May Minireviews

Sometimes I don’t feel like writing a full review for whatever reason, either because life is busy and I don’t have time, or because a book didn’t stir me enough.  Sometimes, it’s because a book was so good that I just don’t have anything to say beyond that I loved it!  Frequently, I’m just wayyy behind on reviews and am trying to catch up.  For whatever reason, these are books that only have a few paragraphs of thoughts from me.

The Indiscretions of Archie by P.G. Wodehouse – 3.5*

//published 1921//

This was another early Wodehouse that I hadn’t read before, and while enjoyable (as all his books are), this wasn’t particularly one of my favorites.  This particular book was created when Wodehouse combined several short stories he had written that all centered around Archie, so while the end result is cohesive, it still feels rather episodic in nature.  Archie is a very likable character who starts off on the wrong foot with his father-in-law and continues to accidentally do random things that keep their relationship strained (at least on the father-in-law’s side – Archie is invariably good-humored), which I think was part of the reason that I didn’t enjoy this book as much – most of the humor was based on Archie trying to do something nice and then it all backfiring and ending up with the father-in-law dealing with the disaster.  In the end, everyone ends up happy together, but that also felt a little contrived.  Still, there were plenty of humorous moments in this one, and while it wasn’t my favorite Wodehouse, it was still an enjoyable read.

Holiday Havoc by Terri Reed & Stephanie Newton – 3.5*

//published 2010//

This book is actually two short stories, one by each author.  Both were similarly unremarkable, with some serious instalove, but entertaining nonetheless.  It’s another book off the Love Inspired pile, which is really whittling down since I took most of them to Goodwill without actually reading them haha

The Villa by Nora Roberts – 3.5*

//published 2001//

Speaking of boxes of books, someone also gave me a box of Nora Roberts books at random a while back, so I’ve been sifting through those as well.  The Villa was definitely more novel than romance, a sweeping drama centered around two families who both own wineries.  I wasn’t completely sure it was going to be “my kind” of book, but I found myself drawn in almost against my will.  While I personally felt like this book could have done with more humor and less sex, it was still a very engaging story.  Despite the fact that there were a lot of characters, they felt like individuals.  The main female lead was a little too “strong independent woman” type for me (read: basically obnoxious but gets away with because she’s a woman), but I still ended up liking her.  This book followed one year of time, and the changing of the seasons was a big part of the story and really added to the overall epic feel.  Not a book I’ll ever reread, but surprisingly interesting for a one-time go.

Carousel of Hearts by Mary Jo Putney -3.5*

//published 1989//

This is yet another book from a box of books – a while ago I purchased a box of regency romances on eBay because the box included several Heyer titles I didn’t own.  Now I’m working my way through the non-Heyer titles, all of which, prior to this one, ended up being DNFs.  Carousel was an entertaining little read that was a bit strong on coincidence but was enjoyable nonetheless.  I really liked all four characters in this story, although they did need a stern talking-to.  It would honestly have been a 4*, except the ending got completely out of hand.  Still, this one ended up being a fun read.

The Legend of Luke by Brian Jacques – 4*

//published 1999//

The next installment in the Redwall series, Luke is really two stories in one.  The book begins with Martin and a few companions heading north to see if they can find out what happened to Martin’s father, who left on a quest when Martin was a child.  (As we learned in Martin the Warrior, Martin and the rest of his tribe were kidnapped and enslaved while Luke was gone.)  The first part of the book recounts Martin’s journey, which concludes when Martin finds several animals who knew Luke and know what happened.  The second part of the book is the story of Luke, pursuing vengeance on the high seas.  The third, and final, part of the book is Martin’s journey back to Redwall, which is still being constructed at this time (the Martin part of the story takes place chronologically after the events in Mossflower).

I actually enjoyed this book, which felt more focused than a lot of the other installments in this series.  It was also nice to have a story where the shrews aren’t just disposable extras!  And, thankfully, there weren’t that many scenes with the youngsters being obnoxious, which has been a theme in the last few books.  Overall, I’m still enjoying and planning to finish the series, but it’s working well to read them one at a time a bit spread out.

