“The Killer Next Door” by Alex Marwood – A Book Review

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How well do you really know your neighbors? Alex Marwood’s second novel takes place in a gentrifying suburbs of London and focuses on the residents of a house that has been converted into some sketchy apartments or “flats.” Each character has his or her own secrets, but one is hiding something much worse — yep, there’s a serial killer in the building. Forced to band together to protect each other’s secrets after an unfortunate accident, they soon discover that someone is not who they seem.

While I had not enjoyed Marwood’s debut novel, “The Wicked Girls” (my review can be found here), I would recommend “The Killer Next Door.” Where the previous novel suffered from a lack of momentum, her second book chugs along at a decent pace, and more importantly – the characters were much more three dimensional and well-fleshed out. Where Marwood really succeeds this time around is with the creation of situation/scenes that seem very believable/vivid. You can clearly picture the dilapidated house and the cast of characters that populate the dank apartments… I shudder just thinking about the accommodations.

Told from various perspectives, the chapters rotate focusing on each of the different characters which gives the reader a well-rounded view of events from multiple vantages (yes, including the killer’s). Though a bit long-winded in some places, I did appreciate that Marwood tried to give each character a solid backstory and perspective versus sticking with the stereotypes of an ensemble cast.

Available for pre-order from Amazon.com and on shelves October 28th, 2014.

Disclaimer: I received an ARC from the publisher via their “First to Read” program

“Vanessa and Her Sister” by Priya Parmar – A Book Review

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"Vanessa and Her Sister" depicts the very complex relationship between Vanessa and Virginia Stephens (later Virginia Woolf). Each is accomplished in her own right, but the sisters are forever locked in constant competition with one another. When Vanessa finds love, it throws off the already unsteady balance between, setting off chains of events that will impact their lives and affect those around them. In my opinion, Priya Parmar paints Vanessa slightly more sympathetically than her sister, but each have their faults. 

Though the novel mostly focuses on Vanessa and Virgina, the cast of characters include notables from the "Bloomsbury" group, including EM Foreseter, and John Maynard Keynes, which was fun. I can't imagine how fascinating it would have been to be a fly on the wall for one of their dinner parties or late night conversation sessions. 

While I enjoyed the historical aspects of the book, what really captivated my attention was the sister's relationship. The author does an excellent job (perhaps a sister herself?), of capturing what exactly it is that draws and keeps sisters together despite their differences. The way Vanessa and Virginia treat each other is nuanced and realistic, which allows the reader to disappear into the story. 

Overall, four out of five stars because I felt there were some issues with pacing and some sections that were a little on the slow side. I did enjoy the way that postcards and telegrams and interspersed between the chapters. I would also have provided a little bit more detail when it comes to the cast of characters for those that are not super familiar with the famous faces of this period. 

Side note: There is also something rather satisfying about the fact that Virginia is only indirectly named in the title. Score one for Vanessa?

Available for preorder from Amazon.com and on shelves December 30th, 2014. 
Disclaimer: I received an ARC from the publisher for the purpose of review.

“The Secret Place” by Tana French – A Review

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In my opinion, none of Tana French’s later novels have ever lived up to “In the Woods” or “The Likeness.” I struggled through “Broken Harbor,” but somewhat enjoyed “Faithful Place,” so it was much anticipation that I picked up “The Secret Place.” Set against the backdrop of a posh girls’ school, Murder Squad detective Stephen Moran, finds himself pulled into a case involving a dead boy and Holly Mackey, daughter of Detective Frank Mackey. Though the premise of the novel (a mysterious card reading “I Know Who Killed Him” posted anonymously on a school notice board), immediately grabbed my attention, I found this quickly to be my least favorite French novel.

My primary problem has to do with the pacing and time frame of the novel. French chooses to set it in the span of a day or so, making the book feel overwhelming and implausible. Patricia Cornwell has done the same with some of her recent Scarpetta novels, and I find it so difficult to read. The characters of Moran and Conway (the tough female detective Moran works with), are also incredibly unlikeable. There was nothing that drew me to them, and it became difficult to care much about the plot. I have the same to say about the cast of characters we meet at St. Kilda’s; nobody particularly stands out or commands the reader’s attention.

“The Secret Place” beats out “Broken Harbor” as my least favorite Murder Squad novel. That said, if you are new to the series, definitely pick up French’s first two novels. I can promise you will enjoy them. And please, Ms. French, bring back Cassie and Adam!

Available for pre-order from Amazon.com and on shelves September 2nd, 2014.

xo The Book Bird

Disclaimer: I received an ARC courtesy of the publisher for the purpose of review.

