Persuasion on Netflix | Movie Review

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*Disclaimer: I’ve read “Persuasion” by Jane Austen but am much more familiar with the 2007 adaptation starring Rupert Penry-Jones and Sally Hawkins. Just assume that’s what I’m referencing during the entirety of this review. This story has been around since 1817, but I’m still issuing a warning. There will be book spoilers as well as 2022 movie spoilers. SPOILERS AHEAD! YOU’VE BEEN WARNED!

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After feeling immense disappointment over the official trailer, I was prepared to hate this movie with not a trace of positivity in sight. To my credit, I gave it a fair chance and actually liked some elements in the first sixty-eight minutes. The scenery was beautiful, and most of the acting performances were a pleasant surprise. Suddenly, Anne Elliot squatted in the woods to relieve herself, and I was done. My good opinion once lost is lost forever, and boy oh boy was it lost.

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The cast as a whole is satisfactory, so much so that they deserve to be listed one by one. Richard E. Grant and Yolanda Kettle are unbearably snobby as Sir Walter Elliot and his daughter Elizabeth, and Nikki Amuka-Bird’s Lady Russell is an endearing mother figure to Anne, despite her lapse in judgement regarding Frederick. Lydia Rose Bewley doesn’t have much screen time as Penelope Clay, but she did a good job with what she was given. Ben Bailey as Charles Musgrove is an attentive father and a husband with the patience of a saint. Mia McKenna-Bruce did a darn good job as Mary Elliot Musgrove, bringing a youthful spin and humor to a role made so hilarious by Amanda Hale in 2007. Izuka Hoyle and Nia Towle are the picture of beauty as Henrietta and Louisa Musgrove, young and wild and free; I was expecting them to be a bit sillier, but at the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter. 

Continuing with the cast, Edward Bluemel is fine as Captain Harville but overshadowed by Captain Wentworth’s other best friend. Afolabi Alli is incredibly sweet as Captain Benwick, making the most of very little screen time. When we first meet him, he looks like a lost little boy while mourning the loss of his fiancé; in the end, he finds love again and is the picture of unadulterated happiness. He’s an absolute teddy bear, and that interpretation works for me. I was scared to see Henry Golding as the “villain,” but he took the bull by the horns as Mr. William Elliot. He was so despicable that I found myself hating him, which I didn’t think possible, while also applauding the performance. I am, however, still wishing upon a Jane Austen star that we see him as the dashing love interest one day, someday, soon. Please make it happen somebody, anybody!

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I apologize to Austen enthusiasts who are familiar with this story, but I’m going to recap for those who aren’t. “Persuasion” is a romance based on reconciliation. Once upon a time, Anne and Frederick were young and in love, but she allowed her family to persuade her that a wealthier man would be a more suitable husband. Seven years later, Frederick returns to town as a naval captain with status and money but still very much heartbroken and angry. Anne is also nursing a broken heart, regretful over the life-changing decision she made; she bears the sting of Frederick’s coldness as penance, believing he will forever hate her and rightfully so. They start to find themselves in each other’s company constantly, and the discomfort slowly melts away. When their tension reaches a point just beyond agony, a new beginning is right around the corner. Down the street actually. Wink wink!

Let’s look at the leading pair, starting with Cosmo Jarvis as Captain Frederick Wentworth. The writing and portrayal of this character was not well done. Frederick wasn’t angry enough; he’s supposed to be bitter and soften little by little as he witnesses how Anne’s embraced her own mind and opinions. Yes, he’s still in love with her, but he fights those feelings and hides them behind a cold exterior. This version of Frederick was soft around the edges from the beginning, right on the border of being an awkward, “cinnamon roll” character. Dare I say the term “wishy-washy” comes to mind! I’ll add that I didn’t like the accent used for this performance. At times it felt off, like an impression of a posh gentlemen rather than the voice of an austere naval captain.

