I love a good mystery. But I often have a hard time with the genre because of how it treats its fThis review originally posted at More Than Just Magic
I love a good mystery. But I often have a hard time with the genre because of how it treats its female characters. Women in mysteries and thrillers are often caricatures of real people. They’re either extremely uptight and controlling, or they’re “sluts.” They’re rarely fully realized characters, in the end they seem to primarily exist to be difficult. I makes me nervous to try out new authors, if I don’t know whether or not they subscribe to these particular tropes.
Which was why I originally hesitated when considering Where They Found Her. I hadn’t read Kimberly McCreight ‘s earlier work. But I had heard amazing things about her novel, Reconstructing Amelia. So I decided to give her a shot – and I am so glad I did. Where They Found Her is a dark, compelling mystery that will grab you from the first page. But it is also a story of complicated, layered women.
This novel is filled to the brim with different kinds of women. Including three point-of-view characters. There’s Molly Sanderson, just getting back on her feet after her baby was stillborn. There’s Sandy Mendelson, who lives in the run down part of town and is trying to both pay bills and get her GED. There’s Barbara, an over protective mother who is constantly worrying about the fate of her children. And they’re only the tip of the iceberg. From point of view characters, to secondary characters, this book is just as much about the experiences of women – particularly mothers and daughters – as it is about the mystery of who left the baby down by the stream.
I’m not going to say much else about the story – I don’t want to risk giving anything away. I will admit that I guessed pretty early on who the mother of the baby was, but in no way did that detract for my enjoyment of the book as a whole. There is just so much going on and so many complicated relationships to distract yourself with, the mother of the baby feels like only one piece in a larger puzzle.
I highly recommend this book to those looking for a new mystery to consume. But be careful. Once you start reading you’re going to have a very hard time putting the book down again. Probably best if you don’t make any plans until you’re done reading....more
Attention Veronica Mars fans – there is a new teenage sleuth on the block and she has more than manageOriginally reviewed over at More Than Just Magic
Attention Veronica Mars fans – there is a new teenage sleuth on the block and she has more than managed to fill the pint-sized, wise-cracking, badass hole in my heart.
Scarlett lives in Las Almas, one of California’s seedier neighbourhoods. Her father was murdered a few years back and not long after that her mother lost her battle with cancer. Since then it’s just been Scarlett and her sister, Reem. Things aren’t easy but they make it work. Reem slaves away trying to finish her medical residency, while Scarlett (who tested out of high school early) runs her own private investigation services.
Scarlett Undercover opens with Scarlett taking on a new case. It’s a case that seems simple enough – middle schooler, Gemma Asher, is worried about her brother and wants Scarlett to find out what he’s been up to lately. Scarlett figures it’ll be an easy solve and agrees to help, but in no time at all she finds herself deep into something much bigger (and much more dangerous) than a moody teenager.
The case Scarlett takes on was an intriguing mystery but it took a few unexpected turns, and it left me wondering what was real and what was fantasy. There was a bit of a paranormal slant, that didn’t really feel like it fit with the rest of the story and the world that had originally been presented.
Despite a few reservations about the mystery, I still really enjoyed this book and would love more stories about Scarlett’s adventures. Because it is really Scarlett herself that sells this novel. She is a bright young girl, with an affinity for getting into trouble. Her distinct voice and sharp whip rang through loud and clear and the entire novel is littered with the kind of humour that always puts a smile on my face – In particular, her hard-boiled, old school way of speaking, such as, “smoother than freshly shaved legs” and “My patience hit its limit faster than a college freshman’s credit card.”
As the description above mentions, Scarlett is a Muslim American. And the amount of detail put into this aspect of the story really shows that Jennifer Latham did her research. It wasn’t tacked on detail, it was fully integrated with the story, the setting and Scarlett herself. Her faith is something that influences her attitude and interactions with others. In addition to being caught up in the mystery, I also feel like I learned a lot about Scarlett and Reem’s culture.
Though there is a bit of a romance with a young, Jewish boy named Decker, by far the most important relationship in this novel was that between Scarlett and her sister Reem. After the loss of both their parents, they’re forced to stick together and are quite close. Their love and dedication to one another was really heart warming. Representation of different family structures, in such a positive light, is an element that YA needs to see more of.
