Tag Archives: thriller

Stalking Jack the Ripper


I have been waiting and waiting for this novel to come out, and was so afraid it wouldn’t live up to my expectations. Not only is the cover stunning, that incredible first sentence grabs you and won’t let go for the rest of the novel.

17-year-old Audrey Rose Wadsworth wants to be a scientist. Specifically, a forensic scientist, helping Scotland Yard solve murders and various crimes though post mortem examination of victims. The trouble is, Audrey Rose is the daughter of a lord in 1880’s London, and she should be attending teas and social outings, not cutting into dead bodies and searching for clues on the trail of vicious killers.

Her father has been teetering on the edge of insanity since the death of her mother five years before, while her brother flits from one area of interest to the next, all the while living the high life befitting that of a lord’s son. Her Uncle Jonathon, a forensics expert, does not see eye to eye with her father, and secretly tutors Audrey in the medical arts without her father’s knowledge.

And then Jack the Ripper begins his rampage through the underbelly of Whitechapel in London.

The actual identity of Jack the Ripper has never been discovered. There are theories galore about who the man might have been, but no one knows for sure. So he can be anybody. He tore through Whitechapel in 1888, preying on prostitutes, removing their internal organs after he slit their throats. One of the many thoughts were that he was a surgeon, or had some medical knowledge.

I loved the little touches throughout the novel like the period photos and blood splatter on the chapter headings. Talk about gruesome and evocative! What a way to set the tone.

Audrey Rose is an interesting character. She is willful and strong, and interested in more than teas and marriage. She wants to make a difference in the world, refusing to let society dictate her behaviour. Audrey is bi-racial, Indian and English, and I think not enough was made of that in the novel, beyond her enjoyment of traditional Indian snacks and the fact her Indian grandmother did not seem to approve of her English father.  Her mixed heritage seemed almost an afterthought thrown into the novel, with no real impact on the story.

Fellow forensics student Thomas Cresswell is witty and charming and intent of winning Audrey’s heart, regardless of the fact he is not a suitable match. I like him, although I was never quite sure through the story if the romance was believable out not. They never seemed to move beyond verbal sparring, despite the fact that Audrey did notice how handsome Thomas was almost every time they spoke. But then he would infuriate her, and she would back away. But he is an intelligent, enjoyable character, who kept me on my toes with the twists and turns of his backstory.

Uncle John and Lord Wadsworth are perfect sparring brothers, unable to see beyond past grievances to come together as a family. Aunt Amelia didn’t really have much impact on the story, despite her many appearances, but I did love Cousin Liza’s irreverent attitude and the obvious affection the two girls had for each other.

Debut author Kerri Maniscalco captures perfectly the tone and atmosphere of the time in her writing. Her use of language and description brings the reader right into the dark, damp streets of London, with fear lying as heavy as the ever-present fog.

The story is complex, and the pace quite slow and descriptive. Perhaps too slow and too descriptive. Every action, every outfit, every mood and every thought is described and attributed. Audrey never just stands, she stands proudly, or angrily, or regally. Thomas never just answers a question, he answers it haughtily or mysteriously or argumentatively. Uncle John never just speaks, he speaks thoughtfully or distractedly or moodily. Audrey smooths her intricately embroidered black dress, clenches her hands in the perfectly stitched gloves, and stumbles in her smooth blush silk slippers. Unfortunately, I got bogged down in all the description and found myself losing the thread of the story and having to re-read passages to get back on track.

As for the stalking that Thomas and Audrey do, I spent most of the novel waiting for it to actually occur.  I don’t think it ever did. The pair looked for him. They studied crime scene evidence and psychological journals. But they never actually stalked him.

The conclusion is wonderful. I loved the last chapter of the novel, how everything tied together, how relationships were resolved. Really well done.

This is a good start to a series. It is quite violent and gory, as a good Jack the Ripper story should be, so is not for the faint of heart. I found myself on the edge of my seat, despite any criticisms I have, and look forward to the follow-up books to see where Audrey Rose’s curiosity takes her next.

Stalking Jack the Ripper was published September 20th, 2016 by Jimmy Patterson.

Lockdown (Escape From Furnace #1)


When I am finished reading a book it usually looks pretty close to the way it did when I first opened it. I am obsessive about taking care of my books, I don’t break the spine, I don’t dog-ear pages. Not this one. The front cover is rough-edged and crumpled where I was gripping it and the spine is cracked and I think I might have bitten it because it looks like there are teeth marks on a few pages… Every fear I have ever had? Meet the written word.

