Stalking Jack the Ripper

It really has been a while since I’ve posted on here — not that I have a steady stream of readers regardless, but perhaps this is a great metaphor for my own brain. I can get sidetracked quite easily and, most importantly, forget about the things that make me happy. Like reading and reviewing.

Recently I found myself in a book slump. Perhaps it’s because of the wonderful Sarah J. Maas and her crazy detailed and intricate worlds of both A Court of Thorns and Roses and Throne of Glass series respectively. I had devoured the ACOTAR series as if I were addicted–which I still think I am–and assumed that I would fall head over heels for the TOG series as well, however that didn’t necessarily happen. While I did enjoy reading the first four books (excluding the prequel), I didn’t love it as much as I worship ACOTAR. So when I finished book four, Queen of Shadows, and preordered the paperback edition of book five, Empire of Storms, I realized that I didn’t know what to read next. I felt so burnt out after churning books one through four so quickly that I couldn’t even fathom picking up the first prequel just yet. But that meant that I wasn’t reading, and that further meant that I wasn’t happy.

I didn’t even know where to begin searching for my next book. Did I want something silly and easy, like a summery beach read? Did I want something more serious and captivating like Sarah J Maas’ stories. Furthermore, did I desire a book in actual book form or would an ebook suffice? The only place I could turn to was my Amazon book wishlist. I scanned that list for books that I had been putting off reading because of price or mood and was able to select three that I knew I had been wanting to read for some time. So I bit the bullet, bought two actual books and one ebook.

The one ebook is Stalking Jack the Ripper by Kerri Maniscalco.


 

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Stalking Jack the Ripper by Kerri Maniscalco
Published by Jimmy Patterson on September 20th 2016
Genres: Historical Fiction, Romance, Science, Feminism
Pages: 337
Source: Amazon // Goodreads // Barnes and Nobles

Final Review: 5 out of 5 ★★★★★


I’ll briefly touch on why I decided to go the ebook route. I have some interesting qualifications on buying an actual book. When I worked in a bookstore, these qualifications went out the window and I hoarded paperbacks and hardcovers alike. But now that I am free of that temptation, I have to be a little bit more selective. Does the book speak to me in a way that I know, for sure, that I will enjoy it, therefore making it worth the price of a fully bound book? Then buy it. If not, that’s reason number one for ebook. Secondly, and far less important is whether or not I like the cover art. Why buy a book and display it if I’m not really a fan of what it has to offer? On that note, I live in a NYC 500-square-foot apartment with only ONE bookcase. I know that I can always make room for books–hide them under the bed, remove the TV and just stack books there, throw them in drawers or closets–but I don’t think my boyfriend would appreciate that.

Stalking Jack the Ripper has interested me for a while, but I didn’t know how well it was going to be. To totally toot my own horn, I actually know more about Jack the Ripper than the average bear. My dad’s cousin is renowned Jack the Ripper researcher and author, Patricia Cornwell. I’ve also lived in London for six months and did two separate Jack the Ripper walking tours. So I’ve been there done that. This is why I didn’t know how well Maniscalco’s was going to hold up to my already extensive knowledge. Wait–should I be admitting how much I know about Jack the Ripper? Is that weird? Probably.

What actually happened was I was totally blown away by Stalking Jack the Ripper. Maniscalco really did her research and made the story so believable. It did not feel campy or too believable–why do you know so much about it Maniscalco? Have something you need to tell us? Just kidding!

Audrey Rose is amazing. It’s that simple. By taking a story that has been told and talked about for over one hundred years, one would think there isn’t anything to really say anymore. But Audrey Rose takes on a separate discussion regarding the murders–feminism. And not because the Ripper’s victims were all women and prostitutes, but because women were not allowed to be curious during the 1800’s. Audrey Rose must disguise herself as a man in order to attend medical classes with her uncle. The other women in her life, like her aunt and cousin, do not agree with her choice of career–if it were up to them, she would be embroidering, applying makeup and wearing lace gloves, and, being married off to the chief inspector. Instead, Audrey Rose demands to be involved in the Ripper’s murders as an apprentice under her uncle who examines the bodies post-mortem. She craves to be in the action and will help these female victims regardless of what her society deems appropriate for women to think/do.

