3-Star Reviews, Books & Reviews, Uncategorized

‘Death by Dissertation’, by Kelly Brakenhoff: Book Review

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

This post contains affiliate links. If you purchase anything from these links, I may receive a small fee, at no extra cost to you.

Star Rating: ★★★✰✰

Popsugar reading Challenge Prompt: A book set on a college or university campus



Cassandra Sato, the new Student Affairs VP at Morton College in Carson, Nebraska, is having some trouble settling into her new position.

But it’s not the cold weather, the less-than-qualified student assistants, or even the argumentative board members that are making it difficult. It’s the suspicious death of Austin Price, a deaf student and lab-assistant, that’s causing her nightmare.

Through the investigation into Austin’s death, questions are raised about Morton’s food supply deal with a local farmer and its connection to cancer research being done at the college.

And on top of everything, someone has been stalking Cassandra, breaking into her home, and sending her threatening text messages.

With her job on the line and while helping the police find out what happened to Austin, Cassandra has to find a way to keep herself and her students safe from the threats to Morton College.

Death by Dissertation is available on Amazon

Death by Dissertation is definitely my kind of story.

It’s got a mystery at its heart with the death of Austin Price, it’s got an interesting cast of characters that keep you hooked, and a satisfying ending that ties everything up nicely.

But it’s not just like any old murder-mystery.

You’re not actually sure if Austin’s death was murder or just a horrible accident at first. And even when the police do confirm that they’re treating it as suspicious, there’s no evidence to point at any suspects in particular.

Most of these kinds of books have a list of suspects who, as the plot unfolds, each have their own possible reason for hurting the victim, with the murderer being revealed as one of these suspects at the end.

In this case, there aren’t many of the characters who you could consider suspects. Everyone is doing what they can to help Cassandra and the investigation instead of acting suspiciously.

I loved that about this book because it made it all the more intriguing as to what happened to Austin. It made me even more suspicious of people because they weren’t being suspicious (maybe I’ve read too many murder-mysteries), and kept me on the edge of my seat while reading.

Even though I did like most of the characters, Cassandra wasn’t always one of them.

I found her a bit condescending, especially at the beginning when we were meeting everyone else through her eyes. She looked down on a lot of her colleagues for not knowing the ins and outs of Hawaiian culture, which annoyed me a bit.

I understand that she felt they were being insensitive, but not everyone knows everything about every other culture. I think I felt that she could have just tried to educate them rather than looking down on them.

I also felt that at times the author was trying to wedge in her knowledge about Hawaii into parts of the story where it wasn’t necessary as if she wanted to prove that she had done her research no matter if it was natural for the plot or not. There was a line when Cassandra was going to visit the local farm that really stood out for me:

‘Although Hawaii’s economy was largely supported by agriculture, Cassandra was a city girl at heart.’

Maybe it’s just me, but there was no need to mention the Hawaiian economy just to show that she was a city girl, it just felt unnatural for me.

In saying that, I thoroughly enjoyed this book and what it taught me.

I’ve never thought about how difficult college (and the education system in general) must be for deaf people so seeing their experience and how they have to navigate that was eye-opening.

(I also learned that goosebumps are also called ‘chicken skin’, which actually grossed me out if I’m honest, I much prefer ‘goosebumps’. It’s a bit less icky.)

Overall, Death By Dissertation is a great read, and I’m already looking forward to the next Cassandra Sato mystery.

Death by Dissertation is available from Emerald Prairie Press and Amazon

This review can also be seen on Reedsy Discovery here

If you liked Death by Dissertation, you might also like:

Fiction Can Be Murder, by Becky Clark, or
Slay Bells, by TC Wescott

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s