Book Review – The Secret of Spellshadow Manor

Book: The Secret of Spellshadow Manor – Author: Bella Forrest

Genre: Fiction, Fantasy, YA

Description from Goodreads:

What would you do if you spotted a man following a young woman, but no-one else could see him?

Like most sane people, student Alex Webber thought he was hallucinating – perhaps he’d consumed something bad at the party he’d been attending that night, or he was severely overtired. But when he sees the mysterious man following Natalie again the very next day, he can no longer disbelieve his eyes.

Although Natalie denies the man’s existence, Alex sees her walking with him down a road in his neighborhood he’s never seen before – and can’t help but follow. After a bizarre, but strangely short journey, he finds himself standing before a towering iron gate wreathed in gray ivy, behind which looms a decrepit old mansion named Spellshadow Manor.

Spellshadow, with its beautiful yet sinisterly decorated hallways, ever-changing outdoor scenery and very unusual residents… Alex will quickly learn it is a place that is as wondrous as it is deadly.

Especially for a normal person like him.

What if you found yourself recruited to an institute of magic, only to discover you really couldn’t do magic?
What if your enrollment there was all one big, terrible mistake?

If you were at Spellshadow, you’d keep it a secret. A deep, dark, deadly secret…

Because Spellshadow’s elusive Head is hiding a secret of his own, one that Alex soon realizes he and Natalie must uncover at all costs if either of them wishes to leave the Manor alive… and before it’s too late.

My Review:

I wasn’t sure what to expect with this one. It’s been plastered all over my Facebook & Goodreads and keeps being touted as “the next Harry Potter”, which usually just has me rolling my eyes and passing on by, but something drew me in this time (honestly, it might have just been the really cool cover, lol).

Whatever the reason, I’m glad I picked this one up from the library. It was a quick, easy, and FUN read. I ended up binging it in less than 3 hours, even with it being almost 400 pages; though, to be fair, the font was HUGE in my copy and there are chapter breaks everywhere, so it’s probably really only a little over 300 pages worth of content.

The main characters all seem very personable. I liked Alex a lot. He seems pretty affable (no angsty HP here, folks) but is still fairly stubborn and extremely protective of his friends. Natalie is also very likable and, thank goodness, not a wilting flower when it comes to danger.

I have to say once again, I am not a huge fan of romances, so I was pleasantly surprised that this novel didn’t really have any. Even though the main characters are older teenagers and a boy & girl, there wasn’t even a hint of a romance between them (at least not in this volume). I liked that. It was nice to run into an author who understands that boys and girls CAN just be friends. We’ll see how that plays out in the rest of the series.

The mystery in this series is really interesting. The kids jump to quite a few (possibly erroneous) conclusions, but did the best they could with the information they were able to acquire; and they DID spend quite some time researching what to do instead of just hurling themselves into danger, which is usually what happens in these types of books…well, there was a BIT of hurling, but not thoughtless hurling. 😉 I’m curious to see where this story is heading and who exactly is going to end up being the Big Bad. Something larger is definitely afoot and the danger is NOT resolved in a neat little package at the end of Book 1.

But there won’t be too long of a wait until I can find out what happens! Apparently the author has already written the entire story and has published all six volumes this year. Seriously, this book was published in March and the 6th (and final) book is already out! Whoohoo! Time to hit the library again! 😀

Similar Book(s):

‘Harry Potter’ series – J.K. Rowling – (Book #1: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone)

‘The Tapestry’ series – Henry H. Neff – (Book #1: The Hound of Rowan)



Mini-Reviews – SuperWhoLock 2 & 3

Hi all! Well, I’ve finally caught up on the Jackaby series and wanted to give you a couple of mini-reviews about how the series is going so far.

Series: Jackaby — Author: William Ritter

Genre: Young Adult, Supernatural, Mystery

Beastly Bones (#2)

Description from GoodreadsIn 1892, New Fiddleham, New England, things are never 24001095quite what they seem, especially when Abigail Rook and her eccentric employer, R. F. Jackaby, are called upon to investigate the supernatural. First, members of a particularly vicious species of shape-shifters disguise themselves as a litter of kittens. A day later, their owner is found murdered, with a single mysterious puncture wound to her neck. Then, in nearby Gad’s Valley, dinosaur bones from a recent dig go missing, and an unidentifiable beast attacks animals and people, leaving their mangled bodies behind. Policeman Charlie Cane, exiled from New Fiddleham to the valley, calls on Abigail for help, and soon Abigail and Jackaby are on the hunt for a thief, a monster, and a murderer.

