Stalking Jack the Ripper by Kerri Maniscalo

Stalking Jack the Ripper

Information

Goodreads: Stalking Jack the Ripper
Series: Stalking Jack the Ripper #1
Source: Library
Published: 2016

Official Summary

Groomed to be the perfect highborn Victorian young lady, Audrey Rose Wadsworth has a decidedly different plan for herself.  After the loss of her beloved mother, she is determined to understand the nature of death and its workings.  Trading in her embroidery needle for an autopsy scalpel, Audrey secretly apprentices in forensics.  She soon gets drawn into the investigation of serial killer Jack the Ripper, but to her horror, the search for clues bringers her far closer to her sheltered world than she ever thought possible.

Review

Stalking Jack the Ripper takes readers to Victorian England, where protagonist Audrey Rose is learning forensics and flaunting all societal standards.  While the premise of the novel is a unique one, and Maniscalco has put clear effort into creating a world where people dabble with dark deeds and death to write a YA novel that stands out from the crowd, I ultimately thought the plot lagged.

Maniscalco takes an unsolved mystery and puts her own spin on it, but I found the solution to the mystery too obvious to guess too early in the novel, which was disappointing.  There are a limited number of characters in the book to begin with, and both the jacket summary and the snippet on the back of the hardcover give even more painfully broad hints.  Once you note this and account for some popular mystery tropes, it’s not difficult to tie everything together.  I would have liked a more surprising outcome, or at least more of a puzzle.  I also didn’t believe the Jack the Ripper character had particularly believable motivations or actions in many circumstances.

Beyond the mystery, the novel focuses on the life and personal development of protagonist Audrey Rose.  The book jacket calls her a “remarkably modern Victorian girl,” and that’s apt, so modern it’s nearly grating and definitely anachronistic.  I understand a lot of readers like anachronism; they want YA historical fiction heroines who break from the mold and do things they would not have actually been able to do in the time period.  However, Maniscalco simply takes things too far.  Audrey Rose does not only do remarkably modern things; she won’t stop explicitly stating how progressive she is!  The book is speckled with multiple direct remarks about how men cannot control her, how she refuses to dress properly, how she wants women to have rights, how she has her own mind, how women are the same as men, ad nauseum.  She has some decent points, but she won’t stop proclaiming them.  She can’t even put on makeup without thinking,

“I dreamed of a day when girls could wear lace and makeup—or no makeup at all and don burlap sacks if they desired—to their chosen profession without it being deemed inappropriate” (25).

Or attend an afternoon tea without assuming all the other girls must be like her and want to talk about exciting, manly, scientific things:

“As the afternoon wore on, I watched them, noting the role they were all playing.  I doubted any of them truly cared about what they were saying and felt immensely sorry for them.  Their minds were crying out to be set free, but they refused to unbind them” (149).

Indeed, she is disappointed to learn they might actually be interested in the silly conversations they are having…yet remarks multiple times that of course she is allowed to be interested in both fashion and science!  To think they are mutually exclusive would be absurd!

Basically, I tired of Audrey Rose early on, and none of the other characters saved the novel for me.  I have seen other readers swooning over the love interest, but to me the romance was too quick and forced; I didn’t feel any real spark or chemistry.  Audrey Rose and Thomas seem primarily to have their love of examining cadavers in common, and the fact that Thomas never bats at eye at all the supposedly scandalous things Audrey Rose does.  Indeed, I would have liked to see someone be scandalized because Audrey Rose seems to be all talk on this front; she continuously points out how she’s breaking social conventions and destroying her reputation, but hardly anyone seems to notice or care.  That makes it less believable and makes her seem less brave.

I almost DNFed this but carried on simply because I felt I could get through the book quickly, which ended up being true.  My standard for books I want to DNF is two stars, so that’s what this is getting.  Again, the concept is unique, and I think it could have been really great for a dark YA historical fiction, but never in the novel really worked for me.

Briana

Secret Services from the Library

Discussion Post

Sometimes you want a book from the library and it simply is not on the shelves.  What is a reader to do?  Below we list some other options you can consider to find and borrow the materials you want!

Interlibrary Loan

If your library does not have the book(s) or other materials you are looking for, you can ask that they search for the material in other libraries and have it mailed to you.  Some libraries may charge a nominal fee for this service, but others offer it free.  I have had semi-rare books shipped to me from across the country!

Partnering Libraries

Many libraries have combined their systems with other local libraries.  When you search the online catalog and don’t see the book you want in your home library, set the search to comb through ALL the libraries with which yours is partnered.  If a partnered library has the book, you will be able to borrow it!  You should be able to pick it up and return it at your home library, so no travelling for you!

Request a Purchase

If your library doesn’t carry a book or DVD you’d like, you can ask that they consider purchasing it.  Their ability to purchase will be determined by how many funds they have left for the year for purchases.  However, I’ve found many libraries are very good about trying to buy the materials their patrons want.

