ARC Review: A Dark and Twisting Path (A Writer’s Apprentice Mystery #3) by Julia Buckley

Image of book cover from Goodreads
Image of book cover from Goodreads

Title: A Dark and Twisting Path (A Writer’s Apprentice Mystery #3)

Author: Julia Buckley

Category: Adult Mystery

Publisher/Date: Berkley Books/31 July 2018

Edition: eARC

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/36601854-a-dark-and-twisting-path

Amazon: https://smile.amazon.com/Dark-Twisting-Writers-Apprentice-Mystery-ebook/dp/B077CRJ71C/

Barnes and Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/a-dark-and-twisting-path-julia-buckley/1127456867?ean=9780425282625#/

Writer’s apprentice Lena London is happily working on a new collaboration with her idol and bestselling suspense novelist and friend Camilla Graham, but her joy is short-lived when a dark cloud descends upon the quaint town of Blue Lake, Indiana…

Lena’s best friend, Allison, is in a panic. On a walk in the woods by her home, Allison discovers the body of her mail carrier, an argumentative man who recently had a falling out with Allison’s husband. Lena quickly realizes that Allison has nothing to worry about as the murder weapon points to a different suspect altogether: Lena’s embattled boyfriend, Sam West.

Sam was cleared of his wife’s murder when she was found alive, and now someone is trying to make him look guilty again. Surveillance video of a break-in at his house shows a shadowy figure trying to incriminate him by stealing the weapon from his desk. Lena and Camilla work on a suspect list, but a threatening note and a violent intrusion at Graham House prove that the devious killer has decided to write them into the plot.

I received an ARC from the publisher via the First to Read program. This book has content warnings for death, murder, on-page attempted murder, stalking, kidnapping (both adults and children), and violence.

This is definitely one of the most enjoyable cozy mysteries I’ve read in a while! This isn’t your typical “someone gets murdered so a friend tries to solve the mystery on their own” mystery book; it actually has quite a bit in common with a thriller. The character relationships in this book are complex, and though our main character, Lena, wants the mystery solved, she also in a sense wants to stay away from the mystery because she and her partner are in real danger because of it. The plot itself is rather complex, but not in a confusing way; though this book is the third in the series and reading the other two in order is recommended (especially by other readers), I had no problem following what was going on without reading the preceding books.

This book also had a very nice “small town” feel to it. The sense of feeling like everyone is watching you, how word travels very quickly, and how unforgiving small town people who don’t believe you can be felt incredibly real to me, and I loved this. The characters felt well-rounded and complex, even if they were side characters, and this part of the book was well done. (And the book gets bonus points for treating librarians like superheroes — because we are.)

Overall, this was a really good read. If you’re looking for a new cozy mystery series to pick up, you might like this one!

Final rating: 4 of 5 stars

ARC Review: The Cats Came Back (Magical Cats #10) by Sofie Kelly

Image of book cover from Goodreads
Image of book cover from Goodreads

Title: The Cats Came Back

Author: Sofie Kelly

Category: Adult Mystery

Publisher/Date: Berkley/4 September 2018

Edition: eARC

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/37538833-the-cats-came-back

Amazon: https://smile.amazon.com/Cats-Came-Back-Magical-ebook/dp/B0782VC3Y6/

Barnes and Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-cats-came-back-sofie-kelly/1127620590?ean=9780399584596#/

The charming Minnesota town of Mayville Heights is hosting a music festival, and the whole place is bustling with musicians and tourists. Kathleen is looking forward to taking in some fabulous performances–and her two cats, Owen and Hercules, are looking forward to taking in some fabulous sardine crackers. But then the trio stumbles across a dead body by the river.

The victim is a close friend–who also happens to be a look-alike of a popular cabaret singer set to perform at the festival. Who could have wanted to harm this innocent girl? Was it a case of mistaken identity?

As accusations abound and suspicions swirl, Kathleen, Hercules and Owen will put their abilities–both mundane and magical–to the test, and lay down the paw. 

