Book Review: The Black Midnight

The Black Midnight
by Kathleen Y’Barbo

My rating: 3 / 5
Genre: Historical romance, crime

Pinkerton detective Alice Anne, great-granddaughter to Queen Victoria, investigated a series of murders in Austin, Texas in 1884, along with her partner Isaiah Joplin. The perpetrator was never caught, but the pair team up four years later to try to solve a similar series of murder in the Whitechapel district of London. Are the killers the same, and will a culprit be caught for either case?

I think the biggest issue with this book was in the subject matter. Each of the books in the True Colors series focuses on a different true crime from history, with real historical facts melded with fictional characters and situations. The difficulty, though, is in making an interesting, fulfilling story out of a crime that was never solved, as is the case with the real murders this book is set around. While I understand the author’s desire not to make up a conclusion that didn’t really happen, I think I would have preferred fictionalized closure to the “we really don’t know anything,” hemming & hawing mess this book devolved into.

As the detectives investigate, we are constantly presented with theories followed by, “But maybe not.” Over and over, this is all that happens in the case. It made the story feel slow and pointless, and as if the entire investigation was just a wash (which I realize might have been how the real investigators felt back then, but it doesn’t make for interesting fiction). My favorite example of this is said by the queen herself: “‘The truth always has its day,’ Granny said with a shrug. ‘Until it does not.'” What is even the point of making a statement like that?

There were some strange inconsistencies throughout the book too–for example, early in the book it says that Alice Anne (known as Annie for most of the book) was using an American accent, I assume to blend in, since she was keeping her identity a secret. But later in the book, a reporter muses about the oddity of this Pinkerton detective with the British accent. This is one example of a few things that made me stop and look back to see if I’d missed or mis-remembered something.

Overall, the book was a quick read, but not a very satisfying one for me. The ending was muddled and felt very rushed, after a climax that I don’t even get the purpose of. I think a majority of what I disliked about the book was due to the unsolved crime it was based around, but like with a previous True Colors book I read, perhaps this was simply a bad choice for the subject of a fictional romance book. I found it difficult to care about the relationship, and especially the culmination of the romantic storyline, because the rest of the book was so confusing and underwhelming.

Thank you to Netgalley and Barbour Publishing, Inc. for providing me a copy of this book to review.

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Book Review: The Tech

Finished Reading: The Tech
by Mark Ravine

My rating: 3 / 5
Genre: Procedural, thriller

tech

A seemingly ragtag group of FBI agents are thrown onto a new team together, headed by Alexandra Cassidy. On her first day, a bank robbery forces her to hit the ground running. But the team is able to close the robbery case surprisingly quickly. And the next case. And the next. It is soon apparent that there is more to meet the eye, both with these different cases, and with the office’s IT guy.

On the surface, The Tech comes across like a police procedural-type story. And pretty early on, the IT guy, Mike, is shown to be somewhat of a high-tech super hero. But the further I got into the story, the more it just felt weighed down by so many things. By the point I began to realize that the cases are connected, I was struggling to keep going. I think this is mostly chalked up to a lack of depth in many areas.

I never felt much of a connection with any of the characters. In the first chapter, we’re told about each of the 5 members of Alexandra’s team, and I had a very difficult time keeping them separate in my mind throughout most of the book. That may be partly because their personalities, backgrounds (somewhat), and even their looks, are kind of just dumped on us all at once. And this continues to be the case in varying degrees with each new character introduced. I’m not given much chance to find out who they are for myself.

The interactions between the different team members were stilted as well. And all I can really say about Mike is that I was pretty sure I got what his deal was from early one…and I never liked him. He was essentially a vigilante, and there was never really any repercussions for the liberties he took.

The main thing the story has going for it is the intricacies of the plot. The author clearly mapped out his ideas in detail, and the threads can be seen tying it all together. I have a lot of respect for the work that went into the story. However, I think it needed further editing and refining. I didn’t care for the style, which might have just been personal preference, but it felt very redundant at some times and full of contradictions at other times. I don’t know how well I followed the details of the story, sticking instead to a wider view.

