Book #9: A Study in Scarlet by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

‘There’s a scarlet thread of murder running through the colourless skein of life, and our duty is to unravel it, and isolate it, and expose every inch of it.’

From the moment Dr John Watson takes lodgings in Baker Street with the consulting detective Sherlock Holmes, he becomes intimately acquainted with the bloody violence and frightening ingenuity of the criminal mind.

In A Study in Scarlet , Holmes and Watson’s first mystery, the pair are summoned to a south London house where they find a dead man whose contorted face is a twisted mask of horror. The body is unmarked by violence but on the wall a mysterious word has been written in blood.

The police are baffled by the crime and its circumstances. But when Sherlock Holmes applies his brilliantly logical mind to the problem he uncovers a tragic tale of love and deadly revenge . . .

Sherlock Holmes is an iconic literary character, a detective with astute observational skills. He is known as the first detective character just as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is known as the father of the detective novel.

I love mysteries. I love the Victorian era. Let’s face it, I’m a booknerd who loves Sherlock Holmes adaptations. And yet… and here is the part where you gasp… I have never read a Sherlock Holmes story.

Until now.

My problem was that I was never sure where to begin. I wanted to begin where they began in their own world, not necessarily in the world of the readers. So, after years of searching, I also learned that my brain couldn’t quite formulate the world through Doyle’s words. That meant finding an audiobook I liked.

I found Stephen Fry’s and now I’m good to go.

For a first story, A Study in Scarlet does set up the character dynamics well. You see how the dynamic duo, Holmes and Watson, became roommates. You also see just the beginnings of what will become literature’s most well-known detective.

As for the mystery… well, I liked it. I didn’t care for the middle part where we are given a totally new storyline and characters. It diverted from the main narrative and pulled me away from the story. That said, I understand why the story was needed. I just wish there was a different way Doyle did it. It may be common for the time period it was published in, but it doesn’t mean I have to like that part of the book.

In all, I felt the story is a good beginning to a series and I’m sure I’m just going to continue to love it as I continue reading their adventures.

Final Rating: 3/5

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Book #93: Fatal Agreements by Ashley Fontainne

Whispered rumors tickled the ears of the residents of an entire town for decades about the disturbing secrets of the old Halstead House, dating all the way back to the early 1920s. Most people didn’t believe them. Several people will soon discover they should have listened. 

Three years after struggling to cope with the death of her beloved father and escaping an abusive relationship, Samantha Chapman decides it’s time to return to her hometown of Hot Springs. She buys the ramshackle Halstead House, eager to transform the dilapidated, abandoned piece of history into her new law office and residence, hoping it will be the start of a brighter chapter and a safe haven to escape her personal demons. 

Instead of newfound freedom, things take a dark turn when the resurrection of the old home reveals the disturbing secrets hidden within its walls. When youthful transgressions of numerous people come to light, including ones some members of the Chapman family are desperate to contain, it reveals the sins of the past. They collide with the grave mistakes of the present, creating a perfect storm of chaos and death for not only the Chapman family but others as well. 

Some will survive. 

Others will get burned. 

Sam and her loved ones realize some family secrets should have remained buried. 

I received an audible code via Audiobookboom for an honest review. What follows here is my honest opinion and I wasn’t compensated for this review.

I actually love Southern Fiction. It is a favorite literary genre of mine since college. Final Agreements very much follows the Southern Fiction genre. Aside from being set in the South (United States in case anyone needs to know), the book deals with family secrets.

Some of the secrets you actually learn really early on, but there is still an underlying suspense on how everything will be resolved. Really, the book is more about the family dynamic than the issues they are dealing with.

Since I listened to the audiobook, let me talk about the narration. The narrator herself wasn’t bad. There were times where the accent or the voice changes confused me as to who was speaking at the time, but the narration itself wasn’t bad.

The prose of the story was well put. When something is supposed to spur the suspense of the story, the reader is pulled in. It isn’t a book that is hard to follow though there are parts I felt that were just a bit like a soap opera and semi-resolved rather quickly in the story. That said, none of the characters themselves felt too out of their normal personality.

