Stalking Jack the Ripper – Kerri Maniscalco

•October 11, 2020 • Leave a Comment

stalking jack the ripper

Synopsis

Presented by James Patterson’s new children’s imprint, this deliciously creepy horror novel has a storyline inspired by the Ripper murders and an unexpected, blood-chilling conclusion…

Seventeen-year-old Audrey Rose Wadsworth was born a lord’s daughter, with a life of wealth and privilege stretched out before her. But between the social teas and silk dress fittings, she leads a forbidden secret life.

Against her stern father’s wishes and society’s expectations, Audrey often slips away to her uncle’s laboratory to study the gruesome practice of forensic medicine. When her work on a string of savagely killed corpses drags Audrey into the investigation of a serial murderer, her search for answers brings her close to her own sheltered world.

The story’s shocking twists and turns, augmented with real, sinister period photos, will make this dazzling, #1 New York Times bestselling debut from author Kerri Maniscalco impossible to forget.

My Thoughts

This book was dark, and twisted, and so much fun!

By now, you all know how much I love true crime. To take one of the most infamous unsolved murder cases and turn it completely on its head was stunning to read. I loved it. I loved this take on Jack the Ripper, and the reasons for the murders. (Don’t worry – I won’t go into detail, no matter how much I’m dying to do a compare-contrast of fact versus fiction!)

Audrey Rose is also a lovely character. She’s unquenchably curious, and doesn’t rest until she’s found the answers she’s looking for. She’s longing for education and respect in a time where these things were not what society deemed appropriate for women. Does she give a fuck? Absolutely not. She wants to learn forensic sciences, and she wants to learn them her way. And if that means learning from her uncle in his lab, while simultaneously wishing for a new dress, so be it.

Her enemies-to-friends relationship with Thomas Cresswell is a thing of beauty. This is one of my favourite tropes, and I think this one was done so, so well. They challenge each other, and balance each other out so wonderfully. Every step of the way, I lived for their bickering and their banter. I love their dynamic, and I can’t wait for more!

Even as the twists and turns felt a little predictable, I was still pleasantly surprised at how well it all came together.

YA has come a long way since I was a teenager (I try not to think about how long ago that was!) and I’m so glad I can still enjoy it so much in my 30s.

What If It’s Us – Becky Albertalli & Adam Silvera

•September 23, 2020 • 3 Comments

What if it's us

Synopsis

Arthur is only in New York for the summer, but if Broadway has taught him anything, it’s that the universe can deliver a showstopping romance when you least expect it.

Ben thinks the universe needs to mind its business. If the universe had his back, he wouldn’t be on his way to the post office carrying a box of his ex-boyfriend’s things.

But when Arthur and Ben meet-cute at the post office, what exactly does the universe have in store for them?

Maybe nothing. After all, they get separated.

Maybe everything. After all, they get reunited.

But what if they can’t quite nail a first date . . . or a second first date . . . or a third?

What if Arthur tries too hard to make it work . . . and Ben doesn’t try hard enough?

What if life really isn’t like a Broadway play?

But what if it is?

My Thoughts

This was a pretty cute book, though excessively melodramatic at times. While I would describe this as a bit of a meet-cute-gone-wrong, how Arthur and Ben find their way to each other is entertaining. (But still kind of a little bit creepy.)

This book definitely plays out like a dramatic movie. However, I’m pretty sure that was the intention. It’s a wild ride of a whirlwind romance, and definitely has some excessive, and mildly irritating, miscommunication as a plot device. I’m not a fan of that, but then I remember these boys are in high school, and, well, high school usually isn’t a prime example of communication skills.

In the end, it’s how Ben and Arthur continue to find each other, and reach out for each other, that’s rather lovely. There’s something rather nice about making a deep connection with someone, even after only knowing them for a very short time.

In the end, to me, this book wasn’t really living up to all the hype. But it was still nice to read, and I enjoyed watching Arthur and Ben deepen their own relationship, as well as their relationships with their friends. It’s a nice book, all in all, but I don’t think it was quite for me.

