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Teen Book Review-Hunting Prince Dracula by Kerri Maniscalco

Hunting Prince Dracula

*Minor spoilers for Stalking Jack the Ripper (Book #1) present in this review*

10/10. It has been a LONG while since I enjoyed a book so much, and it has nothing to do with the mystery and everything to do with Thomas Cresswell. Okay, and the mystery was good too.

Now before you think I’ve gone crazy, I’ll list some things Hunting Prince Dracula by Kerri Maniscalco could have done better. (See? Critique-y Inshal still exists) For example, it was hard to keep track of the many Romanian folktales told throughout the book, especially since Audrey Rose already had background knowledge that I didn’t about Vlad the Impaler. Also, it was annoying how much Audrey Rose got bullied for being a woman…even by the headmaster who literally accepted her application? I understand the historical point the author was trying to achieve, and I am completely behind Audrey Rose’s determination to study medicine despite the bigotry of her classmates BUT almost every other scene was about the same thing, so it got annoying. The last criticism I found in this book is somewhat related to the first… the details of the mystery were too difficult to understand because of info-dumping. I just stopped trying to unravel what was going on.

Okay! So, why did I give it a 10/10? Well, there are many reasons. 1. Audrey Rose’s trauma. There are TOO MANY books where characters go through a life-changing event and live happily ever after when it’s over. But the Ripper case (from book #1) still haunts Audrey Rose, and she is still grieving heavily because of it. We see her try to overcome those emotions that come from working with cadavers again, the same emotions that make her want to push people away. It’s not easy! She gets flashbacks, triggers…Basically, we see her growth from book 1 to book 2 and I was overall very pleased with how that was portrayed.

2. Thomas Cresswell. I know I was very unimpressed with him in my first review, but he has ALSO gone through a lot of character development. And he is so FUNNY, oh my God, but it’s not only him as a character that makes this book so great. His relationship with Audrey Rose (if you can call it that…) also develops a lot in this book. We see how their personalities clash, and how their past traumas/insecurities cause problems for their budding romance. Even better than all of that, we see Thomas and Audrey Rose talk to about what they need from each other(communication, people!), we see them fight, apologize, and try to work things out. Basically, their relationships is one of the best (and healthiest) ones I have ever read.

3. Girl Friendships! I feel like this review is becoming all about characters, but seriously, the characters in this book are A+. This time, we get further insight into Audrey Rose through her friendships with other female characters and it is amazing!!

4. Details of the setting. Now, I know this isn’t plot, or mystery, which are very important elements in this sort of book, but I’ve already talked about that in my critique paragraph. The last thing I feel this book delivered flawlessly was the setting. The way the characters talk, the description of their surroundings, and even the things they eat… I was literally transported to an ancient castle in Romania.

Okay, I’ve gone on long enough. Basically, yes, go read this book!!

Teen Book Review- Stalking Jack the Ripper by Kerri Maniscalco

Stalking Jack the Ripper - Maniscalco, Kerri

Dark historical fiction and mystery books are definitely my favourite genre to read, and I was so excited when I found Stalking Jack the Ripper by Kerri Maniscalco series. Don’t let the horrendous covers fool you! (I was wary at first, too.) But now that I’m two books in—with two more books to go—I’m completely in love with this series! By the way, I won’t be doing a synopsis thing, but you can look for that in the link above.

Now, onto what this book has to offer: When the first scene of a book is that of a Victorian lady cutting up a body in her Uncle’s lab, you know it’s bound to be interesting. I will say, however, that the gruesome details (such as how a liver feels like in one’s hand) can get unappealing… I actually enjoyed them, but included a disclaimer because this kind of thing depends on the reader. The scientific gore (for lack of a better term) isn’t overdone though, and the fact that the main character, Audrey Rose, can do things like autopsies and talk about them reveals stuff about her personality we might not have gotten otherwise. Basically, yes there is blood-related stuff in this book but not too much (for me, at least).

To expand more on my former point, Audrey Rose is a wonderfully written main character. She has her flaws, but is still very lovable and easy to relate to. I adore how scientific minded she is—most books that boast about an intelligent female character don’t actually show that. Another testament to how rounded of a character Audrey Rose is: she is allowed to have emotions. I find too much of the “strong and smart female mc” trope means the character isn’t allowed to feel much and… like what is up with that? A character should be able to feel heavy emotions and sympathy without that detracting from their ability to be professional.

