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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- I Killed Zoe Spanos by Kit Frick

I Killed Zoe Spanos

It almost took me longer to write this review than it did to read I Killed Zoe Spanos by Kit Frick. Which is less a complaint about my writing speed and more a testament to how awesome this book was–I truly could not put it down. Contemporary YA murder mysteries are an untapped gold mine, and this book proves it.

It’s told in two timelines: Now and Then. In the “Then” timeline, teenager Anna Cicconi travels down from Brooklyn to the rich Long Island neighbourhood called Herron Mills where she has been hired as an ‘au pair’ for the summer. Anna is ready to leave her old life of partying and drinking behind. She can and she will be responsible, even with the expensive booze around her, the mysterious boy living next door, and an increasingly failing memory. But then Anna learns of her resemblance to Zoe Spanos, a local girl that disappeared months ago. The longer she lives in Herron Mills, and the deeper she delves into Zoe’s life, the more Anna is convinced that she is somehow connected to the case.

“Now”: Anna Cicconi is under arrest after confessing to killing Zoe Spanos. But considering Anna was never even supposed to have met Zoe, and that her confession doesn’t completely add up, teenager ‘investigative journalist’ Martina Jenkins/Green decides to get to the bottom of this complicated mystery.

Okay, so. As you can probably tell from the blurb, this book is going to be twisty, and that’s not just an expectation–“I Killed Zoe Spanos” completely delivered. The setting, pace, and writing are all very well-done. I loved how most of the book was status quo prose, with an occasional “podcast” or different perspective chapter . I also appreciated that that even though the timeline could have butchered the suspense aspect completely, it didn’t! We learned little by little about what had actually happened, which is how a mystery should be. The only aspect of the book I would’ve improved on was the romance (ugh, I know). And maybe the resolution could have gone a bit longer… I wanted to see Paisley (the 8-year old Anna was looking after) again!!

All in all, I Killed Zoe Spanos is a welcome relief from my slew of not-quite-for-me book reviews. 10/10

Teen SRC 2020- A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder by Holly Jackson

A Good Girl's Guide to Murder - Jackson, Holly

A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder by Holly Jackson seemed like an interesting read (the cover is amazing, and i judged the book by it, fight me 😉 ). But then, the synopsis ended up disappointing me. It sounded like the book was a mash-up of literally every other YA murder mystery. We have our usual ‘good’ white girl protagonist, our suspect from a marginalized community, with a name like ‘Sal Singh’ to make it extra obvious. We have the popular/mean girl murder victim (Andie) and the lazy/racist reporter. Then, of course, Ravi. The younger brother of previously mentioned murderer that killed his girlfriend then himself (Sal Singh). Of course, Ravi is the cute but very reserved and intense love interest.

The first quarter of this book made me want to chuck it at a wall. But I kept going and… it improved. BY A LOT.

The characters stayed flat. Only Pippa (protag) had some sort of character arc, and even that was half-hearted. No, the only thing that redeemed this book was the mystery. It was SHOCKINGLY well-planned and thought out. I didn’t guess the murderer and wouldn’t have in a thousand years, but IT MADE SENSE.

The romance ended up growing on me, and the relationships between the characters are okay. I don’t have much else to say, so the rating: 8/10. Boring and stereotyped characters, but BRILLIANT mystery. Enjoyable, and suspenseful, but seriously– too many cliches.

Teen SRC 2020- Appointment With Death by Agatha Christie

Appointment With Death

For this week’s dose of Agatha Christie, we’ve got Appointment with Death, and Hercule Poirot on vacation in Jerusalem! Is it just me, or do detectives NEVER get a vacation off without having somebody going and getting murdered? I mean, there wouldn’t be a story if they actually got a proper vacation, but… I digress. Hercule Poirot is shutting his window to the night air when he overhears a most peculiar sentence. “You see that she’s got to die, don’t you?” a male voice says. He smiles, and dismisses it as an author or playwright discussing their work, but imagines how ‘funny’ it would be if the words were taken out of context.