If you’re a fan of the early Veronica Mars episodes, Scarlett Undercover is the book for you. It’s smart and funny and I think you’ll fall in love with Scarlett in no time at all. I’ve got all my fingers and toes crossed that this is only the beginning of a brilliant series....more
About what I expected. It was an interesting mystery with some great twists. The characters were who they've always been. Having Kristen Bell narrateAbout what I expected. It was an interesting mystery with some great twists. The characters were who they've always been. Having Kristen Bell narrate it made it feel like I was listening to just another episode.
The writing wasn't as strong as I hoped (Holy Adjectives Batman!) but it was still a fun listen. ...more
This was an ok read but not really a standout. It's an interesting group of characters and I liked the dynamic between Ruby, Alexis and Nick. AlthoughThis was an ok read but not really a standout. It's an interesting group of characters and I liked the dynamic between Ruby, Alexis and Nick. Although I was disappointed that they spent more time apart than together.
The mystery itself was somewhat generic and it was fairly predictable. It didn't take long to figure out where the story was going. The few scenes written from the killer's point of view were creepy but those written from the perspectives of the teens were hit and miss. There were also a number of side plots that were briefly touched upon but felt underdeveloped. Like Nick's father and Alexis's bipolar mother. This was a really short book and there was definitely room to expand upon those subplots and develop the main characters a bit further.
If you like mysteries and you're looking for an easy, quick read for the beach/pool/cottage The Body in the Woods is an alright choice. But if you're looking for something more complex or pulse pounding you may want to pass instead....more
There’s something particularly captivating about cases of mass hysteria. They grab my attentioThis review originally published at More Than Just Magic
There’s something particularly captivating about cases of mass hysteria. They grab my attention in the similar way as cults. I can’t help but wonder what makes people act this way and how it progresses to such intense levels. Apparently Katherine Howe wonders the same because these are some of the exact questions she tackles in her new novel, Conversion.
Conversion is a modern day incarnation of the Salem Witch Trials. The students of St Joan’s Academy have many of the same symptoms as the historical girls, and their sickness progresses along similar lines, sucking in more victims the bigger it gets. And as an added bonus, their town (Danvers) is near the location of historic Salem. There was a period of time in high school where I was obsessed with the Salem Witch Trials and read everything I could get my hands on about them. So the teenage history buff in me found this book fascinating. Throughout the novel, Howe intersperses short chapters from Ann Putnam’s confession after the real-life Salem Witch Trials. It was fascinating to read about the trails from the point of view of one of the “victims” and see the parallels between the two cases.
One thing that really stood out for me was the variety of characters affected by the symptoms. It wasn’t just a certain type of girl. However I would have liked to see a few guys thrown in as well. Though there are some similarities between now and then there are some big differences too. I know there are some unique pressures on girls in high school but teenage boys are not free from expectations, stress and anxiety. It felt a little unlikely that not a single guy was afflicted with the mysterious illness as well.
The narrator of the modern day narrative is a smart, fairly self confident girl named Colleen. She is a difficult character and that is both a good thing and a challenge. It’s good because it makes her a bit of an enigma, which helps deepen the mystery. It’s not so good however because it makes her difficult to connect with, because we don’t get a lot of character development or growth from her. The focus of Conversion is on the mystery, which was well plotted, but the limited character development hindered the emotional impact of the story.
I appreciated the comparisons Howe was making between the seventeenth century to modern day. They may be completely different time periods but there are more similarities than you would expect. Particularly the pressures based on young people. It isn’t as character-driven as I would have liked but the mystery of what was causing the girl’s disorder kept it interesting. Conversion is a fascinating book if you’re interested in the Salem Witch Trials or simply in the bizarre causes of human behaviour....more
Like many middle grade stories, The Year of Shadows starts off with a simple story – a girl, herThis review originally posted at More Than Just Magic
Like many middle grade stories, The Year of Shadows starts off with a simple story – a girl, her father and her grandmother move into the town’s philharmonic and find that it is haunted. But that simple story soon morphs into a complex tale that deals with friendship, family, grief and bravery. It is touching and frightening and at times heart breaking. So in a word – perfect.
