Rating: 3.75 stars
Buy Link:
Amazon | iBooks | Amazon UK
Length: Novel


Daniel Rosenbaum is content with his life. In the quiet village of Rhinebeck, NY, he teaches at Lobel College and keeps to himself. He has a few close friends, and that’s all he needs. When Daniel has car trouble, he meets enigmatic mechanic, Tony, and the two connect. Even though Daniel wants to see Tony again, it doesn’t seem to be cards.

Daniel’s life takes a turn when he and his fellow professor, Colette, are heading to work one morning and find colleague and friend, Mario, dead in the alley. The storm that raged all night masked any sounds, while also damaging Daniel’s car. After the police arrive and Mario is taken away, both Daniel and Colette are questioned.

Daniel takes the opportunity to get his car repaired once again by Tony. The two take things further, and their connection is palpable. But despite wanting to see each other again, their lives are even more entwined than they think. As the relationship slowly progresses, secrets come out that make them question each other.

As the case heats up, however, Daniel and Tony become more solid. But the culprit behind Mario’s murder will not be deterred. And when the men poke their noses in one too many times, it might mean their demise.

Heart First is a debut work from author S.B. Barnes. Since I’m a fan of cozy mysteries, I was quick to pick this one up. I will say that I finished this story with some mixed feelings. There were parts I really enjoyed, and other things that didn’t work so well for me. One of those problem areas is that the story is told in third-person present tense, all from Daniel’s POV. This tense doesn’t work for me very well, and I find it harder to read and it doesn’t hold my attention. Now, I do understand this is a subjective thing, and overall, the author handled it pretty well. But considering the choice of third present, I had to wonder why we didn’t get Tony’s POV as well, especially considering he was wrapped up in this case too, just from a completely different perspective.

As far as the murder and mystery surrounding it goes, I had mixed feelings here too. On the one hand, I thought the author did a good job teasing out details in a believable way for the characters to have learned the information. And, for the most part, it was suspenseful enough given the nature of the story. Ultimately, the perpetrator wasn’t a huge surprise for me, though motivation was. But on the other hand, I felt like the pacing was off a bit with this story line. There were times when this plot dragged without any real revelation, but more importantly, I felt like it rushed at the end with the reveal and resolution. Daniel isn’t exactly trying to solve the case, but he is trying to discern the truth, so I felt like this could have been paced better.

But that being said, one of the things I truly enjoyed was how well balanced the romance and mystery plot lines were. It really felt like they were getting equal page time, and the connection between Daniel and Tony was really sweet. They definitely had chemistry and I liked that their romance wasn’t solely about the mystery. They had plenty of time just getting to know each other, and things grew organically between them. Tony is a few years younger than Daniel, and he has a bit of a coming out storyline as well that’s handled in a really lovely way. They end the book in a really good place relationship wise.

All in all, I liked this story, even if I didn’t love it. I thought the characters were well drawn, especially Daniel and Tony. The mystery wasn’t perfect for me, but done fairly well, and I liked that there were a few twists. I really liked the balance between the story lines. If you’re looking for a cozy murder mystery, then consider checking this one out. And I’ll be looking to see what the author has in store for this series.