Insanity

InsanityInsanity by Cameron Jace
Published by CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform on December 19th 2013
Genres: Fantasy, Retelling, Young Adult
Pages: 254
Format: ebook
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After accidentally killing everyone in her class, Alice Wonder is now a patient in the Radcliffe Lunatic Asylum. No one doubts her insanity. Only a hookah-smoking professor believes otherwise; that he can prove her sanity by decoding Lewis Carroll's paintings, photographs, and find Wonderland's real whereabouts. Professor Caterpillar persuades the asylum that Alice can save lives and catch the wonderland monsters now reincarnated in modern day criminals. In order to do so, Alice leads a double life: an Oxford university student by day, a mad girl in an asylum by night. The line between sanity and insanity thins when she meets Jack Diamond, an arrogant college student who believes that nonsense is an actual science.

Well, I sure am glad I went into reading Cameron Jace’s Insanity, the first in the series of the same name, without reading the summary on Goodreads – had I read it, I wouldn’t have been so pleasantly surprised by the story’s plot.

I’ve been curious about Insanity for a long time, but had held off on reading it because I judged the book by its cover, which isn’t my favorite by a long shot. However, when I found the first three books in the series available for rental from the Kindle Unlimited library, I took it as a sign and checked them out virtually.

I was almost instantly sucked into Insanity, with its short and sweet chapters and quick action. As I mentioned before, since I hadn’t read the Insanity summary, I was very surprised to learn the series revolves around the maybe real Alice from none other than Lewis Carroll’s famous Alice in Wonderland.

I’ve never read Carroll’s original work, but I am aware of the basic plot points, which are touched upon by Jace in the Alice retelling.

This may be odd to some bookworms, but I very rarely go into reading a book actually knowing what it’s about. I generally don’t even read the backs of books or the insides of their jackets; I’ve read too many silly summaries, which have turned me off particular tomes.

Which leads me to a big reason I’m glad I skipped the Goodreads Insanity summary – I’m bothered that one of the major characters is referred to as ‘Professor Caterpillar.’ Granted, the character is the caterpillar of Lewis Carroll’s imagination, but in Jace’s retelling, he is NEVER referred to as ‘Professor Caterpillar’ exactly – he’s Pillar the Killer.

Anyway, despite my aggravation with the summary, the imagination that went into the writing of Insanity is incredible. Not only does Jace take the reader on a ride with Carroll’s characters in the modern world, the author delves into the personal history of Lewis Carroll himself, who also plays a role.

Perhaps my favorite aspect of the book is the guessing game played by the reader in a dance with Jace to figure out whether Alice Wonder is in fact THE Alice in Wonderland.

This is the first book in a while I’ve read decently quickly and without moving it to the back burner to start another, more exciting story. I am genuinely interested in the fates of Jace’s characters, who are those from Alice in Wonderland re-imagined, and I’m tickled that there is an upcoming eighth book.

I adored this book and am excited to continue the series. I give Insanity four stars…I would have most likely given it five, but there were a few typos I can’t let go.

For instance, the name of one of Alice’s sisters is different in one sentence – I wouldn’t have known who was being referred to had the actual name not started with the same letter as the incorrect one.

Every other facet of the book – plot, world building, character relationships, pace – fit into my reading style perfectly.

I very highly recommend Insanity, especially to those who adore retellings, as I have recently discovered I do.

Love, Maggie

The Walking Dead, Vol. 1: Days Gone Bye

The Walking Dead, Vol. 1: Days Gone ByeThe Walking Dead, Vol. 01: Days Gone Bye by Robert Kirkman
Series: The Walking Dead #1
Published by Image Comics on February 19th 2013
Genres: Graphic Novel, Horror
Pages: 144
Format: ebook
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Illustrator: Tony Moore

How many hours are in a day when you don't spend half of them watching television?

When is the last time any of us REALLY worked to get something we wanted?

How long has it been since any of us really NEEDED something that we WANTED?

The world we knew is gone.

The world of commerce and frivolous necessity has been replaced by a world of survival and responsibility.

An epidemic of apocalyptic proportions has swept the globe causing the dead to rise and feed on the living.

In a matter of months society has crumbled.no government, no grocery stores, no mail delivery, no cable TV.