The star of our story is Olivia Stellatella. Olivia isn’t your standard middle grade protagonist. She’s angry and bitter and wants to be left alone. But there is a reason for her poor attitude. Her mother has left them, they are forced to sell their home and move into the philharmonic and her father seems oblivious to it all. She withdraws from other people, because other people have let her down. She’s learned the only person she can rely on is herself. The emotion in this book is very real. You feel all of Olivia’s frustrations and loneliness right along with her. It’s heart breaking. The Year of Shadows brought tears to my eyes more than once.
Thankfully there are some incredibly supportive figures in Olivia’s life who won’t let her give up on the world. First there’s Nonnie, her adorable, scarf obsessed grandmother. And there’s Joan her passionate, out spoken lunch-mate. And most importantly Henry. I adore Henry. He is a great friend to Olivia (even when she’s not being a great friend back) and he has a fascinating story of his own. Not just a secondary character, but a major player. The back and forth between him and Olivia was spot on. They were such a dynamic duo.
And then there’s the ghosts. Claire Legrand actually approaches the ghost angle from two directions There are your traditional scary ghosts – the shades. But then there are Olivia’s ghosts. Loveable characters who she goes above and beyond to help out. They may not be the stars of the story but you are cheering for them to find their anchors and move on (like Casper!). As a result The Year of Shadows treads the line between frightening and fascinating.
The Year of Shadows is more than just a ghost story. It deals with complex and relevant issues – from divorce, to poverty, to what it means to be a family and standing up for what you believe in. Oh and there’s music! Lots of great music. Legrand’s descriptions are fantastic, she in clearly someone who appreciates good music. For example this passage,
““It’s a strange feeling, when you hear a good piece of music. It starts out kind of shaky, this hot, heavy knot in your chest. At first it’s tiny, like a spot of light in a dark room, but then it builds, pouring through you. And the next thing you know, everything from your forehead down to your fingers and toes is on fire. You feel like the hot, heavy knot in your chest is turning into a bubble. It’s full of everything good in the world, and if you don’t do something–if you don’t run or dance or shout to everyone in the world about this music you’ve just heard–it’ll explode.”
The Year of Shadows may be the best middle grade novel I’ve read this year. I enjoyed Legrand’s début - The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls – but this is even better. Olivia, Henry, Nonnie and even the Maestro will stick with me for some time to come.
Recommendation: Absolutely recommended for middle grade readers. The Year of Shadows is a smart, funny and spooky ghost story. What more do you want? This would be a great present for young readers! Or you know people who just love ghost stories....more
Mystery and thriller writers pay attention – this is how it’s done.
Last year I picked up I Hunt Killers after seeing non stop great reviews about it. I thought it worked well as stand alone but when I heard there was a sequel I was excited for more Jasper, Howie and Connie! In Game Billy Dent has escaped from prison but that’s not Jasper’s only problem. There’s a new killer on the loose in New York City and the desperate FBI and police have asked him to come to the Big Apple to help.
Like I Hunt Killers, Game provides an interesting psychological insight into a boy who is struggling between nature vs. nurture. Jasper desperately wants to prove to himself and the world that he is not about to follow in his father’s footsteps. But there’s some things that are so ingrained due to being raised by one of the world’s most famous serial killers. Jasper is such an interesting character. He’s complex and layered and simultaneously good and dark. Though the mystery is Game is compelling I think it is Jasper’s internal struggle that really kept me reading.
As if Jasper weren’t enough I also love the supporting cast of this novel – particularly Howie and Connie. Howie is by far my favourite character. He’s hilarious and brave and just down right awesome. I was a bit sad that he didn’t have as big of a part as he did in I Hunt Killers. But on the bright side Connie had more of role this time! She’s a sassy, independent woman. And even though her relationship with Jasper explains her role in this story, it doesn’t define who she is.
The plot for this novel was incredible. Full of twists and incredible turns that I never saw coming. I’m the type of person who is constantly trying to guess what’s going to happen but I was totally floored by Game. There are some creepy and twisted people at work here. And Game switched points of view throughout, building the complexity and intricacy of the mystery throughout. Honestly, I think I liked Game better than I Hunt Killers. I thought it was more complex, more intricate and more detailed.
