City of Ghosts & Tunnel of Bones by Victoria Schwab

Genre: Middle grade horror
Secondary genre: fantasy/paranormal
Format: hard back, audio
Series: Cassidy Blake vol. 1 & 2
CW: child death
Rep: mixed race
Ratings: 5/5 & 4/5

Cassidy stand in between the living and the dead. When she was eleven, she nearly drowned and was saved by a ghost. Now, a year later, the ghost is her best friend and she continually finds herself facing situations and people that shouldn’t exist–at least not in this time, on this plane.

Just to make things better, her parents are paranormal investigators. When they are offered a chance to film an international show about hauntings, they decide to take Cassidy–and by extension, the ghostly Jacob–with them. Now the Blake family is traveling the world in search of it’s most haunted locations.

Book one is set in Edinburgh, where Cassidy meets Laura, a half-Indian girl who is also stuck “in between.” Laura teaches Cassidy more about her powers and how to use them–both the good and the bad. But Laura’s help might not even be enough when Edinburgh’s most dangerous spirit sets her sights of Cassidy.

All I can really tell you about book two is that it deals with the catacombs of Paris, and involves an extremely powerful poltergeist.

I really liked this series. I love Cassidy and her quirky family. Jacob is a sweetheart who tries so hard to keep Cass on the straight and narrow, but it doesn’t usually work. She’s a clever girl who keeps getting herself into dangerous situations, but she’s always trying to help people, and she’s very brave.

I loved these books and really look forward to a third book in the series.

If you love history and a good ghost story, you’ll probably love these books, too.

The Broken Girls by Simone St. James

Genre: Mystery
Secondary Genre: Historical
CW: Violence, abuse, sexual assault

This dual-timeline novel was not what I was expecting when I saw the name Simone St. James, but it definitely lives up to her reputation.

The book follows Fiona, a journalist in modern day New England. Years before her sister was murdered on the grounds of an abandoned boarding school. When she finds out the school has a new owner who plans to restore and reopen the property, it sets her on a quest to uncover the history of the place–and she soon discovers one murder isn’t enough for the creepy old place.

The second timeline features five students in the 1950s, just before the first murder occurs. Through research and interviews, the past and present begin to intertwine, and Fiona gets the first lead on her sister’s unsolved murder in 20 years.

This book is dark, visceral, and disturbing. It was very hard to read in places, and delved into some very dark subjects (see content warnings above; I don’t want to give too much away here). The girls at the school are “trouble makers” with no where else to go. Some of them don’t have families; some of them have been cast off by their families due to mental or physical health issues. In most cases, the girls are paying for the crimes of their parents and family members, and the teachers and community make sure they know it.

The Broken Girls is both drastically different from St. James previous books, while still holding true to her brand. If you have the mental fortitude to handle the issues mentioned above, it is well worth a read.

Lost Among the Living by Simone St. James

Genre: Historical mystery
Secondary genre: paranormal
CW: mental health
Rep: violence against women, mental health

One thing I love about Simone St. James’ work is that all of her book, though stand alone, are set in the same world. There are often references to other books or events.

In this particular volume we follow Joanna, a dejected war widow who has no choice but to work for her husband’s selfish, horrible relatives. Officially she’s Dot’s companion–her husband’s aunt–but later transitions to being more of a secretary. Dot treats everyone like garbage, probably because her husband is a horrible man who hates her and she’s the type of person who takes it out on everyone around her.

Anyway, it’s not until returning to the family home that Joanna learns Dot’s mentally unwell daughter died several years earlier, by “jumping” off the roof (it’s never specified what she suffered from, but it’s implied she was a high-support autistic). In the nearby village, however, rumor fly ranging from murder to an aborted German invasion during the war, to all sorts of paranormal explanations, including a ghostly dog that can be heard howling in the woods at night.

It would seem that her ghost has a message for Jo, and she keeps appearing at the most inopportune times. Already near an emotional breakdown, Jo is half convinced she’s going crazy.

While this wasn’t my favorite Simone St. James novel, I did really enjoy it. I love how atmospheric her books are, but she does definitely have a type when it comes to heroines: poor, lonely, and depressed. But that is one thing I really love about them–they start at rock bottom and always find their strength through the book. It did mean I found this book a bit predictable, but I still enjoyed the reveals.

Pretty Little Killers by Daleen Berry

Genre: nonfiction crime
Secondary genre: contemporary history
Format: audio
CW: violence, drug use
Rating: planchet-4

What drives two teenage girls to commit murder?

Even more shocking, what would drive them to stab their best friend over a dozen times?

This book delves into the disturbing case of Skylar Neese, a teen girl who vanished in 2012. She was missing for five months before one of her best friends finally confessed: Skylar was murdered the same night she went missing.

Starting with the background of how the girls met and the society they grew up in, the story tracks the three girls as they finish middle school and start high school, and the complex and warped turns their relationships take. Could the crime have been prevented? If people had been more willing to come forward, or paid more attention, would Skylar still be alive? If the police had been more careful, would her killers have been caught sooner?

