Posted in Book Reviews, Graphic Novels, Manga

REVIEW: Zodiac P.I. Vol. 1 (Zodiac P.I. #1) by Natsumi Andō

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*No Major Spoilers*

Lili is just like any other girl — except she can foretell the future! This ‘Zodiac PI’ relies on horoscopes and astrology to help her solve crimes and track down criminals. When there’s trouble brewing, she transforms herself into the magic Detective Spica and looks to the stars to guide her way. Before long, she is joined by her childhood friend, Hiromi, who dreams of becoming a detective as skilled as Detective Spica. Soon, no astral investigation is too arduous for this dynamic duo!

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I initially found this manga at a convention I attended a couple of years ago. It caught my eye because the subject matter was something I think everyone becomes interested in at some point in their lives. Combining this with the mystery genre was something I thought would be interesting. Now let’s see if the stars align for Zodiac P.I. 

I found the two mysteries featured in this manga to be intriguing, the first mystery surrounds the death of one of Lili’s classmates. The other is Lili going undercover to investigate this piano school rumored to be haunted. However, ghosts are the least of Lili’s worries once one of the teachers turns up dead in his own classroom.

Lili uses the magical power of a Zodiac ring her mother gave her before she disappeared. This ring brings forth the entities of the Zodiac to provide her with the victim’s horoscope for the day that they died, and the ominous messages help Lili solve the case as Detective Spica.

After the piano school case, Hiromi discovers Lili is actually Detective Spica. We then learn that Lili’s mom was the original Detective Spica before her disappearance. Now that her secret identity has been revealed, Hiromi promises to not reveal Lili’s secret and help her out with future cases.

As much as I want to nitpick this manga to death, I know it’s meant for a younger audience. I still had fun reading this story. The use of the Zodiac and the victim’s horoscope add a new element to old fashioned sleuthing. I would recommend this manga series for lovers of mysteries, Zodiac, and female heroines. This is a series I hope to be revisiting in the future.

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Posted in Audiobooks, Book Reviews, Novels

REVIEW: The Vanishing Girl (Daphne and Velma #1) by Josephine Ruby

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*No Major Spoilers*

Popular Daphne Blake and über-nerd Velma Dinkley are not friends. They aren’t enemies either, but they don’t have any reason to speak to each other, and that’s how they prefer it. The two girls grew up together—they’d been best friends since pre-K—but when they hit middle school, Daphne dropped Velma and never looked back.

These days, Daphne’s deep in the popular crowd, daughter of the richest family in town, while Velma’s an outsider, hiding from the world behind her thick glasses. When they run into each other in the halls of Crystal Cove High, they look the other way.

But then Daphne’s best friend, Marcy—who happens to be Velma’s cousin—goes missing. A century ago, there was a wave of disappearances in Crystal Cove, and many local people believe that supernatural forces were behind it. Now the whole town believes those same forces are back…and up to no good.

Daphne and Velma may be the only ones who can solve the mystery and save Marcy—if they can trust each other enough to try. Especially since the truth might be stranger—and scarier—than either girl can imagine…

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If you are a fan of the Scooby-Doo franchise, the fan service is all here. You have references to fan-favorite characters, as well as characters the author created herself. So let’s see how The Vanishing Girl stands up to the typical Scooby-Doo formula.

This novel handles a lot of difficult topics in a very realistic way. Daphne is dealing with the hurt of her parents being divorced and co-parenting. Velma is dealing with being an outcast to everyone around her while her dad is suffering from crippling depression and her mom is the manager at the local theme park. Not only that, but Velma is also working at the same amusement park just to help her family make ends meet.

I felt the issues were handled as any teenager would handle something they couldn’t see the big picture of. Wounds take time to heal, and this novel shows us this throughout the unraveling mystery. After so many hurtful words and actions between Velma and Daphne, they’re not going to be going back to being BFFs overnight.

The mystery of who or what is haunting Crystal Cove is your typical Scooby mystery, a case that seems complex but actually, once solved and explained, is pretty simple. However, since it’s primarily Velma and Daphne working on the case, Shaggy, Scooby, or Fred make many appearances throughout the story.