In a world ruled by the dead, we are forced to finally start living.

Sherriff Rick Grimes wakes up in a hospital after being in a coma for a month, only to discover that the world has changed forever – dramatically. Shortly after awakening, Rick runs into exactly what has caused the virtual end of the world – an infestation of zombies of unknown origin. Rick slowly makes his way home, only to find that his neighborhood – and his hometown – have been abandoned.

Rick meets a pair of strangers, a father and son, who ultimately opt to stay behind as Rick heads off for Atlanta in search of his wife and son. After a long journey, involving both a car ride and hitching a horse, Rick finally runs into Glenn in the heart of Atlanta. Glenn shows Rick the ropes, including the importance of restraining from using gunfire when hordes of zombies are lurking.

Glenn leads Rick to his family – his wife Lori and son Carl – who are shocked to see him alive, living in a camp with other apocalypse survivors – Allen, Jim, Dale, Carol, Andrea, Sophia, Amy, Donna, Billy, and Ben. Rick meets and greets the additional survivors and slowly begins to trust them – they are one. 

While Rick and the others attempt to block out memories of the past, Rick becomes suspicious of his old friend and partner, Shane, who seems unusually close with and protective of Lori. 

Soon after Rick’s arrival, the group debates leaving the camp; however, Shane vehemently stands against doing so. Meanwhile, Rick teaches Carl to shoot, much to Lori’s dismay. Ultimately, Carl’s newly developed gun skills pay off, as he saves Rick’s life in an unlikely way.

The thing I enjoyed most about this first volume is the fact that it is similar to, yet vastly different from, the AMC TV series of the same name. For instance, Daryl is not introduced in this installment and the whole scene which involves Daryl being handcuffed to a pipe and then chops off his own hand to free himself never occurs. 

I was grateful to discover that the show does not follow the graphic novels exactly – I actually quit watching the AMC series when it became so convoluted and goofy that I didn’t know what the plot was anymore. Volume one is a great introduction to the plight of the survivors of the zombie outbreak.

Like most of the graphic novels I’ve read, Days Gone Bye is fast-paced and features amazing illustrations. With 28 total volumes to date, I look forward to following the adventures – and misadventures – of Rick and company.

Love, Maggie

Saga, Vol. 1

Saga, Vol. 1Saga, Vol. 1 by Brian K. Vaughan, Fiona Staples
Published by Image Comics on October 23rd 2012
Genres: Fantasy, Graphic Novel, Science Fiction
Pages: 160
Format: Paperback
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Also by this author: Paper Girls, Vol. 1

When two soldiers from opposite sides of a never-ending galactic war fall in love, they risk everything to bring a fragile new life into a dangerous old universe.

From bestselling writer Brian K. Vaughan, Saga is the sweeping tale of one young family fighting to find their place in the worlds. Fantasy and science fiction are wed like never before in this sexy, subversive drama for adults.

Collecting: Saga 1-6

My first foray into the world of the graphic novel, Saga blew my mind – in an excellent way.

I did have a sneaking suspicion that I’d enjoy Saga, as it was recommended to me by a bunch of avid readers and bloggers.

Let me just say that this book very much exceeded my already lofty expectations.

Saga’s plot begins with a bang – instant action. The book opens with the all too realistic birth of a baby girl, who in turn narrates the story about the plight of her fugitive parents as well as her childhood.

The story is surprisingly inspirational – the power of love is so very strong, as is the bond between parents and child.

On the run from the wars that ravage their homelands, Marko and Alana take newborn Hazel and begin their adventures as a trio.

The first volume in this epic tale of parents and child, Saga is intriguing, suspenseful, and dramatic. Virtually everything that happens in the book took me by surprise; I certainly didn’t guess where the plot would eventually lead.

Saga features well-developed characters who are either easy to love or easy to despise. I fell in love with baby Hazel, who doesn’t speak, of course, but tells the tale from her point of view, as though she is an omniscient being.

I even liked the mercenary character, The Will, who is tracking the little family on the run. I loved the names of the characters as well, especially those beginning with ‘the’.

Fiona Staples is a wonderfully gifted artist – her drawings are flawless and lifelike. The Stalk, another mercenary character, gave me the creeps SO bad – she’s a messed up looking huge spider! The attention Staples paid to the details of The Stalk’s sickening looks is divine!