Dakota Johnson’s portrayal of Anne Elliot was better than expected. She did well with the humor and breaking of the fourth wall. My favorite acting moment of hers was the bathtub scene. Anne thinks Wentworth is engaged so she’s sobbing over losing her first and only love for a second time. As someone who’s experienced similar heartbreak, that moment was uncomfortably authentic. Shifting to the cons, I didn’t like the way Anne was written. She reminded me too much of Lizzie McGuire, clumsy and shouting out random nonsense in uncomfortable situations. Also, she consumes a lot of alcohol; I don’t want to sound snobby, but that’s not a trait I would’ve chosen for this character. Don’t make me mention the moment by the tree again! Injecting bleach into my brain won’t be enough to scrub that traumatic image from my memory. The modern dialogue was present but not heavily featured which made it stand out even more. They should’ve gone all in or scrapped it because I almost stopped watching due to secondhand embarrassment. Let me lay out what I was expecting: Anne’s father and sisters are greedy and needy so she spends a lot of time caretaking and completing the adult tasks no one else will touch. In her late twenties, she’s considered an old maid and nothing special to look at, an underappreciated wallflower despite her kindness and sense of responsibility. The 2022 version of Miss Elliot is conventionally pretty and missing a dose of maturity therefore she’s not as recognizable as she should be.

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The writing woes don’t stop there! I felt zero chemistry between the leads, exacerbated by unnecessary changes to their love story. Anne and Frederick have a heart-to-heart conversation halfway through the movie and put aside their differences to be friends, squashing any and all tension leading to their romantic reconciliation. Tension to the point of agony is the bread and butter of “Persuasion,” and Netflix made a huge mistake messing with that. The ending is the cherry on top of this warm, melted sundae. Instead of giving every branch of the story it’s moment to shine, everything is crammed into one scene. The “Lyme group” reunites, and while Anne talks to Captain Harville, Frederick writes his classic letter, staring at the back of her head and eavesdropping on the conversation. Cringey with a capital ‘C’! When she turns around and finds him gone, she walks over to the table, discovers his letter, and runs after him. She sees Mr. Elliot making out with Penelope Clay and wishes them happiness, an absolutely bonkers moment considering that level of affection while unwed is extremely inappropriate in Austen times, and Anne had yet to answer William’s proposal from two scenes prior. Don’t blink because you’ll miss her finding and kissing Wentworth. Yes, that is indeed how fast everything wraps up. As if there weren’t enough idiotic changes, the film ends with Miss Clay and Mr. Elliot’s wedding because who the heck wants to see the leads get married onscreen. Since they were so set on showing the wedding of two side characters, I would’ve rather seen Captain Benwick and Louisa’s ceremony because I actually cared about their chemistry and happy ending. At least Anne and Frederick share a lovely moment on the beach before the credits roll, the best chemistry out of one hour and forty-seven minutes.

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I’m proud of myself for giving this movie a chance because initially I was going to ignore it. A few elements were a pleasant surprise, but this will not be a new addition to my Jane Austen rotation. Thank you for reading all seven of my opinionated paragraphs, and shout out to my besties Katie and Traci for ranting with me before I started writing my review. This has been quite the experience. Now I’m going to cleanse my palate with a rewatch of the 2007 adaptation. Rupert and Sally are still the gold standard! ❤️

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“Three Muses” by Martha Anne Toll | Book Review

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“World War II has come and gone, and John Curtin is still grappling with his guilt over singing for the Nazi kommandant who murdered his family. He wants to set up his own psychiatry practice but can’t keep his own demons at bay, haunted by his past and a fear of music.

After the sudden loss of her mother, Katya Symanova found solace in dance lessons and worked her way into the New York State Ballet. Blinded by infatuation, she finds herself in a toxic relationship with her mentor, choreographer Boris Yanakov, who must be in control at all times.

On a trip to Paris, John receives a ticket to a brand new ballet called Three Muses, and the featured ballerina Katya enraptures him. After a brief meeting at the stage door, they cross paths again back home in New York City and immediately connect over the childhood trauma they’ve both experienced. As they open up to one another, they establish a trust that neither have experienced before. Their relationship is rapidly progressing, but, perhaps, too good to be true because Katya has a secret that could derail the budding romance. Are they destined to last or just two ships passing in the night?”

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*Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book from Regal House Publishing through NetGalley in exchange for a review. All opinions are my own.

The prologue introduces readers to psychiatry resident John Curtin and ballerina Katya Symanova, and we see their first meeting in Paris in 1963. The following chapters go back in time to flesh out their respective childhood trauma and young adulthood struggles, starting with eleven-year-old Janko Stein in a concentration camp and seven-year-old Katherine Sillman mourning the sudden loss of her mother. When the first few pages felt longer than they actually were, I was prepared to struggle through forty-two chapters at a snail’s pace. To my surprise, I flew through the first half in less than two days. I like the parallels between the struggles John and Katya experienced such as grief, growing up, and dating. The insights into life as a ballerina had me geeking out as a former dancer, and despite the jarring Holocaust imagery, the pieces of Jewish culture felt like a warm, familiar hug. 

