Book Review | House of Spines by Michael J. Malone

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House of Spines

By Michael J Malone

Orenda Books

Publishing Date: April 1, 2018

Pages: 276

Synopsis from Publisher:

Ran McGhie’s world has been turned upside down. A young, lonely, and frustrated writer, and suffering from mental-health problems, he discovers that his long-dead mother was related to one of Glasgow’s oldest merchant families. Not only that, but Ran has inherited Newton Hall, a vast mansion that belonged to his great-uncle, who it seems has been watching from afar as his estranged great-nephew has grown up. Entering his new-found home, it seems Great-Uncle Fitzpatrick has turned it into a temple to the written word—the perfect place for poet Ran. But everything is not as it seems. As he explores the Hall’s endless corridors, Ran’s grasp on reality appears to be loosening. And then he comes across an ancient lift; and in that lift a mirror. And in the mirror . . . the reflection of a woman.

House of Spines has left me speechless. The only way to describe this book is AWESOME. The plot, the imagery, the characters, the pacing, it is all perfection.  There are so many things I love about this book, that this review could go on until my fingers fell off. I have managed to narrow down the elements of this novel I found the most wonderful.

The Atomsphere and Imagery:

The story is set in Glasglow Scotland on a large estate which contains the “big house” Newton Hall, where Ran resides. Malone’s descriptions of the estate allowed me to create an image so vivid, that I could see myself walking up the front steps of the estate with Ran. Malone describes manicured lawns and gardens, with two lion sculptures standing guard at the front door. The large windows are covered with large draperies. Whenever I see lion sculptures in front of building I assume one of two things. You have to be very brave to enter the building the lions are guarding, or the lions are symbols of protection over the people or things housed within the structure.  In the case of Newton Hall both assumptions may apply.

Ran McGhie:

I was completely enamored with Ran by page 6 of this book. He is emotionally damaged and fragile but he is as sharp as a tack. Because of his mental instability he is underestimated by some of the other characters in the book. These characters quickly realize Ran is much more than his mental illness and he will not be taken for a fool.

I felt completely in sync with Ran throughout the whole book. He really has no secrets, everything he learned about Newton Hall and his family I learned at the same time. Ran is hesitant to explore the house and its secrets, I wanted to push him up the steps of the house and open the unexplored doors for him. There is a section of the book where you can tell that Ran is starting to become a little unhinged and his mental illness is starting to take hold.  While reading this section I felt anxious and was hoping Ran would pull himself out of the mist. Malone has created a character that is broken but not beyond repair, you will want to reach into the book and encourage Ran (maybe even force feed him his medication) to hang in there.

Reminiscent of Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier:

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier is possibly my favorite book of all time. To me it is the perfect blend of psychological suspense and crime fiction. Rebecca is the book that kindled my love of suspense and crime fiction books. I could not help but draw comparisons between House of Spines and Rebecca. Both have a seemingly unsuspecting innocent main character thrown into a tangle of secrets. Both characters have to maneuver through these secrets while trying to maintain their sanity. House of Spines and Rebecca both take place in a huge house where the sprit of a beautiful dark haired woman lingers. I have read Rebecca many times over the years and I had the same feelings while reading House of Spines as I do each time I read Rebecca. Feelings of anxiety and wanting to push the main character to uncover the mysteries forced upon them.

Ran McGhie is a lonely writer who struggles daily to pay his bills and maintain his mental and emotional stability. Suddenly his fortunes turn and he inherits an estate from an unknown great uncle. Upon his arrival Ran feels uneasy but he ignores these feelings of unease and tries to settle into this new life. The house is filled with old secrets of his unknown family and something else that Ran is unable to describe. As he begins to unearth the buried secrets of the house and his family he begins to lose touch with himself and reality.

