Posts Tagged ‘mystery’

After reading and really enjoying Sager’s first novel Final Girls, I was eager to check out his latest book, The Last Time I Lied, when I found out about it. It helped that the protagonist was a young woman with a dark past (my favorite kind of character to work with) and the story combined an old horror trope with some of the new thriller-type storytelling that we’ve seen in novels like Gone Girl and The Woman in the Window, as well as in Sager’s last book. What more could I ask for? Excited, I downloaded the audio book before the New Year, and started listening.

The Last Time I Lied follows Emma Davis, a New York City artist who is invited back to Camp Nightingale as an art instructor for its first summer in fifteen years. One problem: Fifteen years ago when Emma was a camper at Camp Nightingale, her three bunkmates went missing and were never found. This incident has haunted Emma all through her teens and adulthood, and she decides to go back to see if she can’t finally put the past to bed and maybe even find out what happened to her friends. Weaving between the past and the present, Emma arrives at camp and finds very little is as it seems, and gets caught up in a web of mystery, one with her old bunkmates at the center of it, and which threatens to entrap her and the current crop of campers inside.

One thing I loved about this story is that the camp setting and the camp reminded me of my own camper days. Yeah, my camp was co-ed and Jewish in nature and the one in the book is a secular all-girls camp, but the amount of swearing, the hormones and the differing personalities that sometimes get along and sometimes clash kind of brought me home. But beyond that, this novel is just as twisty as Final Girls was. Every moment you think you know what’s happening or what’s happened, the story throws you for a loop and introduces new information that makes you rethink everything. I was only able to guess a couple of those twists out of all of them, and given that I’m not normally very good at doing that for most mysteries, that’s impressive.

I also felt a lot of connection with Emma herself. She’s a very well-developed character, and I understood how the events of the past affected her in the present (I’ve been there too, though nowhere as severe). But you also see how caring she is, and how that caring makes her want to seek out the truth and to protect those around her. She’s a great example of a protagonist for this sort of story, and I hope I can learn from reading her story to write those sorts of characters in my own stories.

A few things did stick out for me with this story. Remember those twists I was able to guess? Well, at times said twists did feel a bit obvious, so the emotional response at their reveal wasn’t as strong as it could’ve been. At least for me. For others, it could be different. Also, there’s this subplot involving a relationship between Emma and another major character she has history with, not all of it good. And while that subplot did add some drama to the story, I didn’t like how it concluded. Without spoiling anything, after everything that occurs in the novel, I find the hints as to the direction the relationship may go in the future hard to believe.

But all in all, I really enjoyed The Last Time I Lied. It’s a twisty story with plenty of surprises and great characters that play off each other in all the best ways. On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m giving it a 4.3. Sign up and dive right in for a great thrill ride.

I’m looking forward to Sager’s next novel, Lock Every Door, when it comes out this summer. And if you read Final Girls or The Last Time I Lied, you will be too.

You know, I’ve never reviewed a proper Stephen King story on this blog before. I’ve reviewed plenty of adaptations of his work, but never any of his actual stories. Probably because I’ve either gotten to them too late and so much time has passed that doing a review seems silly (which is true with the vast majority of his bibliography) or I didn’t feel there was enough to talk about to actually write a decent review (such as Gwendy’s Button Box, co-written with author Richard Chizmar). So I’m glad I’m finally able to review one of his books here. And this one is something else: it’s his latest novel, The Outsider.

The Outsider follows Ralph Anderson, a detective in the small city of Flint City, Oklahoma. The novel opens with Ralph and his fellow officers arresting Terry Maitland, a local teacher and boys’ baseball coach who is beloved by Flint City, for the horrific murder of a young boy. The state’s case seems ironclad: there’s not only eyewitnesses, but a ton of physical evidence linked back to Maitland. But soon after the arrest, evidence arises to cast doubt on Maitland’s guilt, and it’s just as ironclad. The contradiction in this case leads to a domino effect as Anderson and his allies try to figure out if the beloved Coach Maitland is hiding a darker personality, or if someone else, someone darker and worse, is at large in the town.

Now before I go into my review, let me just say that this book shares a few characters in common with King’s Mr. Mercedes trilogy, and contains a few spoilers. So if you haven’t read those books yet and would like to be surprised, probably hold off on this book until you’ve read those.

