Book Review: The Ostermann House by J.R. Klein

The ostermann house.jpg

The Ostermann House by J.R. Klein

Michael and Audrey Felton just want to get away. They want a place of their own where they can escape the hustle and bustle of academia in Houston, and simply relax in peace and quiet. Their search for a second home in the country seems to be at an impasse until their realtor shows them a fixer-upper farmhouse going for a song. After moving in, they find they may have gotten more than they bargained for. A walled up room in the basement is discovered, complete with a mysterious nine-sided coin. Strange lights and sounds defy explanation, and someone, or something, seems to be toying with them. Investigating the history of the property, Mike and Audrey learn that the local townspeople seem to regard the house with suspicion bordering on hatred. With events escalating, Mike’s mental state begins to deteriorate. Unable to trust anyone, even himself, he must get to the bottom of the mystery before it is too late.

I really enjoy haunted house stories, and this one had a solid start. From the prologue (reminiscent of Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House), to the first look at what lies behind the bricked-in basement wall, to our first encounters with  . . . something, this book delivered quite a few suspenseful, creepy moments.

From this strong beginning, however, the book seems to lose focus. Klein provides plenty of fodder for paranoia and creepiness. The shifting stories of the townspeople, and the mysterious behavior of the local sheriff are poised to make Mike Felton, and the reader, question everything that has come before: is everyone around him lying, or is some outside force messing with reality? Unfortunately, these revelations are treated perfunctorily, reversals of evidence treated in a matter-of-fact, oh-by-the-way manner, and a lot of potential for suspense is lost.

So too, with later encounters with the mysterious presence in the house. Without spoilers, I can say that at one point, Audrey and Mike are both trapped inside the house by a storm, with full knowledge that whatever or whoever has been invading their home is in there with them. This was a supreme opportunity for some truly creepy stuff to go down, but the whole scene is over in just a few paragraphs. This scene and others like it seem rushed, as though the author was barreling along with the plot, and did not take the time to build up the requisite creep factor of the genre.

I also feel that the ending goes a bit off the rails. I pride myself on giving spoiler-free reviews, no I will provide no details. Suffice it to say that exploring outside the bounds of a set genre can lead to unexpected and awesome results, but if not done carefully it can quickly veer into the ludicrous. I found the ending of the book to be a bit absurd, with not one or two but four twists coming in rapid succession. By the final chapters it was hard to recognize the book I was reading as the suspenseful, creepy one I had started with such enthusiasm a few days earlier.

In all, this book started out great and showed a lot of promise. Even with some of the scarier and paranoia-inducing scenes seeming rushed, I still enjoyed reading it quite a bit . . . until the ending. Genre fans who want to read something a bit different might think about picking up this book; I’d love to hear your thoughts on the book’s ending (maybe it’s just me)!

A copy of this book was provided by the author in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: Pretty Jane and the Viper of Kidbrooke Lane by Paul Thomas Murphy

Pretty Jane and the Viper of Kidbrooke Lane: A True Story of Victorian Law and Disorder: The Unsolved Murder that Shocked Victorian England by Paul Thomas Murphy

In 1871, a young, pretty servant girl was found ruthlessly beaten in a country lane. Jane Clouson died a few days later without regaining consciousness. When the son of her employer falls under suspicion for her murder, the subsequent police investigation and trial spark unrest between the working class and the middle class residents of London. Jane, unremarkable and overlooked in life, became a powerful symbol of the suffering of working class girls, and the easy power of their “betters.”

Pretty Jane is an engagingly written book that straddles the true crime and history genres. Murphy’s style of writing is engaging and flows well, allowing the book to read more like a novel than a history book. Murphy takes the reader along for the ride in an investigation and trial that, in the modern day, would be up there with the OJ Simpson or Casey Anthony trials. Each side bitterly fought for their desired outcome, and the legal push-pull dynamic adds to the story’s suspense. Murphy is more than willing to unwind this suspense out slowly, leaving you to tensely wait to see if there will ever be any justice for poor Jane.

Any history buff will enjoy this book. The narrative style of the writing makes this book accessible and fun for casual readers as well. If you’re a fan of Devil in the White City by Erik Larson, this book should be next on your TBR.

