Book Review: Hold Fast Through the Fire (NeoG #2) by K.B. Wagers

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Genre: Science Fiction
Publisher: Harper Voyager
Publication Date: July 27th, 2021
Pages: 416, hardcover
Source: NetGalley

The Near-Earth Orbital Guard (Neo-G)—inspired by the real-life mission of the Coast Guard—patrols and protects the solar system. Now the crew of Zuma’s Ghost must contend with personnel changes and a powerful cabal hellbent on dominating the trade lanes in this fast-paced, action-packed follow-up to A Pale Light in the Black.

Zuma’s Ghost has won the Boarding Games for the second straight year. The crew—led by the unparalleled ability of Jenks in the cage, the brilliant pairing of Ma and Max in the pilot seats, the technical savvy of Sapphi, and the sword skills of Tamago and Rosa—has all come together to form an unstoppable team. Until it all comes apart.

Their commander and Master Chief are both retiring. Which means Jenks is getting promoted, a new commander is joining them, and a fresh-faced spacer is arriving to shake up their perfect dynamics. And while not being able to threepeat is on their minds, the more important thing is how they’re going to fulfill their mission in the black.

After a plea deal transforms a twenty-year ore-mining sentence into NeoG service, Spacer Chae Ho-ki earns a spot on the team. But there’s more to Chae that the crew doesn’t know, and they must hide a secret that could endanger everyone they love—as well as their new teammates—if it got out. At the same time, a seemingly untouchable coalition is attempting to take over trade with the Trappist colonies and start a war with the NeoG. When the crew of Zuma’s Ghost gets involved, they end up as targets of this ruthless enemy.

With new members aboard, will the team grow stronger this time around? Will they be able to win the games? And, more important, will they be able to surmount threats from both without and within?

In K. B. Wagers’ Hold Fast Through the Fire, the NeoG kick ass, take names, and hug each other a lot. The story focuses more on the interpersonal relationships and the battle games between the various military groups. A task force has been assembled to take down the people behind the problem of supplies not getting to the habitats in the outer solar system. Max, Jenks, and the rest of the team on Zuma’s Ghost are part of the force. 

I usually try to avoid spoilers, per NetGalley rules, but one or two may pop up during this review.

I’m conflicted. The leaders of the task force are all male. They all decide to keep the mission secret from their teams, which are mostly comprised of females. The reasoning behind this is to keep the potential leaks to a minimum. The leaders all recognize that their teams will be extremely mad when they find out they’ve been kept in the dark. They also don’t consider that their team members have unique skills and could have valuable insights if they were only “read in” to the mission. So, when things predictably go pear-shaped with some near-fatalities, and the teams figure out what’s going on, there’s some well-justified anger. Now, most of the blame has to go to Stephan, as it’s his order that gags the other leaders. The most aggravating part is when Max and Jenks pointed out ways they could have helped in specific situations, the guys all say, “yeah, we didn’t think of that.” 

When there are terrorist attacks on various military facilities, Stephan and another task force leader fake their deaths. This seems to serve no purpose other than to send Jenks into a tailspin. Max and Jenks also forgive Luis, Tivo, Nika and Stephan far too easily, in my opinion.

So, I’m conflicted. The physical affection between the teammates felt a lot more like the camaraderie in Wagers’ Hail Bristol series. Not a bad thing, necessarily, but I expect this series to be more military than the other. I also can’t think of a time where she let her male characters make the female characters feel like crap so much. Somehow, I still liked the story. I think credit for that goes to Jenks and Doge. Doge the robot dog was amazing in this book, and I hope his character progression continues, as well as that of Jenks.

Book Review: A Baffling Murder at the Midsummer Ball (A Dizzy Heights Mystery #2) by T.E. Kinsey

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Genre: Historical Fiction Mystery
Publisher: Thomas & Mercer
Publication Date: July 27th, 2021
Pages: 318, paperback
Source: NetGalley

A locked room. A mysterious death. Just another gig for the Dizzy Heights.

When London’s finest jazz musicians, the Dizzy Heights, are booked to play the glitzy Midsummer Ball at a country house in Oxfordshire, they expect a weekend filled with flappers and toffs having a roaring good time.

But the festivities at Bilverton House take a turn for the worse when the group are stranded by a summer storm. And when a member of the Bilverton family turns up dead in a locked room in an apparent suicide, Skins, Dunn and Ellie realise this is going to be a much tougher gig than they thought.

But here’s the lick. What if it was in fact cold-blooded murder? And what if the killer is still at large? It’s up to the Dizzy Heights to once again put down their instruments and get improvising if they want to solve this confounding mystery.

I love T E Kinsey’s Lady Hardcastle series, and enjoyed Skins and Dunn in those books. I admit, though, that I’m struggling to enjoy this spinoff series as well as the original one. A Baffling Murder at the Midsummer Ball is the second Dizzy Heights mystery. Kinsey’s writing is witty, the characters are engaging, and the story well-told. I adore country house and locked-room mysteries, and this combines both.


I figured out whodunnit about 22% of the way in. Normally, that doesn’t bother me too much, but since the quality of the writing is so high, I think I expected the puzzle to be a bit more, well, puzzling. 

The band and entourage comprise a large number of characters, which, in addition to the family and servants at the country house, sometimes made it hard to keep up. Also, some of the characters, such as Skins and Izzie, are called by both their given and nicknames by other characters. 

Spoiler question: How did the murderer know there would be someone by the study when the gunshot sounded?

Book Review: A Hex for Danger (An Enchanted Bay Mystery #2) by Esme Addison

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Genre: Cozy mystery
Publisher: Crooked Lane Books
Publication Date: July 13th, 2021
Pages: 336, hardcover
Source: NetGalley

The annual Mermaid Festival is the setting for Esme Addison’s sunny-yet-sinister second Enchanted Bay mystery, perfect for fans of Heather Blake and Bailey Cates. 