My Review: Ok, so how to do this without spoilers? Hmm…

Well, there’s a fun mixture of creatures in this one. I especially liked the homage to ancient creatures; I admit to squee-ing a bit when I realized what the ‘big bad’ was going to be. 😉 I liked the new characters too. The paleontologists and reporter were a nice nod to real-life people from around that time period (see the Bone Wars & Nellie Bly) and the Huntsman was affable and played off Jackaby and Abigail well. We also got to see the return of our favorite rozzer, Charlie Cane (aka Charlie Barker).

I will admit that the story will probably be a bit draggy for those who aren’t into paleontology. There was quite a lot discussion about digging and bones and such. With my love of geology, archaeology, and paleontology, I quite enjoyed it, but I can see where it might put some people off. But it was still a fun story and a nice lead into the next book.

Ghostly Echoes (#3)

Description from GoodreadsJenny Cavanaugh, the ghostly lady of 926 Augur Lane, has 28110857enlisted the investigative services of her fellow residents to solve a decade-old murder—her own. Abigail Rook and her eccentric employer, Detective R. F. Jackaby, dive into the cold case, starting with a search for Jenny’s fiancé, who went missing the night she died. But when a new, gruesome murder closely mirrors the events of ten years prior, Abigail and Jackaby realize that Jenny’s case isn’t so cold after all, and her killer may be far more dangerous than they suspected. Fantasy and folklore mix with mad science as Abigail’s race to unravel the mystery leads her across the cold cobblestones of nineteenth-century New England, down to the mythical underworld, and deep into her colleagues’ grim histories to battle the most deadly foe she has ever faced.

My Review: The action is really ramping up in this novel. We finally get some answers to what happened to Jenny and a little bit of closure on that case…though it ends up leading into an even bigger over-arching mystery. This new mystery is really interesting and brings in all sorts of new characters and creatures! We even get a little peak at the Annwyn, along with a wonderful mixture of afterlife mythology.

There was a lot of character building in this novel. We’re given a lot more backstory not only for Jenny, but also for Jackaby, both of which look like they will be integral to the overall storyline. (Spoiler?) I’m happy Jenny gets some closure, but that she will still be in the books; I love her character.

I don’t want to give too much away, so I won’t go into too much detail, but the ultimate foes sound wonderfully evil and it looks like the final showdown will be utilize an impressive mixture of science and magic. I can’t wait for the next installment!

Book Review – Jackaby (aka SuperWhoLock)

Book: Jackaby – Author: William Ritter

Genre: Mystery, Supernatural, Young Adult

Description from Goodreads:

Newly arrived in New Fiddleham, New England, 1892, and in need of a job, Abigail Rook meets R. F. Jackaby, an investigator of the unexplained with a keen eye for the extraordinary–including the ability to see supernatural beings. Abigail has a gift for noticing ordinary but important details, which makes her perfect for the position of Jackaby’s assistant. On her first day, Abigail finds herself in the midst of a thrilling case: A serial killer is on the loose. The police are convinced it’s an ordinary villain, but Jackaby is certain it’s a nonhuman creature, whose existence the police–with the exception of a handsome young detective named Charlie Cane–deny.

My Review:

I really enjoyed this one. The description on Goodreads actually goes on to call it “Doctor Who meets Sherlock” and I can see their point. Jackaby reminds me so much of the 11th Doctor, that I actually kept picturing him as Matt Smith while I was reading. I mean…

“The most recent gentleman has proven to be far more resilient and a great deal more helpful. He remains with me in a . . . different capacity.”

“What capacity?”

Jackaby’s step faltered, and he turned his head away slightly. His mumbled reply was nearly lost to the wind. “He is temporarily waterfowl.”

Yeah, totally the 11th Doctor. 😉


But the main character in this book isn’t the adorably quirky Jackaby, it is his new assistant, Abigail. Like the illustrious Dr. Watson, Abigail finds herself caught up in the whirlwind that is Jackaby, but isn’t so taken aback that she can’t hold her own. She’s feisty and capable and won’t back down in a fight, but she’s also smart and uses her position in society (a young lady in the late 1800s) to her advantage.