The characters and character development are intriguing, but Katya’s decision-making infuriated me. Her relationship with Boris is a blindspot on purpose so I’m trying to let it go. Just know, I have many thought and many feelings. The writing is fine, but some of the transitions from scene to scene are so abrupt that it took me a moment to recalibrate as I was reading. The romance is what truly derails the story. Both John and Katya desired an emotional connection coming into their relationship, but they only connect up to a certain point. The dialogue and interactions are awkward, and beyond understanding one another over shared grief, there’s no chemistry.

The ending being what it is, my indifference towards the romance is unfortunate because it detracted from the underlying message. I understand what happened and why, but I’m not on board with the vehicle that got us there. Though John and Katya help each other find some peace, it still feels like a puzzle piece is misplaced. I can appreciate authors who take the road less traveled, but confusion is not a good feeling as a reader, especially at the end of a book that deals with such heavy subject matter. If something flew over my head, I accept that; perhaps I’m not compatible with Martha Anne Toll’s writing. The redeeming qualities earned a three-star rating, but I consider “Three Muses” a low three stars and something I don’t envision myself picking up again. I think it lacks re-readability, but it’s not a long read so give it a chance if a historical fiction romance set in post-WWII New York City with a heavy sprinkling of ballet piques your interest. Maybe you’ll glean more from it than I did.

*NOTE: The expected publication date is September 20th, 2022.

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Content Breakdown: 

*Disclaimer: I read an uncorrected ARC so certain things might be different in the final copy.

*Disclaimer 2: This section of my review is thorough and might contain SPOILERS.

Abandonment Issues: John’s mother told a Nazi soldier he could sing & begged for him to be taken somewhere where he could entertain. He didn’t understand why his mother pushed him away to be alone in the care of Nazis while she stayed with his little brother Max.

Katya didn’t find out about her mother’s alcoholism until she was older. She struggled with the revelation because it felt like her mother left on purpose, choosing alcohol over family which ultimately got her killed.

Abuse & Grooming: As a choreographer and teacher, Boris Yanakov is more hands-on than necessary, touching his dancers as much as he sees fit. While molding Katya into a prima ballerina, he touched her in inappropriate places under the guise of class corrections while she was a minor. She developed a girlhood crush and dreamed about his touch, wanting him to desire her despite an age gap of 20+ years. As an adult, she entered into a relationship with Boris, adapting to his sexually-charged creative process even though it made him behave in a frenzied manner at work and behind closed doors. He is self-centered & controlling, showing very little consideration for Katya’s feelings; he also has a reputation for sleeping with numerous women wherever he travels. He never gets violent, but there are times when he physically hurts Katya.

Example 1: When Boris wanted to leave a conversation, he squeezed Katya’s arm hard enough to make her wince despite her asking him to leave her be for a moment or two (“New York” chapter 16).

Example 2: When they slept together for the first time, Katya was a virgin, & Boris was not sensitive to that, leaving her in quite a bit of pain. She excused herself to cry in the bathroom (“Feast and Famine” chapter 13).

Alcohol & Smoking: Alcoholism, Bloody Marys, Bourbon, Cigarettes, Cigars, Drinking, Intoxication, Jack Daniels, Liquor, Smoking, Whiskey, Whiskey Sours, & Wine

Katya’s mother was an alcoholic and died while drunk. Katya tells John that she feels abandoned by her mother, and he reveals that recent science classified alcoholism as an illness, implying that her mother was sick & had little to no control over her actions.

Blood, Death, & Violence: John’s life story is told in detail throughout the book, describing his experience as a German Jew before, during, and after the Holocaust. There are mentions of Jews who died inside gas chambers, trains, & trucks as well as descriptions of dead bodies. John’s father was shot for violating curfew, & while John was the personal prisoner of a Nazi kommandant, his mother & brother Max died inside a gas chamber. When the concentration camp was seized by the Allies, John saw the remaining prisoners, all of them bald, emaciated, and disoriented.

Drunk and desperate for more alcohol, Katya’s mother was hit by a truck while crossing the street, dying instantly.

Katya falls during a performance and bleeds through her tights.

