
There are a few mentions of DCI Hudson struggling to maintain a healthy diet & exercise routine, correlated to him not buying new clothes or going on dates. There’s a moment when he describes himself as overweight, & former nurse Joyce internally agrees, telling him out loud that eating after 6pm is the key to preventing diabetes. Later on he remarks that he’ll never be able to wear a tight t-shirt.
“It was a normal weekday morning, nothing out of the ordinary, until a woman’s scream echoed throughout the Boston Public Library. During the subsequent lockdown, strangers Cain, Marigold, Whit, & Winifred connect while sitting at the same table. They form a fast friendship & start spending more time together than apart. The library incident is initially ruled a false alarm, but soon after a body is discovered. Now the newly-formed group of friends is caught up in a police investigation, & it seems like not all of them are innocent witnesses. One of them might be guilty of murder.”
*Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book from Poisoned Pen Press through NetGalley in exchange for a review. All opinions are my own.
If you’re currently in search of a mystery that’s a thrill ride from the very first chapter, look no further than “The Woman in the Library.” I hadn’t done much research before reading so the first nine pages were enough to hook me. The story lagged a bit in the middle but didn’t take long to pick back up. I finished this book in less than three days because I had to know what happens; it was all I could think about!
The first twist is common knowledge so I’m going to discuss it. The prologue is a letter from American writer Leo Johnson to Australian author Hannah Tigone; they’ve been pen pals for quite awhile but haven’t yet met in person. As a fan of her work, Leo politely but insistently asks for a new book, offering to be her beta reader. We now move into chapter one, setting up a story about four strangers connecting in the Boston Public Library during a police lockdown. After the final sentence, which is quite the enticing cliffhanger, we see another note from Leo to Hannah revealing that he’s test reading her new book. The main plot is her manuscript, & the side plot is her correspondence with Leo, though we only ever see his notes to her. I’d never read anything like that before & thought it was such a brilliant idea. I’ve seen a few reviews saying the line between fiction & reality is confusing at times, but I strongly disagree. It’s always very clear when you’re reading Hannah’s book & when you’re reading Leo’s letters. There is a clear question of how much inspiration she takes from reality, but I would call that intrigue rather than a source of confusion.
I want to give this book all the stars for it’s unique format, but the story did not completely deliver. The whodunnit reveal made sense but disappointed me; I thought there would be more to it, more connection to real life. Speaking of the side plot, there was less development as it went on, & the abrupt resolution was not satisfying. I do feel let down overall, but I must admit the final chapter left me with intriguing questions & theories floating around in my head. My biggest question is why Hannah ended her book the way she did; at the risk of sounding dramatic, that creative choice blew my mind. My final rating is three stars, & I still recommend this thrilling mystery despite an ending that fizzles. The format is a bibliophile version of Inception & fascinating to experience; you won’t be able to put this book down until it ends!
*Disclaimer: I read an uncorrected ARC so certain things might change before the final copy is printed.
Abuse: An abusive stepfather is mentioned throughtout the book; Chapter nineteen depicts verbal & physical abuse as well as attempted sexual abuse.
Alcohol, Cigarettes, & Drugs: Mentions of alcohol, alcoholics, bars, intoxication, cigarettes, & junkies; morphine & painkillers are also mentioned in relation to a hospital patient.
Blood & Violence: Multiple mentions of blood & blood splatter | A hypothetical murderer is discussed, the killer pounding his or her victim’s head into a hard surface. | Dead bodies described with bloody hair, cut throats, and/or injuries to the breast & pubic areas | Description of a young girl leaning over a lookout to take a picture & falling to her death because of a loose guardrail | One mention & two depictions of attacks that lead to head trauma | Two mentions & one depiction of a stabbing
A character makes racially insensitive comments about black people, such as being identifiable by living in a certain neighborhood or wearing hoodies.
A character from “It” by Stephen King is referred to as the “fat kid” who might get the “pretty girl.”
In reference to hospital janitors, a character says “Immigrants, they get the job done.” He’s referencing the musical Hamilton but is met with the response “That’s not less offensive because it’s Hamilton.”
Two men involved in a bar fight are described as “thugs”; their physical appearances are not described, but that particular word could be perceived as racially-motivated & offensive.
