Snapshot Review: Escaping from Houdini by Kerri Maniscalco

Title: Escaping from Houdini
Author: Kerri Maniscalco
Series: Stalking Jack the Ripper, #3
Pages: 437
Publisher: Jimmy Patterson
Release Date: September 18th 2018

      “Audrey Rose Wadsworth and her partner-in-crime-investigation, Thomas Cresswell, are en route to New York to help solve another blood-soaked mystery. Embarking on a week-long voyage across the Atlantic on the opulent RMS Etruria, they’re delighted to discover a traveling troupe of circus performers, fortune tellers, and a certain charismatic young escape artist entertaining the first-class passengers nightly.
      But then, privileged young women begin to go missing without explanation, and a series of brutal slayings shocks the entire ship. The disturbing influence of the Moonlight Carnival pervades the decks as the murders grow ever more freakish, with nowhere to escape except the unforgiving sea.
      It’s up to Audrey Rose and Thomas to piece together the gruesome investigation as even more passengers die before reaching their destination. But with clues to the next victim pointing to someone she loves, can Audrey Rose unravel the mystery before the killer’s horrifying finale?”

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      “Next time the victim will be revealed in a grander fashion, one that cannot simply be thought of as a performance. Wherever he is now, he’s seething. Enraged that more people weren’t afraid of his opening act. When he strikes again, every passenger aboard this ship will be imprisoned by their fear. I guarantee he means to turn this cruise into a fantastical nightmare.

  • Audrey Rose – I’ve really enjoyed this MCs journey throughout these first three books. As she works under the direction of her uncle, a forensic scientist, she’s had to deal with sexism from her classmates and society’s stifling expectations of her as a woman. One of my favorite things about Audrey Rose as a character is she never loses her vulnerable and soft side. She’s seen a lot of violence and come face to face with murderers and though a part of her thinks it might be easier to numb herself, she never gives in.
  • The setting – I immediately fell in love with the setting for this third installment. The Moonlight Carnival is shrouded in mystery. It’s showy and shocking and its illusions make for an interesting backdrop for characters like Audrey Rose, who have so much faith in science. I also loved that this takes place on a ship, where there is no escape, further adding to the isolation and fear passengers begin to feel with each murder.
  • Thomas – One of my favorite things about Audrey Rose’s partner in crime, her equal in many ways, is how respectful he is of her. Thomas is very much in love with her but never wants to make her feel like she is obligated to be with him. I’ve enjoyed his quick wit and playfulness so much throughout the series.

  • The love triangle – My major issue with this third installment is how odd it felt for Maniscalco to introduce another love interest so late in the game. This isn’t because I think Audrey Rose shouldn’t have options should she wish it, but because it all happens so fast. Literally a week before she meets this other potential suitor, she was saying yes to marriage with Thomas. It felt like this cheapened the bond they had already developed over the course of the first two books.
  • Mephistopheles – I didn’t not like the ringmaster of the traveling carnival. My issue with his character is that personality wise if you told me all his lines were said by Thomas, I would have believed you. Their personalities were far too similar.
  • The epilogue – This is slightly spoilery, but I will avoid specifics. I did not like the epilogue because it felt like it erased everything that happened for the past 400 other pages. It patched together relationships far too easily and makes me wonder how certain dynamics will play out in the fourth. If none of the issues that arose in this third book are addressed in the fourth, I really don’t understand the direction this one took at all.


While Escaping from Houdini is my least favorite in Kerri Maniscalco’s Stalking Jack the Ripper series, it still offers an enjoyable and entertaining read.