Upside Down Inside Out – Monica McInerney

•September 3, 2020 • Leave a Comment

upside down inside out

Synopsis

Eva Kennedy is in a rut. After seven years of working at her uncle’s Dublin delicatessen, her artistic aspirations have slipped by the wayside and her latest relationship has fizzled. Whatever happened to the Eva who was going to be someone? Hoping to shake things up and find inspiration, Eva takes a break and ventures to Melbourne, Australia, to visit an old friend who, for fun, gives Eva an exciting new identity. Eva is now exotic and adventurous and … not herself. Joseph Wheeler is a successful London designer. Unfortunately his firm is thriving at such a high level that he doesn’t have time to actually design anymore. And his love life is nonexistent. In Australia on business, Joseph meets Eva, and the sparks fly – even as Eva is stuck pretending to be someone she’s not. Little does she know that Joseph has some secrets of his own… When what starts as a holiday fling quickly blossoms into something more, Joseph and Eva discover that romance can turn life upside down and inside out at the bottom of the world.

My Thoughts

It took me a few chapters to warm up to this book, but once I did, I couldn’t put it down!

This was a very fun, quirky, romantic book. The last thing either Eva or Joseph expect on their trips to Australia is a whirlwind romance. But that’s exactly what they get. And they’re absolutely adorable together.

Eva is sweet, and demure, and calm and she sorts out what she, herself, wants for her future and her life. And Joseph experiences an epiphany that seems to have been many years in the making. I kind of saw myself in both of them, honestly.

They’re both in their 30s, undergoing massive changes in their lives, and pulling their ways out of the ruts they’ve been in for so long. I’m doing the same thing. It wasn’t difficult to feel like I knew these characters, and knew them well. Them being adorable and falling in love was just a really huge bonus.

Key Lime Pie Murder – Joanne Fluke

•August 29, 2020 • Leave a Comment

key lime pie murder

Synopsis

It promises to be a busy week for Hannah Swensen. Not only is she whipping up treats for the chamber of commerce booth at the Tri-County fair, she’s also judging the baking contest;acting as a magician’s assistant for her business partner’s husband;trying to coax Moishe, her previously rapacious feline, to end his hunger strike, and performing her own private carnival act by juggling the demands of her mother and sisters.

With so much on her plate, it’s no wonder Hannah finds herself on the midway only moments before the fair closes for the night. After hearing a suspicious thump, she goes snooping–only to discover Willa Sunquist, a student teacher and fellow bake contest judge, dead alongside an upended key lime pie. But who would want to kill Willa and why?

Now Hannah needs to crank up the heat, hoping that Willa’s killer will get rattled and make a mistake. If that happens she intends to be there, even if it means getting on a carnival ride that could very well be her last. . .

My Thoughts

The thing with these books is that they drive me crazy, and they’re really fun at the same time. They’re not about to win any literary awards in my opinion, but they’re very easy and very fun. As I’ve said before, I like solving the mysteries along with Hannah and her friends and family. I like the puzzle. But there are quite a few paragraphs I have to skim read in order to get to the parts I like.

Again, as I’ve stated before, my main issue with these books is the antiquated, inherent, and explicit misogyny and racism. The racism is quite prevalent whenever Hannah, our narrator, makes reference to anything pertaining to the Indigenous communities in Minnesota. And those mentions are few and far between. It’s the misogyny that’s front and centre most of the time.

The Swensen women – Dolores, Hannah’s mother, Hannah herself, and her two younger sisters, Andrea and Michelle – are arrogant, snobby, judgmental, and hypocritical. One moment, they’re all about strong, independent women. The very next, they’re tearing down women for making their own decisions and being themselves because they don’t align with what the Swensens believe women should be.

A perfect example of this is when one of the sisters – I honestly cannot be bothered to remember which one because this scene pissed me off so much – tells the other two: “I’d slap him silly if he said anything sexist to me”, and then proceeds to make sexist comments about another woman in her vicinity within SECONDS of making the aforementioned statement. How bloody tone deaf is that?

All that said, I’m still probably going to continue to read these books. As I said, they’re easy and solving the murder mystery is pretty fun. But I’ll definitely have to do a lot of skimming and paragraph jumping to avoid the toxic bigotry that the characters perpetuate at any given moment.

I have a love-hate relationship with these characters. I need them in order to keep up with the goings on in Lake Eden, a fictional town I find charming. But I could really go without them, and happily read this without the Swensens, despite them being the main family of the series. I’d love a differing POV. I’d love to have a different narrator. But I’m not going to get that. So, with all the flaws that make this series extremely frustrating, they’re things I have to deal with in order to continue with this particular series of cozy mysteries. And yes, I am well aware that there are tons of others out there, and I will definitely be looking into them.

