Cover Image: Christmas Presents

Christmas Presents

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Member Reviews

This was an amazing book. I highly recommend it to everyone. Great characters and a great plot. I will be looking for more books by this author. The book is superbly written. Lots of twists, turns and shocking turns of events

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I absolutely loved this novella! Fast paced, great storyline and the ending was perfect! I really enjoy all of Lisa's work but this one was super enjoyable and hit all of the Holiday vibes, alongside setting up a spooky environment!

Something happened several years back and they "think" they have the killer in custody. But when a Crime Writer comes to town to dive deeper into the story for his new Podcast, well things get very, very odd once again. Missing women, strange gifts being left on the sole survivor of the past murder spree. What is happening? Who is responsible for these murders? For the past murders? Read to find out!

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3.5/5 stars rounded up

Madeline Martin is doing her best to move on from the tragic, childhood event she experienced years ago. Now the owner of a bookstore, Madeline is doing her best to forget about her attempted murder alongside the tragic killing of her friend, Stephanie, and two other missing girls. Assumedly the work of their old classmate Evan Handy, who has been in jail for the crimes for years, everyone in town is a bit confused when Lolly, a topless dancer, goes missing, making her the third missing girl since Evan went to prison. When failed novelist turned true crime podcaster, Harley Granger, shows up, he's determined to uncover the truth.

Madeline is, at first, strongly against this idea, as is her best friend, Badger. But as new things start to come up, Madeline decides she owes it to herself, and her Dad, former Sherriff who lost many of his abilities due to a stroke, to solve the case. None of them could ever guess what Madeline will uncover...

I had a lot of fun reading this book, despite being a bit disappointed with the execution! Believe it or not, this was my first book by Lisa Unger, and I will definitely be returning for more! I actually think this would have been a fantastic full-length novel. There were tons of storylines and character development to keep track of, and a lot of things that I feel were left too open-ended. I hate being left with questions and, unfortunately, I still have many after finishing this. Another major downside was that I solved the mystery like halfway through. There was a moment where it became so clear to me, and while I suspected a few other people along the way, I was never convinced that it was anybody other than who it was, which is always a disappointment for me.

Overall, though, this was a fast-paced thriller with a little bit of romance -- my personal preference -- and I really enjoyed it. This was a great book to discuss at book club, and, like I said, I look forward to reading many more books from Lisa Unger!

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Having read other books by Lisa Unger, I was super excited to have the opportunity to read her new novella. I really enjoyed it and in fact, I wish it had been a bit longer!

Thanks to Penzler Publishers, Mysterious Press and NetGalley for the advanced digital copy.

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I really enjoyed SECLUDED CABIN SLEEPS SIX by Lisa Unger, so I was excited to see that she was releasing this novella!

🎁 CHRISTMAS PRESENTS is about Madeline Martin, a woman who has built a life for herself after her tragic childhood. Enter Harley Granger — a true crime podcaster who has a lot of questions about the events that Madeline would much rather forget.

I enjoyed the unsettling plot and how more details were revealed over time. The chapters about Lolly added another element of mystery and unease. The ending wasn’t as satisfying as I was hoping, but I really enjoyed reading this! It’s a quick, suspenseful story that could be read any time of the year, but is especially fun around Christmas time.

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I felt like this book had such great promise, but the execution left a lot to be desired. The characters relied heavily on tropes and felt very on dimensional.

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I kind of wish this had been a full novel as opposed to a novella. It felt rushed in some areas or like the ideas didn't have enough space/time to be fully fleshed out. I think it would have made a better book if there had been more time for some extra details or to let the story flow and breathe a bit.

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This is a shorter novel, but completely creeped me out the entire time. The author does such a good job creating a sinister atmosphere with her writing even during innocuous seeming scenes. I even had figured out what was going on and STILL couldn’t trust a single character and felt like I had to keep looking behind me. That’s some really well done thriller writing!

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“𝑻𝒉𝒆 𝒕𝒓𝒖𝒕𝒉, 𝒏𝒐 𝒎𝒂𝒕𝒕𝒆𝒓 𝒉𝒐𝒘 𝒑𝒂𝒊𝒏𝒇𝒖𝒍, 𝒄𝒂𝒏 𝒉𝒆𝒂𝒍, 𝒄𝒂𝒏 𝒕𝒆𝒂𝒄𝒉, 𝒄𝒂𝒏 𝒃𝒆 𝒂 𝒃𝒆𝒂𝒄𝒐𝒏 𝒇𝒐𝒓 𝒖𝒔 𝒕𝒐 𝒇𝒐𝒍𝒍𝒐𝒘 𝒂𝒏𝒅 𝒅𝒐 𝒃𝒆𝒕𝒕𝒆𝒓.”

After reading Lisa Unger’s Secluded Cabin Sleeps Six last year and loving her writing style, I was excited to dive into this festive novella.

