A Study in Charlotte by Brittany Cavallaro

Title: A Study in Charlotte
Author: Brittany Cavallaro
Series: Charlotte Holmes, #1
Pages: 321
Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books
Release Date: March 1st 2016

      “The last thing Jamie Watson wants is a rugby scholarship to Sherringford, a Connecticut prep school just an hour away from his estranged father. But that’s not the only complication: Sherringford is also home to Charlotte Holmes, the famous detective’s great-great-great-granddaughter, who has inherited not only Sherlock’s genius but also his volatile temperament. From everything Jamie has heard about Charlotte, it seems safer to admire her from afar.
      From the moment they meet, there’s a tense energy between them, and they seem more destined to be rivals than anything else. But when a Sherringford student dies under suspicious circumstances, ripped straight from the most terrifying of the Sherlock Holmes stories, Jamie can no longer afford to keep his distance. Jamie and Charlotte are being framed for murder, and only Charlotte can clear their names. But danger is mounting and nowhere is safe—and the only people they can trust are each other.

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“It was like a nightmare. Branches lashed back at me as I ran, leaving stringing welts across my face, my arms. More than once, my foot caught on a tree root and sent me sprawling, and when I picked myself up, they were that much farther away.”

Brittany Cavallaro’s A Study in Charlotte is a book I enjoyed right away, but as the story went on there were far too many issues that I can’t rightly rate it above two starts. As a descendant of the famous Dr. Watson, Jamie has always felt destined to meet his counterpart Charlotte Holmes and when he ends up at the same boarding school, he finally gets an opportunity. As a member of the Holmes family, Charlotte has had a lot of expectations on her shoulders, but she hasn’t always lived up to what’s expected of her. Unlike Jamie, she has no interest in a friendship with him, but when the two of them become the number one suspects in the murder of a fellow student, they must team up and figure out who is trying to frame them.

I really feel like the synopsis for this novel promises more than it could deliver. I was initially thrown for a loop when the book opened with Jamie’s point of view and was disappointed that the novel didn’t feature a dual perspective. I really liked Jamie’s voice and found him to be a really sensitive character. He has a lot of issues with his father remarrying and secretly wants to be a writer. He has a lot anger issues stemming from this and has gotten into physical fights in the past, but instead of this being introduced as a problem he needs to learn to control, it was just a characterization readers are expected to accept and then move on from. Unfortunately because the novel is told only from Jamie’s perspective, we only get to explore Charlotte’s character from his perspective. This wouldn’t be such a bad thing, but Jamie has a really romanticized view of who Charlotte is even before he meets her that she doesn’t feel quite like a real person at any point.

Charlotte remains as much of a mystery as the one Jamie and her are trying to solve. We learn that she’s been raised to hone her deductive skills, that she has a hard time forming relationships, and that she finds it easier to be logical than sentimental. She’s incredibly intuitive, but also seems rather lonely. The novel introduces Charlotte as a girl with a drug problem. The novel really never gets into the nitty-gritty of her opioid addiction and I found it hard to believe that Charlotte could stave off her serious addiction with just a few cigarettes. I really felt like Charlotte’s character got the short end of the stick in this novel and this really bothered me especially when it seemed like the author wanted to center Jamie’s feelings and his perspective so often.

I haven’t seen a review that addresses how the novel deals with sexual assault and its this aspect of the novel that bothered me the most. While the novel never gets graphic while describing the character’s rape, I felt really uncomfortable with how the author initially centered Jamie’s feelings upon discovering that Charlotte had been raped by another student. The story never shows how Charlotte has been processing this and is only addressed by her head on when Jamie’s and her relationship is propelled into a potentially romantic one. There’s also the fact that the villain deliberately enabled this student to take advantage of Charlotte and I cannot wrap my brain around why the author felt the need to include this particular twist at all. It also really got under my skin when Jamie started to suspect Charlotte had a romantic relationship with an older guy when she was fourteen and his immediate reaction is Charlotte must have been the initiator or that she somehow manipulate this adult because she happens to be extremely intelligent. The emotional maturity of a fourteen-year-old girl is never taken into account in his thought-process and the more I think about it, the angrier I get.

Overall, Brittany Cavallaro’s A Study in Charlotte had potential in terms of its concept. The mystery aspect was interesting and I liked the idea of the descendants of Sherlock and Watson meeting for the first time and being able to forge their own paths, but inadequate characterization as well as the author using an unnecessary plot device made this one a disappointment.