Also vacationing in Palestine are the Boyntons. They, as two separate doctors note, are a nerve-wracked and peculiar family. The matriarch, Mrs. Boynton has a strange hold over the rest of her family: two step-sons, a step-daughter and a birth daughter. The only one who seems free from her force of will is the daughter-in-law, but even she hates the ugly old woman. Mrs. Boynton is manipulative, cruel, and takes immense joy in other people’s–and especially her family’s–pain. Then Mrs. Boynton is found dead.

Her heart, obviously, gave out, but… why is there then a small needle mark on her wrist? And who, out of all the people that had motive, committed the murder? Poirot, entrustred with the job, shockingly recognizes the voice he heard outside his bedroom window. It belonged to none other than Raymond Boynton, the younger son.

This book’s beginning plot was very strangely similar to ‘A Caribbean Mystery’ (it’s almost like they had the same author or something LOLLL) but I found it considerably better. I am not biased because of Poirot vs. Miss Marple, though, because the plot of this book turned in a different direction. I also didn’t guess or even suspect the murderer at all. :0 Secondly, there was more action in this book, more interesting conversations, and Poirot subtly (and annoyingly) pointed little details to guide us. There was some romance, some complex relationships and it was all brilliant. And there was only one repetitive thing in all of it (compared to A Caribbean Mystery’s twenty!) and it was about how ‘sadistic’ and how ‘evil’ the step-mother was.

Okay, so I may be a little biased, and I’m so sorry Miss Marple, for that I’ll read more of your books soon!

The ending wasn’t WHOLLY satisfactory, but it was terrifically written and even my critical little heart can appreciate the epilogue!! Because epilogues!!! All in all, another great Christie. 8.5/10

Teen SRC 2020 – One of Us Is Lying by Karen M. McManus

One of Us Is Lying - McManus, Karen M.

Hiii again! Alright, this week, I’m reviewing One of Us Is Lying by Karen M. McManus, a realistic fiction/murder mystery.

Summary (Spoiler-Free): Five students are in detention together: Bronwyn, the Yale-bound brainiac, Addy, the popular and pretty homecoming queen, Nate, the druggie, who is on probation, Cooper, the star athlete, and Simon, an outcast, who runs Bayview High’s most notorious gossip app. Only, Simon never makes it to the end of detention… he is dead by allergic reaction, but the authorities say it was no accident. Simon died on Monday, when on Tuesday, he was set to expose some dirty secrets about the students he was in detention with, which makes them all suspects in his case.

This story is told through alternating perspectives, and in first-person, which, initially, I found very risky of McManus to use, because this is a mystery, after all, and that could lead to the readers figuring out the culprit very early on. However, I later found out there was reasoning behind this, and it actually tied in very well with the ending. Overall, this book was pretty well written, and it’s hard to figure anything out, because red herrings are ALL over the place, which is good in a mystery. However, I did manage to guess the killer before the ending, even though it was supposed to be a plot twist, so it’s definitely not an Agatha Christie.

I wouldn’t say that there’s anything special about this book?? It was good, and interesting to read, but it didn’t shock me, or make much of a lasting impression. Therefore, it gets a 7.5/10. The extra .5 is for the cover, because it’s a very crisp, yet representative design, which I always appreciate 🙂

Teen SRC 2020- A Caribbean Mystery by Agatha Christie

A Caribbean Mystery

While my respect and admiration for Agatha Christie‘s work is unwavering, I found A Caribbean Mystery to be disappointing. The problem, in my opinion, starts with Miss Marple. The prospect of an old lady solving mysteries by listening, knitting, and thinking, is interesting, but it also becomes stale and boring very quickly. Miss Marple has little personality herself, and except for her sharpness and intellect, she is nothing like Hercule Poirot. (Of whom I am a die-hard fan.)

Let me first tell you about the book before I continue my opinions on it.

