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  • Writer's pictureJudith D Collins

Christmas Presents

Narrator: Jennifer Pickens

Highbridge Audio

ISBN: 978-1613164518

Publisher: Mysterious Press

Publication Date: 10/24/2023

Format: Other

My Rating: 5 Stars + (ARC)


Instead of presents this Christmas, a true crime podcaster is opening up a cold case…

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.

Harley Granger has a gift for seeing things that others miss. He wasn’t much of a novelist, but his work as a true crime author and podcaster has earned him fame and wealth―and some serious criticism for his various unethical practices. Still, visiting Little Valley to be closer to his dying father has caused him to look into a case that many people think is closed―and some want reopened. And he has a lot of questions about the night Stephanie Cramer was killed, Ainsley and Sam Wallace disappeared, and Madeline Martin was left for dead, bleeding out on a riverbank.

Since Evan Handy went to jail, three other young women have gone missing, most recently a young college dropout named Lolly. Five young women missing in the same area in a decade. Are they connected? Was Evan Handy innocent after all? Or was there some else there that night? Someone who is still satisfying his dark appetites?

As Christmas approaches and a blizzard bears down, Madeline and her childhood friend Badger return to a past they both hoped was dead―to find the missing Lolly and to answer questions that have haunted them both, discovering that the truth is more terrible and much closer to home than they think.

Coupling a picturesque, cozy setting with a deeply unsettling suspenseful plot, Christmas Presents is a chilling seasonal novella that can be enjoyed all year long.

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My Review

NYT bestselling author and master of suspense, Lisa Unger (favorite author) returns following Secluded Cabin Sleeps Six with one of the best Christmas crime thriller novellas, CHRISTMAS PRESENTS —It has it ALL! Everything you look for in an engrossing psychological crime WHODUNIT thriller! Top Books of 2023. 5 Stars +

It checks all the boxes!

~A bookseller

~A survivor with a scarred face

~An author/true crime podcaster

~A devoted father/cop with a stroke

~A cold case

~A serial killer wearing a Santa mask

~Mysterious annual Christmas presents to the surviving victim

~Atmospheric secluded winter setting: Little Valley/The Hollows (reference -love)

~Missing Girls

~A snow blizzard

~A remote lake house

~Two friends unite from the past crime to search for the missing girls

~A Countdown to Christmas

RIVETING and unputdownable! The past and present collide as it is closer to the anniversary date of the decades-old crime for an explosive, jaw-dropping, heart-pounding conclusion.

I LOVED CHRISTMAS PRESENTS. Of course, I am a long-time Lisa Unger avid fan and have read all her books!

Madeline Martin is a survivor and now owns The Next Chapter Bookstore. She cares for her father (ex-cop), Sheriff James Martin, who was working on the case and obsessed until he had a stroke.

Madeline is scarred for life (both physically and mentally). She still wears the star across her face, left for dead by the lake, but she lived when her friend Stephanie was not so fortunate - stabbed seventeen times and two other friends still out there, missing.

Harley Granger, a novelist turned true crime podcaster, walks into her store days before Christmas and wants to revisit the events from the past.

Madeline was the sole survivor of Evan Handy, whom she thought was her boyfriend (bad, rich boy) her father warned her not to see. But she did not listen. Evan is in prison, serving a life sentence, convicted of murder, which she helped put behind bars.

Her two other friends, Ainsley and Sam Wallace (sisters) have never been found for nearly a decade and now there is another girl recently missing, Lolly. She does not want to relive the past, but at the same time, if she can help find Lolly, she will do what she can. These girls are being drugged and taken.

Did Evan have help that night, or is someone on the outside still working with him, taking young girls and women?

In addition, Madeline receives Christmas presents (thoughtful gifts) each year since the murders, but she has not told anyone. She suspects they are from Evan.

Lolly Morris was a college student who had dropped out and was a stripper at a local club and was heading home to the Hollows for Christmas. She went to the diner with some man and has been missing since. He was nice. But he turned out to be a monster. Her parents will be worried. (both lyrical and poetic, Lolly's thoughts and dreams of her parents and Christmas).

Time is running out. Madeline and her best friend Badger (who helped save her that night), along with Harley and the cops, must work diligently before it is too late to find Lolly before he kills again and the missing girls.

Five young women are missing in the same area in a decade. Are they connected? Was Evan Handy innocent after all? Or was there someone else there that night?

