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Book Review: A Study in Charlotte by Brittany Cavallaro

Young Adult Book Review

A Study in Charlotte by Brittany CavallaroA Study in Charlotte by Brittany Cavallaro
Published: March 1st 2016 by Katherine Tegen Books
Format: Paper Book
Length: 336 pages
Genre: Mystery, Crime, Romance, Retelling
Rating: 3 stars
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The last thing Jamie Watson wants is a rugby scholarship to Sherringford, a Connecticut prep school just an hour away from his estranged father. But that’s not the only complication: Sherringford is also home to Charlotte Holmes, the famous detective’s great-great-great-granddaughter, who has inherited not only Sherlock’s genius but also his volatile temperament. From everything Jamie has heard about Charlotte, it seems safer to admire her from afar.

From the moment they meet, there’s a tense energy between them, and they seem more destined to be rivals than anything else. But when a Sherringford student dies under suspicious circumstances, ripped straight from the most terrifying of the Sherlock Holmes stories, Jamie can no longer afford to keep his distance. Jamie and Charlotte are being framed for murder, and only Charlotte can clear their names. But danger is mounting and nowhere is safe—and the only people they can trust are each other.

A Study in Charlotte is the first in a trilogy.

I have a love for all things Sherlock Holmes. You can thank PBS and Jeremey Brett for that. I spent many a Saturday morning watching Holmes reruns when I was a teenager. A Study in Charlotte by Brittany Cavallaro is not the first time I’ve come across a book inspired by the great detective and his faithful doctor or even the first time I’ve read one that changed one character’s sex to female. I always dread when this happens because, inevitably, the author uses it to create some sort of awkward and unappealing romance between the pair. Such happens in A study in Charlotte.

In this world, Sherlock Holmes and John Watson were real. Arthur Conan Doyle was Watson’s literary agent. Both of the men have descendants and those (poor) descendants are where our story focuses. First of all, the characters themselves. I adored our female Holmes. Charlotte is everything you might want in a Holmes character and I love how Cavallaro works with young Charlotte, how growing up under the shade of THE Sherlock Holmes can leave a person worse for wear. The Holmes family grooms their children to be like Sherlock. For Sherlock, it was nature, but for Charlotte is was nurture. She was forced into this and that abuse (let’s face it, it’s abuse) has molded her into a strange homage to her ancestor but has left Charlotte herself with a bevy of mental problems. Can Charlotte deduce and reason crimes and murders? Yes. Is she mentally sound? No.

The Watson character has it no easier. James (for some reason his nickname is Jamie but it’s barely used in the text, confusing more than a couple of people reading the book jacket blurb) is basically manipulated into meeting Charlotte , has anger issues, and has the unfortunate fate of trying to save the heroine with the power of his love. (gag) James is really brainwashed into loving Charlotte by his father, who himself is obsessed with the Holmes family. Seriously obsessed. Watson Sr. is crazy cakes, people. Charlotte and James are two very troubled kids drowning under the weight of their famous predecessors. They are both so broken that it’s hard to look away.

I was enjoying A Study in Charlotte immensely until it became clear that Cavallaro was angling to have them end up in a relationship. Because a boy and a girl have no ability to be anything other than romantic lovers. (That was sarcasm right there.) I liked Charlotte and James’ friendship. They are both trying so hard (and mostly failing) to cope, that finding a kindred spirit is surprising to both of them. Then it derailed into relationship land. I did enjoy the rest of the book. The use of actual Sherlock Holmes stories to pattern the murders after was fun. The tongue in cheek bashing the characters do over the inaccuracies in the original stories was entertaining.