The book was off to a great start…and then we meet Thomas Cresswell. His job as a love interest in the plot is too obvious from the start, and of course he acts mysterious and arrogant, too. I did warm up to him, however, by the end of the book. His dialogue is too funny and witty! (I cannot anymore with charming book characters.)

If it’s not obvious already, I loved this book a lot. I don’t usually do series because they tend to drag on and get complicated, but STJTR immediately made me want to pick up the next book. Spoiler: It was just as, if not more, amazing. (Review on that coming up next!)

There are some minor setbacks, of course, but I wouldn’t discount the whole book based on them. The writing, for example, gets a bit tiresome at points. Audrey Rose describes every step it takes for her to get from one place to another, which is especially annoying when it’s an action-packed scene and I want to get to the next important bit. Also, there were some scenes that repeated incessantly throughout the book, which dragged the plot. For example, if I have to listen to Nathaniel tell Audrey Rose not to worry their father one more time…

Still, the overall setting and plot of this book was great. The mystery aspect was good (although I guessed a little too early for me to be completely impressed). Plus, I fell in love with the characters and how they were written. A solid 9/10 from me.

Teen Book Review- Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys

Salt to the Sea - Sepetys, Ruta

Ruta Sepetys is a tried and true author for me whenever I’m in the mood for some historical fiction, so I was really excited to pick up Salt to the Sea. The story follows four characters: Joana, Florian, Emilia, and Alfred as they race to freedom on the doomed (but they don’t know it) Wilhelm Gustloff. Joana is a nurse with a past that haunts her. Florian is a spy with too many secrets. Emilia is a young girl hollowed by the brutality of war, and Alfred is a cowardly German soldier. Will they survive?

It isn’t much of a secret that the Wilhelm Gustloff is going to sink, so when I first started the book, I expected it to be rather fast-paced. It was not. The characters don’t board the ship until well past the halfway point, which was more frustrating than suspenseful. The other fundamental thing this book didn’t quite accomplish were the characters. I wasn’t expecting this from Sepetys either, because her characters are usually very well-developed (see: Fountains of Silence). But in this one, the four main characters were almost stock character material. For example, we have the dark and handsome brooding spy, the innocent ‘child’ with dreams, and the misguided immoral soldier. The worst character in my opinion, was Joana because she had NO flaws. (And no, being too kind is not a flaw!) I know it seems like I’m contradicting myself, but I did like the characters. They just weren’t well-written and had almost no complexity, but they were very lovable in general. Which sort of redeems them.

Moving on to the pros: Something that the book did irrefutably well was story-telling. The emotions Salt to the Sea brought me were intense, which is exactly as they should be in a good historical fiction. Some scenes are so disturbing I had to put the book down–don’t let the middle grade styling put you off, this book is definitely up there in age suitability.

On a brighter note, though, I appreciated how this book executed the multiple POV style writing. The romantic side plot was also well done (I guess I just like slow-burns). But maybe that is because romance comes easily enough when the characters themselves aren’t complicated. The plot of the book was adequate, but I found the backstories of some (no spoilers but I’m not talking about Emilia, hint hint) characters very shallow and disappointing. The ending absolutely ruined me, but in a good way. I would recommend Salt to the Sea to anyone searching for a simple but emotionally difficult historical fiction with a handsome side of romance. 9/10

P.S. Can I just say I hated all of Alfred’s chapters? Because yeah, I did.

Teen Book Review- Dangerous Alliance by Jennieke Cohen

Dangerous Alliance

TL;DR: 8.5/10. Romance and other relationships lacking, and some irritating tropes. Overall, fantastic historical detail, and good approach to abuse in the Regency period. Recommended for Jane Austen lovers!

Dangerous Alliance by Jennieke Cohen is a historical fiction with a dash of mystery which, if you know my favourite genres, is right up my aisle! Of course, the book is a romance too, which is less my thing… but! Jane Austen fans–this one is for you.

