Book Review: Stalking Jack the Ripper by Kerri Maniscalco

Title: Stalking Jack the Ripper
Author: Kerri Maniscalco
Series: Stalking Jack the Ripper, Book 1
Publisher: Jimmy Patterson
Hardcover: 326 pages
Source: BEA 2016
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

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.

*I received a free copy of this book from the publisher from BEA 2016.*

Overall Rating: 5 out of 5

I brought ARCs to my classroom after we attended Book Expo last year.  I have an extensive classroom library, but rarely do students ever take up my offer to borrow books to read independently.  I pitched having these ARCs in the class as a really cool insider opportunity to read books before many other people were able to and even would tell students about how they would get in trouble if they borrowed one and then sold it (which most students laughed at, but I think did emphasize the specialness about them I was trying to create).  Most of the students who borrowed books were pretty strong readers.  However, I had one student who I would have pegged as a reluctant reader.  He looked through the books after class one day and grabbed this book.  He told me he was interested in serial killers and asked if he could borrow it.  Of course I let him, and several months later he returned saying he really liked it.

This is one of the main reasons I decided to pick the book up myself (I had also heard some decent buzz about it as well since it came out) and some of the things that delighted me about the book, I must be honest, impacted me more through the lens of thinking about my students reading the book.  I feel I would be remiss if I did not start with my favorite element of the book, which is how Audrey Rose, the main character, is developed.  She starts off seeming to be another run-of-the-mill example of a female character interested in non-feminine topics.  What I think is done so well though is that her disgust is not directed at these feminine pursuits (and indeed even shows some interest and admiration towards some elements of it), but rather the way society pigeonholes girls and women into them.  I thought this was a nice balance and one that usually tips one way or the other far too often.  I must note here that I think this being such a large part of the story is something that made me smile a lot thinking about my student reading it.

The one criticism I have with the book is Audrey Rose’s relationship with Thomas Cresswell.  I do not want to overstate this point, since I think both characters were well written and interesting, but I do think that some of their exchanges were the few moments I found myself wanting to skim rather than poring over the words in front of me.

Finally, I have a huge issue with television, movies, books, or any other form of media that has a mystery that would be impossible to solve until it is resolved within the story.  I think that what this book does, which many great mysteries do, is that looking back on the story you can pick out moments that could have allowed you to guess at the big reveal, but along the way (unless you are really taking the time to ponder it) you might miss.  I will admit that I figured it out only a few pages before the reveal and found that to be thoroughly satisfying.  Overall, I was pleasantly surprised by this book and tore through it on my winter break.  I definitely think it is worth checking out.

Book Review: The Bazaar of Bad Dreams by Stephen King

Title: The Bazaar of Bad Dreams
Author: Stephen King
Publisher: Scribner
Hardcover: 495 pages
Source: Chicago Public Library OverDrive
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

A master storyteller at his best—the O. Henry Prize winner Stephen King delivers a generous collection of stories, several of them brand-new, featuring revelatory autobiographical comments on when, why, and how he came to write (or rewrite) each story.

Since his first collection, Nightshift, published thirty-five years ago, Stephen King has dazzled readers with his genius as a writer of short fiction. In this new collection he assembles, for the first time, recent stories that have never been published in a book. He introduces each with a passage about its origins or his motivations for writing it.

There are thrilling connections between stories; themes of morality, the afterlife, guilt, what we would do differently if we could see into the future or correct the mistakes of the past. “Afterlife” is about a man who died of colon cancer and keeps reliving the same life, repeating his mistakes over and over again. Several stories feature characters at the end of life, revisiting their crimes and misdemeanors. Other stories address what happens when someone discovers that he has supernatural powers—the columnist who kills people by writing their obituaries in “Obits;” the old judge in “The Dune” who, as a boy, canoed to a deserted island and saw names written in the sand, the names of people who then died in freak accidents. In “Morality,” King looks at how a marriage and two lives fall apart after the wife and husband enter into what seems, at first, a devil’s pact they can win.

Magnificent, eerie, utterly compelling, these stories comprise one of King’s finest gifts to his constant reader—“I made them especially for you,” says King. “Feel free to examine them, but please be careful. The best of them have teeth.”

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5

Even though Stephen King is known for being prolific and creating monstrosities of books, I was surprised to find that his short stories are really, quite good. Some of them are ridiculously sad and terrible, but for the most part, I loved the eerie atmosphere he provides in these stories that are usually more spooky and unsettling in this collection rather than outright “scary.”

I like short stories, as I’ve said before. They’re nice for the satisfaction and closure they can give in such a short amount of time. Instead of only being able to get through a portion of a novel during my 20 minute lunch break, I’m able to read a full short story or two, which is a nice change of pace. This collection is wonderfully cohesive and intriguing, but I did find myself needing a break from reading it. I can’t deal with reading too many terrible things at once, so it was nice to be able to set it aside for a bit without worrying about losing track of characters or plots, and then picking it right back up again.