Even though I was able to solve the mystery before Velma and Daphne, I felt the emotional ride the author took us on was more important and more valuable than the mystery itself. I had to take small breaks at points in the novel to keep myself from getting upset. So get those tissues ready when you read this one!

Overall, as easy as it is to write this off as glorified fanfiction, I really enjoyed The Vanishing Girl. The mystery is well thought out and the drama feels genuine and realistic. I would highly recommend this novel to fans of the Scooby-Doo franchise, fans of female detectives, and young adult readers alike.

Read more of my Scooby-Doo reviews if you enjoyed this review.

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Posted in Book Reviews, Novels

REVIEW: Bitter Roots (Bitter Roots Mysteries #1) by C.J. Carmichael

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*No Major Spoilers*

Dispatcher Zak Waller prefers working behind the scenes in the Sheriff’s Office of Lost Trail, Montana, but when a newcomer to the sparsely populated town is brutally murdered—and the Sheriff is quick to pin the death on an unknown outsider—Zak starts his own private sleuthing.

On the surface Lost Trail is a picture-perfect western town, offering a simple way of life revolving around the local ranches and ski hill, but Zak knows the truth behind the façade. When his old school friend Tiff Masterson, whose family owns a local Christmas tree farm, moves back to town, the two of them join forces to get to the truth about the murder.

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I found Bitter Roots on the iBooks app. They had featured some series starters for free, and this one looked the most interesting. I am not the biggest fan of small-town mysteries, but I’ve had decent luck with them here and there. Now, let’s see how this mystery unravels.

First off, this novel is told from primarily three points of view. Zac who works as a dispatcher at the local sheriff’s office, Tiff who is returning home after her big-city dream turns sour, and finally, Justin who is the town’s only lawyer who has adopted his best friend’s daughter and is helping both of them get on their feet.

I loved how this mystery was somehow connected to anyone throughout the town. You never figure who the bad guy is until the big reveal. However, I came close to solving the mystery before the end. Not too bad of a surprise ending.

There is no romance amongst any of the main characters. Only focused on character development and the murder mystery at hand. I liked how Zac and Tiff just remained “good friends” throughout the story. They not only grew up together, but they solved the mystery together.

I would highly recommend Bitter Roots for lovers of cozy mysteries, small-town mysteries, and Montana based novels. This novel is a quick read for those who are looking for a book to break a dry streak or to get out of a rut.

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Posted in Book Reviews, Novels

REVIEW: In the Hall With the Knife (A CLUE Mystery #1) by Diana Peterfreund

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*No Major Spoilers*

When a storm strikes at Blackbrook Academy, an elite prep school nestled in the woods of Maine, a motley crew of students—including Beth “Peacock” Picach, Orchid McKee, Vaughn Green, Sam “Mustard” Maestor, Finn Plum, and Scarlet Mistry—are left stranded on campus with their headmaster. Hours later, his body is found in the conservatory and it’s very clear his death was no accident. With this group of students who are all hiding something, nothing is as it seems, and everyone has a motive for murder. Fans of the CLUE board game and cult classic films will delight in Diana Peterfreund’s modern re-imagining of the brand, its characters, and the dark, magnificent old mansion with secrets hidden within its walls.

“Just then, there was a horrible crash right outside the door, and suddenly the sound of the storm got a whole lot louder.”

I loved playing the CLUE mystery game while I was growing up. So when this novel was on a list from one of my newsletters, I knew I had to read it.

This novel is perfect for mystery lovers. There are twists and turns, as well as learning about all of the characters involved in this mystery. The story is told from different perspectives, and at first, it was difficult to tell Orchid and Scarlet apart until more character development helped me differentiate the two.

Scarlet Mistry, she was on the Council for Beautification. She lived, along with other students, in the Tudor Dorm. She would also try to keep up and boost morale with the female students to do better at their schoolwork and activities.

Also, she and Finn Plum were essentially a “Power Couple”, together they ran schemes and Finn helps Scarlet with her Chemistry homework.

