Review: Escaping From Houdini by Kerri Maniscalco

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Audrey Rose Wadsworth and Thomas Cresswell trade in the castles of Romania for a transatlantic voyage. Upon the request of Audrey Rose’s uncle, our favorite forensic scientists make their way to America to assist with a case. Little do they know that their ship, the RMS Etruria, would be the setting of their next murder mystery.  

While sitting at dinner on the first night, they watch the ship’s entertainment, the Moonlight Carnival. By the end of the performance, a young woman is dead. Quickly, Thomas and Audrey are thrown into an investigation to prevent future murders. However, every night, a new victim is found.

The head of the carnival, Mephistopheles, takes an interest in Audrey and requests a deal. She needs to play a part in the carnival’s final show and in exchange, he will help her with slight of hand for scientific purposes. There is only one catch: Thomas can’t know about their agreement. 

Audrey Rose’s close arrangement with Mephistopheles caused Cressworth to be at odds for most of the journey. Only in the end, when everything is revealed in the final show, do Thomas and Audrey understand what life would mean if the two parted ways.

Maniscalco knows how to create the perfect mystery, one that keeps you on the edge of your seat. However, Escaping From Houdini did not have as much charm as Stalking Jack the Ripper and Hunting Prince Dracula. We still enjoyed the story, but we did have some issues with it.

The fighting and pseudo-love-triangle between Audrey, Thomas and Mephistopheles felt unnecessary. If we’ve learned anything, it’s that Audrey and Thomas work best together in solving the cases. Their witty banter and adorable flirtations were minimal, which, in our opinion is a shame! Their chemistry is one of the draws of this series, and we wish they would’ve had less miscommunication and more cute moments together. 

We did enjoy the setting and the mystery surrounding the carnival. The tone felt much scarier knowing that the characters couldn’t leave the ship and that time was against them to stop the killer as they drew closer to shore. The carnival and its characters kept things interesting. The late 19th century’s fascination with magic made this story come to life. Not to mention that Harry Houdini made a few appearances throughout the book! We loved that the mystery included fortune tellers, tarot cards and escape tricks.

Overall, we had fun reading this book. Capturing the Devil will be released in September 2019. We can’t wait to read the final installment of this series, which will be set in Chicago. We hope Maniscalco includes many cute Cressworth scenes.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐/⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

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Review: The Necromancer’s Prison by Alec Whitesell and Craig Bonacorsi

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*We received this book in exchange for an honest review*

Emily Murphy thought the worst thing that would happen to her that day was being late to her college entrance exam. She never expected the exam to get interrupted by a kidnapping of her classmate and the killing of her teacher by mysterious cloaked people. Emily runs toward the danger, determined to save her classmate, Quinn.

Despite getting hurt, Emily is ready to go after whatever took Quinn away. Most students run to protection, but Mason, who has a crush on Emily, goes with her. The two stumble upon a stone cave and find a door in it. Thinking that it could be the only place the captors went, the two open the door and immediately fall into a different universe.  

The creatures almost look like humans, except their skin is translucent and many different colors. Quickly, Emily and Mason realize that these people and Quinn’s captors are aliens. The two are thrown into a world of Tyen, another a planet, where they meet a tynah named Kas who will hopefully help them.

While Emily and Mason try to figure out this new, mysterious world, Quinn sits in a prison cell. She’s not alone. Another girl is with her and the hooded people attach the strange girl to a machine. A bright light flashes and the machine screeches. The girl drops dead and when she does, Quinn discovers the girl’s name and the reason the two of them are linked.

Emily, Mason and Kas go on their dangerous mission, while Quinn tries to stay alive. The group ends up reunited, but faces a different challenge when they are captured by a ruler. The group befriends the ruler’s daughter in hopes to make it home alive, while avoiding the cloaked people. But getting back through the tunnel is more difficult than Emily, Mason and Quinn thought.