I’ve read a lot of self-published books recently. Though this book was published by someone other than the author, it has the feel of a self-published book. The thing is, I can give a lot more allowance to a self-published book, because those authors don’t have the resources of a publishing company behind them. But this book felt like it needed a lot more editing work. I don’t know how any paid editor lets a book get past him with two characters in close proximity being named such similar names as John and Don (I still don’t really know which of those guys was which). I personally wouldn’t be able to recommend this book to be read by others, however, please note that the book has all positive reviews besides mine (at the time of me posting this). So if it does sound interesting to you, please read the other reviews and consider checking out the book.

I received a copy of this book for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

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Book Review: The Green Dress

Finished Reading: The Green Dress
by Liz Tolsma

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Historical Christian romance, crime

Green

Boston, 1886–members of the Robinson family keep falling ill and dying in the same way, with no known cure. When Harriet Peters, who is a close friend of Lizzie Robinson, watches her best friend die, she moves in with the family to care for the youngest members. As the illness claims another life, Harriet enlists the help of a new doctor in town, and he begins to suspect foul play. But how many more have to die before a possible murderer can be caught?

This is my favorite book so far in the True Colors series. It was well-written, the characters were real (and a little scary), and the crime was more interesting and woven into the story better than some of the others in the series (which are stand-alones written by mostly different authors), while also being less gruesome than that of one of the others. I was also a lot more engaged by the romance than I was with most of the others.

From almost the very beginning of the story, I suspected who the mastermind was and turned out to be correct. In fact, it took me a while into the story before I realized the author was attempting to throw us off the trail, make us suspect others. At least, I think that’s what she was trying to do. However, because the book is based on a real story, I think it might have been a bit better to make the criminal plain, at least a little, and add some excitement there. Though this being a Christian story, that might have made it too dark.

My biggest gripe isn’t even all that big. The title of the book was a bit of a stretch, in my opinion. I think the green dress should have been involved a little more for it to make the title seem less like it was forced, just so this book could be in the series. I did like the payoff (and suspected that to be the case as well), but still think it could have been more woven into the story.

The book is not terribly pushy in the Christianity department. Unsurprisingly, given the subject matter, there is discussion about death and what is really required of us humans to be able to go to Heaven. There is also a theme in the later parts of the book regarding God’s will, and how we can pray for healing, but sometimes God’s will is for someone not to be healed in this life. Overall, I enjoyed this book, and I would recommend this book for fans of Christian romance, especially the historical variety.

Thank you to Netgalley and Barbour Publishing, Inc. for providing me a copy of this book to review.

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Book Review: The Blue Cloak

Finished Reading: The Blue Cloak
by Shannon McNear

My rating: 3.5 / 5
Genre: Historical Christian romance, crime

Blue Cloak

In the wilds of Tennessee and Kentucky in the late 1700s, Rachel’s newly married close friend gets caught up in a nightmare. Sally’s groom and his cousin, Big and Little Harpe, become outlaws and leave a trail of destruction, dragging their family along with them. Rachel is worried for her friend, as well as for her new acquaintance Ben Langford. Ben came to the frontier to keep his cousin out of danger, but sadly discovered that Thomas was one of the Harpes’ first known victims. Now he only wants justice for his cousin, and Rachel wants to see her friend freed from her murderous husband’s grasp.

This is the third book in the True Colors series that I have read. For the first half of this book, I felt that it was a bit better than the other two (The Yellow Lantern & The Gray Chamber). The main characters were relatable, my heart broke along with Sally’s as things went from bad to worse, and the romance was sweet, if not a little weird given the backdrop.

The book was well-researched. An author’s note at the beginning even made it clear that McNear knew this was a difficult subject, and there is a real question of “how dark is too dark for Christian fiction?” I think the answer is…this. This story of the Harpes and what they did to potentially 50 men, women, and children in their time might just have proven too dark to use as a setting for a Christian romance. I’m not one who was all that put off by what was in the book, though a bit of it was definitely more disturbing than the rest, however, because the author understandably couldn’t go too in-depth in these matters, the story just came off very shallow. I think that is an indication that this bit of history just should have been passed on for this series.

However, I was planning to give this book 4 stars until just after the halfway point, when a really confusing scene happened that made me feel like an entire other scene had been deleted from the book, and the author forgot to re-write a callback to it. And then, by the end of the book, I became weary by the repetitiveness of the characters’ thoughts and prayers (that feels so bad to say, but honestly, at times it just felt like it was copied & pasted from earlier). Overall, though, the book was well-written, with just a few gripes.