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April Minireviews – Part 3

Sometimes I don’t feel like writing a full review for whatever reason, either because life is busy and I don’t have time, or because a book didn’t stir me enough.  Sometimes, it’s because a book was so good that I just don’t have anything to say beyond that I loved it!  Frequently, I’m just wayyy behind on reviews and am trying to catch up.  For whatever reason, these are books that only have a few paragraphs of thoughts from me.

More minireviews… apparently I’ve been reading a lot of books that don’t inspire strong feelings.  Or the weather is so perfect that I’m spending way more time outside in the garden than I am inside blogging.  :-D

Solace Island by Meg Tilly – 3.5*

//published 2017//

In my mind this was going to be more thriller than romance, but it’s more romance than thriller.  There are also several scenes of sexy times, which I wasn’t expecting either.  The romance part was pretty happy, and I liked both of the main characters, although they were pretty instalovey – and in some ways it wasn’t even the instalove that bothered me as much as Maggie just telling Luke everything about her horrible ex-fiancé on basically their first date.  The thriller part kind of spiraled from the realm of slightly unbelievable to completely unbelievable, but it did move everything along.  All in all, not a book I want to reread, but I enjoyed it enough to read the sequel about Maggie’s sister, which is coming out sometime this spring.

Six Months Later by Natalie Richards – 3.5*

//published 2013//

Chloe, an average student with an average life, falls asleep in study hall one May afternoon.  When she wakes up, it’s November and she can’t remember the last six months.  But somehow, during that time she’s started dating one of the most popular guys in school, has turned into a star student, and scored ridiculously high on her SAT, meaning that she’s being courted by several fancy colleges.  Unfortunately, Chloe’s best friend is no longer her friend, Chloe likes the resident bad guy more than her perfect boyfriend, and nothing about the missing six months seems to match Chloe’s personality…

This book had a really fun premise and was overall done well, but there were some clunky parts that left me feeling like this book could have used one more round of ruthless editing to really make it shine.  There were some parts where the motivation of various characters stuttered a bit, and the ending seemed very rushed.  But overall I really liked Chloe and I also appreciated when she frequently told people about her problems instead of just trying to do everything/figure everything out by herself.  I think a little more time spent before she falls asleep and loses time would have helped to emphasize how different her life was when she woke up, especially regarding Adam, the “bad boy” – like I know nothing about this guy, so I couldn’t figure out why she wouldn’t just dump the other guy and start dating Adam.  One sentence about him being a troublemaker isn’t really enough to give me a feel for the relationship Chloe and Adam had before all this started.

If you’re looking for a quick, fun thriller-esq read, Six Months Later fits the bill.  But if you’re looking for a story where everything is polished and flows perfectly, you may want to give this one a pass.

The False Princess by Eilis O’Neal – 3.5*

//published 2011//

This wasn’t a bad story, but it never really felt magical to me.  I liked the concept – basically, just after her sixteenth birthday, the princess is told that she isn’t actually the princess.  Instead, the real princess has been hidden in a convent her entire life because of a prophecy that said she may be murdered before she turned 16.  So the girl who has thought she was the princess is now just plain Sindra.

I think part of the problem was it never really felt like this book knew what it wanted to do.  Sindra herself wasn’t particularly coherent, and she really exasperated me a lot.  She had a bad habit of just saying mean things to people whenever she was feeling frustrated with life, and frequently had a very woe-is-me attitude about things.  So while this was a perfectly pleasant one-time read, it wasn’t one that made me want to dash out and see what else O’Neal has written.

Better Than Chocolate by Sheila Roberts – 3*

//published 2012//

I really enjoy fluffy chick lit series that focus on a group of people or place, where I can get to know and enjoy different characters, so I’m always on the lookout for new ones.  I can’t remember when Icicle Falls came to my attention, but the premise of the first book is that three sisters are putting on a chocolate festival in their small town to help save their business, and it sounded like fun.  However, the execution was very choppy and scattered.  I found the main character, Samantha, to be alright at best – most of the time she was just plain obnoxious, and literally only cared about the business and not her family.  And while she spent time thinking things like “Oh I’m a terrible person who only cares about this business and not my family,” I never really felt like she changed at all.  Like in the end, the business was still the most important thing to her.

There was also supposed to be an enemies-to-friends aspect in the romance, which I usually really enjoy, but it was done quite poorly here, with basically no conversation between the two other than “You suck” and yet in the end I’m supposed to buy not just that they are happily ever after, but that the dude is loaning Samantha a crapton of money with no ulterior motives, despite the fact that she immediately falls into his arms after that…????  It felt really weird that he gave her the money to save her business and then suddenly she started dating him.