So I have to say, I came away very satisfied with this story. I like how King starts out with this novel seeming like a regular thriller-mystery: he shows the arrest, switching between the action and then showing interviews and documents from the investigation. The Outsider continues in this vein for a little while, but then goes in a different direction that defies your expectations so far. From there it develops into a compelling and strange read with some great characters. I especially liked Holly Gibney, who comes from the Mr. Mercedes trilogy. She’s neuro-atypical, like myself, but is shown to be an integral part of the investigation and makes certain leaps that, without her, the other characters might never be able to. It’s a very real portrayal of someone with disabilities, and I related to Holly on a number of levels. I love those sorts of portrayals of neuro-diverse people in fiction, and I hope to see more in the future.

But probably the novel’s greatest strength is just how hard it is to put down. King takes mystery, the strange, great characters, and much more to make a read that’s hard to put down. Normally I’m able to restrain myself to reading during my lunch break or on weekends, but this novel was so good, I found myself reading it late into the evening at times (which helped me to get to this review today).

That being said, The Outsider does have its issues. One of the biggest ones is that we’ve seen a lot of the concepts used and explored in the book in other King novels, and frankly done better there. I won’t say what, but they’re pretty obvious, and every time they came up, I kept thinking to myself, “This feels like a lighter/duller version of insert-story-name-here.” That, and I felt that the climax could’ve been a bit more epic. It was decent, but I felt it was hampered by too much exposition on the parts of the characters and the story’s villain, who is humanized a little too much (that makes more sense if you’ve read the book). Which, unfortunately, lowers the terror factor with a creative villain that could be as scary as some of King’s other famous villains. I was disappointed about that.

Overall, The Outsider is an entrancing and powerful read, subverting your expectations and leaving you wanting more. On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m giving it a 4.6. Check it out, and get sent down a mine shaft full of the strange and the unsettling.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I’ve got my own novel to work on, so I’m going to get on that this evening. Until then, pleasant nightmares!

I’ve been keen to read this novel since Stephen King tweeted about it months ago, saying this novel, which apparently is the first work of an already-established author published under a pen name, was the first great thriller of 2017.* By the time it came out on July 11th, I was one of the first people to get a copy at the library. And while I don’t always agree with King on what makes a good story (see my review for A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay), I have to say, he was right that this is a great thriller novel, possibly the first great one of 2017 (I haven’t read most of the others that came out this year, so who am I to judge?).

Final Girls follows Quincy Carpenter, the lone survivor of the Pine Cottage Massacre, in which a man she only refers to as Him killed all her friends while on a camping trip and she was the only survivor. This has made Quincy part of an exclusive club known as the Final Girls, women who have survived horror-movie style massacres and, like the girls in those movies, are the only ones to survive. The other two are Lisa Milner, the survivor of a sorority house murder spree in Indiana, and Samantha Boyd, who escaped and killed a killer known as the Sack Man at a motel in Florida. Quincy, who has no memory of the events at Pine Cottage, wants nothing but to keep up her baking blog, maybe marry her defense attorney boyfriend someday, and have some definition of normal.

That is, until Lisa Milner dies under mysterious circumstances in Indiana, and Samantha Boyd shows up at Quincy’s apartment in New York to talk. Suddenly Quincy’s life is thrown into a maelstrom as Sam’s presence threatens not just to unearth the memories from that fateful night, but change her world forever.

Immediately, you feel like this is two stories in one, a standard slasher and a mystery/thriller. On the slasher hand, you get to read Quincy’s recollections of Pine Cottage, which are told in third-person POV and past tense. And on the other hand, you get the events of Quincy’s current life, which are told in first-person POV and present tense, which is a mystery/thriller mixed with the story of two completely opposite people trying to bond over an incredible and dark situation. And both stories are peppered with references to horror movies, especially the best of the slasher genre. There are some obvious ones: Quincy’s last name is a reference to director John Carpenter of the Halloween series, while Lisa Milner’s massacre is an obvious reference to Black Christmas. But there are other, subtler references.  The mystery elements definitely remind me of the Scream movies and the TV series, which utilize mystery to offset themselves from tried-and-done-to-death slasher stories, as well as elements that make me think of Urban Legend. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg, there are probably references I don’t recognize from movies/comics/shows/books I haven’t seen or read yet.

