Review: Remember, Remember by Anna Elliott

rememberrememberRemember, Remember by Anna Elliot

My Rating: 3.5/5 TARDISes

Series: Sherlock Holmes and Lucy James Mysteries

Date Published: April 21st, 2017

Publisher: Wilton Press

Pages: 357 pages

Source: Netgalley

Links: Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository

Synopsis: A lovely American actress awakens in London on a cold morning in 1897 – lying face down on the concrete pavement outside the British Museum. She has no memories. She does not even know who she is, although she has a vague recollection of the name Sherlock Holmes. What she believes is that she has may have just killed someone, and that someone is definitely trying to kill her. As she searches for clues to her true identity, she will learn that she is not the only target. Unless she can defeat her evil adversaries, the people most dear to her will die.

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*I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review*

This is a spoiler-free review.

I’ll admit I went into this book a little bit hesitant. It’s no secret that I love retellings or novels that use classic characters in modern day literature—these are some of my favorite types of novels. However, the hesitation I experience comes from my love of the original stories and characters themselves. I’m always a stickler when it comes to keeping true to the most essential and definitive aspects, even while the author is forming his or her own unique story. And I am especially picky when it comes to my all-time favorites. This particular novel, I’m pleased to say, does a reasonably good job paying homage to the incredibly well-loved characters from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s timeless tales of the great Sherlock Holmes.

In this novel, we read from the perspective of the main character, Lucy James, a young woman who wakes up on the steps of the British Museum with amnesia. Once woken up, she realizes she has lost all of her memories, including her name. All she knows is that she was hit in the head and that someone is most likely out to kill her—and that she may in fact be a killer herself. This, along with the vague recollection of the name Sherlock Holmes, is all she has to go on as she attempts to remember who she is, where she’s from, and why she is running for her life. Her enemies are ruthless and willing to take down anyone who gets in their way. Navigating dangerous circumstances and forging new alliances, Lucy takes on her adversaries and works to prevent them from carrying out their nefarious scheme.

Despite my original wariness, I ended up enjoying this story quite a bit. I found the plot to be fast-paced and easy to get wrapped up in right from page one. Though this is actually the third book in the Sherlock Holmes and Lucy James Mysteries series, it functions extremely well as a standalone. The overall mystery of the story is not completely unpredictable or surprising, but it still made for a very fun and action-packed read.

The portrayal of the various characters, overall, is fairly well done, but also the area from which the majority of my issues with the novel stem. The characters that were original creations of Anna Elliot were by far the strongest. Lucy is a great protagonist—she is a strong, highly intelligent, and independent heroine. The only major issue with her characterization is that there isn’t much development over the course of the story or depiction of flaws. One of the reasons a character such as Sherlock Holmes is so interesting is the mixture of his tremendous intellect and cleverness with flaws that make him human. While Lucy is a likeable character that is still easy to connect with, she seems just a bit too perfect at times.

As for Elliot’s versions of Holmes and Watson, I had somewhat mixed feelings. While her portrayal of Watson, in my opinion, is quite accurate, I felt a little bit lukewarm about her portrayal of Holmes. We don’t really get to see all that much of him, and even though there are certain times that truly reflect the classic great detective, there are some moments and plot points that I felt strayed a little too far. Though it was a little hard for me to imagine at first, I believe she did a decent job of gauging the way Holmes would treat a daughter had he had one in the original stories. However, there were times—such as his offering Lucy dating advice—that just didn’t feel authentic.

I had one odd problem with one of the character’s names. I was reading from an advanced review copy, so this is probably the cause of my confusion, but I could not figure out Lucy’s love interest’s first name. It kept jumping back and forth between John and Jack every few pages, sometimes even within the same page. Again, I assume this was caused by the uncorrected proof, and it has absolutely no bearing on my rating of the novel. However, I’m still not certain what his name actually was meant to be.

Elliot’s writing style is solid and easy to become absorbed in. She gives Lucy a strong narrative voice, which caused the plot to both flow well and pack a punch. Her world building of 1897 London is vivid and skilled, making it a very high point of the novel. She unravels the mystery at a steady pace, showing her talent for creating a storyline that hooks her readers and keeps them wanting more.