Recommendation: This series is a must read for mystery and crime novel lovers. You’ll love Jasper Dent and have a fantastic time trying to guess what’s really going on in New York City....more
The Archived was a dark, dangerous, adventure of a novel. It introduced us to Mackenzie – a KeepeThis review originally posted at More Than Just Magic
The Archived was a dark, dangerous, adventure of a novel. It introduced us to Mackenzie – a Keeper for The Archived. She’s mouthy, intelligent and a little bit damaged (understandable based on the recent deaths of her brother and Da). But above all she was interesting. And at the end of the roller coaster ride that was The Archived I wanted more. And as always Victoria Schwab delivered.
The Unbound picks up not long after The Archived ends. Mackenzie is trying hard to deal with what she went through but she’s clearly suffering from a form of PTSD and things aren’t getting a whole lot easier for her. But as we learned in book one Mackenzie is a fighter. She isn’t going to take all her problems lying down. Despite all the other players, The Unbound is really a personal journey for Mackenzie. It’s about her efforts to overcome all the odds.
But like I said there are a number of other players as well. Owen is still a very present part of this story, in all his creepy glory. Mac may have defeated him at the end of The Archived but she still see’s him in her dreams and in hallucinations. It made for a very dark story – even darker than The Archived! It wasn’t a scary book but it did spook me. Mac’s encounters with Owen gave me the shivers. Victoria Schwab really knows how to set the scene.
And there’s more Wesley Ayers!! So much more and I loved every minute of it. Don’t get me wrong – Mac is the real hero of this story and by far my favourite character over all. But there will always be a special place in my heart for Wesley Ayers. He’s funny, charming, smart and knows his way around an eye liner pencil. It’s a good thing he’s fictional because otherwise Mac would have to fight me for him.
Schwab has a way with words and with story telling. In no time at all you’ll be completely pulled into the story and unable to put it down for even a moment. The Unbound is a very suspenseful book. Anything could happen. And more than that nothing was guaranteed. You might think you know what’s coming but there are so many surprises. It’s a brilliantly plotted book, every detail important, every scene beautifully crafted.
As I mentioned in my review of The Archived this series is like nothing else out there. It’s a supernatural thriller that will exceed your expectations. If you haven’t read this series yet you need to go out and pick it up immediately. I sincerely hope there’s a book three. I’m not ready to let Wes and Mac go just yet....more
This was a hard review to write. Why? Because it is impossible to do The Archived justice. VictorThis review originally posted at More Than Just Magic
This was a hard review to write. Why? Because it is impossible to do The Archived justice. Victoria Schwab has delivered a truly unique and inspired story. An intriguing mystery, a wealth of metaphysical questions and a heroine that gets under your skin and into your heart. The current state of the YA market (and the book industry in general) is that we see a lot of the same books. A trend catches on and then a million books are published that are in a similar vein to the first few trendsetters. I don’t need to give examples here, you all know what I’m talking about. But The Archived is a book with no parallel. I couldn’t even put my finger on a genre for it. This, above all other things, has cemented this book in my memory, and gained Victoria Schwab an adoring fan forever.
When I first started The Archived I have to admit I had some issues. I felt as though I had been thrown right into the middle of a story and struggled to figure out all the details. There was a lot of information you were expected to piece together for yourself. But once I got oriented the pages started flying by.
I don’t think I can say it enough, The Archived is an incredibly unique and thrilling read. I have never read a book quite like this one. A library of the dead. Keepers who patrol an in between world called the Narrows. Renegade spirits, scared, lost and sometimes violent. And at the heart of it all an intense and intricately woven mystery that will keep you guessing right until the final scene. I love trying to guess what the big twist will be at the end of a book and this one caught me completely off guard. I had no idea it was coming and I definitely had an “WHA?!” moment when I found out.
Beyond the action and the mystery however, there was an emotional element to this novel that just poured off these pages. Mac has lost her brother and her grandfather. Two people who mean the world to her. Her grief is very real and very forward in this story. Just like real life these feelings are at the forefront of all she does and thinks about. My heart ached along with her, when she talked about the people she had lost and how alone would feel. Victoria Schwab captured these emotions is a way that was both honest and heart wrenching.
