The Other People by C.J. Tudor | Book Review

★★★★☆
February 23rd – 24th

This was the February pick for the Literally Dead Book Club hosted by booksandlala on YouTube. I’m so glad that she picked this, because I’ve had my eye on trying a C.J. Tudor book for a while now. I wasn’t sure whether to start with The Chalk Man or The Hiding Place, so I was thrilled that this was the first pick for this horror/thriller book club.

The Other People feels like one of those books that starts with a bang and then keeps on going. It felt to me like the whole book flew by in an instant, and I’m still not sure if that was a good thing or a bad thing for the book’s pacing.

We start with Gabe, a man on his way home to meet his wife and daughter, who’s stuck in traffic. The car in front of him is covered in terrible bumperstickers, and through the back window, Gabe thinks he sees his daughter Izzy’s face. Gabe attempts to chase the car, but loses it in the traffic. He tries to call his wife from a service station, but a detective answers the phone instead.

Fast forward about three years. Gabe now travels up and down the highway looking for the car which he believes stole his daughter. We also get chapters from Katie, a woman who works at a service station, Fran, a woman seemingly on the run with a young girl named Alice, and intermittent chapters about a girl in a hospital bed.

I really enjoyed this book. I loved Gabe’s character, and I especially loved Katie’s character and her devotion to her kids in this book. The story really played on the relationship between parents and younger children, and it was interesting to see three different types of these relationships.

The best part of the book to me was the unexplained magical element which kept me reading from very early on. There were elements to this book which I was baffled by early on, and was unsure if it was meant to be magical or if there was going to be a real-world explanation. I tend to really like unexplained magic in books, but I mostly like it when it’s perceived as normal to the characters around it. The magic in this book is tied to Alice’s character, and because we don’t see from her perspective, I felt that the magic element in the book didn’t come across as intended. That being said, I enjoyed the type of magic and the additions it made to the story.

Without getting into spoilers, I found the explanation of The Other People as an entity to be interesting (and sometimes unintentionally funny). I liked the way this was presented, but I found it to sometimes be a bit farfetched.

I’m really excited to go back and read C.J. Tudor’s previous two novels, as well as their next book coming out in 2021.

-Siobhan

Author Spotlight – Sylvain Neuvel

Sylvain Neuvel is the type of author I wish I could be. After dropping out of high school at age 15 and working various types of jobs across different countries, he received his B.A. and Ph.D. in linguistics. He then wrote his first book, Sleeping Giants, which combined his love of science fiction with his love of robots. That series, The Themis Files came out right as I was getting back into reading, and is one of the series I credit with reigniting my love for science fiction, and for journal/epistolary formats.

Now, Neuvel has written all three novels in The Themis Files, as well as four novellas in the universe. All of these books have heartwarming characters, realistic relationships that don’t feel made from convenience, and the type of science fiction that I absolutely adore. Neuvel also wrote a novella last year titled The Test, a short dystopian about a citizenship test in Britain that feels like watching an episode of Black Mirror.

As a person, I look up to Neuvel so much. He’s family driven, likes sharing things that he thinks are cool and interesting, and writes as a passion. I admire his dedication to his family as much as his work, and how he shows that anyone can write.

Neuvel has a new series announced online, but that doesn’t yet have confirmed cover art or a release date other than 2020. The series is supposedly titled Take Them to the Stars, with the first book in the series listed as A History of What Comes Next. I’m really excited for this new series, and I’ve been watching his website and twitter closely to see if there’s any news about it. Hopefully we get some more information soon, but I know that I’ll read anything that he writes.

-Siobhan

Sadie by Courtney Summers | Book Review

★★★★★
February 19th – 22nd

I really like crime stories and podcasts. Like a lot of people my age, I listened to the spin-off podcast by This American Life called Serial when it originally came out in 2014, bringing the murder of Hae Min Lee to the spotlight and questioning the conviction of her then-boyfriend Adnan Syed.

