Mystery, Suspense/Thriller

Review: The Smiley Killer

Cover of "The Smiley Killer," featuring the face of a woman staring towards the viewer and the face of a man turned towards the woman; both faces are superimposed over the image of a city in the evening
Image from Julia Derek

Title: The Smiley Killer

Author: Julia Derek

Genre: Thriller/Mystery

Back Cover:

Seventeen-year-old Riley has been fascinated with crime investigation since she discovered CSI on TV. So, when it’s announced a serial killer is loose in the city, hell-bent on killing girls like Riley’s little sister, Riley’s on full alert. Not even Mark, the super hot college boy pursuing her, can get her mind off the case.

A victim found near the research lab where Riley’s friend Alyssa volunteers makes Riley think she’s found a lead: The killer’s signature—sad smileys—appears in the lab, so it seems the killer could be someone working there. Riley alerts Alyssa and the two notify the NYPD. But the police dismiss their claims.

Convinced she’s onto something, Riley embarks on her own investigation together with Alyssa. When another victim is found near the lab, it seems they’re close to finding the killer. Problem is, their prime suspect is a scientist’s younger brother—who happens to be Mark…


Though you wouldn’t know it from the genre counts in the sidebar, I love YA thrillers. I just have a hard time finding good ones. So when The Smiley Killer showed up in my inbox, I trusted my reader’s instinct that said this one is good and said yes.

Riley was interesting. She was a little like a bulldog – small-ish, but fierce and stubborn. It’s established early on that she’s a black belt in karate, and I expected that to play a bigger part than it did. (And as a fellow martial artist, I wanted more karate butt-kicking). She was actually pretty normal.

I don’t want to mention any other characters for fear of revealing who the killer is. The culprit is the last person you’d expect, unless you’re like me, in which case your suspicions will bounce between a likely suspect and the real culprit.

I do feel a need to mention, though, that I would have liked the romance between Riley and Mark better if Mark wasn’t so perfect.

I haven’t read a lot of murder mysteries/hunting serial killers books, so I don’t have much to compare The Smiley Killer to. But it was excellently done. All the important little details were woven seamlessly into the story without actually looking important.

At some points there were details that I thought could have been removed, but then I got to the end and they were actually essential. Someone who was meticulously analyzing every detail could figure out the killer, but a reader who’s just devouring a good story would be taken by surprise – which is the way a good mystery should be.

The Smiley Killer was an awesome serial killer mystery/thriller. And just when I thought everything was wrapped up neatly, a twist is thrown into the works, the book ends, and now I want book two. But Unnatural Born Killers isn’t out yet …

Update: According to Julia Derek’s website, The Smiley Killer is a standalone companion to her Girl Undercover series. There is no book two.

I received a free review copy of The Smiley Killer from the author. Her generosity in no way influenced, or sought to influence, this review.

Historical, Mystery

Review: Jewel of the Thames

Cover of "Jewel of the Thames," featuring art of an apartment building with the silhouette of a person holding a magnifying glass above the title text
Image from A Portia Adams Adventure website

Title: Jewel of the Thames

Series: A Portia Adams Adventure #1

Author: Angela Misri

Genre: Historical/Mystery

Back Cover:

There’s a new detective at 221 Baker Street.

Nineteen-year-old Portia Adams has always been inquisitive. There’s nothing she likes better than working her way through a mystery. When her mother dies, Portia is left in the guardianship of the extravagant Mrs. Jones. Portia is promptly whisked from Toronto to London by her guardian, where she discovers that she has inherited 221 Baker Street — the former offices of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson.

Portia settles into her new home and gets to know her downstairs tenants, including the handsome and charming Brian Dawes. She also finds herself entangled in three cases: the first one involving stolen jewelry, the second one a sick judge and the final case revolving around a kidnapped child. But the greatest mystery of all is her own. How did she come to inherit this townhouse? And why did her mother keep her heritage from her? Portia has a feeling Mrs. Jones knows more than she is letting on. In fact, she thinks her new guardian may be the biggest clue of all.


I’m a huge Sherlock Holmes fan (Arthur Conan Doyle’s books, the movies with Robert Downey Jr., the BBC TV show …). So when an email appeared in my inbox saying “There’s a new detective at 221B Baker Street,” I decided to say yes before I even read anything about the book.

Portia was completely enjoyable. She was a bookish introvert like me, but with awesome deductive skills. She wasn’t quite as good at deductions (or disguises) as Sherlock, but she’s young. I’m sure she’ll get there.

There were also some good minor characters, like Portia’s guardian, Mrs. Jones, who has a lot of interesting secrets. And Constable Brian Dawes, whose parents live below Portia (and who I’m thinking may eventually play Watson to Portia’s Holmes).

The mysteries were very much like something I’d imagine Doyle would write – a little less complicated, perhaps, but still great. They were engrossing and fun, and just like Doyle’s plots, I had a hard time guessing the culprit. Angela Misri certainly did her research, and just like a good Sherlock Holmes mystery, I feel like I learned something while being entertained.

In my opinion, the writing was what really made the book. It read like an old classic book – in a good way. It perfectly fit the subject and tone and added the finishing touches to a very Sherlock-esque story.

The Jewel of the Thames was a fun mystery that definately felt like a Sherlock Homes adventure. It was a good start to a series, and I’m looking forward to seeing how Portia’s skills develop in further books.

I received a free review copy of The Jewel of the Thames from the publisher. Their generosity in no way influenced, or sought to influence, this review.

The Portia Adams Adventures series:

  1. The Jewel of the Thames
  2. Thrice Burned
  3. No Matter How Improbable