Book Review: Industrial Magic by Kelley Armstrong

Title: Industrial Magic
Author: Kelley Armstrong
Series: Women of the Otherworld, Book 4
Publisher: Spectra Books
Paperback: 528 pages
Source: Chicago OverDrive
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

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Paige Winterbourne, a headstrong young woman haunted by a dark legacy, is now put to the ultimate test as she fights to save innocents from the most insidious evil of all…

In the aftermath of her mother’s murder, Paige broke with the elite, ultraconservative American Coven of Witches. Now her goal is to start a new Coven for a new generation. But while Paige pitches her vision to uptight thirty-something witches in business suits, a more urgent matter commands her attention.

Someone is murdering the teenage offspring of the underworld’s most influential Cabals—a circle of families that makes the mob look like amateurs. And none is more powerful than the Cortez Cabal, a faction Paige is intimately acquainted with. Lucas Cortez, the rebel son and unwilling heir, is none other than her boyfriend. But love isn’t blind, and Paige has her eyes wide open as she is drawn into a hunt for an unnatural-born killer. Pitted against shamans, demons, and goons, it’s a battle chilling enough to make a wild young woman grow up in a hurry. If she gets the chance.

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5

While I am usually very strict about only reading series in order, for some reason, I’ve skipped around in this one a lot. Maybe because different books are from different perspectives? Anyway, I picked this up after being away from this series for a while, so it took me a bit to figure out exactly where I was in each character’s storylines. Having already read sequels, I must say it was way too much fun meeting Jaime the necromancer for the first time. Her first impression is as ridiculous and wonderful as I wanted it.

This book is a fun mystery/thriller with supernatural aspects involved, and of course, it includes all of our favorite characters from the Otherworld series; I love that the werewolves make an appearance in this novel. (Since the series started with Elena, I have a feeling that she and Clay will always be my ultimate favorites.) But I really would recommend this book for thriller lovers, I kept referring to it as the “supernatural serial killer” novel I was reading, and it fits so perfectly. Basically, Paige and Lucas agree to help the Cabals (supernatural mafia-like groups) to help find the person who’s been killing teenagers of Cabal employees. It follows the typical thriller-style of stories where they think they have the whole thing solved, but it turns out that they were missing a couple pieces of the puzzle, which makes for an interesting, surprising read.

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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.

Book Review: Real Murders by Charlaine Harris

Real Murders by Charlaine HarrisTitle: Real Murders
Author: Charlaine Harris
Series: Aurora Teagarden, Book 1
Publisher: Berkeley
Paperback: 290 pages
Source: Chicago Public Library
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

Lawrenceton, Georgia, may be a growing suburb of Atlanta, but it’s still a small town at heart. Librarian Aurora “Roe” Teagarden grew up there and knows more than enough about her fellow townsfolk, including which ones share her interest in the darker side of human nature.

With those fellow crime buffs, Roe belongs to a club called Real Murders, which meets once a month to analyze famous cases. It’s a harmless pastime – until the night she finds a member dead, killed in a manner that eerily resembles the crime the club was about to discuss. And as other brutal “copycat” killings follow, Roe will have to uncover the person behind the terrifying game, one that casts all the members of Real Murders, herself included, as prime suspects – potential victims…

Overall Rating: 3.5 out of 5

I’ve been trying to branch out of the Sookie Stackhouse series to see what else Charlaine Harris has to offer — after all, she started out as a mystery writer before she started the paranormal romance stuff, and I loved early Sookie for its wonderful mysteries and plot developments. So far, I have not been disappointed.

The main character, Aurora Teagarden is a librarian who is part of a group that meets occasionally to learn about famous historical murders and discuss them, so when she finds a dead body mimicking a famous murder, the whole group is put under suspicion. Overall, the premise is amazing. I loved how it just keep getting more complicated and dangerous for all the members of the murder club as more people were killed.

Aurora wasn’t my favorite character, however. I just didn’t know what to do with her. She was kind of boring and I hated the love triangle thing between her and the writer and cop. Like, how does such a boring person end up in a love triangle? She wasn’t even properly distressed about it. I felt like a lot of things about her personality didn’t match up. Since she is the main character, it affected my whole reading of the story. The plot itself is quite good and really just a solid mystery, but Aurora annoyed me quite a lot.

