Review: Hallowed Ground

Review: Hallowed GroundHallowed Ground (Kate Burkholder #14.5) by Linda Castillo
Series: Kate Burkholder #14.5
Published by Minotaur Books on April 25, 2023
Genres: Contemporary, Mystery
Pages: 75

FINAL DECISION: Low-stakes short story/vignette with Kate and John investigating grave robbers. I judge this differently than a full novel, and I really enjoyed this small slice of Kate’s life. I always want more romance with Kate and John, and this one has some nice moments.

THE STORY: Chief of Police Kate Burkholder is called when a human bone is brought home by a family dog. Kate and John have to figure out the origin of the bone and what is going on in a small graveyard.

OPINION: I enjoyed this story because I simply love Kate and John working together. While Kate is certainly capable on her own and it doesn’t often make sense for the two of them to be in one another’s pockets during the serious crimes that Kate investigates in the novels. This story was short and closed definitively at the end. I like that it is part of Kate’s job that isn’t angst-filled and violent. Instead, it ended up being a little spooky and then resolved some community tensions. Fun little read.

WORTH MENTIONING: This story, like others in the series between the larger novels, is really just a slice-of-life promotion for the next book (as it includes a preview of the novel). That being said, I do enjoy these stories.

CONNECTED BOOKS: HALLOWED GROUND is book 14.5 of the Kate Burkholder series. I think this should be read by those who have read at least one book in the series to get the characters and situation.

STAR RATING: I give this book 4.5 stars.


Review: The Seaside Library

Review: The Seaside LibraryThe Seaside Library by Brenda Novak
Published by MIRA on April 11, 2023
Genres: Contemporary
Pages: 398

FINAL DECISION: The book has an interesting premise, but the characters are somewhat unlikeable, the central mystery is too easily solved, and the romance is unconvincing. However, the setting is well-crafted, and the exploration of the characters’ past is intriguing. Overall, it may be worth a read for those interested in complicated friendships, and keeping in mind this is more mystery than anything else.

THE STORY: As teenagers, Mariners Island played a significant role in the lives of Ivy, Ariana, and Cam, who shared a deep friendship. The island’s stunning beaches and iconic lighthouse were a source of joy for them. Ivy’s family owned an ancient property on the island that created a strong attachment for her as an adult. However, the memories of the town were too painful for Ariana, including unrequited feelings for Cam and a tragic event that left a scar on the community. When a young girl disappeared, Cam was accused of murder, but Ariana and Ivy believed in his innocence and promised to defend him, even if it meant lying. Twenty years later, Ariana returns to Mariners, and the trio uncovers the truth about their pasts, futures, and their enduring bond. However, someone is determined to prove Cam’s guilt, and even Ariana and Ivy begin to question whether he is truly innocent.

OPINION: This novel presents an interesting premise, but unfortunately falls short in several areas. One of the most significant drawbacks of the story is the characterization. The characters are not particularly likable, which can make it challenging to become invested in their storylines. In particular, Ariana, Cam, and Ivy are flawed individuals with deep-seated issues that can make it difficult to sympathize with them. In particular, Cam’s marriage feels more like a plot device and invented obstacle to the romance rather than a real issue to work through.

Additionally, the resolution of the central mystery of the book becomes apparent far too early on, which robs the story of much of its suspense. While there are some red herrings and twists along the way, it is not enough to make up for the lack of mystery. The ending feels anticlimactic, and it is hard to be invested in a resolution that is all but inevitable.

The romance between Ariana and Cam is another element that leaves something to be desired. It is difficult to understand why the two characters are drawn to each other, and their chemistry is not particularly compelling. The romantic storyline feels tacked on and does not add much to the overall narrative.

Despite these criticisms, the book does have some redeeming qualities. The setting of Mariners Island is well-crafted, and the descriptions of the town and surrounding area are vivid and engaging. The exploration of the three friends’ past and the traumatic events that shaped them is also intriguing and provides some depth to the characters.

WORTH MENTIONING: I think this book is not well represented by its cover, title, or description. There is nothing significant about the “Seaside Library” justifying the title, and this is more mystery than a summer beach read.


STAR RATING: I give this book 3 stars.


Review: A Tempest at Sea

Review: A Tempest at SeaA Tempest at Sea (Lady Sherlock, #7) by Sherry Thomas
Series: Lady Sherlock #7
Published by Berkley on March 14, 2023
Genres: Historical, Mystery
Pages: 336

FINAL DECISION: Another amazing entry in this series that just gets better all the time. This one was especially good for fans of the romance between Charlotte and Ash. The mystery is great and has a wonderful Agatha Christie feel.

