A Botanist’s Guide to Parties and Poisons by Kate Khavari – Review

Published: June 7, 2022

Publisher: Crooked Lane Books

Genre: Mystery

Series: Standalone

Pages: 304 (Hardcover)

My Rating: 3.5/5.0

A copy of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Synopsis:
Saffron Everleigh is in a race against time to free her wrongly accused professor before he goes behind bars forever. Perfect for fans of Deanna Raybourn and Anna Lee Huber, Kate Khavari’s debut historical mystery is a fast-paced, fearless adventure.

London, 1923. Newly minted research assistant Saffron Everleigh attends a dinner party for the University College of London. While she expects to engage in conversations about the university’s large expedition to the Amazon, she doesn’t expect Mrs. Henry, one of the professors’ wives to drop to the floor, poisoned by an unknown toxin.

Dr. Maxwell, Saffron’s mentor, is the main suspect, having had an explosive argument with Dr. Henry a few days prior. As evidence mounts against Dr. Maxwell and the expedition’s departure draws nearer, Saffron realizes if she wants her mentor’s name cleared, she’ll have to do it herself.

Joined by enigmatic Alexander Ashton, a fellow researcher, Saffron uses her knowledge of botany as she explores steamy greenhouses, dark gardens, and deadly poisons. Will she be able to uncover the truth or will her investigation land her on the murderer’s list?


This book is basically a terrible tale of what it was like to be a pretty woman in academia in 1923 in the sciences (this was before women could even vote in England!). The main character was harassed by male professors, treated as a glorified note taker, and mostly frowned upon. And this was all before the wife of one of the most prominent professors was nearly murdered, which is what the story is actually about!  

I liked Saffron Everleigh (what a name!). She was determined to earn a place for herself in the botany department at the University College of London, defying the will of her wealthy grandparents for her to marry well. Instead she would rather study plants, following in the footsteps of her deceased father. During a dinner party for department members and those going on a research trip to Brazil, Mrs. Henry, the wife of the philandering though prominent Dr. Henry, is poisoned. Unfortunately the suspicion falls on Saffron’s mentor, Dr. Maxwell, who had recently argued with Dr. Henry and had access to and knowledge of a deadly array of plant specimens. Saffron promptly sets out to clear Dr. Maxwell’s name and find out who really tried to murder Mrs. Henry – was it a jilted lover or perhaps the poison was intended for Dr. Henry?

The mystery aspect was less of the Sherlockian variety and more a slow untangling of the complicated social and professional history within the university. Saffron does a bit of snooping and solving, but mostly she eavesdrops and chats up various people who might have information, all while swooning over the handsome Alexander Ashton. I appreciated Saffron’s dedication to her mentor and her determination to become a successful, respected researcher in what was primarily a man’s world at that time. I also enjoyed the slowly building relationship between her and Mr. Ashton – it was cute and satisfying. 

This was an enjoyable read, though it doesn’t rank among my favorite mysteries. To me the plot felt a bit contrived at times, but I did think it was quite fun and it wasn’t a heavy, stodgy read. Once again, I picked a good book for a vacation read. It wasn’t a stressful book where your favorite hero is in dire peril (or horridly embarrassing themselves) and while clearing someone’s name and figuring out who’s the poisoner is high stakes, it’s not saving the world!

Stacking the Shelves: 1/15/22

Stacking The Shelves is a weekly (or in my case monthly) meme hosted by Tynga’s Reviews and it’s all about sharing the books you’ve added to your shelves, may it be physical or virtual. You can include books you buy in a physical store or online, books you borrow from friends or the library, review books, gifts, and of course ebooks!


Received for Review: 

The Orbit Goods

I received two very exciting ARCs since my last post – The City of Dusk by Tara Sim and Age of Ash by Daniel Abraham. I also received a finished copy of A Practical Guide to Conquering the World by K.J. Parker, which I totally forgot I requested until it showed up earlier this week! Many thanks to Orbit for all the exciting new books to read!

The Paradox Hotel by Rob Hart
You had me at locked room murder mystery + time travelers. I love the concept – thanks to Ballantine Books for the eARC.

