Stalking Jack the Ripper by Kerri Maniscalco

stalking-jack-the-ripper-by-kerri-maniscalcoTitle: Stalking Jack the Ripper
Author: Kerri Maniscalco
Series: Stalking Jack the Ripper, #1
Pages: 326
Publisher: Jimmy Patterson
Release Date: September 20th 2016

      “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.

swirl (2)

“Everything was most certainly not okay, and this was no mathematical equation; my hands were covered in blood. I frantically wiped them off on my bodice, but it was no use. Blood stained my fingers in a crimson accusation.”

Stalking Jack the Ripper is a nice blend of thrills and mystery. With a likable protagonist and detail-oriented story, this work of historical fiction was really fun to read. Jack the Ripper stories can be really intriguing as they are based on a mystery that’s never been solved and authors can do what they will when it comes to filling in the blanks. Though novels that center around the idea that the forward-thinking protagonist is not like other girls in her time period can be annoying at times, I still enjoyed reading about how Audrey Rose defied societal expectations and appreciated that most of the men in her life helped her instead of hindering her ambitions. I also liked that the author was sure not to put down other females or femininity itself in order to elevate the protagonist.

Aside from a couple of instances where I found it frustrating that Audrey Rose made the foolish mistake of wandering alone at night by herself with a serial killer on the loose, the protagonist was a character I could really get behind. Her interest in science stems from her mother’s passing and her eccentric uncle’s work with the dead, both as a professor and an assistant to the police, help her achieve her goals. Despite Stalking the Ripper‘s commitment to detail, the story does gloss over the fact that Audrey Rose’s grandmother was from India. I think this could have been a really defining and interesting part of the protagonist’s identity, but only a couple of times is this mentioned and I would have liked to have heard more about this part of Audrey Rose’s family.

I really liked the exchanges between Audrey Rose and her uncle’s assistant Thomas. He’s a little too sure of his deductive skills, which may drive the protagonist crazy, but also challenges her to be better herself. There were also times where he was sociably awkward one moment and adeptly flirtatious the next, which could be confusing. Stalking Jack the Ripper‘s mystery wasn’t too hard to unravel, as I had a pretty good idea of who the killer was pretty early on, but it was still entertaining to see the mystery unravel and I’m looking forward to seeing what new mystery Audrey Rose solves in the next book.

Rating: 4/5

★★★★

<

Windwitch by Susan Dennard

windwitch-by-susan-dennardTitle: Windwitch
Author: Susan Dennard
Series: The Witchlands, #2
Pages: 400
Publisher: Tor Teen
Release Date: January 10th 2017

      “After an explosion destroys his ship, the world believes Prince Merik, Windwitch, is dead. Scarred yet alive, Merik is determined to prove his sister’s treachery. Upon reaching the royal capital, crowded with refugees, he haunts the streets, fighting for the weak—which leads to whispers of a disfigured demigod, the Fury, who brings justice to the oppressed.
      When the Bloodwitch Aeduan discovers a bounty on Iseult, he makes sure to be the first to find her—yet in a surprise twist, Iseult offers him a deal. She will return money stolen from him, if he locates Safi. Now they must work together to cross the Witchlands, while constantly wondering, who will betray whom first?
      After a surprise attack and shipwreck, Safi and the Empress of Marstok barely escape with their lives. Alone in a land of pirates, every moment balances on a knife’s edge—especially when the pirates’ next move could unleash war upon the Witchlands.”

swirl (2)

      “Speed was a mistake. Nomatsi roads weren’t meant to be crossed quickly. They demanded time. The demanded respect.
      So it should have come as no surprise when Iseult reached a clearing and the solid ground abruptly gave way. It should have come as no surprise when a net snapped up to yank her high in the trees.”

Susan Dennard continues to build on her universe and characters in her sequel Windwitch, the second book in her fantasy Witchlands series. Truthwitch introduced a world of magic where a truce between Empires was on the brink of collapse. At the story’s center is the unlikely friendship between Safi and Iseult, young women born into different circumstances, whose bond has get them both afloat. At the end of the first book, these threadsisters are torn apart and several Empires make their move to gain an advantage over the others. Both Safi and Iseult are desperate to get back to the other, but between them are several people with their own motives, who may just succeed in keeping them apart. One of the issues I had with the first book is how quickly readers are thrust into this new world with it’s complex network of witchery and how it took me a long while to get a firm grasp on Dennard’s universe. In this second book, I eased right into the story and instead of being bombarded by new elements, Dennard expands on the ones she has already introduced in the first book. There is still a bit of mystery when it comes to Void witches, but I have a feeling that the author is planning to explore this more in the third novel.