In the first part of the novel, Elliot does a great job of presenting Lucy’s slow gathering of clues pertaining to her life. The transition between the two halves of the novel—where Lucy suddenly regains her memories—is a bit rough. We are thrown rather quickly into her rapid and high-stakes lifestyle. However, this still does not hurt the plot progression overall, and though it was a little bumpy, I found myself falling into this new twist fairly easily. In general, Elliot keeps the plot as a whole straightforward enough to follow, and just unpredictable enough to create a exciting mystery.

Overall, I found this novel to be a pretty enjoyable and fast-paced read that was quite easy to become swept up in. This wound up being a very fun story, and an inventive take on some very timeless classics. While I would have liked to see a bit more development in Lucy and the various other significant characters in the novel, they were still portrayed well in general. Despite its few flaws, this is a good addition to the ever-expanding world of Sherlock Holmes novels. I am definitely planning to go back and read the first two novels of this series, and will eagerly await and further installments.

3.5 TARDISes

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Review: Quinsey Wolfe’s Glass Vault by Candace Robinson

quinseywolfesglassvaultQuinsey Wolfe’s Glass Vault by Candace Robinson

My Rating: 3.5/5 TARDISes

Series: The Glass Vault Series

Date Published: May 16th, 2017

Publisher: CreateSpace

Pages: 242 pages

Source: Publisher

Links: Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository

Synopsis: Some see it… Some don’t…

 People in the town of Deer Park, Texas are vanishing. There is a strange museum, known as Quinsey Wolfe’s Glass Vault, that appears overnight. Perrie Madeline’s best friend and ex-boyfriend are among the missing. Perrie, along with her friend August, go on a pursuit to search for them in the mysterious museum. Could the elusive Quinsey Wolfe’s Glass Vault have anything to do with their disappearances? 

A book that intertwines horror elements and retellings, with humor and darkness.

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*I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review*

This is a spoiler-free review.

I tend to frequently gravitate towards retellings or reimaginings of well-known stories that have a bit of a twist into horror and darkness—and this is definitely one of those novels. Just as the museum itself proclaims, this story is not for the faint of heart. We follow characters who are falling into the gruesome and gritty parts of dreadful worlds, based in both reality and fiction. Though, as I said, this book may not be for those on the squeamish side, it takes those who are not “faint of heart” on a macabre adventure through multiple retellings.

In this novel, we follow a young woman named Perrie Madeline as she is thrown into a dark realm of nightmares come to life, in her efforts to rescue those she cares about. The town of Deer Park, Texas is being plagued by a string of inexplicable disappearances that leave absolutely no traces of the victims or potential leads to follow. These mysterious occurrences seem to center around a museum that appears overnight—in fact, it appears and disappears at the most random, and sometimes inopportune, moments.

It came out of nowhere, this giant stone structure claiming to be a museum named “Quinsey Wolfe’s Glass Vault”. Though it comes as quite a shock when she first sees it, Perrie doesn’t think much of this strange place until her ex-boyfriend disappears after mentioning it, followed rapidly by her best friend’s disappearance after the first night she should have spent working at the Glass Vault. Soon, Perrie puts two and two together, and journeys with her friend August into the bizarre and twisted world of Quinsey Wolfe in a desperate attempt to save Neven and Maisie.

I thoroughly enjoyed how unique this story turned out to be—it was a fun and highly imaginative experience. Robinson definitely breaks away from many of the commonalities of the genre, creating her own surprising and highly effective twists and turns to what could have been a typical retelling. There is very little predictability in this complex and atmospheric plot that she weaves. This not only pulls her readers in, but keeps them hanging on every moment, over every turn of the page.

There were only a few elements of this novel that were a bit problematic for me. This narrative is sort of split up into two halves—it begins in the natural world and moves into many fantastical alternate realities. Though I enjoyed being in both settings, I felt that the transition between the two was really rough. The way it came across was less fluid and more like being plucked out of the first story and dropped into a completely new one.

Though Perrie and August were equally confused at their new surroundings, they both seemed to handle this sudden change a bit too well at times. It didn’t take them as long as it probably should have to come to terms with the fact that something extraordinary and magical was taking place—though they were pretty freaked out, they also appeared as if they knew and understood almost exactly what was going on in a matter of minutes. One would expect them to have to take far more time to process their situation, and therefore, this made the transition into the fantasy side of the novel seem very rushed.

