For the longest time, I couldn't figure out why I wasn't liking this book. After all, it concerns Jack the Ripper, a topic I enjoy dissecting (har harFor the longest time, I couldn't figure out why I wasn't liking this book. After all, it concerns Jack the Ripper, a topic I enjoy dissecting (har har), the writing flows easily and moves quickly, and the story idea is an intriguing take on the infamous murder-mystery. It wasn't until the climax of the book that I was able to put my finger on the problem: we're continually told how brilliant the protagonist, Audrey Rose Wadsworth is. We're told she's the most brilliant of her uncle's protoges, we're told her intellect is astounding, such that it's stifled by Victorian standards of feminine behavior and thus requires her to act in unfeminine ways, such as becoming her Uncle Jonathan's apprentice and assisting with his work as coroner, in order to explore her own nature. We're TOLD all these amazing things about Audrey Rose, but we never SEE any of these behaviors in action. Instead we see a spoiled, petulant girl constantly on the verge of stamping her foot in frustration, who constantly blushes and flushes, who does nothing to earn the high praise of the community built around her. For instance, the young man who falls instantly in love with her, despite her obliviousness (natch), is continually astounding Audrey Rose (always Audrey Rose; god forbid we should call her plain Audrey – how common!) with his Sherlockian deductions, yet Audrey Rose is meant to be just as brilliant as this Thomas Cresswell. So why isn't she coming up with equally brilliant deductions or, better yet, besting Thomas'? (Something I would've loved to have seen her accomplish.) It's as though the author didn't quite know the best way to show Audrey Rose being intelligent in the Victorian setting she'd created for her character.
Yet Maniscalco certainly knew how to show off Audrey Rose's feminine side by having her frequently gush over a new gown, a new way of doing her hair or makeup, or by having her flat-out saying: “I was determined to be both pretty and fierce, as Mother said I could be. Just because I was a girl interested in a man's job didn't mean I needed to give up being girly. Who defined those roles anyway?” (Beyond the fact that this entire statement is stuffed with anachronisms ['fierce' as in “grrrrl power” didn't even exist as a concept at this time and neither did 'girly' in this context], the whole thought process just doesn't ring true for this kind of character, considering her upbringing, her class and station. I mean, yes, suffragettes were beginning to come into their own during this period, but typically upper-middle class young ladies were not of their ilk, especially not independent of any other rebellious female role model.) The idea of showing that a girl can be all science-y and girly at the same time is great... when it's done even-handedly. That didn't happen here.
As to the rest, it all seemed to be a case of a great deal of effort for very little result. By that, I mean, the complex and almost overly-convoluted story has Audrey Rose and Thomas dashing hither and thither in their quest to solve the mystery of Jack the Ripper's true identity - the "stalking" part of Stalking Jack the Ripper, one presumes - but the places they visit, the people they see, and the "clues" they gather don't actually seem to add up to anything concrete. Worse still, all their antics only serve to place the two of them in dangerous situations, which only makes them look foolish and irresponsible. Especially since the mystery of the story is so, I'm sorry to say, laughable. It's obvious from the word go who the perpetrator is, so while the twist ending is, indeed, quite gruesome, it's not in the least surprising. What is surprising is just how surprised Audrey Rose is Jack the Ripper's identity. So much for her brilliance.
And don't even get me started on the "romance" between Thomas and Audrey Rose. It's one thing to have two characters who bicker in an affectionate way, their irritation with each other masking a deepening attraction, with perhaps the bickering acting as a manifestation of their confusion over how to handle said attraction. But with Thomas and Audrey Rose, all their awkward back-and-forths are just that, awkward. Not to mention shallow, never seeming to lead to any revelations about themselves or how they feel about each other: every time Audrey Rose snarled and sniped at Thomas, we were treated to her thoughts about him, which consisted of her gushing and blushing over how hawt he was (and, yes, I use the modern vernacular because her thoughts were not those of a Victorian maiden, at all), yet just at the moment she would seem to soften towards him, marking some kind of progress in their "relationship", she'd bristle and get her back up again. No progress was ever made. Then again, it was hard to blame her when Thomas behaved like a complete dick, constantly preening as he smugly told her he knew just how much she wanted to kiss him, that he knew she couldn't resist him, that eventually she would capitulate and fall into his arms, blah blah blah. I get what Maniscalco was trying to suggest with Thomas's egotistic behavior, but it was just too heavy-handed and therefore off-putting.