So this is the part where I normally sum up my thoughts and then make recommendations for who should read the book. As I said above, the book has some more graphic spots, but overall tends to gloss over the details of the crime and depravity of the Harpes. Still, it’s not for the faint of heart, and many Christians would likewise find it too much. But if it sounds like something you’re interested in, especially if you’re a fan of Christian romance, I’d definitely say give it a try.

Thank you to Netgalley and Barbour Publishing, Inc. for providing me a copy of this book to review.

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Book Review: The Gray Chamber

Finished Reading: The Gray Chamber
by Grace Hitchcock

My rating: 3.5 / 5
Genre: Historical Christian romance, crime

Gray Chamber

In a time period where women are expected to marry well in order to secure their future, Edyth Foster is fortunate enough to be self-sufficient, due to an inheritance that her late parents left her. Unfortunately, it is left in her uncle’s care until she turns 25. Not long before that happens, he realizes that he can steal her money if he gets her declared insane and sends her off to a lunatic asylum–which is just what he does. Edyth must figure out a way to escape or prove her sanity before the asylum takes her mind for real.

I enjoyed this book for the most part. The characters were mostly interesting, though this is the type of situation where I liked some of the side characters more than the main characters. The way the plot unfolded was fairly predictable, but there were enough surprises to keep it interesting.

This is the second book I have read in the True Colors series, and like the other one, despite being written by a different author, this one was far more focused on the romance than on the true crime plot line. Edyth’s plight to escape the asylum and her uncle’s grasp wasn’t just a vehicle for the romance, fortunately, but I still felt that the crime part of this book could have been stronger. I think this is further reflected in the fact that Edyth was not at the asylum long enough for her to be quite how she was later in the book (trying to be vague to avoid spoilers). This particular issue really may have just been my own opinion, and I am not saying that what she did suffer in the asylum would have been easy to handle. It just didn’t seem to be as severe as it was portrayed later.

I enjoy a good romance, especially if it’s clean and sweet. I prefer subtle, but with a romance-genre book, I rarely get that. This, however, is barely billed as a romance, yet was so far the opposite of a subtle romance plot, I got to a point where I didn’t care that much about the relationship between Edyth and Bane. It was so over-the-top sappy sweet, and just about all either of them seemed to ever think about was each other…it was just too much for me.

The official synopsis mentions a woman that Edyth meets in the asylum and her true identity, which frankly, I think was a mistake to explain in the synopsis. Her true identity is revealed so late in the story that it made little sense to me that I knew it the entire time, simply because of the synopsis. I realized by the end that she was based on a real person who reported on the state of this asylum, but I’m sure I won’t be the only person who has never heard of her, and thus it seems like a bad addition to the synopsis.

As I said at the beginning of the review, the book wasn’t bad. I ended up scanning through some of the repetitive declarations of feelings between the two lead characters and didn’t feel like I missed much. The ending did drag on a bit, but I enjoyed it enough to say that I can recommend it for fans of Christian romance (heavy on the romance), but I wouldn’t recommend it too strongly for fans of crime novels.

Thank you to Netgalley and Barbour Publishing, Inc. for providing me a copy of this book to review.

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Book Review: Fatal Strike

Fatal Strike
by DiAnn Mills

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Christian suspense, romance

ARC8

A pair of FBI agents partner up to investigate a string of murders involving law enforcement officials. They have never worked together before, and but fall into a professional rhythm to work the case. What ensues is a police-procedural-type story involving a gang that kills with rattlesnake venom, a mother desperately trying to protect her son, missing persons, faith, trust, and a few interesting turns thrown in.

I read this book in 2 days, and really enjoyed it. The main characters, Leah & Jon, were smart, compassionate, and professional. They both had back stories that provided depth without being overly emo and cliched. And both had phobias that they were determined to overcome, and that they had the chance to face in the book.

I liked the way the case unfolded, with some developments that kept me guessing. I did figure out who the kingpin was, but wasn’t bothered by figuring it out in advance. In fact, I remember thinking that if didn’t go that way, I was going to question some of the author’s choices. There were a couple of smaller elements that were presented that seemed to be left hanging, but they didn’t bother me too much. I also had a very difficult time following the action in the climax, and didn’t understand why some of the things happened.

