Review of “The Black Midnight” (True Colors) by Kathleen Y’Barbo

Y’Barbo, Katherine. The Black Midnight. Uhrichville, OH: Barbour Books, 2020.

ISBN-13: 978-1643525952 | $12.99 USD  | 256 pages | Historical Romance/Romantic Suspense

Blurb

Two Series of Murders Seem Mysteriously Connected
Step into True Colors — a series of Historical Stories of Romance and American Crime

Three years before Jack the Ripper began his murderous spree on the streets of London, women were dying in their beds as The Midnight Assassin terrorized the citizens of Austin, Texas. Now, with suspicion falling on Her Majesty’s family and Scotland Yard at a loss as to who the Ripper might be, Queen Victoria summons her great-granddaughter, Alice Anne von Wettin, a former Pinkerton agent who worked the unsolved Austin case, and orders her to discreetly form a team to look into the London matter.

The prospect of a second chance to work with Annie just might entice Isaiah Joplin out of his comfortable life as an Austin lawyer. If his theories are right, they’ll find the The Midnight Assassin and, by default, the Ripper. If they’re wrong, he and Annie are in a bigger mess than the one the feisty female left behind when she departed Austin under cover of darkness three years ago.

Can the unlikely pair find the truth of who is behind the murders before they are drawn into the killer’s deadly game? From Texas to London, the story navigates the fine line between truth and fiction as Annie and Isaiah ultimately find the hunters have become the hunted. 

In the series

The Pink Bonnet by Liz Tolsma

The Yellow Lantern by Angie Dicken 

The White City by Grace Hitchcock 

The Gray Chamber by Grace Hitchcock

The Blue Cloak by Shannon McNear

The Green Dress by Liz Tolsma

The Red Ribbon by Pepper D. Basham (October 2020)

The Gold Digger by Liz Tolsma (December 2020)

Review 

3.5 stars 

I received an ARC from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

The Black Midnight had a great concept, playing with one of several theories going around concerning the Jack the Ripper murders: that they are connected to similar murders that occurred a few years prior in Austin, Texas. 

And to a certain extent, the book is convincing in working with these connections and making the possibility they were committed  by the same person believable. I also feel like I learned something about the Midnight Assassin case, which I wasn’t familiar with before. 

And the idea of having the heroine be a relation of Queen Victoria is a cool one, as it allows her access to the Queen in a way not many others would have, and while her being a Pinkerton agent is a bit implausible, I could forgive it for the sense of gravitas it lent to the Ripper case as it proceeded, particularly when her relative, Prince Eddy, is implicated. 

However, I found myself perplexed at Annie’s exact biological relationship to the Queen, as it’s a mathematical impossibility for her to be Victoria’s great-granddaughter as it is repeatedly stated (presumably daughter to one of the other children of the future Edward VII, given how she refers to Prince Eddy as her “uncle.” Prince George (George V) did not marry Mary of Teck until 1893, and she was actually engaged to his brother prior to Prince Eddy’s untimely death. Eddy and George’s younger sister, Louise, did not marry until the year the book is set. This anachronism may not bother others (and for all I know it could be corrected in the final copy), but it really bothered me, especially since the author presented herself as a history buff. 

However, the book is still fairly solid and apart from those nitpicks. If you like true crime and speculating about “what if these two cold cases are connected?” them you might like this. 

Author Bio

Kathleen Y’Barbo is a multiple Carol Award and RITA nominee and bestselling author of more than 100 books with over two million copies of her books in print in the US and abroad. A tenth-generation Texan and certified paralegal, she is a member of the Texas Bar Association Paralegal Division, Texas A&M Association of Former Student and the Texas A&M Women Former Students (Aggie Women), Texas Historical Society, Novelists Inc., and American Christian Fiction Writers. She would also be a member of the Daughters of the American Republic, Daughters of the Republic of Texas and a few others if she would just remember to fill out the paperwork that Great Aunt Mary Beth has sent her more than once.