The actual mystery is so-so. It started out really tight and griping and then sort of peters out. Charlotte is touted as being really good at solving crimes, Scotland Yard asks her to solve crimes even though she’s a teenager, but then it turns out she’s really not all that great at it here. I don’t know. Maybe I was just frustrated and annoyed that the plot didn’t seem to be going anywhere about 3/4 of the way through the book. I don’t know how a non-Holmes fan will take this book. If you don’t know what to expect with a Holmes character, Charlotte will come across as unlikeable. Most of the draw here is the Sherlock Holmes angle. Other readers might not like this as much. I think most of my enjoyment of A Study in Charlotte by Brittany Cavallaro was derived from my fondness for the Sherlock Holmes stories rather than any quality of this book.

Thank you for reading!

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Book Review: The Children’s Home by Charles Lambert

Adult books but not erotica. Supposed to be ages 18 and over but I’ve known mature teens to be fine with adult books. Adult books have mature situations, maybe non-graphic sex, and are not meant for young kids.

The Children’s Home by Charles LambertThe Children’s Home by Charles Lambert
Published: January 5th 2016 by Scribner
Format: Paper Book
Length: 210 pages
Genre: Horror, Mystery, Gothic, Creepy
Rating: 2 stars
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For fans of Shirley Jackson, Neil Gaiman, Roald Dahl, and Edward Gorey, a beguiling and disarming debut novel from an award-winning British author about a mysterious group of children who appear to a disfigured recluse and his country doctor, and the startling revelations their behavior evokes.

In a sprawling estate, willfully secluded, lives Morgan Fletcher, the disfigured heir to a fortune of mysterious origins. Morgan spends his days in quiet study, avoiding his reflection in mirrors and the lake at the end of his garden. One day, two children, Moira and David, appear. Morgan takes them in, giving them free reign of the mansion he shares with his housekeeper Engel. Then more children begin to show up.

Dr. Crane, the town physician and Morgan’s lone tether to the outside world, is as taken with the children as Morgan, and begins to spend more time in Morgan’s library. But the children behave strangely. They show a prescient understanding of Morgan’s past, and their bizarre discoveries in the mansion attics grow increasingly disturbing. Every day the children seem to disappear into the hidden rooms of the estate, and perhaps, into the hidden corners of Morgan’s mind.

The Children’s Home is a genre-defying, utterly bewitching masterwork, an inversion of modern fairy tales like The Chronicles of Narnia and The Golden Compass, in which children visit faraway lands to accomplish elusive tasks. Lambert writes from the perspective of the visited, weaving elements of psychological suspense, Jamesian stream of consciousness, and neo-gothic horror, to reveal the inescapable effects of abandonment, isolation, and the grotesque – as well as the glimmers of goodness – buried deep within the soul.

Have you ever felt like you’re are just too dumb to understand a book? The Children’s Home by Charles Lambert made me feel like that. The first half was interesting. A disfigured recluse, Morgan, suddenly finds his home full of mysterious children, who come to him in ways he can’t quite figure out. They offer Morgan acceptance through their innocence and a connection to the world beyond his estate and the high walls that surround it. But the children are peculiar and seem to have an objective that Morgan cannot figure out. They do not act as he thinks children should act and have an uncanny ability to know when their noise is not wanted and when danger is near. Then the story takes a sharp left into weirdville and lost me.

The Children’s Home had a lot of elements that I enjoyed. I really loved Morgan. He is an interesting main character. He drifts through the house like a ghost until events force him to reattach to the world. The kids are creepy. We’re not sure if they are or aren’t a product of Morgan’s lonely imagination. It has a gothic setting in a world apparently ravaged by some disaster or war, a world we’re not sure still exists outside the estate’s walls. There was a period where I thought the world had ended and Morgan was the last person alive, everyone in the manor a product of his mind. The tense and eerie atmosphere is chilling and a delight. But the second half is incomprehensible.

For the life of me, I can’t figure out what the second half is supposed to mean. Is there a wider meaning to the vague World War 2 gas chamber reference? Is it commentary on how we are (literally in this case) sucking the life out of the younger generations just to keep functioning as a society? Is there something with parallel universes going on that is in no way explained at all? Is David some sort of messiah? Are the children some work of a magical source? As Morgan asked himself many times in the story, who are these children?

