The Secrets of Hartwood Hall by Katie Lumsden

Everyone, it seems hides secrets. Some worse than others. This gripping story, which takes place during the 1800’s when women were considered property and quite useless for anything other than having babies and cooking meals, was quite a wonderful surprise! It begins with a young woman, who has lost her husband and has no money, so she must try and make her way alone and scared. What she becomes during this journey is someone she never pictured herself as… strong!

Margaret Lenox is a widow of just two weeks who is traveling to a new job. She is to become a governess for a young boy named Louis Eversham. Her marriage had not been a very happy one, and she was unfortunately left penniless when he died. She is very nervous but hopes this new stage in her life will bring her some happiness.

As she heads towards Hartwood Hall, her new home, to meet Louis and his mother, a widow just as she, Margaret begins to get the sense that the driver and townspeople feel the Eversham family is anything but normal. But, at this point she cannot go back. Ever.

When she arrives, she meets the servants who seem gruff and abrupt, as if they really don’t want her there. But her charge, Louis is adorable, although Mrs. Eversham seems a bit nervous, but that is to be expected. She then begins hearing stories from some of the staff about ghosts who take food, open doors and leave footprints.

As her first days go pretty well, with a few bumps in the night, she begins to adjust to a schedule and even secretly begins to favor the gardener, Paul, something she is sure will get her fired. Mrs. Eversham travels a bit and does seem to dote on her son a bit obsessively, but Margaret feels that is only because she is a single parent. Until she finds out Louis had had a sister, who died. Why was she not told of this?

But then one of the servants decides to blackmail Margaret with information she has found out about her past. She begins to demand Margaret assist her with her schemes. It seems she may perhaps be blackmailing more than just her. What is it she could possibly know about everybody?

Margaret feels at a loss as to what to do, but when a tragedy occurs at Hartwood Hall, she begins to feel a part of this very secretive household. But nothing could ever prepare her for the dark turn their lives will take and the choices she never in a million years imagined she’d need to make. It will take everything she has to stay strong not just for herself, but for this family she has grown to love.

The Secrets of Hartwood Hall is a compelling story in which our heroine shows her strength, determination and love is stronger than anyone including herself could ever have envisioned.

Thank you #NetGalley #Dutton #TheSecretsofHartwoodHall #KatieLumsden for the advanced copy.

The Writing Retreat by Julia Bartz

The Writing Retreat is an imaginative dark story of the pressures of writing a best-seller, what some writers will do to obtain that achievement, and how others through no fault of their own have writer’s block for one reason or another.

Alex has always wanted to be a writer. For a while, she could crank out short stories overnight. But for the past year she has worked at a job she hates and has not been able to write a word. It seems when she and her best friend Wren ended their relationship, something Alex still does not understand, she lost her mojo. Alex in desperation tried to make amends with Wren, but unfortunately made everything worse.

So, when a friend has a book party for her first book, Alex goes, sees Wren there and flees. Her friend who feels terrible for her decides to submit an old short story she wrote a while back to a writing retreat being given by a prestigious, acclaimed horror writer named Roza Vallo, whom Alex has admired since she was just a child. She feels this could perhaps jump start her creativity and decides to attend the month-long retreat.

Unfortunately, when she arrives, to her surprise, she sees her ex-best friend among the other attendees. Well, this will surely add to her writer’s block! But being able to be in this beautiful old mansion with Roza Vallo seems to put her anxiety at bay. For now.

But as the women begin their writing journey, not everything feels right. Roza’s expectations are ridiculously high, her daily word counts enormous. They are required to write a full novel in this short time. The prize though, too good to pass up. A publishing deal.

Things begin to go downhill very quickly. Wren seems to be badmouthing Alex every chance she gets; Alex can’t seem to write because she can’t stop thinking about Wren and Roza for the most part is not very encouraging.

When she finally decides on a storyline, Roza becomes interested. Unfortunately, she also seems a bit unhinged. Then, one of the writer’s disappears during a blizzard and cannot be found. There is no phone service, and they are unable to call the police. Strange occurrences begin to happen and everything and everyone seems out of control.

The women are now faced with their own real life horror story, with all of them being terrorized with no reasoning as to why. Is this part of the writing experience? Or could there be something more sinister going on??