Lolly is fighting for her life, held captive by a monster psychopath dressed as Santa with a mask. She must find a way to escape. (I loved the car/forest/ice scene).

As Christmas draws near amid a blizzard, Madeline and Badger find her dad's files and maps in the basement, and they have a clue. Will her dad be able to speak? The danger is closer than they may know.

What a book! Nail-biting and heart-pounding CHRISTMAS PRESENTS is action-packed, beautifully written, and will keep you on the edge of your seat from the first page to the explosive conclusion!

CHRISTMAS PRESENTS is packed with sharp characters, psychological suspense, and gasp-worthy plot twists. As always, Lisa is a pro when it comes to creepy, unsettling settings and characters, both good and evil. Superb writing and twists you do not see coming.

Claustrophobic and haunting, I enjoyed Lolly's character, tenacious, a survivor. Spine-chilling! A perfect book for Halloween or Christmas true crime fans.

After reading and loving the book, I listened to the audiobook by Jennifer Pickens, and the performance was SPELLBINDING! A fantastic and engaging listening experience for all voices.

This is a must-read Christmas novella for Lisa Unger fans! Perfect for gift-giving and book clubs.

Thanks to Mysterious Press, Penzler Publishers, and NetGalley for an ARC and Highbridge Audio for an ALC for an honest review. I also purchased the hardcover copy for my home LU library!

UPCOMING: Put Lisa's 2024 book on your TBR list, The New Couple in 5B, Coming March 5, 2024.

@JudithDCollins | #JDCMustReadBooks

My Rating: 5 Stars +

Pub Date: Oct 24, 2023


Awards & Honors

BookBub Best Mysteries and Thrillers of Fall 2023

E!News 13 Books Perfect for a Spooky Season Read

CrimeReads Most Anticipated Crime Fiction of Fall 2023

SheReads Most Anticipated Thrillers, Mystery & Suspense of Fall 2023

The Real Book Spy Fall 2023 Must-Read Thrillers

Zibby Magazine Most Anticipated Reads This Fall

Criminal Element Most Anticipated Reads: October 2023

“Unger is a virtuoso of the psychological thriller, and that’s what Christmas Presents is… Cozy it’s not, but Christmas Presents might be just the thing to fill the stocking of the thriller fans on your list.”

—Tampa Bay Times

“The latest psychological suspense by the author of Secluded Cabin Sleeps Six emphasizes survivor’s guilt and the inability to move on in this compelling story.”

—Library Journal

"Want the secret to surviving the holidays? Sneak away from the family to read this pulse-pounding novella by Lisa Unger. CHRISTMAS PRESENTS is the perfect mix of thrills and chills to delight any suspense reader."

—Lisa Gardner, #1 New York Times bestselling author

“Christmas is coming early this year, and I can’t wait!!! And, in case you were wondering if anything could be better than a Lisa Unger mystery set at Christmas… it’s set in a bookshop!! I’m squealing like someone just handed me a puppy with a bow around its neck.”


“Fans of Unger will know her thrillers match top-notch writing with gripping stories; this one won’t disappoint in that regard and offers the bonus of a satisfying family story”


About the Author

Lisa Unger is the New York Times and internationally bestselling author of twenty novels, including SECLUDED CABIN SLEEPS SIX, LAST GIRL GHOSTED and CONFESSIONS ON THE 7:45 — now in development at Netflix, starring Jessica Alba. With books published in thirty-three languages and millions of copies sold worldwide, she is regarded as a master of suspense.

Unger’s critically acclaimed novels have been featured on “Best Book” lists from the Today Show, Good Morning America, Entertainment Weekly, People, Amazon, Goodreads, L.A. Times, The Boston Globe, Sun Sentinel, Tampa Bay Times and many others. She has been nominated for, or won, numerous awards including the Strand Critics, Audie, Hammett, Macavity, ITW Thriller, and Goodreads Choice. In 2019, she received two Edgar Award nominations, an honor held by only a few authors, including Agatha Christie. Her short fiction has been anthologized in The Best American Mystery and Suspense, and her non-fiction has appeared in The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, NPR, and Travel+Leisure.

Lisa is the current co-President of the International Thriller Writers organization. She lives on the west coast of Florida with her family. WEBSITE

Q&A with Lisa

Confessions On The 7:45

Behind the Book & The Author







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