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

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

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

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

Bunny by Mona Awad | Book Review

★★★☆☆
February 2nd – 6th

I have… no idea what I just read. This book was pitched to me as Heathers meets The Craft with horror elements. I was expecting Horror with a capital H. What Bunny left me with was a surrealist commentary on writing that ended up becoming exactly what it was making fun of. Maybe that’s the point and I didn’t “get it”, but who knows.

Here’s the thing: I love horror, but I’m really picky. When I think horror, I want a sense of dread. I want high stakes that the reader can feel. I want a sinister presence, paranormal or not, that keeps me turning each page. I didn’t get that at all with Bunny. It had some gore, some body modification and general weird-ness, but not that full horror that I expected. I think that this is a very horror-lite experience.

Bunny is a book about Samantha Heather Mackey, a senior in an elite creative writing program. She’s a loner, with only the company of her friend Ava to help her through the difficulties of her program. Then there are the Bunnies, a clique of girls who share Samantha’s program, and who affectionately refer to each other as Bunny.

This book used the word Bunny every other sentence, at least, and the writing style was definitely something that I had to get used to. It’s full of italicized versions of what the Bunnies or thinking, or really what Samantha thinks the Bunnies are thinking. (You’re so amazing Bunny. You too, Bunny. So amazing. So.)

One of the quotes in the book I think sums up my experience reading it perfectly:


This makes no sense. This is coy and this is willfully obscure and no one but [the author] will ever get this […] spoiled, fragmented, lazy, pretentious […] And then I feel like screaming JUST SAY IT. TELL ME WHAT HAPPENED. TELL ME WHAT THE F*CK THIS MEANS

When I read this character’s quote I felt like I read the entire summary of Bunny. Again, maybe this is supposed to be the point of the book. I feel like this is the type of book to go into blind and without any preconceived notions of what’s happening in here. I won’t go into the full plot or mystical element to the book, but my favorite part of the book is that it’s one big metaphor for authors needing to “kill their darlings”, which is referenced multiple times.

Overall, it was okay. It’s definitely not like anything I’ve ever read before, but ultimately I felt that Bunny became what it was seeking to parody.

-Siobhan

Severance by Ling Ma | Book Review

★★★☆☆
January 31st – February 1st

I have so many mixed feelings about this book. At its core, I enjoyed the plot, the characters, the writing style, and the message behind it. I fully recognize that in this case, I just didn’t mesh well with this book, and that this review is based almost entirely on how I felt during my reading experience. I found it difficult to read, and it gave me a lot of anxiety. I ended up finishing it because not knowing how everything ended was much worse than going through. I’m glad that I pushed through to the ending, because I found that the best, and most redeeming aspect of the story.

This book follows Candace Chen, a Chinese woman whose family immigrated to the US when she was six years old. It goes through her relationships with her boyfriend, her parents, her coworkers and her friends, as well as her job. It also follows her as civilization collapses around her due to an epidemic which leaves people infected and zombie-like.

The best way I can describe this book is sleepy. It drifts from one memory of Candace’s to the next, without quotations for dialogue or break-ups in the story or flow. There isn’t a lot of action or compelling movement in the book, it seems almost tired and routine. It makes perfect sense, given the subject matter and the “point” of the book, but it was definitely a writing style that took me a long time to get into.

For some reason this book really just struck a chord with me in a way that created dissonance in my brain. It made me feel anxious, and though I loved the story that was told (especially the ending, more on that in a minute) I didn’t enjoy the reading experience because of it. I don’t know if I would recommend this book, which is somewhat disappointing, because there were aspects of it I loved.

Now, let’s tackle the ending.

I read so many reviews after I finished this, trying to see if there were other people who found the book anxiety producing. The results were mixed, but none of the people who rated it similarly to me were doing so for the same reason, and most of them talked about the ending being a let-down. In my opinion, the ending was the best part of the book. I’m getting into spoiler territory here, so here’s your warning.

I thought the ending of the book was absolutely perfect. The entire time we’re following Candace, she has a feeling that the fevered are stuck in their memories, plagued by nostalgia and routine, and both drawn to it and triggered when they get close to it. We see this when Bob is walking around the Facility. We see this when one of the other survivors tries on her dresses over and over. They end up falling into these routines because they’re finally back home, and many times they’re fighting to get back to their homes, and they don’t quite know why.

The entire book we’re stuck inside of Candace’s memories, as she relives her childhood, her parents coming to the US, her parents’ death, and the last days of her job. Candace’s love for cities and walking around them is brought up multiple times, and my interpretation of the book is very much that she was fevered and resumed her walking routine at the end. I could be totally off-base in this, but this interpretation makes the most sense to me. This was my favorite part of the book.

This is Ling Ma’s first book, and based on how much I loved the ending alone I’ll definitely check out her work in the future to see how it compares.

-Siobhan

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng | Book Review

★★★★★
January 27th – 30th

I feel like it was really only last year that I discovered that I can actually enjoy literary fiction. Last year, I read Normal People and found that I really liked dipping into those two character’s lives. I felt really similarly about Little Fires Everywhere.

This book has one of the most unique writing styles that I’ve ever read. The main plot of the book follows Mia, an artist who moves and travels constantly with her daughter Pearl. They move into the rental property owned by Mr. and Mrs. Richardson, a wealthy family living in Shaker Heights with their four children. It also follows Bebe, a Chinese woman who abandoned her baby in an act of desperation, and then regretted the decision immediately, and Mr. and Mrs. McCollough who have been trying for a baby for years and are trying to adopt Bebe’s baby.

The way this is written provides so much background to the actions of every single character, explaining why they think the way they do, and why they behave the way they do. I loved the exploration into these characters, and the issues of race, and parenting, relationships between parents and their children that this book had.

The ending to me was also perfect. I loved that this was a slice of these people’s lives, and though it provided some insight into what they would go on to do or think, I enjoyed that everything wasn’t resolved, or fixed, because so often things aren’t.

I’m really excited to get to Celeste Ng’s other book Everything I Never Told You soon.

-Siobhan