White Elephant by Trish Harnetiaux

White Elephant (published 10/29/19) is a short novel where the majority of the action is centered around a gift exchange at a high-end home. It’s a pretty standard thriller and if you want something quick and easy to read, this may hit the spot.

I didn’t hate it but I also didn’t love it. The story is told through several first person POVs. Zara’s POV was quite honestly annoying. While I understand that it is first-person, I don’t want to read every “like” and “nuh-uh” that goes through the character’s mind.

My second issue is that the author used real-life famous people as part of the plot. Yes, that part of the story is in the past but it made me feel ICKY. Using Andy Williams and Claudine Longet felt…wrong.

Lastly, the ending. Oh, the ending. Without spoiling all I can say is that it didn’t make sense given the characters as written to that point. It didn’t work for me. Nuh-uh.

I know it sounds like I hated it. I didn’t. If you can turn off the analytical part of your brain (boy I wish I could sometimes), you will probably enjoy this quick read.

2.5/5 stars. Thank you to Netgalley for providing an E-ARC in exchange for an honest review.

The Thirteenth Tale

“There is something about words.  In expert hands, manipulated deftly, they take you prisoner.  Wind themselves around your limbs like spider silk, and when you are so enthralled you cannot move, they pierce your skin, enter your blood, numb your thoughts.  Inside you they work their magic.”

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield is a perfect fall read.  Is it a ghost story or a family drama?  A gothic thriller or an old-fashioned mystery?  You won’t know until you turn the final page.  

Margaret Lea runs a vintage book store with her father and writes biographies on the side.  Life is quiet but enjoyable until Margaret learns a secret her parents hid from her for years.  Years later she is unexpectedly summoned to the home of Vida Winter, the world’s most famous author, to hear Vida’s life story.  There she finds the web of lies and half-truths that make up Vida’s world.  She has to untangle these threads to make sense of Vida’s history while dealing with her own ghosts.  

“Tell me the truth.”

The intricate family histories of both Vida and Margaret will keep you guessing.  Margaret’s strained relationship with her mother is complicated by their secrets.  The author spends a lot of time examining the seemingly supernatural connections between twins.  She also shows how households will hide a family member’s mental illness (sometimes even from themselves).    

Setterfield created a gothic atmosphere reminiscent of not only Jane Eyre but Wuthering Heights and Rebecca.  You can feel the dampness of the moors, the cool breeze coming in through the window, smell the fire in the air.

In some ways this is a love story.  Not of two people but the love (obsession) between a reader and her books.  There is a lot of classic novel name dropping.  Jane Eyre, the book, even plays a role in the plot.  From Dickens to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, it’s clear that Setterfield is a lover of literature.  There are even some indications that Vida Winter is inspired by Agatha Christie – which adds to the mystique.

“A good story is always more dazzling than a broken piece of truth.” 

If you have enjoyed the classic gothic stories listed above, you will devour this novel.  It’s also a good choice for someone who loved a more recent character driven book like “The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo”.

Put a log on the fire, make a spicy chai tea, grab a blanket and settle in.  Once you start reading The Thirteenth Tale, you won’t be able to stop until you know the truth.  After all, as Setterfield says so simply: “Reading is dangerous.”

Dreams of Fall, Stephen King and Emotions – just an average Friday

91ndIrptO4LThere is something about the end of summer and lead up to fall that changes my reading preferences.  Other people may be looking forward to pumpkin spice lattes and candy corn but I’m pulling out mysteries, thrillers and HORROR to quench my too early fall cravings.
You can’t have a conversation about horror without including Stephen King.  I’ve been a fan for most of my life but hadn’t touched Pet Semetary.  Most topics won’t deter me but animals dying and coming back to life?  No thanks.  Even King believes this is his most frightening work. “All I know is that Pet Semetary is the one I put away in a drawer, thinking I had finally gone too far.”  Then I read a glowing review by a reader who made me reconsider.  After speeding through this book I can say that it is now amongst my favorites.  Is it horror?  Yes, most definitely.  But does that adequately describe it?  Nope.  It’s a strangely, horribly beautiful examination of death and grief.  Stephen King would hate my adverb usage but I’m a rebel.
What’s it about? The Creed family – father Louis, mother Rachel and two kids, Ellie and Gage – moves into a new home in Ludlow, Maine.  It’s on a busy street frequented by large trucks traveling too fast.  (One thing you will learn as you read King is that he isn’t a descriptive writer.  He’s efficient with his words.  So, if he tells you about a street and its’ travelers, that will be important to the plot at a later point.)  The family becomes friends with the neighbors across the street, Louis starts his new job as a doctor at a local college and things are moving along nicely for this ‘normal’ family.  An accidental death at the college begins a chain of events in Louis Creed’s life that…well, therein lie spoilers.
“Sometimes dead is better.”
Louis Creed is one of the best written characters in horror.  Yes, I said it.  A man who didn’t have the best childhood but finds a father figure in Jud Crandall, his new neighbor. A husband with a wife who loves him but is dealing with her own childhood trauma that affects their marriage.  An imperfect father who would do almost anything for his children.  His story arc dives into anger, depression, grief and even what it means to be a man.  King uses events in Creed’s life to accurately depict how humans deal with life, death and beyond.  He strips bare those emotions and turns this horror story into a master class on writing.
I’ve learned that when reading a King novel you want to pay attention to every page even if it looks like filler.  King mentions in the introduction for this book that the house, the busy street, certain plot points and even the ‘Pet Semetary’ were inspired by actual events in his life. As a constant reader who has grown to care for King over the years, this made the reading experience even more emotional.
“Maybe she’ll learn something about what death really is, which is where the pain stops and the good memories begin. Not the end of life but the end of pain.”
So, Mary, get to the point.  Do you recommend this book?  Yes, without hesitation.  But don’t expect a cheap thrill.  King will make you think.  And isn’t that a good thing?
One final thought – if you have access to audiobooks through your library or Audible, consider listening to Pet Semetary.  Michael C. Hall (Dexter) does a fantastic job bringing it to life…and death.
Ok, I have one more thing.  The book is always better than the movie.  No contest.