In Sadie, we have a very similar situation. After the murder of her sister, Sadie disappears without a trace. Her grandmother is desperate for answers and asks a radio station for help in tracking down Sadie. The podcast, titled The Girls follows Sadie’s path as she attempts to track down a man she’s calling her father, and follows the host’s (West’s) attempt to find her before she meets the same fate as her sister.

At the same time, we see Sadie’s side of the story. Sadie, who practically raised her younger sister Mattie was devastated by her murder and was never the same. She’s seeking revenge from a man who she believes did it, and she’ll stop at nothing to try and find him and make him pay.

Sadie’s chapters are full of anger for the loss of her sister, frustration at a stutter that makes it difficult for her to speak, and dedication to enact revenge on the man she knows is responsible. West’s chapters are told in the form of the podcast script, revealing information that goes in conjunction with Sadie’s journey and helping to uncover horrific things in Sadie’s past and help find her.

I both read this book physically and listened to the audiobook of it, but this is one audiobook that I highly recommend. It’s read by a full cast, all of whom are extremely talented. The podcast chapters are edited and mixed as an actual podcast, and the voice for Sadie is gripping and as angry as she’s written. I’ll get into some mild spoilers in a moment, but if you’re someone who needs content warnings for media, I would definitely look into the type of content that’s in this. That being said, I do believe that the best way to go into mysteries/thrillers is to go in as blind as possible, so I’d also recommend that.

Now for the spoilers.

This book tackles a lot of heavy topics: the murder and sudden death of a family member, dealing with an parent with addiction, the parentification of Sadie raising her younger sister and making excuses for her mother, as well as the strong prominence of child abuse and pedophilia which is unfortunately present in Sadie’s life. I think this book handles each of these topics in very sensitive ways, not shying away from the horror, but not making light of any of the situations.

The ending of the book I think is extremely strong, though I did see that this is the most divisive part of the book. I’m not someone who needs every answer to a mystery. It’s nice when it happens, but I find that it’s much more realistic for things to be left more open-ended. As with the podcast Serial there are so many possibilities, and we’re able to explore one of them.

This was the fist novel that I read by Courtney Summers. Though I’m not sure the plot of any of her older books appeal to me, I’ll definitely keep my eye on what she comes out with in the future.

-Siobhan

Creatures of the Night Book Tag

I haven’t done a book tag since last June when I did the Mid-Year Freakout Tag and I’ve been itching to do another one. Since I now have the availability of my Monday posts, I found a few tags which have interested me that I’ll be posting over the next few months.

This is the Creatures of the Night Book Tag, which was created by katytastic on YouTube. I saw it adapted for blogs from Dreamland Book Blog, who posted it a really long time ago. The tag gives different popular monsters which appear in books/media, and I’ll pick my favorite from the ones I’ve read.

– Werewolf –
Is it weird that the only books I’ve read with werewolves are Harry Potter and the Twilight books? I tried looking into some other books which might interest me and include these moonlight shapeshifters, but I haven’t found anything quite yet. I’ll keep my eye out! For now I guess I’ll choose Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban?

– Zombie –
Severance by Ling Ma has stuck with me since I read it last month. Even though at the time I only gave the book three stars, I find myself thinking about this book all the time, and I definitely think it’s the best zombie book that I’ve read.

– Witch/Warlock/Spellcaster –
I really don’t want to also choose Harry Potter for this, though that is my favorite. I’m going to say Red Sister by Mark Lawrence because that’s one of the only other books that I’ve read which includes some spell casting, I suppose? I loved the finale of this series and I’m super excited to continue reading more of Mark Lawrence’s previous and future series.

– Fairy/Fae –
I know that this is a more prominent part of the sequel to this book, but since I haven’t read that one yet I’m going with the only book I’ve read where this is mentioned which is The Name of the Wind. I really want the third book to get a release date so that I can re-read the first and finally get to the second book. It was one of the best books I read a few years ago, and I’ve been waiting to dive into the rest of the series for what feels like forever.