★ ★ ★
(3/5)

ARC Review: Untamed Shore by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Title: Untamed Shore
Author: Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Series: N/A
Pages: 472
Publisher: Agora Books
Release Date: February 11th 2020
**I received a copy of this book from the publisher, which does not influence my review**

      “Renowned author Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s first thriller, UNTAMED SHORE, is a coming-of-age story set in Mexico which quickly turns dark when a young woman meets three enigmatic tourists.
      Baja California, 1979. Viridiana spends her days watching the dead sharks piled beside the seashore, as the fishermen pull their nets. There is nothing else to do, nothing else to watch, under the harsh sun. She’s bored. Terribly bored. Yet her head is filled with dreams of Hollywood films, of romance, of a future beyond the drab town where her only option is to marry and have children.
      Three wealthy American tourists arrive for the summer, and Viridiana is magnetized. She immediately becomes entwined in the glamorous foreigners’ lives. They offer excitement, and perhaps an escape from the promise of a humdrum future.
      When one of them dies, Viridiana lies to protect her friends. Soon enough, someone’s asking questions, and Viridiana has some of her own about the identity of her new acquaintances. Sharks may be dangerous, but there are worse predators nearby, ready to devour a naïve young woman who is quickly being tangled in a web of deceit.
      Silvia Moreno-Garcia is one of the most exciting voices in fiction, and with her first crime novel, UNTAMED SHORE, she crafts a blazing novel of suspense with an eerie seaside setting and a literary edge that proves her a master of the genre.”

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Silvia Moreno-Garcia first crime novel, Untamed Shore, takes readers on a harrowing journey in a small town in Baja California. Viridiana knows there isn’t much for her in Desengaño. The dilapidated town once paid host to fishermen looking to make it in the shark hunting business, but as that industry lost its luster so did the town’s appeal to outsiders. When three American tourists make their way to Viridiana’s corner of the world, she’s offered a temporary job as one of their personal assistants. A job that comes with more money she could ever dream of making during the meager tourist season or working behind the counter of her mom’s shop. But Viridiana gets more than she’d bargained for when one night one of the foreigners ends up dead and Viridiana finds herself caught in a web of lies she might not be able to find her way out of.

Untamed Shore takes its time getting started. Moreno-Garcia vividly captures the atmosphere of small-town living and the discontentment of those like Viridiana, who dream of something more than the hand she’s been dealt. There’s a sense of isolation and confinement to this setting. Viridiana feels like a character who’s outgrown her town, but isn’t sure if there are any outs for her. This is part of the appeal of the American tourists she meets. Viridiana experiences her town through their eyes.  Though Viridiana is extremely bright, having graduated early and is fluent in many languages, she is more or less wasting her time in this small town. Her talents have gone underappreciated, but she can’t see a way out when her mother insists she stay behind to help with her half siblings or worse, get married and settle down. I didn’t truly fall into the story until the second half when Viridiana is caught in an impossible situation. Her only way of escape is to lie and manipulate and in the end, there’s a good chance not even these things can save her.

When the glamorous Daisy and her husband and brother arrive, Viridiana cannot help but fall under their spell. The self-important Ambrose with money to burn may not be all that friendly, but he has the kind of freedom people in town can only dream of having. His much younger wife Daisy is friendly enough, even if her mood sours without warning, as likely to offer a gracious smile as a condescending retort. Gregory quickly draws Viridiana’s eye and it’s difficult to ignore his charms especially when his kisses are so thrilling. But underneath these masks, something dark lingers. Viridiana’s naivety gets her caught in a game where she doesn’t know the rules. She has more to lose because she doesn’t have the kind of resources these Americans have and one wrong move could leave her ruined forever while these tourists are free go back to their carefree lives. The town in which Viridiana lives, is appropriately called Desengaño, meaning disillusionment. This is the crux of the novel, it is a young woman’s journey discovering just how dangerous self-delusion can be.

Untamed Shore is slow-paced thriller but with deceptive faces at every corner and a surprisingly vicious ending, it’s hard to look away.