I received an ARC of this book from the publisher via Penguin’s First to Read program. This book has content warnings for death, murder, and violence.

Cats and librarians in mysteries tend to draw me in quickly, and this one did not disappoint. The supernatural elements in regards to the cats were rather fun, and the story was intriguing and well-paced overall. The mystery itself was interesting and well-done; it was the kind that an astute reader may be able to figure out on their own but not so quickly it ruins the reading experience, which is my favorite kind of mystery plot. The subplots also worked really well with the main plot, making this overall an enjoyable read.

My only slight disappointment was with our narrator, Kathleen. I didn’t dislike Kathleen — most of the time I liked her very much — but there were a handful of instances where she and I just didn’t mesh together very well. It was kind of strange because this wasn’t consistent and this didn’t occur for long stretches of the book by any means, but at times something about her character just bothered me. This didn’t make the reading experience too unpleasant, but it made it somewhat more uneven.

This wasn’t one of my favorites, but it was a solid, fun read, and I would definitely recommend it.

Final rating: 4 of 5 stars

ARC Review: Maudlin Towers: Curse of the Werewolf Boy by Chris Priestley

Image of book cover from Goodreads
Image of book cover from Goodreads

Title: Maudlin Towers: Curse of the Werewolf Boy

Author: Chris Priestley

Category: MG Mystery

Publisher/Date: Bloomsbury/5 October 2017

Edition: eARC

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/36150286-maudlin-towers

Amazon: https://smile.amazon.com/Curse-Werewolf-Boy-Maudlin-Towers/dp/1681199327/

Barnes and Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/curse-of-the-werewolf-boy-chris-priestley/1127084657?ean=9781681199320

Mildew and Sponge don’t think much of Maudlin Towers, the blackened, gloom­laden, gargoyle-infested monstrosity that is their school. But when somebody steals the School Spoon and the teachers threaten to cancel the Christmas holidays until the culprit is found, our heroes must spring into action and solve the crime!

But what starts out as a classic bit of detectivating quickly becomes weirder than they could have imagined. Who is the ghost in the attic? What’s their history teacher doing with a time machine? And why do a crazy bunch of Vikings seem to think Mildew is a werewolf?

Hugely funny, deliciously creepy and action-packed by turns, this brand new series from Chris Priestley is perfect for 8+ readers who like their mysteries with a bit of bite. Fans of Lemony Snicket and Chris Riddell will love Curse of the Werewolf Boy.

I received an ARC of this book from the publisher via NetGalley.

This book was cute and funny, and it has a lot going for it. It reads a lot like a satire of some magical boarding school books; so many on-the-nose names and silly traditions as well as adults with exaggerated characteristics fill the pages of this one. The all-important School Spoon goes missing, and as Mildew and Sponge try to figure out what happened to it they run into more questions than they do answers. This book has a lot of twists and turns, and it’s very amusing.

At the same time, I don’t feel like this book was the right book for me. Though this is usually the kind of book that I like, I didn’t feel particularly grabbed by this book; it didn’t read as anything particularly unique, and the pacing of it felt a bit too quick for my taste. I think the plot was a bit too all over the place and the writing could have been a little bit clearer. It wasn’t necessarily poorly-written or anything, but it wasn’t quite meshing with me.

Younger middle grade readers who love creepy yet funny mysteries would probably really love this book. Though it’s not one of my personal favorites, it still has a lot going for it and may be very entertaining for young readers.

Final rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Orange sky with shadowy trees and a full moon with the text "#SummerOfPLL: A Pretty Little Liars Readalong: July 2nd - August 31st"

#SummerOfPLL — A Readalong!

Orange sky with shadowy trees and a full moon with the text "#SummerOfPLL: A Pretty Little Liars Readalong: July 2nd - August 31st"

It’s summer, and that means there’s lots of time for reading! My friend and booktuber Wulfie, aka Silly Little Ravenclaw, and I are doing a full readalong of all of the Pretty Little Liars books by Sara Shepard in July and August! If you’ve been wanting to read this series but haven’t gotten around to doing it yet, you should join us and discuss it with us using the hashtag #SummerOfPLL on Twitter!