Basically, the overall impression I had throughout the entire book was of modern characters stuffed into a period setting. While Maniscalco's writing dropped you into the depths of 1880's London - complete with gaslights, horse-drawn carriages, the peculiar miasma which could only belong to the Thames River, and fog-shrouded streets - the characters, most especially Audrey Rose and Thomas, were 21st century creatures through and through. I don't expect modern authors to recreate the language of Dickens, Trollope, or Hardy, but I do expect the characters to be fully of the era in which they live. Maybe the problem stems from Stalking Jack the Ripper being a YA novel. All I know is that I kept waiting for Audrey Rose to whip out a cellphone from her drawstring purse and for Thomas to use his laptop to Google Map their next Jack the Ripper stakeout.
Maniscalco's writing is eloquent, and she started with an intriguing kernel of a story. Sadly, it got away from her, especially at the climax of the story. But Stalking Jack the Ripper is a promising debut novel and it'll be interesting to see what this author produces in future.
Book received from the Amazon Vine Program in exchange for an unbiased review....more
This is the first work by Sarah Pinborough I've read and while I can't say I hated the book, when I finished it I was left feeling as though2.5 stars
This is the first work by Sarah Pinborough I've read and while I can't say I hated the book, when I finished it I was left feeling as though something was missing from the story. It felt, I don't know, lightweight, and I'm not sure why. After all, it was well-researched (from what I could tell) and atmospheric, with a compelling story. Also a unique one. After all, how many out there, aside from hardcore Ripperologists, have heard of the Torso Killer who went on his murderous spree at the same time as Jack? Not me. Granted, I'm not unfamiliar with Jack the Ripper and have spent my fair share of time researching the case and formulating my own theories, but I'd still consider myself far from being a true Ripperologist, so hearing about a second, equally depraved serial killer terrorizing London alongside Jack piqued my curiosity to no end.
I think part, or actually most of the problem, was that the book felt as though it didn't really know what it was trying to be or how it wanted to tell the story. Divided into three parts, part one started out as a pretty straightforward historical thriller/mystery, detailing the initial search for this Torso Killer. Though the multiple P.O.V.s were distracting, the overall tone was one I liked, sort of a Victorian England CSI. The only issue I had with this section is that the story seemed a bit too reminiscent of the movie From Hell, as Pinborough wrote her main character as also being an opium addict. Then part two begins and suddenly a supernatural element, which had been introduced earlier in the form of a refugee from Eastern Europe who has visions of evil things to come, takes over and alters the tone of the story. Not only that, but that supernatural thread never feels quite right, like a skin of oil resting on top of a glass of water: it's there, but it doesn't mix in. In part three, the author is trying to tie everything together and wind the story up, and as a result things seems to drag on just a bit too long until all of a sudden, we're at the finale of the book and... it's just over with. It came off as being anticlimactic: there was a fight with the villain that was over and done with quite quickly, and the whole situation just tied itself up all neat and pretty. I didn't feel satisfied with how things worked out, like the payoff just wasn't great enough for all the trauma the characters went through up to that point. There was also supposed to be a twist, but once you put the pieces together, you could see that "twist" coming from a mile away. It didn't help that the story's multiple P.O.V.s, which can sometimes be a tricky proposition, made it quite difficult to settle into the story: as soon as I was drawn into following the story from one character's perspective, the chapter ended and another voice took over.