I am unable to fully describe how much I enjoyed this book. I literally had to ration out the pages so I would not finish it in one sitting. I did not want the book to end. Malone has created a masterpiece worthy to rank alongside one of my literary heroines Daphne du Maurier. Whenever I read Rebecca I will instantly think of House of Spines. If you are looking for a read that fill you with anxiety and maybe cost you a night’s sleep, House of Spines will fit the bill.

 

Murder and Moore Rating:

5 out of 5 Stars

 *Thanks to Orenda Books for my free copy for review.*

Book Review | The Undertaker's Daughter by Sara Blaedel

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The Undertaker's Daughter

By Sara Blaedel

Grand Central Publishing

Publishing Date February 6, 2018

336 Pages

Synopsis From Publisher:

Already widowed by the age of forty, Ilka Nichols Jensen, a school portrait photographer, leads a modest, regimented, and uneventful life in Copenhagen. Until unexpected news rocks her quiet existence: Her father--who walked out suddenly and inexplicably on the family more than three decades ago--has died. And he's left her something in his will: his funeral home. In Racine, Wisconsin.

Clinging to this last shred of communication from the father she hasn't heard from since childhood, Ilka makes an uncharacteristically rash decision and jumps on a plane to Wisconsin. Desperate for a connection to the parent she never really knew, she plans to visit the funeral home and go through her father's things--hoping for some insight into his new life in America--before preparing the business for a quick sale.

But when she stumbles on an unsolved murder, and a killer who seems to still be very much alive, the undertaker's daughter realizes she might be in over her head . . . 

Torn and conflicted is the best way to describe my feelings about The Undertaker’s Daughter. I am a big fan of Sara Blaedel’s Louise Rick series; so I was very excited when I found out Blaedel was starting a new series. Unfortunately, there were a few issues with this book that prevented me from loving it as much as I hoped I would. 

I am conflicted over this book because I was disappointed with Ilka. I thought I would be reading a amateur detective story. I assumed Ilka was going to solve the mystery and help bring the criminal to justice. However, the mystery is more of an event that is happening around Ilka. While she is curious about the crime and does ask questions if the opportunity arrives, she is not trying to solve the crime. It’s as if the crime is a background story to Ilka’s ongoing issues with the funeral home. 

Another issue I had with this book was the lack of character development. Information about the characters, Ilka included, was scattered throughout the book but details were not given. I did not get to know any of the characters which made it hard to become invested in them and want to continue reading. After reading the book, I still have so many questions about most of the characters, many of their actions and thoughts were left unexplained. I understand that this book is a part of a series, so maybe I will get answers to these questions as more books are published.

I did enjoy seeing the U.S. from Ilka’s perspective. This is her first visit to America. She had strong opinions on the American healthcare system as well as how Americans deal with death. She often compares America to Denmark, I found these comparisons comical and interesting. 

 I rarely read the author’s acknowledgments but I felt I had to. The concept of this book is so original I was hoping to find out what inspired Blaedel to base a new series on an Undertaker. In her acknowledgments, she shares the story behind this series. While the story is heartbreaking, I am glad I took the time to read it. When reading this book, I suggest you start with the acknowledgments, I think it will prepare you for the type of story you will be reading. 

Overall, I found The Undertakers Daughter interesting but not very entertaining or compelling. It is obvious extensive research was conducted into the funeral industry but the lack of character development left me feeling indifferent to the characters. I will concede, I may have started reading this book with unfair expectations, comparing this book with Blaedel’s previous books. Despite this book falling a little flat for me, I am looking forward to reading the next book in the series. Will Ilka become the amateur detective I was hoping she would be? We must wait and see.

Murder and Moore Rating:

3 1/2 out of 5 Stars

Book Review | The Whispering Room by Dean Koontz

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The Whispering Room

A JANE HAWK NOVEL (2)

By Dean Koontz

Bantam

Publication Date November 21, 2017

528 Pages

 

Synopsis from Publisher:

These are the words that ring in the mind of mild-mannered, beloved schoolteacher Cora Gundersun—just before she takes her own life, and many others’, in a shocking act of carnage. When the disturbing contents of her secret journal are discovered, it seems certain that she must have been insane. But Jane Hawk knows better.