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Replica

I feel like the only books I’ve read lately are good books. The only reviews I’ve been leaving are either 4 out of 5 or even 5 out of 5 stars. Does this make me a bad reviewer? I’m too lenient? Perhaps. Or it just means that there are so many good books out there that deserve that 5 out of 5 stars on a nobody’s blog.

Replica is, obviously, not going to break this streak.

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Replica by Lauren Oliver
Published by Harper Collins on October 4th 2016
Genres: Science Fiction, Suspense, Friendship, Romance, Family, Coming-of-Age, Heartbreak
Pages: 544 (total); 284 (Gemma); 236 (Lyra)
Source: Amazon // Goodreads // Barnes and Noble

Final Review: 5 out of 5 ★★★★★


It has been quite a long time since I have read a book so original (at least to me), so overwhelmingly new, that I had a hard to grasping it (note that the other recent book that made me feel like this would have to be A Court of Thorns and Roses). And I mean this literally, the book, being flipped in my hands every chapter to read from a new perspective is so refreshing and it gives my fingers a workout.

The storyline and characters are not the only unique quality of this book. Creative-genius Lauren Oliver doesn’t simply write this story, but instead puts a piece of art work in our hands. For once, the actual book is part of the story. Almost like a children’s choose-your-own-adventure, Replica is split down the middle; one half consisting of the tale told through normal girl Gemma’s eyes, the other half is the same story, just told through the Replica, Lyra’s, eyes. The reader can decide if they want to read one half and then the other, or, how I read it, they can flip the book over after every chapter, going through each scene with both girls.

Now I will admit that while I find this groundbreaking, it can be tedious. The storyline is just so good that the physical act of closing the book, flipping it, finding the right chapter, reading it, then flipping it again is sort of maddening. I just want to read! I want to absorb Gemma and Lyra’s lives into my own, to learn everything i can about them, and having to constantly flip the lengthy hardcover book in my hands is annoying. This face alone almost made me demote the book to only 4 stars. But Oliver’s story saved it.

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The conversation about AI and other robotics is bubbling over the hidden and obscure online sources into everyday talk. From philosophers to celebrities to idiots like me are talking about the the prospect of artificial intelligence in our near future. This is most likely made popular by the sudden stream of AI-related movies and shows like Ghost in the Shell, Ex Machina, Westworld, and others. Suddenly, it’s all anyone can think about in the science fiction realm. Which is why my brain instantly went to AI and the notion of consciousness in a robot when reading through Lyra’s tale. It seemed too easy, though, and it turns out, I was wrong. Lyra isn’t a robot (though all signs point to that in the beginning) instead she is something more grotesque, something more unearthly that confuses the reader to even consider. Sure, we are more accepting of Scarlett Johansson as a crazy, assassin robot that can become invisible, but now (spoiler!) human cloning that actually works? That is just insane!

And yet Oliver has thought of this world. She has done her research too, painstakingly providing details the reader didn’t even know they needed. As if she were playing God, Oliver creates all necessary information to convince both Gemma and those that help her, as well as the reader, that this is, in fact, really happening. From news articles and eye-witness accounts to a plethora of websites with information, Haven Institute becomes something I question why I’m not Googling it now myself. Much like how Tolkien completely births his world, as does Oliver. There are no loose ends or unanswered questions.

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So I’ve talked about the physical book itself, the craziness of the plot, meaning all that is left now is to discuss the beauty in Oliver’s characters. I’m not really sure which girl, either Lyra or Gemma, is my favorite. Probably Lyra because for being a clone with no knowledge outside of Haven, she is incredibly pensive and self-assured about herself. Even when the truth behind Haven Institute hits her square in the face, she is still the same girl. Even when her own truth, about her haunting past, arises before her, she is still a girl that loves The Little Prince and the stars, finds reading a necessity, and has such genuine emotions towards fellow clone, 72.

In my opinion, Lyra’s use in this novel is to demonstrate the unworldliness that we treat our bodies and the bodies of others. Sure there is more science fiction to that, as well as plenty of other ways to read Oliver’s tale, but the body is so important, to Lyra and to Gemma, that one cannot read a page without thinking about it. Lyra is tempted to understand every anatomical drawing and reference sheet available to her eyes throughout Haven; Gemma is self-conscious about her weight, looks, and past illnesses. The Haven Institute itself is using bodies for biological warfare. Not weapons or computers, but people. The human anatomy is now both the trench and the battlefield.