Orchid McKee, she never saw Scarlet as a friend, but while they were snowed in at the dorm she confided in Scarlet her biggest secret. It’s a spoiler, but I felt like this should be mentioned because Orchid is a private person.

One of the characters I suspected to be the murderer in this story was Vaughn Green because when the other characters would ask about his sudden change in personality, he would internally blame his brother for the mishaps around the dorm. Even though when Vaughn was introduced we met his brother, he hated the school and the students because they were all preppy, rich kids and the only reason Vaughn was able to attend the school was because of a scholarship. So Vaughn was sort of considered an outcast because his home was next door to Blackbrook in the next town over. Only hearing about his brother during the murder investigation, I suspected Vaughn having multiple personalities.

A character I didn’t know much about in this story because he was introduced about halfway in the story was Sam “Mustard” Maestor. He was a former military academy student and he was kicked out, but we never find out why. The only thing we know anything about his background was when he was first introduced into the story from his perspective. He starts referring to his military experience but never says exactly why he was kicked out.

Beth “Peacock” Picach, is Blackbrook’s best tennis player. She is always righting down what she eats and the calories included and what her exercise routines were. All of her chapters included this log and a few thoughts about her day. She was the most suspected character due to an altercation between her and Headmaster Boddy.

I would highly recommend In the Hall with the Knife if you are a fan of locked room mysteries, the board game Clue, and a twist you won’t see coming, this a great book I’d highly recommend.

Posted in Audiobooks, Book Reviews

REVIEW: Force of Nature (Aaron Faulk #2) by Jane Harper

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*No Spoilers*

Five women reluctantly pick up their backpacks and start walking along a muddy track.
Only four come out on the other side.

The hike through the rugged Giralang Ranges is meant to take the office colleagues out of their air-conditioned comfort zone and encourage teamwork and resilience. At least, that’s what the corporate retreat website advertises.

Federal Police investigator Aaron Falk has a keen interest in the whereabouts of the missing hiker, Alice Russell. Because Alice knew secrets, about the company she worked for and the people she worked with.

The four returning women tell Falk a tale of fear, violence and fractured trust during their days in the remote Australian bushland. And as Falk delves into the disappearance of Alice, he begins to suspect some dangers ran far deeper than anyone knew.

“It’s the panic that gets you. Makes it hard to trust what you’re seeing.”
Jane Harper, Force of Nature

I discovered this novel on a themed book list I found on Off the Shelf, and I knew I had to try this one out. Now to see how this novel stands up.

I haven’t read many novels that take place in the Australian wilderness, I think a lot of us who don’t live in Australia forget just how close to nature the country is. Most of us hear about the weird creatures that live in the Outback. Some of the animals are cute and loveable, but others we wish to avoid at all costs.

I listened to this novel on audio and the narrator had a strong Australian accent and it took me a bit to tune my ear to what he was reading. Other than his accent, I found his reading to be entertaining.

I found the main character, Aaron Faulk to be your typical vanilla federal agent. He was observant of the other campers, and he could tell who was lying or holding things back. I felt like the writer put more of an effort into building dynamic characters into the group of female hikers. The only time I felt Faulk got any character development was when he discovered a collection of maps his late father kept.

Even though we learn Faulk didn’t get along with his dad growing up, the discovery of the maps of the hiking trails with notes his dad had written. This including wanting to go on some of the trails with Faulk. I felt like this gave Faulk some human characteristics and made me sympathize with him a bit.

The group of female hikers the whole mystery surrounds is your typical idea of females in the office workspace. Lots of drama, backstabbing, and gossipping. These aspects only got worse the more lost the women became. I felt like they wouldn’t have gotten too lost if the trail had some kind of markers at reasonable intervals to help people stay on the right path. I know that kind of ruins the idea of the retreat, but that’s just my thoughts.

Overall I thought this book was alright, the characters were a bit weak and stereotypical, and the mystery was a big let down. I felt like this could’ve used some work on Faulk’s character and made the group of females a bit more dynamic. If you’re itched for a trip to the wilds of the Australian wilderness, then I’d say to give this novel a try!