Sunday, January 31, 2016

The Black Crow Conspiracy by Christopher Edge

The Black Crow Conspiracy is a fun read aimed at readers in middle school, but still very much able to be enjoyed by older readers as well. It tells the tale of Penelope Tredwell, who is secretly the writer behind the immensely popular Montgomery Flinch stories in her family's magazine, the Penny Dreadful. 

But Penelope has writer's block, until an anonymous letter provides inspiration for a thrilling new story about the theft of the Crown Jewels. All seems well, until the police arrive, insisting that Penelope's story is truth rather than fiction. Desperate to clear her magazine's name, Penelope begins her own investigation, but soon encounters a mysterious science society that seems to have ties to the recent sightings of "radiant boys", glowing green men who can walk through walls.

The Black Crow Conspiracy takes the thrilling penny dreadful stories of the past, and makes them family friendly, weaving together a strong and smart female protagonist, some history, and a supernatural flair. This is the kind of book I would recommend for a school library to not only get kids interested in reading, but to give girls a heroine they can look up to.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

The Secrets of Lizzie Borden by Brandy Purdy

I received an ARC of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This did not effect my opinion of the book or the review itself.

This book is structured almost as a diary of sorts, offering an author-imagined version of Lizzie Borden's life, from her early years until her deathbed.

Lizzie is our narrator, and it is through her eyes we are allowed into the inner workings of her heart and mind. Real historical figures make appearances, including the various members of the Borden household and their servants, as well as celebrities of the time such as Nance O'Neil.

Purdy speculates on if Lizzie did indeed commit the murders she has become infamous for, the actual relationship between Lizzie and her sister Emma, and Lizzie's sexuality and tragic experiences with love and loss.

Of course, we cannot know for sure if what Purdy imagines was actually true for Lizzie, but it makes for an interesting read nonetheless. Purdy's writing style can all too frequently lean heavily towards the melodramatic unfortunately, especially when describing matters of the heart, which can certainly be off putting.

I wanted to read this book because I am fascinated by true crime, and the Borden case is one of the most famous unresolved crimes in history. I would recommend this book to those like me who want to read more about the Borden murders, and gain possible insights into Lizzie herself. I'm not sure anyone not already interested in the case would find the book gripping enough to stick with it.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Five Friday: Five Recommended Books That Start With "E"

This is Part 5 of my ongoing Alphabet Series. Once again, I've tried to pick books that might not be as well known, or that I haven't talked about on this blog very much if at all.

1) Elephants on Acid and Other Bizarre Experiments by Alex Boese

After reading this book, I immediately went back to the library and took out every other book Boese had written. He covers unique, fascinating nonfiction topics (including his work on historical hoaxes) and is a great writer to boot.

2. The End of Everything by Megan Abbott

Everything Abbott writes is brilliant, and this is no exception. She is especially adept at writing psychological thrillers that also explore the deep, complex bonds between female friends.

3. Extracurricular Activities by Maggie Barbieri

The Murder 101 books make up a really fun cozy mystery series. As a teacher myself, the fact that the protagonist is a teacher is a bonus.

4. The Emperor of Ocean Park by Stephen L. Carter

This is one of those books that I immediately recommended to others as soon as I finished it. Carter expertly weaves together deep discussions about race, class, and familial ties, all while spinning together a gripping mystery.

5. The Empty Glass by J.I. Baker

This is a fictionalized take on the possible conspiracy surrounding Marilyn Monroe's death, and a book that will leave you thinking about it long after you've closed the cover.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Downward Facing Death by Michelle Kelly

I received an ARC of this book from the publisher in exchange for a review. This did not effect my opinions of the book or the review itself.

There was a lot to like about this cozy mystery. As a vegetarian who meditates and likes yoga, having the protagonist be a woman opening up a vegetarian cafe/yoga studio was pretty fantastic. There were meditation tips at the end of most of the chapters, which was great as well.

And the ending! The ending had a twist I did not see coming, which always makes me happy, and the buildup was well-done. The setting of this story really came alive as well, as did the various characters. The one main "mean girl" did come across as somewhat one note, but the other characters felt well fleshed out.