Love, Maggie

Ghosts

GhostsGhosts by Raina Telgemeier
Published by Graphix on September 13, 2016
Genres: Fantasy, Graphic Novel, Middle Grade
Pages: 256
Format: ebook
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THERE'S SOMETHING DIFFERENT ABOUT THIS TOWN...

Catrina and her family are moving to the coast of Northern California because her little sister, Maya, is sick. Cat isn't happy about leaving her friends for Bahía de la Luna, but Maya has cystic fibrosis and will benefit from the cool, salty air that blows in from the sea. As the girls explore their new home, a neighbor lets them in on a secret: There are ghosts in Bahía de la Luna. Maya is determined to meet one, but Cat wants nothing to do with them. As the time of year when ghosts reunite with their loved ones approaches, Cat must figure out how to put aside her fears for her sister's sake -- and her own.

Raina Telgemeier has masterfully created a moving and insightful story about the power of family and friendship, and how it gives us the courage to do what we never thought possible.

I read Raina Telgemeier’s Ghosts in ALMOST a single day – it’s fast moving, the illustrations are precious and fun, the story is heartwarming, and there is just a tiny hint of romance. Centering around Cat and her little sister, Maya, the tale encompasses a variety of themes, among them cystic fibrosis and Latin American culture.

I may have mentioned before that I LOVE to learn as I read and that I did. The story focuses a lot on The Day of the Dead, which is celebrated on November 1st and, as the name suggests, honors those whom have passed away and seeks to invite spirits to be comfortable in the world.

Cystic fibrosis is a disease that I knew very little about prior to reading Ghosts. Maya, the younger sister, is very outgoing and is pretty much the total opposite of her healthy, older sister, Cat. In spite of her sickness, Maya is incredibly upbeat and adventurous.

The tale begins with the girls’ family moving to a seaside town in California, mainly for the fresher air to help with Maya’s cystic fibrosis, which affects the lungs as well as the digestive system, of which I was totally unaware.

While Maya adjusts quickly to their new home and is anxious for adventure, Cat takes a while to adjust. While out walking on one of their first days in their new town, the siblings encounter Carlos, a boy whom tells the sisters about the town’s rich history of celebrating The Day of the Dead as well as its ghostly population.

Cynical at first, Cat blows off Carlos completely, while Maya embraces him and the town’s culture immediately. However, when Maya becomes severely ill and must rest for quite some time, Cat ventures out on her own, makes friends at school, and even begins to embrace The Day of the Dead and the town’s other traditions. 

While there is a hint of sadness in the story, Ghosts left me feeling optimistic and hopeful, just like Maya. It was fun to read about Cat’s evolution and eventual adjustment to her new hometown. Cat transforms from being a negative cynic into a positive role model for Maya. Heartwarming and enjoyable, I very highly recommend this book and I cannot wait to read more of Telgemeier’s work!

Love, Maggie

Ensnared

EnsnaredEnsnared by Rita Stradling
Published by Rita Stradling on May 23rd 2017
Genres: Retelling, Romance
Pages: 380
Format: eARC
Source: NetGalley, Publisher
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Alainn’s father is not a bad man. He’s a genius and an inventor. When he’s hired to create the robot Rose, Alainn knows taking the money is a mistake.
Rose acts like a human. She looks exactly like Alainn. But, something in her comes out wrong.
To save her father from a five year prison sentence, Alainn takes Rose’s place. She says goodbye to the sun and goes to live in a tower no human is allowed to enter. She becomes the prisoner of a man no human is allowed to see.
Believing that a life of servitude lies ahead, Alainn finds a very different fate awaits her in the company of the strange, scarred recluse.
[This novel contains adult situations and is only suitable for readers who are 18+]

A retelling of Beauty and the Beast, the story arc is predictable, meaning girl falls in love with Beast and vice versa, Rita Stradling’s Ensnared kept me guessing nevertheless. The buildup to the final push of love between Alainn, the pretty captive of Lor, takes twists and turns that actually had me wondering if the fated couple would ultimately be together.