What happens when we as a society put so much emphasis on the body that it becomes the norm to replicate it, to dupe others into believing that a body could be so meaningless and easily replaceable? How easy it would be, with the technology used at Haven, to quickly mass-produce “beautiful people” and do away with any “flaws” such as beauty marks, cellulite, crooked noses, imperfect breasts, eye color, hair color–all of which, today, we already do away with. There are doctors setting up right now for surgery on a person who doesn’t think they are pretty enough to be a part of society. A hair stylist is mixing pigment for a client who insists on having rose gold hair because she saw it on Pinterest and wants her Instagram followers to like her even more. There are lasers and zappers, at home DIY treatments and expensive, anesthesia-requiring surgeries that are performed every day for someone to change the way they were born, to change the way they were created. We take advantage of our bodies every second.

Lyra: She had never showered alone before and it felt wonderful: the big echoey bathroom, the space, aloneness of it. Was this how all people lived? It felt luxurious to her (130).

And then there is Lyra who doesn’t even know, isn’t even capable of knowing what is actually happening to her. And she is so enthralled by something so simple, like a shower, a cellphone, a children’s book, a chart of the heart, that we too, as readers, are forced to question the smaller things that we have always overlooked. Can you imagine how incredibly amazing our nervous system is? Working without us telling it to, without us really even noticing that it’s working at all. We would notice when it stops, of course, but for the most part, our brain is firing off signals all over our body and we’re too preoccupied with an online fail video to think about it.

Lyra is a child at heart, curious and questioning, ready to discover something new in something Gemma has considered old. Pens and paper, ready for anything, is Lyra’s playground. She doesn’t need a tablet computer, the new gaming console, TV streaming and what else. She craves knowledge from things we have since forgotten to care about: ourselves.

She is equally intrigued by the male body, and rightfully so. Since she hasn’t had any proper training on human anatomy, only peeks through books and charts, when she and 72 are no longer at Haven, but instead away from what seems like a concentration camp, Lyra begins to learn the true lessons of love: watch and wait or else you get burned:

Lyra: She’d been interested in the males, of course–curious about them–but shed also learned that curiosity led to disappointment, that it was better not to want, not to look, not to wonder (131).

How innate is that! For a girl, never allowed to interact with the boy clones, she naturally understands that being curious about someone else, someone that she doesn’t quite understand and ultimately finds attractive, can lead to failure and she is scared of that. We’re all scared of that.

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Gemma as an equally hard time figuring out who she is as well. She identifies as an “alien,” her and her best friend April are “aliens” compared to the pretty, popular girls at school. She believes she is a “freak” because of all the illnesses and surgeries she’s had, the scars showing out of her gym clothes, as well as her weight. She’s embarrassed by it all, and since the girls at school continue to make fun her for both, why shouldn’t she be embarrassed? Women, both young and old, are having to live to such ridiculously high beauty standards that the second someone steps out of line, whether it be with ten pounds extra weight or a scar from a life-saving surgery, they no longer fit the mold and are ridiculed. Ironically, Gemma’s “normal” world would prefer their women be like clones–mass produced and beautiful, not individually but as a whole. Whereas Lyra’s world craves individuality in the case with the scar on Lyra’s forehead, though ugly to her, sets her apart from the other–a clone that is different.

Gemma begins to realize, quite quickly too, that there are many more things to be worried about and to fuss over than her weight. When she meets a guy, two guys actually, who really don’t seem to care that she’s slightly over the normal weight of women, her thighs roughly caressing each other when she sits down, she can’t accept that they don’t see her that way. Then she meets Lyra and realizes that she’s been absolutely bonkers for thinking about her thighs when there have been people being experimented on. Strange, how it takes something so drastic for us to wake up and stop caring about how we look.

But Gemma is not a bad person, she is real. She’s a real girl suffering from self-doubt and her own issues. She is a great representer for young women today–dealing with body image, boys, family, school, friends, and moving.

Gemma: But she had already cried…and today she felt nothing but a strange, bobbing sense of emptiness, as if she was a balloon untethered from the earth, slowly floating away into nothingness (33).