The characters were a very strong part of this novel—in fact, this is a very character-driven novel overall. Each one was very well-portrayed and likeable, and Robinson did a good job building up their personalities. She took the time to make each character very three-dimensional and distinctive—highly relatable and memorable. Perrie was a fairly strong narrative voice, and I really loved how her relationships with the other main characters, particularly Maisie, were portrayed. I fully connected with, felt for, and rooted for all of them throughout the trials they experienced, and that really drew me further in to the novel as a whole.

Though Candace Robinson’s writing did not flow with me quite as well as I would have liked, I could definitely see a huge amount of talent and strength in her words. She built up the worlds and the atmospheres with ease, and her depictions of the various settings were very vivid and not at all difficult to place oneself in.

One of the only negatives I came across in the writing itself was the tendency to rely on brief and concentrated info dumps, which simultaneously bogged down and rushed the plot. Robinson did a considerable amount of telling rather than showing, which did not serve a story as intense as this one could be well. This is a narrative that needed to feel fast-paced, not rushed, and while it was a mesmerizing story, too much of it dragged on with explanations.

I would have liked to have seen and experienced more of what the characters were going through rather than read paragraphs of them flat-out explaining where they were and what was happening. Because everything about this plot was so unique, I really wish that this novel could have been a bit longer, allowing Robinson time to flesh out each individual setting and its accompanying retelling, as well as Perrie’s and August’s experiences handling the hurdles of each one. In the end, it felt like there was a bit too much information crammed into too short a space and timeframe.

Though I had some mixed feelings on certain aspects of this novel, I overall really enjoyed reading it. With unique and vivid world-building, Robinson creates a very gripping reading experience. Though it is not devoid of some minor issues and the pacing does not quite hit the mark, it is still an intriguing, humorous and, at times, chilling read. If you are a fan of dark retellings or horror stories, I would highly recommend giving Robinson’s book a try. This novel ends on a massive cliffhanger, so I am definitely looking forward to picking up the next installment once it’s released.

3.5 TARDISes

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Review: Wolf by Kelly Oliver

wolfWolf by Kelly Oliver

My Rating: 3.5/5 TARDISes

Series: The Jessica James Mysteries Series

Date Published: June 1st, 2016

Publisher: Kaos Press

Pages: 316 pages

Source: Author

Links: Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository

Synopsis: Montana cowgirl Jessica James is sleeping on a desk in the attic of the Philosophy Department at Northwestern University and she blames her advisor, Professor Wolfgang “Wolf” Schumtzig, “Preeminent Philosopher and World Class Dick-Head.” But when he’s found dead in his office, her real education begins. The murder weapon is a campus date-rape drug, supplied by the Russian mafia—and Jessica could be the next target.

Dmitry Durchenkov is trying to live a normal life as a janitor at Northwestern after escaping Russia with part of his father’s mafia fortune—which has suddenly disappeared. Jessica and Dmitry team up to wrangle mobsters, encounter a trio of feminist avengers, and lasso frat boys in order to rope in a murderer who’s read too much Existentialism. Together, the brooding Russian and the cowgirl philosopher learn that sometimes virtue is just the flip side of vice.

*I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review*

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This is a spoiler-free review.

Wolf is pitched as being a crime novel that tackles some important issues using a good dose of intelligence, humor, and feminism—and it certainly lives up to these claims. Despite my love of the mystery genre, I was a bit unsure whether or not this particular combination of themes would really be my type of story. However, Kelly Oliver’s clever writing managed to erase all of my hesitations. Though some parts fell a bit flat or lacked believability, it turned out to be a very enjoyable read as a whole. I ended up getting completely swept up in the suspense and wit of this novel.

Throughout the duration of the narrative, we follow the lives of two characters. Jessica James, hailing from Montana, is pursuing her PhD in philosophy at Northwestern University when her advisor, Professor Wolfgang Schumtzig is found murdered in his Philosophy Department office. Dmitry Durchenkov, the university’s janitor, finds that the past he fled his homeland of Russia to escape is finally catching up with him, and at the worst possible time. Existentialism, murder, date-rape drugs supplied by members of the Russian mafia, and even the disappearance of famous works of art tie these two lives together in intriguing and unexpected ways.

