Review: Escaping from Houdini by Kerri Maniscalco

Excuse me while I do a happy dance, because this isn’t the final book in the series! I was absolutely expecting the series to come to an end at the conclusion of Escaping from Houdini, but I was wrong. According to Goodreads, book four will be the last, so we’re getting one more instalment, people!

Check out my review of Hunting Prince Dracula to find out what I thought of the previous two books in the series (I realised I never reviewed Stalking Jack the Ripper whilst writing my review for book two, but you can see how many stars I gave it!).

Also, spoilers ahead for books one and two, so stop right here if you haven’t read them yet. Seriously, don’t read any further.

You rebel.

TL;DR Audrey Rose and Thomas jump on a cruise liner to New York and their next case, but as per usual, murder and mystery follow them at every step. Entertained each evening by the Moonlight Carnival, guests begin dropping like flies in increasingly gruesome and theatrical ways. Can Wadsworth and Cresswell solve the murders before the killer’s grand finale?

Escaping from Houdini

4.5 stars

This book had one of my biggest pet peeve tropes as a central plot point, but as you can see, that didn’t stop me loving it. (I won’t say which trope for spoilers’ sake, but if you feel the same, let me know in the comments!)

It starts off with Audrey Rose and Thomas completely smitten with each other, looking forward to a pleasant transatlantic cruise, chaperoned by Audrey’s uncle Dr. Jonathan Wadsworth and Mrs Harvey (and her notorious “travelling tonic”). Well, if you’ve been paying attention to this series so far, you won’t be surprised to hear that almost immediately people start being murdered.

Entertaining the guests every evening on board the ship is the Moonlight Carnival, a rag tag crew of contortionists, cartomancers, knife-throwers and fire-eaters, lead by a mysterious, masked man who calls himself Mephistopheles. If you weren’t lucky enough to read Faust at school, Mephistopheles is the name of the devil in the classic German novel. The ringmaster is a charming, manipulative and arrogant man with designs on our Audrey Rose, much to Thomas’s chagrin.

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Only one member of the carnival doesn’t wear a mask at all times, and that’s the eponymous Harry Houdini. Unlike the rest of the performers who all seem to be hiding from someone or something, Houdini comes across as a fame-hungry young man. Does that make him a murderer, though? Or could one of his travelling carnival companions be hiding a dark past behind their glittery facade?

Like in the previous books, the stakes are pretty high for our leading lady, drawing her family and friends into the heart of the danger yet again. But none more so than herself, and in the end Audrey Rose goes through something that will change her forever.

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I loved this book. I whipped through it at breakneck speed and it’s my new favourite of the series (I know I said that about Hunting Prince Dracula, because boarding school setting! But that’s been trumped by cruise ship setting. Sorry not sorry). Book four, you’ve got a lot to live up to!

I gave Escaping from Houdini 4.5 stars, there’s room for improvement – that flipping annoying trope, to be precise – but it’s such an enjoyable romp on the high seas. I still love Audrey Rose, she’s not perfect, but who of us is? And Thomas is just a dreamboat, flirting shamelessly with her one minute, and telling her he’ll never hold her back the next.

If you’ve enjoyed books one and two, or you’re just a fan of YA historical fiction, you’ll love this book. It’s full of illusions, romance, murder and kissing. What more could you want?

 

Lyndsey

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Review: Red Rising by Pierce Brown

I’d heard so many good things about the Red Rising Saga from other book bloggers and readers online, so when I saw it was on offer on Audible a few months ago, I had to buy it!

TL;DR Darrow is a Red, one of the miners living in a colony on Mars, tasked with the job of making the planet inhabitable for the rest of mankind when Earth dies. Treated as second class citizens by the ruling class, the Golds, there’s a rebellion slowly building beneath the surface, until a shock event thrusts Darrow into the centre of a revolution and exposes the dark secret that Mars may not be all that uninhabitable after all…

Red Rising by Pierce Brown

3.5 stars

Darrow lives in a slum, works in a mine and dreams of a future where Mars is safe and inhabitable for the millions of people left living on a dying Earth. He knows he won’t live long enough to see the day his and his fellow miners’ efforts come to fruition, and he’s OK with that. His kids, or his grandkids, or his great grandkids will enjoy the freedom and safety he works so hard for, day in, day out.

He’s pretty damn good at his job – the best, you might say – and well respected in his community. He’s also married to the love of his life, Eo, at the ripe old age of sixteen. Life under the surface is short and explosive (sometimes literally), so there’s no time to waste when it comes to true love.

Unfortunately though, things aren’t quite what they seem. (Are they ever?) The Golds, a race of “superior” humans that rules over the Reds and other colours, have been keeping a dark secret for decades – the surface has been inhabitable for years and is now covered with a stunning metropolis overflowing with wealth, decadence, and indulgence whilst the Reds suffer and struggle for survival in the mines.

But a rebellion has been brewing for a while, and the rebels believe they’ve found their front-man in Darrow. He’s not convinced though, until a series of shocking and heartbreaking events forces him to accept his new fate.

Disguised as a Gold (think the residents of the Capitol in The Hunger Games), he’s thrown into a competition that pits young members of the Gold caste against each other in a battle of mental and physical fortitude to select the next group of leaders. If he survives, he’ll never be the same again.

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I enjoyed Red Rising, I gave it 3.5 stars, but I had incredibly high hopes after everything I’d heard and it didn’t quite meet them. I wonder whether I might have enjoyed the paperback more, but there was nothing I could pinpoint about the narrator that bothered me, I just can’t put my finger on why this didn’t do it for me like it did for so many others.