Yet she experiences such dramatic and life-altering things that it’s surprising she comes out of it so strong. This book is definitely a coming-of-age tale, but not in the traditional sense. Gemma is forced into her coming-of-age. Instead of struggling with normal teen problems, like her body, Gemma is thrown into a whirlwind of horrors as she discovers her father’s secret. She realizes then that her own issues are minute compared to that of Lyra and 72’s. How can someone sit and obsess over their body when someone next to them is skin and bones because of experimentation? Gemma quickly matures from teen drama to heroine as she defends the rights of Lyra and 72, demanding her parents respect them and her.

Gemma: There was no time, only change, only atoms rotating, only Gemma and Pete and Rick Hairless and a love so turned around and imperfect and blind it could only be called faith (260).

She becomes insightful and courageous, something she never dreamed she could be. Her life obviously changes throughout this book, both for the good and the bad, as she discovers who and what she really is, what her family really is, and who she wants to be in the end.

If you are interested in anything science fiction, want a twinge of romance, and heart-stopping suspense then this is surely a read for you. Oliver has crafted such a unique tale that battles for recognition. It has been a while since I’ve read something so heartfelt and genuine and overall different in the Young Adult category. Thank you Lauren!

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The Sun is Also a Star

If you’ve read Everything, Everything, then you know just how realistic in both love and heartbreak Nicola Yoon can be. The Sun is Also a Star does not shy away from the desire for romance and understanding, and the devastation of losing that.

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The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon
Published by Delacorte Press on November 1st 2016
Genres: Contemporary, Romance, Family, Coming-of-Age, Heartbreak
Pages: 384
Source: Amazon // Goodreads // Barnes and Nobles

Final Review: 4 out of 5 ★★★★☆


Nicola Yoon’s stories are unlike many young adult novels out there. They are not heartwarming. I do not set the book down after the last page feeling content. Instead, I am empty, devoid of all emotion because the previous pages have taken all of my feelings out of me already. I am somber when finishing one of her books; a book-hangover sure to set in at any moment. They are simply that captivating.

Like in Everything, Everything, Yoon starts off right away with introducing characters most readers are unfamiliar with reading about. For example, The Sun is Also a Star revolves around Natasha, an illegal immigrant from Jamaica, and Daniel, an Asian-American. Normally, being a white female myself, when reading I input my own thoughts and images for the characters unless they are greatly detailed and in Yoon’s stories, they are. By doing this, Yoon brings race into the story without even directly acknowledging it yet. Of course in this book race is a factor that Natasha and Daniel must deal with, but Yoon simply is creating a space for minority people to have their moment as the protagonist. Both Daniel and Natasha struggle with their identity. Who are they besides their race? Is Natasha really not American simply because she wasn’t born there? Is Daniel not American enough because he still likes Korean food and culture? Furthermore, how can the two of them have a relationship with the other when their parents are racist too?

Not only racial identity, but personal identity too. Neither understand what they want to do in the future. Daniel feels obligated to please his parents into getting into a highly ranked medical school, but he doesn’t feel passionate about that–not like he does with poetry. Natasha, on the other hand, simply found a path that has the best outcome for getting a job at the end.

All of the feelings Yoon weaves into the fabric of Natasha and Daniel are so real that anyone reading will connect in some way or another. Whether it because of race or the fear of deportation because of the US government today, or perhaps more simple, the desire to please our parents versus pleasing ourselves. And finally, to connect with someone so closely, so spiritually, that you love them literally within first sight. Just like how Daniel did with Natasha. That feeling is so strong and overwhelming; it’s desperate and urgent, forcing Daniel to blindly follow Natasha and demand to know more about her. Of course there are the skeptics, Natasha is one of them:

Natasha: The sheer number of actions and reactions it’s taken to form our solar system, our galaxy, our universe, is astonishing. The number of things that had to go exactly right is overwhelming. Compared to that, what is falling in love? A series of small coincidences that we say means everything because we want to believe that our tiny lives matter on a galactic scale. But falling in love doesn’t even begin to compare to the formation of the universe (page 203).

And when the day begins to wind down, a fight has ensued, and the light at the end looks grim and dull, Daniel too has his moments of doubt:

Daniel: Maybe it’s better to end things this way. Better to have a tragic and sudden end than to have a long, drown-out on where we realize that we’re just too different, and that love alone is not enough to bind us (page 195).

And yet, neither can let go. Yoon expertly creates a love story that doesn’t feel cheap or overdone. It feels raw, the energy ripping off the pages, almost taking the ink with it. It surrounds the reader, allowing them to become either Natasha, or Daniel, or both and experience their love first hand.