The group learns the truth about magic and why the cloaked people are really interested in Emily, not Quinn. The reason is the Necromancer, a God like figure who has been trapped for 15 years. His and Emily’s paths are intertwined. The cloaked people believe Emily is the answer to bring back the Necromancer. Only, if that were to happen, it would mean war.

The Necromancer’s Prison was non-stop action and character driven. We enjoyed how Quinn grew as a person, becoming less stuck up. Also, Emily became less judgmental, realizing Mason was more than just a jock. Mason was easy to like from the beginning. He put everyone else first, no matter the danger it put him in. 

This book was full of surprises. The ending caught us entirely off guard. We don’t want to spoil it, but trust us, it is hard to predict Emily’s journey. Christy gasped when she realized the predicament the group had gotten themselves in. Be careful who you trust! The epilogue gave us enough information to predict a bit of what would happen next. Still, we have no idea how this series will end. 

One problem we had with the story was the introduction to so many names and cities in the alien word. They were introduced quickly and became a bit confusing. Also, we were hoping for a bit more romance between Mason and Emily. We appreciate a good slow-burn romantic story. Yet, there could have been a tad more flirting mixed in between the violence. 

Overall, this book is a fun adventure with magic. We’re excited to see what Whitesell and Bonacorsi have in store for us in the next book. We’re rooting for Emily and Mason!

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐/⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Author Interview: Ben Macdonald

Ben Macdonald is currently starting the querying process for his children’s book entitled Tom Can’t Have Fun Until His Work is All Done. He holds a B.A. in History from Keene State College. This is his debut book and he hopes to have a long career writing for young readers. You can follow him on Twitter @BenMacsThoughts.  

1. When did you first realize that you wanted to be a writer? 

It was sometime near the end of my junior year in high school that I realized I wanted to tell stories for a living and since I love entertaining people, especially children, that children’s books would be the best path. 

2. What are you hoping readers will take away from your first book? 

Hopefully they will learn more lessons on how to live more fulfilling lives. The book I’ve been working on is about a kid living his life in a way that I am afraid of ending up living mine in. I’m using my fear of living my life this way to tell the story and hopefully teach kids why they should have a more fun time being alive.

3. What are your favorite Children’s/Young Adult Books?

Where the Wild Things AreA Fly Went By, Oh, the Places You’ll Go!Mike Mullligan and His Steam ShovelDiary of a Wimpy Kid and many others which I cannot think of right now.

4. Which writers influence you the most?

Dr. Seuss is by far my biggest influence. I love his rule breaking, he invents words where he needs them and mixes around the words in a sentence to make them sound fun and make them flow better. He also does what I attempt to do, which is tell a story that can be fun for younger readers and can be informative for older readers.

5. What is the most difficult part of the publishing process for you

Figuring out what the publishing process actually is. I have trouble understanding the process of where to find agents and how to contact them. It’s not really that the tasks are difficult it’s just knowing what the tasks are. 

6. What is the best advice that you have received? Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?

I would say to keep writing and try to make a little progress every day in either improving your story or with the path to publication.

7. Are the characters you write about similar to you?

I usually put them in a situation or mindset that I’ve been struggling with so essentially they are alternate version of me dealing with my problems in a different way.

8. What is your writing process like? 

I usually try to write in the morning, then I go for a walk later in the day. On the walk, if I’ve tried writing that morning, ideas will flood into my head. But, I always need the morning attempt in order for the ideas to come later.

9. Tell us a fun fact about yourself!

I also love running!

10. Is there anything else you want readers to know about you and your writing?

I hope they like it!

Review: Technically, You Started It by Lana Woods Johnson

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Haley Hancock receives a text from fellow classmate, Martin Nathaniel Munroe II. With a name like that, you’d think she would know who she was texting. Except, there are two Martin Nathaniel Munroe IIs in her class and Haley mistakenly believes she is texting the Martin that she doesn’t hate. While on the other hand, Martin believes that Haley knows exactly who she is talking to.