Cherry Cheesecake Murder – Joanne Fluke

•August 27, 2020 • Leave a Comment

cherry cheesecake murder

Synopsis

Hannah Swensen and her bakery, The Cookie Jar, bask in the glow of Hollywood glamour when Main Street becomes a movie set. And although tensions simmer as the cameras roll, no one expects the action to turn deadly. . .until it’s too late. . .

There’s no such thing as privacy in Lake Eden, but Hannah never thought things would go this far. Everyone has been telling her what to do ever since she got not one but two marriage proposals. Movie mania soon shoves Hannah’s marriage dilemma into the background and even gives her cat a shot at stardom. The Cookie Jar serves as snack central with Main Street rented out for the week. She stirs lots of fresh gossip, whipping up treats for cast and crew, including demanding director Dean Lawrence’s favorite–cherry cheesecake.

My Thoughts

Even though I have quite a few problems with this series – most of them revolving around very rigid, and very antiquated views of women and how they should act – these books really are just lighthearted and fun to read. They’re not great. They’re not awful. But they’re fun, and sometimes I really just need some fun.

Most of this book describes what Lade Eden is like for a week as the set of a movie. I have a lot of friends who work in the film industry, and I consider myself lucky to have quite a bit of insider information on some of the ins and outs of filmmaking. In all honesty, a lot of the descriptions about the behind the scenes and the general goings on were pretty accurate, so that was an extra bit of fun!

That said, the whole moving making process took up over half the book, and when the murder occurred, the whole investigating and deduction process – the whole point of why these books were so fun – was extremely rushed.

I found the rushed murder investigation rather disappointing. I like going through the twists and turns with Hannah, and figuring it out along with her. Sometimes, it’s very predictable, sometimes it’s not. But I didn’t really have the time to really enjoy those aspects this time around.

Overall, it was still a fun read, but definitely not the best book of the series.

The Rosie Project – Graeme Simsion

•August 26, 2020 • Leave a Comment

the rosie project

Synopsis

An international sensation, this hilarious, feel-good novel is narrated by an oddly charming and socially challenged genetics professor on an unusual quest: to find out if he is capable of true love.

Don Tillman, professor of genetics, has never been on a second date. He is a man who can count all his friends on the fingers of one hand, whose lifelong difficulty with social rituals has convinced him that he is simply not wired for romance. So when an acquaintance informs him that he would make a “wonderful” husband, his first reaction is shock. Yet he must concede to the statistical probability that there is someone for everyone, and he embarks upon The Wife Project. In the orderly, evidence-based manner with which he approaches all things, Don sets out to find the perfect partner. She will be punctual and logical—most definitely not a barmaid, a smoker, a drinker, or a late-arriver.

Yet Rosie Jarman is all these things. She is also beguiling, fiery, intelligent—and on a quest of her own. She is looking for her biological father, a search that a certain DNA expert might be able to help her with. Don’s Wife Project takes a back burner to the Father Project and an unlikely relationship blooms, forcing the scientifically minded geneticist to confront the spontaneous whirlwind that is Rosie—and the realization that love is not always what looks good on paper.

The Rosie Project is a moving and hilarious novel for anyone who has ever tenaciously gone after life or love in the face of overwhelming challenges.

My Thoughts

I really, really liked this book. I have never read a contemporary romance with a male POV before, and I have to say that I absolutely enjoyed it.

Don is honest, logical, intelligent, and incredibly socially awkward. He runs through pros and cons, and he has a set way of doing things. He tries to understand human behaviour from a logical standpoint, and when that doesn’t work, he tries to figure it out. This generally works out well for him. Enter Rosie, who throws all of this out the window.

Don undertakes Rosie’s quest to find her father like he does anything else – with scientific logic. Sometimes (okay, a lot of the time), this bites him in the butt. But he tries his best to provide results. All the personal growth along the way is a bonus to him. Even if he doesn’t realize he’s learning and adapting as he goes.

This book is heartfelt, and really wonderful. I enjoyed it immensely. Don and Rosie both learn a lot about themselves, and each other throughout. There is a lot of personal growth, and just a lot of (excuse my language) adults fucking up, and learning from it. That really resonated with me.

If all contemporary romance was written this beautifully, I’d read so much more of it. This book has definitely made me far more willing to give contemporary romance a fair chance.

The Brightsiders – Jen Wilde

•August 25, 2020 • 2 Comments

the brightsiders

Synopsis

A teen rockstar has to navigate family, love, coming out, and life in the spotlight after being labeled the latest celebrity trainwreck in Jen Wilde’s quirky and utterly relatable novel.