Which is a real shame because, at its heart, Mayhem is a well-written book. Let down by the occasional spelling mistake, some odd grammar choices, and other style quirks, sadly, leading me to feel not entirely pleased with the novel. And while the subject matter itself was compelling enough to keep me reading, I wish Pinborough had stuck to using a strictly psychological thriller angle to explore the mystery of the Torso Killer....more
*e-ARC graciously provided to me by the folks over at NetGalley*
I cannot believe how much I adore Kristen Callihan's Darkest London series and its lat*e-ARC graciously provided to me by the folks over at NetGalley*
I cannot believe how much I adore Kristen Callihan's Darkest London series and its latest entry, Moonglow. No, really, I can't. Because, you see, I don't particularly care for the PNR sub-genre, not because of the paranormal elements--actually those are what draw me. It's because, for the most part, I loathe, detest, and despise romance novels. Those romances which I do happen to read, written by authors I know and trust not to become too ridiculous, are picked out because the other story elements are stronger, as in a thriller which has some romance (such as those by Iris Johansen or Tess Gerritsen); otherwise, I avoid the genre like the plague. The only time I've ever really read "straight" romance was when I was younger, when I was a bit more idealistic and ready to believe in "twue wuv": In my mid-teens, I read a couple of titles by Jude Devereaux (A Knight in Shining Armor is the one I really remember), as well as Jewels by Danielle Steel, the one and only Steele title I've read. Currently the only romance novels I actively seek out and enjoy are contained in the Eve Dallas series written by Nora Roberts (as J.D. Robb). And even with those novels, as much as I like them, it's the futuristic setting and mystery/thriller nature of the stories which drives me to read them, not the romance between Eve and Roarke. Nowadays, when I do read a romance novel, whatever the title or author, when things get hot, I skip over the panting, writhing, and moaning so I can get back to the story all the panting, writhing, and moaning has interrupted.
See, the problem I have with the Romance genre is the unreasonable expectations the novels engender. The women in these novels, all of them wish fulfillment avatars for the author, are always perfect: Short or tall, willowy or curvaceous, every single romantic female lead has a perfect face, perfect breasts, a perfectly formed body, giving the impression that only the beautiful find true love, deserve true love, are worthy of true love. The plain, the fat, the imperfectly endowed, they don't exist, so therefore they aren't aren't worthy of being loved. And it's just as bad for the men. All the men are walking Adonises: Perfectly sculpted abs, wide shoulders and narrow hips, with Goldilocks muscles (not too big, not too small, but just right), these guys are always endowed with the ideal combination of savagery and sensitivity, not to mention enormous cocks. They may have their faults, but nothing so disagreeable or disturbing as to derail the romantic buildup; just something small enough for the woman to “fix” with the power of her love (which is just another myth perpetuated by the genre: Women, you cannot “fix” men, no matter how hard you try or how much you love them or how loudly you nag. That's the man you fell in love with, warts and all; if you can't accept that, walk away). It's enough to give a man, should he dare to be seen reading a romance novel, a complex. Frankly, the whole genre feeds into the obsession for beauty and perfection, just as guilty for female self-image dysfunction as beauty magazines and ad campaigns. Not to mention the perpetuation of the whole “Happily Ever After” myth, the idea that love is perfect and once you fall in love, all your troubles are over and marriage will only enhance this rosy state of being. There's never any mention of petty disagreements, marital spats, the sensation of coming to hate all those little quirks and habits which once you found cute but now gnaw at you until you snap at your partner for every little thing he or she does. Yup, you guessed it, I'm a cynic. So the idea of perfection--perfect people, perfect love, perfect sex--presented in the Romance genre makes me ill. That's why I skip over the sex scenes, not because I'm a prude, but because if I want to experience so much unrealistic sex, I might as well go watch some porn.
Not so with Kristen Callihan's sex scenes. True, they still feature perfect people in perfect bodies, yet the scenes are hotter because there's a sense of connection, of the occasional awkwardness, of two people exploring each other, with words, with touch, with every sense in their bodies. Not to mention a real sense of affection, even of humor and, in the case of carriage scene with Daisy and Ian in Moonglow, palpable frustration. It's a depth of reality which seems to be missing from other romance novels and which makes for some pulse-poundingly, seat-squirmingly hot scenes. Then again, maybe it's just that the sex, as it's written, is so bloody hot, it was easy for me to overlook such things as “...her pillowed bottom lip and the taste of her, like sweet strawberries and dark chocolate” and “...she traced a path of kisses along his jaw... He was better than caramels, richer and saltier.” Do people really taste like candy?