I also really enjoyed the characters. Quincy felt incredibly real to me: rather than being a character who’s always good and delicate or always damaged and dealing with her issues, she’s actually a pretty good balance of both. She’s clearly made some progress in trying to move on and have a new normal, but she also has issues that she doesn’t want to address, even takes some joy in, and those occasionally threaten the balance she’s trying to maintain in her life. It’s very refreshing to see such a realistic character like that. I also found Samantha Boyd (or Sam, as she prefers), to be very real. She’s a girl whose life is one defined by horrors, and who’s trying, in her own way, to reach out to the one person left in the world who knows what it’s like to have felt horrors like hers. The way she does it isn’t exactly smooth, but it does feel like someone with her background might use to reach out and find some mutual catharsis.

But the best part of the story is definitely how twisty it is. Even when we go back to Quincy’s past, it is anything but a standard slasher, going in directions you don’t see coming. Just today, while reading the last 70 or so pages, I kept marveling at surprise after surprise after surprise. And that’s pretty much how it is for most of the book, especially in the latter half of it. I think even some veteran mystery/thriller fans will find themselves surprised at the twists in store here in Final Girls.

If there’s one thing that might have been a drawback for this novel, I felt that the moments that Quincy and Sam were trying to bond were a little slow at times, but that may be nitpicking on my part. They were still well-written parts, and they showed both how much these girls wanted to be friends and how much they rubbed against each other as people.

On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m giving Final Girls a well-earned 4.6. From one page to the next, you never know what to expect, and it will only leave you wanting more. Go ahead, pick it up, and find you have a hard time putting it down.

* This tweet and hints about the author’s identity make me think it might be Stephen King’s son Joe Hill doing his own Richard Bachman turn, but that’s just my guess.

"No Matter How Improbable" by Angela Misri

“No Matter How Improbable” by Angela Misri

I’m of the opinion that the third book in a series can be really hard to pull off, especially when the first two books were just that awesome. I’m glad to say that while the third book in the Portia Adams Adventure series by friend and fellow writer Angela Misri is a bit darker than the previous two books, it’s still a great read and I enjoyed reading it from start to finish.

So if you’re unfamiliar with the book series, it follows Portia Constance Adams, a young woman who finds out she’s the granddaughter of John Watson (as in Holmes and Watson), and moves into 221B Baker Street and begins solving mysteries in 1930s London. The third book starts with Portia now known to the great wide world as the new consulting detective at 221B, and, in addition to a bit of annoying notoriety, she’s dealing with some rather upsetting aspects of being human. Namely, you sometimes argue with, and sometimes you even lose some friends.

These themes of struggle with your friends and loss are present throughout the book, and they can be either a plus or a minus, depending on the reader. In my case, I think I’ll go with a plus. Seeing Portia’s struggles with her friends, which often are somehow wrapped up with the cases she’s taking on, makes for great character development, and makes you want to read more to see how she resolves these problems. You also feel a lot of what Portia’s feeling as you read on, which shows how good Angela is at making you feel what the character feels.

I also found the cases in the story very compelling. Again, I struggled trying to figure out who the culprit or culprits were in each case, and each time I was pleasantly surprised (I’m better at figuring out culprits on crime shows than I am in the books, it seems). My favorite was the mystery “Principessa”, which follows the actual Princess Francesca Maria of the Italian royal family. It was pretty cool, seeing an actual figure from history in a historical mystery novel.

If there were things I thought could’ve been improved upon, I did think that the final casebook was a little crowded. So much was going on in that book–a strange death, a couple of odd men following a friend of Portia’s, and a suspicious psychologist–that it’s hard to keep track of what is part of which case when. That, and in the beginning of the last chapter, there’s a scene where Portia shows some really deep emotion, but it’s only glanced over. I really would’ve enjoyed seeing more attention paid to that scene, as I think it would’ve been a very memorable scene if that had been the case.

Other than that, I really enjoyed No Matter How Improbable. It was a great read, and I really can’t wait for the fourth book. On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m giving it a 4.3 out of 5. Definitely check it out (and the first two books, too) if you have the chance.

Angela Misri

Angela Misri

Twice already I’ve had the great fortune to talk to my friend Angela Misri about her detective character Portia Adams, and the books she’s written with her. I’ve also had the pleasure of reading and reviewing both books, and I have to say, Angela knows how to tell a compelling mystery story in the tradition of Sherlock Holmes.

Which is why I’m glad to welcome her back and talk to her about the third Portia Adams book, No Matter How Improbable, which I’m sure will be as excellent as the first two books.

