The Whitechapel Fiend

Before proceeding, read everything Cassandra Clare has ever written. Seriously.

It’s been a big week for my fellow Shadowhunters. We get the news about the casting of Jace in the upcoming Shadowhunters TV series on ABC Family. (Thank you, McG!) And the third installment in Tales from the Shadowhunter Academy, The Whitechapel Fiend, comes out. (The first two stories are Welcome to Shadowhunter Academy and The Lost Herondale, in case you’re behind on your reading.) Good times.

I read The Whitechapel Fiend on Wednesday, but, as it so often does, life got in the way, and this this the first opportunity I’ve had to get my thoughts down. Basically, I loved it. (Shocking, I know.) How can you go wrong when you combine the world of Shadowhunters with Jack the Ripper? Answer: You cannot. It also didn’t hurt that this particular story let us spend a little time with Jace, Tessa, and even Jem.

In this third episode in Tales from the Shadowhunter Academy, Simon is continuing his grueling training to become a Shadowhunter. It’s by no means easy, and the newest lesson seems to be falling out of trees. He and his fellow students are instructed in this oh-so-important skill by none other than Jace Herondale. Simon’s friendship with Jace gives him a little bit of cred at the Academy…but not much.

Simon is also learning more about Shadowhunter history and how Shadowhunters have played a part in covering up or changing perceptions of things in the past. Case in point: Jack the Ripper. For this particular lesson, Tessa Gray, a woman who actually lived through this time in Victorian London, speaks to Academy students about what really happened. She talks about the fear that gripped the Whitechapel district, the grisly crime scenes, and how she, her husband Will Herondale, his parabatai, and their fellow members of the London Institute discovered who–or what–was actually behind these murders.

As Simon learns the truth about Jack the Ripper (and why this case seemingly remained unsolved), he also urges Jace to connect with Tessa. He doesn’t miss that Tessa was married to a Herondale, and Simon knows she could shed some light on Jace’s true family history.

Through all of this, Simon may even learn to deal with his own rather murky past before it does irreparable damage to his future. Time will tell…

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What else can I say about this story? Oh yeah…I. WANT. MORE!!! More Simon.More Jace. More Tessa. Definitely more Jem. I loved reconnecting with these beloved characters, and I can hardly wait to see more of them in the Shadowhunters TV series, The Dark Artifices, The Last Hours, and the other novellas in the Tales from the Shadowhunter Academy collection.

Speaking of this particular collection, the fourth installment, Nothing but Shadows, will be out on May 19th. In this episode, we’ll learn a bit more about James Herondale and Matthew Fairchild. Woohoo!

In closing, I’d like to thank Cassandra Clare and Maureen Johnson for giving us The Whitechapel Fiend. It was a great read, and their explanation of Jack the Ripper and his crimes totally creeped me out. In a good way. I’m guessing other readers will feel the same.

Ripper

I’ll admit that I have a somewhat morbid fascination with the unsolved mystery that surrounds Jack the Ripper. (I’m no ripperologist, but my personal bucket list does include taking the Jack the Ripper tour in London.) In the past couple of years, there have been a number of YA fiction books published that revolve around the unknown serial killer. Last year, I was lucky enough to read Maureen Johnson’s The Name of the Star, in which someone is recreating the crimes of the Ripper. (It’s an absolutely fantastic read, and I’m eagerly awaiting the sequel, The Madness Underneath, which will be released on February 26th.) Several days ago, I started reading Ripper by Amy Carol Reeves. I first heard about this book from the author herself. She presented information about her book at the annual SCASL (South Carolina Association of School Librarians) conference earlier this year. I was enthralled by her research process and the little details that went into the making of Ripper. I meant to read the book as soon as I could get my hands on it, but one thing or another inevitably got in the way, and I didn’t make the time to really get into this book until a few days ago (when I got out of school for winter break). Now, I’ll go ahead and tell you (if you didn’t already know) that historical fiction is not exactly my cup of tea…unless it happens to take place in London. There’s just something about that city that totally captivates me, and Ripper only added to my obsession…

The year is 1888, and a young girl, recently orphaned, has moved to London to live with her strict, unyielding grandmother. Arabella Sharp is not exactly a typical Kensington lady…much to her grandmother’s chagrin. Abbie would much rather be doing something interesting rather that sitting around all day waiting for her grandmother to select a suitable husband for her. Unexpectedly, Abbie receives an invitation to work at Whitechapel Hospital, assisting a doctor and family friend with the care of poor women (mostly prostitutes) and their children. Even though the work is most unpleasant at times, Abbie feels drawn to the medical field and is considering doing something totally unheard of–applying to attend medical school.

While Abbie is learning much at Whitechapel Hospital–and dealing with rather puzzling feelings for not one but two young physicians–something more sinister is occurring nearby. Prostitutes, all of them former patients at the hospital, are being murdered. No one seems to know anything about the culprit, but his heinous crimes soon earn him the nickname Jack the Ripper. All of London, specifically the rundown area of Whitechapel, is in an uproar. Who is this killer? Why is he targeting prostitutes? And why can the police find no trace of him?