Our schedule (created by Wulfie!) is as follows:

1.) Pretty Little Liars — July 2-4
2.) Flawless — July 5-7
3.) Perfect — July 8-10
4.) Unbelievable — July 11-13
5.) Wicked — July 14-16
6.) Killer — July 17-19
7.) Heartless — July 20-22
8.) Wanted — July 23-25
9.) Twisted — July 26-28
10.) Ruthless — July 29-31
*Break/Catch-up/Read-Ahead/Whatever-You-Want Time!* — August 1-4
11.) Stunning — August 5-7
12.) Burned — August 8-10
13.) Crushed — August 11-13
14.) Deadly — August 14-16
15.) Toxic — August 17-19
16.) Vicious — August 20-22
17.) Alison’s Pretty Little Diary — August 23-25
18.) Pretty Little Secrets — August 26-28
19.) Ali’s Pretty Little Lies — August 29-31

Halfway through the readalong we’ll have a four-day break which can be used to catch up if you’re behind, read ahead if you want, or take a break from these books completely if you’re getting burned out! The three companion books to the series (listed as 17-19 in the list above) will be read after the full series — Wulfie considered putting them chronologically in the schedule where they should be but didn’t feel like figuring that out, so this method seemed easier. 🙂

Would you prefer a calendar to a list of dates? I’ve created a calendar for each month with our reading dates written out!

A July calendar with the #SummerOfPLL reading dates listed earlier in this blog post.

 

An August calendar with the #SummerOfPLL reading dates listed earlier in this blog post.

If this pace doesn’t work for you or if you don’t want to read ALL of them in two months, that’s totally okay! You are definitely still welcome to join in the discussion with us. This is a MOUNTAIN of books and a huge undertaking, but it should be a lot of fun as well!

Are you planning to join us? Awesome! Let us know on Twitter using #SummerOfPLL or talk with us in the comments of this blog post and Wulfie’s YouTube video. We hope you’ll join us, and happy reading!

-B

ARC Review: Probable Claws (Mrs. Murphy #27) by Rita Mae Brown and Sneaky Pie Brown

Image of book cover from Goodreads
Image of book cover from Goodreads

Title: Probable Claws (Mrs. Murphy #27)

Author: Rita Mae Brown and Sneaky Pie Brown

Category: Adult Mystery

Publisher/Date: Bantam/29 May 2018

Edition: eARC

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/36213902-probable-claws

Amazon: https://smile.amazon.com/Probable-Claws-Mrs-Murphy-Mystery-ebook/dp/B075CB7QQV/

Barnes and Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/probable-claws-rita-mae-brown/1128133508?

With the New Year just around the corner, winter has transformed the cozy Blue Ridge Mountain community of Crozet, Virginia, into a living snow globe. It’s the perfect setting for Mary Minor “Harry” Haristeen to build a new work shed designed by her dear friend, local architect Gary Gardner. But the natural serenity is shattered when out of the blue, right in front of Harry and Deputy Cynthia Cooper, and in broad daylight, Gary is shot to death by a masked motorcyclist.
 
Outraged by the brazen murder, Harry begins to burrow into her friend’s past—and unearths a pattern of destructive greed reaching far back into Virginia’s post-Revolutionary history. When Harry finds incriminating evidence, the killer strikes again.
 
Heedless of her own safety, Harry follows a trail of clues to a construction site in Richmond, where the discovery of mysterious remains has recently halted work. Aided as always by her loyal, if opinionated, companions, crime-solving cats Mrs. Murphy and Pewter, and Tee Tucker the Corgi, Harry hunts for a link between the decades-old dead, the recently violently deceased—and ancient secrets that underlie everything. And while other deaths are narrowly averted in a flurry of fur, the killer remains at large—ever more desperate and dangerous. The deep-rooted legacy of corruption that’s been exposed can never be buried again. But if Harry keeps pursuing the terrible truth, she may be digging her own grave.