The Writing Retreat plot is dripping with anxiety, fear, a race to the finish and quite the page turner with a terrific explosive ending you don’t want to miss!

Thank you #NetGalley #Atria/EmilyBestlerBooks #JuliaBartz #TheWritingRetreat for the advanced copy.

The Book of Cold Cases by Simone St. James

Two women, strangers, generations in age apart with so many past secrets between them, so much hurt, anger, fear and guilt, their lives filled with constant anxiety, one accused of murder, the other, almost murdered. But when their paths accidently cross, there is a bond neither of them wants to break. Is it ghost lighting…or gaslighting?

Beth Greer was accused of murdering men in 1977. She was notorious, dubbed The Lady Killer for gunning down men in their cars and leaving a note. Even with an eyewitness, they could never prove it was her. So, she was acquitted, went back to her lonely sorrowful life in the mansion her late parents lived in, her father murdered in and began to drink her life away. But ironically, she could not kill herself.

Shea Collins was kidnapped in 2017 when she was a very young girl. She was able to escape, but the next child had not been so lucky. As an adult, she is fascinated with unsolved cold cases. She even has a popular blog, which she spends hours on at night in her lonely apartment after working all day as a receptionist in a physician’s office. Her scars are many but hidden so deep only she and her sister know they are there and what triggers her. She rarely goes out, and will never get into an automobile.

But one day, recluse Beth Greer, now elderly, walks into the physician’s office and Shea, who has written and been fascinated by The Lady Killer case, can’t believe her eyes. She convinces Beth to go on the record after all these years about what happened back then. But Shea may regret involving herself in this particular cold case.

As she visits Beth in the mansion and interviews her, there are strange occurrences happening around her. After one interview she goes to transcribe her notes from her phone, and they mysteriously disappear. She begins to believe Beth is hiding way more than she is telling. As Shea decides to do a bit of investigating on her own, what she discovers will perhaps change the trajectory of what everyone thought they knew.

But what happened all those years ago is an act of evil like none ever seen before. And unfortunately for Shea, she could possibly the next victim!

The Book of Cold Cases is a cat and mouse game in which unfortunately there can be no winners. Only sinners. Or are there?

The Sanctuary by Katrine Engberg

In The Sanctuary which is sadly Engberg’s last Korner/Werner novel, the stakes are high for both of them, the tension to solve the murder…palpable and the side plots absolutely amazing!

As Jeppe Korner has decided to take a leave of absence from the Copenhagen police force while he continues to deal with his personal issues and demons which he still cannot let go of, he decides to go to an island called Bornholm and work as a laborer.

At the same time, Esther de Laurenti, who is his long-time friend and writer has been asked to work on a biography of an anthropologist on the same island. Eshter is still reeling from a dramatic change in her life and feels the distraction of working on someone else’s life, which seems to be in letter form would be a wonderful diversion.

That leaves Korner’s partner, Anette Werner on her own at police headquarters, unable to join her family on a little vacation. She can’t believe just how much their absence affects her.

So, when a corpse is discovered in a suitcase at a playground Werner must tackle the case primarily alone. But this is a very unsettling corpse. You see, the body has been sawed in half so there is half a body in the case. Where on earth could the other part of the body be? What a gruesome way to kill someone. There must be a lot of insanity in this act. This of course makes identification very difficult. As Werner tries to locate missing persons who could possibly be the remains, the clues begin to point to the very place Korner is working.

Werner convinces Korner to assist her as a favor. Plus the fact she doesn’t want to travel to the island. Of course, once Korner begins to look for clues, he cannot stop, and Werner must join him anyway. They begin to narrow down who the dead man could possibly be, but in the process, they open up a pandora’s box of motive which goes back years.

Korner gets too deeply involved in the case, overstepping his bounds, unaware that his snooping could possibly lead him to be the next sawed victim.

With so many twists and turns, a shocking ending to the case and a wonderful farewell to these beloved characters, Engberg certainly saved the best story for last!

Thank you #NetGalley #Gallery/ScoutPress #TheSanctuary #KatrineEngberg for the advance copy.