In the wake of her husband’s inexplicable suicide—and the equally mysterious deaths of scores of other exemplary individuals—Jane picks up the trail of a secret cabal of powerful players who think themselves above the law and beyond punishment. But the ruthless people bent on hijacking America’s future for their own monstrous ends never banked on a highly trained FBI agent willing to go rogue—and become the nation’s most wanted fugitive—in order to derail their insidious plans to gain absolute power with a terrifying technological breakthrough.

Driven by love for her lost husband and by fear for the five-year-old son she has sent into hiding, Jane Hawk has become an unstoppable predator. Those she is hunting will have nowhere to run when her shadow falls across them.

 

Assumptions can be a detriment to a bibliophile. I try not to make assumptions when looking for my newest crime fiction read but I do. I see a book, the name of the author and automatically associate that author with a certain genre and move on to another book. I was curious when The Silent Corner (book one in the Jane Hawk series) by Dean Koontz kept popping up in my searches for new crime fiction reads. When I finally read the synopsis, I was intrigued and bought the book. I was pleasantly surprised and I found a new heroine to add to my list of favorites. The Whispering Room is a page turning, action packed, edge of your seat, crime fiction story with a realistic and plausible science fiction twist.

The Whispering Room picks right up where we last saw Jane in The Silent Corner. She realizes she has enough intel to expose the evil intentions of the Techno Arcadians, but she still needs more. Jane fears the info she has can be distorted and the true goal of the Techno Arcadians underestimated.  Jane continues on her quest to stop the horrendous and demented plan that has killed her husband, countless others, and continues to pose a serious danger to America.

My first observation is the way Jane seems to have settled into her new role as a fugitive/outlaw. She is now comfortable doing things she would not have been comfortable doing before. She feels her morality deteriorating and is sometimes shocked by her actions and thoughts. Jane also realizes she is in a war not a battle. She no longer believes she will clear her husband’s name and bring down the Techno Arcadians in a couple of months.

The story is fast paced but sometimes seems a little labored. In some chapters Koontz fits in some details and background from The Silent Corner. These sections seem to slow the pace of the book. I will say that my previous read was The Silent Corner, so I am familiar with the backstory and the characters. This may be the reason the book seems slower at times but these details are needed if you are starting the series with The Whispering Room rather than The Silent Corner.

There is a particular scene in the book that struck a chord with me. Jane is in her motel room alone and trying to figure out her next move. She thinks the best way to expose the Techno Arcadians is through the internet. She continues thinking of the early days of the internet. When it was growing at a fast rate, too fast to be regulated and edited, back when the law was not equipped to deal with internet crimes such as identity fraud. Jane refers to the early internet as the Wild West. She realizes that posting this info may not have the affect she wants. The info she has can be edited or removed as soon as it is uploaded. In the early days of the internet, the goal was a free and fast exchange of information. Information you would not find in a newspaper or on TV because it was reviewed and edited before it was distributed or aired. It started out as good thing, a way to get the truth to the public. I wonder if this war Jane is embroiled in started out like the internet, with good intentions gone terribly bad. We will have to wait and see.

As with The Silent Corner, The Whispering Room is filled with lyrical phrases and paragraphs. Descriptions of places and the feelings of the characters are given with loads of expressive and symbolic passages. Some readers may think this is distracting but I thought it gave a balance against Jane’s tough personality and the evil intentions of the Techno Arcadians.

The Whispering Room is a great follow up to The Silent Corner. You never really know what Jane is up to until her plan is executed. This adds action and anxiety to the story. Koontz makes sure new readers of the series have all the pertinent details from The Silent Corner but I do recommend starting with The Silent Corner. There are some stories in the first book that need to be read in order to fully appreciate Jane and her motives for finding the truth. If you are in the mood for a speedy, twisty, and suspenseful read, please add The Whispering Room to your to be read list.