A copy of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: Rejected Princesses by Jason Porath

rejected princesses

Rejected Princesses: Tales of History’s Boldest Heroines, Hellions, and Heretics by Jason Porath

Dear husband brought this book to my attention after hearing a segment about it on NPR (what a very good husband!). After hearing only a few anecdotes about it, I needed to read it, NOW. Thank goodness for Amazon Prime.

Rejected Princesses grew out of a lunchtime chat among Dreamworks animators: Who was least likely to be turned into an animated princess? Out of this seed grew a blog (http://www.rejectedprincesses.com) and the blog sprouted a book (with a second on the way!). The first volume is a massively heavy compendium of 100 women who defied norms, expectations, invading armies, assailants, and politicians. Each entry is roughly 2-3 pages long, and each features a Disney-style illustration of the featured “princess.”

The entries are neatly cataloged with maturity ratings and applicable trigger warnings. This means you can read the more family-friendly entries to the kids, and save the stories of rape, murder, and revenge for later (or never, as it suits you). In this way, Porath has created a book that has something for all ages, while at the same time not glossing over the violence experience by quite a few defiant women. The stories also skip across time, space, and legend. You’ll find biblical queens next to Bolivian revolutionaries next to British suffragettes next to African warriors next to Japanese samurais. You’ll find straight women and women who represent every color of the LGBTQA rainbow. Porath show us that there is a princess out there for everyone.

This book was amazing. Some women, like Hatshepsut (the only female pharaoh in Egypt), Harriet Tubman (“Moses” of escaping slaves), and Joan of Arc (the gold standard of defiant woman) I had heard of already, but others like Saint Olga of Kiev (who set a town on fire using pigeons), Calafia (mythical Muslim queen and namesake for the state of California), and Trung Trac and Trung Nhi (Vietnamese sisters who led armies to defeat the Chinese in the 1st century) I had never even guessed existed. The book is jam-packed with these kinds of stories, and the encyclopedia-entry-style of each story means it’s easy to pick up and put down as needed, and come back to your favorite parts. Once you read through the book, there are even more entries on the Rejected Princesses website, so you can head over there to keep getting your fix.

This is a great book for anyone looking for inspiration from some truly badass ladies. Porath’s rating system means that you can share these stories with the little girls in your life, and let them know they can grow up to command their own tank regiment (Mariya Oktyabrskaya), overcome handicaps (Wilma Rudolph), be great at math (Hypatia), and/or decide exactly what they want out life and strive for it.

Book Box Review and Unboxing: The Nocturnal Reader’s Box – August: Infested/Infected

It’s again time to find a little slice of Halloween on my front porch! I get so excited about this box it is literally sickening. As always, there’s a whole bunch of awesome shit in this box!

His box contains not one, not two, but three books! The first book is This Book is Full of Spiders by David Wong; the sequel to John Dies at the End, which is high up on my TBR. From the Goodreads description:

WARNING: You may have a huge, invisible spider living in your skull. THIS IS NOT A METAPHOR.

You will dismiss this as ridiculous fearmongering. Dismissing things as ridiculous fearmongering is, in fact, the first symptom of parasitic spider infection-the creature secretes a chemical into the brain to stimulate skepticism, in order to prevent you from seeking a cure. That’s just as well, since the “cure” involves learning what a chain saw tastes like.

You can’t feel the spider, because it controls your nerve endings. You can’t see it, because it decides what you see. You won’t even feel it when it breeds. And it will breed. So what happens when your family, friends, and neighbors get mind-controlling skull spiders? We’re all about to find out.

Just stay calm, and remember that telling you about the spider situation is not the same as having caused it. I’m just the messenger. Even if I did sort of cause it.

Either way, I won’t hold it against you if you’re upset. I know that’s just the spider talking.

The other two books are both new releases. First up is The Grip of It by Jac Jemc. From the Goodreads description:

A chilling literary horror novel about a young couple who purchase and live in a haunted house. Jac Jemc’s The Grip of It tells the eerie story of a young couple haunted by their new home.