The Children’s Home by Charles Lambert has some compelling and violent imagery. The events are unsettling and memorable. It is a sinister gothic horror but lacks resolution into a satisfying whole. The reader becomes impatient with the children’s evasiveness and we have no resolution by the end. We are left just as clueless as we started. We are given no context during the story and learn no details of the state of the world or the source or purpose of the puzzling children. In all, The Children’s Home by Charles Lambert left me confused and unsettled, wondering, like the characters, if I had somehow missed the point.

Thank you for reading!

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Book Review: A Pocket Full of Murder by R.J. Anderson

middlegradeBook Review: A Pocket Full of Murder by R.J. AndersonA Pocket Full of Murder by R.J. Anderson
Published: September 8th 2015 by Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Format: Paper Book
Length: 340 pages
Genre: Mystery, Magic, Fantasy, Poverty
Rating: 3.5 stars
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In the spell-powered city of Tarreton, the wealthy have all the magic they desire while the working class can barely afford a simple spell to heat their homes. Twelve-year-old Isaveth is poor, but she’s also brave, loyal, and zealous in the pursuit of justice—which is lucky, because her father has just been wrongfully arrested for murder.

Isaveth is determined to prove her innocence. Quiz, the eccentric eyepatch-wearing street boy who befriends her, swears he can’t resist a good mystery. Together they set out to solve the magical murder of one of Tarreton’s most influential citizens and save Isaveth’s beloved Papa from execution.

But each clue is more perplexing than the next. Was the victim truly killed by Common Magic—the kind of crude, cheap spell that only an unschooled magician would use—or was his death merely arranged to appear that way? And is Quiz truly helping her out of friendship, or does he have hidden motives of his own? Isaveth must figure out who she can trust if she’s to have any hope of proving her Papa’s innocence in time. . .

A Pocket Full of Murder by R.J. Anderson was a predictable but enjoyable read. The main character, Isaveth, was a touch annoying to me; too much of a goody two shoes and a special snowflake. The identity of Quiz was fairly obvious, as was the ‘bad guy’. I liked the world building and the magical system Anderson created. The creation of a kitchen witchery system with spells baked into cakes was neat and inventive. (Magic cookies!) The book centers on a lot of politics, which is interesting to see in a middle grade book. This is also the second book I’ve read lately with strong themes of racism and prejudice; this time focusing on the religious. Isaveth and her family are Moshite; a fantasy parallel used in place of Judaism and, in my mind, Islam. The Moshite are treated as lower class and denied jobs and resources due to their religion, even among the other poor people living in the same slums they are living in. Like The Lightning Queen by Laura Reasu, this book is an examination of class, poverty, and racism, this time in a magical setting.

My favorite part is Isaveth using fanfiction as a coping mechanism. Deprived of her favorite mode of entrainment and relaxation when her family is forced to sell their radio, Isaveth writes her own stories for the radio play she usually listens to. I was tickled to see fanfiction represented here. I also liked the moral implications of Annagail and Isaveth denying their religion just to be treated fairly. By merely hiding the most visible indication of their religion, their Mother’s prayer scarf, Annagail is able to get a better job as a maid, rather than slaving away in a sweatshop. It brings into harsh light how irrational and arbitrary racism and prejudice is. Meggery, the head maid, likes Annagail but as soon as she finds out she is Moshite, Meggery fires Annagail, although Annagail is the same person she always was. It shows how ugly bigotry is.

The downside to A Pocket Full of Murder was a messy plot and an unsurprising outcome. I don’t see why a second book is necessary. It should have ended with Quiz retrieving the recording bracelet and the bad guy being exposed, his political ambitions ruined. This book would have worked perfectly as a stand-alone, had it been finished properly, and now I fear it’s going to be beaten to death as a series. The magical system, while neat, is not really important to the overall story and the pace can be a bit slow in places. In all, A Pocket Full of Murder by R.J. Anderson had good bones but just an ok performance.