When she’s not spinning modern day tales about her wacky Southern relatives, Kathleen inserts an ancestor or two into her historical and mystery novels as well. Recent book releases include bestselling The Pirate Bride set in 1700s New Orleans and Galveston, its sequel The Alamo Bride set in 1836 Texas, which feature a few well-placed folks from history and a family tale of adventure on the high seas and on the coast of Texas. She also writes (mostly) relative-free cozy mystery novels for Guideposts Books.

Kathleen and her hero in combat boots husband have their own surprise love story that unfolded on social media a few years back. They now make their home just north of Houston, Texas and are the parents and in-laws of a blended family of Texans, Okies, and a family of very adorable Londoners.

To find out more about Kathleen or connect with her through social media, check out her website at www.kathleenybarbo.com.

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Review of “The Green Dress” by Liz Tolsma

Tolsma, Liz. The Green Dress. Uhrichville, OH: Barbour Books, 2020. 

ISBN-13: 978-1643524757 | $12.99 USD | 256 pages | Christian Fiction/Historical Romance/Romantic Suspense

Blurb

Fiction Based on Strange, But True, History
True, riveting stories of American criminal activity are explored through a unique stories of historical romantic suspense. Collect them all and be inspired by the hope that always finds its way even in the darkest of times.
 
In Boston, 1886, Harriet Peters commissions Sarah Jane Robinson to make her a new dress. Both widows are struggling to make ends meet, and they strike up a quick friendship. Harriet feels sorry for Sarah Jane, who has suffered so much loss in her life. But Harriet’s friend, Dr. Michael Wheaton, has concerns that death seems to follow Sarah Jane in mysterious ways Still, Harriet can’t imagine any deceit in her friend, who she comforts through the deaths of her daughter and nephew. Will Harriet’s trusting nature lead to her own demise as a persistent stomachache starts to plague her?

In the series

The Pink Bonnet by Liz Tolsma

The Yellow Lantern by Angie Dicken

The White City by Grace Hitchcock

The Gray Chamber by Grace Hitchcock

The Blue Cloak by Shannon McNear

Review

4 stars

I received an ARC from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own. 

I love true crime, especially so the True Colors series from Barbour seemed right up my alley, and The Green Dress in particular introduced me to a serial killer I hadn’t previously known about, Sarah Jane Robinson.

Through the fictional leads, Harriet and Michael, a friend of Sarah’s and the local doctor respectively, I felt the growing unease about the mortality of those close to Sarah was well conveyed, balanced with a sense of goodness and hope to counteract the pure evil of her actions. 

Both Sarah and Dr. Beers are so well drawn to elicit a chill up the spine of the reader as Tolsma hints at their malicious intent and actions. While to an extent they steal the show from the POV characters, this is only right given the tone of the book and the balance between Christian fic which leans toward a heavy spiritual center and romantic suspense which features those dastardly villains.

This is a wonderful book that has a compelling suspense plot that introduced me to a historical figure I now want to know more about. If you love true crime, especially women serial killers, then I think you’ll enjoy this book. 

Author Bio

Liz Tolsma has lived in Wisconsin most of her life, and she now resides next to a farm field with her husband, their son, and their two daughters. All of their children have been adopted internationally and one has special needs. Her novella, Under His Wings, appeared in the New York Times bestselling collection, A Log Cabin Christmas. Her debut novel, Snow on the Tulips, released in August of 2013. Daisies Are Forever released in May 2014. When not busy putting words to paper, she enjoys reading, walking, working in her large perennial garden, kayaking, and camping with her family. Please visit her blog at www.liztolsma.blogspot.com and follow her on Facebook and Twitter (@LizTolsma). She is also a regular contributor to the Barn Door blog. 

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The Ripped Bodice

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Review of “A Madness of Sunshine” by Nalini Singh

Singh, Nalini. A Madness of Sunshine. New York: Berkley, 2019.

Hardcover | $27.00 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0593099131 | 314 pages | Mystery

4 stars

I was never a fan of Nalini Singh’s romances, in part because the bulk of her work is paranormal and I’m not a fan of the hero archetypes many paranormal authors fall back on, her included, if some of the reviews if I’ve read are to be believed. But when I heard she was releasing a thriller, I was intrigued, especially when I heard that the setting of A Madness of Sunshine was her native New Zealand.