The opening chapter sets the tone right away for what’s to come - this isn’t a quaint mystery story, but rather has a gritty vibe with a claustrophobic small town and people poking into a past that has so many unanswered questions. Protagonist Madeline is a strong final girl, who uses books and isolation to escape from the traumas of one particular night. With the inclusion of Harley Granger, a true crime podcaster, Unger makes some great points about society’s fascination with true crime - many times it forgets the victims all together due to the fascination behind the perpetrator of the crimes. I thought overall, Unger deftly plots well timed moments that push the story forward, especially for a story that is longer than a typical novella, but shorter than a full length novel. The characters felt fully developed, although there were a few moments towards the end that could’ve used a bit more explanation. The ending was also a bit predictable (and I was so hoping it wouldn’t be), but overall it is satisfying, especially with the friendship between Madeline and her best friend, Badger.

Christmas Presents is a story of trauma, shame, magnetic power, and closure. It is a gritty festive thrill ride for those looking for something a bit darker to read this season. Thank you to Penzler Publishers, Mysterious Press & NetGalley for the ARC!

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Thank you NetGalley and the Publisher for the early review copy.

What a delightful read for December! For those who want a dark book but with Christmas festivities, the new Lisa Unger thriller will be the one to pick up. I love how the author writes about all things Internet, social circles, and how we communicate. She just gets it and puts it into the correct words on the page.
The book has an indie bookstore, the wrapping of presents vs putting them into bags discussion, and a strong women's power.
While the twist was somewhat predictable I enjoyed the journey and the ride. It made perfect sense and I was still not 100% of whodunit until the very end.

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Many thanks to @mysteriouspress and @netgalley for my #gifted copy. Out now!!

This was such a great Christmas mystery/thriller that I could not put down! I loved the snowy small town setting, and I especially loved the bookstore that the MC owned.

Madeline Martin is the only surviving victim of Evan Handy, the serial killer convicted for the murder of her best friend Steph, and suspected in several other disappearances ten years ago. Madeline has done her best to put the past behind her, and she now owns The Next Chapter Books, a thriving bookstore. Harley Granger, a famous true crime podcaster enters the bookstore in hopes to talk to Madeline about her past and what happened on that dreadful night, and is it possible that Evan Handly committed all those crimes in one single night?

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Suspenseful, thrilling, and dark, it was so refreshing to read a book centered around Christmas that was in my favorite genre and not the typical rom-com. I loved that Madeline owned a bookstore, which gave the book a slight "bookish" subplot. Because there was a podcast plot as well, the book did read a bit like true crime. Though a little predictable, I still really enjoyed this quick, fast-paced read.

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This is not your average, happy-g0-lucky Christmas story! As the matter of fact, I often forgot it was Christmas novella at all. It is a pulse-pounding, edge of your seat thriller by the prolific Lisa Unger that had me tearing through the pages in less than a day.
Madeline Martin is the owner of a cute, small-town bookshop. It has success and is her safe haven. Sounds cute and cozy enough. Right before Christmas, famous author and podcaster, Harley Granger, walks into her bookshop. He wants to talk to her about her past...She is the sole survivor of a horrific homicide/missing persons event that traumatized her in her pivotal high school years. And he wants to dredge up her past to find out what really happened.
The crime has obsessed her father- the retired Sheriff and baffled the town for ten years. Evan Handy, Madeline's first love, was convicted of the crime, but the unanswered questions abound. And Harley is here to put the pieces together.
What a great read! I stayed up late, peeking through my blankets, to find out who was responsible for all the death and despair. It was twisty with a cherry on top! Loved it and thank you to Unger, the publisher and Netgalley for the ARC. 4.5 stars!

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I had a really good time with this! It wasn’t particularly christmasy but that didn’t matter to me. I loved the vibes of this one and I loved that it was a short novella

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“Everybody knows everything about you in this stupid town. And they know nothing.”


I didn’t realize this was a novella when I first started this book. I don’t usually have much luck with novellas because there never seems to be enough space to do what the author needs to do.

I didn’t feel like that with this book.

The whole ‘thrills and chills’ thing worked pretty well! There was enough mystery and suspense to the plot that kept you reading and the setting gave it the Christmas vibes that made it a great, short read around the holidays.

Novellas can’t be too complex because of their length, so it’s not the most complicated thriller, but it also didn’t feel like it wrapped up (pun!) too fast either. I’m not sure if I really had it figured out until the end so that was nice too. It wasn’t shocking but it wasn’t boring either.


The premise is:

A true crime podcaster, Harley Granger, has decided to investigate the years old murder and possibly related disappearance cases of a group of friends.