RU: Welcome back, Angela. It’s good to see you here again. Now, in the first book, Jewel of the Thames, Portia comes to London, starts a new life, and realizes her heritage. In the second book, Thrice Burned, Portia makes a big decision about her life and her career, as well as facing new challenges in her life. What can we expect for her in the third book, No Matter How Improbable?

AM: Where the first and second books were very much about discovery and building confidence, book three has a central theme of loss. Loss of friends, loss of family, loss of the comfort of anonymity. This book will force Portia to develop as a person amongst all the other humans around her. She no longer doubts herself as a detective, but she finds herself doubting her relationships, which for a highly intelligent introvert can be debilitating.

RU: I bet. And speaking of Portia, characters often change between books. How has Portia changed between Books 2 and 3?

AM: I would say that she has grown to have more confidence in her abilities, she’s more grounded and she knows what she wants to do with her life. She is also starting to see the value of friendship and relationships, something she never had as a child.

RU: Moving onto the mystery bits of the book, can you give us a hint of what sort of cases Portia will be handling?

AM: Ha! I can indeed! One of the casebooks will involve an Italian Princess (hence the beautifully designed book cover by Emma Dolan), one will harken back to a story from the original Sherlock Holmes canon and the last casebook will cause Portia to lose not one, but two of her close friends. How’s that for a hint?

RU: It seems that Portia’s growing more popular every day. Can you tell us about some memorable fan experiences and the growing fan base around the character?

AM: I have been very lucky in my fans who show up again and again for each book event, and bring their friends, and take my books to their classes and do book reports, and so many other things. It’s hard to pick one interaction, but I recently got an email from a woman in Texas asking for a signed copy of Jewel of the Thames for her daughter’s birthday. She said her daughter read it cover-to-cover and it’s her favourite book. I wrote back suggesting I instead send her a birthday card containing a signed bookplate sticker that she could just put in her daughter’s book (to save them a bit of money). She wrote back to say she needed a new copy of Jewel because her daughter had ‘worn out’ her copy. That is such an incredible compliment to an author.

RU: Will there be a fourth book, and when can we expect it?

AM: There will indeed be a fourth book, but I’m currently negotiating the contract, so I am not sure when it will be out. I can tell you that the first casebook in the fourth book comes back to Portia’s roots – it’s set in 1932 Toronto, Canada.

"No Matter How Improbable" by Angela Misri

“No Matter How Improbable” by Angela Misri

RU: Ooh, I love those sorts of stories. They tend to dredge up so many memories! So with Portia’s growing popularity, can we expect a Portia Adams TV or movie adaptation? Anything like that coming out anytime soon?

AM: My agent continues to look for those opportunities, but nothing yet – keep your fingers crossed!

RU: What are you working on besides Portia Adams these days?

AM: I have a zombie book and a contemporary detective novel (not YA) too that I am working on. I also have a chapter in an upcoming Sherlockian anthology that I just sent in to the editors.

RU: Are there any subjects or characters you hesitate or refuse to write about in your stories?

AM: I’m not big on sex scenes in books (either that I am reading or writing) and I will never write a rape scene because I think it’s too disturbing. I also will probably never write about the death of a child because as a mother, I can’t imagine putting those words on a page.

RU: What do you do when you’re not writing?

AM: I’m a digital journalist, so I freelance articles, build websites and digital strategies for clients and I teach at various universities in Toronto.

RU: Is it difficult balancing time between being a full-time writer and a full-time human being these days?

AM: No more so than any other kind of balancing – no stage of my life has had just ONE thing in it. From student to mother to writer, I’ve always balanced my main focus with other things I needed to do. I will say that it took me nearly 6 months to establish a routine as a writer that worked for me.

RU: Finally, let’s assume you got the chance to collaborate with any writer of your choosing on a story or a series. Who would you pick? (And if you say me, I will squeal like a teenage girl at a One Direction concert.)

AM: You, of course Rami, if I had the ability to write horror like you do, I would pitch you an idea so fast your head would spin. Or if we could collaborate on a story where I write the basic mystery and you write the horror… I don’t know, I think it could be neat.

I’d probably pick the same person you’d pick – Stephen King. Or Mark Gatiss in my case, but I’d probably be way too intimidated to string a sentence together. Thanks for asking!

RU: AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH! *cough* Excuse me. Well, thank you for joining me Angela, and I hope to see you back here soon.