Chr*st / Chr*ss*kes
F*ck / F*cking
H*ll / H*lluva
My G*d / Oh My G*d
Son of a b*tch
A bakery’s products are described as something that would “make you believe in G*d & willing to forsake Him at the same time.”
A character removes her shirt to show off her tattoos; her nakedness is mentioned as well as the sight of her “small breasts.”
Some of the characters go to a restaurant called Oh My Cod which is known for sexually suggestive decor & menu items, a few of which are described. Someone from the group refers to the restaurant as a “sex shop.”
Someone is called a “courteous porn star” in jest.
There’s a detailed discussion about methods of murder that give the killer sexual gratification (i.e. A certain movement while sitting atop a victim or the motion & penetration of a blade).
Two characters sleep together; the scene doesn’t fade to black, but their intimacy is described with minimal detail. In another chapter, they’re in bed together, but nothing happens beyond the two of them waking up side by side.
Two other characters sleep together off-page; it’s mentioned in a conversation with very little detail.
Stalking: There is evidence of one or more characters being stalked: robbery, phone calls, text messages with photos of front doors, & a physical attack.
“Cellist Jenny Go has one thing on her mind: getting accepted into her dream music school in Manhattan. After receiving a critique about lacking artistry, she gives in to a moment of insanity and spends the night roaming the streets of Los Angeles with a boy she’s just met at her uncle’s karaoke bar. The night ends as quickly as it began, but the pair exchange contact information. When Jaewoo stops responding to her texts, she does her best to forget him and focus on music . . . until she moves to South Korea for a semester and finds out he’s a student at her new school. Not only that, he’s a member of XOXO, a new K-pop band taking the world by storm. Now a relationship is a possibility, but it means sacrificing their respective music paths. Will Jenny choose cello over Jaewoo, or is she willing to give up her dream for the boy she’s falling in love with?”
I don’t consume contemporary romance on a regular basis, but I turned to “XOXO” to fill a hole left by the disappointing romance in my last read. Unfortunately I didn’t fully connect with Jaewoo and Jenny as individual characters therefore their romance did not interest me in the slightest. Jaewoo was fine but not particularly interesting; he actually reminds me of myself which makes sense because I’m pretty boring. I didn’t like Jenny’s irresponsibility every time Jaewoo was in the near vicinity, missing cello practices and cancelling plans with friends. I understand this behavior is normal for a teenage girl with a boy on her radar, but it always irks me.
Setting my romance disappointment aside, the writing is well done, and I flew through every single chapter. My favorite part was Seoul Arts Academy. I was fully invested in the goings-on at SAA and might’ve given this book a higher rating if it was centered around the school and students. I also loved all the mentions of food, even though it made me insanely hungry. Every single dish sounds delicious, and I need to find a local Korean restaurant ASAP. Those factors saved this book, bringing my rating to a total of three stars. I think “XOXO” will appeal much more to readers of this genre who are used to cute romances and young adult behavior. I can only handle so much before I’m annoyed so I’m definitely not a member of the target audience. However, the friendships and school shenanigans won my heart so I will be rereading this book in the future.
Dieting: In Chapter 13, eBook page 99, Angela asks why Gi Taek isn’t eating. He replies that he’s on a diet, & she remarks that he shouldn’t skip meals. On eBook Page 120, Gi Taek mentions being on a diet again.
*Disclaimer: I am very thorough so just know that this section might contain SPOILERS.
Grammar & Spelling
eBook Page 75 – “ . . . having never been this situation before” instead of “. . . having never been in this situation before”
eBook Page 82 – “A familiar figures steps from the wings . . . ” instead of “A familiar figure steps from the wings . . . ”
eBook Page 184 – “An hour and half later . . .” doesn’t make as much sense as “An hour and a half later . . .”
eBook Page 193 – “ ‘Okay, now I think that everyone’s,’ Ian says . . .” instead of “ ‘Okay, now I think that’s everyone,’ Ian says . . .”
B*tch – Said twice
B*llsh*t – Said once
D*ammit – Said 3 times
D*mn – Said 8 times
G*d – Said 19 times
Scr*w [everyone else] – Said once
Sh*t – Said twice
Sh*tty – Said once
Sl*t – Said twice
Chapter 27, eBook Pages 192 to 196 – During their camping trip, some of the Seoul Arts Academy students hike up the campsite mountain to a shrine dedicated to the located mountain sansin (deity).