There is one mention of John attending his anatomy class and discussing the cadavers with classmates, one of which is a thirty-year-old woman who died of cancer. He describes her outer appearance and observes that her uterus shows signs of birth, meaning she left behind a child.

Brief mention of knife fights in Katya’s neighborhood

Brief mention of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination

Bullying & Insensitivty: After her mother’s death, a classmate tells Katherine she’s only being favored by Mrs. Slattery because “your mom croaked.”

Selma’s niece Rachel is described as a “short, big-breasted girl” which could be interpreted as a reference to weight or having a mature body at a young age.

When Rachel says she wants to be a teacher, Moe remarks “Nice profession for a woman.”

While learning the English language, John endured jokes about his accent and mistakes as a non-native speaker.

Maya doesn’t revere Boris Yanakov the way Katya does, calling him a variety of names such as “dictator” & “winter warhorse.” He isn’t a good man by a long shot, but these particular names coud be interpreted as culturally insensitive toward a person of Russian heritage.

Cheating: PLOT SPOILER – When Boris Yanakov & John Curtin meet, they realize that Katya has been in a relationship with both of them simultaneously.

Foster Parents: As a young teen rescued from a concentration camp with nowhere to live, John is taken in by Barney and Selma Katz, a Jewish American family.

Gossip: Before she knew the whole story about her mother’s struggles with alcohol which led to her death, Katherine heard people at church talking about it. 

Language: D*mn, G*odd*mn, H*ll, & J*sus

Loss: Barney and Selma’s son Buddy died fighting in Sicily during World War II. John’s parents and brother were killed during the Holocaust, leaving him on his own at the age of eleven. Katya’s mother died when she was seven, leaving her to be raised by a single father. Selma & John lose Barney to a sudden stroke; the gravesite service takes place in “Veiled Road” chapter 2.

Prejudice: Brief mention of a British choreographer who was thrown out of London for being homosexual

Psychiatry: I don’t have the knowledge or experience to critique how this subject was handled so I’ll just lay out what I observed:

The term “headshrinker” is used quite a few times, including by John’s college classmates in jest. 

John refers to his residency patients as “New York’s refuse pile given over to his care.” A few of them are described: Elton Miller is obsessed with the Catholic church & expects the Pope to call him. Former choir director Candida Jackson thinks she’s a singer at the Metropolitan Opera House, constantly talking about her fellow performers who don’t exist & needing to keep time to music that isn’t playing; these detailed fantasies give her headaches. There’s no description of Louisa Matthew’s condition, but after an episode of running down the halls & screaming, she’s restrained by two men while a nurse sedates her; John calls her “a living cadaver, all sinew & bone” & mentions that she has no family.

John’s training psychiatrist Dr. Roth leads him through sessions going over his childhood during the Holocaust. The process is grueling, & John thinks a dentist’s drill would be preferable. The doctor remains professionally emotionless & uses “we” as though he’s also reliving the horrific memories, irking John enough to want to quit several times. John refers to his younger self in third person & tries to show no emotion. Because he was forced to sing for a Nazi kommandant, he has an aversion to music. It’s never stated that he has PTSD, but I would assume he does, music being a major trigger. Eventually Dr. Roth pushes him to “face the music” & sing which is an extremely emotional experience. When their sessions come to an end, John knows he’s made progress, but he credits his relationship with Katya, not the doctor.

Racism & Segregation: John was rescued from the concentration camp by Black soldiers, but on the ship to America, he observes that the mess staff is Black, and the sailors are white. He later mentions that Americans refer to Black people as “n*gro*s.”

Rape: As a live-in prisoner of a Nazi kommandant, John saw female prisoners from the concentration camp enter the house and heard noises after they went upstairs with the soldiers, implying those women were being raped.

Religion: John’s biological and foster parents are Jewish so there are descriptions of Jewish holidays and the corresponding traditions.

Katherine’s mother was Catholic and attended Sunday mass, but she questioned some of Father Paul’s sermons. After her mother’s death, Katherine questioned why Jesus let such a tragedy happen. Her single father continued to take her to mass on Sundays in a small parish church. As an adult, she visited St. Patrick’s Cathedral for some peace & time to reflect.

While telling Katya about his journey to America & being taken in by a loving family, John says “It was as if the gods were looking after me.”