No Matter How Improbable will be available for purchase in Canada on March 22. For all those outside of Canada, please email the author herself for a copy. Also check out my interviews for Jewel of the Thames and Thrice Burned to get links for those books. If you’d like more from Angela, you can visit her website, A Portia Adams Adventure. Trust me, it’s well worth checking out.

And if you’re an author wanting to do an interview, check out my Interviews page and leave a comment. We can discuss it there.

Have a good one, my Followers of Fear!

It’s Friday again. You know what that means. It’s #FirstLineFriday!

Here are the rules: On Fridays you write up a post with the title #FirstLineFriday, hashtag and all, and then explain the rules like I’m doing now. Then you post the first one or two lines of a potential work, a work-in-progress, or a completed or published story. Then you solicit feedback from your readers. It’s a lot of fun, believe me.

This week’s entry comes from an idea I’ve been sitting on for a while, a mystery/thriller series that I think would be really fun to write. Enjoy:

Agent Danvers burst through the front door of the King James Sniper, turned into the living room, and found the Sniper beaten to a bloody pulp, bound and gagged on the living room floor.

Tell me, what do you think? Does this sound intriguing? Any grammar or punctuation or spelling problems? Let’s discuss.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I’ve got things to do today before Shabbat rolls in, so I’m going to get on that. Have a good one, my Followers of Fear.

Let me just say, it’s always a pleasure reading books by friends, especially because they’re usually really good. And this is no exception. Thrice Burned, the second book in Angela Misri’s Portia Adams Adventures series, has the young detective now living at 221B Baker Street taking on some twisty new cases, while at the same time adjusting to her growing social circle and trying to find the answers to her own deep and complex personal dilemmas.

As expected, the mysteries in this volume are hard to decipher and make you want to read late into the night just to find out the answers (I was able to make some guesses on one of the mysteries that turned out to be true, but that was about it). The resolutions are also fun to watch, and sometimes can be a little touching, usually coinciding with Portia finding something new about herself or making an important decision in her life. Praise should also go to the new characters of Annie Coleson, an energetic and free-spirited journalist, and Gavin Whitaker, an ambitious forensic pathologist with a mind to match Portia’s, who challenge our protagonist in so many fun ways.

And of course, there’s Portia. Honestly, I can see why so many readers identify with her. Her struggles feel more real than many YA heroines, most of whom have to deal with nothing bigger than which boy they like more. Portia Adams has to contend with so much in her life, including where she wants to go with her career, having to adjust to the presence of new people in her life who take her out of her comfort zone in so many ways, earning the respect of her peers in law enforcement, how to be an introvert when society doesn’t always allow for that, the travails of having a mind unlike anyone else’s, and so much more. It’s good to see such a well-rounded character, and I think the character of Portia is going to grow in popularity as more people find her and feel like they they’ve gone through what she’s going through at some point in their lives.

My one complaint would be that at times it feels like the story emphasizes Portia’s personal problems more than the mysteries she’s supposed to be solving, but then again this is technically a YA novel, and they’re supposed to be big on character development, so I can see why.

In any case, this is a great second installment to a series I can see going on for several books, and I can’t wait for March 2016, when the third book in the series comes out (okay, I can wait, but it’ll be agonizing). For great storytelling, characters you feel can come off the pages, and for mysteries that will leave you on the edge of your seat, I rate Thrice Burned a 4.3 out of 5. If you can, definitely check this series out, especially if you like yourself a good mystery.

For more on Portia Adams and her adventures, read my interview with the author, as well as my review of the first book Jewel of the Thames and the interview I had with Angela prior to that one’s release.

Last year Angela released her first book, Jewel of the Thames, about a young woman named Portia Adams who moves into 221B Baker Street and begins solving mysteries happening in London (see our first interview and my review of JotT). Now she’s back, and she’s here to discuss her new book, the sequel to JotT, Thrice Burned and the growing fanbase around her character Portia.

RU: Welcome back to the program, Angela. Now, in Jewel of the Thames, Portia moves into 221 Baker Street, establishes a reputation for herself, and learns some very interesting things about her family history. What can we expect in Thrice Burned?