Speaking of characters, can a house be a character? Jackaby’s house reminded me of a mixture of Sherlock’s flat and Newt Scamander’s briefcase, with a few ghosts thrown in for good measure. I would LOVE a whole book of short stories based on the artifacts in that house!

The mystery itself was really interesting too. It was obvious from the get-go that we weren’t dealing with a normal murderer, but it took a long time to piece together what type of creature was lurking. See, Jackaby & Abagail don’t just investigate regular crimes. Like Sherlock, Jackaby is only called in when the crime is so strange the police can’t figure out what’s going on, but in Jackaby’s case, this usually leads down a more mystical path (though he would insist that everything can be explained by science). There were a lot of twists and turns, good monsters and bad monsters, and we were learning about which to trust and which to run from right alongside Abigail.

Now, there WAS a bit of romance, but it wasn’t really in your face and (spoilers?) it wasn’t between Abigail & Jackaby, which was a relief. I know I’m in the minority, especially among female young adult readers, but I always think that sort of thing detracts from the story rather than adds to it.

Actually, doing this review reminded me why I liked this book; so much so that I paused while writing it to pop down the street to the library and pick up the next two in the series. 😉 Let’s see if they are as good, shall we?

Similar Books:

Death Cloud (Andrew Lane) Series: Young Sherlock Holmes

The Screaming Staircase (Jonathon Stroud) Series: Lockwood & Co

Book Review – Caraval

Book: Caraval – Author: Stephanie Garber

Genre: Young Adult, Adventure, Fantasy

Description from Goodreads:

Scarlett Dragna has never left the tiny island where she and her sister, Tella, live with their powerful, and cruel, father. Now Scarlett’s father has arranged a marriage for her, and Scarlett thinks her dreams of seeing Caraval—the faraway, once-a-year performance where the audience participates in the show—are over.

But this year, Scarlett’s long-dreamt-of invitation finally arrives. With the help of a mysterious sailor, Tella whisks Scarlett away to the show. Only, as soon as they arrive, Tella is kidnapped by Caraval’s mastermind organizer, Legend. It turns out that this season’s Caraval revolves around Tella, and whoever finds her first is the winner.

Scarlett has been told that everything that happens during Caraval is only an elaborate performance. Nevertheless she becomes enmeshed in a game of love, heartbreak, and magic. And whether Caraval is real or not, Scarlett must find Tella before the five nights of the game are over or a dangerous domino effect of consequences will be set off, and her beloved sister will disappear forever.

My Review:

I’ve seen my share of bad reviews for this book, but I actually really enjoyed it. The idea behind the game of Caraval is intriguing. It’s basically a giant cosplay-treasure hunt, where you can trade secrets and wishes for magical items and dreams. And at the end, if you solve the mystery, you may just win the prize of a lifetime. But don’t get TOO caught up or Caraval could become your downfall.

I’ll be completely upfront: the main character, Scarlett, is about as angst-ridden as you can get. Her father is a monster, her arraigned marriage is a mystery, her sister is missing, and then she starts falling for a guy who could be anyone. But somehow, she never comes off as annoying. I actually really liked Scarlett. I felt pretty bad for her situation and spent most of the book going “Come on, I know you can do this! You got this one, Scar!” I also really liked her sister, though she’s not in the forefront of the novel for very long.

The action in this one never stopped coming. I actually read the book in about 5 hours, which isn’t too bad for an over 400 page book, and most of that can be attributed to the fact that I spent about 85% of the book on the edge of my seat. The author really knows how to keep you guessing: Is creepy Dante really Master Legend? Or is Legend actually the mysterious Julian, the sailor who arrived just in time to carry the girls off to Caraval? Will Scarlett escape her father and will she ever find her lost sister? What is real and what is just the game?

This one was a knuckle-biter from start to finish. I highly recommend it to people who like adventurous books with a dash of romance thrown in (yes, I even liked the romance in this one 😉 ). I’ll definitely be checking out the sequel!