What interested me in this book is the fact that it is a futuristic retelling, complete with robots that are very intelligent. Alainn begins her journey into the fortress of the mysterious, scarred Lor, posing as a robot, Rose, which was created for Lor by Alainn’s father.

Keeping up the guise of being inhuman, Alainn soon finds that the plan made for her by the real Rose model is not what she agreed upon, which was to go to Lor in Rose’s place for a short time before being switched out for the real robot.

As she falls in love with Lor, pressure mounts for Alainn to maintain her robotic act. Alainn is a brilliant character; she is very creative when questioned about her seemingly human behavior at times. While in the midst of falling in love, Alainn is being manipulated by another robot, the original Rose model, which is in cahoots withe the newer model.

Alainn’s seemingly idyllic existence with Lor is quickly shattered as she finds herself caught in a race against time to not only save the life of her true love, but to reveal to him her true identity.

Love, Maggie

Yes Please

Yes PleaseYes Please by Amy Poehler
Published by Dey St. on October 28th 2014
Genres: Humor, Memoir, Nonfiction
Pages: 329
Format: Hardcover
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In Amy Poehler’s highly anticipated first book, Yes Please, she offers up a big juicy stew of personal stories, funny bits on sex and love and friendship and parenthood and real life advice (some useful, some not so much), like when to be funny and when to be serious. Powered by Amy’s charming and hilarious, biting yet wise voice, Yes Please is a book full of words to live by.

“Good for you, not for me” is a tidbit of advice Poehler gives throughout her delightfully funny memoir. This advice strikes a chord with me, as it helps me to realize that not everything is good for everyone.

I was sucked into Yes Please immediately and finished reading it in a single day.

Poehler’s book is a collection of memorable essays regarding her experiences. Poehler goes into detail about personal anecdotes from her SNL and Upright Citizens Brigade days, as well as a number of other hilarious tales collected throughout her lifetime.

I laughed out loud more than once while reading Yes Please.

Poehler’s comic flair comes across incredibly in her writing and her memoir is entertaining from start to finish. Poehler keeps her story light, even when discussing her darker times.

I really enjoyed reading about her comic comrades, including Tina Fey and Seth Meyers. I also loved her tales about a handful of SNL hosts. Poehler also includes a chapter regarding her adoration for her Parks and Recreation cast-mates.

Judging from not only her acting but also her writing, Poehler is incredibly witty and talented.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who loves Poehler or needs a hearty laugh.

Love, Maggie

The Fill-In Boyfriend

The Fill-In BoyfriendThe Fill-In Boyfriend by Kasie West
Published by HarperTeen on May 5th 2015
Genres: Contemporary, Romance
Pages: 343
Format: ebook
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When Gia Montgomery's boyfriend, Bradley, dumps her in the parking lot of her high school prom, she has to think fast. After all, she'd been telling her friends about him for months now. This was supposed to be the night she proved he existed. So when she sees a cute guy waiting to pick up his sister, she enlists his help. The task is simple: be her fill-in boyfriend—two hours, zero commitment, a few white lies. After that, she can win back the real Bradley.
The problem is that days after prom, it's not the real Bradley she's thinking about, but the stand-in. The one whose name she doesn't even know. But tracking him down doesn't mean they're done faking a relationship. Gia owes him a favor and his sister intends to see that he collects: his ex-girlfriend's graduation party—three hours, zero commitment, a few white lies.
Just when Gia begins to wonder if she could turn her fake boyfriend into a real one, Bradley comes waltzing back into her life, exposing her lie, and threatening to destroy her friendships and her new-found relationship.

I am totally not a girl who runs to see romantic comedies – I avoid them at all costs – let alone someone who reads romance-based novels. I felt as though I was being haunted by Kasie West and her books. Seemingly everywhere I looked in the bookish blogging world were rave reviews of West’s writing.

The Fill-In Boyfriend beckoned me to crack open its cover for a long time before I gave in to my intense urge to read it, despite my prejudices regarding romance. Now, I’m also not that into reading about romance of any sort in any book of any genre, which helps illustrate my reluctance to read West’s work, which I’ve seen referred to as ‘fluffy’.

The Fill-In Boyfriend is full of fluff and I loved every minute of it! The book’s synopsis and title make it obvious enough that a girl basically uses a guy to pose as her boyfriend. What I didn’t expect was the roller coaster ride of emotions that I experienced while reading this book.