“Ruth’s Journey” by Donald McCaig – a Book Review

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If “Rhett Butler’s People” and “Scarlett” haven’t already turned you off of “Gone With the Wind” Mitchell estate authorized prequels/sequels, there is a good chance that “Ruth’s Journey” will. However, chances are, if you’re a die-hard GWtW fan like me (it was the first “grown up” novel that I read and helped to fuel my love affair with reading), you’re still going to pick this up anyway… so, I may as well share my two cents. In the spirit of full-disclosure, I received an ARC of this novel courtesy of the publisher (for which I am grateful). I should also tell you that I was not able to make it more than 30% of the way through “Ruth’s Journey.” Yes, it was that bad.

While it’s nice that McCaig chooses to focus his attention on the woman who will eventually become the well-beloved character of Mammy, I found the synopsis of the book to be deceiving. You think you’re picking up a novel about Ruth/Mammy? Read the first few chapters and you’ll wonder if you’re reading the wrong thing. In fact, McCaig spends so much time on bad characters of his own creation, that I had to make myself stick with it until we got to some familiar faces. While I can’t tell you if the novel gets better (again I stopped about 30% of the way through… and I have to give myself a props for trying multiple times to ge tback into it), my guess is it doesn’t.

Lesson learned for the third time: don’t mess with a good thing and just re-read the classic every time you need your GWtW fix.

Available for pre-order from Amazon.com and on shelves October 14th, 2014.

xo The Book Bird

“I Am Pilgrim” by Terry Hayes – A Book Review

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Loved. Loved. Loved.

I cannot stop telling everyone I know that THIS is the book that they MUST read this summer. Normally I avoid spy-thrillers; in my past experience they tend to be formulaic and predictable with mediocre writing. Terry Hayes’ “I Am Pilgrim” totally blew up those misconceptions. I won’t bother with a detailed summary (the book jacket does an excellent job of recapping), but basically the book follows the path of a retired super spy officer who finds himself being pulled back into the intelligence game. Trust me, you are not going to run into any cliches here; what you’ll find is a well executed story that will keep you on the edge of your seat.

While on the longer side, once you are in, you will FLY through this novel. Hayes does an excellent job of maintaining and building momentum, while keeping his pacing consistent and even. What I enjoyed most is that Hayes writes for the smart reader – the type of person who doesn’t want everything explained but enjoys well-thought out details. With each chapter, you almost feel like part of the story, tagging along on Pilgrim’s coattails as he races around the world.

Oh, and the characters! Pilgrim is by far one of the best protagonists I’ve encountered – clever, witty, self-deprecating, but all in a way that makes you wish you could go grab a drink together.

There is so much that I enjoyed about this novel but don’t want to give away…. Needless to say, friends- please go and pick up a copy ASAP so we can discuss. Also, if this does turn out to be a series – I CANNOT WAIT.

Available for purchase from Amazon.com.

Mrs. Hemingway by Naomi Wood

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Where to start when it comes to how much I enjoyed Naomi Wood’s “Mrs. Hemingway“?

I have to admit, 2014 so far has been a little lackluster when it comes to titles that I’ve strongly enjoyed. Mrs. Hemingway was the first novel that really captured my attention and had me staying up late to finish it off. While it will undoubtedly garner comparisons to Paula McLain’s The Paris Wife, the two novels only overlap in the slightest. While McLain chose to focus on the narrative of Hemingway’s first wife, Hadley, in Wood’s book we spend time with all four Mrs. Hemingways- Hadley, Pauline (Fife), Martha and Mary.

The real strength of the novel is how Wood makes you feel for and about each wife. Each is given equal room to tell her story, and a unique clean voice. All of the women are equally sympathetic, and I couldn’t say I favored one wife over the other. I thoroughly enjoyed how Wood links together each of their sections with a delicate hand – the interlocking of their stories never felt forced, and the recurring themes and imagery were subtle and well-written.

Though Papa Hemingway obviously plays a rather substantial part, I appreciated that Wood stayed focused on the four very deserving and achieving women who often get hidden in his shadow.

This novel is currently available on Amazon.com (where I purchased my copy) in both hardcover and Kindle format.

xo The Book Bird 

The Traitor’s Wife by Allison Pataki – A Review

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Based on all of the quiet buzz that is happening around this novel (the movie rights were sold earlier this year), I had higher expectations. Allison Pataki’s “The Traitor’s Wife” is basically a B-rate piece of historical fiction.

My main beef with this book was that the plot plods along without much purpose, and I felt absolutely no urgency to finish it. Fortunately Pataki provides the reader with a decent protagonist, former-farm girl Clara Bell, who finds herself in the employ of the Shippen family follow the death of her last living relatives. It is there that she encounters the Shippen’s youngest daughter, Peggy, future wife of Benedict Arnold.

While the novel focuses on the relationship between Clara and Peggy (somewhat enjoyable/believable), it is somewhat embarrassingly short on actual history. The total number of conversations around politics, or scenes that explained Peggy’s motivations, could probably be counted on two hands in this lengthy novel.

An OK read for the beach, I found myself skimming more than absorbing. That said, this novel is available via the NYPL (both in physical and eReader formats) – definitely a book I would suggest borrowing vs. buying.

xo The Book Bird