The only real negative I can think of centered around the romance. I really enjoyed the love interest and their slow burn, but I felt that Kelly's writing got a bit hokey and cliched whenever it came to describing the more romantic elements of the story.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Jackaby by William Ritter

"Miss Rook, I am not an occultist," Jackaby said. "I have a gift that allows me to see truth where others see the illusion--and there are many illusions. All the world's a stage, as they say, and I seem to have the only seat in the house with a view behind the curtain." 

Abigail Rook has always wanted adventure. Fresh off a failed attempt to infiltrate an archaeological dig, she finds herself in a town in New England, desperately searching for a job. She stumbles onto an advertisement seeking an assistant, and finds herself suddenly working for R.F. Jackaby, a seer who solves mysteries the police can't quite seem to figure out themselves.

I have heard this book described as Sherlock Holmes meets Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and I would say that is definitely accurate. The supernatural elements are expertly woven into the mystery, which lends a creepy and fascinating atmosphere to the book itself. The ending has a great twist, and no part of the book disappoints.

I look forward to reading more books in this series!

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

The Ghost and Mrs. Mewer by Krista Davis

I knew I wanted to read this cozy mystery as soon as I read the back cover. It takes place in a town that is dedicated to people and their pets, where every restaurant has a pet-friendly version of their meals, and the hotel has rooms specially designed to make pets and their owners happy.

Then add in a ghost hunting team, a mysterious legend of a female spirit and a decades old murder mystery, and you've got a recipe for a fun read.

And this was a fun read. The protagonist, Holly, has just recently moved back to town after leaving her job in the city. She's come back to help her grandmother run the local inn, just in time for Halloween, a big deal in Wagtail. She stumbles onto a dead body, attends seances, and takes her dog and cat trick or treating, and it's all just lighthearted enough to be a great cozy winter read.

Monday, January 18, 2016

He Killed Them All: Robert Durst and My Quest for Justice by Jeanine Pirro

I have been fascinated by the Robert Durst case ever since I first saw the movie All Good Things, and learned it was based off a true story.

Then came The Jinx, which is what seems to have brought about this book.

Pirro is both the problem and the solution when it comes to He Killed Them All. She has inside information and anecdotes no one else would be able to share. But she also centers a lot of the book on herself, what she has gone through, with a lot of all caps and exclamation points used.

To be fair, she does lay it out in the title-it's about her quest for justice. And she did have to go through quite a lot as a woman in a position of power. I just wish someone had done just a bit more editing before this book went to print.

But regardless, it is a fascinating read. Pirro takes readers through the case from beginning to present day, dissecting what has happened and what she believes to have happened. I found especially interesting the sections where she dissected each episode of The Jinx.

I would definitely recommend this book for readers of true crime, as well as anyone who watched The Jinx. 

Friday, January 15, 2016

The Case of Lisandra P. by Helene Gremillon

I received an ARC of this book from the publisher in exchange for a review. This did not effect my opinions of the book or the review itself.

I wanted to like this book so much more than I actually did.

It has a really intriguing premise. The wife of a psychoanalyst is found dead, having fallen (or been pushed) from the window of the home they shared. A patient of the husband takes it upon herself to solve the mystery and free who she believes to be an innocent man.

Where this book went astray for me was, first and foremost, in the formatting. This is an ARC copy, but nonetheless there were so many errors in the formatting it constantly took me out of the story.

Paragraphs would suddenly be broken up by the end of a sentence that began in a different paragraph.

The story itself would be written in pages long paragraphs, no indentations, no line breaks, frequently with no identification of who was speaking when, or where in time or space the characters were.

The title and the author's name would randomly appear in the middle of a page nowhere near the front of the book.

I think, at least in my opinion, the author did not know exactly what they were trying to accomplish with this book. Page after page would be filled with philosophical repetitive ramblings on topics such as sex, love, and gender, which would eventually lead my attention to wander. There was subplot after subplot that, with the formatting, ended up being confusing and sometimes tedious.

What the author did right, for me as a reader at least, were the two twists at the end. I was so happy to see the book returning not only to its promised mystery format, but providing me with a surprise that brought me right back into the story. I also felt the author did a good job weaving the heartbreaking history of Argentina's "disappeared" into the story.