Free Cards at Other Local Libraries

If you show your hometown library card to other libraries in your area, you should be able to get a library card from those institutions, as well.  Even if you can’t drive to them regularly, you may find that their ebooks, audiobooks, and online databases are useful to you.  Other libraries may offer free cards to individuals across the state.  I’ve been informed, for instance, that the Free Library of Philadelphia will mail a card to anyone who lives in Pennsylvania.  Let us know in the comments if you know of similar programs!

Purchase a Card

If you would like a card at a library that is not local, you can usually purchase one for the year.  This may be because you’re doing research at a library out-of-state or because you’d like to use the services of a local academic library.  Often these cards run about $40, so this may not be an option for everyone, but I’ve seen some listed for less.  I would recommend, for instance, checking out your local community college before another academic institution.  Since their mission is to serve the community, they might provide easier access to their materials.

Online Databases

If you don’t see the book you want on the shelf, check the library’s online resources.  They should have a tab for audiobooks and ebooks that you can search separately from the library catalog.  You may also find interesting programs such as free test prep, programs to help you learn a new language, access to Universal courses (which teach anything from soap making to chemistry), and family genealogy resources.

What other services do libraries offer that not all patrons may know about?

The Truce by Primo Levi, Trans. by Ann Goldstein

INFORMATION

Goodreads: The Complete Works of Primo Levi
Series:  Auschwitz Trilogy #2
Source: Library
Published: 1963

SUMMARY

Primo Levi recounts his experiences in a dislocated persons camp and his journey back home to Italy after being liberated from Auschwitz.  Also translated as The Reawakening.

REVIEW

In this sequel to Survival in Auschwitz (also known as If This Is a Man), Holocaust witness Primo Levi describes his bizarre journey home after being liberated by the Russian army.  Initially abandoned by the retreating Germans to die in the camp hospital, then moved around to various dislocated person camps, and then finally loaded onto a train with no clear destination or agenda, Levi realizes that liberation is also precarious and that he will need all his wits and skill to continue to find food and clothing.  He describes with witty insight the men and women he meets as he travels across Europe, always hoping to find his way home.

Though Levi is still in  many ways fighting for survival because food and resources remain scarce in the days of liberation, the tone of this book is somewhat more lighthearted.  Levi delights in his character studies and he vividly draws the compelling and strange figures he encounters.  From his friend Cesare, whose tricks to get money constantly entertain and amuse the men, to Mordo Nahum who allies himself with Levi but constantly chastises him for his poor survival instincts (such as not having shoes), Levi fills his pages with reminiscences that are often fond, sometimes baffled.  He does not spare the Russians from his observations that they lacked any clear schedule or order, and often likes to muse on the Russians he encounters who seem to have no apparent job.  But, in the end, he is not too harsh.  One senses that he has no strength or desire to be harsh.

Perhaps the most moment, however, is when Levi and the others pass through Germany.  Levi writes of his need to communicate with the people he associates with his  nightmare.  He wants to know–did they know?  Were they complicit?  How could they do it?  And what do they have to say to him now, now that they see him before them?  But the people of Germany will not meet his eyes and Levi leaves unsatisfied.

Many people have read or listened to the testimony of those who have survived the Holocaust.  Levi was one of the first to speak (If This Was a Man was published in Italy in 1947), but he adds to his story a segment that some readers may be less familiar with.  To modern readers, “liberation” sounds celebratory.  We forget that liberation came with its own set of concerns, its own troubles.  Levi reminds us that liberation took strength and resilience, too.

5 stars

Movie Review: Only Yesterday (1991)

Information

Director: Isao Takahata
Release: 1991

Summary

As twenty-seven-year-old Taeko goes to visit her relatives in the countryside, she begins to remember her fifth grade self.  Taeko has always lived in the city.  However, as she picks saffron flowers and begins to fall for a handsome farmer, she wonders if she’s living the life she has always wanted.

Review

Only Yesterday is a quietly reflective film, one that moves between past and present as Taeko attempts to discern who she was, who she is, and who she wants to be.  It is a not a plot-driven film, but rather a character-driven film.  Not all the pieces fall into place and some memories that emerge seem unrelated to much going on in Taeko’s adult life.  But it’s that randomness that makes the film feel so charming, so very real.

Taeko herself is an engaging character who will earn viewers’ sympathy with her dedication to hard work, her delight in beauty, and her spirit.  That spirit is somewhat hidden in the twenty-seven-year-old woman, but it emerges in Taeko’s recollections of herself as a fifth grader.  Quiet, easily embarrassed, and often childish and petulant, the fifth-grade Taeko still has hope in life.  She enjoys simple luxuries like a bath.  And she’s asking her future self to wake up and to move her life in a direction that will make her happy.

Fans of Studio Ghibli will want to check out Only Yesterday.  It is a heartfelt endeavor that emphasizes respect for the land and finding one’s self in nature.  At times the message may feel heavy-handed, but the message is sincere.  And it’s difficult not to want Taeko to buy into it and to find her happily ever after working on a farm.