– Demon –
My Best Friend’s Exorcism by Grady Hendrix is a no-brainer. We knew at least one Hendrix novel was going to make it onto this list, and it had to be the first one I read from him. I can’t thank the staff at my local Barnes & Noble enough for the recommendation of this book, because it reintroduced me to horror in a huge way and has led me down genre paths I never would have explored otherwise.

– Angel –
Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor was one of the first series I read when I was seriously getting back into reading, and it’s probably the series I recommend the most. Full of angels, demons, and everything in between, I loved the mystical element and the setting of this book.

– Alien –
An Absolutely Remarkable Thing by Hank Green was a really interesting alien novel to me which plays into the culture of viral videos and dealing with that level of internet fame. I really liked this book when it originally came out, and the sequel is one of my most highly anticipated books of the year.

– Superpowered Human –
Vicious by V.E. Schwab is the most perfect representation of this type of monster. The characters in this book turn themselves into superheroes for a college project, and the rivalry between the two is unparalleled in any other book I’ve read so far. Though this was originally a standalone, a sequel came out last year and another is planned for next yer. I’ll read anything that V.E. Schwab writes, so I’m extremely excited for that as well.

– Vampire –
For the final two monsters on this list, I wanted to mention two books that have these monsters and that I’m looking forward to reading. Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires by Grady Hendrix comes out in April, and it’s easily my most highly anticipated book of the year.

– Ghost –
We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson is a classic horror novel and one which I’m really eager to get to as I try and visit the roots of the genre. In reading recommendations, this is one of the most quintessential ghost stories written by one of the best horror writers ever.

That’s the end of the Creatures of the Night Book Tag. I really enjoyed trying to figure out which of these creatures I’ve read and which I need more of in my life (looking at you, ghosts and werewolves…) As I continue to read horror and thriller novels in the future I think I’d like to revisit this tag to see how my answers have changed.

-Siobhan

The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers | Book Review

★★★★☆
February 12th – 19th

I sometimes forget how much I really enjoy science fiction. If something has a cast of characters, especially multiple perspectives from them, I’m usually in. It’s the reason I like The Themis Files by Sylvain Neuvel, and the reason I enjoyed Illuminae when I read those.

This book had been recommended to me several times, and my partner had purchased it a while ago. I got to it first, and I’m very glad that I did. The book was fantastic. It stars a full cast of diverse characters of different species, orientations, races, physical abilities and disabilities. It has politics and tension, and the mundane aspects of working and living on a spaceship headed for new territory.

The story starts with Rosemary, a girl who’s running from her past and accepts a job aboard the Wayfarer, a ship whose job is tunneling black holes for easier space travel. They accept a job to create a tunnel to a planet who has just joined the GC, basically the UN for planets and races. In the cast of characters we also follow the captain of the Wayfarer, Ashby, the pilot, Sissex, two technicians, Kizzy and Jenks, as well as Dr. Chef and a few other characters who are each given time to shine in their own chapters.

We learn about the backgrounds of the individual characters, the circumstances that brought them to the Wayfarer, as well as the history between their species and the GC, and we see the political, racial, and socio-economic tension that exists between all of these different groups.

My biggest complaint was the writing style. Ending most pieces of dialogue with “they said” was distracting, and there were times that the character’s personalities felt forced and not totally smooth or natural. Sometimes this also bled into the chemistry between characters, though most of that dissipated by the middle of the book. There were large info-dumps of important information which you felt that you should have known several chapters ago, and sometimes it felt like things weren’t explained at all. In contrast, there were also page-long dialogue sequences where the main character was asking the questions as the audience, mainly so another character could explain what was happening.

I liked the commentary the book made on the environment, on humans, and on what our species did to itself. I enjoyed the creativity of the different cultures, specifically with the types of languages we see and the ways they were spoken (such as on inhales as well as exhale, or with multiple simultaneous tones.) I’m really excited to continue this series and see where it leads, and I can’t wait to pick up the next book soon.

