Book Review (and a Giveaway!): Death by Dissertation by Kelly Brakenhoff

Posted June 26, 2019 by meezcarrie in contemporary, cozy mystery, giveaway, Kelly Brakenhoff, mystery/suspense / 10 Comments


about the book

SERIES: Cassandra Soto Mystery #1
GENRE: Cozy Mystery
PUBLISHER: Emerald Prairie Press
RELEASE DATE: April 22, 2019
PAGES: 355

Ambitious Cassandra Sato traded her life in Hawai’i for a dream position as Student Affairs VP at Morton College in tiny Carson, Nebraska. She expected the Midwestern church casseroles, land-locked cornfields, and face-freezing winters would be her biggest challenges, but it’s her job that’s rapidly becoming a nightmare.

A deaf student is dead and the investigation reveals a complicated trail of connections between campus food service, a local farmer’s beef, and the science lab’s cancer research. Together with her few allies, Cassandra must protect the students caught up in the entanglement.

Dealing with homesickness, vandalism, and a stalker, Cassandra is trapped in a public relations disaster that could cost her job, or more. No one said college was easy.

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“How close to God do you want your hair?”

Death by Dissertation is the kind of cozy mystery that diverts from the usual, purist ‘formula’. That’s not a bad thing at all, with the exception of one boundary line that I feel doesn’t need to be crossed when it comes to cozies. (More on that in my reviewer’s note at the end of this review.)

Brakenhoff’s debut cozy is rich in cultural diversity (which I love), specifically a mix of cultures we don’t normally see in this genre (individually, much less combined)…. and especially not something we see in rural small town Nebraska. The blending of each of those elements makes for a unique reading experience for sure, with several wince-inducing moments (as intended) that hopefully will make all of us more thoughtful and considerate of cultures different from our own. Cassandra’s native Hawai’ian roots sometimes needed a bit more explanation or transition or something, in my opinion… like when she would lapse into Hawai’ian Creole without explanation in settings that didn’t seem to make sense. I’m sure there was a reason for it – and maybe a little more delving into that aspect of her personality and heritage would have helped those jarring transitions make more sense for me as I read.

In addition to Cassandra and her struggle to be accepted in a rather diverse-less setting, Brakenhoff’s spotlight on the Deaf culture is heartfelt and educational. Giving us a glimpse at what it looks like for a deaf student at a predominantly “hearing” university, the author injects a much-needed dose of awareness and admiration for these characters & the Deaf community as a whole. Her best friend Meg bridges these two cultures – as an ASL interpreter for the university and also someone who used to be part of, however temporarily, the culture Cassandra calls home. The addition of her character really adds some cohesion to the separate diverse threads in this story and brings attention to the humanity at the heart of the diversity.

Going behind the scenes, so to speak, at a university made me glad it was Cassandra and not me having to put out all those fires sparking up in all different directions lol. The mystery itself was well-layered and while I knew whodunit fairly early on I wasn’t able to put all the pieces together (and had several alternate suspects lol) until the very end. I also loved the two romantical possibilities that the author introduces, and I can’t wait to see what transpires as the series progresses.

Bottom Line: Cassandra Sato is a very intriguing character – a transplant to rural Nebraska from Hawai’i to advance her career – and she is surrounded by intriguing characters. Her job totally stressed me out as the novel progressed, but I loved how she tackled everything with determination and heart.  Her friendships (and potential romances) add life and vibrancy to the story, not to mention the cultural awareness they introduce. Brakenhoff rounds out a layered mystery with shots of humor and some really sweet moments too. My only hesitation in freely recommending this to a traditional cozy/clean-read audience is the occurrence (however scattered) of some very strong curse words that aren’t normally seen in this genre.

(I voluntarily reviewed a complimentary copy of this book. All views expressed are only my honest opinion.)

My Rating: 4 stars / Great series debut!

Reviewer’s Note: Readers may want to be aware that there is some very strong, though infrequent, cursing (including a surprising f* bomb) in this book, atypical in a cozy mystery so all the more startling.

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$1.99 sale price good through 9:00PM eastern June 26, then increases to $2.99

about the author

Kelly Brakenhoff is an American Sign Language Interpreter whose motivation for learning ASL began in high school when she wanted to converse with her deaf friends. As an American Sign Language Interpreter with more than twenty years of experience, Kelly’s worked in college classrooms for fifteen different majors. From traipsing across muddy farm fields to stomach-churning medical procedures, and stage interpreting for famous figures, Kelly’s community interpreting interactions number in the thousands. Unfortunately, once she’s stepped away from the job, she usually forgets 90% of what happened. Which helps her keep confidential information safe, but also makes it really hard to grocery shop for more than 5 items without a written list.

Kelly wants to live in a world filled with peace, love, and joy, where people who can hear learn enough sign language to include deaf people in everyday conversations and work. Where every deaf child has early access to language and books with characters like them, and dark chocolate is cheap and plentiful.

When she’s not interpreting or writing, you can find Kelly cheering for her favorite Husker teams or training for half-marathons because she really likes dessert.

Her first mystery, Death by Dissertation, released April 22, 2019.

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10 responses to “Book Review (and a Giveaway!): Death by Dissertation by Kelly Brakenhoff

  1. Hi Carrie! Thank you for reading and reviewing my book Death by Dissertation for the Great Escapes book tour on June 26th. I really appreciate your time and support. Have a great weekend! Kelly

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