One text message about history class turns into an everyday back and forth between the two. For a while, they are able to talk like total strangers, objectively listening to each other’s problems. They quickly realize that despite both having friends, they aren’t able to talk to them about important things. The duo even jokingly refers to each other as “Francis,” a fun person to text from Canada.

Despite how much they want to create a solely text based friendship, drama between their friends causes problems. Martin shouldn’t talk to Haley because his best friend has a crush on her. Haley shouldn’t be friends with a Munroe because one of the cousins dumped her friends Sarah and Chloe. Things get more complicated when the two find themselves thrown together in public. Whenever Martin tries to get closer to Haley as himself, she thinks that maybe the Munroe’s aren’t as bad as her friends would like her to believe. 

Their love story isn’t exactly smooth sailing. Martin tries throughout the book to get Haley alone, but things keep getting in the way. Hoping Haley will love the real him, Martin comes up with a plan. Unfortunately, his plans keep getting ruined and an accident might keep Haley from learning the truth. Haley and Martin are forced to figure out if their screen chemistry translates into real life.

Told entirely in text messages, this unique book is fast paced and quick to read. Haley and Martin’s banter captures the reader immediately. It’s a sweet story about how there is more to people than meets the eye. Martin and Haley thought they knew each other, but there was more transpiring under the surface.

It was sweet how they became each other’s safe space. Martin opened up about his family problems, while Haley discussed how vindictive some of her friends could be and her struggles with anxiety. The chemistry between them is obvious from the beginning. Over text, the two have no problem discussing strange facts and weird obsessions. Haley and Martin will have you laughing through the whole book.

The book also had a great ending. Johnson wrapped up the story at the right time and left the reader feeling both satisfied and wanting more. The relationship between Haley and Martin moved along at the right pace and never felt rushed. Even though it’s obviously a romance, Johnson had a few surprises at the end.

This is a light and fluffy read perfect for summer. The story mostly focuses on mistaken identity. If you need a breather from heavy and dramatic books, Technically, You Started It is perfect for you!

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐/⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

August 2019 Book Club: Enchantée by Gita Trelease

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The Book

Our pick for August 2019 book club is Enchantée by Gita Trelease, released in February 2019.

Why did we pick this book?

We’re in the mood for a historical YA book and this one is both set in France and has magic. This book has been on our TBR list for a while. 

What is this book about?

It’s Paris in 1789. Camille Durbonne lost her parents and now has to take care of her brother and sister. Camille uses her magic to turn metal objects in to money to provide for the family. However, when that no longer works, Camille disobeys her late mother’s wishes and uses dark magic to transform into a Baroness. She gets involved in dangerous entanglements at the Palais de Versailles. She starts gambling to make enough money to survive on. While at first enamored with her new glamorous lifestyle, things become complicated when she returns to Paris and meets a handsome man. Camille’s secrets begin to unravel at the start of the French Revolution, forcing her to choose between the democracy she had always believed in or the aristocratic life she became accustomed to.  Get ready to explore France on the eve of change.  

What other YA books has the author written?

This is Trelease’s debut novel! 

Review: Hunting Prince Dracula by Kerri Maniscalco

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Following the events of Stalking Jack the Ripper, Audrey Rose Wadsworth and Thomas Cresswell leave London to attend a forensics school in a small Romanian town. Just when the two thought they were leaving all of the Jack the Ripper drama behind them, Audrey and Thomas witness a murder on a train. After the killer leaves a trail of victims– all either impaled or drained of their blood–, local townspeople believe Vlad the Impaler has returned. 

Fearing their classmates are in danger, Audrey and Thomas begin their own investigation, all while fighting for spots at their elite school and navigating their intense feelings for one another. The book also tackles the topic of sexism, as Audrey Rose is continually the brunt of sexist jokes and ridicule by her male classmates. 