I received an ARC of this book from the publisher via NetGalley. This book has content warnings for death, murder, poison, gun violence, physical violence, racist/xenophobic language, and miscarriage/pregnancy loss.

I had expected better of this book than what I got; though it wasn’t the worst, overall it was quite disappointing. One thing that is less the book’s fault and more my own is that the dual timelines did not work for me at all; though cozy mysteries like this one are usually fine read as standalone books, the historical plot that takes place in the 18th century apparently spans across the book before this one in the series as well as the book following this one. Because of this, the storyline felt incredibly disconnected from the modern-day narrative because it didn’t have anything at all to do with Gary’s murder. What was more odd was that the modern-day storyline read as expected — as if it could be a standalone read out of order even though it’s part of a series. The historical plot was also pretty boring and dry, and I didn’t care for anything that happened during those chapters. Even though reading the books in this series out of order and not getting the previous part of the 18th century narrative from the previous book, I still expect the characters and the narrative to be interesting, and they just weren’t.

The modern-day narrative was self-contained and more interesting, although I wasn’t impressed by it, either. The human characters mostly spent their time bumbling around almost as if they were waiting for the animals to give them clues, and while the animals were snarky and kind of funny when they talked to each other, their scenes were almost entirely consumed by Pewter the cat complaining about a giant spider. I know cozy mysteries often have a very leisurely pace to them, but this was just too slow and repetitive. I don’t mind a book being a leisurely read, but if it’s going to do that then the narrative needs to have enough content to keep my attention. This book felt as if it could have been half the length and still keep its leisurely pace and storylines without sacrificing anything.

Additionally, I was pulled out of the narrative on multiple occasions because of the racism and xenophobia contained in the book. I realize that this book takes place in the south and maybe phrases like “you can pinch a nickle until the Indian rides the buffalo” (9%) might be more commonplace than they are where I live, but it was still off-putting to see in the text. There was also a really weird scene where Harry’s new Black friend, Marvella, basically starts explaining institutionalized oppression to Harry and sort of even tries to turn enduring institutionalized oppression into a “positive,” and it feels really unnatural and weird. This isn’t my lane so it’d be better to seek out opinions of Black readers (or other readers who are PoC for the racism issues as a whole), but these scenes left a funny taste in my mouth.

I was also a bit uncomfortable with physical violence in the book. There is a scene where a “good” character is breaking the bones of a “bad” character in order to keep them in line, and I was cringing through the whole scene because that felt incredibly wrong to me for a number of reasons. It’s just odd to me that something like that would be depicted as acceptable and heroic when it’s pretty terrible and the character clearly has other options or has started doing it just because they can. This just did’t sit well with me.

I found myself really just wishing there was more to this book. It’s pretty average for a cozy mystery and there definitely could have been more to this one. It wasn’t the worst read, but it was underwhelming at best. If you’re a regular Mrs. Murphy reader then you might like this one; otherwise it might be better to look at other cozy cat mysteries instead.

Final rating: 3 of 5 stars

Review: White Rabbit by Caleb Roehrig

Image of book cover from Goodreads
Image of book cover from Goodreads

Title: White Rabbit

Author: Caleb Roehrig

Category: YA Mystery (LGBTQIAP+)

Publisher/Date: Fiewel & Friends/24 April 2018

Edition: Kindle

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/34499210-white-rabbit

Amazon: https://smile.amazon.com/White-Rabbit-Caleb-Roehrig-ebook/dp/B0763SVCJW/

Barnes and Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/white-rabbit-caleb-roehrig/1125855934?ean=9781250085658#/

Rufus Holt is having the worst night of his life. It begins with the reappearance of his ex-boyfriend, Sebastian—the guy who stomped his heart out like a spent cigarette. Just as Rufus is getting ready to move on, Sebastian turns up out of the blue, saying they need to “talk.” Things couldn’t get much worse, right?