AM: Portia spends most of Thrice Burned struggling with the idea of becoming a real detective. Up until now, her cases have been small potatoes, brought to her by Brian, or friends or in the case of the missing child on a train, just the luck of being in the right place at the right time. With the full knowledge of her heritage just weeks old in her mind, Portia is truly at a juncture in her young life. Should she follow the easy route and take her law degree, fading into relative obscurity as one of the many barristers walking the streets of London? Or should she step up and take the road-less-travelled and take up the shingle to Baker Street, becoming the latest consulting detective in London? At the same time, other choices are being thrown her way when she meets Gavin Whitaker, a man who stimulates her brain in a way no one else ever has. Annie Coleson inserts herself into Portia’s life and suddenly, she has a persistent new friend (whether she wants one or not). So, in addition to the usual mysteries to solve, Thrice Burned focuses on decisions that need to be made for your young heroine to become the detective we all know she will be.

RU: Has Portia’s character changed at all between the books?

AM: Wow. Yes, it has, dramatically so. Where in Toronto she was essentially an introverted shut-in who did her best to fade into the background, since arriving in London Portia has made friends and developed a rather dramatic habit of getting into trouble. She’s still a very focused girl with introverted tendencies, but she’s starting to recognize when those tendencies move her towards depression and is trying to get a handle on it. She’s started documenting her moods, trying to avoid the extremes that her grandfather Sherlock Holmes experienced and while she doesn’t exactly embrace the lifestyle Mrs. Jones is determined to introduce her to, she does start to see its value and the value of the new friends in her life.

“Thrice Burned” by Angela Misri. Available March 24th

 

RU:  How do you come up with the cases for your books?

AM: This hasn’t changed through three books of writing about Portia. For me, it always starts with the crime – I have an idea for a crime and work outwards from there. In the case of Thrice Burned, I had a cool idea about some unexplained fires in London that could be linked back to a firefighter. In the case of my latest casebook that I’m working on for book four, I had an idea about unexploded mines from the first world war being set off at London train stations. I have a video from my series that explains my methodology (such as it is).

[Editor’s note: Angela has a series of web videos on YouTube called One Fictitious Moment about writing fiction. You can watch the particular video she’s referring to here.]

RU: Portia’s been gaining quite a fan base. She’s gotten some fan art and even appeared in a Wikipedia entry. How does that make you feel?

AM: Incredibly blessed. I still find it surreal to meet fans who know all about my characters and talk about them like they’re real people (which in my head, they are of course!).

RU: How many more volumes of Portia’s adventures can we expect? And what’s next for you personally?

AM: Well, I have at least one more book with Fierce Ink Press (coming out March 2016) but I am well into writing book 4 in the series. I don’t know to be honest. I think as long as I enjoy writing them, I will continue to do that and hopefully find someone who will publish them! In my head I really want to make it to the Second World War in the books, because Brian is going to go off to fight, and Portia is going to have to get involved with the war as well (though I’m not positive as to how yet). What do you think? Keep going or wrap it up at three books?

RU:  I’d like to see some more of Portia. And speaking of which, you were in London recently. Was that mostly research or pleasure?

A little of both to be honest! I haven’t been in London since I started writing this series, so I really wanted to put my eyes on some of the locations I describe in Jewel and Thrice Burned. I visited Trafalgar Square, Old Scotland Yard, Regents Park, Kings Cross station and of course Baker Street. It was kind of a dream come true to take a picture of my first book at 221B Baker Street!

RU: Jealous! Finally, what are you reading right now that you’d recommend to others?

AM: I just started Moriarty by Anthony Horowitz and on the recommendation of a friend I’m also reading The Grammar Devotional by Mignon Fogarty.

Thrice-Burned comes out March 24th, and will be available from Amazon and Indigo.com. Angela will also be attending 221B Con in Atlanta this April as a special guest speaker. And make sure to check out her blog, A Portia Adams Adventure.

And if you’re an author interested in getting interviewed for an upcoming release, head over to my interview page and leave me a comment. We’ll arrange for something to happen soon.

Back in 2011 and 2012, I did two reviews on different book series that I’d come to enjoy. I was still in the middle of them, but I was pretty much hooked on them, enough that while I hadn’t finished either series at that point, I wrote reviews on both of them. Sadly though, the reviews didn’t really do either series justice. I was still figuring out the components of a good review at that point in my blogging career, so that probably explains why they weren’t as good as they could be.

In any case, I read the last book of one series earlier this year and last night I finished the last book of the other. In honor of these achievements, and because I haven’t done a proper review since August, I thought I’d do a double review on both of these series.

So, let’s begin!