The stories that shone for me in this collection were “Afterlife” and “Ur.” King is a master at mixing fantastical elements with horror and tragedy, and these stories were perfect examples of this. “Ur” is the story King wrote to promote the Kindle, so I feel almost bad liking a promotional story (even though I love the Kindle!), but it was probably my favorite story in this collection. It just proves what a wonderful imagination King has and his ability to not flinch when his mind takes a darker turn with a “what-if.”

Overall, I enjoyed this. I didn’t hate any story, though the first one really got to me emotionally and made me have to take a break right away. But, even after taking breaks from the difficult stuff, I went right back to this book to see what else King’s mind could come up with. If you’re at all a King fan or like darker sort of stories, I recommend you check this one out.

Audiobook Review: Danger in the Dark by L. Ron Hubbard

Title: Danger in the Dark
Author: L. Ron Hubbard
Narrators: Karen Black, R.F. Daley, Christina Huntington, Jim Meskimen, Gino Montesinos, Noelle North, and Josh R. Thompson
Duration: 2 hours
Publisher: Galaxy Audio
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

Explore this fantastic tale. After Billy Newman strikes gold while mining in the Philippines, he believes Lady Luck favors him so much that he buys his own South Seas island for a bargain price . . . or so he thinks.

 But when the natives fall ill from plague and crops start failing, the tribal chiefs blame Billy for angering the local god Tadamona. Their solution: sacrifice a beautiful young girl before the 75-foot god. Appalled, Billy argues to stop the ritual, but the chiefs demand he cure their ills in just one day or allow the killing to go forward. Desperate, he denies that the deity even exists and dares Tadamona to show himself. Not only does Billy get his wish, he draws a beastly wrath upon the entire island. ALSO INCLUDES THE FANTASY FICTION STORIES “THE ROOM” AND “HE DIDN’T LIKE CATS”

Overall Rating: 3 out of 5

*I received a free copy of this audiobook from the publisher*

I enjoy pulp fiction and appreciate its significance and influence in the science fiction and fantasy genres today. Danger in the Dark is a collection of three stories, and it is pulp at its finest — just plain, good fun. As with any collection of short stories, there were some stories that I liked better than others, but there weren’t any that I really disliked or hated, so that’s a good thing. This was a quick listen and was simply a fun, entertaining collection of stories. The sequence of these stories also worked very well, since my least favorite was the first story, and my favorite was the last.

The stories included in Danger in the Dark are short and sweet — the best kind, in my opinion. A lot of action, drama, and suspense without having too much exposition to bog it all down. It’s not a huge time investment, but it’s good entertainment, which I appreciated.

Galaxy Audio really went all-out for this production. I loved the full-cast performance and the added sound effects. I’m not the kind of person who generally likes sound effects in my audiobooks, but these were incredibly well done. They really added to the story and helped create drama and tension in all the right places. This is one short story collection that I don’t think I would have liked as much in print. I would definitely recommend the audiobook version of this one.

Book Review: The Green Mile by Stephen King

Title: The Green Mile
Author: Stephen King
Publisher: Pocket Books
Hardcover: 400 pages
Summary: (From Goodreads)

At Cold Mountain Penitentiary, along the lonely stretch of cells known as the Green Mile, killers are depraved as the psychopathic “Billy the Kid” Wharton and the possessed Eduard Delacroix await death strapped in “Old Sparky.” Here guards as decent as Paul Edgecombe and as sadistic as Percy Wetmore watch over them. But good or evil, innocent or guilty, none have ever seen the brutal likes of the new prisoner, John Coffey, sentenced to death for raping and murdering two young girls. Is Coffey a devil in human form? Or is he a far, far different kind of being?

Overall Rating: 4/5

Stephen King should stick to writing these sorts of books. Don’t get me wrong, I love most of his horror stuff, but it’s this sort of subtle supernatural genre that I think really shows his talents as a writer and story-teller since the horror element isn’t overshadowing everything else within the novel.

The Green Mile is a little long, being comprised of 6 novellas and it is definitely slow-paced. That doesn’t mean it isn’t exciting, though! The slowness of the story really allowed me to delve into the characters and the story King has created. I felt like I got to know all the characters, especially Paul, whose first-person narrative it is. This made the action parts even better, since I had a connection with the characters and cared about them.

I liked how the narrative jumped from Paul as an old man living in a nursing home to Paul as a middle-aged man meeting John Coffey. I think it added a lot to the intrigue, as there were multiple mysteries you were trying to solve at once. The Green Mile has a great message and is a compelling story that will leave you in tears by the end.

I saw the movie before reading the book and honestly, if you’ve seen the movie, the novel won’t add all that much for you. The movie is very true to the book and captures the most important events. Naturally, the book has other elements that added to my appreciation of the story. The parallelism between the prison and Paul’s nursing home, for example, and a deeper understanding of the characters.

There were some things I didn’t like — like I said, the pace was too slow at times. But then again, King’s books always seem to drag just a little bit for me. I also didn’t like how at times the characters all laughed at something as if it were hilarious, and I didn’t think it was funny at all. Besides that, though, it was a good story and I enjoyed the read. I definitely recommend this.


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