2/5

★★

Allegedly by Tiffany D. Jackson

allegedly-by-tiffany-d-jackson Title: Allegedly
Author: Tiffany D. Jackson
Series: N/A
Pages: 387
Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books
Release Date: January 24th 2017

      “Mary B. Addison killed a baby.
      Allegedly. She didn’t say much in that first interview with detectives, and the media filled in the only blanks that mattered: A white baby had died while under the care of a church-going black woman and her nine-year-old daughter. The public convicted Mary and the jury made it official. But did she do it? She wouldn’t say.
      Mary survived six years in baby jail before being dumped in a group home. The house isn’t really “home”—no place where you fear for your life can be considered a home. Home is Ted, who she meets on assignment at a nursing home.
      There wasn’t a point to setting the record straight before, but now she’s got Ted—and their unborn child—to think about. When the state threatens to take her baby, Mary must find the voice to fight her past. And her fate lies in the hands of the one person she distrusts the most: her Momma. No one knows the real Momma. But who really knows the real Mary?”

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“I’m dizzy from holding my breath for so long, maybe for years. And something ugly, hidden deep inside me is threatening to erupt. I can’t hold it back anymore. How do I make it stop before it’s too late?

Tiffany D. Jackson’s Allegedly is one of the strongest debuts I’ve ever read. Mary B. Addison’s life is run by the state. Convicted of manslaughter at age nine, Mary has been in the system for nearly seven years. The group home she currently resides in is a living nightmare. The adults she is surrounded by are apathetic at best and the other girls in the group home can be ruthless and cruel. Mary just tries her best to survive, but when she discovers she is pregnant, she has more than herself to worry about. Mary wants to keep her baby, but with the kind of conviction she has on her record, Mary will be lucky to even hold her baby before its taken away. In order for her to even have a chance to raise her own child, Mary must confront her past and speak up when so many have wished to silence her.

Mary’s story is both compelling and heartbreaking. Mary is adamant about her innocence, but she’s also torn between telling the truth and condemning the one person in her life she’s always felt protective of: her mother. The author does an incredible job of holding the reader’s attention, not only by using Mary’s appeal to overturn her case to push the story forward, but also by weaving in excerpts from interviews and various officials’ notes in order to give a clearer picture of Mary’s past. With the entire system stacked against her, it isn’t hard to root for Mary, to hope that she could somehow have a happy ending. But there are instances when Mary’s credibility is brought into question. It isn’t that she is necessarily lying, but that she isn’t telling the whole truth. What happened the night little Alyssa died is shrouded in mystery and while I wanted to hear the whole story from Mary sooner, it was the secrecy and uncertainty of that night that kept me reading.

The most interesting and powerful relationship in Allegedly is Mary’s complicated dynamic with her mother. Though Mary has been through a lifetime of pain, she’s still in many ways very young. Her emotional age is never more apparent than when discussing her mother. Though she blames her mother for what happened to Alyssa, she still wants to protect her. She still worries about her mother’s mental health when she isn’t around, whether she’s been taking her pills and if she’s been having as her mother phrases it “a day.” She wishes more than anything to be able to talk to her mother when it comes to her pregnancy, but her mother remains antagonistic toward the very idea, so Mary remains very much isolated. Mary is starved for motherly love, but is also understandably distrustful of strangers. For her, it isn’t a matter of if the people in her life will disappoint her, but a matter of when.

Allegedly examines minors in the justice system, systemic racism, mental illness, teen pregnancy, and a myriad of other important topics. Jackson has crafted an amazing debut that is both moving and thought-provoking and one that I will not soon forget.

Rating: 5/5

★★★★★

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.

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“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

★★★★

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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?

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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

★★★

All In by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

All In by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

Title: All In
Author: Jennifer Lynn Barnes
Series: The Naturals, #3
Pages: 378
Publisher: Disney-Hyperion
Release Date: November 3rd 2015

      “Three casinos. Three bodies. Three days.
      After a string of brutal murders in Las Vegas, Cassie Hobbes and the Naturals are called in to investigate. But even with the team’s unique profiling talents, these murders seem baffling: unlike many serial killers, this one uses different methods every time. All of the victims were killed in public, yet the killer does not show up on any tape. And each victim has a string of numbers tattooed on their wrist. Hidden in the numbers is a code—and the closer the Naturals come to unraveling the mystery, the more perilous the case becomes.
      Meanwhile, Cassie is dealing with an equally dangerous and much more painful mystery. For the first time in years, there’s been a break in her mother’s case. As personal issues and tensions between the team mount, Cassie and the Naturals will be faced with impossible odds—and impossible choices.”

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      “You close your eyes and remember coming up behind her. You remember closing your hands around the chain. You remember her fighting.
      You remember the moment when she stopped.”

In All In, Jennifer Lynn Barnes’s third installment in her Naturals series, Cassie and the crew tackle another serial murder case, but the pasts of several teens come back to haunt them. Barnes writes very plot-driven novels that manage to be fast-paced and engaging, but also gives room for her characters to breathe. Sometimes a story focuses so much on interpersonal relationships that the plot takes a backseat, but Barnes’s ability to create a mystery that needs to be solved is what really stands out to me with this series.