Daniel: I put my hand on he waist and bury my fingers in her hair. Anything can happen in the breath of space between us. I wait for her, for her eyes to say yes, and then I kiss her. Her lips are like soft pillows and I sink into them. We start out chaste, just lips toughing, tasting, but soon we can’t get enough. She parts her lips and our tongues tangle and retreat and tangle again. I’m hard everywhere but it feels so good, too right to be embarrassed about. She’s making little moaning sounds that make me want to kiss her even more (page 169).

The description of Natasha and Daniel’s passion for each other leaves me breathless. All I can think when reading these scenes is “Damn, I want to be able to write like that.” I would have given this book five out of five stars if it didn’t make me hurt so much inside. Please read this as well as Everything, Everything if you are interested in a real love story. Nothing about damsels or high princes; something that is instead raw and emotional, something that any reader anywhere can feel and connect to. Nicola Yoon, you have once again won my heart within the first chapters, stolen it like a cunning thief and then proceeded to crumple it like a piece of scratch paper and then smash it on the ground. You are wonderful.

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The Bone Witch

Finishing more than 400 pages, I am enthralled but also so confused–what even happened, Tea? Please tell me what happened to you. The story is written in such an interesting and different way. Every other chapter takes place in the present. This is where what a journalist would be from this world, named Bard, finds Tea in her exiled land, and is determined to learn her story. She tells him her past, how she became an asha and how she got to the strange and desolate place she is today, which brings the reader to the next chapter, told through Tea’s perspective and set in the past.

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The Bone Witch by Rin Chupeco
Published by Sourcebooks Fire on March 7th 2017
Genres: Fantasy, Thriller, Magic, Romance, Family, Mystery
Pages: 432
Source: Amazon // Goodreads // Barnes and Nobles

Final Review: 4 out of 5 ★★★★☆


Picking up this book off of the Barnes and Noble bookshelf initiated both curiosity and fear–feelings I think Tea had felt many times during her asha training. The description boded more fear than what I actually read; something about reading about someone who raises the dead, add a skull on the cover, and you have a scared Shelby. And yet…I needed to buy it. Perhaps Tea was speaking to me through the book, guiding me to her strange and enticing story. I am both very glad that I picked up this book, but also still confused.

I think the most amazing part of the book is that while creating an intensely detailed world, Chupeco still finds time to have an interesting gender-related conversation. Tea, being a young and inexperienced girl, gets immediately thrown into the frightening, yet glamorous life of being a bone witch apprentice after accidentally raising her brother from the dead. Though clearly terrified (and rightfully so), instead of being silent, Tea stands up to the women before her, making sure her small, but extremely significant voice is heard.

I never did understand why the role of an asha was restricted to women alone. In the course of my wanderings, I have seen men who could be just as graceful as women. Men who, with the constant training we have had to endure, could perhaps rival even the likes of Lady Shadi. Are there any male dancers in Drycht? (page 178).

Not only does she question why men are not allowed in the asha world, she also goes to wonder why women are not allowed on the battlefield alongside the men.

“Death seekers are aware of the risks they take whether they face off against an azi or a tiger cub, a monster or a human…[T]his must be left up to the men. They are prepared to sacrifice their lives; we are not prepared for you to do the same” (page 355).

And this is just one topic Tea decides to cover–she knows that she is here, in this world, to change something. Whether it is the way royals and high asha think of other genders, to how the asha and citizens look upon the daeva. Tea is going to change something. But once the reader gets the ending, we still don’t know what that might be.

Give this book a read if you’re interested in something completely new and different. Not only is the story unlike anything else I’ve read–Tea has so many dimensions to her and there are so many more characters besides her!–the story structure is original as well. This allows more characters to be introduced (like Bard) as well as even more information regarding Tea’s life.

The only thing that I didn’t enjoy about this book is that I still don’t really know what happened. Many things happened–raising dead rats here, old kings there, a brother before, and demon devas later–and yet, the ending. I was disappointed that there wasn’t more greeting me at the end. We learn through Bard that Tea is extremely strong and has a new plan of her own–it doesn’t include the relationships we have grown accustomed to in her storytelling. But then the book ends with Tea looking onward to the destruction she is about to generate. I read on Goodreads that Chupeco is planning on writing a sequel, and I believe this is almost necessary. I am left with so many stories about Tea and her sisters, Tea and Fox, Tea and her love interests, and yet, nothing to tie anything together to. I need something more!