Miss Marple’s loving nephew has arranged a vacation for her in the Caribbean. Her rheumatism will benefit from the pleasant weather, and at her age, she should really be seeing more of the world. But while Miss Marple is grateful for her nephew’s kindness, she can’t help but feel discontented with the fact that nothing exciting happens in the Caribbean. But a little while later, as she sits knitting and listening to a talkative old Major on the beach, something interesting does happen. The Major, having launched into a story about a murder, asks her “would you like to see a snapshot of a murderer–” when he suddenly stops talking. Interrupting himself, he loudly starts on another topic. Miss Marple notices the fact but doesn’t pay it much attention… Not until the Major is found dead in his room (high blood pressure, apparently) and the snapshot he boasted about nowhere to be found. Is it all just one big coincidence, or is something more nefarious at play?

Okay. To continue on my criticism, the mystery part of the book isn’t very good either. Ms. Christie’s red herrings are usually fun but in this book, I simply found them irritating. There isn’t much work for the readers to do, and every time something new is discovered, we are told in simple plain English. The characters are flat and stereotypical. Worst of all, I managed to guess the murderer, by pure luck, and also because nothing pointed towards her/him, and that’s who it usually is. (kind of SPOILER**** and in far too many mysteries I’ve read, it’s the spouse/romantic partner. too many. SPOILER ENDED**)

I’m not saying the book is bad, all I’m saying is I definitely wouldn’t choose it as the first (or second) Agatha Christie book to recommend. 7.5/10. Enjoyable, but there are better.

Teen SRC 2020- Murder in Mesopotamia by Agatha Christie

Murder in Mesopotamia

With Agatha Christie, I’ve learned to expect the unexpected. So I take the person least likely to have committed the murder and expect them to have done it. But there’s a lot of reverse psychology involved so what if the person that looks good for the crime… actually is the one who did it? Every, every, every single time, the Queen of Mystery makes a fool out of me, and it leaves me in complete and utter awe.

There are some good Agatha Christie books and some GREAT ones. Murder in Mesopotamia, for me, is amongst the GREAT. So without further ado:

Nurse Leatheran, a bright young woman, has been hired by archaelogist Dr. Leidner to look after his wife. Mrs. Leidner has been having ‘fancies.’ But the truth of it is, she’s downright terrified “I fear someone is going to kill me,” she confesses to the nurse (who is our narrator) later on. There have been threatening letters from her late husband, who might in fact not be so dead, strange faces in the window, and odd scratching at the walls. The Nurse dismisses these sightings as paranoia (the letters are written in her own hand!) but then Mrs. Leidner is murdered. Is her ex-husband alive and did he kill her, or is it someone closer, someone from her own household?

With the help of Nurse Leatheran, Hercule Poirot sets himself the task of unmasking the killer… before they strike again.

I give this book a 9/10. It was the most enjoyable read but there were a couple of lines here and there that irritated me. For example, general stereotypes about what women are like, and about what men want. Perhaps more specific to this book: the description of Arabs. All the so-called foreigners (why in the world they are called foreigners when the story is set in Iraq, I have no clue) are all background characters, and the cultural landscape is used only as a backdrop, with no real significance. The ending of the book does, however, patch up some prejudiced opinions of the narrator, and there is nothing in the book I found unforgivable.

Teen SRC 2020- Dead Man’s Folly by Agatha Christie

Dead Man's Folly

Am I reviewing another Agatha Christie book? Well, she is called the Queen of Mystery for a reason, so yes, yes I am. Dead Man’s Folly is a very aptly named mind game of a novel, and a book with an interesting premise.

Famous detective novelist Ariadne Oliver is given the job to arrange a Murder Hunt (because Treasure Hunts have become too common) for Sir George Stubbs’ fête (a sort of carnival). It’s an unusual ask but Mrs. Oliver is up for the task. It is, after all, what she does for a living. But something feels off, she tells famous detective Hercule Poirot on the phone. Mrs. Oliver feels like she’s being manipulated by an invisible hand, and a plot more sinister is at play.