THE STORY: Charlotte Holmes has been in hiding to escape Moriarty. An offer from Lord Ingram’s brother, Lord Remington Ashburton, an agent of the British government who offers Charlotte her protection from Moriarty in exchange for her finding out particular information. Charlotte’s search brings her to the RMS Provence, where she sails in disguise dangerously with friends and foes. Charlotte is searching for a dossier when a murder occurs, which brings the police and also danger of Charlotte being exposed.

OPINION: I have two favorite parts of this book. First, the assembly of people on the boat when the murder occurs. The story felt very much like an Agatha Christie novel where the suspects are brought together, and there are different motives that might have led to the murder. My second favorite part of this book is the development of the relationship between Holmes and Ingram. They have come far from the first book in the series. While I enjoy the mystery, it is the strength of their connection that makes me re-read the series.

Because there are so many familiar faces in this book, it was nice getting to know more about these secondary characters and see how they have progressed through the series. The mystery here was very cleverly set out, and I liked that there was a great twist. So many of these books have followed a familiar pattern, but this book, in a different setting upends how the case is investigated and how the mystery is communicated to the readers through flashbacks revealing information at just the right time.

This book is well written and well constructed as a mystery. In addition, the series manages to stay fresh for fans of the series and provides a great deal of character development and a great romance. My only regret is that I have to wait until the next book to find out where Charlotte’s story goes from here.

WORTH MENTIONING: This book reminds me somewhat of Death on the Nile which I watched recently because of the murder on the ship with lots of people with dangerous connections.

CONNECTED BOOKS: A TEMPEST AT SEA is the seventh book in the Lady Sherlock series. The mystery here is self-contained and thus can be read as a standalone for that aspect. However, there is a continuing overarching storyline in this series that makes it better tor read the books in order.

STAR RATING: I give this book 5 stars.


Review: Stealing Midnight

Review: Stealing MidnightStealing Midnight (Beneath the Veil, #4) by Tracy MacNish
Series: Beneath the Veil #4
Published by Zebra on January 1, 2009
Genres: Historical
Pages: 415

FINAL DECISION: I ended up enjoying this book much more than I expected! Some parts were a little slow, but I enjoyed the relationship between Aidan and Olwyn and the different gothic tone of the book.

THE STORY: Olwyn Gawain’s father buys bodies from resurrection men to conduct his investigations. One night a man in his thirties is brought to Olwyn’s home, and she is immediately drawn to the man who appears to be in perfect condition — other than being dead. When her father begins his study, the two discover that the man is alive. When her father wants to continue his experiments, Olwyn escapes from her home with the unconscious man. When he awakes, Aidan Mullin isn’t sure what has happened and who this unworldly woman is. Aidan lies about his identity and is tempted by Olwyn. Olwyn, however, soon discovers the life that Aidan is hiding from.

OPINION: This is a gothic historical with a sense of mystery, drama, and some horror. The writing is different than might be expected because of its subgenre. The story is dark at times, although there is beauty and love between Aidan and Olwyn. The story is melodramatic, and I loved it because it feels so appropriate for the gothic tone of the book.

Olwyn could have been a caricature of an innocent who has been mistreated by her father, but there was something strong and fresh and real about her character even though she feels unworldly and somewhat out of time. She immediately is attracted to the “dead” man who is brought to her father. His presence gives her the strength to break free from her father, and it is so lovely that she accepts that their relationship will be limited and temporary and yet does not shield herself from him. She is the star of this book, and I might have found Aidan annoying in other circumstances, but she makes him more heroic.

Aidan is torn between his developing love for Olwyn and his obligations to the woman he is betrothed to. The situation is complicated, and I appreciated that the author takes the story seriously even as things become even crazier — which readers of gothic novels might expect. There is a beautiful handfast scene that is romantic and lovely. There are some interesting questions raised about consent dealing with Aidan which is not often explored in romance. I don’t want to give away the plot points, but it is explored in subtle ways throughout the book.

The secondary characters in this book are also well-developed (which might be expected as they are part of a series) and yet it was done in a way that didn’t make me feel like I missed something by not reading the prior books in the series. Even the villains are incredibly interesting. There is something really wonderful in how Olwyn develops a relationship with the women in Aidan’s family and how that helps with the resolution of the story.

For the right reader, this is such a good book. The book asks more from its readers as the language and plot might be offputting for some readers. For me, the gothic nature of the book was what I loved most.

WORTH MENTIONING: I was saddened that the author apparently stopped writing after this book. I would have loved to read about Aidan’s brother.

CONNECTED BOOKS: STEALING MIDNIGHT is the fourth book in the Beneath the Veil series. This book can be read as a standalone. I hadn’t read the previous books and didn’t feel like I needed to do so. Both the parents and the grandparents have books, and their stories have some relevance here, but I got all the information I needed here.

STAR RATING: I give this book 4 stars.