Final Rating: 3/5

Book #90: The Night of the Screaming Horses (Dead Air Episode 1) by Carrie Ryan, Gwenda Bond, and Rachel Caine

Explore your true crime obsession in a whole new way with Serial Box’s latest multimedia innovation in storytelling from three of today’s hottest storytellers, Gwenda Bond, New York Times-bestselling author Rachel Caine, and New York Times-bestselling author Carrie Ryan.

“Fast-paced, captivating, and completely surprising, prepare to stay up way too late—you won’t be able to put this down.” -Megan Miranda, New York Times-bestselling author of All the Missing Girls and The Perfect Stranger

This is episode 1 of Dead Air, where M is for midnight, Mackenzie…and murder.

Mackenzie Walker wasn’t planning on using her college radio show to solve a decades-old murder, but when she receives an anonymous tip that the wrong man may have taken the fall, she can’t resist digging deeper.

It doesn’t take long for Mackenzie to discover gaps in the official story. Several potential witnesses conveniently disappeared soon after the murder. The victim, a glamorous heiress and founder of a Kentucky horse-racing dynasty, left behind plenty of enemies. And the cops don’t seem particularly interested in discussing any of it.

But when the threats begin, Mackenzie knows she’s onto something. Someone out there would prefer to keep old secrets buried and they seem willing to bury Mackenzie with them. Thankfully, she’s getting help from a very unexpected source: the victim’s son, Ryan. The closer she gets to him, however, the more important it is for Mackenzie to uncover the truth before he gets buried alongside her.

Read or listen to the ebook and audiobook of the serial novel Dead Air, and then check out Mackenzie’s podcast for a uniquely immersive experience. Does the truth lie in the serial, the podcast…or somewhere in-between?

I found out about Dead Air from a Goodreads newsletter. I love serials and I love Carrie Ryan’s The Forest of Hands and Teeth trilogy. Since I hadn’t read much from Ryan since then, I wanted to go ahead and try the first episode of this serial fiction. Besides, it has to do with the idea of a college student who is DJ-ing for her university’s radio station and is interested in true crime. I’m a true crime buff myself so the premise pretty much check-marked a bunch of my likes.

For the first episode, it wasn’t bad. It grabbed me and it did feel like a murder mystery was about to unfold. That said, it does feel like the first episode in a tv series and only gives the reader a taste of what’s to come. The reader joins Mackenzie in seeing the scene of the crime, go through the process of getting the police reports, and meet with the family of the victim. Nothing is solved yet, but the taste of something more to come is there in the end.

What is great is that there is a podcast that accompanies the fiction and honestly, if you listen to it, it definitely grabs you. I might actually just continue the story with the podcast style versus the book, but the book will give you those small details to the narrative. In all, it does make for an interesting experience.

Final rating: 3/5

Book #87: Some Danger Involved by Will Thomas

An atmospheric debut novel set on the gritty streets of Victorian London, Some Danger Involved introduces detective Cyrus Barker and his apprentice, Thomas Llewelyn, as they work to solve the gruesome murder of a young scholar. 

When a student bearing a striking resemblance to artists’ renderings of Jesus Christ is found murdered — by crucifixion — in London’s Jewish ghetto, 19th-century private detective Barker must hire an assistant to help him solve the sinister case. Out of all who answer an ad for a position with “some danger involved,” the eccentric and enigmatic Barker chooses downtrodden Llewelyn, a gutsy young man whose murky past includes recent stints at both an Oxford college and an Oxford prison. 
As Llewelyn learns the ropes of his position, he is drawn deeper and deeper into Barker’s peculiar world of vigilante detective work, as well as the dark heart of London’s teeming underworld. Together they pass through chophouses, stables, and clandestine tea rooms, tangling with the early Italian mafia, a mad professor of eugenics, and other shadowy figures, inching ever closer to the shocking truth behind the murder.