Built after the “Summer of Slaughter” when teens in Britain ran wild on a murderous crime spree, Furnace Penitentiary is buried miles beneath the surface, the world’s most secure young offender’s prison. There is one way in, literally. And no way out. You get convicted of murder, you take an elevator down through the granite, and never see the surface again. The problem is, not everyone in Furnace is actually guilty.

14-year-old Alex Sawyer is a petty thief, spending his time shaking down kids on the schoolyard for their cash, breaking into houses for bigger scores. He lives large and thinks himself invincible. But then it all goes sideways.

Convicted of a murder he did not commit, Alex is sent to Furnace for life without parole. Death might be the better choice. Furnace is beyond imagination. Blood-coloured rough rock walls and pulsing with heat, it houses thousands of teens kept under control through fear of a fate worse than death. Think mutant beasts, giant men in black, inhuman creatures that take screaming boys from their cells in the dark of night, a warden that seems to hold supernatural control over both inmates and employees.

And the outside world could not care less. These kids are no longer their problem.

Deep breath. Whew. The characters in Lockdown are incredible. Alexander Gordon Smith has written teens that we all recognize and can relate to in some way. They handle the horror of Furnace believably: they scream in their sleep, they have nightmares, they band into gangs, they throw up their lunch and they look the other way when violence breaks out.

Alex is the perfect blend of stupidity and bravado and bad choices and a good heart. He is not a bad kid, just one who didn’t think about the consequences until it was forever too late. What starts as a life controlling the playground ends as one of terror. He fights to stay himself in a place that fights just as hard to rob him of his identity.

And the friends he makes in Furnace are also a great cross section. Donovan has a tough exterior that hides fear and desperation, Zee, like Alex, is innocent of the crime he serves time for, and needs friendship but fears reprisals, and Monty has a surprising internal strength that could get him killed.

Smith’s talent for description is mind-boggling. He draws such a vivid picture of hell under the earth that you will swear it must exist. Furnace is gang wars and hard labour and overwhelming exhaustion and fear and the blackest evil. It is tier upon tier of tiny two-to-a-room cellblocks that lockdown when the siren wails. It is the simultaneous fear of death and overwhelming desire for it.

The psychological aspect of this novel is completely and totally unnerving. Not only does the fear of telling the truth and not being believed resonate, but the use of total blackness and despair to control a population is terrifying to the extreme. Yes, of course you know that darkness can’t hurt you. Intellectually. But tell that to the 5-year-old that still inhabits your brain in the middle of the night when the power has gone out and you can’t see your hand in front of your face. Add the knowledge that there are actual things to fear in the dark in a hellacious prison, and you can start to feel the panic.

I wanted to stop reading this book. But it is told with so much suspense and in such a terrifying voice, it was impossible to put down. Alex’s voice is compelling and real and absolutely sucked me in to the point where I was begging out loud for him to survive as I tore through the pages.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go turn on all the lights and quadruple check that all the windows and doors are locked. And maybe put some furniture in front of them. And maybe let my two dogs sleep on my bed tonight. Just this once. Just in case.

Lockdown (Escape From Furnace #1) was published October 27th, 2009 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

Shallow Graves


17-year-old Breezy (yes, hippie parents) remembers everything about the day leading up to her death, but doesn’t know who killed her, or how she came to wake up in a shallow hole, digging her way up and spitting dirt from her mouth.  But a year has passed and a man lies dead next to her grave. Because of her.

So now she is alive, sort of; her heart beats and she breathes air when she remembers. And she is conscious of those who hide a murderous past. The shadows of former crimes follow certain people, and she can sense memories of past bad deeds. Breezy sets out to discover what she is, and if she can ever go back to the life she had planned. As you might have guessed, it isn’t that simple. There are those who would hunt her down, those who hate her unnatural state, who can sense what she is.

There are a lot of reasons this novel is impossible to put down. Breezy is the first one. She is strong and independent, curious and confident, with just a touch of vulnerability. She enters a world she previously had no idea existed, armed with strange abilities and facing a cult that wants her dead (or, really, more dead), and she fights her way to understanding and freedom. But it isn’t an obvious outcome, and her plight kept me turning page after page, and I had to force myself not to skip ahead. Her voice is authentic and matter-of-fact, and she faces incredible violence without letting it define her.

Added to the constant cliff-hangers are humour and character diversity. A ghoul joking about eating the dead, mermaid fight club, and chilling with the brownie in the basement, all bring unexpected laughs throughout the story. And a biracial and bisexual main character who accepts herself unquestioningly sends a positive message, without it feeling forced.