Pennyblade by J.L. Worrad
The cover for this was so cool that I had to check it out. It’s about a mercenary exiled from her homeland which sounds like something I would be keen on, though I’m keeping my expectations reasonable due to mixed early reviews. Thanks to Titan Books for the eARC.

The Bloody Throne by S.C. Emmett
Hands down this is one of my favorite fantasy series right now and it’s HIGHLY underrated political fantasy. Ecstatic to have my hands on an eARC from Orbit!

Our Lady of Mysterious Ailments by T.L. Huchu
The first book in this series was a surprise favorite in 2021 and I’m looking forward to returning to this strange world. Thanks to Tor Books for the eARC.

Daughter of Redwinter by Ed McDonald
This is one of my most anticipated fantasy releases coming up. I already know Ed McDonald is a fantastic writer and I think this new world is going to be excellent. Thanks to Tor Book for the eARC!

Friend of the Devil by Stephen Lloyd
Boarding school murder mystery settings always suck me in! This is another one where early reviews are mixed, so I’m tempering my expectations a bit but it’s also a very short book. Thanks to GP Putnam for the eARC.

My Purchases:

I had a sudden fascination with learning about making cocktails after Christmas (thanks Youtube rabbit hole) and picked up a couple books that were highly recommended. Not sure I’ll actually make anything, but Cocktail Codex and Smuggler’s Cove are both really lovely books!

I’d also like to give a shout-out to Nerdy Ink if you’re looking for lovely new covers for some of your books! I really hated having mismatched covers for the ACOTAR series, so I bought these and the quality is gorgeous! They are periodically adding new series and I’m thinking about getting the Red Rising set next.

Goodness! I have been rolling through audiobooks so quickly in the last month or so! I’ve picked up Firesky, A Swift and Savage Tide, Kingdom of the Wicked, Kingdom of the Cursed and Nolyn. I’m not even getting into ebooks that I’ve bought… I have too many books on my TBR!

Powder & Page’s Best Books of 2021

I’ve enjoyed looking through everyone else’s Best Of lists and decided I’d do my own version this year! The books below are listed in the order I read them and are primarily books I’ve rated 5 stars throughout the year, with a small handful of my favorite 4.5 star reads thrown in to round out the number. If you’d like to check out my full reviews, they’re all linked below!

 

The Frozen Crown by Greta Kelly
Political intrigue, witches and wizards, totally unputdownable!

The Councillor by E.J. Beaton
Epic amounts of political intrigue, murder mystery, amazing main and secondary characters

Odin’s Child by Siri Pettersen
Inspired by Norse mythology, translated from Norwegian, incredible world-building, subverted my expectations

Black Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse
Inspired by the civilizations of Pre-Columbian Americas, brutal first chapter, really cool magic

The Shadow of the Gods by John Gwynne
Viking inspired fantasy, bad-ass characters, surprisingly heartwarming found families trope

Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir
First contact with aliens, surprisingly heartwarming, humorous, must save humanity!

The Library of the Dead by T.L. Huchu
A girl who can speak to the dead, an occult library, vibrant characters, and disturbing Lovecraftian monsters

The Blacktongue Thief by Christopher Buehlman
Snarky, memorable main character, excellent audio narration, horrific goblins, and an uncanny blind cat

The Last Graduate by Naomi Novik
Satisfies those  dark academia cravings, awkward romance, epic heroism, and the threat of the graduation gauntlet full of terrifying monsters

The Empire’s Ruin by Brian Staveley
Epic scenery, scary beasties, bad-ass characters, builds super well on the previous books set in the same world

 

Angel Killer by Andrew Mayne
Edge of your seat thriller, awesome introduction to Jessica Blackwood, borders on the supernatural

The Forever King by Ben Galley
Seriously deep lore, ultra cool magic (the mages have magical books inked onto their skin!), classic epic fantasy themes, tons of cool magical races

The Bone Ship’s Wake by RJ Barker
Incredible series finale, emotional gut punch ending, and sea dragons

A Spindle Splintered by Alix E. Harrow
Fun spin on the Sleeping Beauty story, incredible friendship, and girls refusing to accept ‘fate’ without a fight

Empire of the Vampire by Jay Kristoff
The moody, goth vampire tome I’ve been waiting my whole life for, solid world-building, such dramatic characters

The Liar’s Knot by M.A. Carrick
Secret societies, vigilante heroes, TWO awesome magic systems, and the fashion is to die for. Also, PEABODY.