When John opens up to Katya about feeling like he failed his late mother, she says “I wish I could provide absolution like a priest. Jewish don’t do that, do they?” In the Catholic church, “absolution” is a formal release from guilt (obligation or punishment as well).

Sensual/Sexual: In the “Paris” prologue, John daydreams about his coworker Ann, imagining her naked body from head to toe. He observes her physical assets & mentions his attraction a few other times in the book.

After his horrific experience inside a concentration camp, John tried to replace his bad memories with good ones, imagining himself back at school mischieviously trying to look up girls’ skirts.

As a college student, John notices the way classmates and women on the train fill out their clothing, but he doesn’t know how to handle this attraction, too shy to approach one of them and broach the subject of dating. He frequently describes physical assets (breasts, legs, etc.)

After so many years under Boris’ influence, Katya considers her style & movements as a dancer as “sexual” in nature.

During a date, John feels Katya pressing her leg against his.

There are three kisses: “New York” chapters 9, 10, & 11.

There are four sex scenes: “Paris” prologue, “Feast and Famine” chapters 12 & 13, & “New York” chapter 11

There are four more brief sexual moments: “New York” chapters 2, 5, 7, & 12

Suicide: There is a brief mention of Jews who jumped out of windows when Nazis took over.

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🌟 Find author Martha Anne Toll here:

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– Lauren Michele ❤️

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“Shady Hollow” by Juneau Black | Book Review

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“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?”

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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.

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Content Breakdown: 

*Disclaimer: This section of my review is thorough and might contain SPOILERS.

Alcohol & Smoking: Mentions of Alcohol, Beer, Cigars, Cigar Smoking, Cordial, Intoxication, Liquor, Pipe Smoking, Spirits, & Wine

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.

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🌟 Find author Juneau Black here:

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*Note: “Juneau Black” is the pen name of authors Jocelyn Cole and Sharon Nagel.

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Subscribe to my blog to receive email notifications, and check out my other links listed below.

– Lauren Michele ❤️

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“The Three Dahlias” by Katy Watson | Book Review

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“In the early eighties, actress Rosalind King originated the onscreen role of lady detective Dahlia Lively, the creation of Golden Age author Lettice Davenport. Fifteen years later, Caro Hooper introduced the character to a whole new generation, gracing TV screens for twelve years. Less than a decade has passed, and Dahlia is headed to the big screen once again, this time portrayed by former child actress Posy Starling who’s trying to reverse a bad reputation and revive her career. A three-day summer convention is being held in the late Lettice Davenport’s honor at Aldermere, her family home, and in attendance are relatives who still reside in the house, three generations of Dahlias, the movie crew, and VIP fans. As the weekend commences, real mysteries start popping up, threatening to derail the summer festivities. Caro, Posy, and Rosalind couldn’t be more different, but they’re well acquainted with the detective mind of Dahlia and team up to figure out what’s going on. When the situation escalates to murder, the three actresses appear out of their depth but continue to push for answers. Will the tenacious spirit of Dahlia Lively prevail, or should her three successors give up their amateur sleuthing before one of them gets hurt?”

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*Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book from Constable, imprint of Little, Brown Book Group, through NetGalley in exchange for a review. All opinions are my own.

I can’t even imagine what goes through an author’s head when their work is compared to Agatha Christie, the one and only “Queen of Crime.” Those are big shoes to fill, and I wouldn’t wish that pressure on anyone. That’s exactly what’s happening with Katy Watson’s debut, and as an Agatha fan, I agree on many counts. The book opens with an invitation and Aldermere House map which makes you, the reader, feel like one of the guests. The story takes place during a modern time, probably not far off from 2022, but it feels so much like a classic mansion murder mystery that you forget what year it is until someone mentions their cellphone. The convention is dedicated to Golden Age author Lettice Davenport, let’s call her Agatha’s fictional peer, and though she has passed away, her presence is felt everywhere. Aside from story after story about Miss Davenport’s life and career, each chapter begins with a quote from one of her Dahlia Lively detective novels, a deceptively small detail. The quotes don’t take up much of the book, but Katy Watson went to the trouble of creating excerpts from a book series that doesn’t exist which makes the fictional world where it does exist seem that much more real. That is maximum effort, and I applaud it.