Okay, so now that the important stuff is out of the way, let's get down to the story. This is the second book in Callihan's series and features Daisy, sister to Miranda, the heroine of book number one, Firelight. Daisy, widowed just over a year ago, is just coming out of her mourning period, though there was no love lost between her and her loathsome husband, Sir Craigmore, and his death came as an immense relief. Daisy is, well, let's just say she's a lusty lass and knows the pleasures which can be found in a little flesh-on-flesh romping. But just as she's spreading the wings of her new-found freedom, in the form of a social outing and a bit of 'hide the sausage' in the back garden, Daisy finds herself face to face with a hideous beast who attacks her. She gets tossed aside in the mayhem and the creature begins to munch on the bodies of her erstwhile lover and the hostess of the soiree Daisy ducked out on, Alexis, another recently widowed young lady and Daisy's friend. Oddly, at the time of her death, Alexis is wearing the exact same perfume as Daisy; in fact, it's Daisy's signature scent, meant to be worn by no one else. As she follows this clue, helped, hindered, and distracted by the infuriating Lord Ian Ranulf, Marquis of Northrup, she discovers not only is her life in danger, so is her heart as she defends it from the persistent attentions of Ian.
Now, we all remember Ian from Firelight, right? He was the shit who kept coming between Miranda and Archer, so much so that many readers assumed he was the villain of the story. Here, though, we see that he's much more complicated than what we saw of him in the first book, and as his story unspools and the reasons for his previous behavior come to light in Moonglow, we discover the vulnerability beneath his swaggering facade. The heat and the chemistry between Daisy and Ian, as the two discover each other in both physical and psychological ways, is immediate, especially of the physical kind. (Hoo boy, is it hot!) However, as the story progresses, the two find each other connecting on a deeper level as their long-held secrets come out to one another. The requisite third act forced-separation* comes a bit later than normal in romance novels, setting the reader up to believe that it might not occur, that for once the two romantic leads will solve the greater exterior problem affecting them without an interior problem causing a rift between them. Yet when the two do separate, once I understood the solution Callihan was setting up which would bring them back together, I was actually happy as the whole thing solved a larger issue plaguing Daisy and Ian's relationship, paving the way for their 'riding off into the sunset as they lived happily ever after' moment.
The book develops the mythology introduced in Firelight, not only by adding to the roster of supernatural creatures (the 'Ghost in the Machine' creature is brilliant--creative and ooky. Yes, that's a legitimate descriptor), but by making us aware of a sort-of supernatural police force: the Society for the Suppression of Supernaturals. The S.O.S., as it's known, is responsible for keeping the general public unaware of the activities and the presence of creatures which have crept, climbed, and clawed their way out of myth and folklore. As to the story, it's a worthy successor to Firelight and certainly doesn't suffer from the "second book slump": it's thrilling, mysterious, comedic, heartfelt, passionate, and very, very entertaining. The prose moves along at a steady clip, never dragging or becoming dull. From the very first book, Callihan has managed to avoid the dreaded info dump syndrome, giving her readers all the information necessary to keep them interested and engaged in the story without dumping great gouts of exposition on them. Her dialogue is lively and sparkling, her descriptions vivid, and while I'm sure there are a few minor faults in the novel, they're undetectable in the greater excellence of her work. (At least to me they were.)
As an added bonus, the novel lays the groundwork for the third (and, I would presume, last, even though the thought saddens me) book of the series, starring the eldest sister, Poppy. Now, after I finished reading Firelight and heard about Moonglow, I figured there would be a third book; makes sense after all--three sisters, three books. But what stumped me was how that could be. After all, romance novels are all about two unattached persons finding and wooing each other. Yet Poppy's been happily married to the man of her dreams since the very beginning of the series--how could she star in her own romance novel? Well, Callihan settles the issue with events which occur in the last half of Moonglow and I can't wait to see how she pulls things together for Poppy and her Detective Inspector Winston Lane.