The Man Who Died Twice by Richard Osman
Compelling mystery that feels lighthearted despite the murder, elderly folks solving murders, surprisingly humorous, excellent audiobook narration

All of Us Villains by Amanda Foody
Extra dark riff on the magical tournament trope, grimdark for young adults, explores what people will do in order to survive, so much drama!

Year of the Reaper by Makiia Lucier
Incredible standalone low fantasy book, jaw-dropping plot twists, one of the best YA books I’ve ever read

Engines of Empire by R.S. Ford
January 2022 release, fantastic world building, semi-industrialized world, political intrigue. Full review coming soon!

The Man Who Died Twice by Richard Osman – Review

Published: September 28, 2021

Publisher Pamela Dorman Books

Series: Thursday Murder Club #2

Genre: Mystery

Pages: 368 (Hardcover)

My Rating: 5.0/5.0

Synopsis:
It’s the following Thursday.

Elizabeth has received a letter from an old colleague, a man with whom she has a long history. He’s made a big mistake, and he needs her help. His story involves stolen diamonds, a violent mobster, and a very real threat to his life.

As bodies start piling up, Elizabeth enlists Joyce, Ibrahim and Ron in the hunt for a ruthless murderer. And if they find the diamonds too? Well, wouldn’t that be a bonus?

But this time they are up against an enemy who wouldn’t bat an eyelid at knocking off four septuagenarians. Can The Thursday Murder Club find the killer (and the diamonds) before the killer finds them?


I find myself pleasantly surprised that The Man Who Died Twice (despite the ominous name) was just as delightful as The Thursday Murder Club (also somewhat ominous, or at least eyebrow raising). Who would have thought that a book series about an eclectic group of elderly folks solving murders would be such an absolute hit! Our elderly folks don’t get much of a break either, seeing as how this picks up not terribly long after the events of the first book.

It starts off with Elizabeth receiving a mysterious note and then meeting up with her ex-husband Douglas who is still a spy. A good ol’ James Bond type, still a flirt in his twilight years, and still up to his same old tricks. He’s got a bit of a situation because he stole several million pounds worth of diamonds from a fellow who’s essentially a criminal broker of sorts and now the same fellow is definitely going to kill Douglas. On top of all this, Ibrahim was mugged by a couple young guys on a trip to town and he’s ended up in the hospital. Elizabeth certainly has quite a few things to take care of, so it’s a good thing she has such a tight group of pals in the Thursday Murder Club, plus Bogdan, plus DCIs Chris and Donna. It will take the whole gang to deal with the complicated tangle of a situation that has arisen because it’s not just Douglas hiding out from a criminal – the young guys who mugged Ibrahim are part of a larger crime ring that Chris and Donna are looking into as well. 

The story was quite intense, though the characters themselves move at a slower pace than I’m accustomed to – no fancy sword work, no parkour, none of the craziness that abounds in the books I usually read. What they lack in physical talent, they more than make up for with their scheming. And it’s not just Elizabeth with a talent for handling interesting situations! Joyce, Ron, and Ibrahim are all clever in their own right and that’s part of what keeps the story so interesting. You’re never quite sure who’s up to something!

The Man Who Died Twice was a brilliant read and quite frankly, I never saw the ending coming! The culminating chapters were gripping and I really didn’t want to be interrupted (listening to audiobook) because I didn’t want to accidentally miss something. Richard Osman certainly knows how to write a compelling mystery that will keep you guessing and mentally pointing fingers at like, all the characters right until the very end. This was a really fun book and can’t wait for the next one!