Chapter 16, eBook Pages 113 to 116 – While alone in a closet, Jaewoo & Jenny almost kiss before the door abruptly opens.
eBook Page 168 – Jaewoo & Jenny kiss on a swing set while alone in a park at night. On eBook page 181 Jenny says that they “made out for half an hour.”
eBook Page 177 – Sori tells Jenny that there will be very little adult supervision on the school camping trip so she might have a chance to “get into Jaewoo’s pants.”
eBook Page 208 – Kissing
eBook Page 210 – Jenny tells Jaewoo all about her first experience at a bathhouse, humorously saying her friends Angela & Sori saw more of her than her mom in recent years. He suggestively texts back “I wish I could have been there.”
eBook Page 214 – Jenny runs off to meet Jaewoo, & Gi Taek says “Have fun. Don’t get pregnant.”
eBook Page 215 – Jaewoo & Jenny hug & kiss in a fifth floor corner of the school, a blind spot from the security cameras.
eBook Page 229 – Jenny tells Sori to cover for her at the dorms because she’s staying at Jaewoo’s mother’s apartment due to the rain. Sori suggestively texts back “GET IT GIRL!!!!!”
eBook Page 231 – Jenny falls in asleep in Jaewoo’s bed. He eventually wakes her up, & she goes back to his sister Joori’s room.
eBook Page 248 – Kissing
eBook Pages 248 to 249 – Jaewoo & Jenny reserve a karaoke room for thirty minutes, Once they turn on some music, they spend the whole time kissing. Aside from removing each other’s shirts, nothing else happens.
“Though 18-year-old Serilda Moller has lived in the town of Märchenfeld her whole life, most of the townsfolk choose to ostracize her. Cursed by the god Wyrdith before her birth, Serilda’s eyes are covered by the golden wheel of fate and fortune, and she possesses the ability to spin fantatsical tales, earning a reputation as an impulsive liar. One night under the Snow Moon, she lies to the wrong person, the Erlking, and changes the trajectory of her small town life. Now she is at his mercy, forced to answer his call every full moon to enter his haunted castle and spin straw into gold. A mysterious boy comes to her aid the first time, but even though he’s slowly falling in love with her, his magic cannot be given away for free. It’s apparent that the Erlking will never be satisfied, and Serilda is quickly running out of currency to continue paying the price of magic. Will she find a way out of her predicament, or will she be forever bound to Erlkönig and Adalheid Castle?”
The beginning of “Gilded” was promising, so much so that I was prepared to hand out a five-star rating. I would highly recommend the audiobook, which I listened to all the way through; Rebecca Soler did a fantastic job as the narrator, making me feel like I was being read a fairytale before bed each night. The winter setting is cozy, and the darkness of the story kept me on the edge of my seat. I also appreciate the way foreshadowing was used. In chapter two, Serilda’s students comparing her storytelling to spinning straw into gold, transforming their dull lives in the town of Märchenfeld into something special. A second example is the moss maidens Meadowsweet and Parsely gifting jewelry to Serilda in chapter five; the crest on the ring and picture in the locket end up being significant clues that tie everything together.
I was enchanted and ready to be taken on a immerisve journey for 500 pages . . . until chapter ten. Despite dark subject matter that toed the line, it’s the romance that lost me. It fell into the insta-love category and took me out of a world that had previously enraptured me. Never once did I feel a spark between Gild and Serilda. I wasn’t invested and found myself reading at a slower pace whenever they shared a chapter. I understand that his century-long loneliness as a poltergeist and her past with bullying gave them a connection as outcasts, but their intimacy progressed too quickly. The ending was wrapped up in their relationship, and I’m not sure there’s any part of it I liked. I sincerely believe a slow-burn romance would’ve suited this dark fairytale; instead an insta-love story weighed down an otherwise promising book.
Despite my disappointment, I’m giving this book 3 stars, and the completionist in me plans on reading the sequel. If you’re looking for a wintery read and like the idea of a Rumpelstiltskin retelling, give “Gilded” a try. Maybe the insta-love won’t bother you as much as it bothered me. Beware, this book is heavily inspired by German folklore and extremely dark. I’m shocked that there are no trigger warnings and did my best to cover everything down below so you’re fully prepared for the amount of blood & violence.
Abandonment – Serilda’s mother left when she was a young child. It’s mentioned throughout the book but addressed directly in chapter 17, starting on page 154.