PS. Chupeco, can we get a glossary of words in the back of the next book? I realize, while re-reading my review here, that I am unsure whether to try and describe what each word is, or if I should just leave it for my readers to figure out on their own.

“Everyone is a puzzle, Tea, made of interlocking tiles you must piece together to form a picture of their souls. But to successfully build them, you must have an idea of their strengths as well as their weaknesses. We all have them,” [Polaire said] (page 275).

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Caraval

I actually don’t even know how to write a review for this book! There is just so much happening on every page and, at first, I really disliked it; there was too much going on, so many different characters and events to pay attention to, that I felt lost in translation. Perhaps I was overwhelmed because it’s been a while since I read a book that completely transfers the reader to a different time and place. There are many twists that lead the reader down different winding paths, allowing them to think they understand whats going on, but then completely changing what was originally going on. So while writing this, if I disclose any spoilers, I will make sure to alert before hand.

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Caraval by Stephanie Garber
Published by Flatiron Books on January 31st 2017
Genres: Fantasy, Thriller, Magic, Romance, Family, Mystery
Pages: 416
Source: Amazon // Goodreads // Barnes and Nobles

Final Review: Both 3 out of 5 (in the beginning) ★★★☆☆                                                             and 5 out of 5 (at the end) ★★★★★


In one of my previous posts, regarding the firsts of 2017, I mentioned the first WTF book I read of the year being The Graces by Laure Eve, and the runner up is this book here: Caraval. Welcome to the strange, yet mystical world of Caraval, where a fantastical circus meets a late 1800’s theme park, mixed with the game Clue. There are magical shops that sell one of a kind items only found at Caraval, dresses that are bought not with money, but with truths like biggest fear, most kept secret, etc from the buyer. Now while the people need to be invited to the mysterious island and city of Caraval, there are two ways they can participate: either the person can be a watcher and spend the five days exploring, shopping, and ultimately watching the game that’s taking place before them. Which is the other way the people can participate: by being a part of the game. The game is different every time Caraval opens and revolves around clues that the players need to discover. Which is where the main characters, sisters Scarlett and Tella Dragna, enter the game.

I’m not sure if this is planned, but Tella is my least favorite character. I mean, how dare she do this to her sister! I can’t give away what happens in the end–spoilers: there are tons of twists and turns!–though while Tella is annoying and selfish (to me) she is also brave and curious, leading Scarlett to amazement. I think what kept me the most entranced was the relationship between Scarlett and Julian. It’s the classic hatred turned love, and yet so much more. What about Scarlett’s relationship with the infamous Legend, even though she has yet to meet him, there is certainly a connection there. Scarlett’s love for both men is just beautiful:

She imagined loving him would feel like falling in love with darkness, frightening and consuming yet utterly beautiful when the stars came out…

She remembered thinking falling for him would be like falling in love with darkness, but now she imagined he was more like a starry night: the constellations were always there, constant, magnificent guides against the ever-present black (page 211 and 273).

The reader is taken on a wild goose chase throughout the canals and winding streets of Caraval as Scarlett and Julian are forced to search for the (spoiler!) now missing Tella. Much like Scarlett, the reader has absolutely no idea what’s going on and yet pushes through, desperate to understand what is happening in this strange game. Scarlett is certainly the most admirable character in the book–her only goal being to find her sister and right every wrong. She’s charming and innocent, but strong too; she’s strong enough to endure the craziness that Legend puts her through, the emotional ride that comes with Julian, and her own self-growth.

Garber’s world of Caraval is as captivating as the message of sisterly love portrayed by Scarlett and Tella. I want more from Garber and, though I’m not sure if there is a sequel coming out, the ending does leave much to the imagination and sets up for a sequel. I am desperate for more of Julian and Scarlett, and I still have no idea about Legend! So please, Stephanie Garber, give me some more! I want to feel the magic of Caraval envelop me again, it comes off the page and sucks the reader in. I can feel myself there at times, seeing the shops and bourgeois dresses, the scent of popcorn and candy mixed with apple cider and river, the laughter of the watchers as they observe the players scattering around. We feel all the emotions that Scarlett does, we are surprised with her too, just when we think we’ve figured it out, Legend has something else up his sleeve for us. The reader can feel it all as if she were a part of it, as if we were invited and are playing the role of the watchers.

