Escaping from Houdini (Stalking Jack the Ripper, #3)

Escaping from Houdini (Stalking Jack the Ripper, #3)

First Lines: New Year’s afternoon aboard the Etruria began like a fairy tale, which was the first indication a nightmare lurked on the horizon, waiting, as most villains do, for an opportunity to strike.

It’s been a bit since I read the first two books in this series, but apparently I’m on a bit of a murder mystery kick right now (what can I say? They’re entertaining.). So it sounded like fun to read this and make a little progress getting closer to the end of this series.

*Potential Series Spoilers Ahead*

Audrey Rose Wadsworth and Thomas Cresswell are journeying to New York via a week-long trip aboard the luxury liner Etruria. It’s supposed to be delightful and diverting, especially since a circus troupe full of acrobats, fortune tellers, fire eaters, and more are their nightly entertainment. But then, first class young women start going missing and a series of brutal slayings shock the entire ship. The disturbing influence of the Moonlight Carnival isn’t helping matters, and passengers soon realize there’s no escape–unless you want to jump into the sea. It’s up to Audrey Rose and Thomas to solve the mystery before more women turn up dead. And with the clues beginning to point to the next victim being someone Audrey Rose loves, time is running out…

Maybe it’s just how much time has passed since I read the other books, but I feel like maybe I liked this one the best so far?

In this book, we’re immediately thrown into a mystery aboard a luxury transatlantic ship. And I do mean immediately. We have a dead body before the end of chapter one. Audrey Rose, Thomas, and her uncle are on their way to America when suddenly women begin turning up murdered. And brutally. Like, a couple of times when I happened to be reading while eating, I was like, “Well, that just made my food taste bad.” It does not back away from some of the gore and violence, going into details of the autopsies and murders. You’ve been warned.

I remember not exactly loving the previous book because it felt like too much of a copy of the first book and it got boring. This one was different. Audrey Rose is different in this one. She’s…I guess the best way to say it is swept away by the carnival. Despite her intelligence, she ends up finding herself captivated by the idea of sleight of hand and finding freedom on the stage. It’s an interesting twist for her character, not because it was too crazy but because it felt a lot like a young woman who doesn’t really know who she is quite yet and wants to explore other avenues. I really liked that, actually. The fact that she ended up butting heads with those closest to her over it also felt equally real.

I will admit that the mystery did get a bit old after a while because it was just so repetitive. There were, admittedly, different ways that people died and different ways people found them, but it was also just the same thing over and over. Find a body, look at the clues, get stumped, find another body. Rinse and repeat. But having said that, I didn’t have the mystery figured out until the end. So there’s that.

This was fun. I liked going along with Audrey Rose to see what horrors this ship could hold behind the silken mask of luxury.

Bombshell (Hell’s Belles, #1)

Bombshell (Hell's Belles, #1)

First Lines: When the stilt-walker approached, Sesily Talbot realized someone was toying with her.

When it comes to romance, I truly don’t think anyone does it better than Sarah MacLean. I have been looking forward to this book for a while. We were introduced to these specific characters like 2-3 series ago and I was so hoping to see a happy ending for Sesily.

Lady Sesily Talbot has spent years being one of London’s biggest scandals, a reputation she adores and has carefully cultivated. No one looks twice when she behaves in an unladylike way or invites a man out into the gardens for a tryst…and no one notices those trysts aren’t what they seem. Well, no one except Caleb Calhoun, who has spent years trying not to notice his best friend’s younger sister. But someone has to keep Sesily from getting into too much trouble, and this close proximity to his greatest temptation is the opposite of what Caleb needs. So when Caleb starts to realize Sesily isn’t to forget, she’s for forever, what is he willing to risk to keep her?

I was happy to see more of both of them. Sesily pushes the envelope at every chance she can. She loves being a scandal, though ever since Caleb left two years ago to go back to America without a word to her, she’s decided it’s better to use her scandalous ways for good by trying to protect other women from dangerous men. Caleb, now back in England, doesn’t plan to stay because the secrets in his past threaten everything he holds dear. But Sesily’s not about to let that stop her chance at happiness. I love how brazen Sesily is and how noble Caleb is, even if I wanted to knock Caleb over the head a couple of times.

As much as I enjoy the characters, I thought the plot felt a little flat. I definitely liked the idea of a Girl Gang tackling the patriarchy, but I just didn’t always care for the way the whole thing unfolded. The way Caleb kept making a cake of himself for reasons it took him forever to explain, the way the story seemed to stall out in the middle, the way the characters sometimes felt more flat than I’m used to from MacLean. It wasn’t the story I necessarily hoped it would be. I didn’t feel engrossed in it the way I used to be.