And I can’t finish this review with mentioning Wes. Loved, loved, loved Wesley. He was funky and honest and a genuinely good friend. He wasn’t too good to be true, he wasn’t a cliche, he was just an enjoyable character. He was the type of guy I would want to be friends with. Though I really liked him, we didn’t actually learn that much about him so I have my fingers crossed for even more Wesley in I hope we get to learn even more about him and his background in book 2.
Recommendation: A book for mystery, paranormal, fantasy, contemporary….This is a book with cross genre appeal for sure so let’s just say The Archived is for those who enjoy a well crafted, intriguing story with brilliant characters. Highly recommended....more
There are a lot of fairy tale and myth re-tellings out right now, and though I love them theyThis review originally published at More Than Just Magic
There are a lot of fairy tale and myth re-tellings out right now, and though I love them they can get a tad repetitive. So when I heard The Madman’s Daughter was a re-telling of The Island of Doctor Moreau it got my attention – here was something you didn’t see everyday.
I think that Shepherd did a great job capturing the tone and atmosphere of both London and the Island itself. It was very dark and creepy and you got the sense that something was always lurking right around the corner. However where this book lost me was the portrayal of Juliet. In the beginning she is set up as very strong – able to fend for herself, very intelligent, a survivor. But as the book continues her characterization isn’t consistent. She becomes a damsel in the distress, focusing more on which of her two love interests is superior instead of dealing with the very real, life-threatening, dangers of the island. I also found the science a bit lacking. We know so much about genetics and human biology now, that I just couldn’t suspend my disbelief when it came to the Doctor’s creations. It really pulled me out the story to think about how impossible it all was.
Though I didn’t love this book I am intrigued by the sequel – which is a re-telling of Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde. I think Juliet being back in London, without her father’s creations, might make the story a little more believable. And hopefully we’ll see a return to her original character traits....more
If Stephen King wrote for children I imagine it would turn out a little something like this.
Victoria is a very special little girl. She likes everything a certain way and she’s not afraid to say so. She’s not your typical heroine – she’s not the most popular or the nicest or anything like that. She’s just a slightly bossy, head strong twelve year old who knows what she wants. And I think that is what makes her so admirable. I mean really, who is so sure of themself at that age? Not me. But I loved her confidence nd dedication.
I also loved that even though she comes off a little self absorbed she still stops at nothing to save her friend, Lawrence, when he goes missing. A good head on her shoulders AND brave. It’s a pretty unstoppable combination. She’s someone you would want to follow into battle. Someone you always want in your corner. No matter what the house threw at her, she found a way to deal.
Speaking of the house – it was a character in its own right. I love when locations become characters. It felt so real it was like I could reach out and touch it. Because the thing about The Cavendish Home is that it’s not just a collection of boards and nails. It reacts to what’s happening in and around it and it is always a little bit different. I think this was a brilliant concept and an incredibly imaginative one. When all is said and done it was the house that really sold the book for me.
The Cavendish Home For Boys and Girls is a middle grade novel with grim but sharp humour. There’s elements of this story that are very reminiscent of The Witches by Roald Dahl. Remember how disturbed you felt when they were describing what the witches really looked like – you know all bald with the long fingernails and what not? Well that same creepy, disturbing feeling is present while reading this book. Claire Legrand, expertly uses all of those things that give us the creepy crawlies. The bugs especially. *shivers* I’m going to have bad dreams forever about those bugs.
Recommendation: This is a wonderfully creepy and brilliant book filled with an important message about being unique and that “perfect” isn’t always “perfect.” It’s a book that assumes its readers are smart and responds accordingly. An absolutely delightful read for middle grade readers and older readers who love Roald Dahl and Neil Gaiman....more
Is it possible to fall in love with a fictional character? Because I may be in love with Clay JanThis review originally posted at More Than Just Magic
Is it possible to fall in love with a fictional character? Because I may be in love with Clay Jannon. Seriously. He works at a book store, he codes things for fun, he loves fantasy novels and makes great references to all sorts of nerdy stuff. Plus he’s socially awkward and random. Love him. I would marry him (shhh don’t tell my boyfriend) Characters like Clay Jannon are one of the reasons I love reading so much. You can’t help but fall for them. Become invested in them. And hang onto their every word.