I picked up this audiobook from my library because I was in dire need of a mystery and one set in Victorian London seemed right up my alley at the time. I was honestly expecting a mystery that felt like a Sherlock Holmes retake with different characters. That said, I was pleasantly surprised.

Barker doesn’t like to be called a private detective, but that is exactly what he is. He solves crimes from the more seedier parts of London and assists the police when it comes to a group of people that don’t necessarily trust the police completely. In the case of this specific book, Barker and his newly hired aide Llewellyn (our narrator) are assigned to help solve the murder of a Jewish man who looks like Jesus Christ.

What I liked about this book is that it addressed the relations of the British Empire with the minorities of the nation, such as the Jewish community or the Asian immigrants. Barker is heavily influenced by the Japanese culture and it shows in his day to day practices as well as the landscaping of his home. It is like this character embraces the downtrodden and misunderstood.

Which is actually further addressed in him hiring Llewellyn.

Llewellyn is not only our narrator, but he is a Welshman who has had a rather rough life. At first you think that he may be a Watson sort of character, and he sort of is, but there is a quality to Llewellyn that serves as a more modern voice for the reader. You can see the mystery unfold through his eyes and see just how interesting Barker is as a character.

What I really liked about the book was the discussion about religion. It talked about the practices of that specific grouping of Jewish people as well as the differences between the cultures and religions. It was a discussion that I could see being in the past as well as being relevant today.

No, this is not a Sherlockian type of mystery with a Sherlockian type of detective. Barker seems to deal more with the seedier part of town and helps the people who are less likely to have the money. If the two detectives were in the pub together, you would see that Sherlock’s clientele are more well-off and Barker takes care of the rest.

That said, this book was filled with action and I did like the characters. I do plan on continuing the series and am glad that the next few books happen to be in audio in my library. This isn’t bad for a beginner to a series and I can’t wait to see what else comes up.

Final rating: 4/5

Book #86: Forgotten Girls (Louise Rick #7) by Sara Blaedel

In a forest in Denmark, a ranger discovers the fresh corpse of an unidentified woman. A large scar on one side of her face should make the identification easy, but nobody has reported her missing. After four days, Louise Rick—the new commander of the Missing Persons Department—is still without answers. But when she releases a photo to the media, an older woman phones to say that she recognizes the woman as Lisemette, a child she once cared for in the state mental institution many years ago. Lisemette, like the other children in the institution, was abandoned by her family and branded a “forgotten girl.” But Louise soon discovers something more disturbing: Lisemette had a twin, and both girls were issued death certificates over 30 years ago. As the investigation brings Louise closer to her childhood home, she uncovers more crimes that were committed—and hidden—in the forest, and finds a terrible link to her own past that has been carefully concealed.

I can’t quite remember why I picked up this book, but I did like the idea of reading something set in Denmark, a place where I have family but may never actually get to visit. Add in that the book itself is a mystery and one about a person in an institution, and I mean, it makes sense why I would have opened the book.

That said, I feel I probably should have started the Louise Rick series at book 1. I’m not saying you need to read the other books to follow the story because you essentially don’t, but I don’t think I could relate to the protagonist as well as I could have if I had read the first book in this series first.

The mystery itself did have a few twists I didn’t see coming, but I feel it fell sort of flat near the climax. It felt forced for lack of a better term. Like, the author wanted to have a pivotal and emotional moment so pasted this specific scene in. And I understand why. The alternative may not have gone as well either. But, I don’t know, I feel that with the ending as it was, it probably wasn’t Blaedel’s best work and most likely not the best book to start with her as a new to you author.

That isn’t to say that this experience has turned me off to the author herself. No, I still want to read more of Blaedel. I also believe that there may have been something missed in translation. So, reading book one of the series may not only help me grasp the protagonist, but also help me with whatever reticence I am going through about this current book itself. All in all, I would read Blaedel, but this book didn’t really grab me all the way.