Still, I find I like these girls and I’m thinking the next one is going to be pretty interesting, if I’ve guessed the male counterpart correctly…(this series seems to be leaning heavily into enemies-to-lovers tropes).

The Girl With the Make-Believe Husband (Rokesbys, #2)

The Girl with the Make-Believe Husband (Rokesbys, #2)

First Lines: His head hurt. Correction, his head really hurt. It was hard to tell, though, just what sort of pain it was. He might have been shot through the head with a musket ball. That seemed plausible, given his current location in New York (or was it Connecticut?) and his current occupation as a captain in His Majesty’s Army.

This is part of the prequel Bridgerton series by Julia Quinn. I was certainly intrigued by this, as the Revolutionary War is one of my specialties in history. It was interesting to think that this was going to be from a British perspective (most things I find are from the Americans), and I was looking to see what kind of hijinks the characters would get into.

Cecilia Harcourt has a tough choice to make. With her brother, Thomas, injured in the Colonies, orphaned Cecilia can either move in with an older, spinster aunt or she can marry a conniving cousin to keep her home. But Cecilia isn’t conventional and creates a third option: travel across the Atlantic to find and care for her brother. But after a week of searching and coming no closer to finding her brother, she does find her brother’s best friend, Captain Edward Rokesby. He’s injured, unconscious, and in desperate need to care. She’s determined to care for him, even if it means telling a few little lies. When Edward wakes up, he’s very confused. Sure, the injury knocked out the last six months of his memory, but shouldn’t he remember getting married? He knows who Cecilia is, and with everyone else calling her his wife, it must be true. Cecilia is risking everything for the man she has come to love, but when the truth comes out, Edward may have some surprises of his own for Mrs. Rokesby…

I really liked this. Like, more than the first book, even if the first book was wittier.

In this book, we’re introduced to Cecilia, a young woman desperate to find her brother in the Colonies during the Revolutionary War. Thomas was injured, but when she arrives, she finds out no one knows where he is. No one has seen him, and the only person who might have answers is Edward Rokesby, Thomas’s best friend–and a man who happens to be unconscious and possibly near death. Which is when Cecilia spontaneous, and falsely, claims to be Edward’s wife.

Cecilia and Edward are really sweet and interesting characters. Cecilia knows she’s in a terrible place of her own making, but she lied to help Edward (no one would let her get close to him unless she was family). And she did nurse him for days. But as her lies snowball, she knows she’s digging a deeper and deeper hole for herself. And Edward is this loyal, honorable, and sweet man who doesn’t remember marrying Cecilia–or anything of the past 3-4 months–but he’s determined to protect her and cherish her despite it all. Which makes Cecilia feel even worse, as it’s all false.

I really like that this dealt with history so much as well. I thought it was cool to see New York in the Revolution, to see the British side of things (since it’s normally so focused on the Colonists), and to see some of the hardships of their lives. It just added to the color and atmosphere of the story and I really enjoyed how many added layers it brought to the story.

The emotions in this one were real and I really appreciated that it was nuanced. This isn’t an easy love story for our main couple, but it’s worth it.

The Twisted Tragedy of Miss Natalie Stewart (Magic Most Foul, #2)

The Twisted Tragedy of Miss Natalie Stewart (Magic Most Foul, #2)

First Lines:Isn’t that the man wanted for those murders in New York City?” I tried not to let my face betray the panic flooding through my body. I’d thought once we made it out of New York City and onto the train, we’d be safe.

The first book in this series is a bit special to me. Want to know why? Because it was one of the early reviews I had on this blog. Because I was in college when I read it. I read the first book in 2012, my friends. Ugh. On top of suddenly feeling old writing that, I suddenly really wonder why I continued to leave this on my to-read list so long…even if I did get around to it.

*Potential Series Spoilers Ahead*

Natalie is used to being different. From spending most of her life mute to falling in love with a man in a painting–literally–she’s used to being thought of as potentially insane. But her reality is suddenly more insane than even she thought possible. Possessions of the living. Resurrections of the dead. Whispers in her dreams. Natalie thought Jonathan was the one person she could count on to get her through this, but he’s become a double agent for the dark side. And he’s playing his part so well, Natalie begins to wonder if he’s even acting…

So with this book, the time between reading the first book and the second clearly impacted my enjoyment. I didn’t connect with the characters. I didn’t connect with the plot. I actually did remember some things from the first one despite the time, but it didn’t help with the connections.