 

Murder and Moore Rating:

4 out of 5 stars

Criminal Podcast Episode 75 : The Gatekeeper

Criminal is one of my favorite Podcasts. Of all the Podcasts I listen to, Criminal is the only one I find informative and entertaining. After every episode I feel as if my mind and insights have been broadened. The host Phoebe Judge, tells stories of death, theft, identity fraud, domestic abuse, and arson. Criminal focuses more on the affects of these crimes, rather than the crimes themselves.  For me that is what makes Criminal intrigueing and unique. 

I was SUPER excited when I heard the intro to episode 75. Episode 75 profiles Marilyn Stasio, who since 1988, reviews crime fiction for The New York Times Book Review. I subscribe to The New York Times Book Review and I read Marilyn's column. Actually, I go straight to Marilyn's column, then I read the rest of the reviews. 

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I found Marilyn absolutely fascinating. She is funny, witty, and very "to the point". Marilyn's "to the point" attitude comes across in her reviews as well. Her reviews are concise and credible.  She supports her thoughts and views by using quotes from the books she reviews.

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Marilyn states she has always had dark tastes. As a child, Marilyn read the encyclopedia and she was drawn to the painting The Princes in the Tower.  The painting portrays Princes Edward and Richard while they were locked away in the Tower of London in 1483. While they were locked away in the tower, they vanished. What happened to them is still unknown.  I found the picture and I see what drew Marilyn to the painting. It is sad and mysterious and you cannot help but wonder what the Princes are seeing that we are unable to see. 

 

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During the episode Marilyn's review process is discussed as well as her she thoughts on how crime fiction has changed over the years. She also tells us her favorite crime book of all time. Please check out this episode of Criminal and read Marilyn's bi-weekly column in The New York Times Book Review, they are a must for any lover of crime fiction. 

 

 

 

My Visit to Elliott Bay Book Company

 Elliott Bay Book Company | Seattle WA

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Last weekend I had the pleasure of visiting Elliott Bay Book Company in Seattle WA. In the middle of Seattle’s Capitol Hill district, Elliott Bay Book Company has the vibe of a neighborhood store in a big city. With its own café and reading rooms, there is plenty of room to sit without feeling rushed or crowded.

The café inside the bookstore is called Little Oddfellows (try the Victorian Breakfast tea YUM); next door is a bigger version of the café, Oddfellows. How awesome is that?! I love local businesses that support each other, it makes me happy to patronize both businesses.

Below are a few pictures I took throughout the store and cafe. Some things just stood out for me. The store was so cozy and welcoming but also organized. The staff was super friendly and knowledgeable. FYI- this store is perfect for all the bookstagrammers, it is an ideal place to take pictures of books in a beautiful setting. 

 

 

 

Every year, I try to read a least one book that is not crime fiction. This year I picked Little Fires Everywhere for my non-crime fiction book. My full review will be coming soon. On Monday 10/2 Celeste Ng, author of Little Fires Everywhere will be doing a Q & A at Elliot Bay. Below is the link for more info on the event. Also below is a synopsis from the publisher. I will be attending the Q & A, so I will have more pictures and possibly new info about Little Fires Everywhere and Celeste Ng. 

http://www.elliottbaybook.com/event/celeste-ng-florangela-davila

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Little Fires Everywhere

By Celeste Ng

Publisher: Penguin Press

Publication Date: 9/12/17

Synopsis from Publisher:

In Shaker Heights, a placid, progressive suburb of Cleveland, everything is planned – from the layout of the winding roads, to the colors of the houses, to the successful lives its residents will go on to lead. And no one embodies this spirit more than Elena Richardson, whose guiding principle is playing by the rules.

Enter Mia Warren – an enigmatic artist and single mother – who arrives in this idyllic bubble with her teenaged daughter Pearl, and rents a house from the Richardsons. Soon Mia and Pearl become more than tenants: all four Richardson children are drawn to the mother-daughter pair. But Mia carries with her a mysterious past and a disregard for the status quo that threatens to upend this carefully ordered community.