As a rock star drummer in the hit band The Brightsiders, Emmy King’s life should be perfect. But there’s nothing the paparazzi love more than watching a celebrity crash and burn. When a night of partying lands Emmy in hospital and her girlfriend in jail, she’s branded the latest tabloid train wreck.

Luckily, Emmy has her friends and bandmates, including the super-swoonworthy Alfie, to help her pick up the pieces of her life. She knows hooking up with a band member is exactly the kind of trouble she should be avoiding, and yet Emmy and Alfie Just. Keep. Kissing.

Will the inevitable fallout turn her into a clickbait scandal (again)? Or will she find the strength to stand on her own?

My Thoughts

At first I was unsure about this book. It initially felt like run of the mill spoiled brat drama. But it soon won me over in a big, big way.

In a way, Emmy is just a brat growing up. But the thing is, she doesn’t really realize she’s being a brat. She does, however, realize that things need to change, and that she needs to be the one to change them.

But she’s a kid, and she reached ridiculous heights of fame in a very ridiculously short amount of time. He entire life is being scrutinized by the media – which is a thing that I have a problem with, which I’ve mentioned before. Celebrities, no matter who they are, have a right to privacy. The public seems to forget this constantly. And it’s a HUGE social problem. While this book doesn’t necessarily address it as a social problem, the media attention that celebrities receive – especially teenaged celebrities – is a focus of attention. The fact that this seems normal makes me feel ill. This is not normal, and it never should have been. But I’m going to leave that train of thought there before I REALLY start ranting.

All that said, what this book does that’s really, really cool is showcase its inclusivity. I have never seen gender identity and pronouns be so normalized and respected as I did in this book – with a healthy dose of reality, of course. But it was so, so nice to see, especially in YA. These characters were presented, and respected, and absolutely brilliant.

Teenagers are full of complex emotion that a lot of the time gets trivialized. This book didn’t do that. It embraced it, and showcased in in a real, and raw fashion. Teenagers have complex thoughts, and are thrust into adulthood extremely abruptly with very little preparation. They make mistakes, they screw up, they learn, and they grow. This is especially so when they’re constantly in the spotlight.

Reading Emmy’s story of growth was at times frustrating, at times relatable, and at times heartbreaking. But, overall, it was real. Well, the parts I could relate to felt real, in any case. I’ll never be able to understand the whole obsession with celebrities.

I feel sick that their privacy is violated on a daily, constant basis. And as much as I enjoyed Emmy’s story, I think that’s the bigger issue here – not teens growing up and embracing themselves. The bigger issue is with tabloids, and paparazzi, and journalists and gossips who infringe on privacy rather than ask for formal interviews. There are boundaries, and they’ve been crossed so many times, that privacy violations have been normalized. And that’s something that really, really needs to change.

Leah on the Offbeat – Becky Albertalli

•June 27, 2020 • 4 Comments

leah on the offbeat

Synopsis

Leah Burke—girl-band drummer, master of deadpan, and Simon Spier’s best friend from the award-winning Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda—takes center stage in this novel of first love and senior-year angst.

When it comes to drumming, Leah Burke is usually on beat—but real life isn’t always so rhythmic. An anomaly in her friend group, she’s the only child of a young, single mom, and her life is decidedly less privileged. She loves to draw but is too self-conscious to show it. And even though her mom knows she’s bisexual, she hasn’t mustered the courage to tell her friends—not even her openly gay BFF, Simon.

So Leah really doesn’t know what to do when her rock-solid friend group starts to fracture in unexpected ways. With prom and college on the horizon, tensions are running high. It’s hard for Leah to strike the right note while the people she loves are fighting—especially when she realizes she might love one of them more than she ever intended.

My Thoughts

This was was… meh. As far as sequels go, it was alright, but it felt too… try-hardy. Like it was trying too hard to be too cool.

There were a lot of powerful themes in this book that just felt overshadowed by all the offhand references and book/band/insert media here name-dropping. It just kind of felt like the coming-of-age plot, as well as other aspects of the plot, fell by the wayside to make room for Leah sounding like she was ‘hip with the kids’.

I really wanted to like Leah, and to understand why she does the things she does, and thinks the way she thinks. But she just felt shallow. She felt like her characters was just a shadowy image of a person, blurry around the edges. She just didn’t have… substance. Which made me sad. And annoyed. It’s rather difficult to feel much for a character when there is zero insight into their psyche, but you’re acutely aware of their specific brand of fanfic.