Julie and James settle into a house in a small town outside the city where they met. The move—prompted by James’s penchant for gambling, his inability to keep his impulses in check—is quick and seamless; both Julie and James are happy to leave behind their usual haunts and start afresh. But this house, which sits between ocean and forest, has plans for the unsuspecting couple. As Julie and James try to settle into their home and their relationship, the house and its surrounding terrain become the locus of increasingly strange happenings. The architecture—claustrophobic, riddled with hidden rooms within rooms—becomes unrecognizable, decaying before their eyes. Stains are animated on the wall—contracting, expanding—and map themselves onto Julie’s body in the form of bruises; mold spores taint the water that James pours from the sink. Together the couple embark on a panicked search for the source of their mutual torment, a journey that mires them in the history of their peculiar neighbors and the mysterious residents who lived in the house before Julia and James.

Written in creepy, potent prose, The Grip of It is an enthralling, psychologically intense novel that deals in questions of home: how we make it and how it in turn makes us, mapping itself onto bodies and the relationships we cherish.

The third book is one I’m super excited about. Mapping the Interior by Stephen Graham Jones is a horror story from a Native American perspective. From the Goodreads description:

Mapping the Interior is a horrifying, inward-looking novella from Stephen Graham Jones that Paul Tremblay calls “emotionally raw, disturbing, creepy, and brilliant.”

Walking through his own house at night, a fifteen-year-old thinks he sees another person stepping through a doorway. Instead of the people who could be there, his mother or his brother, the figure reminds him of his long-gone father, who died mysteriously before his family left the reservation. When he follows it he discovers his house is bigger and deeper than he knew.

The house is the kind of wrong place where you can lose yourself and find things you’d rather not have. Over the course of a few nights, the boy tries to map out his house in an effort that puts his little brother in the worst danger, and puts him in the position to save them . . . at terrible cost.

 20170809_191021

Also, per usual, the box contains a bunch of goodies! This month features a creepy crawly art print by Ally Burke, a bookmark, a ‘Salem’s Lot postcard, and a glow in the dark pin inspired by Patient Zero by Jonathan Maberry.

20170809_191237

There’s also an exclusive bath bomb by Fizzy Fairy Apothecary

20170809_191114

A mug inspired by The Exorcist (and the perils of under-caffination)

20170809_191154

And (teeheehee) a Captain Tripps hat from The Stand.

20170809_190919

So, I’m still in love with this book box! If you haven’t already, you should totally check out the Nocturnal Reader’s Box website!

Book Review: The House of Silk by Anthony Horowitz

 The House of Silk by Anthony Horowitz
This book has been drifting around my TBR for a bit. But after my recent read of From Holmes to Sherlock by Mattias Boström, I find myself moving any and all Sherlock Holmes stories up on my to-read list. This book is significant because is is one of the only stories to win the seal of approval from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s estate, his heirs being determined to jealously preserve the Holmes mystique. So with all that in mind, there’s a lot of pressure on Horowitz to deliver not only a good mystery, but also a Sherlock Holmes mystery.

The story begins in typical fashion, with Holmes and Watson (visiting his old friend while his wife is away) sitting in their respective chairs by the fire. Sherlock delivers his usual uncannily accurate observations on Watson’s recent activities. Watson, per usual is totally flabbergasted until the requisite explanation is offered. From there we delve into a multifaceted mystery encompassing stolen artwork, Irish gangs, Pinkerton Detectives, and threats to the Baker Street Irregulars. 

Horowitz is careful to include many of the common elements from Conan Doyle’s stories. The House of Silk, written for a modern audience, is darker and more violent than the original stories. Horowitz, not needing to contend with Victorian sensibilities, is able to lay out what Doyle only hinted at. In all, though, this is a well done addition to the Holmes canon. Fans of Sherlock Homes (duh) or Victorian mysteries should add this book to their to-read lists.

Book Review: Emma in the Night by Wendy Walker

Emma in the Night by Wendy Walker

 Three years ago, sisters Emma and Cass disappeared. Now Cass has returned, but what happened to Emma? As Cass begins telling her family and the FBI about what happened to her and her sister, it becomes clear that there are many hidden depths to Cass’s story, and that multiple people are playing for their own ends. The more Cass reveals, the more questions arise. And it is impossible to tell who, if anyone, can be trusted to tell the truth about Emma.