Kieli by Yukako Kabei

Volume 1 of “Kieli”. I swear, the series blew my mind when I first started reading it.

Everyone loves a unique story, something that has never been seen before on the printed page. We felt that way with Alice in Wonderland, Lord of the Rings, and so many other famous stories. Kieli does just that. A light novel series* out of Japan, Kieli mixes just about every genre possible: paranormal, science fiction, steampunk, fantasy, romance, Western, and then some! All while telling a very compelling and heart-wrenching story.

From a young age, Kieli has been able to see ghosts, but she doesn’t tell anyone lest her theocratic society think her a heretic. One day she meets an immortal soldier named Harvey, who is delivering a haunted radio to a battle site so that the ghost haunting the radio can finally be at peace. Thus starts their adventures together, as Kieli joins Harvey on his quest and ends up helping him fight off ghosts, Church soldiers, other immortal soldiers and a plethora of other antagonists. At the same time, Kieli starts learning about her past and about what it means to grow up and be an adult.

While at times it may frustrate readers that Kieli has a hard time separating her own identity from being with Harvey, it’s a compelling story. The characters are troubled and have to learn to sort out their own problems as well as the antagonists facing them, and the mix of genres is done almost seamlessly without looking too weird or contrived, and the relationship between the two main characters feels real. You’ll want to keep reading all the way through the final book, which nearly made me come to tears.

All in all, I give Kieli a 4.5 out of 5. This was a series that made me want to create fantastic worlds like the one depicted int he series, and I wanted to create characters that felt just as vibrant and complicated as Kieli or Harvey. Maybe thanks to Kieli, someday I will.

Book Girl by Mizuki Nomura

The Japanese cover for the first entry in the “Book Girl” series, “Book Girl and the Suicidal Mime”.

Another Japanese light novel series, Book Girl is told from the point of view of Konoha Inoue, a troubled high schooler who actually published a massively popular novel under a pseudonym in junior high. However his success came at the great cost, and he swears never to write again.

That is, until he meets Tohko Amano, a girl who literally eats the stories told in books to survive. After Konoha sees Tohko “eating” a story, she forces him to join the literature club and write stories for her as snacks. That’s only the start of his problems though, because a lot of strange stuff tends to happen around Konoha, including missing students and attempted murders. Against his will, Konoha is often dragged into solving these mysteries by Tohko, who often finds a literary equivalent to the mystery being investigated (such as Wuthering Heights or The Phantom of the Opera, in some cases).

While Kieli made me want to create worlds, Book Girl made me want to tell incredible stories with wonderful language. Nomura is able to weave words together in order to make you feel like you really know the characters, especially Konoha, and become really attached to them, as well as attached to finding out how the mystery is solved, as well as how Konoha confronts his past and learns to stand on his own two feet again. It’s a great series if you happen to love mysteries as well.

For telling a compelling story with wonderful clarity, emotion and language, I give the Book Girl series a 4.8 out of 5. I really will end up missing this series now that I’ve finished it, but hopefully I took enough away from it so as to improve my own stories.

We can hope, right?

 

Well, that’s all for now. I’ve got some homework to do before I go over to my mother’s house, so I’m going to get to work on that. Happy Thanksgiving, my Followers of Fear. This year, I’m thankful for you guys.

*A light novel is a form of literature that was born in Japan and grew out of the pulp magazine industry. Light novels are usually around the length of a novella (40,000-50,000 words), have dense publishing schedules, are often serialized in anthology magazines before being published as cheap paperbacks, and usually include illustrations, about one per chapter usually. The format is very popular in Japan and popular series have been adapted into numerous formats several times over. There’s also a growing market in the English-speaking world for light novels, and many companies have begun licensing and translating these series for new audiences. I’m hooked on the genre myself.

If you live in the English-speaking world and you pay any attention to scary stories, serial killers, or England, you’ve probably heard of Jack the Ripper, whose legend has become so great that sometimes it’s hard to tell what’s fact and what is fiction (and it blends more often than you think). If for some reason you’ve been living under a rock, here’s a quick overview of Jack the Ripper (even if you’re familiar with the Ripper legends, you might want to read this for a little refresher):

Jack the Ripper was the name given to a supposed killer who operated in the impoverished neighborhoods of Whitechapel and the surrounding areas in 1888 London. It is believed he killed and severely mutilated the abdomens of five women, all prostitutes, as well as possibly killing several more women. The killer gained his now-famous name when a letter, now called the “Dear Boss” letter, was sent to the Central News Agency of London, signed “Jack the Ripper” (whether the actual killer sent this letter and others is up for debate). The press  sensationalized the murders and anything even remotely linked to hte murders, and hundreds of people sent in letters claiming to be the killer (some people are really hungry for fame and attention). However, Jack the Ripper was never caught, and his identity has become one of the greatest mysteries of our modern era.