Though Safi and Iseult are the main players in this series, Dennard introduced Prince Merik in Truthwitch and much of this second story focuses on him and his people. Merik has worked hard to provide for Nubrevna, but at every turn he has had to contest with his sister Vivia, who is more than willing to use questionable methods in order to achieve the same goal. At the beginning of the book, we learn that Merik is presumed dead after a failed assassination attempt and so he stalks the streets with no name, hoping to discover the identity of his would-be murderer. I really liked the evolution of Merik’s arc as it not only helped in developing his character, but also aided in bringing Vivia to the forefront as well. Both characters have been defined by how their father perceives them and while much of Vivia’s hatred for her brother stems from the slights shown to her, Merik’s animosity for his sister lies in his mistaken perception not just of her but of himself. Vivia became a standout character for me in this one. Her aggressive attitude is a direct result of the misogyny she faces in her own court; her hard hand, a necessary attribute as she hopes to prove to everyone that she has more of her father in her than her mother. I was really glad to see that Vivia was much more than what she appeared to be in the first novel and really look forward to seeing where her arc goes from here.

Safi is a character who continues to grow. While she hoped for a brand new life with Iseult, she’s come to realize that her motives have been entirely selfish. She voluntarily goes with Vaness, the Empress of Marstok in order to help her friends, but as a Truthwitch, she is valuable to a number of players and their journey hits a roadblock. Safi has the privilege of influence if she would just take hold of all that she is capable of, something she continues to grapple with in this second novel. My favorite scenes by far were the ones between Iseult and Aeduan. As Iseult fights to find Safi, she enters into an unlikely and tenuous alliance with the Bloodwitch. A bit of an enigma in the first novel, Aeduan’s motives are hard to pin down, as is his character. On one hand, he’s ruthless and unstoppable, but on the other, he shows signs of being motivate by more than just a desire for revenge. As a Threadwitch, Iseult was taught to control her emotions in order to better interpret the threads of others. When her own emotions were hard to understand, she always had Safi to help her, but without her, Iseult feels like half of herself is missing. We also learn more about the mysterious voice that has been haunting Iseult’s dreams and the while Iseult is always desperate to shake off her past and the constant reminders of her shortcomings, these are the things that will continue to play a big role in who she becomes.

Windwitch is a fantastic sequel with great character development and breathtaking action and Bloodwitch, the third novel in the Witchlands series, cannot come fast enough.

Rating: 5/5

★★★★★

Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys

Salt to the Sea by Ruta SepetysTitle: Salt to the Sea
Author: Ruta Sepetys
Series: N/A
Pages: 393
Publisher: Philomel Books
Release Date: February 2nd 2016

      “Winter, 1945. Four teenagers. Four secrets.
      Each one born of a different homeland; each one hunted, and haunted, by tragedy, lies…and war.
      As thousands of desperate refugees flock to the coast in the midst of a Soviet advance, four paths converge, vying for passage aboard the Wilhelm Gustloff, a ship that promises safety and freedom.
      Yet not all promises can be kept.
      Inspired by the single greatest tragedy in maritime history, bestselling and award-winning author Ruta Sepetys (Between Shades of Gray) lifts the veil on a shockingly little-known casualty of World War II. An illuminating and life-affirming tale of heart and hope.”

swirl (2)

“The bombs began falling. With each explosion, every bone in my body vibrated and hammered, clanging violently against the bell tower that was my flesh.”

Ruta Sepetys’s Salt to the Sea is a moving historical fiction novel that takes its time unfolding the mysteries of each character. Not being familiar with this particular historical event, I went into this knowing very little. Told through alternate points of view, each chapter gives a small glimpse into the four main characters: Joana, Florian, Emilia, and Alfred. It took some time to get used to the abrupt change in narration, as Sepetys only spends a few pages on each character before moving on. However, once you get acquainted with these characters, they hold your attention to the breathtaking end.

