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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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

★★★★

Blood of My Blood by Barry Lyga

Blood of My Blood by Barry Lyga

Title: Blood of My Blood
Author: Barry Lyga
Series: Jasper Dent, #3

Jasper “Jazz” Dent has spent his entire life in the shadow cast by his serial killer father, Billy Dent. He thought he could be smarted than Dear Old Dad, but Jazz’s quest to outwit his father has left him alone and bleeding from a gunshot wound. But Billy isn’t done with his son just yet. After saving him, Billy leaves Jazz with the knowledge that he has someone he loves. Jazz has two choices: let the authorities chase Billy, who spent most of his life being ten steps ahead of them, or sacrifice everything and go after Billy himself.

“I’m not afraid of you.”
“Course not. You’re not smart enough to be afraid of me.”

Barry Lyga’s Blood of My Blood, the final book in his Jasper Dent series, sees its protagonist finally confront his father and the disturbing memories still lurking in the back of his mind. Jazz has grown up trying to convince himself that all the thoughts embedded in him by his father can somehow be overcome. But in this final installment, the ruthlessness, the cunning, and the dark thoughts are the only way Jazz can finally put a stop to Billy Dent’s murderous rampage. To stop Billy, Jazz must be willing to sacrifice his own humanity and become the killer his father raised him to be.

Billy Dent may be the most menacing and twisted villain I’ve ever come across in fiction. He’s smart, strong, cold, and there is something disturbingly warm about him when it comes to Jazz. Billy’s voice cuts through the pages, far more distinctly and more clearly than any of the other characters in this series. Billy is not the only sinister antagonist in this final book and as impossible as it seems, there is someone far more vile. Someone who will have you wondering if therapy might be a viable option not only for the characters but also for yourself as a reader.

Barry Lyga’s series deals with the age old question of nature vs. nurture. Whether or not one’s own will-power is enough to overcome these damnable influences. If you weren’t uncomfortable reading the first two books, this final one will certain do the job. With twists, murder, and cruelty at every turn, Blood of My Blood brings the series to a ferocious conclusion.

Rating: 4/5

★★★★

Killer Instinct by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

Killer Instinct by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

Title: Killer Instinct
Author: Jennifer Lynn Barnes
Series: The Naturals, #2

The Naturals, the FBI program that no one is supposed to know about, is comprised of teens with special skill sets that allow them to find clues that normal people might overlook. Cassie Hobbes, a member of the Naturals, has survived a face-to-face encounter with a killer obsessed with her mother’s murder and as much as she wants to be over it, she’s not. When FBI Agent Veronica Sterling arrives with the express purpose of keeping the Naturals from any more active cases, Cassie and the others have little say, but everything changes when a body is discovered bearing striking similarities to the murders committed by serial killer Daniel Redding, also known as Dean’s father. And despite warnings from Agent Sterling and Dean himself, Cassie is determined to help close this case for his sake, even if it means putting herself in danger.

“They saw the lines you carved into her body. They saw the noose you slipped around her neck…Your lips curve into a smile. The moment has passed, but the game–the game is long. Next time, you won’t be so eager. Next time, you’ll have nothing to prove. Next time, you’ll take it slow.”

I want to start off by saying The Naturals was a surprise favorite for me earlier in the year. Jennifer Lynn Barnes’ Killer Instinct was just as good, and actually provided me with a lot more insight into certain characters that I felt needed more development. I’m not a big fan of love triangles and I’m especially not a fan when they continue into the second book, so this is the only thing I disliked about this book. Cassie doesn’t want her life to be defined by who she chooses and in fact is determined not to choose between Dean and Michael at all. The program and the people around Cassie make her feel like she belongs and she would rather have this than romance.

It is my slightly biased opinion that Cassie’s romantic interest in one boy or another would probably come about more naturally if Michael wasn’t so anxious for her to choose. This was one of my problems with him and although I understand his past has a negative affect on how he deals with Dean, I wanted him to be able to get past it because it really kept me from giving him the kind of sympathy I think he deserves. As for Dean, I’m just a sap when it comes to this character. Barnes is very subtle when it comes to presenting this unsure and quite boy, and this translates really well in his relationship with Cassie. Their connection is all about the little things and how opening up to one another is difficult for both parties, and I never felt like either character was being pushy with the other.

Lia absolutely shines in Killer Instinct. In the first book, I got very little from her besides manipulation and hostility, but Barnes does a fantastic job of exploring this character further through her relationship with Dean. I now understand her behavior toward Cassie on a completely different level and am actually quite impressed with the way she has handled herself. Sloane, the fourth member of the Naturals, got a few scenes to shine too and I’m really looking forward to seeing more of her. Veronica Sterling was another character we got to know in this book who I immediate pegged for an older version of Cassie. And the brief insights we got into Daniel Redding’s mind were both frightening and fascinating.