God, I have read a lot of psychological thrillers in this vein recently. With the success of titles like The Girl on the Train and In a Dark, Dark Wood, these types of books are definitely in vogue. And I do generally enjoy this genre; but even I’m starting to feel worn down by plot twist after plot twist. I’m going to try very hard not to make Emma in the Night suffer for my over-saturation.

This book is a fine example of the genre. Walker keeps us guessing for most of the book about who can be trusted and who cannot. The character of Cass is definitely front and center, and those surrounding her, especially her mother, sister, and the FBI psychologist interviewing her are left a bit flat by comparison. I did enjoy the slow pulling back the layers of the months and years preceding Cass and Emma’s disappearance. Walker’s portrayal of the facade of a typical upper-middle-class home hiding dark secrets was well done.

So if you (unlike me) are not burned out on a genre turned into the literary equivalent of an IPA, this book has a lot to offer. Fans of Paula Hawkins and Ruth Ware will like this book.

An advance copy of this book was provided by the publisher via Goodreads Giveaways in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: The Gunslinger by Stephen King


The Gunslinger by Stephen King

Can you believe I’ve never read any of the Dark Tower Series by Stephen King? I picked up The Gunslinger in high school (back in the stone ages), and got about halfway through before being distracted by something or another. The poor book has languished on my TBR ever since. Now, though, with The Dark Tower movie coming out, What better motivation to read through the series at long last?

The Gunslinger introduces us to Roland, last of the gunslingers. Roland is pursuing the mysterious and sinister Man in Black across a blighted land. The land is at once alien and hostile, but strangely familiar. Ragtime versions of “Hey Jude” ring out from western-style taverns, and remnants of an all-too-familiar society blight the landscape.

This is one of the first major things Stephen King ever wrote, and you can feel the rawness of it. Reading The Gunslinger, you can see glimmers of King’s talent for allowing the horror of his story to creep off the page and run down your spine. Still, as the first book in the series, there is always some awkwardness in balancing setting the scene and introducing the characters without sacrificing pacing and plot. King sets us down in the middle of the chase and provides background information in small morsels.

 In all, I have to say that this isn’t the best of King’s books. But, as it’s the first of the series and one of his first works, I feel like he gets plenty of leeway. I’m excited to read the next book in the series, and see not only how Roland and the others evolve, but also how King’s writing grows over the course of the story.

P.S. – Thank you to The Nocturnal Reader’s Box for the gorgeous Dark Tower series themed bandana (from the June “All Hail the King” box)!

Book Review: Paper and Fire by Rachel Caine

Paper and Fire

Paper and Fire by Rachel Caine

This is the second book in The Great Library Series, and so there are inevitable spoilers for the first book below.

 

____________________________________________________________________________________________

Now that the requisite spoiler alert is out of the way, let’s get down to business.

Jess finds himself as a lowly grunt in the Library’s Garda. Forced to abandon his dream of becoming a Library scholar, and very aware of the dark underside of the Library’s rule, Jess uses his smuggling past to try to find more information of the imprisoned Morgan and murdered Thomas. When Jess uncovers a bombshell: Thomas is alive and held captive by the Library at a secret prison, Jess must reunite his old friends (and frenemies) in a desperate rescue attempt. Little does he know that this act of rebellion will spark a violent chain of events which could threaten the world as he knows it.

Paper and Fire is a good sequel to Ink and Bone. The characters seem to have grown up quite a bit since we first met them, and the danger from the Library and its minions seems more devious and omnipresent than ever. We are given more information about the inner workings of the Library, and learn more about its past. I always enjoy the second book in the series, we’ve gotten over the awkward introduction phase and the characters can really stretch their legs. Caine lets Jess and his friends grow, but avoids the simple and comfortable and keeps things on a more realistic and complicated plane.

If you enjoyed the first book in the series, you will almost certainly like this one. If you haven’t read Ink and Bone yet, then you really shouldn’t be reading this review, should you? But either way, fans of the Harry Potter or Hunger Games series will enjoy these books, which manage to be both about teenagers and very adult at the same time.