As their classmates begin to die, Audrey and Thomas scour the castle their school is housed in to uncover the mystery behind Vlad the Impaler’s supposed return from the dead. Despite their best efforts, the fearless duo find the killer is always one step ahead of them. Will Audrey Rose and Thomas solve the mystery before they, too, become victims? 

Just like Stalking Jack the Ripper, we enjoyed this story from start to finish. Maniscalco created the perfect murder mystery, where the reader is both surprised by the reveal and at the same time left wondering how they did not see the clues all along. 

As if it were even possible, Audrey and Thomas’s relationship was cuter in the second book. The two never fail to challenge each other with science and witty banter. Not to mention that Thomas was swoon worthy throughout the entire novel! If Audrey Rose doesn’t scoop him up then we will 🙂 

Best of all, Maniscalco did not fall into the trap of writing a disappointing sequel. Bring on book three, Escaping from Houdini. We need more Cressworth! 

Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️/⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Review: Maybe This Time by Kasie West

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Sophie Evans wants nothing more than to get out of her sleepy southern town and be a fashion designer in NYC. To save for college, she works for the town florist, where she is forced to decorate every town event. 

At the annual Senior’s Valentine’s Day party, Sophie meets Andrew Hart, son of famous (and jerky) chef, Jett Hart. Jett happens to be working with Sophie’s best friend’s dad to grow his catering business— meaning the “obnoxious” new guy will be sticking around for the next year. 

The story is told over the course of an entire year, starting on Valentine’s Day and ending on New Year’s. Sophie and Andrew are thrown together at nine different events, where readers see if their initial hatred for each other could turn into friendship…or maybe something more.

To say we are disappointed in this book is an understatement. Don’t get us wrong, we adore West’s books for the most part. Out of her 12 books, this is only one of two that we didn’t love.

We’ll start by saying the premise of the book made us so excited. It had the potential to be a super cute dislike-to-love relationship like Donovan and Lacey in Fame, Fate and the First Kiss. The only problem? Most of the characters and the major plot points fell flat. 

First, Sophie wants to be a designer in NYC, yet she always criticizes Northerners (we promise we’re awesome!). The whole time we kept thinking: “We get it, you live in Alabama, but you want to leave Alabama, yet Southern culture is too superior for Andrew to understand?” Plus, Sophie talks about her big dreams of becoming a designer, but spends most of the book depleted and complaining about her lack of talent. We would have liked it if Sophie had a little bit more confidence and tried to be proactive with ditching her sketching funk. Also, Sophie spent much of the book idolizing the “sophisticated” NYC style, but the way she’s described throughout the book makes her sound more like a stereotypical small town housewife, not a creative teenager. 

One of the more glaring issues with the book was Sophie’s constant negativity. We understand that she wanted to get out of her small town, but Sophie spent the better part of the book ragging on her town and everyone in it. She was not realistic at all about a potential life in the city, and she came off as pretty naive about the reality of her situation. 

Next, Andrew wasn’t actually that rude. Sophie continually complained that Andrew was a rude, snobby city guy, but in reality he was cute and flirty from the beginning. For the main couple of the story, they didn’t have much banter and they definitely lacked chemistry. While Sophie saw Andrew as an epic jerk, we saw him as a nice guy trying to help Sophie despite her determination to see the worst in him. 

The supporting characters also didn’t contribute anything to the story. Sophie’s mom is selfish and unsupportive, her dad is MIA, and her best friend is super entitled. The best minor character was Sophie’s little brother, Gunnar. He was the only character that Sophie has a positive relationship with throughout the story, and he was one of the few high points of the book. 

Overall, West’s latest book is not a fun-to-read YA Contemporary Romance. The constant negativity in the book made this one hard to finish. Our final thoughts: Andrew, wake up, you were too good for Sophie; Go back to NYC and enjoy the winter weather. 

While we didn’t love this novel, we’ll always read West’s books. We just hope her spring 2020 book focuses more on character development and chemistry. 

Rating: ⭐⭐/⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