At first I was going to go ahead and try the next book in the series, but I honestly realized that I didn’t really feel that attached to anyone in this story enough to see how things go for them next.  Plus, I was really put off by the way this book ended, which lowered the entire book to a 3* rather than 3.5*.  There are a lot of chick lit series out there, so I don’t think I’m going to bother finishing this one.

Miss Lucas by A.V. Knight – 3*

//published 2018//

Those of you who have been with me for a while know that I go through random, arbitrary times in life where the only thing I want to read are terrible Pride & Prejudice variations.  I just started one, and I’m here to assure that the overwhelming majority of P&P variations are, in fact, terrible.  Still!  So addictive!

This one actually focuses entirely on Charlotte Lucas – Elizabeth’s story, in the background, is following canon almost completely.  In this story, Mr. Collins doesn’t quite bring himself to propose to Charlotte – at the last minute he decides that he ought to have Lady Catherine’s permission first, since technically she sent him to propose to one of his cousins, not some random woman in Hertfordshire.  A few months later, instead of Elizabeth and (Charlotte’s sister) Maria going to visit the already-married Charlotte, Lady Catherine via Mr. Collins invites Elizabeth, Charlotte, and (Elizabeth’s sister) Mary to stay basically so she can look them over and decide who Mr. Collins should marry.  This means that Charlotte is still single when she meets Colonel Fitzwilliam…

While I did enjoy this story and really liked the overall idea (I’ve always shipped Charlotte and the Colonel), the execution was rather mediocre.  I never quite bought the romance between Charlotte and the Colonel, and the ending of the story felt very rushed.  There were also instances where it felt like the author was trying to shoehorn Charlotte into Elizabeth’s story so that we would still know what was going on with that part of the action, even implying that Charlotte and Elizabeth were closer than Elizabeth and Jane, which I think is categorically false.  So a decent little story, but one that really lacked some spark.

March Minireviews – Part 2

Sometimes I don’t feel like writing a full review for whatever reason, either because life is busy and I don’t have time, or because a book didn’t stir me enough.  Sometimes, it’s because a book was so good that I just don’t have anything to say beyond that I loved it!  Frequently, I’m just wayyy behind on reviews and am trying to catch up.  For whatever reason, these are books that only have a few paragraphs of thoughts from me.

The Rose Bride by Nancy Holder – 3.5*

//published 2007//

This story started strong, but got rather muddled.  It also honestly seemed really lame to me because basically different mothers beg the gods (and goddesses) to show their children that they’re loved, and the way the goddesses complete this task is by killing off basically everyone in those children’s lives and making them suffer horrifically until they finally find each other…!??!  I’m just never a fan of stories where the main character is very Job-like in that they just keep getting hit with one tragedy after another.  It gets old and same-y after a while.

So while this one wasn’t bad for a one-time read, it wasn’t so amazing that I yearn to read it again and again.

The Shut Eye by Belinda Bauer – 3*

//published 2015//

This was one of those books where I honestly probably only got 2* of enjoyment out of it, but because it did keep me glued to the pages I feel like it deserves the added star.  This wasn’t a bad book, per se, but it incorporated a plot device that I always feel is cheating, because it means that the author doesn’t have to actually explain anything or even make any of it make sense.  So not a bad book, and I definitely wanted to find out what was going to happen, but in the end not really my type.

Compass American Guides:  Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks by Brian Kevin – 4*

//published 2009//

So we are actually planning two big trips this year and I am super excited about both. In May we are heading south to Great Smoky National Park, and in September we are heading west to Yellowstone and Grand Teton.  In some ways, Yellowstone is kind of stressing me out because it is SO huge that I know there is absolutely no way that we can begin to see even a fraction of all there is to see, so I want to make the best of our time there, which, for me, means loads of research!  Luckily I have quite a bit of time to learn as much about these two gigantic, beautiful parks as I can.  (And yes, I’m the kind of person who actually reads travel guides cover-to-cover.  Not sure exactly what that says about me as a person haha)

