Book Review: The House at Bishopsgate by Katie Hickman

The House at Bishopsgate by Katie Hickman

This is the third book in The Aviary Gate series, so there’s going to be spoilers in here for the first two books in the series.

________________________________________________________________________________

Merchant Paul Pindar and his wife, Celia (recently rescued from slavery in a Turkish harem) are moving back to England from Aleppo. Thrust suddenly into English high society (foaming at the mouth due to rumors of Celia’s past and a huge fortune in gemstones owned by Paul), Celia finds old traumas and anxieties reemerging, and finds herself relying on the widowed Lady Frances Sydenham to help her manage the household and reintegrate into society. As the woman becomes more and more indispensable to the household, her power over both Celia and Paul grows. What game is she playing, and what are her plans for the household and its inhabitants?

I was unaware when I started this book that there were others in the series, and let me tell you now, this is not a book you can really read on it’s own merits. There is a lot of backstory here, and as you read further and further you become aware that you have missed out on more and more.

Hickman does a great job with period detail, working in the tiny things that make a scene complete. Her descriptions of 17th century Aleppo and England, and the people who inhabit them, are well crafted and historically accurate. The story builds off of several threads, which weave together into a slow burning suspense.

So, if you’ve read the previous two books and enjoyed them, then The House at Bishopsgate is for you. If you’ve not yet started the series, then you should really go back and start from the beginning on order to get the full experience of this book.

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

Book Review: I Am No One by Patrick Flannery

I Am No One by Patrick Flannery

Jeremy O’Keefe is your average, everyday NYU history professor. Nothing special or remarkable to make him stick out from a crowd, except perhaps for a decade spent teaching overseas at Oxford University. Then, one day, he goes to a cafe to meet one of his graduate students and is stood up. Returning to his office, he finds he emailed said student earlier that day, asking for a postponement . . . but he has no memory of sending that email. Strange events continue to build: people who seem to be following him, or waiting outside his home and his office–staring in through the windows. The events culminate when he is sent a plain brown box, a box that contains a computer printout of every website he has ever visited in the past decade. The line between paranoia and true persecution continues to blur as Jeremy finds himself at the center of an incredibly large and complex, yet faceless surveillance. What could he possibly have done to make himself such a target?

Flannery has a very flowing, lyrical writing style. The book, written in the first person, flows and skips along in the vein of a free association memoir. Jeremy O’Keefe, who’s focus of study is surveillance within totalitarian states, is a man who seems to harbor more than the usual amount of baseline paranoia. As the events in the book continue to pile up upon his consciousness, that natural high functioning paranoia begins to change into something darker. Self doubt begins with worries of dementia, of fugue states, then transfers to the possibility of serious mental disorder, then finally to certainty, and the corresponding uncertainty of who to trust.

The beginning of the book was incredibly interesting. Flannery does a great job in his creation of Jeremy O’Keefe; the character is complex, multidimensional, and very relatable. The uncertainty whether Jeremy’s paranoia is justified and to what extent, combined with the slow unraveling of the events of his life over the past decade, form an intriguing little mystery as the reliability of our narrator is called into question. Unfortunately, the tension that underscores the first part of the book is not maintained, leaving the ending flat, anticlimactic, and unsatisfying. As the final parts of the book see the puzzle pieces fall into place, the revelation of the truth should be disturbing and electrifying. Unfortunately, the knowledge of the truth pales in comparison to the anxiety of not knowing, and the reader can’t help but feel a bit let down and cheated by how something potentially earth-shattering can feel so banal.

Those who are heavily into psychological thrillers may still want to check out this book for the interesting beginning and the fine characterization of the protagonist. But I feel that most readers will be left frustrated by the lackluster ending.

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

 Book Review: Universal Harvester by John Darnielle

Universal Harvester by John Darnielle

This book was included in Powell’s Indiespensable #61, and the description was so intriguing that I sat down and started reading it then and there.

The book primarily follows Jeremy Heldt, high school grad and video store employee in Nevada, Iowa in the mid 1990s. Life is fairly normal for Jeremy, he lives with his father, the two carrying on quietly after the death of his mother several years ago in a car crash. 

The peace and quiet is slowly broken apart when a customer comes into the store, saying that her rental “has another movie on it.” When a second customer comes in complaning of te same thing, Jeremy investigates. Playing the movie through, a black and white film, barely a minute long, has been inserted into the middle of the movie. Though there’s nothing concrete in the short film, it is vaguely unsettling. When other films begin appearing in other movies at the store, the creep factor goes up exponentially. Moreover, there are familiar landmarks in the background of these strange, vaguely threatening films . . .

I really enjoyed this book. Darnielle has a writing style that manages to be descriptive and stark at the same time. In addition, the book is told from the point of view of a smugly omniscient narrator who seems to delight in keeping bits an pieces back from the reader. We are instead forced to circle around the mystery behind the tapes like a vulture, seeing only the smallest parts at a time. The whole thing reminds me of  House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski. With that book, it was hard to pin down what exactly was so creepy, but it kept you up at night.

Fans of psychological suspense will like this book. It’s a finely creepy sophomore work from an up-and-coming author.