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.

The Box in the Woods (Truly Devious, #4)

The Box in the Woods (Truly Devious, #4)

First Lines: Sabrina Abbott was doing something illegal. Impossible. Sabrina had never done anything illegal. She was Barlow Corners’ paragon of virtue. The valedictorian. The library volunteer who read to children.

You know, I was very intrigued by this book when it was announced. Truly Devious ended…how could there be another book? (Not that I wasn’t thrilled by the idea.) I was even more curious when I found out it wasn’t going to spoil the original series mystery. How was Maureen Johnson going to pull this off while still giving us a new mystery?

Stevie Bell hates that she’s about to have a normal summer. She’s just caught the killer at her school and now, what, she’s just expected to hold down a job at the local grocery store for the summer? So when Stevie gets a message from the owner of Summer Pines, formerly known as Camp Wonder Falls, it’s like a dream come true. Camp Wonder Falls is famous for the Box in the Woods murders–in 1978, four camp counselors were murdered and their bodies left in a grisly display. The owner wants Stevie to come help him solve the case and work on a podcast about it with him. Even better, Stevie gets to bring her friends along too. But something evil still lurks in Barton Corners and when Stevie begins stirring things up, she’s going to find that danger still lurks in these woods…

Man, did this work. It was incredible, which I shouldn’t be surprised by. I devoured this. The mystery was incredible and nuanced, the clues were so subtle it was hard to catch them even if I had suspicions, and it was just fun. It flew.

Stevie and her friends are back together to investigate a mystery known as The Box in the Woods, a murder that took place at a summer camp in 1978. It’s a pretty gruesome murder of four people and it unfolds in the novel by jumping between 1978 and the present. So it goes back and forth for a while until we know the details of the case and then it sticks to the present. I liked that, since we had no backstory on this particular murder before beginning this story. I felt like I was all caught up by the time we were maybe halfway through the story.

I was definitely into this story more for the mystery and Stevie than her friends, I admit, but I do feel like the storylines kept progressing from where we left off. Nate is just hilarious in his “I hate people, keep me away from everyone at this summer camp” mentality. And Janelle is great with her crafting euphoria at a camp where there are so many little kids ready to take part in her crafts. And David has his own growth, but I don’t want to spoil too much of that.

Suffice it to say this story has a great mystery, a sense of humor, and some summer camp fun. If murder mysteries are your idea of “fun”, anyway.

Good Girl, Bad Blood (A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder, #2)

Good Girl, Bad Blood (A Good Girl's Guide to Murder, #2)

First Lines: You think you’d know what a killer sounds like. That their lies would have a different texture, some barely perceptible shift. A voice that thickens, grows sharp and uneven as the truth slips between the jagged edges. You’d think that, wouldn’t you?

I was very excited to get my hands on this book, to say the least. After how much I enjoyed the first book, I thought this would be amazing, especially as more and different challenges get thrown Pip’s way. So I just couldn’t wait to dive in.

*Potential Series Spoilers Ahead*

Pip’s investigative days are over. After solving the town’s cold case with the help of Ravi Singh, Pip is content to post what happened as a true crime podcast and move on with her life. But when Jamie Reynolds, the older brother of one of her best friends, goes missing on the same night as the memorial for Andrea Bell and Sal Singh, Pip has to dive back in and break the promises she made to her family to never do this again. The police won’t look for Jamie, so Pip will. But this time, everyone’s listening to what Pip has to say…and watching her every move. Can Pip find Jamie before it’s too late?

First of all, this book was a delight. There’s no doubt about that. It’s as twisty and awesome as the first in terms of the mystery. I didn’t have it pegged down until near the end. I adored that it could keep me on my toes and keep me invested in it until I got to the very end.

I still adore Pip and I think it’s cool that this time around, people are listening to her and helping her. It was cool to see a new side of her and a new side of the town through that and the aftermath of her podcast, revealing everything that happened in the previous mystery.

However. Here’s where my 4 stars comes from. What I loved so much about the last book was the danger, the murder maps, the struggle, the getting-to-know Ravi. This time around, Pip saves all her stuff online and…it’s just not the same as reading all these police transcripts, discovering journals, making maps, etc. Also, the first book surprised me with how good it was, so I was expecting things this time around. And the book did live up to my expectations–it just didn’t exceed them.