Would I recommend this book? Sadly, no. The ending unfortunately could not make up for everything else.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

What She Knew by Gilly MacMillan

I received an ARC of this book from the publisher in exchange for a review. This did not effect my opinions of the book, or the review itself.

"Be careful what you assume, is what I'd say to that. Be very careful. I should know."

Rachel Jenner's son Ben is missing. This readers know this from the start; Rachel tells us directly. But that is all we truly know.

What She Knew explores exactly that-what can we truly ever know, about ourselves, about those we love? Every character has something in their past or present yet to be revealed. If we can lie to others, others can lie to us. While the story is ostensibly the hunt for a missing child, and all the emotional and professional turmoil that entails, it is also the story of what it means to be human, to be family, to be a best friend, to be a mother. It is a cautionary tale to assume nothing.

What She Knew is also a suspenseful mystery with a well-done plot twist ending, and a book that utilizes the format of social media and book and newspaper excerpts well. This is a read I would definitely recommend.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

The Island of Dr. Libris by Chris Grabenstein

Billy is dreading being stuck staying in Dr. Libris' cottage all summer. There's no TV, no video games, and worst of all, Billy's worried his parents are splitting up.

But then he discovers the locked bookcase in the massive library. When he starts reading, he swears he can hear the stories coming to life on the mysterious island across the water. But that's impossible...right?

This is a simple read, but an enjoyable one, especially for booklovers. Billy is essentially living the reader's dream, and readers have a blast living it right along with him. The ending feels a bit rushed, and a bit simplistic itself, but that doesn't spoil the fun.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

A is for Arsenic: The Poisons of Agatha Christie by Kathryn Harkup

This is a really unique non-fiction read, with Harkup examining Agatha Christie's novels through the poisons she chose for her murderers to use.

Each chapter is centered around a different poison and a different Christie mystery. In each chapter, Harkup gives the scientific background of the poison, as well as examples of real-life cases where the poison was used. The end of every chapter is an analysis of the ways the poison was used in Christie's books.

If you are a fan of Agatha Christie, I strongly recommend this read. Even if you think you might be put off by the science aspects, give it a go. I am in no way a science expert, and haven't taken a science class since high school, but I still found this book fascinating.

Monday, January 4, 2016

Thirty-Eight Witnesses: The Kitty Genovese Case by A.M. Rosenthal

I received this book from the publisher in exchange for a review. This did not effect my opinions of the book, or the review itself.

I distinctly remember being shocked and horrified by this case when I first learned about in my Social Psychology class in college. As I began to read more and more true crime, I sought out books on Kitty Genovese (two of which have recently been published, only one of which I have so far read).

This is the original book on the subject, reissued for a new generation of readers hungry to understand just what happened. Rosenthal was a newspaper editor who not only sent his reporters out on the case, but was the first to break the story of the thirty-eight witnesses and their famous "apathy". 

Though the book originally came out over 40 years ago, it still feels relevant today. Rosenthal forces his readers to examine the hard-hitting questions no one truly likes to think about: 

What would I myself have done if I was one of those thirty-eight? 

Would I have acted any differently? 

Do I act any differently in my everyday life?

Am I just the same as those thirty-eight infamous witnesses?

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Asylum by Madeline Roux

Students have gathered at an academic summer program, where their dorm is a former asylum. Three students-Dan, Abby, and Jordan-quickly bond together, and begin to explore their mysterious surroundings. Feeling themselves drawn to the off-limits areas of the building, they discover old photographs and files that seem to somehow trigger terrifying events all around them.

This is the first book in a trilogy, and a reread for me. I had read and really enjoyed this book, but was unable to get the other two from my library. I ended up buying the trilogy with some of my holiday money, and am really excited to finally get to read them all.

The characters are interesting, though they occasionally come off as a little one-dimensional. Once we start learning more about their backgrounds, they come across as much more fleshed out. Roux uses found photographs from abandoned asylums, and they definitely up the creepiness factor of the story. The story is gripping, and scary, and keeps you reading to find out more. 

I will be starting the second book very soon!