And the setting is one of the immediate strong points. I knew little about the location prior, except a bit about Maori culture and its linguistic connections to Hawaiian in school. So, it was exciting to soak up more about the landscape and language, especially as Singh showed such care in depicting it, including consulting experts to cover her blind spots.

And while there are occasions where the plot moves a little slowly, it’s more or less an engaging thriller. This is one of those mysteries that does get you to question everyone, especially given the long history some of the threads have.

While it’s not a romance, I did enjoy the romance that developed between the two protagonists, Anahera and Will, especially given how they come together in solving the case. Anahera’s personal connection magnifies her determination to find her old friend, as well as solve the case of the hikers who went nissing before she left town. And Will brings an interesting perspective of being a newcomerto town, playing off returning resident Anahera in an interesting way as well.

This is a great first mystery/thriller for Singh, and I hope not the last, especially if she continues introducing international readers to different parts of New Zealand. I recommend this to fans of mysteries with excellent sense of place.

Review of “Under Currents” by Nora Roberts

Roberts, Nora. Under Currents. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2019.

Hardcover | $28.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1250207098 | 436 pages | Romantic Suspense

3.5 stars

I was nervous about picking up Under Currents, as while she has deviated from her “formula” a bit in recent books, which I liked (especially Shelter in Place), I heard this was more of a return to the “traditional NR romantic suspense. And upon finally picking it up, I found that they were right, as it contains both the same familiar strengths and weaknesses from some of her previous books.

Roberts knows how to begin with a bang, regardless of the subgenre she’s writing in, and that’s still the case here. The first section, depicting the abuse in Zane’s family is masterfully crafted, perfectly capturing the bravery of Zane and his sister, Britt, as they found a way out of their abusive home, the determination of their aunt Emily, family friend David, and Detective Lee Keller to save them, and the twisted nature of the parents’ relationship with one another.

And the plot thread involving the continued, fatal dysfunction of the parents eighteen years later is equally well written, with Roberts again employing her skill at getting into the mind of a twisted criminal to depict Graham Bigelow’s mad determination to get even with everyone who supposedly ruined his life.

And the romance between Zane and town newcomer Darby is reasonably interesting, especially as they bond over the way they’ve both experienced abuse and survived.

However, Roberts tries to make a point of having both their pasts come back to haunt them in the latter half, and given that her stand alone romantic suspense books are a bit longer than her series books, I did feel like there was a bit too much filler in between these events, as I thought the book could have easily cut off after the Graham situation, given how things settled back to relative normalcy before the crazy ex came back into play. I appreciate a good slow burning plot, but this one feels a bit too slow.

Like many NR books, at least in my opinion, I feel this is a case of having a great idea, but a flawed execution. I’ve heard from other Roberts fans who love it, so of course, your mileage may vary. I do think it is worth checking out if you have more patience for a slow-burn thriller, and also are looking for something that deals with a difficult subject like domestic abuse head-on.

Review of “Tribute” by Nora Roberts

Roberts, Nora. Tribute. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2008.

Hardcover | $26.95 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0399154911 | 451 pages | Romantic Suspense

3.5 stars

I found myself picking up Tribute after finding myself in one of those rare situations where I wasn’t one hundred percent sure what I wanted to read next, and only knew that it should have a contemporary setting. I also wanted to give Roberts’ stand-alone romantic suspense another shot, since I’m feeling some withdrawal from the In Death series, and I haven’t found a suitable series to read while I await the next book’s release and subsequent processing at the library.

In retrospect, this may have been a poor choice to start with, but it was one of a bunch I had on hand, and I think it is conceptually interesting and gets a few things right. I liked the idea of a granddaughter exploring what happened to her movie-star grandmother, especially since there’s something so fascinating about the tragic personal lives of classic Hollywood stars. And while the execution of some of the elements feels a little rough, and the reveal a little underwhelming, I enjoyed the dream-sequence moments where Cilla and Janet interact, transporting Cilla to various points in Janet’s life.