The secondary characters are equally well fleshed-out (a little zombie humour for you), with Zeke and Jake being my favourites. Rain is creepy and terrifying, and Violet is still a little girl trapped in a life she doesn’t know how to escape. And Willow and Mother just creep me out.

Flashbacks of Breezy’s family and friends provide great context for her personality while moving the plot along and adding information.

The book is a total page-turner. It is packed full of changing and unresolved threads and heart-stopping predicaments in a creepy world filled with monsters that had me reading just “one more page,” right up to the end. And the end lives up to the rest of the story. Breezy faces an unknown future filled with infinite possibilities and dangers, and makes the brave choice to leave her old life behind and charge into the unknown.

The writing is beautiful, with stunning imagery. Debut author Kali Wallace has a great take not only on death, but also on creatures and ghouls and monsters and things that go bump in the night. They are the monsters we have grown up fearing in the dark, but with unexpected twists and personalities. Maybe all is not as the myths have led us to believe…

The novel is an appropriate read for the full YA age range, but may have the reader looking at people suspiciously after finishing it.

Shallow Graves was published January 26th, 2016 by Katherine Tegen Books.

A Study in Charlotte (Charlotte Holmes, #1)


So, Holmes and Watson are not fictional characters. And Arthur Conan Doyle did not write about them. Actually, Sherlock solved the crimes, Watson wrote the books, and Arthur Conan Doyle was his literary agent.

Fast forward a century or so, and 16 year old Jamie Watson, great-etc. grandson of Dr John Watson leaves London on a rugby scholarship to a Connecticut boarding school, where he meets up with the great-etc. granddaughter of Sherlock, Charlotte Holmes. The two families have been linked since the beginning, but do not always get along. Charlotte has fascinated him for as long as he can remember. Once they meet, however, the imagined romance of their linked history is wiped away. She has no need of his presence.

But when a student is murdered in a copycat of a Holmes mystery, the two infamous cohorts are under suspicion. By everyone.

I was really looking forward to this one.  Then I started reading it, and I became annoyed. Charlotte annoys me.  Jamie annoys me. I realize it is a retelling of Sherlock, but the whole murder most foul at a ritzy boarding school with predictable characters is, well, predictable and annoying. (I need a thesaurus).  And the plot is confusing.

And I still stick by that, but admit, that for all my irritation, the book is hard to put down.

Charlotte has inherited not only her genius for detection, but also a drug addiction and erratic temperament from her famous forefather. Two things don’t ring true for me. The original Sherlock was an ass, but also had a quick wit and charm. Charlotte has neither.  She is not stupid, but comes across as rather spoiled and bratty, rather than charming.

And I find the way the drug addiction is handled in the story confusing; no one seems that concerned about it, it seems very much a “oh, she’s just like him.” I don’t think sending a teen to a posh boarding school is an approved way of dealing with a drug dependency.

Jamie is a bit boring as a narrator. Again, his personality does not always make sense. One minute, he has an uncontrollable temper, the next he is meek and mild, and doesn’t speak up for himself. He adopts the sidekick role with Charlotte, and allows her to call the shots, almost as if he has inherited the role, and can’t be bothered finding his own place.

The development of the friendship did, on the other hand, strike true to me. It happens over time, and seems genuine.

The plot is all over the place. Pacing was slow at times, and quite action-packed at others. The story has potential to be more, but I am not sure where the problem lies. A retelling needs to honour the original, while adding something new. And female lead aside, I am not sure this one accomplishes what it sets out to do.

I am really on the fence about this novel. It was hard to put down, Brittany Cavallari’s writing pulls you in, but I cannot honestly say it is enjoyable.

There is discussion of sexual violence, although no description of it. Drug use is, again, discussed but not described in detail. Any teen can read this book, but I am not sure whether it is better to be a Sherlock fan, or to not know the original to appreciate the story.

I think that this is a novel that the reader will either love or hate. It just didn’t do it for me.

A Study in Charlotte was published March 1st 2016 by Katherine Tegen Books.

The Silence of Six (SOS #1)


What is the silence of six, and what are you going to do about it?

After hacking into the live-streaming Presidential debate at Granville High, and asking the candidates to answer the question, an anonymous member of hacker group Dramatis Personai kills himself on screen. Except he isn’t anonymous. Former hacker Max Stein recognizes him: 17 year old Evan Baxter, a genius hacker, code name ST0P, and Max’s best friend. And now dead.

Just moments before the hack, Max received an encrypted text from Evan, with an apology, a plea for help, and a warning. Post-hack, the government shut down the school’s wifi, confiscates the students’ technology, and sends them on their way. And all of a sudden Max is on the run, in danger and up to his neck in conspiracy, hacking, and privacy issues.

This story has everything.