Kelly Oliver takes some incredibly difficult topics and tackles them in a mature and respectful way. She carefully injects the humor into the story, giving the darker aspects of the plot the gravity that they deserve. There is never a moment where it seems as if the more serious moments are being taken too lightly. I appreciated how she focused on educating her readers about very relevant issues. On top of this, Oliver also adds quite a deal of philosophy and art history into the story, which I was very interested in. From her intelligent writing, it is easy to tell that she is well informed on all the subjects that she covers.

I’ll admit, I had a little bit of trouble getting into this novel to begin with, as the first fourth or so of the novel is much slower paced for the most part. This is primarily due to the fact that there is a lot of setup and familiarizing the reader with the characters rather than focus on action and the mystery unfolding. This is completely understandable, especially given that it is the first novel in a series, so even though it was slow going for me for a little bit, it did not by any means put me off the story.

I think that this initial sluggishness I experienced was magnified due to the fact that the narrative jumps between the two main characters. The entire novel is told in third person, but it switches back and forth between the storylines of Jessica and Dmitry every chapter or so. It takes some time to make significant progress in each storyline and for them to weave together. This causes the main body of the novel to be quite fast-paced, but sort of puts the brakes on things when it comes to the setup.

Writing a novel using this method can be fantastic for developing a feeling of suspense, but is also tricky to perfect. I found that the constant shifts sometimes caused me to feel that the narrative was becoming a bit jumbled. However, this did not detract from my reading experience too severely, particularly as I got further in. Once you get to know the characters, it is extremely easy to get caught up in their lives, and I tore through most of the novel.

Oliver juxtaposes the humor and awkwardness of Jessica’s life with the pain and fear plaguing Dmitry’s in order to create an ultimately gripping and unified plot. As a whole, she created the desired tension by leaving the reader wanting more at the end of each character’s contribution to the progression of the storyline. When it becomes fully apparent how closely these two lives are connected, the story picks up very quickly. For some reason, I was not expecting this link between them, and was pleasantly surprised with the direction that Oliver took it in.

This book is filled with a diverse and quirky cast of characters, all filled with a great amount of inner strength. I found the characterization to be an exceptionally strong point. Jessica is a great example of how to create a female protagonist. She is funny and delightfully awkward, while also being a very intelligent and independent heroine. Dmitry shows his strength in a different way, fighting to move forward from a troubled past that won’t let him go.

I think Lolita ended up being my favorite character in the novel. I love what a strong woman she is and how much she cares for and supports her friends and family. All of the primary characters are fully formed and multidimensional, each showing some amount of progress throughout the novel. No matter what their personal story holds or what struggles they are facing, each character does their part and is working hard to be the best version of themselves that they can be—someone they are proud of.

There is also a major focus on relationships between friends and the importance of family rather than on romance, which is an aspect of this novel that I found to be quite refreshing. The friendship between Jessica and Lolita—the way they look out for and support each other—is absolutely lovely and shows the strength that can be produced from that sort of companionship. Dmitry’s devotion to his family and the lengths he goes to in order to keep them safe is quite beautiful, adding both more dimension and a greater sense of urgency to his struggle.

The small amount of romance that is present, though I really wanted to like it, fell sort of flat for me. It felt a bit forced and at times confusing, so I do wish that it had either been addressed a bit more or left out completely. But this was the only area of issue in the portrayal of relationships and the theme of love. Overall, the dynamics and interactions between the various characters added more depth and meaning to the story, and was one of the strongest and most captivating aspects.

Wolf is a novel with a lot of heart and a good sense of humor, despite its fairly dark subject matter. With smart and skillful writing, vividly depicted characters, and an addictive plot, it proves to be quite a rousing read. Kelly Oliver has created a unique and memorable mystery that both educates and entertains. I am incredibly eager to continue on with this series, and look forward to seeing the ongoing adventures of Jessica James. I would definitely recommend giving this book a try.