Madeline Martin, owner of a bookshop (nice Hallmark movie type of touch), lost 3 of her best friends that fateful night and almost didn’t survive herself. She doesn’t remember much about that night but her testimony put away their supposed friend Evan for the murder. (Not the disappearances because there was not enough evidence to link them)

But Granger has come around with some interesting theories, including that the murderer had an accomplice that is still at large. This is alarming because Madeline has been getting a Christmas present every year on the anniversary of the crime. She thought they were from the guy in prison (which apparently didn’t bother her that much because she never told anyone about them) but now she’s wondering who is actually sending them.

Another girl goes missing and the investigation is hot again. Will it melt the snow and ruin Christmas? But like, metaphorically…


The book is told from Madeline’s first person POV, Harley Granger’s third person POV, and the abducted woman’s first person POV. We also get flashbacks to the night of the crime. My advanced reader’s copy’s formatting was a little disjointed jumping around but I’m guessing in the finished product things will be more clear.


One thing that bothered me:

When Granger gets Maddie to talk to him about the case he shows her pictures of all the missing girls and says one thing they all had in common:

“‘Five young women missing in ten years in the same fifty-mile radius… They all look like you, Maddie.’”

But this line of thinking is never continued or brought up again.

I read an advanced reader’s copy so it’s possible this was changed before the book’s publishing, but if not, it feels like a very loose end that either should have been removed or should have been followed through on. It’s a pretty significant plot point to drop it.



One thing I found pretty funny:

At the beginning of the book Maddie comments on Granger buying a book from her at her shop: “the latest runaway bestseller with foil embossed type, the author’s name in a bigger, bolder font than the title. The dark, foreboding image just a sliver of a girl’s face.”

The fictional author in the book was ‘John Henderson.’ And I’m 99.9% sure Unger was referencing James Patterson here haha. I don’t really read his books anymore for the reasons stated— too aggressive and run-of-the-mill. The author’s name bigger than the title is one of my book pet peeves. Sell your books, not your name.



Recommendation

I think if you’re looking for a Christmas thriller this is a great option. It’s like a murderous Christmas hallmark movie.

There was some swearing, and a lot for such a short book, so wasn’t a fan of that.

But overall, it was a good read for a novella. Probably at the top of the list for novellas that I’ve read. Which may or may not be saying a lot.

The only other Lisa Unger book I’ve read so far has been The Red Hunter (which was four years ago) and from my review I really liked it but it had a lot of f-words. I think I may still give one of her full length books another shot and see if she’s one for me to continue to read.

If you’re already a fan of Lisa Unger, I’m sure you’ll enjoy this book.


**Received an ARC via NetGalley**

[Content Advisory: 23 f-words, 7 s-words; the abducted girl works as a pole dancer at a topless bar so there’s some comments about that, nothing too graphic]

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I really liked this book! It was a nice change of pace from the Christmas romcoms I've been reading and it was gripping right from the beginning. This was my first read by Lisa Unger and I'm excited to pick up some of her other books because I loved the writing style in this one!

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I really liked this book, it was different than anything else I've read which was a breath of fresh air. I will be recommending this to my friends, and auto buy this author!

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This is my kind of holiday read!

Madeline Martin has built a life for herself as the young owner of a thriving business, The Next Chapter Bookshop, despite her tragic childhood and now needing to care for her infirm father. When Harley Granger, a failed novelist turned true crime podcaster, drifts into her shop in the days before Christmas, he seems intent on digging up events that Madeline would much rather forget. She’s the only surviving victim of Evan Handy, the man who was convicted of murdering her best friend Steph, and is suspected in the disappearance of two sisters, also good friends of Madeline’s, who have been missing for nearly a decade. It’s an investigation that has obsessed her father Sheriff James Martin right up until his stroke took his faculties.

Short, quick read perfect for anyone who prefers action and mystery over holiday romances. This is not a Christmas story, but takes places at the days leading up to it.

I don’t listen to podcasts, but have always enjoyed reading stories that include podcasts. Harley Granger is in town to investigate the case. Throughout this sort read I kept wondering was Evan really guilty? Is Lolly’s disappearance connected to the cold case?

Great novella - I wish it was longer! I enjoyed Jennifer Pickens on audio, but I do feel like it could have benefited from multiple narrators.

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Thank you to NetGalley, Penzler Publishing, and Lisa Unger for an advance copy of Christmas Presents in exchange for an honest review. Most people are calling this a novella but it’s over 250 pages so that seems weird to me- ANYWAYS, this was a fun, quick thriller for me! I love any kind of thriller that has a podcast thing so this was the perfect read! Lisa Unger keeps you captivated throughout the story with friendships, deep connections, and lots of secrets!
This is the perfect Christmas present ( see what I did there) for the thriller lover in your life!!

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This Christmas "short story" was actually very well fleshed out and written. I wouldn't say this is one I would recommend to many or even remember in a few days. There are so few good Christmas thrillers that this genre is ready for a smash hit book- this just isn't it.

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