This Compass guide was a fantastic place to start, and I’m super disappointed that there aren’t more of them for more parks (like Great Smoky for instance…).  It’s a great blend of a traditional travel guide with lots of photos, tips, and information.  The guide is divided into three main chapters, two for Yellowstone (one each for the south and north loops) and one for Grand Teton.  This book really helped me to get my head around the different areas of the parks and what they have to offer.  There was also a lot of information about places to stay and eat, which could be useful when we’re closer to the actual trip.  My one complaint about this book is that the maps are infrequent and not that great.  I’m very visual and way into maps, so that would have really helped increase my understanding of the parks.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park:  Adventure, Explore, Discover by Amy Graham – 3*

//published 2009//

One thing that I learned back when I was doing lots of different research projects and papers for various projects in college was that if there is a children’s book on the subject, it can be a great place to start to get a basic overview.  Nonfiction children’s books tend to strip a subject down to its basic essentials, which are then presented in layman’s terms.  I have found it to frequently be a great way to help me get a simple overview of a topic.

This book is part of a series that is obviously for children who are writing a report on a topic, as it focuses on providing a lot of other resources, like websites, throughout the book.  In and of itself it’s a pretty simple, rather unexciting, presentation of the park’s natural and social history.  I honestly felt like this book could have said a lot more about what the park is about today, as the chapters on the history make up the bulk of the book.  Still, as I had hoped, this book did provide a decent overview that helped me get my head around some of the basics of the most-visited national park in the country.

Over the Moon by Natalie Lloyd – 3*

//published 2019//

This was an enjoyable middle-school read with a likable protagonist and an imaginative setting.  While I enjoyed this story, it didn’t really hit that MAGIC chord deep inside, although it was still a really fun story that I would recommend for middle readers.

Gone, But Not Forgotten // by Phillip Margolin

//published 1993//

A man comes home from work, and his wife is missing.  On their bed is a rose, dyed black, and a note that says, “Gone, But Not Forgotten.”  She’s the third woman to disappear in this manner, and the Portland police still have no idea where they are.  The crime scenes are clean.  No bodies have been found.  There are no real clues or leads… until one evening a woman, claiming to be a detective from Hunter’s Point, New York, shows up at the home of Portland’s DA with an incredible story.

This is the third of Margolin’s stand alone books that I’ve read.  My first introduction to his writing was through the fantastic Amanda Jaffe series.  Margolin has a knack for writing addictive crime thrillers that keep me turning the pages even during the courtroom scenes, which I frequently find dull in the hands of less talented authors.  Margolin was a criminal attorney, so those parts of his story always ring true, and I love the way that he is unafraid to discuss the moral complexity of defending criminals.

My main consistent frustration with Margolin’s books is the way that he starts them: by introducing about 57 people in the first 20 pages, with no particularly indications as to which characters are going to be important in the future.  Like yes, a few of them are obvious, but some not so much.  Here are the people we meet, by name, in the first couple of pages of Gone, But Not Forgotten (in order of appearance):

  • Alfred Neff, judge
  • Betsy Tannenbaum, attorney
  • Walter Korn, retired welder and jury spokesperson
  • Andrea Hammermill, defendant
  • Randy Highsmith, prosecutor
  • Martin Darius, jerk
  • Russ Miller, regular dude
  • Vicky Miller, wife of Russ
  • Frank Valcroft, Russ’s boss
  • Stuart Webb, account executive at Russ’s job

Those people are all in chapter one, fifteen pages.  Chapter two is still introducing people/threads.  It’s super fun to see all these apparently not-connected individuals and see how their lives start to come together, but it is also a confusing information dump, and I almost always end up getting a scrap of paper and writing notes, because if Margolin mentions Russ Miller on page 128, he doesn’t do a particularly good job reminding you who he is.

But once I get through the initial introductions, and people start to slot into place, Margolin’s books always pick up the pace and drag me along, and this one was no different.  This is one of those crafty novels where you get a lot of the information, so it’s more of a how than a who… sort of.

This book was more violent than some of Margolin’s others that I have read.  The main bad guy was a genuine creepy psychopath, and this really wasn’t the best book to stay up until midnight finishing, because then I just laid there with mind going in circles and also feeling completely creeped out by this guy.  On the other hand, I literally couldn’t just go to bed and stayed up late finishing this one, so even though in many ways this was only a 3.5* read for me, I bumped it up to a 4* in the end because it was so addictive.