Lady Victoria Aston is living the idyllic English country life she always wanted. With her sister married in town, her parents give her mostly free reign of the estate. Best of all, here in the country, she doesn’t need to fit in with society’s rules of how a lady should behave. But one very eventful day later, Vicky’s life has completely changed. Aside from the fact that there might be someone out to harm her, Vicky finds out that sister was living in an abusive relationship. Long story short, Vicky has to marry soon… or she might lose her beloved Oakridge estate to that cad of a brother-in-law. Vicky knows her duty is to enter London’s society season and procure herself a husband, but her heart aches for a romance like found in her beloved Jane Austen stories. Will she find it, and with who? Also, who is behind all the strange incidents popping up around her?

Moving on to my thoughts! The plot is very Austen-like, which I can appreciate is no easy thing to do. The mystery and adventure aspects were my favourite, as well as the historical details. It is SUPER refreshing to see authors get historical things accurate! *swoon* The characters were wonderfully complex, and the different POVs–I’m a sucker for different POVs.

There were a few less wonderful parts, unfortunately. The romance, for one, but that might be my personal bias. I felt the couple well-written on their own, as characters. Together, though, I could barely see the chemistry. The love triangle was irritating, too, and although I rooted for who the author clearly wanted me to root for, I had no particular investment in it. In fact, all the relationships in this book were lacking. The ones I was most disappointed with (aside from the romances) were the sibling relationships. Vicky and Althea did have conversations, but they all lacked substance in my opinion. I also didn’t find the conclusions to either sibling conflicts very satisfying or sufficiently detailed.

The last thing I’m going to criticize is very nit-picky, but if it bothered me this much, it might bother someone else too. This book played the “strong female MC” trope well, but also felt quite sexist in some other aspects. (Bear with me.) Vicky compares herself to other girls, and says that–unlike them–she doesn’t like idle chatter about fashion or whatever. She mentions that many women would be eager to marry a (unnamed for spoiler reasons) man, in a critical way… almost as if she were better than those women because she wouldn’t. In the scenes where we are in Tom’s POV, he mentions SEVERAL times that debutantes are waving their fans and giggling at him, which I found extremely arrogant. We don’t get a broad diversity of main female characters, either. Susie is a ‘Mary Sue’ (stock character with no flaws), and Althea is uncomfortably demure.

Now that I’ve wasted two whole paragraphs on criticisms, let me give you the rating: 8.5/10.

That high, you ask? Well, I have a soft spot for well-written character arcs. The backstories were good, too, and original (for once). The rich historical details, as I mentioned before, gave me life, as did the old English dialogue. Something that I haven’t mentioned, but that I especially loved: how this book touched on marital violence, and abuse. It highlighted the fact that the Regency period wasn’t all balls and gowns, and demonstrated that certain characters’ views and personality were the way they were because of the trauma they faced. I liked how Althea, for example, wasn’t all healed after escaping her abusive household. The fact that she still fears for her safety on the daily, hesitates to talk about it, and fears the divorce won’t go through is realistic.

I recommend Dangerous Alliance for anyone who wants some 19th century drama!

Teen SRC 2020- The Girl They Left Behind by Roxanne Veletzos

The Girl They Left Behind - Veletzos, Roxanne

The Girl They Left Behind by Roxanne Veletzos is the most moving, heartbreaking and beautiful book I’ve read in a long time. Set in World War II Romania, the book tells the life story of two families joined despite war, boundaries, and suffering, by the daughter they share.

Natalia is four years old when the knock comes on her door. The police is here to arrest her father and take her and her mother away. It is only by sheer luck that the family runs away in the cover of the night. Fearing for their lives, and that of their daughter’s, Natalia’s parents have to make the worst decision of their lives. Leave Natalia behind, and give her the chance at a better life, breaking their own hearts in the process, or risk taking her with them, where death is an almost certain possibility.

Enter Despina and Anton. In every way except one, they are the perfect young couple. She is rich and gorgeous, he is charming and happy. But after four miscarriages, the sadness that hangs on Despina is too much for Anton to accept. At the orphanage, Despina and Anton are shocked to meet Natalia a silent, broken girl, and not the joyous bundle they expected. But something stirs deep inside her heart and Despina knows she needs Natalia’s love just as much as Natalia needs hers.