Gia, the protagonist, meets a stranger after being unceremoniously dumped right before her senior prom and, you guessed it, the stranger becomes her prom date and is introduced to her clique of gal pals as her questionable boyfriend.

Gia weaves a tight web of lies to cover up the facade of having a real boyfriend, even keeping the truth from her dearest friend, Claire. Perhaps my favorite aspect of the book is Gia’s newfound friendship with someone whom she normally would have overlooked, being the perfect popular student council president that she is.

The reader is taken on a journey of evolution for not only Gia, but for supporting characters as well. Cracks in Gia’s home life become evident; Gia’s friends slowly grow suspicious of her shenanigans; Gia’s ultimate frenemy is out to ruin her, but no one believes her, which clouds Gia’s judgment and intuition.

A caterpillar at the beginning of the book, Gia transforms into an illustrious, independent butterfly toward the end, gaining serious introspection along the way. I loved reading about Gia’s personal growth and the changes she inspires in both herself and those closest to her.

As I was taken on Gia’s road trip of lies, I was constantly swerving and weaving through emotions ranging from anger, to joy, to sadness, to empathy, to anger again, and finally to a terrific resolution.

The Fill-In Boyfriend has definitely changed my viewpoint regarding romantic, fun novels and I very much look forward to reading the rest of West’s work. Kasie West has made me an auto-buyer of her books with this single story.

Love, Maggie

Illuminae

IlluminaeIlluminae by Amie Kaufman, Jay Kristoff
Series: The Illuminae Files #1
Published by Knopf Books for Young Readers on October 20th 2015
Pages: 599
Format: eARC
Source: NetGalley, Publisher
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This morning, Kady thought breaking up with Ezra was the hardest thing she’d have to do. This afternoon, her planet was invaded.
The year is 2575, and two rival megacorporations are at war over a planet that’s little more than an ice-covered speck at the edge of the universe. Too bad nobody thought to warn the people living on it. With enemy fire raining down on them, Kady and Ezra—who are barely even talking to each other—are forced to fight their way onto an evacuating fleet, with an enemy warship in hot pursuit.
But their problems are just getting started. A deadly plague has broken out and is mutating, with terrifying results; the fleet's AI, which should be protecting them, may actually be their enemy; and nobody in charge will say what’s really going on. As Kady hacks into a tangled web of data to find the truth, it's clear only one person can help her bring it all to light: the ex-boyfriend she swore she'd never speak to again.
BRIEFING NOTE: Told through a fascinating dossier of hacked documents—including emails, schematics, military files, IMs, medical reports, interviews, and more—Illuminae is the first book in a heart-stopping, high-octane trilogy about lives interrupted, the price of truth, and the courage of everyday heroes.

As I am bad to avoid perusing summaries of books prior to reading them, I had no clue what to expect when I began Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff.

Little did I know, I was in for a treat.

Illuminae, told through pieces from a dossier compiled regarding the incident at the heart of the story, is at once science fiction, romance, and extreme excitement.

I finished reading the book in less than one day; I could not step away from the story or the characters.

Kady and Ezra are each part of a former couple who find themselves thrust together as the world they know, Kerenza, is destroyed.

Communicating through cyberspace, each aboard a different rescue ship, Kady and Ezra struggle to hack into the truth surrounding the decimation of their homeland and that of a third savior ship.

The duo slowly come back together amidst the chaos surrounding them and enlist others in their fight to find answers and save the innocent from impending doom. With the number of enemies they face growing larger, Ezra and Kady must decipher who and what they can in fact trust.

Illuminae is an incredibly fast-paced novel, despite its number of pages. Outfitted with illustrations, charts, and correspondence, the book is not only a fantastic read, but it is very visually appealing.

Illuminae is the first installment in The Illuminae Files trilogy by Kaufman and Kristoff. I am already incredibly excited to read the second and third books in the series! Gemina, companion book to Illuminae, was released in 2016.