4 stars

Malice in Ovenland by Micheline Hess

malice-in-ovenlandINFORMATION

Goodreads: Malice in Ovenland
Series:  Malice in Ovenland Vol. 1
Source: Purchased
Published: 2016

SUMMARY

Lily Brown is expecting to spend the weekend completing the list of chores her mother left–but then she finds a tunnel leading from the back of the oven to a strange new world.  Who are the Oven Frites?  And why do they think Lily’s responsible for their recent grease drought?  Can Lily escape their prison and find her way home?

Review

The clever play on the title of Alice in Wonderland suggests that Micheline, much like Suzanne Collins in her Gregor the Overlander series, is rethinking children’s fantasy so it can star protagonists from the city.  And, of course, Hess is also featuring a girl who looks like many young readers, but who may not often appear in literature–a girl with brown skin, frizzy hair, and glasses.  Lily Brown is the fantasy heroine many have been waiting for.  Adventures aren’t just for Alice anymore!

It’s pretty cool that Lily can find adventure right in her own kitchen.  Unfortunately, however, though the characters are engaging, the artwork delightful, and the plot full of action, the premise is also…a little heavy-handed.  The story revolves around the anger of the Oven Frites when they learn no grease drips from the Browns’ oven anymore because Lily’s mom is cooking healthier meals.  But the Oven Frites don’t want to eat fruits and vegetables.  They want their fried, fatty foods back!

If you can get past the healthy eating message, the book is quite delightful.  There is some good material in here involving a haunted prison cell, a trio of elite Oven Frite rangers, and a charming traitor to the Oven Frites.  They may be kind of standard elements, but they work.  And sometimes a solid fantasy is all you really need.

[As an aside, Micheline Hess has also appeared on some panels and spoken about her art and Black women in comics.  Search her name and you can find her speaking at the Schomburg Center, with Black Enterprise, etc.]

4 starsKrysta 64

Which L. M. Montgomery Book Should You Read Next? (Flow Chart)

Introduction

Are you wondering which book to read after Anne of Green Gables?  Fortunately, L. M. Montgomery was a prolific writer and has many novels to choose from (as well as several short story collections).  If you don’t know where to start, check out our handy guide to selecting your next Montgomery read as well as some of our past reviews.

Your Guide

 

Reviews

The Anne Books

The Emily Trilogy

The Pat Books

Standalones

The Amazing Crafty Cat by Charise Mericle Harper

The Amazing Crafty CatInformation

Goodreads: The Amazing Crafty Cat
Series: Crafty Cat #1
Source: City Book Review
Published: April 11, 2017

Official Summary

Sometimes school can be scary, and even embarrsing, but not today.  Today is Birdie’s birthday, and everything will be perfect!  Birdie’s panda-riffic cupcakes are beautiful, and there’s one for everyone.  She will be the star of the class.  But then…disaster!  A trip and fall on the way to school means no more cupcakes!  Who can save the day?  Who can make the class smile again?  This is a job for Birdie’s alter ego…the Amazing Crafty Cat!

After a quick transformation, Birdie is ready.  She’s not afraid of sticky paws or paper cuts.  She’s not afraid of anything, not even Anya, the class bully.  It’s time to get crafting!

Review

To be clear from the start: this book is not actually about a cat.  Yeah, I was disappointed, too.  Crafty Cat is the imaginary alter ego of our human protagonist Birdie.  And while I have no idea why imagining herself as a cat of all things gives Birdie confidence or why she must envision herself as a cat whenever she does crafts to try to creatively problem solve, I grant that it works for her.  The story centers on Birdie/Crafty Cat’s quest to save an in-school birthday celebration that keeps going horribly wrong.

I really liked that this book centers around a very normal and relatable activity for a lot of children: bringing cupcakes in to share with their class on their birthday.  (Though Birdie’s class seems to have a rule that you can do any birthday activity of your choice; you don’t need to bring in snacks.)  Things go wrong for Birdie throughout the course of the school day, and while I recognize some of these things as relatively “trivial” problems as a adult, I also know I would have been equally upset/mortified as Birdie is if some of these things had happened to me when I was younger.  (Mom can’t drop everything she’s doing and bring something I forgot to school?!  Crisis!)  Chraise Mericle Harper really gets into Birdie’s mind and envisions a book that will appeal to children.

Birdie is also a very realistic character. She’s kind and creative and cares about her friends.  But she also gets grumpy when things don’t go her way and has reasonable flaws.  The side characters are also nicely outlined, considering how little page time they get in the story.  I would have only liked to see more of Anya the bully, or at least more resolution of her role in the story.

The artwork is pastel and somewhat sparsely drawn.  Personally I tend to be a fan of more lavish artwork, things I can spend a long time looking at and still find more detail to appreciate. However, the art here is clean and easy to follow.  There are also a few whimsical touches in the background.

It took me awhile to get into the story and I think the structure could be stronger, but the plot is very relatable and Birdie is a realistic protagonist.  There are also some fun panda crafts in the back of the book, so readers can be more like Birdie.

Briana