Final rating: 3/5

Book #58: Skeletons in the Attic by Judy Penz Sheluk

Calamity (Callie) Barnstable isn’t surprised to learn she’s the sole beneficiary of her late father’s estate, though she is shocked to discover she has inherited a house in the town of Marketville—a house she didn’t know existed. However, there are conditions attached to Callie’s inheritance: she must move to Marketville, live in the house, and solve her mother’s murder. 

Callie’s not keen on dredging up a thirty-year-old mystery, but if she doesn’t do it, there’s a scheming psychic named Misty Rivers who is more than happy to expose the Barnstable family secrets. Determined to thwart Misty and fulfill her father’s wishes, Callie accepts the challenge. But is she ready to face the skeletons hidden in the attic?

I received a copy of this audiobook through Audiobook Boom! The review that follows is my honest opinion. There has been no compensation.

I have to say, this book didn’t end the way I was expecting. And after a few days of listening to the book, I’m still not sure where I stand in it.

The writing is well done. It pulls the reader in and never lets go. Though there isn’t much in action, there is a mental process at work. You get to experience the MC, Callie undergo her investigation on the disappearance of her mother. Which only poses more questions by the end of the book.

Yes, the disappearance is explained in the end, but there is still so much left unanswered that I’m led to hope that it will be in later books.

Callie is a strong enough character and I was able to relate to her. She definitely showed a stubbornness that she claimed to have, but there was a loyalty to her. I found that she was a heroine I wanted to see succeed.

I am still unsure about the supporting cast as characters, but so is Callie. It really makes the experience interesting. Would I read more? Maybe.

Final rating: 3/5

Book #48: Good Bones by L.A. Kelley

No matter how challenging the case, psychologist Katherine Fleming never shirks from helping a patient confront a painful issue. Her keen powers of observation and compassionate nature have eased many troubled souls, but a homicide detective with a buried secret of his own stirs more than just clinical interest. 

The first time Detective Jake Sumner spied the old house, he sensed the good bones. Little did he know the purchase of the property included an unusual tenant far from resting in peace. Can the new psychologist in town help him treat a ghostly trauma case or is his growing attraction to Katherine Fleming best left buried? 

With the help of a mysterious white cat and a mystic mirror, Katherine and Jake join forces to solve a murder. Can they stop a killer from claiming the next victim or will their investigation only lead them six feet under?

To begin, I want to state that I was given this free review copy audiobook at my request and have voluntarily left this review. Everything that follows is an honest opinion and I wasn’t compensated in any way for this review.

Now with that out of the way, what grabbed me right off the bat was the title and blurb. A good old ghost story with an old house and mystery doesn’t seem all that abnormal. It is a fairly common theme. That said, I’m a sucker for a ghost story.

L.A. Kelley not only did a good job at the creep factor, but added humor into her text, AND added a bit of something different that made the story memorable. I am constantly talking about the books I’m currently reading to my best friend. Usually, the ones that get the most airtime though are the ones I really enjoy or the ones I really hated.

Good Bones I REALLY enjoyed. I think I actually loved this book. It’s a book that I plan on getting my mom to read. I want more of this world and I want more of L.A. Kelley’s works.

Then there is the narration by Ruth Redman. Her voice is calm, collected, and I genuinely felt the main character in her narration. It was the perfect pick for this book. I can see myself listening to her voice again in another project.

All in all, this was a good book and I definitely recommend be it visual or audio.

Final rating: 4.5/5

Book #33: The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins

In one moment, every drop of blood in my body was brought to a stop… There, as if it had that moment sprung out of the earth, stood the figure of a solitary Woman, dressed from head to foot in white’

The Woman in White famously opens with Walter Hartright’s eerie encounter on a moonlit London road. Engaged as a drawing master to the beautiful Laura Fairlie, Walter becomes embroiled in the sinister intrigues of Sir Percival Glyde and his ‘charming’ friend Count Fosco, who has a taste for white mice, vanilla bonbons, and poison. Pursuing questions of identity and insanity along the paths and corridors of English country houses and the madhouse, The Woman in White is the first and most influential of the Victorian genre that combined Gothic horror with psychological realism.