Cassie, Dean, Lia, Michael, and Sloane are very different from one another, they all have individual hang-ups and there’s always that underlining conflict among some of them, but at the end of the day, they are willing to fight for one another. Cassie spent so many years growing up with only her mother to rely on that trusting other people and opening up to them is something she struggles with. Haunted by all the unanswered questions surrounding her mother’s murder, Cassie’s drive stems from the guilt she feels over her mother’s death and the belief that she can do something to make up for it. As the child of a serial killer, Dean’s whole identity is tied to what his father did. He constantly wrestles with himself over his ability to step into the mind of a serial killer and if this means that he’s capable of committing murder himself. If I have any criticism of this third installment, it’s that I wanted to see more of Dean’s character arc.

Of all the characters, I think Lia is the most puzzling. She’s less defined by her ability to spot a lie than her ability to tell a convincing one. She doesn’t give a lot away, is curt, and sometimes purposefully rude. I’m hoping the final installment introduces more of her past, which I believe will round-out her character more. Michael is a character that I find frustrating. In the first two books, I really found it hard to like him, but this novel really helped in resolving some of the issues I had with him. Sloane is the one character that I felt I knew very little about going into this one, but the plot hits really close to home for her and gives us a glimpse at this incredibly intelligent and vulnerable girl.

All In adds a lot of layers both to the characters and the overall plot of the series. The story is compelling and never suffers from unnecessary pauses. I’m really eager to see how the author resolves a really interesting storyline she introduces at the end of this one, but also a little afraid of where it might take these characters that I’ve grown rather fond of.

Rating: 4/5

★★★★

A Madness So Discreet by Mindy McGinnis

a-madness-so-discreet-by-mindy-mcginnis


Title:
 A Madness So Discreet
Author: Mindy McGinnis
Series: N/A
Pages: 376
Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books
Release Date: October 6th 2015

      “Grace Mae knows madness.
      She keeps it locked away, along with her voice, trapped deep inside a brilliant mind that cannot forget horrific family secrets. Those secrets, along with the bulge in her belly, land her in a Boston insane asylum.
      When her voice returns in a burst of violence, Grace is banished to the dark cellars, where her mind is discovered by a visiting doctor who dabbles in the new study of criminal psychology. With her keen eyes and sharp memory, Grace will make the perfect assistant at crime scenes. Escaping from Boston to the safety of an ethical Ohio asylum, Grace finds friendship and hope, hints of a life she should have had. But gruesome nights bring Grace and the doctor into the circle of a killer who stalks young women. Grace, continuing to operate under the cloak of madness, must hunt a murderer while she confronts the demons in her own past.”

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“Grace could deafen herself with her own hands and squeeze her eyes shut so tightly that the muscles in her face twitched in agony. But the acuity of her memory was a dark artist at work in her mind, painting pictures without her permission.”

Mindy McGinnis’s A Darkness So Discreet You is so beautifully written that it immediately transports the reader to a different time and place. Grace bears the marks of cruelty, from the unspeakable things a close family member did to her to the abuse she endures at the asylum where she has been temporarily committed. Pushed to her limits, Grace has given up hope, ready to embrace the darkness for good. But fate has something else in store for her when she crosses paths with the young, ambitious Dr. Thornhollow. Unsure if she is ready to embrace this new life, Grace has little choice in accepting this new apprenticeship with Thornhollow, helping him investigate and aid the authorities in catching murderers. As much as Grace would like to forget the painful past, especially when she finally feels like she belongs amongst the patients at the asylum Thornhollow oversees, Grace’s own darkness begins to surface as their investigation brings them closer to a serial killer.

McGinnis writes some of the most beautiful and descriptive prose. From the dank language used to describe the Wayburne Lunatic Asylum of Boston, where Grace is first committed, to the melancholy and detached diction used to describe Grace’s growing detachment from the horrors around her, McGinnis astounds at every turn of the page. The abuse Grace endures is sometimes hard to read, her pain heart-wrenching and her circumstances cruel, yet she shows a strength that is unparalleled. Her relationship with Thornhollow gives her purpose as the two try to climb deeper into the mind of a killer in order to catch him or her. I really liked that this relationship wasn’t necessarily romantic, even when other characters assumed as much, but both Thornhollow and Grace need the other. In all honesty, they complimented each other so much that there were times when I wouldn’t have complained had the author gone in that direction.

Grace has been suffocating her whole life, surrounded by those unwilling to listen. Thornhollow isn’t the only one who opens up a new life to her. Grace’s relationship with the other women at the asylum, particularly Elizabeth and Nell, provides her with the kind of family she’s always wanted but never had. A Darkness So Discreet also deals with the ethics of vigilantism, of dispensing justice when evil goes unpunished. This was probably the most interesting theme and I would have liked it to have been explored more deeply. Despite this, Mindy McGinnis’s novel is dark, haunting, and one of the most memorable books I’ve read this year.

Rating: 5/5

★★★★★