The whole book was kind of like that. We get all these surface level details, but no real depth. There is so much happening, HUGE things happening, with these characters, but those things are just kind of… brushed off in favour of Leah waxing poetic about whatever media interest held her interest at that minute.

For a book that had a lot of big, strong themes to tackle, it just really fell short.

Crooked River – Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child

•June 26, 2020 • Leave a Comment

crooked river

Synopsis

Before he can return to New York from Miami, Special Agent A.X.L. Pendergast is called to investigate something very strange that has happened on the west coast of Florida. Dozens of human feet, identically clad in blue have washed up on beaches. All exhibit unmistakeable signs of violence. Beyond that, nothing is known about the feet, except that they are fresh and haven’t been in the water long.

Pendergast reluctantly makes his way to the barrier islands off South Florida to investigate a case he believes to be outside his area of expertise and his interest. Once there, he finds the case both disturbing and intriguing, and is drawn into the mystery almost against his will. A preliminary pathology report indicates the feet were chopped, torn, or even wrenched from their bodies in the crudest of ways. Over the next few days, still more continue to wash in, until the number tops one hundred.

Soon the case begins to take a most surprising and complex turn, and Pendergast finds it necessary to call in Special Agent Armstrong Coldmoon for a risky and very specific undercover assignment. And when, at last, the true origin of this awful gift from the sea becomes clear, the former partners are forced to confront an enemy, and a horror, more powerful and deadly than any they have faced before.

My Thoughts

This was a wild ride. I mean, it’s a Pendergast book, so I expected as much. But I wasn’t quite anticipating something of this calibre. To be honest, the implications alone are downright terrifying.

What starts off as Pendergast conducting an investigation in his usual unusual manner, quickly devolves into an absolute clusterfuck of moving parts. Things that don’t seem connected are, and things that appear to be straight forward are incredibly complex.

This book is kind of like that string of lights that’s always tangled up at the bottom of the box of Christmas tree ornaments. You look at the mess and think you’re never gonna figure it out. But when you do, hours (days, in my case a few years ago when I gave up on Christmas trees altogether) later, that “Aha!” moments just feels so, so good. Despite the anxiety and terror it took getting there.

There are a hanful of questions left unanswered at the end. And I have a feeling they’re all going to come back in the next book.

As always, this installment of the Pendergast series was a whirlwind and a roller coaster. But I am left with one, very important question: Will Pendergast ever make it back to NYC?

Hoarfrost – Jordan L. Hawk

•June 24, 2020 • Leave a Comment

hoarfrost

Synopsis

Sorcerer Percival Endicott Whyborne and his husband Griffin Flaherty have enjoyed an unprecedented stretch of peace and quiet. Unfortunately, the calm is shattered by the arrival of a package from Griffin’s brother Jack, who has uncovered a strange artifact while digging for gold in Alaska. The discovery of a previously unknown civilization could revive the career of their friend Dr. Christine Putnam—or it might kill them all, if the hints of dark sorcery surrounding the find are true.

With Christine and her fiancé Iskander, Whyborne and Griffin must journey to the farthest reaches of the arctic to stop an ancient evil from claiming the life of Griffin’s brother. But in the rough mining camp of Hoarfrost, secrets fly as thickly as the snow, and Whyborne isn’t the only sorcerer drawn by the rumors of magic. Amidst a wilderness of ice and stone, Griffin must either face his greatest fear—or lose everyone he loves.

My Thoughts

These books – these characters – have now become a part of me. I’m fully, and one hundred percent invested. Whyborne and Griffin are my dearest friends, and might as well be brothers to me. I haven’t been this hyperfixated on a series since I read The Raven Cycle a couple years ago.

I can’t explain it. There is just something about this series that makes me feel like I want to be part of this world – part of this family they have built for themselves.

I could probably do without the whole trek to the arctic, though.

Clearly, Whyborne is in way, WAY over his head. There is an entire network of sorcerers he knows nothing about out there, but they know about him. That is not a comfortable position to be in. But he has Griffin, Christine, and Iskander by his side – his dear friends – as well as his mother and long-lost twin sister.

Whatever challenges this makeshift family will face next, they will, undoubtedly, face it together. And I know that Whyborne and Griffin will walk hand in hand, as husbands, and face their demons – whatever they may be – together. And that, alone, makes me so incredibly happy.

All in all, I absolutely love this series. It kind of kills me a little to pace out reading all the books, but I know it’s for the best. I cannot wait to come back, and feel like I’ve come home.