Black Fall by Andrew Mayne – Review

Published: March 21, 2017

Publisher: Harper Paperbacks

Series: Jessica Blackwood #3

Genre: Mystery, Thriller

Pages: 368 (Paperback)

My Rating: 4.0/5.0

Synopsis:
In Black Fall, the third book in the ITW Award-nominated series that began with self-published eBook phenomenon Angel Killer, magician-turned-FBI agent Jessica Blackwood investigates a series of seemingly unrelated, but equally bizarre and sinister, crimes that lead her to the Colorado desert and a town that has, simply, disappeared.

With two big cases under her belt, FBI Agent Jessica Blackwood is learning to embrace her unconventional past as the rising star in a family dynasty of illusionists. Her talent and experience endow her with a unique understanding of the power and potential of deception, and a gift for knowing when things are not always as they appear to be. Once resenting her eccentric grandfather, a brilliant magician in his own right, Jessica now sees him as a mentor and regularly seeks his advice about her work. But Jessica’s routine surveillance operation becomes a fight for survival when a disturbed young woman, clutching a baby, shows up at the stake-out location and threatens to kill her child. On the same day, an hour after a severe earthquake rocks the eastern seaboard, a strange video goes viral. Nobel Prize-winning physicist Peter Devon has been dead for eight years, yet here he is on camera, predicting the location and date of the earthquake. Jessica is put on the case by her boss, Dr. Ailes, but when Detective Aileen Lewis reports that they’ve found a Jane Doe who matches her description of her attacker, she’s torn between professional duty and a personal desire to find out who the woman was, and why she was killed.The investigations pull her in very different directions–until they start to converge, leading Jessica to confront something darker, and more powerful, than anyone expected. Something so twisted, only one person could be behind it…the Warlock.


And now to wrap up the Jessica Blackwood reviews! Black Fall is the concluding entry to the Jessica Blackwood trilogy and wow, does it go out with a bang! If the stakes weren’t high enough for you in the first two books, this should be more than enough to WOW you.  This time around the safety of the world is at stake and a mere button press could tilt the world into chaos.

The story starts off with a small Colorado town that has disappeared off the map – there’s simply no trace of it. While this is certainly a strange situation, it actually gets moved to the back burner in favor of some other situations for much of the story. When Jessica is nearly assassinated by a woman who literally shows up on her doorstep then that same woman is found murdered, the plot focuses there instead. And let’s not forget the video that surfaces of a dead physicist predicting the massive earthquake that just occurred! There’s suspicion that an environmental cult may be involved, though the exact reasons behind it are suspect – is the Warlock in play again, despite being in jail? So much happens in this book that I can’t remember it all very well… I really shouldn’t procrastinate my reviews for so long!

I’ll be keeping this brief since I’ve forgotten so many details already. The stakes are higher than ever, but in this case I didn’t care for it as much. I prefer the slightly smaller scale cases where the whole world isn’t about to be thrown into chaos by an environmental terrorism cult. Somehow, even though those other cases are equally improbable, they still seemed believable while this story was a bit too wild for me. It was still good, but in my opinion is the weakest of the installments and I found myself skimming (technically fast forwarding) through sections of the audiobook. I just didn’t really care because it was on a massive scale and you sort of lose the human connection (and it also feels like the craziness the world is going through now). So no, I didn’t love this one as much but it was interesting and I still enjoyed it overall AND it was a good set up for Mastermind and the return of the Warlock.

Name of the Devil by Andrew Mayne – Review

Published: July 7, 2015

Publisher: Harper Paperbacks

Series: Jessica Blackwood #2

Genre: Mystery, Thriller

Pages: 432 (Paperback)

My Rating: 4.5/5.0

Synopsis:
In this electrifying sequel to the crowd-pleasing thriller Angel Killer, magician-turned-FBI agent Jessica Blackwood must once again draw on her past to go up against a brutal murderer desperate for revenge at any price


After playing a pivotal role in the capture of the Warlock, a seemingly supernatural serial killer—and saving the FBI’s reputation in the process—agent Jessica Blackwood can no longer ignore the world she left behind. Formerly a prodigy in a family dynasty of illusionists, her talent and experience endow her with a unique understanding of the power and potential of deception, as well as a knack for knowing when things are not always as they appear to be.