★ ★ ★

(3/5)

Bad Blood by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

Title: Bad Blood
Author: Jennifer Lynn Barnes
Series: The Naturals, #4
Pages: 384
Publisher: Disney-Hyperion
Release Date: November 1st 2016

      “When Cassie Hobbes joined the FBI’s Naturals program, she had one goal: uncover the truth about her mother’s murder. But now, everything Cassie thought she knew about what happened that night has been called into question. Her mother is alive, and the people holding her captive are more powerful—and dangerous—than anything the Naturals have faced so far. As Cassie and the team work to uncover the secrets of a group that has been killing in secret for generations, they find themselves racing a ticking clock.
      The bodies begin piling up, the deaths hit closer and closer to home, and it soon becomes apparent that this time, the Naturals aren’t just hunting serial killers.
      They’re being hunted themselves.

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“The smell of burning flesh never really leaves you. Ash scatters. Skin scars. Pain subsides. But the smell is always there.”

Jennifer Lynn Barnes’s The Naturals series coalesces into a thrilling conclusion with Bad Blood. Cassie Hobbes’s world turned upside down with her mother’s gruesome murder. Years later, recruited by the FBI to be a part of a team of gifted teens that assist in the investigation of unsolved murders, Cassie has forged a new kind of family for herself. But the past refuses to let go and Cassie’s world is once again turned upside down when she discovers her mother is alive. Cassie will do anything to find the people who have kept her mother captive all these years including going toe to toe with a dangerous organization of serial killers who’ve be wreaking havoc across the country for decades. The hunt for answers will brings Cassie closer to her mother, but will also bring her and her team into the crosshairs of a group of killers who will do anything to keep their secrets buried.

What I’ve enjoyed most about Barnes’s series is how well she balances plot and character development. Hunting serial killers means the stakes are always high and sometimes they become personal. Much of Cassie’s motivation stems from guilt for having failed her mother in some way. These cases bring out the best in Cassie’s ability to profile the killer and sometimes even the victim, but they also have an emotional toll. In Bad Blood, Cassie is desperate to find her mother, but it may turn her into someone she no longer recognizes and cost her the people she’s found a home with. Of the five members of The Naturals, Dean Redding, son of an infamous serial killer, may be the most well-adjusted. The earlier novels focus more on his story and him having to constantly prove to everyone that he isn’t like his father. His relationship with Cassie is one my favorites in the series as the two of them play off each other so well. I missed seeing more of this dynamic and would have liked the author to show how both characters are learning to be vulnerable with the other despite their pasts.

Standout character for the second book in a row goes to Lia Zhang. Probably the most well-rounded character in the series, Lia isn’t always open to sharing who she is. In those rare moments of vulnerability, we see a girl whose been emotionally manipulated and who had to make tough choices at very young age. She’s adopted the art of lying as a means of survival, but this often means that even those closest to her don’t know her entire story. Michael comes from an abusive home and is more likely to hide behind a cocky smile than give any indication of what he might really be feeling. I wasn’t a big fan of the Lia and Michael dynamic, not because I didn’t think they were compatible, but because they quarreled more than they built each other up. I think it would have gone a long way to see these two take things slow (their history aside) and learn how to communicate in an open and honest way–not just for their relationship’s sake but also for their individual development. Sloane is used to being the odd one out and after the events of the last book, it becomes vitally important to her to feel like part of the team. Not just as someone who can crunch number or hack into an FBI secured laptop, but as a valuable member of this makeshift family. It is Sloane who I see as making the most strides when it comes to expressing her emotions in a group rapt with dark pasts.

Jennifer Lynn Barnes’s Bad Blood is just as compelling as its predecessors with dark twists that will keep the reader on their toes from start to finish.

4/5

★★★★

Mini Reviews: Woman in Cabin 10 + Wesley James Ruined My Life

MiniI have one more mini-review from my July reads to share plus another book I picked up in August. You probably won’t see another set of mini-reviews until the end of September, possibly October. Covers below are linked to Goodreads.