Sometimes, on a rainy evening, you reach for a thriller to elevate your heartrate and maximize the chills in the room. Other times, you brew your favorite hot beverage and reach for a sleeper that’s going to lull you into the depths of coziness while intriguing you enough to devour page after page. “The Three Dahlias” is the latter, a mystery that’s less about action and more about brainstorming. Yet another way Katy Watson has captured the essence of Agatha’s work, almost exclusively focusing on the detectives methodically working through the clues until an answer presents itself in the eleventh hour. Speaking of detectives, I dare say the best part of this book is the dynamic between the actresses-turned-sleuths trio. They’ve all assumed the role of Dahlia Lively for films and television and gleaned enough knowledge to fake their way through detective work until something sticks. Rosalind King is the oldest and most prim and proper, and though she now finds herself passed over for leading roles due to age, she’s earned enough respect as the original Dahlia to be able to walk among the convention crowd and get answers to her questions. Caro Hooper likes to take charge and be the center of attention, much to the displeasure of Rosalind; she often loses herself in the character of Dahlia, shying away from being herself when it’s easier to hide her personal struggles behind a facade. Posy Starling rounds out the trio as the youngest member and the newest Dahlia; she is a disgraced child star recently returned to England and trying to distance herself from a substance abuse past with a new chapter in her career. Three women, different ages, contrasting personalities, and the combination works, like three liquids that shouldn’t mix, but if you trust the process, they eventually blend into something of substance.

I’m going to stick with my normal procedure and give this debut four stars, leaving room for improvement. I enjoyed it but struggled to focus at times due to the pace. There was a little something missing, but this is a solid foundation for the in-progress sequel. I’m not sure what Katy Watson’s plans are, but she has the makings of a great modern murder mystery series on her hands. I highly recommend you check out this debut mystery that has, thus far, flown under the radar. It may not have enough action for thrill-seeking readers, but mystery enthusiasts will find more than enough meat to sink their teeth into.

*NOTE: The expected U.S. publication date is July 26th, 2022.

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Content Breakdown: 

*Disclaimer: I read an uncorrected ARC so certain things might be different in the final copy.

*Disclaimer 2: This section of my review is thorough and might contain SPOILERS.

Abuse: It is briefly implied that Posy’s last relationship was abusive.

Alcohol, Drugs, & Smoking: Mentions of Alcoholism, Amaretto, Brandy, Cigarettes, Cocktails, Drug addiction, Gin, Intoxication, a Pub, Rehab for substance abuse, Sobriety meetings, Whisky, & Wine

Main character Posy Starling is a recovering addict, and there are numerous mentions of her experience with rehab and sobriety meetings. She no longer drinks alcohol.

One of the side characters who never makes an appearance is mentioned as an addict who ran away from home as a teen, got pregnant, and moved back home, only to relapse several times and struggle to keep a job.

Blackmail: PLOT SPOILER – Three characters are blackmailed with photos. The first group of photos shows the victim under the influence despite being on a sobriety journey. The second group of photos is sexual, & the blackmail note mentions there’s a tape. The third & final group of photos shows the victim in an affair with someone else’s husband.

Blood & Violence: There are dolls left lying around as a threat, each representing a method of murder such as poison & stabbing.

During a tour of Aldermere House, the contents of shelves in Lettice Davenport’s office are described: books on anatomy and poison, the knot from a noose, a bottle with a poison sticker on it, and a line of bullets.

Chapter 8 begins with a Dahlia Lively quote which is said while she holds the hand of a corpse.

In chapter 11, there’s a brief mention of World War II & a bomb landing on Lettice Davenport’s building of flats.

PLOT SPOILER -There is a murder via poison, & the victim is described as looking relatively unharmed aside from the vomit coming out of his mouth.

A character is attacked from behind, hit with a heavy object which leaves a bloody head wound.

PLOT SPOILER -A dead body is discovered in a river, described as bloated, grey, & naked; it’s later revealed that the victim suffered blunt force trauma to the head. The person who discovered the body screamed long enough for her voice to go hoarse & later mentions not being able to sleep because all she sees are the bulging, staring eyes of the victim.

During the big reveal, the murderer throws the contents of a poison bottle into Rosalind’s face. Posy throws herself in front of Rosalind, but thankfully it’s only a bottle of glitter labeled as poison.

Cheating: PLOT SPOILER – There are two characters having an affair. The history of the situation is complicated, but the black & white facts are her having a relationship with her friend’s husband & him staying with his wife despite insisting she isn’t the woman he truly loves. 