Abortion – Though an abortion is not performed, it is used as a threat.
Bullying – Serilda’s experience with bullying due to her appearance is mentioned throughout the book.
Blood & Violence – If you can’t stand even a hint of blood, don’t read this book. There is blood and violence in most of the chapters.
Death & Suicide – Death is a major theme throughout the book, including the death of children. Chapter 49 is the most disturbing in my opinion because it deals directly with children’s dead bodies. There is a brief mention of suicide on page 178 and miscarriage and stillbirths on page 325.
Discipline – I know this isn’t always a bad or triggering subject, but on page 10, Madame Sauer grabs a willow branch and threatens to strike Serilda’s hands, bringing back painful memories from her school days. It’s briefly mentioned again on page 170. I wanted to note this because in my opinion, it’s a controversial and borderline abusive method of discipline.
Hunting& Trophies – There are frequent mentions of the Erlking hunting for magical creatures as sport; he mounts some of them on the walls of his castle and keeps others chained in cages.
Kidnapping & Missing Children – The Erlking is known for luring children from their homes & leaving their lifeless bodies at the edge of the Aschen Wood, sometimes keeping their spirits as prisoners in his castle.
Supernatural – If you’re easily creeped out, be aware that there are mentions of demons, appearances by ghosts who bear the wounds that caused their death, & eery creatures such as the Nachtkrapp, a raven with no eyes.
*Disclaimer: In order to be thorough, there will be spoilers in this section.
Alcohol – There are approximately 10 pages that mention alcohol and drinking, possibly a few more, but nothing too extreme – Pages 3, 103, 112, 134, 269, 280, & 326
Blood, Violence, & Death – There are approximately 132 pages that mention blood, violence, and/or death, ranging from brief to descriptive & disturbing.
Page 2 – The Erlking shoots an arrow that pierces the wing of the god Wyrdith in beast form; there’s mention of bloodied feathers.
Page 12 – Serilda is daydreaming about the Erlking’s Snow Moon hunt, imagining that “after their demonic ride, there will be feasting on what beasts they’ve captured, and drinking of mulled wine spiced with the blood . . .”
Page 14 – Serilda tells the children “”the only way to kill off a Nachzehrer is by putting a stone into its mouth. That will keep it from gnawing on its own flesh while you cut off the head.”
Pages 17 to 20 – Serilda tells a story about the Erlking bringing lost children to his queen Perchta who longs to be a mother. Once they grow out of babyhood, she tires of them, & he takes them to the forest & kills them. The child in this particular story has his throat cut by a hunting knife.
Page 37 – A female ghost riding with the Snow Moon hunt has blood stains down the front of her tunic, seemingly from the gash in her throat which was the cause of her death.
Page 41 – Brief mention of a hypothetical bargain signed in blood
Page 43 – Serilda is thinking about the rumors that the Erlking murders children, how in the past children’s corpses were found at the edge of the forest, often picked clean by crows.
Page 47 – Brief mention of Serilda’s story about a water nix who bites off fingers
Page 48 – Brief mention of Serilda’s story in which she brandishes a lethal fire iron & stabs her enemies, including one of the Erlking’s hellhounds
Page 55 – The first appearance of the Erlking’s servant Manfred, a ghost with an iron chisel sticking out of his left eye socket & a beard soaked in blood. He appears frequently so his appearance is described more than once.
Page 59 – The carriage Serilda rides in is made of a beast’s ribcage, the lantern out of his jaws & skull.
Page 65 – A young ghost servant of the Erlking is noticed by Serilda. She speculates that the bruises on his neck might be evidence of abuse from when he was alive or his cause of death.
Pages 65 & 66 – One of the Erlking’s hellhounds breaks loose and attempts to attack Serilda so he puts it down with an arrow which strikes through one of its eyes and jaw.
Page 71 – The Erlking’s castle is full of taxidermied creatures; the different heads & bodies are discussed throughout Chapter 9.
Pages 73 to 74 – There is mention of tapestries depicting the brutality of the Erlking’s hunts.
Pages 76 to 77 – If Serilda cannot spin straw into gold, the Erlking threatens to mount her head and that of her father on his castle walls.
Page 80 – Brief mention of bloodstained walls which is what Serilda thought the Erlking’s dungeons would have
Page 83 – A panicked Serilda wonders how the Erlking will cut off her head, with an axe or a sword?