With that said, I still enjoyed myself. This is a quick read — the writing is light and easy, and the plot moves along at a steady pace. I’m definitely planning to read the sequels, if only to see if Aurora ever stabilizes as a character, and of course I’m interested to see what problematic situations Harris puts her in next.

I’d recommend this for mystery lovers and/or Harris fans. This is something quick to keep you interested, but definitely not “you must read this before you die!” material.

Book Review: The Woman Who Died A Lot by Jasper Fforde

the woman who died a lotTitle: The Woman Who Died A Lot
Author: Jasper Fforde
Series: Thursday Next, Book 7
Publisher: Viking
Hardcover: 366 pages
Source: Chicago Public Library
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

The Bookworld’s leading enforcement officer, Thursday Next, has been forced into a semiretirement following an assassination attempt, returning home to Swindon and her family to recuperate.

But Thursday’s children have problems that demand she become a mother of invention: Friday’s career struggles in the Chronoguard, where he is relegated to a might-have-been; Tuesday’s trouble perfecting the Anti-Smote shield, needed in time to thwart an angry Deity’s promise to wipe Swindon off the face of the earth; and the issue of Thursday’s third child, Jenny, who doesn’t exist except as a confusing and disturbing memory.

With Goliath attempting to replace Thursday at every opportunity with synthetic Thursdays, and a call from the Bookworld to hunt down Pagerunners who have jumped into the Realworld, Thursday’s convalescence is going to be anything but restful as the week ahead promises to be one of the Next family’s oddest.

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5

I am a proud Fforde fanatic, and I’ve sadly been a little lax in catching up with the Thursday Next series, but I’ve finally made it to this one! It’s really exciting when I get to read a book I’ve been meaning to read forever, so I was thrilled when I was able to request this from the library. I think it took me only a few days to get through it, because I was so happy to be back in this strange universe Fforde has created.

One of the things I’m most impressed about this series is how Fforde allows it to expand and grow. Seven books is a lot for one set of characters, but their stories don’t stagnate — it’s not seven books of a young Thursday Next fighting crime in the BookWorld; instead, she’s getting older now, and while she’s still focused on fighting crime, she has injuries and children and a husband, which means that each novel evolves to become a full-fledged story in its own right. I really love that and it’s sad how many series don’t allow their characters to develop and mature to another stage of life. Of course, with this particular universe, there’s a lot of flexibility for what Fforde can do, but I appreciate that he’s using it to its fullest extent.

I enjoyed the way this book developed all of the conflicts going on. I expected a lot of different things to happen, but I was always surprised by how things were resolved. As always, I appreciate Fforde’s humor; even when very serious, dramatic things are happening in the story, there is something to laugh about — a little embarrassing when you’re reading at work, but overall a good thing for the novel in general.

The new characters that are introduced in this book are amazing. I thought I was going to hate Phoebe Smalls for taking over what should have been Thursday’s position, but like Thursday, I grew to enjoy her enthusiasm and willingness to put herself in danger for the greater good. Without spoiling too many details, I also really appreciated reading about Tuesday’s attempts to be a normal high school student and the people she meets at high school.

This is a great addition to the Thursday Next series, and I’m so excited to continue the series when a new book comes out. If you’ve read the series, know that this one won’t be a disappointment. If you haven’t — it’s 7 books in, and I’m still loving it. If it sounds like your thing, give it a try. 🙂

Book Review: The Dark Unwinding by Sharon Cameron

Title: The Dark Unwinding
Author: Sharon Cameron
Series: The Dark Unwinding, Book 1
Publisher: Scholastic
Hardcover: 318 pages
Source: Chicago Public Library
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

When Katharine Tulman’s inheritance is called into question by the rumor that her eccentric uncle is squandering away the family fortune, she is sent to his estate to have him committed to an asylum. But instead of a lunatic, Katharine discovers a genius inventor with his own set of rules, who employs a village of nine hundred people rescued from the workhouses of London.

Katharine is now torn between protecting her own inheritance and preserving the peculiar community she grows to care for deeply. And her choices are made even more complicated by a handsome apprentice, a secretive student, and fears for her own sanity.

As the mysteries of the estate begin to unravel, it is clear that not only is her uncle’s world at stake, but also the state of England as Katharine knows it.

Overall Rating: 3 out of 5

I found out about this series when browsing through books from BEA 2013 — where the sequel was being offered as an ARC. For the most part, I just can’t read series out of order (knowingly, at least), so I left it alone and put this book on the to-read list. And yes, 3 years later, I’m just now reading it. Us bibliophiles have a problem with overly long to-read lists, yes?