When a church congregation vanishes under mysterious circumstances in rural Appalachia, the bizarre trail of carnage indicates the Devil’s hand at work. But Satan can’t be the suspect, so FBI consultant Dr. Ailes and Jessica’s boss on the Warlock case, Agent Knoll, turn to the ace up their sleeve: Jessica. She’s convinced that an old cassette tape holds the key to the mystery, and unraveling the recorded events reveals a troubling act with far-reaching implications. The evil at work is human, and Jessica must follow the trail from West Virginia to Mexico, Miami, and even the hallowed halls of the Vatican.

Can she stop a cold-blooded killer obsessed by a mortal sin—or will she become the next target in a twisted, diabolical game of hunter and prey…?


Like many a  book nerd, when presented with a completed series that’s completely addictive, I binge read. I picked up Name of the Devil right after finishing Angel Killer just to see what sort of horrible case Jessica Blackwood would be involved with next.

This time the case is in West Virginia, where some members of a church congregation go missing and their church explodes. This is yet another instance in which the mystery toes the line between mundane and supernatural, which I personally love. The town Sheriff is involved and perhaps not in the way you would expect – he bites a hunk out of some guy’s neck and runs off into the night like some kind of werewolf. Welcome to wild and wonderful West Virginia, folks! The whole situation is strange, even though the FBI would love to write it off as a church bombing and leave it at that. Jessica Blackwood, several months out from the Warlock case, can’t wait to get back into the field even if it’s just to assist a local field office. With her on the job, things quickly escalate, leading Jessica to Mexico and Miami to search out clues and eventually even the Vatican gets involved.

It’s truly a wild ride from start to finish and I was kept guessing at every turn! Name of the Devil is just as good as Angel Killer, though it feels quite different. The main bad guy (who remains a mystery for most of the book) doesn’t have the feel of a puppet master orchestrating everything that the Warlock did. This is a crime of revenge rather than done purely for attention. There are definitely strong religious overtones to the whole case, and before it becomes clear once again that the case is not supernatural, it’s easy to believe there might be something demonic at work.

I can’t recommend this series enough, and I say that having read all three books at this point (I’m so behind on reviews!). They’re pure fun, with high stakes and plenty of action to keep you entertained. I would actually love to see this series adapted for either a mini series or a few movies because it’s the perfect FBI drama for something like that! 

Angel Killer by Andrew Mayne – Review

Published: September 23, 2014

Publisher: Harper Paperbacks

Series: Jessica Blackwood #1

Genre: Mystery, Thriller

Pages: 368 (Paperback)

My Rating: 5.0/5.0

Synopsis:
FBI agent Jessica Blackwood believes she’s left her complicated life as a gifted magician behind her . . . until a killer with seemingly supernatural powers puts her talents to the ultimate test.

A hacker who identifies himself only as “Warlock” brings down the FBI’s website and posts a code in its place that leads to a Michigan cemetery, where a dead girl is discovered rising from the ground . . . as if she tried to crawl out of her own grave.

Born into a dynasty of illusionists, Jessica Blackwood is destined to become its next star—until she turns her back on her troubled family to begin a new life in law enforcement. But FBI consultant Dr. Jeffrey Ailes’s discovery of an old magic magazine will turn Jessica’s world upside down. Faced with a crime that appears beyond explanation, Ailes has nothing to lose—and everything to gain—by taking a chance on an agent raised in a world devoted to achieving the seemingly impossible.

The body in the cemetery is only the first in the Warlock’s series of dark miracles. Thrust into the media spotlight, with time ticking away until the next crime, can Jessica confront her past to stop a depraved killer? If she can’t, she may become his next victim.


Soooo, its been probably a month and a half since I actually finished this up. That’s what happens when I prioritize review copy write ups over the books I pick up for funnies. Fortunately this is a memorable series opener and I haven’t forgotten too much! I’m back tracking a little with this series, since my first intro to Jessica Blackwood was in Mastermind, where she teams up with Theo Cray. I loved it and knew I had to go back and see where Jessica’s story began.