Pages 103 to 105 – Serilda tells another story in which the Erlking kills a child, this time by stabbing with an arrow.
Pages 118 to 119 – Mention of a tapestry depicting a stag bleeding from multiple arrow wounds
Pages 122 to 123 – Serilda is attacked by a creature with a demon face, something known as a Drude; his claws draw blood.
Page 125 – Mention of bloody footprints & a pool of blood in the throne room where Serilda is walking
Page 134 – Mention of the dried blood on Serilda’s cheek
Pages 140 to 141 – Serilda & Leyna talk about Nachzehrer, creatures that eat people & their own body
Page 161 – Serilda has a beautiful dream about some kind of celebration at a castle which suddenly turns into blood spilling from under the gates and into the lake
Page 165 – Brief mention of a wolf pack taking chickens & goats from a local farm
Pages 177 to 178 – Serilda starts to tell the school children a story about seeing a Nachzehrer, freshly risen from the grave, who had already chewed off his burial shroud and right arm
Page 178 – Brief mention of suicide, Fricz explains that someone who commits suicide could potentially become a Nachzehrer
Page 178 – Brief mention of Serilda remembering the screams & bloody footprints from Adalheid Castle in Chapter 14
Page 194 – The Crow Moon hunt catches up to a red fox who is swiftly killed with a cudgel. Serilda mentions that the hunt will end with a feast of their kills served on silver dishes in a pool of blood.
Page 194 – Back at the castle after the Crow Moon hunt, the hellhounds are lured back to their cages by bloody meat.
Page 195 – The Erlking grabs Serilda by the hair & threatens her with a blade against her throat.
Page 198 – The Erlking strikes his blacksmith, throwing him into a wall.
Page 198 – After his latest prank, the Erlking gives orders for the castle poltergeist to be strung up with rope in the dining hall.
Page 199 – The Erlking theartens Serilda, saying “Either this straw will be gold come morning or it will be red with your blood.”
Page 209 – Serilda continues her story from chapter 12, mentioning once again the prince who is badly wounded and bleeding while watching the Erlking continously stab his little sister with an arrow.
Page 210 – In that same story, the great huntress Perchta is bleeding from an arrow wound inflicted by the prince.
Page 228 – The Erlking remarks that he won’t be gutting Serilda since all the straw in the dungeon has been spun into gold.
Page 231 – Two brief mentions of blood
Page 232 – Serilda mentions that if the Erlking finds out about her lies, he will kill her and mount her head on one of the castle walls.
Page 237 – A man appears in front of Adalheid Castle, seemingly wounded with blood spilling out of his mouth
Page 238 – Serilda runs into a goblin in the castle who begins to bleed from his neck; on that same page, Serilda mentions the stench of blood in the air.
Page 240 – Another mention of the smell of blood in Adalheid Castle
Pages 241 to 242 – Serilda runs into a woman who isn’t wounded at first, but suddenly a red line appears across her throat.
Page 261 – Serilda wants to know more about Adalheid Castle & “what had happened to leave its walls haunted by so many brutally murdered spirits.”
Page 261 – Brief mention of the Erlking killing mortals & stealing children
Page 266 – Serilda considers how she might kill the Erlking; she certainly can’t walk right up to him & stab him with his own hunting knife.
Page 268 – For the Spring Equinox celebration, the citizens of Adalheid decorate their doors with garlands made of animal bones.
Page 269 – A man with a cart full of live animals passes Serilda; the animals are left caged or tied to posts to await their fate during the Erlking’s Spring Equinox hunt. A cart of rabbits is added on page 272.
Pages 272 to 273 – Lorraine tells Serilda that trying to have a conversation with the Erlking during the Feast of Death will be “ . . . asking for him to skin you alive! To pluck out your eyeballs and feed them to the hounds. To tear your fingers off one by one and . . .”
Page 273 – Brief mention of the innocent children who disappeared because of the Erlking
Page 275 – Leyna tells Serilda that the live animals will be let loose for the hunt to chase down & kill; the meat is then thrown upon the likeness of the god Velos where the hellhounds feast upon it.