Similar Book(s):

The Night Circus – Erin Morganstern

Book Review – The List

Book: The List (aka: The Wordsmith) – Author: Patricia Forde

Genre: Fiction, Young Adult, Dystopia

Description from Goodreads:

In the city of Ark, speech is constrained to five hundred sanctioned words. Speak outside the approved lexicon and face banishment. The exceptions are the Wordsmith and his apprentice Letta, the keepers and archivists of all language in their post-apocalyptic, neo-medieval world.

On the death of her master, Letta is suddenly promoted to Wordsmith, charged with collecting and saving words. But when she uncovers a sinister plan to suppress language and rob Ark’s citizens of their power of speech, she realizes that it’s up to her to save not only words, but culture itself.

My Review:

**I received this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review**

During my years as an English major back in college, I had myself convinced that I didn’t like dystopian novels. I hated Brazil, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, 1984, Fahrenheit 451…basically all of the classic dystopians that I was being assigned. It wasn’t until I forced myself to read The Hunger Games a few years ago that I realized I didn’t necessarily hate the entire genre, just the books that had been forced on me at school.

So I started trying other young adult dystopians. It turns out that these books, while still in-depth and thoughtful, often turn out to be much more action packed and tend to keep me on the edge of my seat. Such is the case with The List.

In The List, we are presented with a city called “Ark”, which is the only (known) livable area left on the planet after “The Melting”. (Basically climate change. That’s not really a spoiler, since it’s pretty self evident in the name, and they end up explaining pieces of it early enough in the book that it becomes fairly obvious.) In Ark, there is a set List of words that the people are allowed to use, which is maintained by The Wordsmith. This is because the Leader of Ark believes that words are the main reason that people were able to destroy the planet.

This is a fascinating concept, that the world could be destroyed by language. Politicians who use language to dissuade the public’s fears and tell them that they don’t need to worry about global warming–even as the water starts taking over cities, Murderers who use language to lure in new victims, Conspiracy Theorists who spend so much time trying to convince us about things that aren’t real that we end up distracted from the things that are. What would the world be like if we didn’t have the language that let them accomplish these things?

The author uses Letta, our protagonist, to really delve into this idea. Letta grew up in Ark, completely believing in the idea that the Leader was trying to protect them, even as she strove to preserve the words that were being lost. Then she meets up with Marlo, an outsider from a group of people called “Destroyers”: artists, musicians, poets…those who want to see the beauty mankind can create brought back. Inevitably, Letta’s ideas of what is right begin to shift. Could it be that language itself isn’t the problem, but how you wield it?

There is also a ton of action. There is the usual plot where the protagonist has to save the world, with the help of her new found friends. I say “usual” because it’s a common theme in Young Adult dystopians, but the author here does a very good job making the plot believable and in keeping with the world she’s created. I won’t spoil the book by going into too much detail about it, but it’s a good mesh of detailed, actually dangerous, and quick-paced enough to keep the readers engaged.

Overall, I thought this was a very good book. I was immersed in it enough to finish it in two sittings. It would be a good introduction into the dystopian genre for younger readers. It is also a really interesting concept and presents an interesting thought experiment on how language can change the world.


Similar Books:

Divergent – Veronica Roth

The Giver – Lois Lowery


Book Review – Four Kings

Book: Four Kings – Author: M.D. Elster

Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy, Mystery

**I received a free copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review**

Description from Goodreads:

New Orleans, 1945. After a terrible hurricane devastates the city, fourteen-year-old Anaïs Reynard wakes up in an asylum with a case of amnesia. Dr. Waters, the hospital’s prestigious director, vows to help Anaïs recover her memories — this is of the utmost importance, he tells her, because Anaïs is the sole witness to a terrible crime. On the night of the hurricane, her stepfather and only living guardian was shot. A young black man has been arrested, and Anaïs finds herself under pressure from the district attorney to testify. Anaïs wants to help, but a strange feeling nags at her. She isn’t entirely sure the man on trial is guilty, and she doesn’t know who she can trust. 

Then, one night, she receives an eerie, surreal visit from a dapper man with the head of a fox who entrusts her with an ornate key that unlocks a secret door to the land of the Four Kings. Like Alice before her, Anaïs follows this curiously genteel animal down the rabbit hole to discover a magical yet fraught world of not-quite-human creatures. As Anaïs navigates the political minefields of each king’s court — Raven, Lion, Snake, and Unicorn — her bravery and resolve are tested. 