Hope is a powerful thing. Some say it’s a different breed of magic altogether. Elusive, difficult to hold on to. But not much is needed (page 318).

If you were given an invitation to Caraval, would you be a player, or a watcher?

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Jackaby

This is an old book! I’m not sure why no one has told me to read it, seeing as it has two sequels and it’s really good, but alas, I had to find it on my own and I’m glad I did.

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Jackaby by William Ritter
Published by Algonquin Young Readers on August 25th 2014
Genres: Fantasy, Thriller, Historical Fiction, Romance, Friendship, Mystery
Pages: 304
Source: Amazon // Goodreads // Barnes and Nobles

Final Review: 4 out of 5 ★★★★☆


The quote on the front of the book, by the Chicago Tribune, somewhat accurately sums up this book: “Sherlock Holmes crossed with Buffy the Vampire Slayer”–I’m not sure I see the Buffy part, other than banishing demons, but certainly the Sherlock Holmes part. Particularly because Jackaby himself is quite quirky and odd, much like Sherlock or the eleventh Doctor.

The story follows immigrant Abigail Rook, who, coming from England, is searching for a job that can pay her enough so she can live, and seeing as it’s 1893, finding a place to sleep at night in the warmth is important. She stumbles upon an advertisement for Jackaby, an assistant in his investigative service, and the rest is the book. What really drives readers in is the mystery entwined with fantasy to the point that it seems real: there is some sort of demon on the loose, killing victims for their blood (oh here’s the vampire reference). Abigail, never having heard of any of this before, is of course bewildered but stays strong, thinking the murders are a mere sick joke.

What makes this book different however, which is important because the similarities to Sherlock Holmes are quite striking, is the charming demeanor of everyone but Jackaby. Of course he’s going to be odd, carrying around tons of random objects in his pockets, drinking potions that allow him to see through walls and what not–all of this is almost expected seeing as it is a piece of fantasy writing. However, having Abigail be a strong and smart woman–she wanted to be a paleontologist!–instead of necessarily a damsel in distress (she does have her few moments though, since we all do!) makes for an interesting pair. Ritter also could have made Abigail and Jackaby love interests to each other, and refreshingly so, he didn’t. Instead, there are certainly underlying backstory regarding Jackaby’s past, as well as Abigail’s, that keeps the reader turning the pages.

Furthermore, the non-lead characters, such as the ghost roommate, Jenny and the strange ghost-seer Hatun, are potentially more intriguing and just as influential as Jackaby. Women are important in Jackaby’s life, in fact all the female characters, save for a few classic strumpets who hate Abigail for not being more proper, are linked to the fantastical realm and are sought after by Jackaby. Hatun, for example, is described as:

see[ing] a different world than [Abigail] or [Jackaby], a far more frightening one, full of far more terrible dangers, and still she chooses to be the hero whom that world needs. She has saved this town and its people from countless monsters countless times. That the battles are usually in her head does not lessen the bravery of it. The hardest battles always are (104).

Hatun may be called the crazy lady that takes care of an invisible troll to the towns folk, but to Jackaby, she is truly necessary in solving this case. Jenny, the ghost roommate, makes Abigail feel more at home, being the one to talk her down when the magical realm becomes too much her to handle, and allows her to steal the clothes Jenny can no longer wear (since she’s a ghost). Miss. O’Connor and Mrs. Morrigan are, as well, crucial to the murder investigation. And, of course, Abigail, being another set of eyes for Jackaby at all times. Ritter may unconsciously or consciously alerting the readers that no man can ever truly do anything on their own, and when they do, in the case of the bad guy (no spoilers here!), they will undoubtedly get caught by a woman.

At first, I was really hoping this story would be an historical, fantastical twist on the classic Jack the Ripper open case. Jack the Ripper being some sort of fantastical, demon-like creature, that instead of stealing organs to do god knows what with, is either eating them or using them for something else, much like the strange creature Abigail and Jackaby face here. Then, Jackaby, being able to see things that no one else can, would understand that he is simply a misunderstood demon and needs to be sent forth from our world–that’s how I would have wrote this story and maybe in one of the sequels, the story continues (I wouldn’t know, I haven’t looked at them yet).