While Gone, But Not Forgotten wasn’t my favorite Margolin book, and it’s not where I would start if you’re new to his writing, it was still an intense, engaging thriller that had me completely engrossed.  I’m still working my way through Margolin’s backlog, and so far he hasn’t disappointed me.

Before She Knew Him // by Peter Swanson

//published 2019//

I have to give Swanson kudos – he has a genuine knack for writing books that I can’t put down.  Whenever I finish one of his books, I’m immediately struck by his strong overuse of coincidences, his insistence that all men are obsessed with/only motivated by sex, and the fact that I didn’t really like anyone in his story… yet the writing is so gripping that I barely notice any of those things when I’m actually reading the book.  Before She Knew Him is the third of Swanson’s books that I’ve read, and it was just like the others: completely addictive.

Hen and Lloyd appear to be a more-or-less regular married couple.  They’ve just moved to a suburb of Boston.  Hen has had a bad couple of years as far as her mental health goes, and is looking forward to a fresh start in a new space.  She’s an artist and an illustrator, and has a new studio close to their new house.

By page 25, Hen and Lloyd have met and had dinner with their next-door neighbors, Matthew and Mira.  While taking an informal tour of their house, Hen sees an item in Lloyd’s study that triggers a memory for her – she’s positive that it belongs to a young man who was murdered several years earlier, an unsolved crime that became something of an obsession for Hen.  Hen immediately begins to wonder if she’s right – which means Matthew is actually a murderer – or if she’s imagining things.  But here’s what Swanson does:  he let’s you know, also by page 25, that Hen’s suspicions are completely founded.  Not only did Matthew kill Dustin Miller, he’s killed others as well…

This book is a bit of a twist on the unreliable narrator concept, in that the reader knows that Hen is actually completely reliable, but no one around Hen fully trusts what she’s saying because of her mental health problems and her earlier obsession with Miller’s homicide.  I thought that I might become rather bored with a story where I already know such a big part of the story, but instead I found myself completely racing through the short, snappy chapters, keen to see where things were headed, and becoming more and more horrified with Matthew.  I also really appreciated that Hen did talk with the police instead of trying to do everything herself… it wasn’t her fault that they never quite believed her…

For me, the worst part of this book was the dreary insistence that literally every single male alive today is a cheating, sex-obsessed douche, and if you think that’s wrong, it’s just because you are too trusting of your man (who is actually a cheating, sex-obsessed douche, you just haven’t realized it yet).  One of the “twists” in the story is where one of the characters is revealed to be a cheating on his wife… I would honestly have been much, much more surprised if it turned out he wasn’t.  This plot device gets very, very old to me.  I see it especially applied in thrillers, where apparently it’s too much work to write multi-faceted men, or even men who are decent people.  So much easier – and trendier! – to just make them all terrible people.  I’m really quite over it.  As someone who is incredibly happily married, and has parents who are happily married, and grandparents who were happily married, and multiple friends who are happily married – I just really wish authors would stop acting like happy marriages are just made up of women who haven’t yet realized their husbands are already cheating on them.

In the end, a bit on the fence between a 3.5 and 4* read.  There were several coincidences that played a pretty big part in driving the plot forward, the men were completely dreadful, and I felt like Swanson went one twist too far.  But on the other hand, I basically couldn’t put this book down, and I’ll definitely end up reading whatever Swanson produces next.

The Suspect // by Fiona Barton

//published 2019//

Last year I read and quite enjoyed The Widowwhich centered around a (no surprise) widow, a reporter, and a detective.  Later in the year Barton’s second book appeared, The Child, wherein the reporter (Kate) and the detective (Bob) show up again.  While I didn’t enjoy The Child as much as The Widow, it was still a very readable story and I was excited to learn that Kate and Bob would be back for a third installment.

The Suspect felt like a more personal story.  At Bob’s end, his wife is suffering from Stage IV cancer with a very poor prognosis.  Kate’s oldest son, Jake, left the country at the end of the last book (two years prior), dropping out of college and heading off to Thailand to work with sea turtles and “find himself.”  Since then, contact with him has been sporadic at best, and Kate worries that she’s pushed him away or put too much pressure on him in the past.