I have to say that this one gets off to an incredibly slow start. It tries to be too creepy too fast, to the point where I really just didn’t understand what was going on in the first few chapters. Is it trying to be paranormal? Is it trying to be just average-run-of-the-mill creepy? No idea. I think that was the point, but I personally wasn’t into it. By the first 30 pages, I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to get through it, but I powered on, and it turned out to get better. Yay! It also doesn’t help that there seems to be a wide variety of genres used for this book, but by my judgment, it’s more alternate history/gothic than anything. (Especially steampunk — um, what?!) There are so many creep factors to it that it just feels dark the way only gothic books do. Anyway, once the book figures out what its story is supposed to be, it gets pretty good.

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Book Review: Grave Sight by Charlaine Harris

grave sight by charlaine harrisTitle: Grave Sight
Author: Charlaine Harris
Series: Harper Connelly, Book 1
Publisher: Berkeley
Paperback: 293 pages
Source: Chicago OverDrive
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

Harper Connelly has what you might call a strange job: she finds dead people. She can sense the final location of a person who’s passed, and share their very last moment. The way Harper sees it, she’s providing a service to the dead while bringing some closure to the living – but she’s used to most people treating her like a blood-sucking leech. Traveling with her step-brother Tolliver as manager and sometime-bodyguard, she’s become an expert at getting in, getting paid, and getting out fast. Because for the living it’s always urgent – even if the dead can wait forever.

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5

This is so different from the Sookie series — I love it! I’m hoping that future books keep the tone and don’t turn into straight-up romance novels like the Sookie series kind of did. A sex scene or two is fine, but I don’t want to feel dirty reading what I thought would be a nice thriller/mystery story. Anyway, back to the topic.

It’s refreshing to have a female character as complex as Harper — she has cool powers, a pretty twisted background, can take care of herself, and is yet still fragile and quite dependent. She’s not one of those kick-ass female characters who’s constantly beating people up — she actually has some fragility and problems with insecurities, and it’s beautiful. I really like her relationship with her brother, but I wish that his characterization were a bit more developed; I hope to see that in future books.

In terms of story, this one is quite good. Investigating crimes in small towns is an inherently creepy concept, considering that there are only a few suspects and how knows who could be in on the crime. This is no different, especially since the crime was left to be unsolved for such a long time before they called Harper in. This was a fairly fast read — nothing felt too dragged out, and I mostly enjoyed myself the whole time.

There is a sort of weird teenage-crush thing that goes on in this book where a teen falls in love with Harper’s brother. Nothing inappropriate happens, but it felt like a contrived way to get Harper and her brother to be involved in this character’s life, and I think it could have been done in a way that was far less creepy. It took me out of the story and just made me feel gross and uncomfortable whenever she came up.

Aside from that, this is an entertaining story with interesting characters and Charlaine Harris isn’t a best-selling author for nothing — the woman can write! If you like mysteries, definitely check this one out.

Book Review: “When Did you See Her Last?” by Lemony Snicket

Title: “When Did You See Her Last?”
Author: Lemony Snicket
Series: All The Wrong Questions, Book 2
Publisher: Little Brown
Hardcover: 279 pages
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

I should have asked the question “How could someone who was missing be in two places at once?” Instead, I asked the wrong question — four wrong questions, more or less. This is the account of the second.

In the fading town of Stain’d-by-the-Sea, young apprentice Lemony Snicket has a new case to solve when he and his chaperone are hired to find a missing girl. Is the girl a runaway? Or was she kidnapped? Was she seen last at the grocery store? Or could she have stopped at the diner? Is it really any of your business? These are All The Wrong Questions.

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5

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

I actually wasn’t a huge fan of A Series of Unfortunate Events (I tried, guys — I really, really tried!), so I was hesitant to pick this one up after a friend recommended the series. However, having read and loved Snicket’s short story in Half-Minute Horrors, I decided to give this one a try.

This is book 2 of Snicket’s new series: All the Wrong Questions. While I haven’t read book 1, I’ve never been a strict adherent of series order, so I read this one first anyway. Though I’m sure I missed some details, overall, I wasn’t confused by what was going on in the book, which I count as a positive.