All in all, I thoroughly recommend this series and personally I can't wait for Winterblaze.
*As outlined in the following script: Boy meets girl, boy saves girl from some difficult yet minor trouble, boy and girl fall in love and vow to be with each other forever, girl suddenly finds some reason not to be with boy through some fault or doubt of the boy's character, girl leaves boy in heartbreaking manner, boy mourns then gets angry over girl's leaving, girl finds herself in trouble, boy stiffens backbone and discards pride to rescue girl, girl realizes depth of her feelings for boy and boy's depth of feelings for girl, boy and girl head off into the sunset to live happily ever after.
I know, this is a paranormal romance and I liked it. What is the world coming to? Well, first off, this is a retelling (albeit a loose one) o4.5 stars
I know, this is a paranormal romance and I liked it. What is the world coming to? Well, first off, this is a retelling (albeit a loose one) of the classic Beauty and the Beast fairytale and I love a good retelling when I get my hands on one. Secondly, I'm a sucker for any kind of alternate Victorian novel. I can't tell you why, just that I am.
One thing to know, the blurb on the back of the book is slightly misleading. Miranda, the beautiful (natch) leading lady, is forced to wed the mysterious and infamous Lord Archer in order to redeem her family's name and fortune. Well, Miranda, her temperament matching her fiery red hair, is feisty and fully capable of defending herself and certainly not one to be "forced" to do anything she doesn't want. For once, I didn't find myself screeching in annoyance over a empty-headed ninny of a female protagonist. Miranda's got spirit and intelligence; she's a protagonist whom I can actually admire. Now we come to Archer. Tall, dark, and brooding, in the best possible way. And masked. And sensual as hell. Yummy!
Of course, there's some intrigue and both Miranda and Archer have deep, dark secrets, which neither of them is willing to divulge to the other, creating the sexual-tension-fueled misunderstanding between them which drives most of the action for the first half or so of the novel. And while that kind of cliched misunderstanding gets rather irritating (you just want to knock their heads together and makethemtalk), once it gets cleared up and they start working together, they work so well as a pair, it's worth any amount of annoyance. Their sparring, and the sparks that often (literally) fly, reminds me of another fun literary couple, Amelia Peabody and her husband Emerson. There's something about a large, bellowing man, who is really a soft, squishy marshmallow inside, which is just unbelievably sexy. Add in a woman who's not afraid to stand up to his thunderings, who'll stand nose to nose (even if she has to pull over a step-stool to do so) and poke the bear, as it were, and you've got one immensely readable, entertaining, compelling story.
There was only one big quibble I had with the story and that was the fact that Miranda's "talent," her ability to create fire, is never fully explained, as far as where the ability came from. Was she cursed as a child? Were her parents cursed? Was there some sort of magical object causing the ability? I would've liked to have had a deeper backstory on Miranda.
That said, I could barely put this book down, reading it in only two days which, considering how my powers of concentration have been lately, is an amazing feat. I'm eagerly looking forward to the sequel and because I got this book from the library, I'm seriously contemplating buying it and adding it to my permanent "keeper" shelf....more
I'm still trying to decide if I like this more than what I think. While it's a well-written book, with a good mystery and a twist ending which is rathI'm still trying to decide if I like this more than what I think. While it's a well-written book, with a good mystery and a twist ending which is rather surprising, I don't seem to feel as connected to the story or the lead character, Mary Quinn, as I should. There's a distance, so that while I can fume in anger when Mary's treated badly by another character, I don't feel Mary's pain or hurt as much as I would were I more invested in her as a character. She's well-drawn, with an appropriately mysterious and traumatic background; she's got a lively personality and a feistiness I can appreciate, considering the mid-nineteenth century time period in which the story's set. There are no obvious missteps (except for the fact that Lee uses the American numbering of house levels--first floor, second floor, etc.--when it should've been done in the British manner--ground floor, first floor, second floor, etc.). There are no glaring historical inaccuracies. It's a good book, with an interesting and unique set-up, and definitely worth a read. I just can't work up any great enthusiasm for it....more