Page 279 – Serilda recognizes two ghosts riding with the hunt, describing them as “covered in their own blood”
Page 280 – Music is being played at the feast by “gore-splattered musicians”
Pages 280 to 281 – The live animals are let loose, running as fast they can from the pursuing hellhounds & hunters who are cheered on by a crowd of ghosts
Page 286 – Serilda sees a tapestry in Adalheid Castle that depicss a skeleton dressed as royalty and a small body ripped in two, identified as a female child from the pink dress & ringlet curls
Pages 287 to 288 – When a drude attacks Serilda, it gives her horrible visions: the Märchenfeld school on fire with children trapped inside, her father’s body being scavenged by birds, three of her young students being poked & prodded by goblins while locked in a cage, two other students being ripped to shreds by hellhounds, Leyna and her mother being attacked by Nachtkrapp, & Gild pinned like a moth to a spinning wheel.
Pages 288 to 289 – Gild fights with two Drudes, & there’s mention of blood & entrails.
Page 289 – Gild is bleeding from a wound on his scalp.
Page 290 – Gild explains to Serilda that Drudes can torture you for hours until your heart stops, when you can’t handle any more terror & give up.
Pages 292 to 293 – Gild drags his hand through his hair which smears his fingers with blood from his head wound. Serilda cleans the wound as best she can.
Page 304 – Another mention of the Erlking’s Spring Equinox hunt throwing the captured animals’ carcasses onto the effigy of Velos for the hellhounds to feast upon
Page 306 – Serilda catches a glimpse of the hellhounds fighting over the meat hanging from the likeness of Velos.
Pages 314 to 315 – Serilda cleans her shoulder wound caused by Drude talons, gouges caked in dried blood.
Page 325 – Mention of children dying from disease as well as mothers suffering a miscarriage or giving birth to a stillborn baby
Page 334 – Brief mention of blood
Page 364 – Serilda passes by two ghost gardeners, the man with shears sticking out of his neck & the woman with a crooked head, possibly from a broken neck.
Pages 365 to 366 – The Erlking shows Serilda his collection of caged beasts, looking miserable in their confinement; some even have untended wounds.
Pages 367 to 370 – The Erlking’s fellow hunters drag their latest catch into the gardens, a chained Tatzelwurm who is promptly put into a cage.
Page 405 – Brief mention of blood
Page 409 – Mention of the great huntress Perchta liking to toy with her prey, both animal or human, no torment enough to satisfy her bloodlust
Pages 414 to 417 – Serilda’s father returns as a Nachzehrer, a zombie covered in blood with visible bones. When he can’t get ahold of Serilda, he starts to eat his own finger. Madame Sauer suddenly appears and decapitates him with a shovel.
Page 417 – It is explained that Nachzehrer come back to life to eat their family members.
Page 420 – Brief mention of blood
Page 423 – Serilda asks a Nachtkrapp if he’s found any plump mice this morning, & then tells him to stay away from the hearts of the local children.
Page 425 – A Nachtkrapp scratches Serilda’s hand & draws blood.
Chapter 49, Pages 433 to 442 – This might be the most disturbing chapter in the whole book. Five of Serilda’s favorite young students go missing after the Awakening Moon hunt. After a town-wide search, their bodies are found at the edge of the Aschen Wood. Sadly they are not peaceful & untouched; they all have holes where their heart should be, bones sticking out & covered in drying blood.
Chapter 50, Pages 443 to 454 – Serilda continues her search because the fifth child’s body was not found. She ends up in Adalheid Castle, telling a gruesome story about a massacre from the past that killed all its inhabitants. That story triggers a pool of blood that opens a door into The Veil where the Erlking resides after dawn. Right before entering, Serilda sees a horrifying sight, a little girl’s body hanging from the throne room chandelier.
Chapter 51, Pages 455 to 461 – There is mention of blood at the very beginning of the chapter, & the four children’s ghosts are by the Erlking’s side when Serilda finds him.
Page 463 – Mention of ghosts with “battered bodies & bleeding wounds”
Pages 466 to 467 – The Erlking hung Gild outside the castle with chains, non-fatal but meant as a punishment.
Chapter 53, Pages 472 to 477 – The whole chapter revolves around the Erlking wanting to abort Serilda’s unborn child.
Page 475 – At the prospect of Serilda’s magic not returning, even if the fetus in her belly is removed, the Erlking says it would be better to slit her throat and be done with both of them.
Pages 477 to 478 – The Erlking shoots his barber in the heart, black blood spilling down his convulsing body.
