#MysteryMonday & #WomensFiction Mini-Book Reviews: Unnatural History by Jonathan Kellerman and Not the Plan by Gia De Cadenet

The most enduring detectives in American crime fiction are back in this electrifying thriller of art and brutality from the #1 New York Times bestselling master of suspense.

Los Angeles is a city of stark contrast, the palaces of the affluent coexisting uneasily with the hellholes of the mad and the needy. That shadow world and the violence it breeds draw brilliant psychologist Dr. Alex Delaware and Detective Milo Sturgis into an unsettling case of altruism gone wrong.

On a superficially lovely morning, a woman shows up for work with her usual enthusiasm. She’s the newly hired personal assistant to a handsome, wealthy photographer and is ready to greet her boss with coffee and good cheer. Instead, she finds him slumped in bed, shot to death.

The victim had recently received rave media attention for his latest project: images of homeless people in their personal “dream” situations, elaborately costumed and enacting unfulfilled fantasies. There are some, however, who view the whole thing as nothing more than crass exploitation, citing token payments and the victim’s avoidance of any long-term relationships with his subjects.

Has disgruntlement blossomed into homicidal rage? Or do the roots of violence reach down to the victim’s family—a clan, sired by an elusive billionaire, that is bizarre in its own right?

Then new murders arise, and Alex and Milo begin peeling back layer after layer of intrigue and complexity, culminating in one of the deadliest threats they’ve ever faced.


What’s it about (in a nutshell):

A photography assistant in Los Angeles finds her rich and famous boss murdered in his bed. His latest project is called The Wishers, where homeless people dress up in elaborate costumes representing their dream selves for a photo session. Could this project have anything to do with his murder? Milo Sturgis and Dr. Alex Delaware go into homeless encampments to try and figure out the connection, but what they come away with could be as deadly for them as it was for the original victim.

Actual Reading Experience:

I love the aspects that make this mystery series different from all the others. Dr. Alex Delaware is a psychologist who has a practice out of his home. He is the first-person narrator and approaches cases in an almost Holmesian manner using his intellect and unusually keen observational skills. And paired with Milo, they make an incredible team of fascinating police work and an outsider looking in, providing a look into the minds of all those involved. Since Alex is a psychologist and not a detective, this difference in professions provides a speck of a cozy mystery feel with all the over-the-top characters, red herrings, and focus that go along with that sub-genre. It is not a cozy mystery, and I would never classify it as such. It just has a delightful little piece of that style of mystery.

“He raised the bat slowly, as if wearying. A bizarrely timed sneeze interrupted him, and I figured I could escape. But he’d moved too close to me on the rebound. Crowded me, big and broad, blocking any exit with his bulk.”

I couldn’t figure out a better way to explain the brilliance of Kellerman’s writing than to include a quote, which I’m not supposed to do since I read the ARC. This sentence appears in the middle of a deadly fight. It provides a bit of laughter in an otherwise serious situation. It was just so unexpected and an almost shocking detail, but it exemplifies that brilliance like nothing else. A sneeze…the bad guy sneezed…what? It’s a crazy detail, but it makes it feel more authentic. Sneezes happen randomly, so why not when you are trying to bash someone’s skull in with a bat?

I also appreciated how the social issues of homelessness, mental health disorders, and the connection between the two are highlighted and handled perfectly, with professionalism and compassion. And I loved that this series’ pace is pretty quick, aided by concise chapters.

Read if you like:

  • A mystery that is a bit police procedural and a bit Holmesian
  • A pair of detectives that will quickly feel like old friends.
  • Relevant social issues are tackled with professionalism and compassion.

After nearly a decade of experience in state politics, Isadora Maris is damn good at her job. Aggressive lobbyists and stonewalling senators are no match for her diplomacy and her unflappable commitment to her principles. If all goes according to her meticulous plan, she’ll soon be managing her boss’s successful campaign for U.S. representative and finally land her dream role: congressional aide in Washington, D.C., where she can really make a difference.

But Isadora’s cool professionalism is knocked off-kilter when she meets Karim Sarda. Karim is gorgeous and brilliant and seems to share many of her ideals. So why is he working for the California senate’s most detestable scumbag? Given their bosses’ fierce political rivalry, Isadora finds she can’t risk tarnishing her reputation by flirting with the enemy, and she’s been betrayed enough times to want to keep people at a distance. So she deems Karim off-limits—no matter how flustered she feels whenever he enters the room.

Karim knows that struggle all too well: Still processing the wounds from his failed marriage, he’s ready for a fresh start. But Karim can’t hide his attraction to Isadora’s commanding presence. Her strength is captivating, even as he recognizes something fragile beneath its surface.

When Karim and Isadora succumb to their undeniable chemistry, their initial desire blossoms into something more—something real. But if Karim’s boss takes control of the California senate, everything Isadora worked for could be destroyed. Will workplace politics shatter their chance at love?

What’s it about (in a nutshell):

Not the Plan by Gia de Cadenet is a behind-the-scenes look at politics in action with a steamy romance thrown in the mix, which makes for a potentially explosive combination.

Actual Reading Experience:

I’ll be honest. I struggled with this story. I felt no connection to it or the characters, which led to a boring read for at least the first half. Though the dull tone still niggled me in the second half, at least the plot got a bit more interesting with political scandal, an opened door romance (which I could have done without), and essential discussions on mental health and racism issues that impact the characters. The author handled those meaningful discussions reasonably well. However, I like to see more responsible actions being encouraged and taken when it comes to mental health. It’s just a counselor thing. The romance was cringy for me. I didn’t feel the chemistry and preferred romances that happen more organically rather than ones where sex is almost immediate. Those kinds of affairs never feel very authentic to me. 

Typically, this book would have been one that I stopped reading at around the 25% mark, but I did see it through to the end. Unfortunately, it did not get remarkably better for me, and I’m struggling with positives to discuss. 

That being said, I’ve seen other reviews from the many people who enjoyed this book. So if this one intrigues you, then definitely see those reviews by people who had a much more enjoyable reading experience.

My rating conundrum : I gave this a 2 in NetGalley/Goodreads but I didn’t really want to give it anything. Usually, well-written and edited books don’t receive less than a 3 from me. But, it was just not my cup of tea to a point where saying it was “Okay” felt disingenuous. So here I am giving it no stars.

14 Replies to “#MysteryMonday & #WomensFiction Mini-Book Reviews: Unnatural History by Jonathan Kellerman and Not the Plan by Gia De Cadenet”

  1. I’ve come across two books like that recently, Tessa, where I struggle with something positive to say in the review. It happens sometimes. Glad you enjoyed the Kellerman novel!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Sorry you struggled so much with Not the Plan. That one definitely does not appeal to me, and I applaud you for sticking it out and not giving it a DNF.
    The Kellerman book does sound good, and one of these days I am going to hop on that series!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I usually do too because I really try to avoid negative reviews but I had just declined one from that publisher based on TWs so I felt bad about DNFing another one so soon.


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