Abbie, much to her dismay, may be in possession of answers to these questions. Ever since she first entered the Whitechapel area, she’s been plagued by visions. Visions of the Ripper’s crimes as they are committed. She’s seen what he does to his victims. She’s felt his breath on her neck. She knows that he’s somehow got his eye on her. But why? And what is his connection to the hospital where she feels so needed?

As Abbie does all that she can to uncover the mystery of the Ripper, she uncovers something that she is totally unprepared for. Jack the Ripper is not the only being wreaking havoc on London. Something much bigger may be at work, and the Ripper might just be one small piece of the puzzle. Can Abbie unveil the truth before she’s lost to a power that spans centuries? Before she–or someone close to her–becomes the Ripper’s next victim? Read Ripper, Amy Carol Reeves’ gripping tale, to reveal the horrible, hidden truth about the world’s most infamous serial killer.

I wasn’t quite prepared for the supernatural twist at the end of this book. (I liked it, but it was a bit surprising.) Ripper isn’t simply a retelling of the crimes of Jack the Ripper. It does contain lots of information based on actual events, locations, and people, but this is most definitely a fictional account of what could have happened during that horrible time in 1888…if you believe in the strange and supernatural, that is. (I’m not saying that I do, but it is kind of fun to read about.) Amy Carol Reeves detailed what was and wasn’t factual in her book when she spoke at the SCASL conference, but I must confess that I can’t remember everything. (It was in March, after all.) I will, however, get the opportunity to go over this information with her again, as she is speaking at the conference again this year. (And I get to facilitate a panel with her and several other YA authors.  Hooray for me!) I also look forward to talking with her about the next book in this series, Renegade, which is due out in April of 2013.

If you’d like more information about Ripper and author Amy Carol Reeves, I encourage you to visit the author’s website. For those of you searching for information on Jack the Ripper, there are thousands of websites that contain loads of information, many of them saying different things. Theories abound on the true identity of this killer, so it’s no surprise that this enigma has found its way to YA fiction. If you can recommend any other YA Ripper books, let me know, and I’ll add them to my towering to-read pile!

The Name of the Star

It’s so great when I come across a book that grabs me from the first page.  My latest read, The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson, is one of these books.  I loved the voice of the main character, Rory, and I was entranced by the London setting.  This book has also provided me with one of my new favorite quotes that adequately sums up what it’s like to converse with a Southerner.

“I come from people who know how to draw things out.  Annoy a Southerner, and we will drain away the moments of your life with our slow, detailed replies until you are nothing but a husk of your former self and that much closer to death.”

It’s almost like the author had a camera or microphone planted in every gathering I’ve ever been to in my small, Southern town.  I laughed out loud when I read this–all the while picturing several of my family members (who I’ll be seeing in just a few days) who have that special Southern ability to drain the life out of anyone they happen to rope into conversation.  (This may explain why I always bring a book to family gatherings.  It may be rude and antisocial, but even pretending to be engrossed in a book provides me with a much-needed escape.)  (See what I just did there?  I provided you with way too much information and drew things out and probably drove some of you away with this unnecessarily detailed paragraph about holiday gatherings with my family.  Welcome to the South.)

Anyhoo, The Name of the Star is a thoroughly entertaining–and kind of creepy–read that plays upon fear.  It seems that someone is recreating the crimes of Jack the Ripper, and our heroine Rory might be the only one capable of stopping the mysterious murderer…

While her parents are spending a sabbatical year at a university in England, Rory Deveaux, a teenage girl from Louisiana, has decided to spend her senior year of high school at a boarding school in London. She’s never been to boarding school–much less London–and it’s a bit of an adjustment for her. Things are a lot more intense than in America, and they’re about to get even worse. See, her school is in the East End of London, and someone in the area is recreating the murders perpetrated by Jack the Ripper in 1888. The entire area is in a panic, especially because there are no clues as to who might be committing these heinous acts. The cops have no evidence. Security cameras captured the murders, but not the murderer. Everyone is at a loss…until Rory sees someone on the night of one of the murders. Someone no one else saw.

Could the weird guy she saw outside of her dorm be the new Ripper?  Why didn’t her roommate Jazza see him?  Could this have any connection to the security cameras not being able to see the Ripper?  As Rory tries to uncover a mystery without losing her mind, she encounters some disturbing truths along with a strange new ability.  Why can she see people no one else can see?  Does anyone around her share this ability?  And can she use it to find out who the Ripper is and stop him before she’s his next victim?  Enter the shady world of London to reveal the truth in The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson.

If you want a funny yet creepy read that will leave you wanting more–but still kind of scared to turn the next page–then The Name of the Star is the book for you.  I read it during two extremely gloomy days here in South Carolina.  The weather outside matched the setting and tone of this book perfectly, and I refused to answer unexpected knocks at the door while I was reading.  I will admit that I was terrified that someone was at the door to kill me.  (I tend to get a little involved in books I read, and I am aware that a potential murderer would probably not knock.  I found out a little while ago that it was my grandmother who was at my door.  Oops.)

If you’re interested in The Name of the Star or any other books by Maureen Johnson, you should visit her website at http://www.maureenjohnsonbooks.com/index1.html.  I’ll go ahead and let you know that The Name of the Star is the first book in The Shades of London series.  The second book, The Madness Underneath, is expected to be released in October 2012.  Based on how the first book ended, we can look forward to even more mysteries to solve in the second.