Review: Band Sinister

Review: Band SinisterBand Sinister by K.J. Charles
on October 11, 2018
Genres: Historical

FINAL DECISION: This book was uneven for me. There were some parts that I really enjoyed and then other parts that I thought were deadly dull. I did enjoy the writing, which felt gothic, especially in the beginning, and the banter between the characters.

THE STORY: Guy and Amanda Frisby live quietly after their mother caused a scandal. Their neighbor is Philip Rookwood, who is the talk of the country town. He and his friends are at Rookwood Hall, where rumors of a hellfire club where orgies are going on. When Amanda is injured in a riding accident, she must stay at Rookwood Hall to recover. Guy must stay with her as well to protect Amanda from Rookwood’s disreputable crew. Soon, however, Guy learns that Rookwood’s friends are different than he expected and that he can’t stop thinking about Philip.

OPINION: This book was difficult for me to rate because I liked the different characters and seeing their relationships, but ultimately, so many characters and motivations just diminished the relationship between Philip and Guy. I really didn’t buy their romance. It seemed more like a sexual dalliance than a relationship. Or perhaps it is just the difference in the experience without really understanding Philip. I think there was too much going on so the main relationship never really got time to gain complexity especially because this is a shorter novel. It was fine, but I wanted more depth in the relationship between these characters.

At the same time, I loved the gothic feel of this book. I thought there were so many nuanced characters in this book that I wanted to know more about them and was disappointed in the quick resolution. This might have been a better book as the first in a series.

WORTH MENTIONING: There is more than one romance afoot in this book.


STAR RATING: I give this book 3 stars.


Review: Hold

Review: HoldHold (Hold, #1) by Claire Kent, Zannie Adams
Series: Hold #1
Published by CreateSpace on January 2, 2023
Genres: Futuristic
Pages: 180

FINAL DECISION: Okay read. Mostly sex that wasn’t very sexy at all. I wanted to know how they resolved the story because the situation was so intriguing. I didn’t really see much about a relationship, though, until a quick resolution in the epilogue so this was an okay one-time read, but clearly not my type of book.

THE STORY: Riana is convicted of a minor crime but sentenced to life on a prison planet. The prison planet is a free for all where only the most dangerous — survive. She is told that her best chance for survival is to find the toughest man and offer herself to him in exchange for protection. Riana immediately decides on Cain, who happens to have a private cell with a bathroom. Any man who could have such accommodations must be tough. So Riana seeks to make a deal with Cain to survive.

OPINION: This novella was a little darker and more brutal than I like in my stories generally. Most of the book is pure sex and mere survival with little to no personal relationship between the main characters. I thought the story felt appropriate for the location, but all the softness is at the end, and that’s not what I like in my stories. For readers who like lots and lots of sex in their stories and don’t particularly care about the softer things, this story is well constructed. It feels appropriate, and I understand the characters’ motivations. This is not a bad story, but perhaps the prison sub-genre is just not for me.

WORTH MENTIONING: This is a novella-length story.

CONNECTED BOOKS: HOLD is the first book in the Hold series.

STAR RATING: I give this book 3 stars.


Review: Diamond Fire

Review: Diamond FireDiamond Fire (Hidden Legacy, #3.5) by Ilona Andrews
Series: Hidden Legacy #3.5
Published by Avon Impulse on November 6, 2018
Genres: Paranormal
Pages: 160

FINAL DECISION: Definitely not as intense or as compelling as the books in this series, this novella really introduces Catalina as her own person in the series and provides a foundation for her own books. The novella is funny and makes me smile.

THE STORY: Catalina Baylor is looking forward to her sister Nevada’s wedding. Then her sister’s future mother-in-law unexpectedly asks Catalina to meet with her. Catalina is told that the family’s traditional tiara is missing and Catalina is asked to find it without letting Nevada know. Catalina agrees to search which is complicated by Rogan’s family who are prime suspects. At the same time, there is also a bride to pacify, and it also seems that someone is out to commit murder.

OPINION: Like the other books in the Hidden Legacy, this novella has a combination of humor and action. This novella doesn’t have a romance (except for Rogan and Nevada’s wedding). Instead, it is an introduction to Catalina’s voice. It is really a prequel to Catalina’s trilogy and closure to Nevada’s trilogy.

The plot was good for a novella (lacking the depth and complexity of the novels), but what I really loved about this story was learning more about Catalina, her magical talent, and what problems she faces. Catalina is still a teenager in this story, and by the end, her trajectory toward her adult life seems clearer.

WORTH MENTIONING: Nevada doesn’t make an appearance here except through others’ observations of her.

CONNECTED BOOKS: DIAMOND FIRE is book 3.5 of the Hidden Legacy series. The novella operates as a transition between Nevada’s trilogy and Catalina’s trilogy. While it is better to read the series in order, this book can operate as an entry point for new readers who want to continue with Catalina’s story.

STAR RATING: I give this book 4.5 stars.