Book Review: See What I Have Done by Sara Schmidt


See What I Have Done by Sara Schmidt

Lizzie Borden took an axe and gave her father forty whacks 

When she saw what she had done, she gave her mother forty-one

– Old jump rope rhyme 

When I was growing up in [the dark ages] 1980s Massachusetts, we still learned that rhyme. Though Fall River was over an hour south of the town I grew up in, Lizzie Borden still felt like our own homegrown boogieman. Little wonder, then, that I remain fascinated by the legend of Lizzie Borden. Even now, 125 years after the infamous murders, there is no firm concensus of what occurred that day.

Sara Schmidt brings something new and visceral to the legend. Centered around the day of the murders and the times immediately before and after, we are allowed to take nothing for granted in this tale. The story is told from four different perspectives: Lizzie herself, her older sister, Emma, Bridget, the family’s downtrodden servant, and Benjamin, a mysterious young man with a rather violent disposition. The narrative skips across perspectives and across time, slowly moving us toward what actually happened in the house on that hot summer day.

What struck me about this book was how horrible everyone was. Andrew Borden is a miserly wretch, Abby an unstable, clingy lump. Lizzie is spoiled, manipulative, and childlike. Truly, the only people in the house you feel for are Emma Borden and Bridget the maid, both trying to seek their own way out of a toxic household.

The Borden murders took place on August 4th, 1892, in an era before air-conditioning. The Borden house has no electricity or indoor plumbing, and everyone is wearing long sleeves, long skirts, and high collars. Schmidt takes full advantage of the season and makes the book feel claustrophobic and oppressive in the description of the sticky, unmoving air, the rank smells, and the congealing food. The horror of this story is less about the violence of the murders themselves, but of being trapped in a truly nightmarish situation.

In all, this was an interesting take on the Lizzie Borden legend. While it took  bit to get used to the way Lizzie Borden is voiced in this book (she has a manic style of speech and thought that reminds me of the poem The Bells by Edgar Allen Poe), once over that hump I found the book impossible to put down. Fans of the Borden legend, or of the mystery and/or horror genres should enjoy this book.

A copy of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. 

Book Review: The Bedlam Stacks by Natasha Pulley

bedlam stacks.jpg

The Bedlam Stacks by Natasha Pulley

The book is a slightly less-than-direct prequel to The Watchmaker of Filigree Street. Though you do not have to read that book before you read this one, I would highly recommend doing so.

Merrick Tremayne is a shadow of his former self. Formerly employed by the East India Company as a smuggler, an accident has left him with a crippled leg and no prospects for the future. But when an expedition is planned to seek out quinine in the mountainous jungles of Peru, Merrick’s knowledge and family history make him indispensable for the success of the mission.

However, once he arrives at New Bethlehem, the village founded by his grandfather, Merrick finds that the fairy tales and stories he grew up with may hew closer to the truth than he ever could have guessed. Merrick must discover the secrets of this strange village–and Raphael, the mysterious local priest–in order to continue his mission.

Natasha Pulley has a real talent for incorporating magical and fantastical elements into a thoroughly believable historical setting. Her melding of history and fantasy is organic and subtle, and a fine example of how magical the genre can be. I also enjoy how Pulley steps out of the usual tropes of this type of fiction–exploring the Japanese Civil War in Watchmaker, and taking us into the mountains of Peru (and the shelling of Canton) in The Bedlam Stacks. Pulley explores colonization, international intrigue, and imperialism in this new book, and amidst the magic of her location, she reminds us of the ever-increasing consequences of invasion and interference.

Some aspects of the plot are similar to those in Watchmaker. We are again confronted with a man we are unsure if we can trust, even as Merrick grows closer to him. The mystery of the danger lurking in the forest outside of New Bethlehem, and the questions surrounding Raphael are well written. The book moves slowly in parts, but the climax of the book is actually quite creepy. While the magic here is more fantastical than that on display in Watchmaker, I feel that Pulley did a wonderful job of integrating it into the story.

If you enjoyed Natasha Pulley’s first book, you should certainly check out The Bedlam Stacks. Any fan of historical fantasy should look into the series.

An advance copy of this book was provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.