But then Rufus gets a call from his sister April, begging for help. And then he and Sebastian find her, drenched in blood and holding a knife, beside the dead body of her boyfriend, Fox Whitney.

April swears she didn’t kill Fox—but Rufus knows her too well to believe she’s telling him the whole truth. April has something he needs, though, and her price is his help. Now, with no one to trust but the boy he wants to hate yet can’t stop loving, Rufus has one night to prove his sister’s innocence…or die trying.

This book has content warnings for violence, stabbing, gun violence, murder, attempted murder, drugs, ableist language, homomisia, unhealthy relationships, sexual assault/rape (described but occurred off-page), and a whole lot of blood.

This book was definitely a mixed bag for me — there were things that I really liked and things that I truly hated. Starting with the positives, the mystery itself was quite intriguing. It was a gory mess and not light on the descriptions, which as someone who is a fan of horror I enjoyed, and I was genuinely interested in finding out what happened as Rufus and Sebastian untangled the strings to solve the mystery.

Another thing I really liked was the queer rep. Rufus is gay and has had to deal with a lot of bullying at school and has lost friends because of it, and with Sebastian we have a Black questioning character who thinks he might be bisexual but isn’t really sure, and I LOVE that he’s still questioning by the end of the book. He still acknowledges his feelings for his ex-girlfriend and he acknowledges his feelings for Rufus, but he still doesn’t know exactly where he fits, and I love seeing that in YA. We need more characters who are still trying to figure themselves out. The relationship between Rufus and Sebastian was less appealing to me — Rufus’s attachment to Sebastian felt unhealthy and Sebastian’s behavior at times was stringing Rufus along, and I did not like that power dynamic. I felt that it was a LITTLE better towards the end of the book, but not much.

One other thing I really liked — poverty rep! This book requires a LOT of suspension of disbelief if you’re going to go along with a teenager getting paid by his half-sister’s mom to sidestep the police to solve a murder, but the one thing I did really like about this is that Rufus didn’t downplay how much the fact that his mom needed the money so that they could keep their house factored into his decision to actually do it. He felt so desperate at this point to get the money for his mom that he chose to risk his life to find evidence that April did not murder Fox, and it was kind of heartbreaking. Though the situation otherwise feels kind of ridiculous, this part of the situation rang really true to me.

On the negative side of things — I didn’t feel like I actually knew anything about any of the characters, including our main character, Rufus. The focus was primarily on the mystery itself, and while the mystery was intriguing it fell flat in some places because some of our suspects were little more than just names to us. Aside from their relationships with each other and that some of the characters were drug dealers and such, there was very little differentiating one character from another because none of them actually had a distinct personality. This is definitely a book powered by plot rather than character, so if you’re a character-driven reader you’ll probably want to pass on this one.

Additionally, the writing style itself didn’t mesh with me — the pacing was off and the book felt much longer than it needed to be, and Rufus would often just freeze the scene to describe a scenario that happened in the past to contextualize things and then restart the scene that was playing again, and this felt really forced and awkward and didn’t fit with what should have been a fast-paced novel. Had this been a screenplay instead of a novel I think this flashback technique would have worked better, but within a novel it felt out of place and really slowed things down. I didn’t want Rufus to stop describing what was happening to infodump details of the past on me — I just wanted to get to the story.

Despite the negatives, I still enjoyed this book quite a bit while I was reading it. It’s not one of my favorites, but it was all right. Recommended for those who like plot-driven horrific murder mysteries with little characterization, as long as you don’t mind a bit more of a leisurely pace than you’d expect with this kind of book. If that kind of book isn’t your thing, you might want to consider passing on this one.

Final rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Review: Before I Let Go by Marieke Nijkamp

Image of book cover from Goodreads
Image of book cover from Goodreads

Title: Before I Let Go

Author: Marieke Nijkamp

Category: YA Magical Realism (LGBTQIAP+)

Publisher/Date: Sourcebooks Fire/2 January 2018

Edition: ebook

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/33918883-before-i-let-go

Amazon: https://smile.amazon.com/Before-Let-Go-Marieke-Nijkamp/dp/1492642282/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1514947475

Barnes and Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/before-i-let-go-marieke-nijkamp/1125526067?ean=9781492642282#/

Best friends Corey and Kyra were inseparable in their snow-covered town of Lost Creek, Alaska. When Corey moves away, she makes Kyra promise to stay strong during the long, dark winter, and wait for her return.