It also allowed for great development for Cilla in her relationships with other characters, particularly her relationship with her mother, given that the relationship is somewhat strained because of their differing desires where Janet’s house is concerned. But it was great that this digging into the past ultimately provided closure, as that was the root for a lot of familial issues.

I also felt like the romance was quite enjoyable for what it was. Ford is an example, along with Carter from Vision in White, of a well-written Roberts hero. I love that he’s a graphic novelist, which is a profession I don’t recall ever seeing in a romance novel before. He’s also incredibly funny and intelligent, and just all-around a great person. It also doesn’t hurt that he has an equally quirky dog, Spock, who I would argue, almost steals the show.

This is definitely not the best Roberts I’ve read, especially in terms of its advertised subgenre, but there are plenty of things it does well that will appeal to new-ish readers exploring Roberts’ backlist for the first time.

Review of “Dark in Death” (in Death #46) by J.D. Robb

Robb, J.D. Dark in Death. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2018.

Hardcover | $27.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1250161536 | 372 pages | Romantic Suspense

5 stars

Life imitates art imitating life in this one, with documented cases of Roberts being the victim of plagiarism by other authors both before and since the publication of this book, not to mention the alleged use of ghostwriters ( a claim she’s denied) and overly enthusiastic involvement from fans.

The case itself for its own sake was great as well, and definitely one of the more solid of the series. It’s well-paced and had enough going on to keep me invested, without being too complex to the point where I felt lost. I found myself anxious to find out who the overzealous fan was elaborately recreated crime scenes from a book series, while also going after its author with accusations of plagiarism, and I found myself satisfied as things came together.

And given that the theme of this book is, well, books, I liked that there was also a comment on the whole eBook vs. paper debate, with equal use of both by the characters, thus demonstrating that both have continued value, even in this futuristic setting. While there are mentions of some using eReaders, I like that we have people like Roarke who still adore paper books, and he has a large library. Every time I think he can’t surprise me with more ways to love him, he does something else that seals the deal.

I really enjoyed this installment, especially given its feeling of personal commentary on what it’s like to be an author, especially one of Nora Roberts’ level of success.

Review of “Echoes in Death” (In Death #44) by J.D. Robb

Robb, J.D. Echoes in Death. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2017.

Hardcover | $27.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1250123114 | 371 pages | Romantic Suspense

5 stars

I chose not to post a review for the previous book in the In Death series, because, upon reflection, it’s started to get old saying the same things over and over, and while I love gushing about the cast interactions, with so few books left in the series that are currently out, I’m thinking I may choose to only unpack the ones I find particularly memorable, which will hopefully be all of them, but we’ll see.

That being said, this one definitely merits a review, because it’s probably one of my favorite cases. And while I’m not sure everyone will agree with me, I like that it focuses on a singular crime with a singular perp without too much complexity. Not to mention some of the procedural elements feeling reminiscent of Law and Order: SVU, which I have just recently got sucked back into, plus the participation from this world’s SVU squad, given the nature of the case. While some of the books, especially lately, have had their moments where my attention does waver a bit, this one had me on the edge of my seat, wanting to know who was behind it all.

And to add just a tiny note on the cast and their banter, I felt like some of the jokes here were pretty funny, especially the “Oedipus/Edison” conversation, which spun off from the assertion of the rapist’s predilections. I love that there are these small moments of levity that lighten up otherwise intense books.

This one is on my list of favorite books of the series. And while I do still feel that the series is worth the full investment, this is the one I’d probably recommend to fans of other police procedurals, like SVU.

Review of “Brotherhood in Death” (In Death #42) by J.D. Robb

Robb, J.D. Brotherhookd in Death. New York: Berkley Books, 2016.