Thank you for reading!

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Book Review: The Secret Tunnel by James Lear


secrettunnelThe Secret Tunnel by James Lear
Published October 1st 2008 by Cleis Press
Format: Kindle ebook
Length: 325 pages / 1842 KB
Genre: Erotica, Gay Erotica, Gay, Mystery, Historical Fiction
Reading Level: Adults Only
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The Flying Scotsman, one of the world’s legendary train journeys, has many attractions for Edward “Mitch” Mitchell, from the obliging porter to the mean guard to a troop of rough-and-ready soldiers in easily lifted kilts in the third-class carriage. But Mitch may not have time for them all before they arrive in London. When the train gets stuck in a tunnel, a dead body is found in the first-class toilet! Ever-ready Mitch decides to intervene and solve the crime. With his new Belgian sidekick Benoit, he pursues the killer through a crazy kaleidoscope of movie stars, drug dealers, royal scandals, and queens of every description. Can he finger the villain before the villain fingers him? What is the connection between Buckingham Palace and a bunch of backstreet pornographers? And what is the mystery of the secret tunnel? Mitch intends to go all the way to figure it all out.


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Book Review: It Takes a Witch by Heather Blake

It Takes a Witch by Heather Blake
Published January 3rd 2012 by Signet
Length: 299 pages
Genre: Mystery, Paranormal, Contemporary fiction
Reading Level: Teen & Up
ISBN 0451235525 (ISBN 13:9780451235527)
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Until three weeks ago, Darcy and Harper were working dead-end jobs and trying to put their troubles behind them. Then their aunt Velma delivered a bombshell: They’re actually Wishcrafters – witches with the power to grant wishes with a mere spell. Wanting a fresh start, they head to their aunt’s magic-themed tourist town to master their newfound skills.

But their magic fails them when a wannabe witch turns up dead – strangled with Aunt Ve’s scarf – and Ve’s sweetheart, Sylar, is found looming over the body. Ve is standing by her man, but Darcy overheard Sylar wish that the victim would disappear – forever. With Harper distracted by her handsome new crush, Darcy is determined to sleuth her way to the truth. But it’s takes more than a wish to unravel this mystery…

I don’t read many mysteries. For one thing, I suck at them. My brain just doesn’t work like that and I often find myself fumbling after the main character, wondering how they made that intellectual leap. I feel like I should be taking notes or making some sort of flow chart. I have a horrible time keeping track of so many clues and facts. But there have been a slew of witchy mysteries coming out lately and I finally decided for October to bite the bullet and read some. I’m glad I did! I still fumbled but it was an enjoyable fumbling. For my first witchy mystery I read It Takes a Witch by Heather Blake.

First of all, cover love. Look at all the pretty! Secondly, kudos to Blake for such an original witchy power. Darcy can grant other people’s wishes. Sort of like a genie, only with a pointy hat. Another reason I don’t read many mysteries is because there is often a love story threaded through the rest of the plot. Of course, by ‘love story’ I mean basically ‘he’s cute/hot and does funny things to my body just by standing there’. For which my response is ‘They have medication for that. You should probably see a doctor’. The point is, it’s never believable and is almost always one-dimensional. I love Darcy. Her reaction to Nick, however, falls under ‘eye-roll’ for me.

I adored the setting. The Enchanted Village sounds like my type of place and all of the characters are awesome and quirky. Just like you would think a town full of secret witches would be. The murder mystery was okay. (Not that it’s hard to trick me or anything.) Of course, with a mystery anybody and everybody is a viable suspect. Throw in some witchy powers and general confusion and you have one sparkly mystery to solve. So, of course the real killer is the one person neither the reader nor Darcy thought it would be. I’m a tad disappointed because a really great mystery has the killer up front and center but still manages to make the audience think they are innocent. This killer isn’t a suspect because she is only mentioned in passing in the book. It could have been tighter and more ‘under your nose’ than it was presented.