A call comes into Bob’s station reporting two girls missing.  The problem is that they were in Thailand when they went missing, visiting for their gap year.  They haven’t been missing long, so there isn’t much the police can do at this point.  However, Bob gives Kate a head’s up, and since it’s a slow time in the news, she eagerly jumps on board the story, visiting the anxious parents and learning how the girls ended up in Thailand to begin with.  She’s especially drawn to their story because of Jake being gone.

Once the stage is set, the story really begins to roll.  Kate’s portions are told in first person, with third person sections from the perspectives of Bob and Alex’s mother in between.  We also get short chapters that are comprised mostly of emails Alex is sending home to her best friend. In this way, we see both the outcome and the build-up, even while the reader isn’t completely sure what actually happened.

All in all, The Suspect was an easy 4* read.  The pacing was excellent and the story engaging.  However, my residual feeling when I finished the book was just one of sadness.  I felt really bad the entire book because Alex was SO excited about her trip and had made all kinds of plans and then it ended up being absolutely miserable.  It seemed so unfair and depressing.  It also felt weird to have Kate so involved in the investigation when things got more personal.  Still, I really like Kate a lot, and I also love Bob, and in this book it was really fun to see Kate’s reporter-in-training, Joe, become more of an individual – he’s also quite likable.

Each of Barton’s books can be comfortably read as stand-alones, but it’s enjoyable to see the growth/relationships between the main players by reading all three.  While I’ve found these books rather sad and don’t see myself rereading them, I’m still quite interested to see what Barton produces next.

NB: All book title links go to my own reviews of those books.

Kate Burkholder Mysteries // by Linda Castillo

First off, these books were brought to my attention by my good book-blogging buddy Stephanie.  The links in the titles above actually go to her reviews of these books, so you should definitely check out her thoughts!!

It’s been a while since I just sat down and immersed myself in a series (especially a mystery series), but I am so glad that I did that with these books!  I really enjoyed these mysteries a lot, and I’m excited because it appears that Castillo is still adding to the series, with #11 scheduled for publication this summer.

Part of the pleasure in these books for me is their setting – right here in Ohio.  The protagonist, Kate Burkholder, is the chief of police in a small town in Amish country (i.e. northeastern-ish Ohio).  Kate was born and raised Amish, but left the community at the age of 18.  Through a series of life events, she joined law enforcement, and a decade or so after she left, finds herself back in Painters Mill.  Her unique background means that she can often work as a sort of bridge between the Amish and non-Amish (aka “English”) communities, as she is familiar with the Amish culture and also speaks Pennsylvania Dutch.

Kate is overall a likable person, which is a big part of why this series works.  At the beginning, I was afraid she was going to turn into one of those dark, tortured souls who is drunk all the time and on a path to self-destruction.  Instead, Castillo decides to put Kate on a path of progress – throughout the books she is able to face various demons from her past, becoming stronger and growing as a person.

Part of this is Kate’s romantic interest, John Tomasetti.  If I’m honest, Tomasetti was one of the reasons I enjoyed the series so much.  He also comes from a troubled and tragic past, but overall is levelheaded, intelligent, and logical.  I really appreciated that Castillo didn’t feel like she had to give Kate a dumbed-down boyfriend in order to make Kate look good.  Instead, Kate and Tomasetti make a great team, bouncing ideas and theories off of each other, respecting the other’s thoughts and opinions, and providing each other with challenges to grow.

The mysteries themselves are, for the most part, well done.  There were a few times where I felt like Castillo got a little carried away (the reason Breaking Silence only got 3* was because, in my opinion, Castillo went one twist too far – instead of the solution that was logical, she tried to make it the conclusion that was !!!! and I just couldn’t get behind her reasoning for why the !!!! solution made sense), but overall she keeps things within the bounds of reason.

Throughout, Castillo’s descriptions of the Amish community feel respectful.  She neither demonizes or deifies them.  Instead, there is admiration for their strengths (strong families and communities, willingness to help and protect one another, joy in a simple life, etc.) and gentle criticism for their weaknesses (unwillingness to work with outsiders, tendency to judgmentalness, pacifism even to the detriment of justice, etc.).

I especially appreciated times when Kate recognized that her young, rebellious self may have been hard on the people in the community she was determined to leave behind.  This particularly happens with her relationship with the local Amish community’s bishop.  Kate acknowledges that when she was young she just saw him as a bossy, grumpy, judgmental old man.  Now, as an adult, she recognizes the fact that he has the best interests of his flock at heart, and works hard to keep his community safe and cared for, even at great personal sacrifice.