It sounds strange to say I “enjoyed” this book, but it was a very compelling read, and extremely thorough.

The Silent Girl by Tess Gerritsen

Genre: Detective/Police fiction
Format read: ebook
Series: Rizzoli & Isles vol 9
Content warnings: violence, racist slurs, child abuse, violence against children
Rep: Asian American (multiple)
Rating: planchet-3

I started reading this series ages ago because of the tv show, though the two are vastly different. Since then I’ve fallen out of love with the show, and I think my love for this series has pretty much run its course, though this was a really good book. It just failed to grip me.

When an apparent hit woman turns up dead in Boston’s Chinatown, Detective Jane Rizzoli is on the case. Working with ME Maura Isles, her partner, Dave Frost, and newcomer Detective Tam, the team set out to track down who the woman is, who she’s after, and how it all connections.

What they uncover is a 19 year old apparent murder-suicide in a Chinese restaurant. But further digging shows it might not be as straightforward as all that. But with the closed-off nature of Chinatown, how can Rizzoli get anyone to talk about it?

The story in this was great, but I’m just not crazy about the characters anymore. I’ve never liked the book version of Rizzoli very much, and Maura isn’t much better. If you are fan of female-centric detective stories, then I do definitely recommend the series–I think it’s up to 12 books and counting?–I’m just not in love with it anymore, sadly.

Her Dark Curiosity by Megan Shepherd

Genre: YA historical
Secondary genre: scifi
Format read: audiobook
Series: The Madman’s Daughter vol 2
Rep: chronic illness, autism coding
CW: graphic violence,
Rating: planchet-4

The second book in the series, you can find my review of book one here.

After fleeing her fathers secret island laboratory as it burned, Juliet is back in London. She has, surprisingly, found a new family for herself, and is beginning to build a life, though the struggle of keeping her mysterious illness and her “oddities” to herself is beginning to wear.

But when murders begin happening in London, Juliet begins to see a pattern the police have missed: all the victims are people who have wronged her in one way or another. Chilled to the bone, she begins to suspect she’s not the only one who escaped the island.

But when Montgomery turns up in London, too, things begin to look up. Surely the two of them can solve the murders and save her life if they work together, can’t they?

Drawn from Doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, this book continues Shepherd’s retelling of dark, classic literature with a scifi twist.

I really enjoyed this book, though I did have a few things about it that bothered me, as with the first volume. It is definitely problematic in more ways than one, but I still find myself looking forward to the third book, which I believe is the conclusion of the series.

Have you read this series yet? What are your thoughts?

The Madman’s Daughter by Megan Shepherd

Genre: YA historical
Secondary genre: scifi
Format read: audiobook
Series: The Madman’s Daughter vol 1
Rep: chronic illness, autism coding
CW: graphic violence, violence against animals, attempted sexual assault
Rating: planchet-4

Inspired by The Island of Doctor MoreauI was drawn to this book from the title alone. I’m always down for a book about mental illness, and this one seemed to have a good chunk of mystery and intrigue to boot.

If you are looking for something light and fun, then please turn around now because that is not what you’re going to find. This book is dark, it’s gritty, and it questions what it means to be human and how bad a person has to be before they aren’t worth saving anymore.

Juliet has been ill her entire life. For the most part, it doesn’t affect her–provided she takes her daily injections. But life is hard in the slums of London, and even harder with no family or friends to lean on.

Left destitute after her father’s exile and her mother’s desk, once genteel Juliette finds herself scrubbing the floors of the lectures halls where her father once taught. But why he fled England is still something of a mystery. While rumors abound, which ones are true?

Then, just as her life in London becomes unsustainable, Juliet runs into a familiar face: Montgomery, her family’s old servant, who vanish at the same time as her father.

Call it flirtation, call it blackmail, call it sheer force of will, Juliet convinces Montgomery to take her with him, back to the remote island where her father now lives.

This heart wrenching novel of family, friendship, betrayal, and redemption is highly problematic to say the least, but largely in a way that questions morality and humanity; it usually calls itself on the questionable content, but be ready to be horrified.

Good for fans of Frankenstein, Mindy McGinnis, and Penny Dreadful. 


Murder on the Quai by Cara Black

Genre: mystery
Secondary genre: historical, political
Format read: hard copy
CW: violence
Rep: Little person
Series: Aimée Leduc, vol 16
Rating: planchet-4

Sometimes, there are happy accidents.

Like when you accidentally start with volume 16 in a series, thinking it’s volume 1, and it turns out to be a prequel.

I found book 9 in this series at a flea market a few months ago and earmarked the series for later. When I happened to see this book on display at my local library, I snapped it up. Somehow, I missed the bitty line at the top of the cover marking it as a prequel.

It’s the 1980s, and the Berlin wall has just come down. Amid the news, med student Aimée  Deluc is struggling with her finals, which are continually sabotaged by jealous classmates. Expecting help or at least commiseration from her father, she’s surprised to find him halfway out the door on his way to Berlin on a secret business trip he won’t tell her anything about.