Mini-Review: Murder in the Mews (Hercule Poirot #18) by Agatha Christie

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Murder in the Mews is a collection of four short stories/novellas featuring Hercule Poirot.  Overall, they are enjoyable but I believe that Christie is at her best with full length novels.  The first story, Murder in the Mews, was the star of this bunch.  Is it suicide?  Is it murder?

Now that I’ve seen all of the BBC Poirot adaptations (with the exception of Curtain which I don’t think I will ever be prepared for mentally), it’s interesting to match the written story with the screen story.  I vividly recall the details of the MitM adaptation and it actually made reading this more interesting, which is rare.

3.5/5 stars and a must read for fans.

Review: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (Illustrated) by JK Rowling and Jim Kay

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The first Harry Potter illustrated book has a 4.9 average rating on Goodreads.  That should tell you something.  We all know the story (and if you don’t love it, well then, move along) so I’m rating this based on the illustrations themselves.  And, they are freaking gorgeous.  Honestly, they couldn’t be better.  Jim Kay, I bow down to you.

For this post, I’ve captured a few of my favorites to share with you.  In a perfect world, I would go out, buy a second copy of the book, cut out the pictures and hang them all around my office.  I’m obsessed.  Can you tell?  Anyway, enjoy these collages of my favorite illustrations.

 

Mini-Review: Cards on the Table (Hercule Poirot #15) by Agatha Christie

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Cards on the Table has an interesting twist – Christie gave us a finite number of suspects (4) and it’s clear from the start that the killer is one of that group.  This results in a tighter net for Poirot and more focus on a limited number of characters.  Overall, COTT is a strong addition to the series.

However, three things kept me from giving this 5-stars.  First, the casual use of ethnic slurs may have been common at the time but it’s still disconcerting for a modern reader.  In this case it’s the use of a slur against Italians.  I’ve mentioned before that it’s hard to tell if Christie herself felt superior or if she is making a point that her characters feel superior to certain nationalities, races or social strata.  Either way, it pulls me out of enjoying the reading experience.

Second, and I believe this is the first time I’ve had this complaint with Christie, it’s a personal pet peeve of mine when an author ‘learns’ a new word and overuses it.  In this case the word is “Mephistophelian” to describe the look and demeanor of the victim.  Use it once, okay.  Use it twice, twitch but okay.  Five plus times and I’m rolling my eyes.  Just say devilish for goodness sake.

Lastly, the ending.  While I am a fan of the red herring, this one didn’t quite work for me.  I recognized the device and waited for the big reveal.  There were too many conveniences and coincidences for my liking.

Okay, this sounds like I didn’t like it, but really, I did.  4/5 stars.

January Wrap-Up

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Well, January wasn’t quite as good a reading month as I wanted but I was still able to get through 8 books:

  1. In God We Trust
  2. Throne of Glass
  3. Death in the Clouds (part of my Agatha Christie 2017 project)
  4. One Fell Sweep
  5. A Murder is Announced (another Christie)
  6. Dorothy Must Die
  7. Wuthering Heights (January Classic)
  8. Life is Short

Unfinished: Cards on the Table, Royal Assassin, Firefight, Lord of Chaos and HP #1 Illustrated.

My favorite read of the month was Wuthering Heights.  Deciding to go back and reread some classics that I had really forgotten was one of the best goals I made for this year.

Honorable Mention: One Fell Sweep.  I am a fangirl of Ilona Andrews and this is now my #2 favorite book in that library; just behind Magic Bites.

How did January go for you?

February TBR

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I haven’t written my January wrap up yet but as you can see from the stack above, I didn’t quite hit my goals.  So, here’s what I’m hoping to read in February.

January Carry Over:

Royal Assassin by Robin Hobb

Firefight by Brandon Sanderson

…assuming I will finish Cards on the Table by Agatha Christie today – fingers crossed

 

February TBR:

The Old Man and The Sea by Ernest Hemingway (my classic of the month)

They Do It With Mirrors by Agatha Christie

Murder in the Mews by Agatha Christie

One, Two, Buckle My Shoe by Agatha Christie

Words of Radiance by Brandon Sanderson

 

Bedside Pile of Shame (aka ‘currently reading’ for months):

Lord of Chaos by Robert Jordan (I really hit the wall with this one and need to just focus for a few hours and finally finish it)

Harry Potter and the Sorcerers Stone (Illustrated) by JK Rowling

 

What are you reading this month?