3.5 TARDISes

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Review: Doctor Who: Death Riders by Justin Richards

doctorwhodeathridersDoctor Who: Death Riders by Justin Richards

My Rating: 3.5/5 TARDISes

Series: Standalone

Date Published: November 19th, 2015

Publisher: Penguin Random House UK

Pages: 160 pages

Source: Netgalley

Links: Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository

Synopsis: The Galactic Fair has arrived on the mining asteroid of Stanalan and anticipation is building around the construction of the fair’s most popular attraction – the Death Ride! But there is something sinister going on behind all the fun of the fair; people are mysteriously dying in the Off-Limits tunnels. Join the Doctor, Amy and Rory as they investigate…

*I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review*

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This is a spoiler-free review.

The Doctor, Amy, and Rory land on Stanalan—an asteroid used for mining—which, as they soon find out, contains an entire civilization. The caretaker, Perpetual Pete, who has been there far longer than anyone living on Stanalan can even remember, has marked some of the old mining tunnels as Off-Limits. He claims that they require maintenance, says they are liable to collapse, and forbids anyone from traveling down them. With the arrival of the Galactic Fair and the construction of an attraction called the Death Ride, Pete has his hands full attempting to keep the workers from building parts of the ride’s track in those tunnels. However, people begin to turn up dead in those Off-Limits areas, appearing to have died from something far worse than collapsing walls.

I found the plot to be fairly predictable, but that did not take away from my enjoyment of it. Richards did a wonderful job of building intrigue and tension in the opening chapters of the novel. He unveiled the important details at the right pace to create the tense and mysterious atmosphere that the story required. I do wish there had been a bit more use of the Doctor, but given the length of the story, I thought there was a decent balance in the attention given to each character; each member of the trio contributed an equal amount to the progression of the plot. There were times that the story felt a bit choppy or like it was jumping a bit too quickly over certain aspects, but those sacrifices are to be expected in a shorter novel, and I felt that Richards handled it well.

I definitely felt that the first half of the story was a lot stronger than the second half. The ending was quite clunky and had me shaking my head on numerous occasions. It seemed like it was trying to be fairly typical of a conclusion to an episode of the show. However, they had gotten into such a predicament that there was very little that could be done to avoid a “deus ex machina” sort of situation. Though my suspension of disbelief is pretty good for Doctor Who in general, this ending was maybe just a tiny bit too farfetched even for that.

I enjoyed the author’s writing style quite a bit; it was easy to follow and flowed very nicely. His descriptions were very detailed and clear, and I was easily able to picture all of the settings and characters in my mind. Richards did a great job of building up an image of a bleak world slightly brightened by the presence of this fair. Yet behind that, he creates an underlying sense of tension and mystery, even before the unexplained deaths actually begin to occur.

The only complaint I had in terms of the writing might simply be caused by differences in location and subsequently dialect for me. Throughout the entire story, every single time the word “around” was used, Richards exchanged that with “round”. This is something that I am accustomed to hearing used in speech, so its use in lines of dialogue felt appropriate. Until this novel, however, I have not seen it employed in regular lines of text, such as in descriptions, and it felt quite out of place in those instances. Frankly, the constant substitution began to feel rather repetitive and awkward. As I said though, this may just be a question of dialect and writing style that I am not entirely familiar with given my location compared to the author.

Richards did a solid job of accurately capturing the personalities of the Eleventh Doctor, Amy, and Rory. Their deliveries of dialogue as well as their interactions with each other were spot on. This was a short novel, so there was not nearly as much time available for the author to flush out the supporting characters. Richards still managed to do a good job of vividly portraying them and their interactions with the main trio. The fact that he worked everything together so well so quickly served to make the novel feel even more reminiscent of an episode of the show.

The main complaint I had in terms of the characters was that I occasionally felt that Amy was acting out of character, and I found that to be a bit frustrating. There were times when she sounded like herself but felt like a different person. A number of times, I questioned why she was acting in certain ways because those actions did not match the true intelligence of her character. Despite that, the characterization in this novel was truly a high point for me.

Overall, this was a very fun and quick read that definitely did the characters and the television series justice. Like the show itself, there is limited time to develop plot and characters in a story of this length, and I liked how much that made it feel like watching an episode. Despite being out of the target age range and not entirely loving the ending, this was still very satisfying and enjoyable to read. This is a story that Whovians of any age will enjoy.

3.5 TARDISes

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