Pages 482 to 483 – The Erlking stabs Serilda in the wrist with a gold arrow to curse her, putting her under his control; there is mention of blood from the wound.
Page 487 – Serilda once again notes the appearances of the ghosts around her at Adalheid Castle, each of them bearing the wound or wounds that killed them.
Page 490 – Gerdrut is revealed to also be a ghost with a hole where her heart used to be.
Gods & Magic
There are heavy magical themes, mentions of curses, potions, & witches. There are seven (mostly) fictional gods who are mentioned frequently: Eostrig-god of spring & fertility, Freydon, Hulda-god of labor, Solvilde-god of sky & sea, Tyrr-god of war & hunting, Velos-god of death & wisdom, and Wyrdith-god of fate, fortune, lies, & stories.
Grammar & Spelling
Page 140 – “It was a far cry tastier that the buttered rye bread . . .” instead of “It was a far cry tastier than the buttered rye bread . . .”
By the old gods (as an exclamation) – Page 41
Damned – Page 312
Gods alive (as an exclamation) – Page 140
Page 227 – A brief kiss
Page 312 – Extended kiss
Pages 358 to 361 – A kiss that turns into touching which leads to something more but fades to black. The only additional information is that he helped her get dressed before they fell asleep side by side.
Page 363 – She briefly daydreams about her night with him, imagining his body, his hands, & his mouth.
Pages 376 to 377 – She considers the opinion of society concerning unwed couples sleeping together & ponders whether or not she feels shame for sleeping with him; she concludes that she does not.
Page 469 – She realizes she’s with child after missing her period.
“Thanks to a handful of nasty falls, mystery writer Agatha Krinsky is moved into an assisted living facility with the help of her nephew Sheldon. On her first day she gets lost and finds herself inside the library with a dead body. To her dismay, no one believes her story or offers to call the police. She is taken to the dining room where she meets Ukrainian PI Herschel Perlow, knitting enthusiast Miss Eppel, and husband and wife team Ronny and Rubles Bernfeld. As they take turns reminiscing a la “The Tuesday Night Club,” Agatha impatiently waits for another opportunity to bring up the body in hopes that someone will do something. Will her new friends help, or are they too distracted by their mystery-solving memories?”
In my search for Hanukkah books, this short story collection caught my eye because Agatha Christie is my favorite author. I was excited to start reading but also nervous because those are big shoes to fill. I couldn’t help but smile at all the details added to make her characters and stories Jewish. The names and Yiddish vocabulary and mentions of Hanukkah were great, but the transition was not flawless. The mystery-aspect got lost in the shuffle, leaving behind more novelty than quality. I know this is a short read for the holiday season, but don’t promise me Agatha and not deliver on the intrigue.
It’s hard to rate something that tugs on my Jewish heartstrings, but I have to be honest. 3 stars for novelty and 2 stars for quality which averages out to 2.5 Stars. If you’re a Jewish Agatha Christie fan, this book is good for a one-sitting read and some fun. Don’t expect too much from the mysteries and enjoy it for what it is.
I was M.I.A. last week, but I have a very good reason: I was participating in BookTube-A-Thon 2017!! If you don’t know what that is, it is an annual summer read-a-thon put together by Ariel Bissett. Bookstagrammers, booktubers, bloggers, & readers from around the world come together to read as much as possible and participate in fun challenges. Even though it was an emotionally and physically exhausting week, I had so much fun and already can’t wait for next year. I kept track of my reading so I could share my journal with you. Here it is:
📚 Despite my best efforts, exhaustion took over, and I was unable to complete Wicked Autumn therefore failing the “Cover Buy” and “Read 7 Books” challenges. I chose The Truth About Stacey as my replacement book for the “Character Who is Different From You” challenge. Stacey is from the East Coast and has diabetes. If that isn’t enough, I could pick Catherine from Heartless who is a future queen and very wishy-washy when it comes to speaking up. I could also pick Miss Marple who is an elderly woman & amateur sleuth. Basically, I completed the challenge in more ways than one.
🎉 Final Numbers: 159 chapters, 1,741 pages, 6 books complete, & 5 challenges complete. Not too shabby for my first year!
➡️ ➡️ ➡️ If you would like to watch my reading process & video challenges, check out my BookTube-A-Thon 2017 YouTube playlist ⬇️ ⬇️ ⬇️