-Siobhan

What’s Horror?

I’ve been having this problem lately with the horror that I’m reading: I don’t feel like it’s horror.

Three of the last books I’ve read (Severance by Ling Ma, Bunny by Mona Awad, and The Saturday Night Ghost Club by Craig Davidson) are classified as horror. I discussed this a little bit in my review of Bunny, but when something is listed as horror, I want it to be horrifying. I want dread and high stakes and some kind of impending doom. In these last three books, I didn’t get that. Each of them had a slow feeling which was almost dream-like. In all three books I didn’t feel like there was enough happening to really make me feel like there was no way out, or that the main character was trapped in their circumstances and situation.

This led me to post on the horror lit subreddit, one of my new favorite places to go for horror recommendations, and to see what horror other people are reading. I mentioned the problem I was having, and asked if anyone had recommendations for what specific types of horror I should look for in order to avoid these sleepy stories.

The main recommendation was a book that I had been looking into reading for about a year now. Paperbacks from Hell by Grady Hendrix is a non-fiction book which covers the horror trends of the 70’s and 80’s. I’ll be diving more into my thoughts about the book in my review, but this definitely helped me look into new genres. Did I like animal or monster based horror? Creepy children, or dipping into the satanic panic which ravaged this time? A lot of these books, are cheesy and a bit over-the-top. Don’t get me wrong, I love that type of horror, but it doesn’t scare me as much as make me laugh.

I received other recommendations for horror too, some of which I’m really looking forward to checking out. These include:

The Last Days of Jack Sparks by Jason Arnopp
Tales from the Gas Station by Jack Townsend
Haunted by Chuck Palanhiuk
Skullcrack City by Robert Johnson
Gil’s All Fright Diner by A. Lee Martinez
Christine by Stephen King

All of these novels are said to combine horror with a bit of comedy, like most of my favorites (John Dies at the End, We Sold Our Souls, and My Best Friend’s Exorcism) do so well. I’m excited to dive into these quirky and horror-filled worlds, but I also want to know if this genre has a name, and what it would be.

I’m excited to keep looking for horror that I love, and to continue on defining my weird comedy/horror preferences.

-Siobhan

The Saturday Night Ghost Club by Craig Davidson | Book Review

★★★★☆
February 8th – 12th

This book was the third attempt of mine in a row to find some really intense horror. This had good reviews, and had the word ghost in the title, so I figured it was what I was looking for.

I was wrong about part of my thought process. This isn’t really horror, at least how I define it. It has a few horror elements, but it’s very reminiscent of Stephen Spielberg movies, 80’s childhood nostalgia, riding bicycles around a suburban town, and exploring mysterious places.

The story is told as our narrator in his adulthood revisiting his childhood memories, as he chooses to remember them. That includes the idea that his uncle, Calvin, was vague and mysterious and a bit supernatural. He believed, and relished in the idea of conspiracies, hidden societies, ghosts, and demons. And Jake, 12 at the time, loves living in his world. Calvin owns an occult themed shop, selling potions and trinkets, mostly to tourists of their small town near Niagara Falls.

This book is about memory, family, the brain, and everything in between. It’s about how sometimes it’s better to remember people as they want to be remembered, and sometimes you don’t get to remember anyone at all. I think that the best way to go into this book is blind.

The ghosts that follow Calvin are far more than spirits, but I don’t want to get into spoilers here. There are very slight horror elements, but it’s more horror reminiscent than full on horror. This book deals well with mental illnesses, the physical attributes of the brain and how illness manifest themselves, and how families deal with these things.

I really enjoyed what this book did with family dynamics, and I loved how clear the author’s love for Canada is. Craig Davidson has written several other novels, under several pen names. I’ll be checking out more of his work in the future.

-Siobhan