At the same time, a distant cousin shows up on their doorstep, begging for Mr. Deluc’s help to solve her father’s murder. Aimée helps her PI father on his way, promising to meet up with him on a job when he returns, and volunteers to do a little digging for the mystery cousin, thinking it’s a simple matter of tracking down a woman he spoke to on the night he died.

But her simple open-and-shut research case turns up a second dead body killed the same way, and the links between the old men lead right back to a crate of Nazi gold and a series of murders in 1943. Then someone starts shooting at her and attempting to mow her down with a cab.

This book was a bit slow to start, in my opinion, but around halfway through things really pick up. I will warn you that there is a very sudden even on the last page that makes this something of a cliff-hanger ending, and I was not happy with the twist it added to the plot. I’m not sure if I want to go back and read the rest of the series now.

I do really like Aimée, however, and the little dog she and her grandfather adopt.

If you’ve read this series, what’s your opinion?

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley

Genre: adult mystery
Secondary genre: historical
Format read: audiobook
Rep: autistic coding
Series: Flavia de Luce vol 1
Rating: planchet-4

This book is unusual in that it is written for adults, but the main character, Flavia, is only eleven.

I’m a sucker for a girl genius, especially one living in a previous era, so when I heard about this book I was eager to get my hands on it.

Set in 1950, Flavia lives with her two older sisters–who are horrid–and her distant father in a big old English manor house.

When Flavia discovers a dying man–who expires right before her eyes–in the garden, it sets the wheels turning on a mystery that dredges up her father’s past and puts out intrepid young chemist on the path to no only uncovering one murder, but two.

I gobbled up this book in two days. I loved the dynamics between the sisters, and how, in this stiff-upper-lip family, they show affection by tormenting each other. I do wish that Daphne, the middle sister, were just a little more fleshed out–I feel like if the three of them could find common ground, they’d be hell on wheels if they worked together.

I adored the complexity of the mystery, the characters, the setting–everything about this book, and I will definitely be looking for the next in the series.

A Study in Scarlet Women by Sherry Thomas

Genre: adult mystery
Secondary genre: historical, retelling
Format read: paperback
Rep: autistic coding, fat rep
Rating: planchet-3

Confession: I’m not a fan of Sherlock Holmes. I didn’t enjoy the source material. I don’t like the show with Benedict Cumberbatch. I have to be in the right mood to watch the Robert Downy Jr. movies, which only strikes about once a year.

BUT, I am always on the lookout for a historical mystery. I think the world needs more of them, especially stories that aren’t heavy on the romance.

I devoured Sherry Thomas’s Elemental Trilogy in about a week, so when I found out she’d also written a series of historical mysteries with a female lead who was autistic-coded, I put them on my TBR.

Which of course meant it took me two years to get to them. Anyway…

Charlotte Holmes doesn’t understand people, despite the way she’s spent her life observing them. Encouraged by her father to engage in Society before dismissing it out of hand, she casts off her favorite plain cotton dress for the frills and frippery of the drawing room, reining in her love of sweets to get her tightly-cinched waist down to acceptable proportions, and learns to make the dreaded Small Talk. While she finds she enjoys the textures and colors and shapes of fashion, she still can’t see herself as Lady this or that, but when she asks her father to uphold his promise to allow her to pursue her education instead, he declines.

Hurt by the betrayal, Charlotte hatches a plan: She arranges to have herself deflowered by a married man (so she can’t be forced to marry him) then blackmail her father into paying for her education to get her off the marriage market.

Thing’s go sideways, however, when her paramour’s mother walks in on them, publicly announcing the embarrassment to the world and ruining Charlotte’s plans. Now she has no leverage and her parents want to send her away. She does the only thing she can: she sneaks out and decides to live on her own, despite having little money and fewer prospects.

When Lady Shrewsbery, the sharp-tongued matron who ruined Charlotte’s plan, turns up dead the next morning, however, it’s Charlotte’s beloved sister Livia who is implicated, after taking Lady Shrewsbery to task for her actions in a drunken rage.

The 3rd person narrative flips back and forth between Charlotte, Livia, and Inspector Treadles, very much in the Sherlock Holmes style.

For me, this made it very hard to follow and hard to get immersed in the narrative, which is why I only rated it 3 stars (actually, it’s 3.5, but I don’t have a graphic for that and Goodreads does’t allow half stars). If you pick up this book, definitely plan to read it in one or two sittings; breaking it into 20 minute segments makes it very hard to follow the story.

I’ve read several Sherlock short stories, and this book keeps the spirit of the feel of the stories without the obnoxious characters. I really hate books where you have a semi-useless narrator describing the actual main character (think The Great Gatsby). I loved all of the characters and descriptions far more than in the original, and really want to read more about Charlotte and Livia. I also loved Mrs. Watson, a former actress who spearheads Charlotte’s impersonation of the male detective.

I have been told that the 2nd book, Conspiracy in Belgravia, is better than the 1st book, so if you have difficulty with Scarlet Women, maybe reserve judgement until you’ve read the second book.