Main characters Max and Penny are fantastic. And I didn’t like either of them, in the beginning. That changes as they develop throughout the story. Max has flaws, but he recognizes and tries to deal with them. Penny is a loner, ready to run, a hacker who knows she could be caught at any moment. But she learns to trust Max as he learns to trust her, and they form a strong team in their search for the information Evan left behind.

Evan, although he leaves the story early, is present throughout as the two hackers follow his clues and unravel the mystery that led to his death. His character is wonderful; diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, he is obsessive about privacy, organized, and loyal.

The plot is fast-paced and original. Author E.C. Myers not only gives the reader a thrill ride with high speed chases, men in black, genius teenage hackers, and just-in-time escapes, but also delves into the concept of privacy, and social media as a tool for gathering information and control. What is the connection?

The tech giant Panjea runs a Facebook-like site that connects users and gathers information. What is happening to this data? What is it being used for, and by whom?

The “anonymity is good, government is bad” message is a bit heavy handed, but does keep the narrative on track.

My one criticism of the novel is the info dump that seems to take place every time Max or Penny or anyone with a computer turns it on. Information is great. And I know next to nothing about coding and hacking, so a bit of knowledge is good. But even I don’t need to know absolutely every keystroke that Max takes to delete a file. Or download one.

The author has added an interesting dimension to the story with a website, a YouTube channel, a blog, and a tumblr account that appear in the book, although they have not been updated since early 2015. With a sequel in the works, however, this could change.

Keeping in mind the graphic description of Evan’s death in the first chapter of the book, The Silence of Six is still appropriate for the entire YA age range, and serves as an interesting commentary about what we choose to share online. It is original and exciting and makes you wish you could surf government servers just for fun.

The Silence of Six was published November 5th 2014 by Adaptive Books.

Illuminae (The Illuminae Files)


There was a lot of hype surrounding this book leading up to its release.  I didn’t read it right away, because I was afraid of being disappointed.

I wasn’t. It more than surpasses expectations.

So. Take an artificial intelligence that goes off the deep end, add collapsing space-time, throw in an exploding planet and an intergalactic war between megacorporations, plus an insanity-causing deadly plague that spreads like the aforementioned exploding planet, toss in a dash of teenage romance just to spice it up, and you have book one in The Illuminae Files trilogy. Mind? Prepare to be blown.

In the year 2575, 17 year old hacker genius Kady Grant breaks up with Ezra Mason, and really isn’t looking forward to facing him in school.  But then Kerenza, their ice-bound speck of a planet in the far reaches of the galaxy, is invaded by BeiTech, and the ensuing destruction makes her reevaluate her priorities.  Number one is no longer avoiding eye contact. Now it is survival. Kady and Ezra fight their way through explosions to the evacuation ships, where they are separated.

And that’s just the beginning. They are not out of the woods yet. As the ships travel across the universe looking for safety, they are pursued and attacked, the plague spreads, and the AI that is supposed to guide them and keep them safe seems to have become an evil overlord. Ezra is conscripted as a Cyclone pilot to help with defence, and Kady uses her hacking skills to find the truth.  And Ezra and she learn they have to depend on each other to survive.

This book is written with the sci-fi/fantasy/thriller loving reader in mind. Fans of  Battlestar Galactica and Star Trek and Firefly will see shades of all the beloved series throughout the plot.  That is not a complaint (I love them all), it is a compliment. Illuminae is one spectacular thrill ride.

This isn’t your average novel.  Authors Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff have put together pages of hacked e-mails, interviews and documents, along with security footage, stolen medical reports and military files, to tell, by far, one of the COOLEST stories ever.

The characters are fabulous, the world building AMAZING (just the entire galaxy) and the plot an absolute page turner. It is a huge book (600 pages!) but the story never drags.

Ezra and Kady are great characters. Kady is not your typical YA heroine; yes, she is smart and independent, but she is also an antisocial computer nerd, used to getting her own way, not an overly friendly person. Ezra seems weak by comparison at first, but that changes as he discovers his own courage and drive to expose the truth of what happened on Kerenza. And he is funny. The secondary characters are ALL, without exception, a perfect supporting cast.

Because of the unique story-telling style, there isn’t an info dump anywhere in the novel. You have to pay attention to every sentence to get the information, because the course can change with one short e-mail. And the ending!! I don’t know when the second book is due out, but I think I might actually need time to recover from the first…

And holy crap.  LOOK at that cover. If you can do it, it is worth the price to get the hardcover edition, just to hold it in your hands.  Gorgeous. Not to mention the fact that so much of the story is in the visuals, and an e-copy just can’t do it justice.