It bears noting that the synopsis for this novel is a little incorrect, as two of the four characters are adults and one specifically is twenty one. It doesn’t make much of a difference, but it put me in a different mindset when trying to get a handle on who these characters were. Joana’s story centers around the guilt she carries around. It isn’t revealed until later what she feels guilty about, but it’s a burden that weighs heavy on her. Her training as a nurse makes her irrevocably valuable to those she is traveling with and also opens doors for her and her companions to escape a terrible fate. When we first meet Florian, he’s standoffish and cold. Much of who he is is kept hidden, but as his journey has him crossing paths with the other characters, he slowly opens up. Florian’s connection to characters like Joana and Emilia is hard fought, he resisting most of all, but it is these relationships that play a vital role in how his journey will end.

Emilia is young and desperate. Trying to hide the fact that she is Polish becomes increasingly difficult, but meeting Florian and then Joana may give her a chance to survive in a world where her people have suffered so much at the hands of by both German and Soviet forces. She is both brave and a little naive, but her resilience defines her above all else. Alfred is the only character that I was confused about. Much of his narrative just felt like a young, confused kid running his mouth, not realizing how truly insignificant he was. It wasn’t until later on in the story that I fully understood his role. Though this was a deliberate technique on the author’s part, there were times when Alfred’s POV came up and I really didn’t feel very interested in his perspective.

Salt to the Sea is full of heartbreak, but also exemplifies the power of the human spirit in the face of unspeakable cruelty and tragedy.

Rating: 4/5

★★★★

ARC Review: The Hundred Lies of Lizzie Lovett by Chelsea Sedoti

Title: The Hundred Lies of Lizzie Lovett
Author: Chelsea Sedoti
Series: N/A
Pages: 400
Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire
Release Date: January 3rd 2017
*I received a copy of this book from the publisher, which does not influence my review*

      “Hawthorn wasn’t trying to insert herself into a missing person’s investigation. Or maybe she was. But that’s only because Lizzie Lovett’s disappearance is the one fascinating mystery their sleepy town has ever had. Bad things don’t happen to popular girls like Lizzie Lovett, and Hawthorn is convinced she’ll turn up at any moment-which means the time for speculation is now.
      So Hawthorn comes up with her own theory for Lizzie’s disappearance. A theory way too absurd to take seriously…at first. The more Hawthorn talks, the more she believes. And what better way to collect evidence than to immerse herself in Lizzie’s life? Like getting a job at the diner where Lizzie worked and hanging out with Lizzie’s boyfriend. After all, it’s not as if he killed her-or did he?

swirl (2)

Chelsea Sedoti’s debut novel The Hundred Lies of Lizzie Lovett has a really unique protagonist, but for most of the novel, I was confused by the direction of the narrative. Hawthorn cannot fathom why former cheerleader and homecoming queen Lizzie Lovett could just go missing. Her town is completely torn over the twenty-one-year-old’s disappearance and Hawthorn tries to convince herself that she’s not just as obsessed. But as days pass with no sign of Lizzie, Hawthorn can’t get all the possibilities of what happened to Lizzie out of her head. Unable to shake off one implausible theory after another, she sets out to find out more.

Hawthorn is not always a likable character. She found it easy to disregard other people’s feelings and was apathetic when it first came to Lizzie disappearance, at times flagrantly callous to those who did care. Jealousy and resentment played a major part in how she felt about Lizzie and while it is explained later why Hawthorn felt this way, her attitude largely came across as immature. All that being said, Hawthorn had a really unique voice. She lives largely in her head, her imagination often getting the best of her. Bullied for being different, Hawthorn feels safe in her own shell and isn’t one to take chances. This changes the more she feels compelled to uncover the truth behind Lizzie’s disappearance. I really liked the evolution of Hawthorn’s relationship with her brother. Being so different has not helped either in understanding the other, but by the end of the novel, both begin to see the other differently. Hawthorn’s relationship with her best friend Emily has its rocky moments and I appreciated that there was someone in her life to call her out when she was acting ridiculous.

There were many choices that Hawthorn made that felt like really bad ideas, one of the most prominent was her growing relationship with Enzo, Lizzie’s boyfriend. This relationship made me feel really uncomfortable from the get go and not for the most obvious reason. The age gap between the two had me squirming (Hawthorn is seventeen, Enzo, twenty-five) and when it became clear that Hawthorn was starting to develop feelings for him, I kept expecting something to happen to put a stop to it. While Hawthorn’s behavior could be attributed to her lack of maturity, I was really disappointed that the people in her life (including her parents) didn’t object more to this relationship. I didn’t get the impression that I was meant to feel so uncomfortable, which actually made me feel even more uncomfortable. I’m not sure if the author ever expected readers to root for these two, but I was firmly against anything happening from the very beginning.

