Book Review: Letters from a Murderer by John Matthews

New York, 1891: a rapidly changing city, torn between lamplight and electric light, where the burgeoning steel and railway industries attract a flood of humanity from every corner of the globe, fuelling cut-throat gangs, corruption and vice.

A prostitute is found brutally murdered. Immediately fear starts to spread. The victim bears the same hallmarks as Jack the Ripper’s recent killing spree in England. Could it be that the Ripper has crossed the Atlantic to fresh killing grounds? Or is this simply a copycat murder?

To solve the case, one of the original English Ripper pathologists, Finley Jameson, is teamed up with Joseph Argenti, one of the new ‘untouchable’ detectives, hand-picked by a New York Mayor eager to fight corruption.

But Michael Tierney, the city’s leading gangster, has his own ideas about how the city should be run. And as the body-count rises, and Jameson & Argenti are taunted by the killer in open letters, they find themselves fighting not just to save the next victim, but for the city’s very soul.

To get this book, you need to add the following things in a blender: Sherlock Holmes, New York City, Jack the Ripper, and Gangs of New York. Add a dash of unique and excellent characterization and you have one explosive novel that will not let you put it down until you’re finished, no matter how tired you may be.

Argenti and Jameson are excellent characters that must follow Jack the Ripper as he terrorizes New York City. Jameson, a former investigator of the Ripper murders in London, has moved to New York. The Ripper seems to have followed him there. Argenti, an investigator from NYC, is one of the few cops left who haven’t been corrupted by the crime boss Tierney. Both Argenti and Jameson are excellent characters because they have their flaws which make them all the more human: Argenti is hiding a secret about his sister, Marella, and Jameson is hiding a family secret that could put him in danger.

I thoroughly enjoyed this novel, and was kept guessing until the very end. And the last sentence of the book made me gasp. I’m very glad that this appears to be the first in a series, because I loved the characters and want to read more of them. Argenti and Jameson have great chemistry when working together, and they compliment each other much like Holms and Watson do. That’s not to say that they’re a copy of those two famous literary figures, though. No, far from it. They’re unique and perhaps even deeper because of their flaws.

I HIGHLY recommend this book if you like a good mystery or are a fan of either Sherlock Holmes or Jack the Ripper style books. Excellent read.

Book Review: Asher’s Fault by Elizabeth Wheeler

The day fourteen-year-old Asher receives a Minolta camera from his aunt Sharon, he buys the last roll of black-and-white film and takes his first photograph—a picture of a twisted pine tree. He’s so preoccupied with his new hobby he fails to notice his dad’s plan to move out, his increasing alienation from his testosterone-ridden best friend, Levi, and his own budding sexuality. When his little brother drowns at the same moment Asher experiences his first same-sex kiss, he can no longer hide behind the lens of his camera. Asher thinks it’s his fault, but after his brother dies, his father resurfaces along with clues challenging Asher’s black-and-white view of the world. The truth is as twisted as the pine tree in his first photograph.

I loved this book. So much so that, despite having to work the next morning I stayed up until the wee hours of the morning to finish it. Teens everywhere, gay or straight, will relate to Asher, Garrett, Levi, Jennifer, and Kayla. There are so many different personalities in this book, each one so realistic I felt as if I knew them personally.

Asher is struggling to accept his parents divorce, especially when his father leaves his mother for another woman. His younger brother, Travis, annoys him, but as you find out from the blurb alone, his brother dies right at the same moment he has his first kiss with another boy. And I mean literally right at that moment.

What follows is a beautiful story about truths and lies. What is the truth? How do we know who is telling the truth and who isn’t? Asher’s friendship with Levi starts to fade when his friend becomes a member of the football team, and though Kayla is so different from him and doesn’t want to fit any mold, she appears to be the one person who understands him the most.

I love that Asher uses an old camera to capture his photos rather than a digital camera. There’s just something so much more special about taking a photo that way. His care in taking the photos is shown very carefully on the page.

I’m very happy that there will be a sequel because I want more of everyone. I want to know what happens between Asher and Garrett, and if Asher ever confronts his mother and father with the truth about Travis. Needless to say I was shocked when at the VERY end you find out a secret.

And reader’s are left with the biggest question of all. When it comes to Travis’s death, whose fault was it really?

You can purchase Asher’s Fault from Bold Strokes Books here.

Book Review: Mesmerized by David-Matthew Barnes

First off, whoa. I hope you’re ready for an emotional ride with this book. It packs a punch that will leave you breathless, giddy, and full of hope.

If I wasn’t already fairly close to my siblings, this book would have me reaching out to them in a heartbeat. In fact, even though we are close, I almost put the book down to go hang out with them.

Serena is a high school senior who, before the start of the book, loses her brother to a hate crime. He is brutally murdered and left in the gutter because he’s gay. At the start of the book, Serena knows virtually nothing about who he was, and her parents are stuck in a catatonic state.

Through a series of events that can only be described as fate, Serena befriends hot boy Brodie and they meet Lance. Because of these meetings, Serena starts to learn more about the brother she had, and wishes more than anything she could have him back to talk to him.

My heart broke throughout the book for Serena and her family. Seeing her suffering from the loss was painful, but at the same time, watching the love of Brodie and Lance unfold through her eyes was beautiful. I could feel how intense it was by the words the author uses to describe their looks, their movements, and every other last detail.

Secrets are revealed throught the book, and I won’t ruin them here, but let’s just say I stayed up very late to finish it. I just couldn’t go to sleep without knowing what happened. In the end, Serena finds the courage to confront her brother’s killer with the help of her brother’s best friend, boyfriend, and her mother.