Matthew Sweet’s introduction explores the phenomenon of Victorian ‘sensation’ fiction, and discusses Wilkie Collins’s biographical and societal influences. Included in this edition are appendices on theatrical adaptations of the novel and its serialisation history.

This book took me on/off close to a year to read. It isn’t because of the writing. Wilkie Collins writes very well, in my opinion. It has to do with the epistolary multiple points of view. I couldn’t get myself to sit and read the book. However, once I got the audio, I was able to finish the book fairly quickly in comparison.

This is a very Victorian book. The women have their place and the men have the women’s “well-being” in mind. That is until you meet Marion. Marion is Laura Fairlie’s half-sister and probably the most badass literary victorian woman I’ve come across. What I mean by that is that she is intelligent and unafraid to stand her ground. She is a spinster and proud. She is my favorite character by far.

Anyway, this book deals with the legality issues and abuse to women of money and marriage. Women didn’t have many rights in the past, arguably even today. With that and the alpha male mind mentality, you see a disservice put on Laura throughout the book.

There are intrigue and scandal aplenty in this book. Some of which will make you scratch your head and wonder if it really would have gone down the way it did in the book, but it’s there. Personally, I feel an abridged version would have been okay to read, but the book itself isn’t bad.

I’m not turned off to one of the founding fathers of the modern mystery and I do like that this book seems to be a commentary on women’s rights. Not all rights, but the rights of a married woman. It’s an interesting read in that it gives me another viewpoint of the Victorian era through its literature.

Is it my favorite? No. Did I like it? I did. Would I read it again? Maybe. Maybe not. I would see the movie though. I plan on buying it.

Final Rating: 3/5

Book #18: To Catch a Killer by Sheryl Scarborough

Erin Blake has one of those names. A name that, like Natalee Holloway or Elizabeth Smart, is inextricably linked to a grisly crime. As a toddler, Erin survived for three days alongside the corpse of her murdered mother, and the case—which remains unsolved—fascinated a nation. Her father’s identity unknown, Erin was taken in by her mother’s best friend and has become a relatively normal teen in spite of the looming questions about her past.

Fourteen years later, Erin is once again at the center of a brutal homicide when she finds the body of her biology teacher. When questioned by the police, Erin tells almost the whole truth, but never voices her suspicions that her mother’s killer has struck again in order to protect the casework she’s secretly doing on her own.

Inspired by her uncle, an FBI agent, Erin has ramped up her forensic hobby into a full-blown cold-case investigation. This new murder makes her certain she’s close to the truth, but when all the evidence starts to point the authorities straight to Erin, she turns to her longtime crush (and fellow suspect) Journey Michaels to help her crack the case before it’s too late.

When I get oversaturated in fantasy or romance, I tend to go back to my direct roots of reading: the mystery/thriller or horror. It’s a genre I love and would love to eventually write more of. I’m all about murders and solving them. My favorite movies tend to be that genre, my favorite random facts are true crime facts, basically, I’m an ID (Investigation Discovery) Fan to the max.

That said, I haven’t delved into the young adult mystery/thriller all that much. So, when I got the opportunity to read To Catch a Killer, I went for it.

I’m glad I did.

To Catch a Killer read like a quick mystery/thriller episode. There are snarky characters, your reasonable sidekick and the quirky sidekick, there are the characters who try to stop the MC & Co from solving the crime. It was like a cozy mystery meets forensics meets high school. And it was a fun read.

Yes, there is a bit of a budding romance, but it is the mystery that is the focus. What I really loved about this book is that it leaned heavily on forensics. It made forensics fun and interesting and really simple to do if you know what you’re doing.

I’m also going to add that the characters are fun to get to know. Erin is snarky, smart, and a bit tunnel vision focus. She also has trust issues. Her best friends are the reasonable Lysa and spunky and nutty Spam. The love interest, Journey, is a charming young man who seems to have more in his head than most literary jocks.