Some of the dialog seemed kind of stilted, especially between the main characters. Most of the time I couldn’t really tell who was talking, because they were so similar to each other. I’m not sure that’s a fault in the characterization, because it was clear from the beginning that they WERE similar, so maybe it was an issue with dialog tags and narration as much as anything. I also did not care for the kingpin’s dialog near the end of the book. It made him seem a lot less intelligent and dastardly than I think he was supposed to be.

The romance is a slow-burn, which is my favorite type. The characters are completely respectful of each other and of their situation (partners working a case), and the romance that develops between them is understated, almost to a point of coming from out of left field, but I prefer a little bit of a leap to the in-your-face type of romances.

And finally, the Christian aspect is well-presented. Most of the faith that is presented in the book comes from a priest who is involved in the investigation. He is wise and insightful, and even clearly shown to be a human with some flaws, but kind and devoted. Through this influence, as well as some others, both of the main characters individually begin to examine their belief in God and what it might mean for them. I even appreciated the way that the too-familiar question of why a loving God would allow bad things to happen to good people is addressed.

Overall, I enjoyed this fast-paced read and would recommend it to all fans of suspense or crime dramas, with a little faith thrown in.

Thank you to Netgalley and Tyndale House Publishers for providing me a copy of this book to review.


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Book Review: The Yellow Lantern

The Yellow Lantern
by Angie Dicken

My rating: 3.5 / 5
Genre: Historical Christian romance, crime

ARC7

In this book of historical fiction, set in New England just before the beginning of the Victorian Era, a young woman named Josephine Clayton works for a doctor to pay her father’s way out of debtor’s prison. But when Josephine becomes sick and is presumed dead, her buried body is stolen by a man working for the same doctor. The story starts with her waking up, about to be dissected, and when the doctor sees she’s still alive, he plans to dissect her anyway. To save her own life, and to keep her father out of trouble, Josephine ends up embroiled in the doctor’s schemes of body-snatching. She is planted at a cotton mill in the next town over, to spy for the body snatchers and help with the actual snatching. But when the next victim is a loved one of the cotton mill’s manager (named Braham Taylor), a man to whom Josephine has become close, the gruesome business becomes a nightmare.

This book was a decent read overall. The setting was interesting. The bigger side characters had personality. I liked the back-and-forth POV between Josephine (or as we know her through most of the book, Josie) and Braham.

I was usually really happy when it switched back to Braham for a while, which tells me I connected with his character more than with Josie. I think that’s because his troubles seemed a lot more real and understandable to me. But it’s not that Josie doesn’t have serious issues. I just think her storyline was convoluted enough that I was only vaguely aware of the danger or of her reasons for going along with the body snatching plot. Her father was in trouble with…the doctor and some creditors, but I don’t know who they were, or if I’m even right about that. Alvin (Josie’s “handler”) was bad but sort of good (which isn’t bad in itself), but was owed money, yet still chose to hold back the first body he snatched in the story? It wasn’t until near the end that enough of this network of body snatchers was sorted out enough that I was at least able to appreciate the conclusion. This was probably my biggest problem throughout the book.

For the first quarter of the book, at least, I was reminded strongly of North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell. It’s set in a cotton mill, the male lead runs the cotton mill, and the female lead is not terribly happy about coming to the town. It’s also set in a similar time period. I love North and South, so that may have helped draw me into the book at first, but it did veer off to become a vastly different story, and a good one in its own right.

The other big downside, in my opinion, is that the body snatching was really not as big a part of the plot as it seemed like it should be. I mean, it haunted Josie throughout the book, and at the end, we can see an inter-connectedness that we didn’t necessarily know was there sooner, but it was supposed to be a twist, I think, that these things were connected. So they didn’t seem to play into the body snatching plot, except that it was predictable enough that I didn’t really see much shock factor in the reveal. Or maybe it wasn’t supposed to be a surprise, and in that case, it was just kind of bland.

Overall, I did enjoy the book. The book is listed as Christian, and it holds up well in that department. The romance was sweet and clean (just how I like it), and I would recommend this book for fans of Christian romance, though probably not for fans of crime novels.

Thank you to Netgalley and Barbour Publishing, Inc. for providing me a copy of this book to review.

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