Illuminae is published by by Knopf Books for Young Readers.

The Madman’s Daughter


And now for something completely different. Creepy, dark, grotesque, gothic, Victorian, crazy, twisted, The Madman’s Daughter is inspired by H.G. Wells’s sci-fi thriller, The Island of Doctor Moreau, and it is an entirely new take on the classic.

16 year old Juliet Moreau is barely keeping it together in 19th century London. She works as a maid cleaning up at King’s College Medical School at night, attends church, lives in a small boarding house with 20 other lonely girls, and does her best to survive. For the two years after her mother’s death, Juliet has been alone, trying to live down the scandal that has plagued her family since her father’s disappearance six years before. Her prospects are non-existent.

In desperation, she follows rumours to a coarse, dirty inn, hoping that her father still lives. She instead finds his assistant, and her family’s former stable boy, Montgomery, collecting supplies for the return trip to the tropical island her father now inhabits. She joins the excursion, and discovers the depths of her father’s madness, discovers that the rumours of scandal were not exaggerated, discovers an island of horrors, discovers that even if she can leave the island, there might be no escape.

Megan Shepherd has created a grisly gothic tale that will stay with you long after you close the cover. Juliet is a puzzle solver, thirsty for knowledge, a girl who has had to turn her back on her genteel upbringing and make it in conditions not many could dream of surviving. Montgomery is a young man caught between his desire for Juliet, his lifelong obedience to his master, and his scientific curiosity. Dr. Moreau is soulless. A madman convinced of his superiority.You will have to judge Edward for yourself.

There is a love triangle, which, if you have read this blog before, you know I am not the biggest fan of this device. While not needed, however, it actually works in this story. In fact, it adds a counterpoint of normalcy to a twisted dark story, and serves to highlight the terrors of the island, leading to the unexpected end.

You want great world building? Shepherd does an impeccable job with both Victorian London and the tropical island. Dark street corners, damp, badly lit basements, creepy jungles and echoing screams will set your teeth on edge. You’ll want to read this one with the lights on, doors locked, and not on a windy night when tree branches might hit the window.

I read this book as a stand alone a few years ago, and didn’t realize it was the first in a trilogy until just recently. The second and third are inspired by Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.

Given the strange nature of the plot, this book is probably better suited to teens, 14 and up. Make sure you have someone stand guard at the door. Just in case…

The Madman’s Daughter is published by Balzer + Bray

The Fixer


YA political thriller? Sign. Me. Up. Here is a book that will throw your head for a loop and shake your brain. EVERYTHING in this novel is a plot twist.  Nothing is as it seems. I loved it. I don’t care if it was realistic or not, this story sucked me right in. It is great.

Tess Kendrick has spent most of her 16 years on her grandfather’s ranch, after the death of her parents when she was young. But her grandfather has early onset Alzheimers, and Tess can’t care for him much longer.  Her estranged sister, Ivy, uproots her to D.C., and Tess enters a new world where power determines status.

She transfers into Hardwicke Academy, the exclusive private school for children of the Washington elite, where politics and power also rule. She bonds immediately with her tour guide, Vivvie, never guessing that this casual friendship it will lead into conspiracy and intrigue of her own.

There is the mysterious death of a Supreme Court Justice, backroom negotiations, political arm-twisting, mysterious pasts and relationships, as well as a bit of life-and-death bargaining thrown in, just in case you get bored. (You won’t.)

The characters are fantastic.  Tess is a straightforward, sarcastic, self-assured teen who takes crap from no one. She learns quickly that nothing is for free, and it is all about what she has to offer in return. Her entourage of Vivvie, Emilia, Asher and Henry are all distinct voices on their own, with believable personalities and influences on the action.

The adults, who I often think don’t get a fair shake in YA lit, are distinctive as well, with their own backstories and intrigues that play well with the teens’ storyline. Sister Ivy and her cohorts Adam, Bodie, and the host Washington power brokers she mingles amongst are all well defined.

The plot was totally the kind of conspiracy and intrigue that you imagine goes on behind the scenes in politics – whether it be in Washington, Ottawa, London or anywhere else. You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours. You get rid of my enemy, I’ll funnel cash or contracts or position your way. Ruthlessness and power. It’s awesome.

And at the end, a cliff-hanger.

Author Jennifer Lynn Barnes is no stranger to YA fiction, but this is a new direction for her, and one I hope she continues on. Hint: a sequel, please?

This book is great for any teen, and any adult who wants an evening of sitting on the edge of your seat, holding your breath and tearing through the pages.  It is not relaxing.

The Fixer is published by Bloomsbury.