Not Your Ex’s Hexes by April Asher

First, I had no idea this was the second book in a series. With that said, it absolutely did not matter. It was easy to read as a standalone. The book was adorable, whimsical, funny and sexy in a heartwarming fantasy kind of way!

Rose Maxell, a witch, has recently stepped down from the Supernatural Council and is looking to find something she is good at. So far, she has not been very successful, barely being able to keep her temper in check. At a crossroads, there are some things she does knows for sure. She absolutely does not want to be in a relationship! But when she walks into a bar and sees half-demon Damian Adams, she has no problem engaging in a one-nightstand. For his part, Damian happily agrees!

But when Rose and her two sisters try to break out some horses they believe are being abused, she gets quite the surprise. First, the break-out was from an animal Sancturary, and second, her one-night stand is the veterinarian at the haven. But more repulsive to her, the Council has decided as punishment for her crime, she must do 30 days of community service there. Needless to say, this does not bode well for either Rose or Damian.

Still searching for a new ‘”real” job, Rose realizes she not only enjoys assisting with the animals, but she is extremely good at the work. She is like an animal whisperer. She realizes she has yet to fit in anywhere, but the Sancturary gives her peace. Unfortunately, Damian gives her anxiety! He fights every good idea she comes up with and she seems to have put a permanent scowl on his very handsome face.

But as they both maneuver how to get along while working, the original spark they had the first night they met begins to become irresistible to both of them. They become “buddies” of a sort. But while Rose would like to take the relationship a step further, Damian has a secret. Years ago, he dumped a witch and she put a hex on him that cannot be removed…ever! He can never fully give his heart to someone, or he basically loses his soul.

So, how do a witch and a demon hunter fix this problem? Well, you will just have to read this enjoyable, unpredictable, supernatural, seductive love story!

Thank you #NetGalley #St.Martin’sGriffin #NotYourEx’sHexes #AprilAsher for the advanced copy.

Georgie, All Along by Kate Clayborn

Georgie, All Along is an uplifting, empowering love story about a woman who returns to her hometown to find herself but ends up discovering more than she could ever have imagined.

When Georgie Mulcahy’s LA boss “retires” from her hectic life in the entertainment industry, Georgie, her personal assistant is at a loss. Not sure what her next adventure should be, or even what she is capable of achieving she goes back to her hometown to house sit for her parents and help her best friend and her husband who have also moved back to town as well to give birth and live the quiet life of a small community.

She also wants to try and stay out of trouble, hopefully not bump into anyone from her uncomfortable past, or the crush she had all throughout high school who never knew she existed. But, of course, within ten minutes of returning, she bumps into an old teacher who never really thought she would make anything of herself, and a handsome stranger who she has to take charity from because she forgot money to buy milkshakes. So much for getting off to a great start!

But while visiting her best friend and going through old boxes, they discover a diary they had kept starting in grade school of bucket list items Georgie had always wanted to do. Most of which she unfortunately never did. In that moment, she gets an idea. What if she tries to accomplish the list now and write about the adventures!

Then she goes to her parent’s house. But what she finds is not quite the quiet place she was expecting. There seems to be an unexpected roommate there. And of course, it just happens to be the cute stranger who bailed her out hours before and his dog. When he introduces himself, Levi Fanning, she realizes that he is the derelict brother of her major crush all those years ago. She thought he had been run out of town years ago never to return. Her parents you see had forgotten they had told Levi he could live there while his house was having work done. At first, she is hesitant to be in the same house as him but feels bad for his dog, so they agree to live uncomfortably together.

And with that arrangement they of course become more than casual. Georgie realizes you should not judge a book by its cover and finds Levi charming yet reserved. As they grow closer, Georgie tells him about her idea for her story. Levi decides to help her as he too missed out on many opportunities when he was young as he was pushed out of town by his father.

When Levi accidentally reads the diary everything changes. He can’t let go of his past. Georgie doesn’t want to let go of their future. Can these two lost souls who had lives filled with regrets and missed opportunities attempt to not only forgive themselves for their pasts, but forgive each other and begin living in the present.

Georgie, All Along is a funny, warm, romance about past mistakes, surviving them and forgiving.

Thank you #NetGalley #KensingtonPress #KateClayborn #Georgie, AllAlong for the advanced copy.