From reading the synopsis, the direction of the story seems pretty clear, only the story never really explored Lizzie’s disappearance enough and the more plausible explanations for it. While Hawthorn is convinced that Lizzie could have taken off on her own, aside from visiting a couple of places that have to do with her, Hawthorn really doesn’t do much investigating. If the novel had focused more on Lizzie, why she changed so much after high school, the things she kept hidden from the rest of the world, and Hawthorn discovering the truth behind the mask Lizzie showed the world, I believe this would have been a more interesting and rewarding novel.

Rating: 3/5

★★★

ARC Review: Ever the Hunted by Erin Summerill

Title: Ever the Hunted
Author: Erin Summerill
Series: Clash of Kingdoms, #1
Pages: 400
Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers
Release Date: December 27th 2016
*I received a copy of this book through NetGalley, which does not influence my review*

      “Seventeen year-old Britta Flannery is at ease only in the woods with her dagger and bow. She spends her days tracking criminals alongside her father, the legendary bounty hunter for the King of Malam—that is, until her father is murdered. Now outcast and alone and having no rights to her father’s land or inheritance, she seeks refuge where she feels most safe: the Ever Woods. When Britta is caught poaching by the royal guard, instead of facing the noose she is offered a deal: her freedom in exchange for her father’s killer.
      However, it’s not so simple.
      The alleged killer is none other than Cohen McKay, her father’s former apprentice. The only friend she’s ever known. The boy she once loved who broke her heart. She must go on a dangerous quest in a world of warring kingdoms, mad kings, and dark magic to find the real killer. But Britta wields more power than she knows. And soon she will learn what has always made her different will make her a daunting and dangerous force.

swirl (2)

I was initially really excited to pick up Erin Summerill’s Ever the Hunted, but the plot inconsistencies and clichéd romance really disappointing me. Britta Flannery has just lost her father. With no one to turn to for help, Britta is forced to break the law in order to survive. But she is caught poaching, a crime punishable by death. In exchange for her life, she must hunt down her father’s murderer. With the kingdom of Malam on the brink of war with neighboring Shaerdan, Britta will soon uncover secrets that have consequences for both countries.

Britta is presented as a capable heroine, but the biases of her fellow countrymen keep her from accomplishing all she is capable of. Her mother was Shaerdan and the animosity between the two countries makes her an outcast. She’s always had her father and his former apprentice Cohen to rely on, but now she must hunt down her only friend, who is accused of killing her father. One thing I found infuriating about Britta is she seemed incapable of thinking of anything but Cohen. A lot of time is spent on her reflecting on him with the flashback scenes focusing on their relationship. It would have benefited Britta’s character for her to have spent some time thinking about her dead father. From the very beginning, we are told that Britta is incredibly loyal, but I found this laughable when she so readily believes her only friend to be a murderer. This becomes even more laughable when you see the direction the author intends to take Britta’s story at the end of the novel.

One major point of confusion for me was Britta’s mother’s story. At the beginning of the novel, Britta says that her mother was accused of giving Malam secrets to Shaerdan and was killed for it. Later, Britta becomes furious with her mother for choosing to leave her and her father after she was born to return to Shaerdan. This was a really glaring error that luckily doesn’t affect the storyline too much as the novel goes on. But nothing compares to the eye-roll inducing romance between Britta and Cohen. Every interaction felt so cliché: Oh, we’re forced to share a bed, how will I keep my feelings to myself?/Oh, we almost kissed, but you pulled away and now I’m going to convince myself you were just checking if I had something in my eye because you could never, ever love little ol’ me/Oh, you asked me to dance for no good reason which has nothing to do with the fact that you like me/Oh, we kissed, but it must be a mistake because I’m so pale and freckled, no one could ever love me. 

Ever the Hunted had potential when it came to the magical system, which is not explored enough, but too many other elements made it a disappointing read.

Rating: 2/5

★★

Mini Reviews: The Female of the Species + Like a River Glorious

MiniWith the end of the year just around the corner, it’s nice to be able to put together a couple of mini reviews instead of full ones. This week I have a few thoughts to share on two recent releases: Mindy McGinnis’s The Female of the Species and Rae Carson’s Like a River Glorious. Covers below are linked to Goodreads.