Love, Maggie

The Secret History

The Secret HistoryThe Secret History by Donna Tartt
Published by Vintage on April 13th 2004
Genres: Contemporary, Mystery
Pages: 559
Format: Hardcover
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Under the influence of their charismatic classics professor, a group of clever, eccentric misfits at an elite New England college discover a way of thinking and living that is a world away from the humdrum existence of their contemporaries. But when they go beyond the boundaries of normal morality they slip gradually from obsession to corruption and betrayal, and at last - inexorably - into evil.

I delved into The Secret History with high expectations, perhaps too high, and was sorely disappointed.

I should have taken a cue from my boredom with Tartt’s The Goldfinch and understood that the author’s writing style does not vary from book to book. As with The Goldfinch, The Secret History is filled with description and dialogue, but with little plot advancement or character development.

I found myself growing tired of the story after the first chapter, anxious for some excitement. That desired excitement never came to fruition.

I anticipated learning a lot while reading Tartt’s debut novel. The story centers around a secretive group of a handful of studiers of Greek under the tutelage of a single teacher.

Instead of exploring ancient undertones, the tale seems to revolve around the main college-age characters imbibing in alcohol and cigarettes and having dinner parties.

“Beauty is terror. Whatever we call beautiful, we quiver before it.” To its credit, The Secret History does have some beautiful quotes, but I’ve learned my lesson to stop reading Donna Tartt’s work, unfortunately.

Love, Maggie

Elementary, She Read

Elementary, She ReadElementary, She Read by Vicki Delany
Published by Crooked Lane Books on March 14th 2017
Genres: Cozy Mystery
Pages: 320
Format: eARC
Source: NetGalley, Publisher
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Gemma Doyle, a transplanted Englishwoman, has returned to the quaint town of West London on Cape Cod to manage her Great Uncle Arthur's Sherlock Holmes Bookshop and Emporium. The shop--located at 222 Baker Street--specializes in the Holmes canon and pastiche, and is also the home of Moriarty the cat. When Gemma finds a rare and potentially valuable magazine containing the first Sherlock Homes story hidden in the bookshop, she and her friend Jayne (who runs the adjoining Mrs. Hudson's Tea Room) set off to find the owner, only to stumble upon a dead body.
The highly perceptive Gemma is the police’s first suspect, so she puts her consummate powers of deduction to work to clear her name, investigating a handsome rare books expert, the dead woman's suspiciously unmoved son, and a whole family of greedy characters desperate to cash in on their inheritance. But when Gemma and Jayne accidentally place themselves at a second murder scene, it's a race to uncover the truth before the detectives lock them up for good.
Fans of Sherlock Holmes will delight in the sleuthing duo of Gemma and Jayne in Elementary, She Read, the clever and captivating series debut by nationally bestselling author Vicki Delany.

Vicki Delany’s Elementary, She Read is quite possibly the coziest mystery I’ve ever read. Cozy mysteries aren’t my go-to genre; however, Delany’s tale has helped open up a whole new world of books for me. I’m highly anticipating the follow-up to this, the first in the Sherlock Holmes Bookshop Mystery series!

I mean, seriously, what’s not to love about a protagonist who owns a cozy bookstore focused on the works of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, as well as books and items related to Sherlock Holmes in general? I had so much fun reading Delany’s story that I completed in less than two days.

The characters are so lovable, yet flawed, and very well-developed. I adore the main character, Gemma Doyle, who lives in the sleepy Cape Cod tourist town of West London. Gemma is lovably snarky, absentminded, smart, witty, and superbly observant, making her the perfect amateur detective.

Gemma’s best friend and owner of the tea shop adjoining the Sherlock Holmes Bookstore and Emporium, Jayne, is an excellent foil for Gemma. Put together, organized, and gorgeous, Jayne fits the role of Gemma’s best friend perfectly.

I really like that Delany’s book focuses on the mystery at hand and character development more than romance. While there are a few dates scattered throughout the story, as well as some teasers regarding Gemma’s romantic past, I love that the mystery doesn’t get bogged down by the minutiae of attraction between the sexes.

Furthermore, I enjoyed the easy, playful dialogue between the characters and the flow of Delany’s writing style. The mystery at the center of the book is intriguing and I didn’t come close to guessing which character is the culprit.

I have never delved into Sir Doyle’s work or into the world of Sherlock Holmes, but after reading Elementary, She Read, I am incredibly looking forward to doing so.

Love, Maggie