The idea of a Murder Hunt gone wrong is incredibly brilliant. The little details were well-executed, and the solution satisfactory. I did, however, end up a little disappointed by the lack of action. Compared to The Hollow, or The Mystery of the Blue Train, the murder happens later on in this book. The build-up increases the suspense, but I found it to be a bit of an anti-climax. After the murder, it seems that Poirot talks to all of the suspects a bunch of times, Inspector Bland has tea with his constable, and voilà, Poirot has magically solved everything. As I said before, compared with his previous cases that I’ve read, there was barely any action, and I found that a bit boring.

All of that is not to say that the mystery was a good one. I managed to guess a few plot lines and the murderer, but all my theories as to why and how were wrong. After the reveal, it seems like the answer should have been more obvious. All in all, I’ve read better, but it wasn’t a bad book. 7/10, a comfort read that will leave you pleasantly surprised but not completely awe-struck.

Teen SRC 2020- The Hollow by Agatha Christie

The Hollow

When visiting Lady Angkatell, an aquaintance, for tea, Hercule Poirot comes upon the strangest thing. A dying man lies bleeding on the side of Lady Angkatells’ pool, and his wife is holding the gun above him. Poirot is given the sense that this a scene set up for his benefit and is annoyed because even a great detective such as himself should be allowed a peaceful tea. But then he realizes that it isn’t a joke. The man has truly been murdered.

And as Poirot rushes forward to help, he hears the dying man’s last word. “Henrietta.” Poirot is told the dead man, John Christow, was a doctor and a man of great complexity. His wife, the assumed murderess, is named Greda. Henrietta is an artist who was, amongst a few others, also visiting the Hollow. She was also Christow’s mistress. When the gun is ‘accidentally’ slipped into the pool and Poirot starts to investigate, he realizes something else is going on. Is the oblivious and dim-witted wife really the murderer? Or is she just a pawn in a more cunning plot?

Agatha Christie is an undisputed genius, and Hercule Poirot is her brainchild. This novel, more than any other of hers that I’ve read, delves into the emotions of each character. We are told of their past, their goals, their passions, and their loves… because every character in this novel is motivated by love. The Hollow, by Agatha Christie, is also special in that it grieves John Christow’s death instead of just solving it. I can’t go too in detail (because spoilers) but I did feel like crying at a couple of scenes. (which is almost unheard of in a murder mystery!)

Because of what I mentioned above, this book isn’t the light-hearted read I expected. Which isn’t at all to say it wasn’t brilliant. I almost did guess the ending but then went back on my theory and chose someone else. As absurd as the ending is, it’s the only one that makes sense and I wanted to scream because it was WONDERFUL.

So please, if you like murder mysteries and don’t mind a few mature/ emotionally complex plotlines, read The Hollow. You won’t regret it.

Teen SRC 2020 – Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie

Murder on the Orient Express - Christie, Agatha

Hey guys! This week I’m reviewing Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie, an ICON (her books are outsold only by Shakespeare and the Bible!)

A little context (no spoilers, don’t worry): The millionaire Samuel Edward Ratchett boards the famous train, The Orient Express, but it is stopped by a snowdrift at around midnight. By the next morning, he is found dead in his compartment by a dozen or so stabbings. It is certain that one of his fellow passengers is the murderer, but who? and why? That’s what Hercule Poirot intends to find out.

I really liked this story! Mystery is one of my favourite genres and Agatha Christie never disappoints. I loved that the ending is very very believable, it’s not a far-fetched idea that the author made up just to create a plot twist. If you were to re-read the story, every single one of the clues leads to that outcome. However, this does not make the murder easy to solve, because I didn’t figure it out until the end either, so it’s still a very intriguing read.

I would recommend this to any mystery lovers or anyone in general who wants a short and fast-paced read. This book took me only a day or so to finish so if you don’t want to get too involved in a series or a long book, this is for you!

My final rating is an 8/10 only because I didn’t feel an emotional connection with any of the characters. This is completely understandable though, seeing as I didn’t have much time and the book wasn’t meant to do that. However, I would still definitely recommend it.