Despina, Anton, and Natalia’s story is told in gripping scenes and chapters, time passing as Natalia slowly grows up into a young woman. With the war ending, and the Soviets taking control, the family’s fortunes are reversed. They lose everything, and come close to losing each other. Victor, a young man Anton took under his wing years ago, returns later in the story as a powerful Communist leader. He becomes, even as they begin a secret affair, Natalia’s only chance at freedom.

With the devastation of war and the power of love, comes the pain of sacrifice. What will Natalia choose: staying with the only people she’s ever loved, in an ever-shrinking world, or leave behind everything to seek freedom, and answers to a past she thought buried?

Wow, okay, so the description went a little long (sorry! and believe me, there were no spoilers in it). The book itself includes so much more, and every bit of it is raw, and riveting. The passage of time was discreet, and well-written, and the subplots/ change in perspectives were amazing. The only thing I didn’t like in the book was the romance between Victor and Talia, and the fact that sometimes a scene would start in the middle, telling us what happened before instead of showing it. That glossed over some things should’ve been more important.

Anyway, the book shook me to my core. It made me cry, both from sorrow and happiness. Each character is complex, none of them perfect (having well-written characters in historical fiction is a must!!) The Girl They Left Behind matches to the likes of The Book Thief. 10/10, no regrets.

Teen SRC 2020 – This Dark Endeavor by Kenneth Oppel

This Dark Endeavour - Oppel, Kenneth

This Dark Endeavor by Kenneth Oppel

In this prequel to Mary Shelley’s Gothic classic, Frankenstein, 16-year-old Victor Frankenstein undertakes a dark journey that will shift his life into a new shape that no one predicts. Victor’s twin, Konrad, has fallen ill, and no doctor is able to cure him even after performing drastic operations. Reluctant to let go his brother, Victor calls on his attractive cousin, Elizabeth, and best friend Henry on a hazardous search for the ingredients to create the forbidden Elixir of Life. Impossible odds, perilous alchemy and a bitter, sour love triangle that threatens their quest at every turn. Victor knows he has no option of failing. But his victory depends on how far he is willing to push the boundaries of nature, science, love, and loyalty. Along the way he has to decide how much he is prepared to sacrifice, a piece of him, his love, or his own inseparable twin.

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Teen SRC 2020 – The Downstairs Girl by Stacey Lee

The Downstairs Girl

A historical fiction mystery with a witty protagonist not afraid to speak her mind. You can’t go wrong with a book like this, but adding proper POC representation, unconventional family troubles, and career goals is just icing on the cake.

Introducing: Jo Kuan. She lives with her stand-in father, Old Gin, in the basement of a print shop, in 1890’s Atlanta. Having just been fired from a millinery (apparently customers are uncomfortable with her directness. Or maybe it’s her Chinese features. Probably both.) Jo has no choice but to take up position once again as a maid for Caroline Payne, the downright cruel daughter of one of the wealthiest men in the city. If memory serves right, Jo is going to have her work cut out for her, especially now that she’s started anonymously penning the column “Miss Sweetie.” She started the column so that the newspaper shop (also secretly serving as her home) can stay in business.

But as each article starts voicing more and more progressive ideas, the elite of Atlanta pick up pitchforks. How could someone so openly write against segregation, encourage women to ride the bicycle, and–gasp!– promote a future for women that ISN’T marriage? Jo knows that if Miss Sweetie is unmasked as a Chinese commoner, it could mean her life. But having had a taste of the freedom words can give, Jo isn’t ready to give up so easily.

I absolutely adored this book. The summary I (tried to) give above is just a fraction of the plot, all of which is completely riveting. Stacey Lee’s writing style is unique, and honestly, at first, I didn’t know what to think about it. The funny expressions grew on me, though, and I ended up loving her style. Don’t let the cover put you off (the potential wasted on portrait covers is a hill I will die on)– this book is worth a read.

Teen SRC 2020- The Boy in the Red Dress by Kristin Lambert

Title details for The Boy in the Red Dress by Kristin Lambert - Available

A murder mystery set in the late 1920s New Orleans with POC and LGBTQ representation. No, this is NOT. A. DRILL!!