Natalie is supposed to be this brave, but shy, leader who is learning to believe in herself. But most of the time, she ends up coming off mousy and accidentally keeps stumbling into answers or problems. And Jonathon, for all the book jacket tries to build him up as a potential villain, just never comes off that way. I have no idea what the plot was trying to do with that.

Nothing about this book excited me. I thought going up against demons would be more interesting than it turned out to be. Even when there was an air of danger to a scene, it never ended up coming across as having too many stakes. I don’t know if that’s a writing issue, a 2010s writing trend, or if it was just my own interpretation. Whatever it was, I was never really hooked.

That said, the book was a pretty quick read. There are some quirky or just strange minor characters who, while usually not vitally important to the story, were enough to liven up the scene when the leads weren’t enough. The story overall may not have been the most interesting thing, but I was mildly interested in certain aspects of the story. But it really was something I should have passed on after all this time.

Worlds Afire

Worlds Afire

(Sorry, I don’t have first lines for this one. It’s a book told in poetry form.)

For many years (*cough* eleven of them *cough*), this book was on my to-read shelf on Goodreads. I’m super interested in random, weird bits of history and this, about the Hartford circus fire that absolutely changed circuses forever after that, was certainly on my radar. But I just never got around to it until I specifically put it on hold at the library. Twice. (Once, I never went to pick it up…)

It’s summer 1944 and World War II has been on everyone’s minds. So why not go to the circus and lift a few spirits? Hundreds are crammed under the Big Top, waiting for the show to begin. Minutes later, a fire breaks out and takes 167 lives and injuring 500 others. This lyrical story looks at the points of view of many people who were there, those who survived…and those who didn’t.

This lyrical story is super short (I think I read the whole thing in about 20-25 minutes at most) but each poem comes from a different person connected to the circus or the events. An elephant trainer, a “freak”, young children eager to see the Big Top show, parents, police, etc. Everyone has the chance to voice a little of what they saw and what happened. The story does get a bit…gory isn’t really the right word…disturbing, I guess. There are references to how unidentifiable some of the bodies are, but otherwise the story isn’t graphic about deaths or anything. It’s actually shelved in my library’s children’s section, not YA or anything. It’s meant for children, so it does stay away from the worst of all that.

It’s short, but it’s tragic and makes you really think about what it was like for those who were there.

Alex and Eliza (Alex & Eliza, #1)

Alex and Eliza (Alex & Eliza, #1)

First Lines: Like a latter-day Greek temple, the Schuyler family mansion sat atop a softly rounded hill outside Albany.

Honestly, I don’t know why it took me so long to read this. Like most people, I adored Hamilton. I’ve read other Alexander and Eliza stories, but this one was always on the back end for me. Maybe because I haven’t had the best track record with Melissa de la Cruz, but I was still willing to try it.

It’s 1777 and the Schuylers are throwing a ball. One of the oldest and grandest families in New York, the Schuylers are proud to be a founding family and even prouder of their three daughters: the witty Angelica, the dazzling Peggy, and the patriotic Eliza. When they receive word that Alexander Hamilton, George Washington’s right hand man, will be at the party, Eliza can barely contain her excitement. If only he weren’t bringing bad news with him. Alex can’t believe his luck. From his humble beginnings to a guest at the Schuylers’ ball, Alex loves being in such exalted company. And when Alex meets Eliza, well…

For me, it was…slow. This is in part because I’m already so familiar with their story. The beginning sets up a LOT of their backstories, how Eliza’s from a wealthy patriotic family, how Alexander was a penniless orphan when he came to America, things like that. After they met, things took off a bit more because there wasn’t so much exposition anymore. However, near the end of the story, I felt like the pace slowed down again.

What I enjoyed about this was the tension between Alex and Eliza early in their courtship. Alex is smitten with this defiant, beautiful young woman, but Eliza only sees in him the man who is court-martialing her father for the fall of Ticonderoga. So that tension, while it lasted, was humorous and fun.

They are good characters, both of them. Eliza’s patriotism shines through, as does Alex’s ambition. Other characters are also quite fun, like the ones we’re familiar with from the musical (Peggy, Angelica, Laurens). Perhaps my favorite, though, was Aunt Gertrude, the aunt Eliza stays with in Morristown, NJ. Oh my, was she fun. And because I didn’t know her from the musical, her character was entirely new to me and quite interesting.

Truly, I do really think my biggest problem with this was that I knew too much already. There just wasn’t as much of a thrill for me to be reading about them going through some of these things (particularly that ending…) because I already knew more or less how things would turn out. I knew the characters and their particular quirks along with the ultimate fates of many of them.

Still, I won’t say I didn’t enjoy seeing another take on these two. It just wasn’t what I hoped for.