With each shocking twist and turn, and as fantasy and reality blur, Anaïs begins to unlock the riddle of her own memories, a trail that leads from Nazi-occupied Europe and her mother all the way to post-war New Orleans, and the very night her stepfather was shot.

My Review:

Ok, so the description of this one made me go “Wait…what? Is that middle paragraph for a different book?” The answer is no, this is definitely all describing the same book. But it’s not quite as confusing as it sounds.

There are two mysteries to solve in this novel: one in Anais’ real life, in New Orleans in the 1940s, and one in an alternate reality, which she visits when she falls asleep. In New Orleans, Anais’s stepfather has been shot and Anais is the only witness, though she can’t remember what happened. In the Land of the Four Kings, human girls have been turning up dead and Anais, being the only living human in the realm, must help flush out the killer.

Both realities are fleshed out very well. Over the course of the book, we learn of Anais’ childhood, a large portion of which was spent trying to survive WWII. Coming at this from the perspective of a 10-11 year old girl (Anais’ age at the time of the events), who didn’t know exactly how bad things were, was very interesting. Places and events were described well, but only as well as a young girl could understand them. This leads to some very clever foreshadowing if you pay enough attention. The same can be said of the Land of the Four Kings. The people Anais meets explain the history of the Kingdoms, but mostly in snippets (as people would in real life), with each person adding their unique perspective to the events.

Both mysteries are very well done. It’s only once you get towards the end of the book that all the pieces start falling into place and you realize just how many clues were laid out during the course of the story. Alert readers will notice how both of the realities parallel each other, with characters from each sharing personality traits and allegiances. This only enhances the story, especially when you are given the final clue at the end of the book (no spoilers, I promise) and come to realize exactly why Anais seems to be traveling to this strange Land.

The only (slight) issue I had with the book was some of the verbiage. There is no way that a young girl in the 1940s, who was raised in Belgium & Paris, would use some of those phrases. But that’s really more of a pet peeve than a real issue. 😉 Overall, I would definitely recommend this book for reader’s who like Young Adult mystery novels.

Similar Books:

The Wizard of Oz – L. Frank Baum

Book Review – Fairytales for Wilde Girls

Book: Fairytales for Wilde Girls – Author: Allyse Near

Genre: Young Adult; Supernatural

Description from Random House:

There’s a dead girl in a birdcage in the woods. That’s not unusual. Isola Wilde sees a lot of things other people don’t. But when the girl appears at Isola’s window, her every word a threat, Isola needs help.

Her real-life friends – Grape, James, and new boy Edgar – make her forget for a while. And her brother-princes – magical creatures seemingly lifted from the pages of the French fairytales Isola idolises – will protect her with all the fierce love they possess.

It may not be enough.

Isola needs to uncover the truth behind the dead girl’s demise . . . before the ghost steals Isola’s last breath.

My Review:

This book is going to be hard to describe without giving anything away, but I will start by saying this was one the very few books that I’ve read in the last year with which I fell completely in love. The author has a very interesting and wonderful way of writing. The book is interspersed with fairytales, though not the ones most of us know, all of which are tied into the story in a way that gives the reader a greater perspective on what is happening in the book.

The characters are all wonderful. Isola is an interesting duck. She has a ton of quirks and refuses to be anyone but herself, even for her father. Edgar is the lovable guy who moves in next door and becomes infatuated with her. But don’t be fooled, this isn’t your typical ‘manic pixie dream girl’ book, as the story focuses on Isola and her world.

I was especially fascinated with the brother-princes and I loved how the author gave us insight into their lives. I would love a book purely about them. The extent that Isola was willing to go to in order to protect them (and vice-versa) was just a hint of how important they all were to each other.

The “main” storyline of the book is nice and spooky and ends up intertwined into the history of all of the characters. Semi-spoiler alert? Be ready for a twist ending. I won’t actually tell you what happens, but I was completely taken by surprise…in a completely wonderful way. The author manages an M. Night Shyamalan ending, in which you suddenly realize exactly how many tiny foreshadows should have given you a hint at the ending, if you had only bothered to notice them.

Amazing book, that’s all I can say. If you love supernatural books, especially ones with strong female leads, this book is for you. And before you say “but it’s a young adult book”, it is SOOO much more than that. Seriously, give it a try; you won’t regret it.

Similar Books:

The Darkest Part of the Forest – Holly Black