Hardcover | $28.00 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0399170898 | 388 pages | Romanti Suspense

5 stars

Brotherhood in Death is one of the most masterfully crafted in the series since New York to Dallas, and it’s also one of the most personally appealing, because it’s another one that personally impacts someone in the recurring cast of characters. I really love Eve’s relationship with not just Dr. Charlotte Mira, but also Charlotte’s husband, Dennis, so seeing him as a key witness and potential victim and exploring more of the dynamic he has with Eve is incredibly sweet.

The case was also another of those that delved into the issues of morality and justice, and how, once again, when you’re a cop, it shouldn’t matter to you the type of character the victim or victims had, and even if they committed genuine wrongs to the perpetrator, that still doesn’t make it less of a crime. It’s also interesting how, to parallel between brotherhood and sisterhood bonds playing a role in the murders as well.

It’s also great to see Eve continue to be fleshed out as a character, further expanding on her vulnerabilities. Most obviously, the case impacts her, due t the appearance of one of the victims in a dream she has of her father, drawing the parallels between the two men. I also was moved by her discussing with Roarke that she’s not fully ready for change after having an argument with him after he invites an interior decorator into her home office without telling her first. While there are some moments when I kind of wish she would give a little more and try a little harder (like her constantly complaining about party planning), this is one of those moments that felt so genuine and real, especially since she was so taken off guard, even with Roarke’s protests that he wouldn’t do anything without her approval (yet he invited the woman in the first place without telling her?).

This installment continues to solidify my belief that, in spite of any subpar installments, this series still has its gems and is still great overall.

Review of “Devoted in Death” (In Death #41) by J.D. Robb

Robb, J.D. Devoted in Death. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2015.

Hardcover | $27.95 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0399170881 | 374 pages | Romantic Suspense

4 stars

Devoted in Death evokes the real life dynamic of Bonnie and Clyde and other such killer couples throughout history, and that alone makes it a compelling read. Once again, we’re given insight into the perspectives of the killers, and while they are slightly different from the other killers who are given passages from their perspective, in that there is an element of passion for one another in these parts of the book, as well as their general twisted mindset.

As the identity of the killers is known to the reader from page one, much of the real intrigue is following Eve and the gang in their investigation as they see how far this murder spree extends, and catching the killers before the kill someone else in a similar manner. And once they caught them…that interrogation scene! Peabody is really coming into her own, and has become just as much of badass as Eve.

The book also has a lot going on internally with the cast, from a promotion to Detective for recurring character Officer Trueheart (which I hope means he’ll be getting more page time in future books, since it feels like ages since we saw him last), to the usual delightful banter and jokes.

This book is great, just like all of them are for the excellent blend of the romantic and suspenseful, the funny and the dark. I continue to repeat my recommendation of this series for pretty much everyone.

Review of “Obsession in Death” (In Death #40) by J.D. Robb

Robb, J.D. Obsession in Death. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2015.

Hardcover | $27.95 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0399170874 | 404 pages | Romantic Suspense

4 stars

40 books in with the prospect of only eight more, then having to wait for the next two, and I can still say I am obsessed with this series, in spite of all its shortcomings. So, it is quite fitting in a sense that this one is called Obsession in Death.

And while this wasn’t one of my favorites in the series, it was still great, especially as it presented a new personal challenge for Eve, with the case being concerned with an obsessed fan of hers who takes it upon themselves to make misguided attempts to avenge her to prove her “friendship.” Ultimately, even if the reveal wasn’t that exciting for me, I found the psychology of the killer, in the snippets we got from their perspective the most interesting, which is not surprising, given ho w I’ve often expressed my admiration for how Nora Roberts gets into these twisted people’s heads.

I also really liked seeing the team work together, bringing up people from past cases. Admittedly, I didn’t remember quite a few of them, but it is nice to see more consistency in terms of the connectedness of the series and the characters beyond the core group.

And Eve and Roarke…I fall in love with them more and more as a couple from book to book. And it’s really those little intimate moments, like them having a meal together or their casual banter in between all the intense case-cracking, that make me so happy.

This was a pretty interesting one in the series, and while it wasn’t mind-blowing by any means, reaching book 40 only increases my hype for the books to come.