One of the reasons I think is because of the other books I was comparing it to, for me it had really strong similarities to The Hunger Games (the segregated castes and deadly competition) and Nevernight (the Ancient Roman influence), two of my absolute favourite books, and it wasn’t quite as good as those two, in my opinion. I still enjoyed it, and would consider continuing to read the rest of the series when I’m caught up on my TBR. Especially as so many people who’s tastes I share, and who’s opinions I respect recommend it.

Have you read Red Rising? Did you love it? Tell me if you think I should read book two!

Lyndsey

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Review: The Sin Eater’s Daughter trilogy by Melinda Salisbury

If I had to choose an author whose books I hope mine are one day shelved next to in book stores, it would be Melinda Salisbury. The Sin Eater’s Daughter is one of my all time favourite series, and the style of YA Fantasy that I absolutely aspire to write. It’s been a while since I finished reading The Scarecrow Queen, but I wanted to review the series here for anyone who hasn’t read it yet. (Where have you been?! Get to the library quick sharp!)

 

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5 stars

The Sin Eater’s Daughter

The Sin Eater's Daughter by Melinda Salisbury

Twylla is sixteen, betrothed to a prince, and forced to serve as the court executioner. The human embodiment of a goddess, she has the power to kill with just a touch, her skin imbued with a deadly poison that has no antidote. Only the royal family are immune to it. But that doesn’t stop her supposed fiance from staying as far from her as possible.

When a new guard is assigned to her, she finds his playful smiles and lack of fear a refreshing change, and soon falls for his charms. The controlling and paranoid queen reveals her plan to destroy the enemies she believes are out to threaten her rule, and Twylla must choose between escaping into the night with her lover, or staying to protect the kingdom she is bound to serve.

I adored the first book in this series, it’s full of fairy tale elements and forbidden romance. Twylla’s character doesn’t have much agency in book one, she seems to be pulled along by the actions of everyone around her, but that is a big part of her arc and by the end of the series she’s become much more active than reactive, and the growth and development she undergoes is more believable for being a slow, steady change.

The big revelation towards the end of book one was a complete surprise to me, I  did not see it coming at all, and it left me questioning absolutely everything about the world I’d become absorbed in. It’s a very well done twist, adding another layer to the dark, Brothers Grimm style fairy tale.

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The Sleeping Prince

The Sleeping Prince Melinda Salisbury

Ever since her brother left them to work as a guard at the castle, Errin has been struggling to keep both her and their sickly mother alive. Foraging in the forest for ingredients to create her illegal herbal concoctions, selling them to a mysterious stranger who refuses to show her his face, and dodging the authorities who are looking for any reason to throw them both in the makeshift jails that are popping up all over the kingdom. But that all pales in comparison to the threat of the Sleeping Prince, whom the queen has woken from his enchanted sleep, and is now on the war path.

When Errin’s village is evacuated and her mother is taken by soldiers, Errin is forced to travel across a dangerous, war torn kingdom alone. What she discovers along the way could be the key to defeating the Sleeping Prince, but is the danger closer to home than she realises?

Book two follows a completely new character who is mentioned but never appears in  book one, which makes it slightly more difficult to get into at the beginning. By the time I was a few chapters in though I was enjoying this book even more than the first – I’d go so far as to say it’s my favourite of the three. Errin is a brave, strong and complicated character, and after Twylla’s quieter, softer persona and her life at the castle, book two is a real change of scenery. Both books are tense, suspenseful and exciting, but instead of court politics, veiled threats and the creeping feeling that something isn’t quite right, book two is full of danger, betrayal and monsters straight out of a nightmare.

The Sleeping Prince begins after the action of book one, and the story lines merge towards the end in a pretty satisfying way. The two protagonists balance each other out nicely, so I would recommend persevering if you didn’t absolutely love Twylla, or if you struggle at first with the change in POV from book one to two.pink divider

The Scarecrow Queen

The Scarecrow Queen

The Sleeping Prince has taken control of the kingdom with the help of his terrifying golems and has now installed himself at the castle. Twylla and Errin have become separated, Twylla is in the mountains gathering a force against Prince Aurek and Errin is simply trying to save her mother, and herself, from his evil clutches. As the war rages on and time begins to run out for the rebels, allegiances will be broken, friendships betrayed and lives lost before the final battle can be fought.

Book three alternates between the POVs of both Twylla and Errin, following their parallel story arcs to the ultimate conclusion where they converge once more. Whilst I was a little bit disappointed about some of the character arcs and how they ended in The Scarecrow Queen (#JusticeForLief), the conclusion of the series was very satisfying and credible. Twylla was the character who came the furthest in my opinion, as Errin started out a stronger and more independent woman, but Twylla became strong and really developed over the course of the three books. The plot and subplots all tie up nicely at the end, but it still left me hoping for more from this dark and beautiful fairy tale world.

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In addition to the trilogy, there’s a novella called The King of Rats which I haven’t actually read, but hopefully one day I will! It’s a prequel detailing the story of Crown Prince Aurek and his sister Aurelia, and how the curse came about, which is one of my favourite parts of the series, I love how Salisbury took fairy tales we all know well, such as the Pied Piper of Hamlet, and twisted them into something completely new and surprising. I’m not sure what inspired the concept of the Sin Eater, I’d love to know if it’s something that truly takes place in some cultures, as I found it fascinating and loved how it was woven into the story.

Final word: if dark YA fantasy and fairy tale retellings are your cup of tea, you’ll absolutely love The Sin Eater’s Daughter trilogy.

Lyndsey

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