It’s still a fabulous book, don’t get me wrong. I know things were changed to keep this book fresh, but this book just kind of lacked the stuff that I thought sparkled about the previous book. 

A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder (A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder, #1)

A Good Girl's Guide to Murder (A Good Girl's Guide to Murder, #1)

First Lines: Pip knew where they lived. Everyone in Fairview knew where they lived. The home was like the town’s haunted house; people’s footsteps quickened as they walked by, and their words strangled and died in their throats. Shrieking children would gather on their walk home from school, daring one another to run up and touch the front gate. But it wasn’t haunted by ghosts, just three sad people trying to live their lives as before.

As someone who grew up on mystery novels, I find myself constantly coming back to them. But it has to be a good mystery, you know? I heard good things about this one and thought it might be worth my time.

Five years ago, popular Andie Bell was murdered by her boyfriend, Sal Singh, who then killed himself. The town of Fairview has talked about nothing else since. But now, Pip plans to investigate it further. See, she knew Sal when she was a kid and he was so kind…it doesn’t seem right that he killed Andie. Something doesn’t add up. Now a senior herself, Pip is examining the closed case as part of her senior project, just to cast doubt on the official ruling. But the more she digs, the more secrets she finds…secrets that might prove Sal’s innocence. And someone in Fairview isn’t happy that Pip is searching for answers…

I now fully understand why this book is rated as highly as it is. It’s masterful.

Where do I start? Pippa “Pip” Fitz-Amobi has questions about the disappearance of Andie Bell and the subsequent suicide of Sal Singh, Andie’s boyfriend. So she decides to make investigating the crime her senior capstone project. (Side note: do schools really do that? Colleges, yes, but high schools??) Pip is highly intelligent, picking up on subtleties the entire story, whether it’s someone saying “was” instead of “is” in reference to Andie or the way they look at her when she asks a specific question. At first, all she wants to do is provide reasonable doubt about Sal’s guilt and let the police do the rest, but as she continues to dig, it’s too hard not to follow through with the investigation.

The mystery itself is a true winner. I mean, you have a suspect list nearly the entire story, but it keeps shifting and changing. Sometimes, one person looks more guilty than another, then it changes. It’s very cleverly written, I will absolutely give it kudos for that. The mystery makes sense, the reveals make sense, and there isn’t really this “gotcha” moment that turns the entire story on its head for no reason. I mean, I like a surprise ending as well as the next mystery fan, but there’s something to be said for the plot making sense.

The story also isn’t written in straight narration. It’s framed by the senior project. It’s written in text messages, phone call transcripts, maps, and photos. That makes the story go faster while giving you something almost tangible to make you feel like you’re part of the sleuthing team at the same time. I mean, I flew through those early pages as the mystery started to unfold.

I really enjoyed just letting this mystery play out rather than trying to predict everything. Besides, I would have been wrong.

Deadly Cool (Deadly Cool, #1)

Deadly Cool (Deadly Cool, #1)

First Lines: There are three things you never want to find in your boyfriend’s locker: a sweaty jockstrap, a D-minus on last week’s history test, and an empty condom wrapper. Lucky me, I’d hit the trifecta.

This book was on my Goodreads to-read list forever. This book came out in 2011 and yes, it was 2020 before I was like, “You know, I should probably read this or move on already.” (Spoiler alert: that’s my entire to-read list. I have far too many books on it from before 2012.) But this cover is absolutely stunning and I enjoy a good mystery, so I gave it a chance.

Hartley is having a mother of a bad day. First she discovers her boyfriend his cheating on her with the president of the Chastity Club (yes, really). Then she finds the body of the said Chastity Club president–and her boyfriend is the #1 suspect. And he wants her to clear his name. While Hartley knows he’s innocent, she doesn’t mind seeing him squirm a little in the meantime. Still, she knows she’s the only one who can–and will–help him. With the help of her best friend Sam, and the school bad boy Chase, they begin investigating. But as the bodies pile up, Hartley begins to fear she might be the next victim…

Well, I didn’t love it, but I didn’t hate it either. Let’s break that down.