Please give this book a chance, given its age, if you’re interested in something fun and quirky to read. Jackaby is laughable and the character relationships are deep. I haven’t decided if I’m going to pick up the next two books, more because I have so many books to read already and less because I don’t want to. Jackaby doesn’t necessarily end on a cliff hanger, but it certainly does end with the reader interested in learning more about the dynamic duo.

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Strong Female Protagonist

I feel so strongly about this comic; everything about it speaks to me as a writer, as a young adult (okay I’m 22, but still), and most importantly, as a woman.

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Strong Female Protagonist writing by Brennan Lee Mulligan; illustrations by Molly Ostertag
Published by Top Shelf Productions on November 25th 2014
Genres: Comics, Feminism, Coming of Age
Pages: 220
Source: Amazon // Goodreads // Barnes and Nobles

Final Review: 5 out of 5 ★★★★★


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First, I’m going to express my love for the title: Strong Female Protagonist. Mulligan and Ostertag are pretty much me when it comes to procrastination, and but then run with it. This title sounds like something they typed into the file’s title just to be able to find it on their desktop later–and that is the brilliant part of it. It’s so commonplace that you can insert any female into the title. It tells the reader exactly what they need to know, what they should know, about the piece. This comic, like Paper Girls, is in silent conversation with the feminist talk of today. As I’ve noted in my Paper Girls 1 and 2 review, the mere fact that this comic follows a girl, instead of a boy lead, already turns the stereotype of comics on its head. Comics used to be a hobby for boys, and I think it’s safe that to say to some extent it still is. Most of today’s comics feature male superheroes or female leads wearing barely any clothing on–who is that for I wonder? Don’t get me wrong, though, the male lead comics are still entertaining for anyone of any gender, but that’s why I love comics like this one and Paper Girls. Girls are now the superheroes, but they aren’t without their flaws or regular pants and shirts. In some cases they are children, like in Paper Girls, or college students, as in SFP, who try to juggle school, friendship and romantic relationships, and supervillians.

This brings me to the other amazing part about this comic: the storyline. There is no cheesiness to be found here, folks. Ostertag and Mulligan have thought about how a real teen hero would react to her hidden identity and sudden super strength. Alison Green never once enjoys being called a hero–she much prefers being unnoticed all together. She knows that as a superhero for the town, her profession comes with broken relationships as well as hatred from the common people. No tax-paying individual wants to deal with a destroyed city once Mega Girl and her gang are done battling some radioactive villain. So Mega Girl faces a lot of backlash. On top of this, Alison is still young–young enough to be unsure of her path and who she wants to be. Does she want to hang up her cape? Is being a superhero for a town that seems to hate her really worth it? Is she suffering as a consequence? Sure, I’m not a superhero during the day, but I was once a college student and understand the struggle that resides in someone who separates themselves too far–between school, romantic interests, social life, and a job, it’s hard to know which way to turn when they all need you at once.

Ostertag and Mulligan create this young woman and give her the ability to be a hero, though she doesn’t need to have super strength in order to do that. The reader watches Alison repair relationships with her younger sister and family, the relationship hurdles that all growing teenagers find themselves in; as well as friendships when she does decide to take off the mask. How does she handle a drunken, but offensive statement from a friend? Or a friend that uses her as a punchline? So Ostertag and Mulligan use super strength as a medium to converse about the real issues, issues all young women are facing today–hatred, confusion, frustration, identity, masculinity and patriarchy, our own bodies, and so on.

Finally, the art style is just so lovable. It comes across as classically comic-like as well as sketchy, something that someone drew offhand and then was told it was good enough to be turned into something–there is something remarkable about that. This comic doesn’t need perfection in the drawing, or realism for that matter–the storyline is certainly real enough. By keeping with the classic cartoon-like style, the illustrator shifts the focus to the dialogue and plot line, as well as keeping with the 180 degree comic twist. So it looks like a regular comic, feels like a regular comic, but is made for strong women who want to be everyday heroes.

Please read this comic if a real female superhero is your cup of tea–no skimpy, tight “superhero turned stripper” outfits. Also read this comic if you like classic comic art style, funny, but real relationships, and overall coming of age tales. I desperately want the creators to come out with Book 2 in trade paperback, but for those that cannot wait, please continue reading their amazing work at: strongfemaleprotagonist.com.

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