Author: TJ Klune
When a reaper comes to collect Wallace Price from his own funeral, Wallace suspects he really might be dead.
Instead of leading him directly to the afterlife, the reaper takes him to a small village. On the outskirts, off the path through the woods, tucked between mountains, is a particular tea shop, run by a man named Hugo. Hugo is the tea shop’s owner to locals and the ferryman to souls who need to cross over.
But Wallace isn’t ready to abandon the life he barely lived. With Hugo’s help he finally starts to learn about all the things he missed in life.
When the Manager, a curious and powerful being, arrives at the tea shop and gives Wallace one week to cross over, Wallace sets about living a lifetime in seven days.
Under the Whispering Door took the word heart-warming to the extreme. After I adored House in the Cerulean Sea, I did not think that my very high expectations could be met; however, T.J. Klune took those expectations and raised them higher. True there is no baby Lucifer in this novel, but there are multiple characters that I loved. Even if I was not already drawn to the novel based on the cover and author, the concept sounds intriguing. I love the idea of a teashop acting as the waypoint where the living and dead come together as the dead come to terms with their circumstances in order to cross over. The read is first introduced to the main character, Wallace Price, as he is in the middle of listening to one of his staff members spill her personal life to him as she sits in his office. He is indifferent to her feelings as he is in the process of firing her. Right away, the reader has Wallace’s initial character established and his journey begins when he dies a few days later.
At his funeral, Wallace meets Mei, who is a reaper. Her job is to collect him and bring him to Charon’s Crossing Tea and Treats. This is a waypoint for the dead owned and operated by ferryman Hugo Freeman. His teashop not only exists for the dead, but also operates, as an actual teashop for the living, who are unaware of Hugo’s other “supernatural” profession. Naturally, Wallace is confused about everything around him, so Hugo steps in to try and help Wallace understand. Hugo and Mei are not the only ones in Wallace’s company as there is Hugo’s grandfather, Nelson, and Hugo’s dog, Apollo, who are both ghosts, like Wallace. The story follows Wallace as he interacts with this quirky cast of characters at the teashop as he tries to become ready to move on.
At first, I was unsure about Wallace as he was unlikable, however, I did not hate him. To him, he was working hard for his company and did not factor in others’ emotions in order to do the job. He is understandable as his company’s success means a lot to him and his law firm partners. He has an ex-wife, Naomi, that is present at the funeral and her relationship with Wallace is explored throughout the novel. The longer Wallace is at the teashop, the more he connects to its residents. I adored Nelson as he added a nice dash of humor and Apollo was an amazing furry companion. Mei is a little over the top at times, but she was still enjoyable. Finally, Hugo is initially very reserved, but his character slowly reveals itself over time. Wallace forms excellent connections with each character and they are all unique to the point that this group was an excellent family, for me. Normally, in almost all novels, I have a favorite character, or at least a character that is a hair above the rest, but I could not choose on in this novel.
The novel has a lot of humor and the reader goes on a roller coaster ride. Multiple moments in the story are humorous, which provided a nice balance to those heart-warming moments. The themes of life and death, love and loss, and everything in-between are explored in this novel, which I was not expecting. The familial relationships between blood relatives, Hugo and Nelson, and the friendships that are present between all of them was extremely well done; however, the icing on the cake is the romance forming between Hugo and Wallace. It builds very gradually as the two have daily conversations with each other. While they may or may not have an initial attraction, their connection was enjoyable to me based on the two connecting on a personal level. They do not have insta-love nor does their building attraction distract from the main story of Wallace trying to become better before moving on. I greatly admire the author for writing this type of romance as it becomes more meaningful and I, as a reader, become more invested if they will end up together or not. I hope that the author continues to include this style in all the future novels, as I love it.
Overall, this author has a gift for taking initially simplistic characters and stories and turning them into memorable elements. The synopsis does this novel a bit of disservice as it mentions that Wallace has a week to get everything in order. While this is a piece of the plot, it actually does not occur until the seventy-ish percent mark. Instead, there is a lot more character and world building that happens in the novel where this is a tiny piece of the larger plot. The beginning took a me a minute to get into more so than HITCS, but once I was in it I could not put it down. Even though I am not a very emotional reader, I did find my eyes watering at a point or two in the story. Since this is a rarity, I knew I was invested in the story and cannot wait to read the author’s next novel!
**I give a special thank you to Netgalley and the publisher, Tor Books, for the opportunity to read this enjoyable novel. The opinions expressed are completely my own.**