Kate also is able to see that while there are aspects of her former community that she doesn’t necessarily agree with, that they are still important tenets to the Amish, and are worthy of respect as a part of their personal faith.  That’s not to say that I always agreed with Kate.  If I’m honest, my faith probably more closely mirrors the Amish than Kate, who no longer claims any faith at all, and there are times that she only sees judgment from people where I can see that they are coming from a place of love.  A big example is when she and Tomasetti start living together.  Kate is offended that her brother and sister (still Amish) don’t agree with that, while I (an individual who still old-fashioned-ly doesn’t believe in cohabitation before marriage) see that her brother and sister are concerned for her and want the best for her.

In a weird way, Kate’s relationship with Tomasetti was an example of why I don’t think sleeping/living together outside of marriage is the path of wisdom.  Throughout, they are frequently on uncertain footing regarding how the other person feels, constantly questioning and confused with no clear boundaries or goals.  While I really loved the two of them together, they also drove me crazy sometimes, especially Kate (since we’re in her head the most), whose constant waffling and utterly ridiculous refusal to have basic conversations with Tomasetti (even when he was ready and trying to have them) drove me honestly crazy.  Another of the 3* reads (After the Storm) was actually a perfectly good mystery (although also possessed an unnecessary twist), but Kate’s behavior towards Tomasetti in that book got on my nerves so much that I couldn’t honestly rank it any higher.  She does things like literally sits in her office at work for hours instead of going home because she’s afraid to talk with him?!  They’re at a major crossroads of their relationship, and instead of acting like an adult, she hides like a petulant child for basically the entire book, and I just wanted to throttle her.

Besides her inability to have adult conversations, the other big thing about Kate that annoyed me was her obsession with “being strong”, i.e. not crying or showing a lot of emotion.  That’s semi-understandable in her role as chief of police, but utterly ridiculous to still feel that way toward Tomasetti when they’ve been in a serious relationship for literal years.  A true relationship with mutual trust involves emotional openness, and I just didn’t feel like Kate was there, which was fine for the first couple of books, but annoying that by book #10 she’s still thinking about how embarrassed she is that Tomasetti is seeing her cry.  Hello?  Sometimes in life things happen that make you cry, and actually one of the awesome parts about having a good relationship is that you have someone there for you when you are crying who doesn’t belittle your feelings or blow them off.  Tomasetti is amazingly supportive of Kate all the time, so her persistent and purposeful lack of emotional vulnerability just got annoying.

If there was another thing about the series that I would change, it would be to make more of a relationship with Kate and her siblings.  I feel like Kate spends a lot of time internally angsting about their lack of a relationship and feeling guilty about it… and then still never reaching out to them or visiting them.  It goes back to that whole thing where, with personal issues, Kate all too frequently just pretends they aren’t there, but still feels really guilty about them, and sometimes I get extremely tired of listening to her whine about them instead of just DOING what needs to be done.

On the other hand, there is so much about Kate to like.  She’s an incredibly hard worker, she’s brilliant at her work, she’s funny, she’s a great boss, she’s intelligent, she’s good at recognizing her own weaknesses, and she has a real heart and love for the people in her community.  These books are mostly from Kate’s first-person perspective, and I enjoyed spending time with her and her thoughts.  (Although I will say that it really low-grade aggravated me that Kate’s parts are always present tense, but all third person perspectives were past tense.  It just didn’t make sense and made everything read weird to me.)

While the series has its ups and downs, overall I would give it 4*, because I feel like Castillo is really getting into a groove.  It had been a long time since a book made me literally pace the floor while reading it, but I was so stressed when reading Gone Missing that that is exactly what I did!  The last three books thus far were my favorites from the whole series, and so far I feel like there is still so much for Castillo to explore.  I really appreciate the way that even her secondary (and third-ary lol) characters also change through time.  I’m genuinely in love with the other members of Kate’s small police force (especially Glock).

If you enjoy mysteries that are a little more intense than cozies, but aren’t full of graphic sex and violence (although there is a bit of swearing), then I would definitely recommend these.  Personally, I can’t wait for the next one to appear!!