Title: The Female of the Species
Author: Mindy McGinnis
Series: N/A
Pages: 344
Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books
Release Date: September 20th 2016 

      “Alex Craft knows how to kill someone. And she doesn’t feel bad about it. When her older sister, Anna, was murdered three years ago and the killer walked free, Alex uncaged the language she knows best. The language of violence.
      While her crime goes unpunished, Alex knows she can’t be trusted among other people, even in her small hometown. She relegates herself to the shadows, a girl who goes unseen in plain sight, unremarkable in the high school hallways.
      But Jack Fisher sees her. He’s the guy all other guys want to be: the star athlete gunning for valedictorian with the prom queen on his arm. Guilt over the role he played the night Anna’s body was discovered hasn’t let him forget Alex over the years, and now her green eyes amid a constellation of freckles have his attention. He doesn’t want to only see Alex Craft; he wants to know her.
      So does Peekay, the preacher’s kid, a girl whose identity is entangled with her dad’s job, though that does not stop her from knowing the taste of beer or missing the touch of her ex-boyfriend. When Peekay and Alex start working together at the animal shelter, a friendship forms and Alex’s protective nature extends to more than just the dogs and cats they care for.
      Circumstances bring Alex, Jack, and Peekay together as their senior year unfolds. While partying one night, Alex’s darker nature breaks out, setting the teens on a collision course that will change their lives forever.

swirl (2)

      “Sometimes I forget for one second and it hurts.
      It’s a different kind of pain than the constant, the weight that hangs from my heart. It swings from twine embedded so deeply that my aorta has grown around it. Blood pulses past rope in the chambers of my heart, dragging away tiny fibers until my whole body is suffused and pain is all I am and ever can be.

I had really high expectations for Mindy McGinnis’s The Female of the Species after being so impressed with A Madness So Discreet. While the concept itself was really interesting and I found myself rooting for Alex despite her violent tendencies (or maybe because of them), I was hoping for a deeper exploration of this protagonist’s psyche. From the get-go, we learn just what she is capable of and slowly get a bit of backstory to help understand where she inherited these vicious impulses, but I wish the narrative would have slowed down when it came to her backstory. Much of the story focuses on Alex’s growing relationship with both Peekay and Jack. Of the two main relationships highlighted in this novel, Alex’s friendship with Peekay felt more genuine and significant. Jack was a character I wanted to like, but his character development revolved only around Alex and I just wanted more from him. I don’t want to diminish the important subjects this novel touches on like rape culture and gender roles, so if either of those subjects interest you, I’d recommend this one.

Rating: 3/5

★★★


Title: Like a River Glorious
Author: Rae Carson
Series: The Gold Seer Trilogy, #2
Pages: 398
Publisher: Greenwillow Books
Release Date: September 27th 2016

      “Lee Westfall survived the dangerous journey to California. She found a new family in the other outcasts of their wagon train, and Jefferson, her best friend, is beginning to woo her shamelessly. Now they have a real home—one rich in gold, thanks to Lee’s magical ability to sense the precious metal in the world around her.
      But Lee’s Uncle Hiram has survived his own journey west. He’s already murdered her parents, and he will do anything to have Lee and her talents under his control. No one is safe. When he kidnaps her, she sees firsthand the depths of his depravity.
      Lee’s magic is changing, though. It is growing. The gold no longer simply sings to her—it listens. It obeys her call. Will that alone be enough to destroy her uncle?”

swirl (2)

“A condor soars high above. It’s a giant of a bird, bigger even than an eagle, with magnificent black-and-white wings. Like everything else in this territory, it’s both familiar and odd, and it makes my old home in Georgia seem like a very small, distant place.”

Rae Carson proves once again in the second book in her Gold Seer Trilogy that she is a phenomenal writer. While I do think Like a River Glorious lacked the kind of focus found in Walk on Earth a Stranger, it was really enjoyable to read about Lee coming into her ability in this one. One of my favorite aspects of the first novel was Lee’s relationship with her best friend Jefferson. In this book, we see their relationship progress further, but I would have liked to have seen more of Lee’s feelings transition from friendly to romantic. With the way this Like a River Glorious ended, I’m unsure of Carson’s overall plot to this trilogy, as much of conflict seems resolved by the end of this one.

Rating: 3/5

★★★