Jessica Blackwood is from a family of famous stage magicians, and having had her fill of the limelight, she went off to college, became a police officer, and then joined the FBI. It’s clear from the start that she takes her work very seriously and that a work-life balance is sort of non-existent. When she’s pulled into a special team headed up by Dr. Robert Ailes, a brilliant mathematician known for thinking outside the box, it becomes clear that Jessica is in for a unique challenge. There’s an individual known only as the Warlock who is performing what appear to be miracles, though clearly something sinister is afoot. The first “miracle” is a girl who died years past clawing her way from her grave, seemingly only just deceased. It really had me intrigued from the start, especially since each time I started to form a guess about how it was done, it would be wrong! There are three “miracles ” in total with each being more sensational than the last.

I have to say, this was really over the top and I loved every page of it! Jessica is easy to root for, and I like that she acknowledges when something is outside her realm of knowledge. Her background as a stage magician is uniquely suited to unraveling the mystery of the Warlocks miracles and showing what they really are – smoke and mirrors. The Warlock himself remains an unknown figure until the end of the book, but his influence continues throughout the series and beyond into Mastermind. 

I think it almost goes without saying at this point, but I’d highly recommend Angel Killer, particularly if you’ve enjoyed Andrew Mayne’s other series. This book is ultimately a satisfying set up for not only the next two books in this series, but also a crossover series starring Jessica Blackwood and Theo Cray. This is a fun, fast paced read where the mysteries lean perilously close to the supernatural while remaining firmly rooted in the natural. The science and techniques behind it are pretty far-out, but it’s extremely fun if you can suspend disbelief for the sake of some brilliant entertainment. 

Stacking the Shelves: 10/16/21

Stacking The Shelves is a weekly (or in my case monthly) meme hosted by Tynga’s Reviews and it’s all about sharing the books you’ve added to your shelves, may it be physical or virtual. You can include books you buy in a physical store or online, books you borrow from friends or the library, review books, gifts, and of course ebooks!


Received for Review:

Orbit kindly provided me with finished copies of Blood of the Chosen by Django Wexler and The Seven Visitations of Sydney Burgess by Andy Marino. 

An Unintended Voyage by Marshall Ryan Maresca
I’m excited to see where voyages outside of Maradaine take Corrie Welling! I’m betting it’s going to be a thrilling story if the first few chapters are anything to go by! Thanks to DAW for the eARC.

The Rot by Siri Pettersen
I’ve already finished this up and will be posting a review soon! It’s an excellent story and it makes me want to get my hands on even more translated works. Thanks to Arctis for the eARC.

The Bone Shard Emperor by Andrea Stewart
Aren’t we all just reading this book for more Mephi? Thanks to Orbit for feeding my animal companion addiction!

Edgewood by Kristen Ciccarelli
Family curses, dark forests, and fae. A trio too good to resist. Many thanks to Wednesday Books for the eARC.

The Liar’s Knot by M.A. Carrick
I really want to check this one out soon (AKA before the actual release date). I also really want that mask on the cover – SO gorgeous! Thanks to Orbit for the eARC.

A Botanist’s Guide to Parties and Poisons by Kate Khavari
This is a wayyyy early copy – it doesn’t come out until June 2022! A research assistant must clear her mentor’s name in the poisoning death of another professor’s wife. Thanks to Crooked Lane Books for the eARC.

Saint Death’s Daughter by C.S.E. Cooney
A royal assassin who is allergic to violence and accidentally brings the dead back to life?? Yes!!! Much thanks to Solaris for the eARC.

Absynthe by Brendan Bellecourt
A WWI veteran must hone his latent telepathic abilities to stop the President’s nefarious plans. GOOD LORD, WHAT A SUMMARY. Can’t wait to check out this unusual book from DAW!

My Purchases:

I hate stickers on book covers 😦

I always go wander around bookstores on vacation, even if it is just a Barnes & Noble and this time I could actually buy stuff because we didn’t fly!! I picked up the rad 10th anniversary edition of Leviathan Wakes, the special edition of Empire of the Vampire, and American Cider. Vespertine arrived in the mail just before I started working on this post – it was so good I had to buy a physical copy. 