Rating 5/5

★★★★★

Dear Killer by Katherine Ewell

Dear Killer by Katherine Ewell

Title: Dear Killer
Author: Katherine Ewell
Series: N/A

Kit Ward is continuing a tradition that started with her mother. When most mothers were teaching their daughters how to do their hair, imparting confidence, and letting them use lipstick for the first time, Kit’s mother was teaching her how to kill a person with her bare hands. Years later, Kit has perfected her mother’s methods and is notoriously known as the Perfect Killer. But Kit isn’t like other serial killers, she’s a people-pleaser. Those angry enough to seek murder as a solution to their problems write letter to the Perfect Killer requesting her services. When Kit recieves a request to kill someone she knows, she sees it as a challenge. What Kit doesn’t realize is this new endeavor will put on her on a path that will cause her to question her identity as the Perfect Killer.

“I thought about the clockwork of it all as I walked back onto the street, the night air biting into my skin. The precision, the order. The fact that no one was there to tell me that I was wrong, or disgusting.
Do you remember what I said about not enjoying murder?
That was a lie.”

There’s a simplicity to Kit’s world: she’s a serial killer, she collects letters from people asking her to kill, she decides who she is going to kill, and follows through. She doesn’t question whether the writers of said letters are justified, she doesn’t even bat an eyelash when it comes to murdering people who may or may not deserve it. Murder is simply a way of life for her. But there is a degree of arrogance in Kit and she likes a challenge. She befriends the target of one of her letters, but everything begins to fall apart when she finds herself protecting the girl from the boy she suspects wrote the letter.

Kit also finds herself forming a friendship with the lead investigator on the Perfect Killer case. Alex is young and desperate to solve these murders, he sees something promising in Kit and she finds it easy to manipulate him. But as the story progresses this manipulation doesn’t feel so deceptive and it isn’t so easy for Kit. She cares about Alex and she doesn’t want him to see her for what she really is. In him, Kit sees a different life for herself. I liked Alex’s vulnerability and even though he began opening up to the serial killer he was hunting, I still sort of rooted for their friendship for the sake of the protagonist.

Kit’s childhood is defined by her relationship with her mother. With the perpetual absence of her father, the only person Kit has ever had to tether her to the world is a serial killer herself. Kit’s mother has retired from murder, but there are times when the two are in the same room and you can just feel the want radiating off of the mother. Though she is the picture of control, I was just waiting for the moment when her pristine façade would break.

I was a little reluctant to pick up Dear Killer by Katherine Ewell because of the number of negative reviews it received on Goodreads and Amazon, but I just couldn’t turn my back on a book about a female serial killer. And I am so glad I picked up this book. Kit is an incredibly interesting character and although my own worldview contradicts hers, I still felt that she was a compelling protagonist and at times I found myself desperately wanting to save her.

Rating: 4/5

★★★★

Game by Barry Lyga

Game by Barry Lyga

Title: Game
Author: Barry Lyga
Series: Jasper Dent, #2

Jasper Dent hasn’t quite gotten over the nightmare that was his life a few months ago when a serial killer decided to make his town of Lobo’s Nob his playground and replicate his murders after the notorious Billy Dent, who isn’t just any serial killer, he’s Jazz’s father. Billy Dent knows how to play people and he played Jazz, pulling his most impressive feat yet: escaping from prison.

Jazz knows that it’s only a matter of time before his father seeks out his son. When a detective from New York shows up asking for Jazz’s help solving the Hat-Dog murders, Jazz is reluctant but eventually accepts that the only way he can prove he isn’t like his father is to hunt down those who are. Unbeknownst to Jazz is that Billy is also in New York and news of his son’s arrival makes him very happy.

“Livin’ another day is what it’s all about, Jasper, m’boy, ’cause every day we live is another chance to kill.”

Game, Barry Lyga’s second book in his Jasper Dent series, is at times gruesome and unapologetically candid. This may be a YA book, but it does not shy away from the repulsiveness of its own topic. I wouldn’t recommend this book to anyone who is squeamish.

Jazz continues to doubt himself and this bleeds into his relationship with her girlfriend Connie. In this book we see much more of Billy’s influence as Jazz’s thoughts sometimes take on the persona of his father, which at times can be extremely disturbing. I have a great affection for Jazz, but if I’m honest he sometimes worries me. Most of what we learn of Billy Dent is because of Jazz’s make-believe conversations with him, which probably doesn’t bode well for the mental health of our protagonist.

I was so happy to see that this book zeroed in on Jazz’s girlfriend Connie. She has a much more intimate look at Jazz and less convoluted perspective of him than Jazz himself. She has so much faith in her boyfriend, but like me she has those little moments of doubt or times when Jazz’s behavior gives her pause. As the story progressed, I couldn’t decide whether the girl was brave or reckless, but it’s probably both. What I didn’t like is that a few characters seem to suffer from a bit of stupidity and while I understand this lack of sense is used to build tension (and boy, I felt the tension), it can sometimes compromise the intellect of the characters.

What did I learn from Game? Here’s a list.

Rules To Live By When Dealing With A Serial Killer:

(1) If you’re ever contacted by one, call the police immediately.

(2) Insist on 24/7 protection and your own weapon.

(3) Never go anywhere by yourself.

(4) Never let anyone leave you by yourself.

(5) Never, under any circumstances, accept an invitation from a serial killer to join a Game.

Rating: 4/5

★★★★