Title: The Woman in Cabin 10
Author: Ruth Ware
Series: N/A
Pages: 340
Publisher: Gallery/Scout Pres
Release Date: July 19th 2017

      “In this tightly wound story, Lo Blacklock, a journalist who writes for a travel magazine, has just been given the assignment of a lifetime: a week on a luxury cruise with only a handful of cabins. At first, Lo’s stay is nothing but pleasant: the cabins are plush, the dinner parties are sparkling, and the guests are elegant. But as the week wears on, frigid winds whip the deck, gray skies fall, and Lo witnesses what she can only describe as a nightmare: a woman being thrown overboard. The problem? All passengers remain accounted for—and so, the ship sails on as if nothing has happened, despite Lo’s desperate attempts to convey that something (or someone) has gone terribly, terribly wrong…

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“A hand grabbed at my wrist, the grip far stronger than mine. Blind, mad with panic, I groped in the pitch black with my free hand, searching for something, anything, to use as a weapon, and my hand closed over the bedside lamp.”

Ruth Ware’s The Woman in Cabin 10 did not have as many thrills as I would have liked, but is still the kind of novel that reminds me that I need to give this genre another go. The novel opens with a bang as the protagonist undergoes a traumatic experience with a burglary. Ware does a great job of showing the aftereffects of Lo’s experience as she tries to regain a feeling of security. Still in an emotionally fragile state, she boards The Aurora, an upscale cruise liner, on its maiden voyage. Lo never gets a chance to catch her breath as she stumbles upon what she believes to be a murder, but with everyone on the boat accounted for, no one is taking her seriously. Lo’s growing sense of isolation is what drives the story forward as she is determined to find answers. She doesn’t know who to trust and begins to doubt herself. There are plenty of suspects in this one and I would have liked the author to have given more time to different players beside Lo. With mysteries, I always feel like as a reader I need to be a part of the unraveling portion of the story, so would have appreciated knowing more about the other people on the cruise. Overall, The Woman in Cabin 10 was a decent psychological thriller that has me contemplating what other books from the genre I need to pick up. Give me your book recommendations in the comments!

Rating: 3/5

★★★


Title: Wesley James Ruined My Life
Author: Jennifer Honeybourn
Series: N/A
Pages: 256
Publisher: Swoon Reads
Release Date: July 18th 2017 

      “Sixteen-year-old Quinn Hardwick’s having a rough summer. Her beloved grandmother has been put into a home, her dad’s gambling addiction has flared back up and now her worst enemy is back in town: Wesley James, former childhood friend—until he ruined her life, that is.
      So when Wesley is hired to work with her at Tudor Tymes, a medieval England themed restaurant, the last thing Quinn’s going to do is forgive and forget. She’s determined to remove him from her life and even the score all at once—by getting him fired.
      But getting rid of Wesley isn’t as easy as she’d hoped. When Quinn finds herself falling for him, she has to decide what she wants more: to get even, or to just get over it.

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“Unfortunately. I will never not see him because he’s everywhere. And that has to change, because I just can’t take it.”

I wanted to enjoy Jennifer Honeybourn’s Wesley James Ruined My Life so much. It had all the makings of a really entertaining, fast-paced contemporary, but as soon as I got more acquainted with Quinn’s animosity for former friend Wesley James, it lost me. In truth, the only reason I ended up finishing this one instead of setting it aside was because it was so short. Quinn hatches an immediately plan to get rid of Wesley from her life as soon as he reenters it. He may be over their falling out that took place five years ago, but Quinn isn’t. While I can buy into an eleven-year-old Quinn hating Wesley for revealing a secret that ended up being the last straw for her mother, ending her parents’ marriage, I found it really silly that a sixteen-year-old Quinn would still use the same kind of flawed logic. While I understand that Quinn needs someone to blame and for her it’s hard to see her father as the catalyst for the disintegration of her parents’ marriage, it still bothered me that she needed this spelled out before she could even begin to forgive Wesley. I will say that I enjoyed both the complicated and rich familial relationships in this book. Quinn is incredibly close to her grandmother and has been struggling to come to terms with her Alzheimer’s diagnosis and what it means for their relationship. Quinn’s father has a gambling addiction that the protagonist isn’t always sure how to deal with. I do think it would have been nice to see her mother take a more active role in helping Quinn cope with having a father with an addiction, but she was mostly absent.

Rating: 2/5

★★