Children’s books are my favorite for being able to teach kids to use their own imaginations and think for themselves. This one is no different in showing how ridiculous adults can sometimes be (guilty!), and how children sometimes see things clearer than we can ever hope to. As an adult, I love this sort of wake-up call, and I know that the children in my life love reading stories where they can see themselves as the independent, intelligent savers-of-the-day.

“When Did You See Her Last?” is a cute, funny children’s mystery with enough suspense and darkness to keep things interesting. The writing fun and playful — Snicket’s style in this book reminds me a lot of Roald Dahl, or a children’s version of Jasper Fforde. Like all the best children’s books, people of any age will be able to laugh at the humor in this. I certainly laughed aloud a few times, and my seven-year-old cousin was constantly giggling at the wordplay.

Honestly, it’s good enough that I’m considering re-reading the first few books of A Series of Unfortunate Events to see if my opinion has changed on them.

Countdown until book 3: a little less than 6 months. Can’t wait to see how this series develops!

 

Book Review: The Hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Title: The Hound of the Baskervilles
Author: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Publisher: Signet
Paperback: 160 pages
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

Holmes and Watson are faced with their most terrifying case yet. The legend of the devil-beast that haunts the moors around the Baskerville families home warns the descendants of that ancient clan never to venture out in those dark hours when the power of evil is exalted. Now, the most recent Baskerville, Sir Charles, is dead and the footprints of a giant hound have been found near his body. Will the new heir meet the same fate?

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5

I first read this book sometime in elementary school, and I’m not going to say exactly how long it’s been since then, but suffice to say that I don’t really remember the story all that well. It’s been on my “need to read again” list for quite awhile, and then my sister got me hooked on the show Sherlock (you guys, SO GOOD!), and after watching their modern rendition of the story, I felt the need to go back to the original.

The Hound of the Baskervilles is probably one of the best known Sherlock Holmes novels. It’s about a man who has just become the heir to the Baskerville estate; the only thing is, the Baskerville family is cursed to die from a hellhound that comes out at night. And Sir Charles, the man’s predecessor, seems to have died from that very hound.

There’s a reason why the Sherlock Holmes stories have been adapted — and is currently being adapted — into movies, TV shows, and other novels: it’s just good fun. The Hound of the Baskervilles is a standard Holmes mystery and doesn’t contain any real surprises or material that can’t be found in his other stories. However, as one of the longer stories, there is much more time to fully develop the characters and intrigues, which is nice. I always love seeing the relationship between Watson and Holmes. Also, I think that this story has some of the more interesting side characters that I’ve found in Doyle’s works.

The characters are familiar and loveable, especially Watson. God, do I love Watson. In this particular novel, there are so many surprises, I was thoroughly entertained from beginning to end. It’s also nice to read from one of the authors who has inspired today’s detective genre. I will say, however, that the novel has a fairly direct solution to the mystery (not nearly as complicated, or unfortunately, as intriguing, as Sherlock’s rendition). But overall, I enjoyed reading this story and think that any Sherlock Holmes or detective mystery fan will like it just as much.

Book Review: Storm Front by Jim Butcher

Title: Storm Front
Author: Jim Butcher
Series: The Dresden Files, Book 1
Publisher: ROC
Paperback: 322 pages
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

The novels of the Dresden Files have become synonymous with action-packed urban fantasy and non-stop fun. Storm Front is Jim Butcher’s first novel and introduces his most famous and popular character-Harry Dresden, wizard for hire.

For his first case, Harry is called in to consult on a grisly double murder committed with the blackest of magic. At first, the less-than-solvent Harry’s eyes light up with dollar signs. But where there’s black magic, there’s a black mage. Now, that black mage knows Harry’s name. And things are about to get very…interesting.

Overall Rating: 3.5 out of 5

I’ve been hearing about this series for awhile now — my undergrad college roommate raved about how awesome it was, so I was hoping for good things when I picked up Storm Front. For the most part, that’s what I got. This is a solid urban fantasy mystery with fun characters and a story that moves right along.

The main pull of Storm Front is that it’s simple, good fun. Grisly murders, a mysterious femme fatale, gangsters — this book has a lot going on in just 300 pages. And trust me, they fly by. I devoured it in just a couple of days because I had such a good time. It’s not just all the action either, though that’s a big part of it, but Jim Butcher is funny. I chuckled my way through this book, loving the way Harry was able to make fun of the crazy situations he fell into.

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