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review 2020-02-21 22:58
Conspiracy theory, twist and turns, revenge and a touch of the supernatural
The Other People - C.J. Tudor

Thanks to NetGalley and to Penguin UK for providing me an ARC copy of this novel, which I freely chose to review.

I have read and reviewed the two previous novels published by this author (The Chalk Man and The Taking of Annie Thorne) and enjoyed them both, although, personally, I was bowled over by the first, and slightly less so by the second. This one, for me, falls somewhere in between. The premise behind the book is gripping, and it’s impossible not to put yourself in the shoes of the main character, Gabe, and imagine what having such an experience would feel like. The premise is quite intriguing; there are many twists and turns, and although thriller lovers might guess some aspects of the plot, the story is build up in such a way that it’s difficult to get the full picture until you’re quite close to the end. On the other hand, the supernatural element and the way the story is told might not be to everybody’s taste.

I will not go into a lot of detail about the plot, because I think the description gives a good indication of what readers might find, and I want to avoid spoilers. Some aspects of the story will seem fairly familiar to followers of the genre (and to those who also watch a lot of thriller, mystery, and action movies); the book itself mentions Hitchcock’s Strangers in a Train, and readers will think about many other films (I also thought about the Lady Vanishes, although more modern versions also exist, and similar movies where somebody goes missing and nobody believes the story of the person trying to find him or her, be it a relative, or a total stranger), but Tudor is very skilled at mixing what appear to be disparate elements and creating something new and fresh. There is also a good dose of conspiracy theory behind the story (a very interesting part of it, dark web and all, although perhaps one that is not explained in as much detail as some readers would like), and, as I have mentioned, a supernatural element as well. I enjoyed the overall story and how it was developed, although I got the sense that this is a novel best read quickly and taken at face value, as it does require a fairly large dose of suspension of disbelief, and if readers stop to analyse every little detail, they’re likely to find fault with it. The supernatural element means that people looking for a totally plausible and convincing thriller will be disappointed, but because that part of the story is not fully explained either, fans of the supernatural might feel cheated as well, although those who prefer the magical/unexplained elements of a story to remain open to interpretation, will be happy.

The story deals in a variety of subjects like grief, loss, revenge, regret, remorse, punishment, family relationships, truth and lies, love, making amends, and it questions our sense of justice. How far would we go to get justice if we lost a loved one due to somebody else’s actions? What would be the right price to pay? Can we truly forgive and forget? What about extenuating circumstances? Is an eye for an eye the only kind of justice we understand? And where does it stop? The three main characters (Gabe, Fran, and Katie) reflect upon very similar topics throughout the book, and there are many quotable and memorable fragments, although some reviewers were not too enamoured with this aspect of the novel, as they felt it detracted from the flow of the book (I enjoyed them, but sometimes the “kill your darlings” advice came to mind, and the reflections by the different characters were not always distinct enough to differentiate between them or help create an image of the characters’ personalities in the mind of the reader).

I’ve mentioned the three characters already, and they are introduced to us through their actions and the story —as we meet them in the thick of things— rather than as individuals with their distinct personalities and belief systems. We slowly learn more about them as the novel progresses, and we discover that although the story is told in the third person, mostly from the points of view of the three protagonists (but not exclusively), that does not mean we get an accurate depiction of their lives and past. While Tudor’s two previous novels where written in the first person, and both narrators were notably unreliable, I wouldn’t say the change in the point of view results in an objective account. In fact, by following the three characters —that we might suspect are linked although we don’t know how at first— we get different aspects and alternating versions of events that eventually fit together (and we also see each character through the eyes and perspective of the others). I am not sure how convincing I found any of the characters. I quite liked Katie, perhaps because I feel she’s the more consistent and well described of the three, and she tries hard to do the right thing. While I empathised with Gabe due to his situation (as most readers are likely to do), this was more at an intellectual level, rather than because of personal affinity, and for me, my sympathy decreased the more I learned about him, although I admit he is an interesting character. Fran… well, we don’t learn as much about her as about the others, and like Gabe, we discover things about her that make us question what we thought we knew (although less so than with Gabe). I did like the girl, but we only briefly get to see things from her point of view, and her reflections seem very grown up for her age, although it’s true that her circumstances are pretty unique. There is also a baddy, although we don’t learn who that is until the end (but I think a lot of readers will have their suspicions before they reach that point), a character that weighs heavily on the story despite not playing too active a role, and some pretty mysterious characters, that are not fully explained, especially one. Yes, I know I sound mysterious, but it’s truly intentional.

I’ve read some reviews complaining of the changes in point of view, saying that it’s confusing. I didn’t find it so, and as I said, I also enjoyed the character’s pseudo-philosophical reflections, although they did not always help advance the plot, but this book combines a variety of genres, and I felt the writing style suited the combination well. It is not purely action driven, and the narration is not just scene after scene pushing the plot forward, but that also helps give readers time to digest the story and to keep trying to work out how all the parts fit in. In my opinion, Tudor writes very well, and I wonder in which direction her writing will go in the future.

Just a couple of quotes from the book:

People say hate and bitterness will destroy you. They’re wrong. It’s hope. Hope will devour you from the inside like a parasite. It will leave you hanging like bait above a shark. But hope won’t kill you. It’s not that kind.

‘A fresh start.’ Fresh start. Like life was a carton of milk. When one went sour you threw it out and opened another.