It was Clay that hooked me into the dazzling story that is Mr. Penumbra’s 24 Hour Bookstore, but it was the ultimately the mystery that got me to stay. It’s so intriguing. And the idea of a secret society that revolves around books is just too good to pass up. As someone who loves to read and talk about what their reading, the idea of following clues hidden in writing is very appealing. I think it’s an idea that would be appealing to all book lovers. We all know what it’s like to become obsessed with books.
When I was done reading/listening to this book, the idea that really stuck with me was how Robin Sloane presented the new technology (Google and all it’s gadgets) and old (books). I loved that they worked together for a common goal, rather than against one another. I think this book is a wonderful example of how we don’t have to choose one over the other. I can have my e-reader and my bookshelf full of print books and there’s nothing wrong with that. New and old technology can co-exist. It doesn’t have to be a fight to the death.
Recommendation: Mr. Penumbra’s 24 Hour Bookstore is a quick, fun read with lovable characters, and intriguing plot. It doesn’t take itself too seriously and yet still manages to say something important about our society. This is definitely a book for book lovers.
Notes on the Audio
Ari Fliakos did a fantastic job on the narration. He was Clay. He was able to perfectly conveying both Clay’s awkwardness and his internal sarcasm. I also enjoyed the way he did Mr. Penumbra’s voice. It really helped me picture the character, and I don’t think he would have been as vivid to me without Fliakos’ particular style....more
As a big fan of Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None, I was a little sceptical when I finally picked up thisOriginally posted at Hooked on Books
As a big fan of Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None, I was a little sceptical when I finally picked up this book. The original was brilliant and creepy and just wonderful. How could this book compete? Needless to say I was pleasantly surprised when I found myself not only enjoying Ten, but curled up on the couch, shouting at people to leave me alone so I could finish reading it the same night I started it. I sat down to read this book, and found that I could not go on with my life until I knew exactly what happened.
Ten is without a doubt a thrilling read. It had me on the edge of my seat and a couple times I was so startled by a turn of events I actually jumped in surprise/fear. Gretchen McNeil has amazing pacing. The mystery slowly unravels before you, page by page, but it's also filled to the brim with tension so that is never gets boring. You won't be able to help yourself, you will have to need to keep turning those pages.
There was also an interesting variety of characters. As you may have determined from the title there are ten characters that feature prominently in the novel. They were a little hard to keep track of in the beginning, but eventually you do get to know them all individually. The trouble with such a large cast is that some of them just aren't as developed as others. This isn't really a problem, since some of them are definitely going to die, but it does mean you won't being particularly heart broken when they do - just freaked out.
Speaking of the deaths... Ten was a lot more gruesome then I expected. I knew people were going to die. It says so right on the back cover, but I didn't expect so many varieties of deaths and so much detail. Major points for Gretchen McNeil here, because she didn't shy away from the more unpleasant parts of this story just because she was writing a YA novel. Teens don't live under a rock, and they are not oblivious to violence so I'm glad she didn't try to sugar coat the details for a younger audience.
And to top it all off Ten has an ending I hadn't predicted. I - like many people - am always trying to figure out what the big twist will be. I started guessing right from the first few pages. And even though I had a number of different predictions throughout my reading of the novel, not once did I guess correctly. I truly love being surprised, especially when I thought back and realized all the little clues she had dropped along the way!
Final recommendation: Highly recommended for mystery lovers and those looking for a good book around Halloween time....more
Definitely a unique and interesting read. Barry Lyga does a great job getting into the mind of a killer and provides an interesting look at how that eDefinitely a unique and interesting read. Barry Lyga does a great job getting into the mind of a killer and provides an interesting look at how that environment may shape a child.
I've heard a lot of people compare this book to Dexter and as someone who has tried multiple times to get into Dexter (there's just something about it - I find it more annoying than interesting), I have to say I think this book is a million times better. It's creepy, it's easy to read, it feels authentic and it will keep you on the edge of your seat.
If you like mystery/crime fiction or are just looking for a really well written, interesting read, definitely check this one out. ...more
This is actually more of a 3.5 read but gets that bonus half star because of the use of the photographs.
It's a very inventive and unique tale and I aThis is actually more of a 3.5 read but gets that bonus half star because of the use of the photographs.
It's a very inventive and unique tale and I am excited to read the sequel, but ultimately I didn't feel all that invested in any of the characters. Except strangely Jacob's father, who I sincerely hope finishes his bird book. ...more