Also, the ending scenes with The Showdown? I would pay seriously good money to see this as a movie because of that scene. Barnes chose the PERFECT song for the dance sequence, and it was running through my head throughout it. So beautiful.

Do yourself a favor. Get this book. Read it. And then go hang out with your siblings and get to know who they REALLY are.

Mesmerized is available for purchase on the Bold Strokes Books website, or through Amazon.

Book Review: Payback Time by Carl Deuker

I’m not a sports fan by far. I like NASCAR and I love tennis, but that is the extent of my passion right there. NASCAR I watch on occassion, and tennis is an obsession. I have just about every book that comes out about my favorite players and the history of the sport. So when it comes to football? … well, I say my team is the Dallas Cowboys, but really, I never watch it.

(I don’t even watch the Superbowl… not even for the commercials anymore…)

So I picked up Payback Time by Carl Deuker for my students, thinking the boys would love the book. I decided to read it so that I could actually recommend it to my kids without saying… yeah no idea what it’s about.

Boy, am I glad I did.

The blurb from the back of the book: A reporter’s job is to find the missing pieces, and high school journalist Mitch True is on the verge of uncovering those pieces and nailing his first real story. If only he can get cornerback Angel Marichal to talk. Or Coach McNulty to explain why he never allows Angel’s obvious talent – his speed and strength – to shine on the field. What is Angel’s secret? And who profits from keeping the truth hidden?

In a thriller both though-provoking and suspenseful, the award-winning author Carl Deuker shows how investigating someone else’s life can lead to startling discoveries.

My first thoughts before reading the book: I’ll admit, I started thinking of possibilities before I even started the book. I tried to think why a coach would bench a good student. First I thought Angel was gay and the coach was homophobic. Or maybe Angel was caught using steroids and the coach benched him because of that. I wasn’t sure.

My review: This book absolutely blew my expectations out of the water. Mitch is a likeable character and very believable, as is Kimi, his photographer sidekick. The two know there is a story, but they have to dig deep to get it. What I loved about the two is how hard they work to get the story. But the problem is, once they think they know what they have, they don’t explore all the aspects. They are flawed, and that makes them very relatable for students. Mitch and Kimi are so sure they have the whole story, but when they confront Coach McNulty they find out they are incredibly wrong, and their assumptions could lead to a very dangerous end for all involved.

Payback Time does have a lot of football in it; Mitch becomes the sports writer for his school paper, and he discusses each play of the games. However, despite not knowing what most of the terms meant, I still found the book enjoyable and got caught up in the excitement of each game. I wanted to find out Angel’s story just as badly as Mitch and Kimi, and the book does not disappoint. I thought I had it figured out halfway through the novel, but the author has a great twist at the end.

Readers who like sports, mysteries or suspense novels should enjoy this one. Even if you’re not a fan of football, check this book out. It’s about more than just sports.

Book Review: IraqiGirl by “Hadiya”

One particular student of mine has taken an interest in books about girls in other countries and requested I find more after she read I Am Nujood: Age 10 and Divorced, the memoir of a young girl from Yemen who was married off at the age of 10 and was the first child bride to win a divorce in the country. The book was a fantastic look at the lives of girls in this country, and really made her appreciate her life in America. So I went on the search for another book that would interest her – and other students – just as much.

I found IraqiGirl {Diary of a Teenage Girl in Iraq} and before giving it to my student, I had to first read it to make sure the material is suitable for her grade level.

I am pleased to announce that it is, and it is an excellent look at the lives of Iraqi girls during the Iraq War and US occupation. I say girls because readers do not get to see the perspective of a boy, but instead readers get to see Hadiya (a pseudonym) write in her blog.

The entries serve many purposes. First, she is fifteen when the book starts and while her English is good, it is not perfect. There are errors in it, and she seems younger than fifteen. Her entries are short and express her fear at what happens around her and often include pictures. Second, the posts show her changing feelings about her countries leader, the Americans, and the situation around her that she feels at time is hopeless, and other times full of hope. She can be – and admits to it – pessimistic. But can anyone really blame her for what she experiences? She is just writing her life as she sees it. And who can call it a life when every day she hears bombs going off around her and has to worry about that while taking exams in school?

The blog records her progress in the English language, and with her views of the world. She is conflicted when her relatives die but she is utterly in love with her niece, Aya. It is clear that her grandfather was a brilliant man, and she adored him.

From Hadiya I learned a lot about the occupation in Iraq. Before reading this I had seen only what was shown on my television and gave no thought – I’m ashamed to say – to the civilians who wanted to live their life peacefully. Hadiya is a devout Muslim who takes her religion seriously and it is her faith that often gets her through difficult patches. I loved her poetry. While at times it was serious and heartbreaking, it was insightful for a girl her age.

And though it may seem small, I admire her writing the blog in English though she was not fluent. She did not care if peope made fun of her – as she says at the end – and by the end of her book we see that she is very talented with words. Perhaps it was the years of expressing herself in English that helped her. It has inspired me to write more in Japanese and not worry about mistakes I make. Perhaps someone will help me with my Japanese as well. I’m not perfect. I do not claim to be fluent. Maybe writing only in Japanese in another blog will improve my grasp of the language like it did for Hadiya.

If you’re interested in reading more of the blog, you can find it here: http://iraqigirl.blogspot.com/

Hadiya still updates, though infrequently. You can purchase the book here.

(And for those who may be concerned about the “accuracy” of the facts as some people seem to be in reviews, she is writing her blog posts as a child. She is writing as she knows things to be. She admits that people are liars and that she cannot trust everyone, but what she writes is from the heart. She does not have the ability check and see if all the information she gets is true because of her age.)