I was pulled into the story quickly and kept in the book until the very end. It’s a definite recommendation for anyone who loves a mystery and YA books.

Final Rating: 4/5

Blog Tour: The Boy Who Swallows Flies by Michael F. Stewart

The Boy Who Swallows Flies
Michael F. Stewart
Publication date: February 15th 2018
Genres: Middle-Grade, Mystery, Superhero

Winner of the Claymore Award!

Warning – Rated Kids-Only for Bug Violence

Jarrod can view the memories of any bug. He just has to eat it. It’s not the tastiest of superpowers and, let’s face it, fly memories aren’t all unicorns and rainbows. Eating insects also doesn’t net him many friends, and Bug-boy is an unavoidable nickname. But Jarrod’s ready to prove that he and his bugs are worth more than ridicule.

When he swallows a fly while biking, he’s in for a shock. The bug saw a room stacked full of sick dogs and puppies in crates. It’s a puppy mill, and Jarrod needs to save the animals. But the flight range of the common housefly is five miles. Even if the police believed him, with no evidence, they can’t help. It’s up to Jarrod.

Trained cockroaches survey neighborhood basements. A fly taped to a window makes an excellent sentry. Every beetle, mosquito, caterpillar—don’t eat the fuzzy yellow ones—spider and centipede is his edible sidekick.

Will Jarrod save the dogs? Or is it all too much to swallow?

Goodreads / Amazon / Barnes & Noble / iBooks / Kobo

I received a copy from XPresso Tours for an honest review. Below is my honest opinion. I wasn’t compensated in any way.

Okay, first off, I requested to review this book because I thought my own son, nicknamed Bug, would love to hear me read it to him. I still think he’d love it, but he refused to hear it before this review was due. Lame, I know.

That said, even though we won’t have the opinion of a young boy on this book, I know he would love this story. It deals with what is right, superhero abilities, and a young boy trying to find where he stands in the world.

Jarrod isn’t great at school. He isn’t really great at anything. And yet, he has a special gift that no one else has: he can see the last memories of the insects he accidentally or purposely eats.

I found myself giggling and cheering Jarrod on all the while getting upset at the decisions his parents made once they learn about his abilities.  This was a seriously cute book and I would love to read a sequel if one happens. The book is encouraging to children and adults alike saying that, even though you don’t know what “your thing” is yet you can still make a difference and find your “thing” in the process.

I was lucky enough to find my “thing” early on, but I can’t say that I’ve done much with it. Not as much as Jarrod. He is a good role model for children as well as a great child protagonist.

The mystery was gripping enough for me to keep reading and the writing is young enough that a child wouldn’t be too scared or confused about what is going on. I’m definitely going to see if my Bug wants to read this book later. This is a book I recommend for all kids. Young and old.

Author Bio:

Michael F. Stewart is winner of both the 2015 Claymore Award and the 2014 inaugural Creation of Stories Award for best YA novel at the Toronto International Book Fair.
He likes to combine storytelling with technology and pioneered interactive storytelling with Scholastic Canada, Australia, and New Zealand’s, anti-cyberbullying program Bully For You. In addition to his award winning Assured Destruction series, he has authored four graphic novels with Oxford University Press Canada’s Boldprint series. Publications of nonfiction titles on Corruption and Children’s Rights are published by Scholastic and early readers are out with Pearson Education.

For adults, Michael has written THE SAND DRAGON a horror about a revenant prehistoric vampire set in the tar sands, HURAKAN a Mayan themed thriller which pits the Maya against the MS-13 with a New York family stuck in the middle, 24 BONES an urban fantasy which draws from Egyptian myth, and THE TERMINALS–a covert government unit which solves crimes in this realm by investigating them in the next.

Herder of four daughters, Michael lives to write in Ottawa where he was the Ottawa Public Library’s first Writer in Residence. To learn more about Michael and his next projects visit his website at http://www.michaelfstewart.com or connect via Twitter @MichaelFStewart.

Michael is represented by Talcott Notch.

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