It Takes a Witch by Heather Blake was a cute and fun read. It’s not very long but a light read that introduces a fantastic new heroine and an amazing location that I can’t wait to read more of in future books. The romance was a touch cliché for me but the characters themselves more than made up for the lack. As my first foray in witchy mysteries I think I picked a winner and will definitely be reading some more for October.

Rating: 3.5/5 (Between Okay and Good)

Book Review: I Hunt Killers by Barry Lyga

I Hunt Killers by Barry Lyga
Published April 3rd 2012 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Length: 361 pages; hardcover
Genre: Mystery, Horror, Contemporary fiction
Reading Level: Teen
ISBN 0316125849 (ISBN 13: 9780316125840)
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Jazz, Jasper Dent, is a normal enough teenager in the small town of Lobo’s Nod. He has his girlfriend Connie and his best friend Howie. He even has a part in the next high school play. But Jazz is also the only son of an accomplished serial killer and Dear Old Dad Billy Dent taught his son everything he knew. Jazz has witnessed crime scenes the way cops only wish they could – from the killer’s point of view. Now people are turning up dead once more and Jazz must track the new killer down in an effort to prove that murder does not run in the family, especially as the new killer is doing everything just like Billy Dent did all those years ago.

I occasionally read mysteries but they have to have something unique to pull my interest in. I Hunt Killers by Barry Lyga definitely fit the bill and is probably the most interesting mystery I’ve ever read. It all centers around the very different main character. I was blown away by Jazz. First of all, I always seem to enjoy books with male main characters more than I do their female counterparts. Perhaps it is that male characters tend to avoid several stereotypical behaviors that even a well-written female character might display. (My kingdom for a female character not obsessed with some hot guy.) Then we have Jazz’s unique connection to serial killers and his very chilling reactions to the world around him. People fascinate me. Well, they also annoy the crap out of me, but the ‘why’ of their behaviors fascinates me. Jazz stands on the cusp of two worlds, his motivation to be good and that part of him still under the sway of what his father taught him; the killer inside that Jazz does not want to get out (or thinks he should not want to get out). Jazz is the most complex character I’ve read about in a long time. The boy gave me goose-bumps several times in this story.

I Hunt Killers kept me guessing. Lyga keeps throwing Deputy Erikson in our faces as the killer but as a reader we know that because Erikson is so visible in the story that he can’t be the killer. It’s a kneejerk reaction of “that’s too easy”. At one point I was convinced that Jazz was having some sort of split personality and really was killing those people himself. We even suspect Sheriff G. William and the journalist Doug Weathers because Jazz himself suspects him. We are perfectly strung along. In the end, the killer is plainly visible but was the one person Jazz never suspected. Surprised the hell out of me too! I can’t wait for the sequel. I hope Jazz is a few years older in the next book, out of high school and considered an adult. It would be interesting to see what Jazz does as an official profiler.

I Hunt Killers by Barry Lyga is going on my list of favorite books for 2012. I adored all the characters, even the greatly disturbing Billy Dent, and was captivated at every turn. I couldn’t put it down! It has the best of the mystery and horror genres, with a complex plot and creepy, deeply unsettling thought processes. Here there be demons, folks. Check your squeamishness at the door. That said, I Hunt Killers is also an enthralling, wild ride with many twists and turns and I recommend it to anyone looking for a unique murder mystery that will make you check the door is locked multiple times.

Memorable Quote: “Sometimes his programming simulated human emotions pretty well. And sometimes he convinced himself that it wasn’t programming at all.”

Warning! If you disturb easily, I might give this book a pass. (Or at least make sure all the lights are on when you read it.) There are, of course, descriptions of murder and blood in this book but there are also mentions of rape, possible matricide, animal cruelty and death, grief, and a whole host of other unnerving behaviors and events. Do not read before bedtime, that’s all I’m saying.

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