First of all, it is definitely a product of its time. I mean that in part to explain the technology of the time. I mean, it’s 2010-2011. Hartley knows virtually nothing about what computer hacking is and what info hackers can get. She talks about watching American Idol and Castle. She talks about how her mom is going to freak from the number of texts she got in one night when that shows up on the bill. Oh, and the whole crux of the murder is that it happened with iPod headphones. So yeah, pretty solidly early 2010s.

But more than that, it follows the tropes and weird YA cliches of the time. Everyone belongs to an immovable clique: you are either a cheerleader or a band geek or part of Color Guard or a goth. You cannot escape your label. There’s also this thing the whole book about censoring their cursing; however, the story has no problem having a character watch a video of her boyfriend (excuse me, ex-boyfriend) getting it on with another girl. Or the crude and disturbing recounting of her attempted First Time. So what I understood from this was this equation: talking about sex = good, cursing = bad. And they talked about sex a lot. Mostly how “good” people avoid it and “bad” people do it.

But let’s look beyond all that at the story itself. The mystery itself certainly isn’t the next Agatha Christie novel. It’s actually not terribly hard to spot the killer in the mix. I definitely had it before the reveal. I hesitate to even call the red herrings actual red herrings because they weren’t actually distracting. However, there are a few surprises along the way just in the way things unfolded. So there was something there to keep things lively.

And for the most part, the characters were entertaining if a bit flat. Actually, pretty flat. I don’t think a single character actually goes through a change… Ok, despite that, Hart is pretty snarky in her narration and it was at least fun to read.

This hasn’t exactly aged well, I will say that, but it still has its moments.

The Hand on the Wall (Truly Devious, #3)

The Hand on the Wall (Truly Devious, #3)

First Lines: The bones were on the table, naked and chalky. The eye sockets hollow, the mouth in a loose grimace, as if to say, “Yep, it’s me. Bet you’re wondering how I ended up here. It’s a funny story, actually…”

As always happens when I reach the end of a series, I am both terribly excited and very much dreading it. I mean, it’s the end. What if it isn’t as good as the others? What if I forgot too much? (Admittedly, though, I quickly reread The Vanishing Stair before I read this, so…I was good.) Still…

*Potential Series Spoilers Ahead*

Stevie has solved it. She knows who Truly Devious is. But does it even matter? Three people at Ellingham Academy are now dead, all of them somehow close to Stevie. With so many new murders happening, Stevie has to turn her attention to this case rather than the nearly century-old one. But it’s hard to concentrate with so much death, with David missing of his own free will, with a possible connection between the Ellingham disappearances and these murders. Then another accident occurs at Ellingham just before a massive storm. Parents and administrators can’t ignore the bad luck anymore and evacuate the school. Of course, Stevie can’t leave until she faces the murderer…and probably does something incredibly stupid in the process.

This series is just bonkers. There are so many twists and turns. I could not figure it out to save my life, and I’m someone who has grown up reading mysteries and knows what a red herring looks like!

Ok, for real, though, finally getting the conclusion of this mystery was so satisfying. I loved finally seeing everything come together and be revealed. This has been like an itch on the back of my skull for years.

Stevie is just as awesome as ever. She’s clever and insightful and constantly curious. I love her ability to sense when something doesn’t fit quite right in someone’s story. And the other characters are just as crazy as they’ve always been. David is especially off the deep end, but that’s nothing new. I did, however, discover a newfound love and respect for Nate, which was unexpected and yet appreciated. His cynicism spoke to me on a personal level this year.

The plot does get a bit melodramatic this time around, I’ll admit it, but that made it so much more fun when it started falling into mystery tropes I was used to. (Trapped! In a blizzard! With a killer!) But also, oh my God, did it get to be so much fun just seeing how X connected to Y and so on. Again, so satisfying.

I definitely recommend rereading at least the 2nd book before reading this. That’s what I did and it helped so much because everything is just so involved and about all these little clues that you have to know what’s going on.

So so good. I’m glad the gang’s all coming back for another book, even if it’s not about Ellingham! (There’s a “standalone” coming out next year!)