The small town of Bellamy Bay has its share of skeletons in its closet, but it isn’t used to bodies turning up in the local history museum. After all, this coastal North Carolina town is much like any other…except, of course, for the mermaids.

Helping to run the family business, an herbal apothecary while keeping her supernatural secret hidden is no easy feat for water witch Aleksandra Daniels. But somehow she’s still found time to help her friend Celeste, who has her own Caribbean mermaid heritage plan the annual Mermaid Festival. As fun-seekers throng the beaches, Alex gets to know and is intrigued by renowned artist Neve Ryland, who’s in town to decorate the local park with a mermaid-themed mural. Celeste, however, is less enamored with the artist, as Neve has been spending entirely too much one-on-one time with her boyfriend Jasper, director of Bellamy Bay’s history museum. Then, a reception for Neve ends abruptly when the artist is found dead in his office.

The police investigation nets Celeste who asks Alex to find the true culprit. With the help of her magically-inclined aunt and cousins, Alex dives in to clear her friends name. But there was more to Neve Ryland than met the eye…and Alex fears she may be in way too deep. Will she catch the crook or be next on the hook?

A Hex for Danger is the second in the Enchanted Bay mystery series by Esme Addison. Alex is settling in with her cousins and aunt at their botanical shop, and is learning more about her mermaid heritage and powers.

The town is holding their annual Mermaid Festival, to celebrate their connection to the Mermaid of Warsaw. The artist who painted a mural for the event is found bludgeoned after a party, and Alex’s cousin Celeste is the prime suspect. As Alex investigates, she is put at odds with her police detective boyfriend Jack, and encounters other supernaturals who are not as benevolent as the mermaids.

The characters are good, and I’m enjoying the series, but I have a few minor quibbles with this one. They may get corrected during the editing process, but here they are:
1- In the first chapter, there’s a brief power outage and it states that people’s cell phones go dark. The blip is later attributed to a blip in the power grid. A blip in the power grid might take out a cell tower, but it wouldn’t cause cell phones to go dark, because they run on batteries. 
2- Personal pet peeve – Don’t write a book set in the South if you can’t spell “y’all.” Sushi Ya’ll is not correct, unless it’s meant as a parody/joke.
3- Alex is very judgmental of others’ behavior, but is perfectly willing to do deep mental scans to get facts to clear her cousin. She considers that the ends justify the means, especially if the people she’s mind-mining turn out to be not so nice people. There’s one instance where someone holds her at gunpoint.. She disarms the assailant, but then holds the assailant against their will and forces them to answer her questions. That’s not ethical behavior.

By the end of the book, it seemed like Alex realized that she was on some shaky ground, ethically, and might be making some improvements. I hope so, because I do enjoy the series, but Alex’s actions are hypocritical and high-handed.

Book Review: Silence in the Library (Lily Adler Mystery #2) by Katharine Schellman

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Genre: Historical mystery
Publisher: Crooked Lane Books
Publication Date: July 13th, 2021
Pages: 352, hardcover
Source: NetGalley

Regency widow Lily Adler didn’t expect to find a corpse when visiting a family friend. Now it’s up to her to discover the killer in the charming second installment in the Lily Adler mysteries.

Regency widow Lily Adler has just started to feel settled into her new London home when her semi-estranged father arrives, intending to stay with her while he recovers from an illness. To placate and avoid him, she takes his place in a social visit with Lady Wyatt, a woman Lily doesn’t know. But when Lily arrives for her second visit, she finds the household in an uproar: Sir Charles, Lady Wyatt’s much older husband and a friend of Lily’s father, is dead in his library. All signs indicate that he tripped and struck his head on the mantelpiece. But when Bow Street constable Simon Page is called to the scene, he suspects that Sir Charles was murdered.
Mr. Page was there when Lily caught her first murderer, and he trusts her insight into the world of London’s upper class. With the help of Captain Jack Hartley, they piece together the reasons that Sir Charles’ wife, sons, and nephew might have wanted him dead. But everyone who might have profited from the old man’s death seems to have an
alibi. With no clear suspect, the trio nearly conclude that the death was an accident after all… until Lily receives a mysterious summons to speak with one of the Wyatts’ maids, only to find the young woman dead from poison when she arrives.
Mr. Page believes the surviving family members are hiding the key to Sir Charles’ death, and it isn’t long before Lily realizes that her father may know what it is. To uncover the truth, Lily must convince the father who doesn’t trust or respect her to help catch his friend’s killer before anyone else in the Wyatt household dies.

Silence in the Library is the second book in Katharine Schellman’s Lily Adler mystery series. The book opens with Lily returning to her London home to find her father paying an unexpected and unwelcome visit. Her overbearing father manipulates her into calling on his friend and country neighbor, Sir Charles Wyatt, to congratulate him on his recent remarriage.

Lily and her friend Jack Hartley call upon the Wyatts. Sir Charles’ son, Frank, and his nephew, Percy, are also present, and there is some unpleasantness involving missing money that Lily quickly sorts out. Sir Charles’ wife, Winifred, invites Jack and Lily to ride with her the next morning, but when they arrive at the house, they discover that Sir Charles has been murdered.

Readers may figure out the motive and “whodunnit” fairly early on, but the story is strong, and the relationships between the characters are interesting. I’m not entirely convinced of how sympathetically many of the book’s inhabitants treated the neurodivergent characters, given that this was the Regency period, but did find it believable that Lily and her friends would not be prejudiced against someone who was different in some ways.