I’ve had quite the audiobook binge lately! I finished up the Jessica Blackwood trilogy with Name of the Devil and Black Fall. Empire of the Vampire was a great book with excellent narration, as was The Man Who Died Twice. I just picked up Heavy Lies the Crown and I’m expecting good things from this one too!

Currently Reading: 10/11/21

The Man Who Died Twice by Richard Osman
I was counting down the days until I got my Audible credits so I could pick this one up! I really adore the characters in these books and this one is extra exciting because we get to learn more about Elizabeth’s past adventures.

The Quicksilver Court by Melissa Caruso
Another very exciting sequel! I took this with me on vacation the week before last, but didn’t have time to check it out so I’m making up for lost time. I expect I’ll actually be finishing this one up today and I can pick up another exciting book this week. 

The Hunting Party by Lucy Foley – Review

Published: February 12, 2019

Publisher: William Morrow

Series: Standalone

Genre: Mystery

Pages: 336 (Hardcover)

My Rating: 3.5/5.0

Synopsis:

Everyone’s invited…everyone’s a suspect…

For fans of Ruth Ware and Tana French, a shivery, atmospheric, page-turning novel of psychological suspense in the tradition of Agatha Christie, in which a group of old college friends are snowed in at a hunting lodge . . . and murder and mayhem ensue.

All of them are friends. One of them is a killer.

During the languid days of the Christmas break, a group of thirtysomething friends from Oxford meet to welcome in the New Year together, a tradition they began as students ten years ago. For this vacation, they’ve chosen an idyllic and isolated estate in the Scottish Highlands—the perfect place to get away and unwind by themselves.

They arrive on December 30th, just before a historic blizzard seals the lodge off from the outside world.

Two days later, on New Year’s Day, one of them is dead.

The trip began innocently enough: admiring the stunning if foreboding scenery, champagne in front of a crackling fire, and reminiscences about the past. But after a decade, the weight of secret resentments has grown too heavy for the group’s tenuous nostalgia to bear. Amid the boisterous revelry of New Year’s Eve, the cord holding them together snaps.

Now one of them is dead . . . and another of them did it.

Keep your friends close, the old adage goes. But just how close is too close?


Once again, Lucy Foley has written a cast of almost entirely unlikable characters. If you’ve read The Guest List you’ll definitely see some parallels in this book (or vice versa), so the plot didn’t exactly feel fresh to me. With that pointed out, I still found I enjoyed listening to the audiobook because it does keep you guessing and with the highly flawed cast of characters there is no shortage of murder suspects.

A group of college friends from Oxford go on their annual New Year’s eve trip to a remote hunting lodge in the Scottish Highlands. They can’t stop reliving their college glory days, indulge in their own self importance, and are a rather unlikable group of people who can’t seem to remember why they remain friends this many years later. They’ve drifted apart, but this annual trip seems to bring out roles they played in college – popular girl, hot guy, quiet girl, party girl, etc. The only real new blood are the significant others of two of the Oxford clique and the one poor girl is trying so hard to fit in that it’s a bit creepy and desperate. We also get the POV of the lodge’s hunting guide and the lodge manager. They are the most relatable of all the characters and aren’t a bunch of proud jerks – they just get paid well to put up with them. 

As with The Guest List, the story begins almost immediately with the murder after a brief introductory bit. Someone has gone missing and a blizzard has begun, thoroughly cutting off the lodge from civilization and any hopes of a rescue team. The timeline flip flops back and forth a little which helps to introduce the characters a little at a time and also drops hints about who may have been the victim. The style allows the author to peel away layer after layer and reveal each characters biggest vulnerabilities and flaws. I enjoy guessing who murdered who based off each new little piece of information as it’s revealed.

This was an entertaining read, perfect for a lazy vacation day. I did find the plot similarities to The Guest List (which was released most recently) a little lackluster, but it didn’t give away anything. If you loved this book  and loved the style of story and/or characters, then you would probably enjoy The Guest List (or vice versa!) just as much.