Fake Pregnancy: PLOT SPOILER – There’s a discussion about a character who announced a pregnancy, but once her boyfriend married her, the baby was never born. It’s not known whether she faked the pregnancy or lost the baby, but it is known that her boyfriend wasn’t planning to take their relationship any further before the announcement.

Language: B*st*rd, Bloody, D*mn, Heck, & H*ll

Pregnancy & Adoption: PLOT SPOILER – Details are given about a character’s father who was given up for adoption at birth. His mother fell in love with her cousin, but he wouldn’t commit when she got pregnant because he had an understanding with a family friend, a more suitable wife. The son tried, and later on his daughter, to reconnect with the biological family & was met with rejection.

Therapy: Posy mentions having a therapist & dealing with the aftermath of a past relationship, possibly abusive. 

Sensual/Sexual: There is one kiss which happens as part of the murder mystery game at the convention.

In chapter 16, Juliette admits to sneaking out of Aldermere to meet her boyfriend. There’s no definite mention of what they were doing, but Juliette says they were too busy to notice any suspicious activity outside the house.

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🌟 Find author Katy Watson here:

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“A Line in the Sand” by Teri Wilson | Book Review

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“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?”

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*Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book from Sourcebooks Casablanca through NetGalley in exchange for a review. All opinions are my own.

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!

-> -> -> -> -> OUT ON AUGUST 2ND! <- <- <- <- <-

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Content Breakdown: 

*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. 

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🌟 Find author Teri Wilson here:

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“Wretched Waterpark” by Kiersten White | Book Review

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“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?”

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*Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book from Random House Children’s Books through NetGalley in exchange for a review. All opinions are my own.

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.

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Content Breakdown:

*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.

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🌟 Find author Kiersten White here:

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“The Girl Who Fell Beneath the Sea” by Axie Oh | Book Review

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“This is a tale of bravery and sacrifice, a retelling of the Korean folktale “The Tale of Shim Cheong.” Believing they’re cursed by the Sea God who once protected them, Mina’s village annually chooses a bride and throws her into the sea as a sacrifice for peace. Still, floods and wars continue to ravage the land with no end in sight. Shim Cheong is the latest choice, her unmatched beauty thought to be a sign of the “true bride” and impending peace. Her sweetheart Joon risks punishment by death to ride in the boat, joined at the last minute by his younger sister Mina who wants to protect him. Knowing how much the young couple loves one another, Mina bravely throws herself into the sea where she’s carried to the Spirit Realm. She finds the Sea God, but he isn’t the merciless ruler she was expecting; he’s trapped under a sleeping spell. With the help of her new acquaintances led by the enigmatic Shin, Mina navigates a world of demons and spirits to wake her groom and save her home before time runs out, and she can no longer leave as a human.”

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If you added “The Girl Who Fell Beneath the Sea” to your TBR because of Kuri Huang’s stunning art, fear not because the setting and atmosphere are just as magical as advertised on the cover. I wanted to dive in and never come back, minus the sacrifice part of course. My favorite part was the friendships Mina found on her journey through the Spirit Realm which led to an emotional twist that hit me like a ton of bricks. Wow! I may or may not have sobbed in a bubble bath late at night for a lengthy period of time.

Just like Axie Oh’s other book “XOXO, I thoroughly enjoyed the fictional world and platonic relationships but didn’t quite fall for the romance, although I did feel it a little more in this story. Some of the banter was cute, but overall, the love story felt too young and rushed. My head wanted to root for a happy ending because the couple is swoonworthy in theory, but there were no heart palpitations or stomach butterflies for me, I’m afraid.

Due to an uptick in my enjoyment, I’m giving my second experience with Axie Oh’s work four stars. I recommend this beautiful Korean fantasy to readers who are familiar with the young adult genre and don’t mind a young love romance that doesn’t dive too deep. The world and characters will enchant you!

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Content Breakdown:

*Disclaimer: This section of my review is thorough and might contain SPOILERS.

Alcohol: Mentions of Drunkenness, Liquor, & Wine

Blood & Violence: A character slashes her palm with a knife as a pledge.

A character says the humans are responsible for polluting rivers & streams with bloodshed.

During a fight, a spray of blood splatters a paper screen in the room; in the same scene, there’s an inflicted wound & mention of dripping blood.

There are numerous mentions of a murdered body that was tossed into the sea.