When old family friends of the Richardsons attempt to adopt a Chinese-American baby, a custody battle erupts that dramatically divides the town--and puts Mia and Elena on opposing sides.  Suspicious of Mia and her motives, Elena is determined to uncover the secrets in Mia's past. But her obsession will come at unexpected and devastating costs. 

Little Fires Everywhere explores the weight of secrets, the nature of art and identity, and the ferocious pull of motherhood – and the danger of believing that following the rules can avert disaster.

Book Review | The Other Twin

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The Other Twin

By L V Hay

Orenda Books

Publication Date: November 1, 2017

300 Pages

 

Synopsis from Publisher:

 When India falls to her death from a bridge over a railway, her sister Poppy returns home to Brighton for the first time in years. Unconvinced by official explanations, Poppy begins her own investigation into India’s death. But the deeper she digs, the closer she comes to uncovering deeply buried secrets. Could Matthew Temple, the boyfriend she abandoned, be involved? And what of his powerful and wealthy parents, and his twin sister, Ana? Enter the mysterious and ethereal Jenny: the girl Poppy discovers after hacking into India’s laptop. What is exactly is she hiding, and what did India find out about her? Taking the reader on a breathless ride through the winding lanes of Brighton, into its vibrant party scene and inside the homes of its well-heeled families, The Other Twin is a startling and up-to-the-minute thriller about the social-media world, where resentments and accusations are played out online, where identities are made and remade, and where there is no such thing as truth.

I have never written a book but I would imagine that an author does not aim to isolate their audience. I would further speculate the author also wants to remain true to themselves and their beliefs. I am guessing balancing the two is very tricky indeed. If L V Hays’ intent when writing this book was in fact a combination of expressing her beliefs while writing about sensitive social issues, I say WELL DONE to L V Hays.  The Other Twin is heartbreaking story of people dealing with rejection but in the end realizing the guilt and self-hatred they felt was completely misplaced.

Poppy Wade, teacher living in London, has essentially banished herself from her hometown of Brighton. When her mother calls with news of her sister India’s suicide, Poppy returns to Brighton to face her sister’s death and the past she was intent on leaving behind. While in Brighton, Poppy embarks on a quest to learn the truth of her sister’s death. In the mist of grieving for her sister and searching for the truth, Poppy faces hurdles of lies and secrets, and the great lengths some people will go to conceal the truth.

Setting the story during winter in England, Hayes creates an atmosphere of grief and guilt that lingers through the whole book. I love that the story takes place on a beach in a tourist town. Because of the winter season, I felt the loneliness and abandonment that plagued the characters and the town. This atmosphere drew me into the story. With this sad atmosphere, I really wanted something good to happen to the characters, I knew we would find out what happened to India, but I was really hoping that the characters would find some peace. For me this is what made the book so compelling.   

I found Poppy un-relatable, but not in a bad way. Her determination to find out what happened to her sister is absolute and un-yielding; I found her determination admirable. No matter how many dead ends and dangerous situations she faced, she pressed on. There were many times while I was reading, I thought she should let it go. I thought that her determination to find the truth was guilt driven and not based on facts. I found her willingness to do ANYTHING to find out what happened a bit reckless at times.

The characters in this book all have one thing in common; they cannot seem to let go of anything.  Whether it is their guilt, feelings of betrayal, anger, or their quest for the truth; they are all weighed down by these feelings. The way the characters held on to all these heavy emotions is what made the story suspenseful for me.  With all of these feelings, I knew that an emotional bomb was about to go off and I was not disappointed.

I found The Other Twin compelling, suspenseful, and thought provoking. I find myself thinking about this book while I am reading other books; comparing the characters to characters in The Other Twin. This is a book that will stick with me for some time. If you are looking for an emotional read that will make you think about current social issues, The Other Twin should be on your to be read list.

 

Murder and Moore Rating:

5 out of 5 Stars