It’s New Year’s Eve and Millie’s FINALLY been left in charge of her aunt’s speakeasy, the Cloak and Dagger for a night. She wants to show everyone she’s capable of managing things herself, but things go from bad to worse very quickly when a young rich girl is found dead, and her best friend Marion is the prime suspect. Millie knows that Marion couldn’t have killed the girl, even if she was waving around his picture before the show and asking too many questions. She also knows the police won’t hesitate to throw a boy like Marion behind bars, and that she needs to save him before they do.

The race to find the real killer and hide Marion from the police is Millie’s biggest priority but it gets complicated when Millie’s mom comes to live with her and her aunt again. Let’s just say they were never the best of pals, and being abandoned did nothing to improve Millie’s feelings. And that’s not to mention her love life. Who will win Millie’s heart: the witty and beautiful waitress Olive, or the charming, handsome bootlegger Bennie?

Mystery and historical fiction are my two absolute favourite genres. Combining them while weaving diversity, romance, and a complicated mother-daughter relationship into the story is no easy feat but Kristin Lambert makes it look it is. Millie is a sarcastic, spunky, and rash main character and she propels the story forward while her family and friends yell warnings from behind. There’s never a dull moment, and hilarious scenes at every corner.

The Boy in The Red Dress gets a 9/10, because although it was one of the most enjoyable reads I’ve had in a long time, the mystery’s final result was a bit disappointing, and there was nothing deep about the novel that would have me thinking about it a long time after I’ve put it down. Strongly recommend if you enjoy the mystery and historical fiction genres!!

Teen SRC 2020 – Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

Between Shades of Gray

Hey guys! I’ll be reviewing Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys today, a YA historical fiction book.

This story takes place during the Holocaust, in Lithuania, also known as the Baltic genocide. A 15-year-old girl, Lina Vilkas, is arrested alongside her mother, Elena, and her little brother, Jonas. They are shoved onto a train by the Soviet Secret Police (The NKVD) alongside many other Jews, heading towards a concentration camp. To document what is happening to her, Lina draws pictures detailing everything she goes through in hopes of later showing the world.

I really, really enjoyed this book. To be fair though, I don’t think I’ve ever disliked a historical fiction, it’s just an extremely good genre. I appreciate the effort Sepetys puts into researching each of her books and it really reflects when one reads them. This story is definitely not a light read and it will probably make you cry at some point but I would still recommend it to anyone. I think reading about the terrible things that have happened in history is a key part of never repeating it in the future, and if you happen to like reading, historical fiction is a great way to educate yourself.

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Teen SRC 2020- Fountains of Silence by Ruta Sepetys

The Fountains of Silence

The year is 1957, and Spain is under the iron-fist rule of General Francisco Franco. Daniel Matheson, a Texan teen, is visiting Spain with his family. With his passion for photography, he hopes to take the perfect picture for his portfolio, a picture that will also somehow convince his dad to let him pursue his dreams.

But Spain isn’t the perfect tropical paradise it seems for its American tourists and soon, Daniel finds himself falling– for his maid, Ana, and for the secrets some people would do anything to keep buried. Ana herself is enchanted by the American freedom promised by the hotel magazines. She dreams for a life for herself and her family away from Franco’s tyrannical rule.

Daniel and Ana are the main characters, but we are also given glimpses into other people’s lives. For example: Julia, who is Ana’s older sister, and a new mother, is drowning in secrets and fear. Her brother, Rafael, who works both at a slaughterhouse and a cemetery is fighting with the past and his memories. Fuga, Rafael’s friend wants to bullfight more than anything, and Daniel’s mother is struggling to find out where she belongs.

As any Ruta Sepetys book, Fountains of Silence is as rich in history as it is in humanity. This book brought to light an injustice often overlooked in history: Spanish babies were stolen from their families, proclaimed dead, but instead given to other families of a higher creed. I loved the historical accuracy of the book, but sometimes grew bored with the many first-hand documents.

A beautiful romance, a suspenseful historical fiction, and everything I search for in a novel. 9.5/10, only because I didn’t like the large skip in time (it throws me off) and some parts felt dragged on. Otherwise, STRONGLY RECOMMEND!!