As an “Imugi,” Kirin can cut himself open (i.e. his palm) & use his silver blood to heal, an ability he uses a few times. He’s thanked by a recipient of his healing powers who remembers how it felt when his warm blood oozed into the wound.

Mina tells a tale in which a man finds an injured swallow & nurses it back to health, receiving wealth in return for his good deed. His older brother mirrors those actions to receive the same wealth, but after he pushes a baby bird out of the nest to expedite the process, he recieves bad luck instead, including a beating from a group of demons.

During a conversation on page 175, the words “left bleeding on the floor” are said as a hypothetical situation. In that same scene, a knife is used to cut an attacker, leaving a bleeding wound on his cheek, and one of the rescuers stands above the unconscious bodies he’s responsible for.

On page 180, Mina sees the River of Souls in person, witnessing the steady flow of pale, bloodless bodies & a child desperately trying to get out.

When two “Imugi” clash on page 192, the bigger creature bites through the skin of the other & draws blood.

A character is shot in the shoulder by a crossbow and left in a coma due to blood loss.

An “Imugi” is stabbed in the neck by a sword, writhing in pain & spewing blood & venom.

At the end of chapter 33, a character is pierced through the heart by an arrow, blood flowing out of his mouth as he slowly dies.

There are at least seven other brief mentions of blood throughout the book.

Creatures, Gods, & the Afterlife: A main element of this story is the web of gods, goddesses, & the afterlife. Among those named are a death god named Shiki, the goddess of creation, the goddess of moon & memory, & a white fox demon who eats human men (and women within the Spirit Realm) & is served by a group of priestesses. Additionally, there are mentions of shrines & temples.

There’s one deity known as the god of gods & ruler of them all: the “Sea God.” Every year a girl is thrown into the sea, given to him as a bride in hopes of peace.

There’s a dragon-like creature called an “Imugi” who worships no gods, instead believing it can become a god itself by living long enough or fighting a certain number of wars.

The Spirit Realm is a place between heaven & earth where gods, spirits, & mythical creatures reside. They pulled themselves from the River of Souls, not wanting to move on to another life. Once they die in the Spirit Realm, they return to the river for the final time.

Humans craft paper boats to carry their wishes to dead ancestors in the Spirit Realm who will bargain on their behalf with lesser gods to fulfill dreams & desires.

Disability + Insensitive Language: There’s a blind character who’s known by villagers as “Shim the Blind,” a nickname that could be interpreted as insensitive & reductive.

Death: Mina’s father died at sea & her mother in childbirth.

On page 18, there’s a discussion about a baby who was born early & died because any child born during the storms doesn’t survive; this death is mentioned again later in the book.

Mina touches a paper boat & has a vision of a young, pregannt woman crying; she tries to help, but the wish is old, the woman & her child long since passed away.

Language: B*st*rd

Orphaned: Mina was raised by her grandparents after losing both parents.

Sensual/Sexual: From the end of chapter 22 to the beginning of chapter 23, two characters sleep wrapped in each other’s embrace as one of them battles a fever.

There is kissing on pages 287 & 320.

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 🌟 Find author Axie Oh here: 

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– Lauren Michele 

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“The Thursday Murder Club” by Richard Osman | Book Review

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“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?”

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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.

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Content Breakdown:

*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!

Language: Ars*, Bull, Chr*st, Chr*st’s Sake, D*mn, H*ll, J*s*s, Middle finger, Screw it, Silly sod, & WTF

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.

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🌟 Find author Richard Osman here:

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– Lauren Michele ❤️

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“The Woman in the Library” by Sulari Gentill | Book Review

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“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.”

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*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!

Preorder your copy now because the release date is not too far away: June 7th, 2022.

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Content Breakdown:

*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 

Insensitive Language:

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.

Language:

*$$hole

Chr*st / Chr*ss*kes

D*mn

F*ck / F*cking

Good L*rd

H*ll / H*lluva

J*sus

My G*d / Oh My G*d

Sh*t

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.”

Sensual/Sexual:

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.

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🌟 Find author Sulari Gentill here:

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– Lauren Michele ❤

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“XOXO” by Axie Oh | Book Review

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“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?”

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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. 

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Trigger Warnings:

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.

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Content Breakdown:

*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 . . .”

Language

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

Religion

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).

Sensual/Sexual Moments

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.

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🌟 Find author Axie Oh here:

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– Lauren Michele ❤

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