Almost immediately after the murders, Jack the Ripper became a household name and legend, appearing in numerous works of fiction over the years and becoming a sort of boogeyman for the masses. For numerous years, anything having to do with the Ripper would terrify Londoners and call out the police to investigate. And even today, authors (and more than one or two killers) have been inspired by the Ripper murders. In fact, it seems that at least one book a year is released offering a new story or fresh insight into the identity of Jack. People who dedicate themselves to trying to solve the Ripper mystery are known colloquially as Ripperologists.

One such Ripperologist, businessman and “armchair historian” Russell Edwards, claims in his book Naming Jack the Ripper to have finally figured out the killer’s identity through…DNA evidence?

Mr. Edwards book, claiming to have “definitively” identified the Ripper through DNA evidence

Apparently Edwards owns a piece of evidence from the original murders: the bloodstained shawl of Catherine Eddowes, one of the “canonical” Ripper victims, which he bought at auction a couple of years ago. According to his book, he was able to extract usable DNA from the shawl and have it analyzed by a professor in molecular biology at Liverpool John Mores University. Said professor managed to extract not just blood, but semen from the shawl and isolate DNA from his samples. The blood was eventually matched to Eddowes through a descendant of hers, while the semen was matched to Aaron Kosminski, a man suspected at the time of possibly being the Ripper, through one of his direct descendants.

On the surface, this could be credible. Kosminski, a married Plish Jew who emigrated to London with his family to escape the pogroms in Tsarist Russia. He lived in the area where the murders took place, and he was committed to Colney Hatch Lunatic Asylum in 1891 for paranoid schizophrenia, later transferring to another asylum where he died in 1899. However, there is good reason to suspect he might not have been the killer.

Aaron Kosminski, one of the main suspects of the Jack the Ripper murders.

Setting aside how amazing it is to get any workable DNA off a 130-year-old shawl and that the DNA results still haven’t been peer-reviewed by any scientific journal, Catherine Eddowes was a prostitute, so it wouldn’t have been unusual for her to have some semen on her, especially if it was from a man who happened to live in the neighborhood she worked in. And there’s also no evidence to suggest that Kominski killed her or anyone else. We lack a working timeline or any forensic evidence to possibly implicate Kominski or anyone else.  And Kominski himself, although mentally disturbed, was mostly harmless: except for two incidents while incarcerated in the asylums he lived in, Kosminski was mostly harmless. Indeed, some believe he may have been confused for Nathan Kaminsky, also known as David Cohen, another Polish Jew who was himself sent to Colney Hatch in 1888 a month after the last Ripper victim and was said to be violent and antisocial during his short stay in the asylum (he died in 1889).

The truth is, while this DNA evidence may tell us that Kosminski availed himself of Eddowes’ services prior to her death (as did  probably several other men who could all possibly be the killer), we are no closer to identifying Jack the Ripper than we were 130 years ago. Such is the case with famous serial killers who, due to time or design, have left little or no evidence behind of their murders. And that’s even if there is a killer to begin with (some have argued that some of the “canonical” Ripper victims may have actually been the work of other killers, and that maybe only three of the murders, if any, are related).

But you know what? Maybe that’s okay. A good chunk of the appeal from Jack the Ripper is that he’s unknown, that he could be a polish Jew, a surgeon, or even a member of the Royal House. And that means that there’s room for many more generations of Ripperologists and fans to come up with their own theories and stories about who Jack the Ripper is, why he killed, whom he killed at all, and where he ended up. And maybe someday someone will truly, beyond the shadow of a doubt, solve the identity of the Ripper.

Until that day, he’ll stay among the many famous serial killers whose identities are unknown, such as the Zodiac Killer, the Alphabet murderer, the killer of the Black Dahlia, the Servant Girl Murderer, the Axeman of New Orleans–God, how messed up is it that I know all this?

[Thanks to the Huffington Post for most of the information for this article as well as quick references on Wikipedia.]