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Christmas Presents by Lisa Unger

I really enjoyed this book. Not just because I love Christmas (and a word of warning – this is not a feel-good Christmas story), but for the two female characters who tell their traumatic story,  which takes place at Christmas but ten years apart, in an alternating dual timeline. Both Madeline and Lolly are strong women who fall prey to a handsome, sadistic killer. Although broken, they don’t allow their tormentor to get the best of them.

When true crime fiction podcaster Harley Granger opens the cold case on the ten-year old murder of Madeline’s friend and the disappearance of two other friends, it brings back the horror of the night when she herself was left for dead. Daughter of the town’s sheriff, Madeline is Evan Hardy’s only survivor. But with Evan behind bars and Madeline caring for her father, who has suffered a stroke, Harley convinces her that with recent similar disappearances of young women in the area, the case needs to be investigated further. The killer or an accomplice may still be on the loose. 

When Lolly goes missing from a local strip club, Harley tries to uncover the truth about what happened to Madeline and her friends years ago and the connection to the other crimes since then. Madeline and her best friend, Badger, who rescued her the night she was nearly killed, also dig back into the past in an attempt to find Lolly’s whereabouts. The intertwining of the past and present is skillfully executed by the author, each woman’s point of view adding to the suspense of the story. 

The small-town setting, The Next Chapter Bookshop owned by Madeline, the creepy old homes abandoned by Evan’s family and that of his murdered victim, and the wintry Christmas backdrop add to the cozy but chilling atmosphere. The premise of the past still being present brings an eeriness to charming Little Valley, where an annual Christmas vigil is kept for Madeline’s two missing friends. 

A fast-paced ride that I was sorry to see end, Christmas Presents hooked me from the initial bookshop scene where Harley introduces himself to Madeline and instigates the whole reinvestigation into a past she has worked hard to put behind her. Several twists and surprises kept me riveted until the ending, which I did not anticipate.

The only thing I would like to see more of in this novella is more pages. A great thriller read for the Christmas season or year-round!

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