Just days before Corey is to return home to visit, Kyra dies. Corey is devastated―and confused. The entire Lost community speaks in hushed tones about the town’s lost daughter, saying her death was meant to be. And they push Corey away like she’s a stranger.

Corey knows something is wrong. With every hour, her suspicion grows. Lost is keeping secrets―chilling secrets. But piecing together the truth about what happened to her best friend may prove as difficult as lighting the sky in an Alaskan winter…

This book has content warnings for bipolar disorder (and a LOT of addressed anti-bipolar disorder sentiments), child/medical abuse, suicide, and attempted murder.

This book was really good, although sometimes it was a little painful to get through. First off, I really loved the friendship between Corey and Kyra and I’m a little sad that we only got to see it through flashbacks. Their friendship was solid but still had its weak points — Corey not writing back to Kyra after she moves, sexuality which I’ll get to in a bit — and I loved how honest that part of their friendship was. Friendships don’t have to be perfect to be healthy, and while they did have their problems their friendship was still very healthy and supportive. We need more friendships like this in books, and it was something I really appreciated.

Although I’m not diagnosed with bipolar disorder (it’s likely that I may have something similar, but I’m not sure), I felt that Kyra’s bipolar disorder was realistic and I appreciated how the point of view we had made it clear that a diagnosis of bipolar disorder did not make Kyra a different person from who she was before the diagnosis. Unfortuately, aside from Corey, almost every single person in Lost Creek is unable to understand this. As soon as she’s diagnosed, the whole community demonizes Kyra and tries to get rid of her because she no longer “fits in.” This is a sentiment that, while explicitly addressed, is present throughout the entire book, so if that’s something that would bother you whether or not you have bipolar disorder yourself, it might be best to skip this one.

I also really appreciated the explicit pansexual and asexual rep on the page. While I’m glad to see the “asexual” label being used for Corey, the way in which her asexuality was described sounded more like aromanticism than asexuality, and I really wish that that representation would have been made explicit as well. From what I know of Corey I do think asexual also fits, but this was a missed opportunity for on-page aromantic rep that we really need in literature. As a counterpoint, I DO think that because Corey and Kyra were figuring out their identities from the Internet and were still exploring and looking at labels that maybe Corey just didn’t come across that label while they were looking, which is fair because teenagers can definitely still be exploring and learning about different identities. Even so, I do think that this was a missed opportunity, and I’m a little sad that that didn’t make it in there.

The writing was engaging and easy to read. Some of the sections were written in script format, which was an interesting choice, and I felt like it added to the dramatization of the small town. It emphasized that the town was primarily just an act, and I loved the perspective that it brought.

A few negatives: I didn’t feel like I got to know any of the characters all that well. I liked Corey and Kyra together and I got to know them a little, but I left the book feeling like I didn’t know much about them as individual people, and I know almost nothing about any of the other people in Lost Creek. Additionally, aside from a tiny handful of people including our protagonist, almost everybody in this novel is unlikable. The middle of the book was a little slow for me because I had to spend time with these characters who were unbearable, and it was a little much for me. Nearly everyone in that town is self-centered, selfish, and disgustingly naïve about mental illness, and while I know that sentiments like this toward bipolar disorder are common, it was really harsh to see over 200 people holding the exact same position and putting their beliefs over a teenager’s life and safety. Everyone is negligent and irresponsible, and it kind of made me feel sick.

This wasn’t a perfect read, but overall I still found it really enjoyable. If extreme anti-bipolar sentiments and neglect and abuse towards youth are not for you, then I’d recommend passing on this one. Otherwise, it’s a very good read.

Final rating: 3.5 of 5 stars