4.5 star, YA

Review: Stalking Jack The Ripper by Kerri Maniscalco

Stalking Jack the Ripper #1

Presented by James Patterson’s new children’s imprint, this deliciously creepy horror novel has a storyline inspired by the Ripper murders and an unexpected, blood-chilling conclusion…

Seventeen-year-old Audrey Rose Wadsworth was born a lord’s daughter, with a life of wealth and privilege stretched out before her. But between the social teas and silk dress fittings, she leads a forbidden secret life.

Against her stern father’s wishes and society’s expectations, Audrey often slips away to her uncle’s laboratory to study the gruesome practice of forensic medicine. When her work on a string of savagely killed corpses drags Audrey into the investigation of a serial murderer, her search for answers brings her close to her own sheltered world.

The story’s shocking twists and turns, augmented with real, sinister period photos, will make this dazzling, #1 New York Times bestselling debut from author Kerri Maniscalco impossible to forget.

Okay, just have to start off right off the bat that this was amazing. This series (book one here) was suggested by our very own Andge and I am 100% on board and thankful for this recommendation. I even checked with her and she agreed with my 4.5 rating here.

I was never much of a history buff, and so I tend to avoid historical fictions if left to my own devices. But ever since Andge introduced The Last Magician to me, I honestly have a newfound interest and curiosity for them. So if you have never tried historical fictions, I can honestly say you should give it a try – you may find that you also enjoy them!

I can’t think of a better first dive into historical fiction, especially if you’re into YA (which is why we’re all here, right?). Stalking Jack the Ripper may be a bit of a intimidating title, but I promise it’s not a sappy love story where a girl falls in love with a serial killer. Set in the late nineteenth century England, Audrey Rose Wadsworth is not your typical young lady. Studying as an apprentice under her uncle in post-mortem studies, she is no stranger to dead bodies and getting her hands dirty. Don’t be fooled by the macabre setting – all the essence of your favourite YA novel can still be found!

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4.5 star, YA

Review: Love & Gelato by Jenna Evans Welch

Series: Love & Gelato #1

“I made the wrong choice.”

Lina is spending the summer in Tuscany, but she isn’t in the mood for Italy’s famous sunshine and fairy-tale landscape. She’s only there because it was her mother’s dying wish that she get to know her father. But what kind of father isn’t around for sixteen years? All Lina wants to do is go back home.

But then she is given a journal that her mom had kept when she lived in Italy. Suddenly Lina’s uncovering a magical world of secret romances, art, and hidden bakeries. A world that inspires her, along with the ever-so-charming Ren, to follow in her mother’s footsteps and unearth a secret that has been kept for far too long. It’s a secret that will change everything she knew about her mother, her father—and even herself.

People come to Italy for love and gelato, someone tells her, but sometimes they discover much more.

You ever feel transported to the place your books take you, whether that be some fantastical land that exists entirely in a collective imagination or a place that you can literally touch and feel? Well, Love & Gelato has swept me off my feet to land safely on the grounds of an American Cemetery outside of Florence, Italy. I never wanted to travel more than right now (not a great thing to feel in the midst of an ongoing pandemic and travel restrictions).

There are so many things in my head and heart with this novel. It can be summarized in 3 parts.

Setting and Travel

Italy is a gorgeous place, and I wish I had the chance to visit its Tuscany charm or walk the big cities at my own pace. While this book is solidly a cute romantic story (more on this later), it also does an amazing job taking you to a place you may not have ever gone to in your life. I most certainly googled a bunch of locations and famous sights mentioned throughout, almost feeling that tangible sense like I can close my eyes and pretend I’m tasting gelato on my tongue and hear the sights of a crowded piazza. It shines through that the author has spent time in this beautiful country and know it by more than mere research. There is a deep sense of love and respect for this place that shines through every word describing the next sight Lina takes in.

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4.5 star, buddy review

Buddy Review: Punching the Air by Ibi Zoboi and Yusef Salaam

From award-winning, bestselling author Ibi Zoboi and prison reform activist Yusef Salaam of the Exonerated Five comes a powerful YA novel in verse about a boy who is wrongfully incarcerated. Perfect for fans of Jason Reynolds, Walter Dean Myers, and Elizabeth Acevedo.

The story that I thought

was my life

didn’t start on the day

I was born

Amal Shahid has always been an artist and a poet. But even in a diverse art school, he’s seen as disruptive and unmotivated by a biased system. Then one fateful night, an altercation in a gentrifying neighborhood escalates into tragedy. “Boys just being boys” turns out to be true only when those boys are white.

The story that I think

will be my life

starts today

Suddenly, at just sixteen years old, Amal’s bright future is upended: he is convicted of a crime he didn’t commit and sent to prison. Despair and rage almost sink him until he turns to the refuge of his words, his art. This never should have been his story. But can he change it?

With spellbinding lyricism, award-winning author Ibi Zoboi and prison reform activist Yusef Salaam tell a moving and deeply profound story about how one boy is able to maintain his humanity and fight for the truth, in a system designed to strip him of both.

Welcome to our newest buddy review for Punching the Air! Now this is a truly special one, a book in a category that neither of us really have that much experience in. What better way to explore a new genre than to do it together in a buddy review? This time, we thought it would be fun to have kind of in a mini Q&A format, to perhaps show off a bit more of our individual voices.

Punching the Air is a novel written in verse, although when I say novel here, I really mean it as more of a collection of poems, separated into three main sections, but each comprised of many individual short poems. Through these poems, the authors paint a sadly realistic story of a Black teenager, Amal, who gets put through the American prison system, and the perspectives and views from the inside looking out.

How was the structure and formatting in the book? Did you like it?

Fives: Not a question normally posed, but quite pertinent in this case. Here the authors really employed all sorts of techniques to create emphasis and meaning in their poems. There was good rhythm and flow, and the use of spacing and lines were well done. Another great element in this book was the use of concrete poetry, which uses a visual element to enhance the meaning or emphasis of a poem. For example, to describe being boxed in, the text is literally written in the form of little square paragraphs, symbolizing the actual boxing in of Amal’s freedom and humanity.

The authors also used repetition a lot, for emphasis, but also to show the change and growth of a motif as it came back each time. With each repetition the imagery became more powerful, and they would transform the motif a bit each time too, to indicate increasing pressure or weight. Overall, I really enjoyed all these elements that they put into the book. And the message of the book aside, the poems in itself are already powerful enough – which is really saying something.

Andge: I think this was something Fives mentioned in our discussion, but this is the only time I can say a book has made good use of their white space. While I can appreciate art and the overall look of the book, I really have to commend the writing. The repetition for emphasis when needed, the allegories and metaphors describing Amal’s every situation. Fives mentioned the boxing in. Amal also describes the friends around him in prison as Corners, protecting him but also acting as another form of repression.

Another example is the heavy weight that always chokes him and presses on his chest. We see how it progresses from a stone in his throat and a brick in his chest to a mountain and a building and then to a country and a city. We can understand and grasp what that sensation is like, as well as the its enlargement as situations make it harder and harder to to feel free. When Amal finally deals with some things that allow him to hope and breathe easier, we can feel it too as the stone in his throat and the brick in his chest drops away. These are only a few examples of the different lyrical tools the authors put to use to help us feel in Amal’s shoes – and it is absolutely brilliant.

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