Regarding the ending… Well, I’ve already mentioned that the supernatural element is not fully explained, and some readers were very annoyed by that, either because they felt it was unnecessary to the story and it detracted from the overall credibility of the plot, or because they thought that the supernatural aspect of the story should have been developed further rather than just introduced and left to readers’ imagination. There is a fair amount of telling at the end, and it did remind me of classical mysteries, where one of the characters would piece together the explanation after talking to everybody and getting all the facts, summarising the story to make sure everything was clear. The many twists mean that we get some false endings as well and there is an epilogue that finalises everything, introducing a hopeful note as well and one not as hopeful. As I have mentioned before, the ending makes sense in the context of the story, but this is not a police procedural, and I’m sure sticklers for details and those who are looking for something totally realistic might question it. Considering the many different threads weaved by the novel, I thought the ending was quite successful in bringing it all together, with the caveats mentioned.

In sum, this is a book I’d recommend to those who enjoy thrillers that combine a number of different elements, very twisty, not too focused on strict realism and consistent characters, and who don’t mind a touch of the supernatural. It is not a fast and quick thriller, but rather one that builds up at a slower pace, with detours that allow the reader to reflect upon subjects pertinent to the genre. Many interesting elements, intriguing characters, and good writing. I wonder where the writer will go next, and I wouldn’t mind following her into other genres.

 

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review 2020-01-23 16:57
The Boy Who Flew - Fleur Hitchcock

I almost hit a reading slump with this one. The Boy Who Flew promises to be an action filled, roof top jumping, murder mystery caper but what we actually get is a poor attempt at being a children's Charles Dickens and not much of anything happening.

I wasn't a fan of the way women were portrayed in this book. More than one was given a basic 'crazy' stereotype, with Athan's Grandmother yelling about how his disabled sister was a changeling, scorned lovers and the crazy woman singing in the corner. Athan's two sisters were pictured as being dependent on the 'man' of the household and all I can tell you about Mary is that she sews.

This book when to bizarre and disgusting places, with Athan at one point digging around in a toilet to find an object Mr Chen had hidden. Most of the secondary characters felt like strange caricatures of previous Dickens characters - Oliver Twist, Tiny Tim, Bill Sykes.

I thought this was set in some sort of generic Victorian London but another reviewer has worked out that it is in fact Georgian Bath. It didn't feel a thing like Bath, I've been there.

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review 2019-08-06 03:55
Hitchcock-style caper has an emotional core and moves at a break-neck speed; pick up this high-stakes YA thriller from Derek Milman for an exciting summer read
Swipe Right For Murder - Derek Milman

RELEASES TUESDAY AUGUST 6, 2019!

 

This is the sophomore novel from the immensely talented and wildly unique Derek Milman, who previously gave us the quirky and brilliant YA novel, ‘Scream All Night.’

Milman steps it up a notch in this one, bringing readers something close to the anxiety-fueled capers of Hitchcock, but with an emotionally-fueled story  at its core, something he seriously does best.

 

‘Swipe Right’ is a high-stakes genre-bending murder mystery, with classic elements like a case of mistaken identity, running from the good guys (the FBI) and being targeted by the bad guys (a crazy, murderous cult). There are dead bodies, accusations of cyber-terrorism, and it all starts with a deadly DirtyPaws hookup in a hotel room.

What makes this incredibly fresh and compelling for readers of YA, is the fantastically honest character portrayal of a young gay man, the main character Aidan Jamison. He is flawed, and arrogant, funny, charming, and he is struggling with his independence from his family, while receiving warnings from friends who seriously are worried about his recklessness. Amid all the action, and dark comedy that’s packed into this book (one of my favorite things about Derek’s writing), Aidan is forced to face his disturbing past and relationships.

 

‘Swipe Right’ moves at a break-neck speed as Aidan races to solve the crime that he’s implicated in, without getting killed or arrested, and finds out a lot about himself while he’s ‘on the lam.’ His character arc is natural and necessary and kept you rooting for him. Derek just knows how to write compelling, flawed characters and knows how to really get you to feel.

 

It’s exciting, funny, relatable, and it’s hard not to get wrapped up in Aidan’s story of emotional highs and lows as well as Milman’s writing really quickly. I swooped in quickly on Derek’s first book and became a fast fan of his, and now I’m already wondering what he will be doing next. This must be your summer thriller read for 2019!

Source: www.goodreads.com/book/show/39678946-swipe-right-for-murder
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text 2019-06-04 03:44
BEA 2019, Pt 3- The Loot

Got some good stuff at this year's BEA.  My summer is fully booked. 

 

A Heart so Fierce & Broken 
 
Africaville 
 
American Dirt
 
 
Bluff
 
 
Cursed
 
 
Dear Haiti, Love Alaine...
 
 
How to be an AntiRacist
 
 
Imaginary Friend
 
 
Information Wars
 
 
Lalani of the Distant Sea
 
 
Little Weirds
 
 
Me & White Supremacy
 
 
Motherhood so White
 
 
Moving Forward
 
 
Oblivion or Glory
 
 
Princess of the Hither Isles
 
 
Secret Service
 
 
Serpent & Dove
 
 
Sophia, Princess among Beasts
 
 
The Dreaming Tree
 
 
The Flight Girls
 
 
The Nanny
 
 
The Passengers
 
 
The Science of Game of Thrones
 
 
The Storm Crow
 
 
The Water Dancer
 
 
Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky
 
 
A ASWanderers
 
 
Witcraft
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review 2019-03-11 06:25
Alfred Hitchcock's Ghostly Gallery
Alfred Hitchcock's Ghostly Gallery: Eleven spooky stories for young people - Alfred Hitchcock

When I was a kid, there were a couple of Alfred Hitchcock anthologies on our shelves, but since Scooby Doo scared the crap out of me, I'd never really do more than take them off the shelve and stare at the covers.

 

Now I'm just about a hardened enough cynic to be able to finally read the stories and delight in them.  This one had a cover that looks vaguely Autumnal, which I needed for a challenge, and that was a good enough excuse. 

 

11 stories, most better than average.  The first one, Miss Emmeline Takes Off, was just purely delightful in that way it feels like authors today just never achieve.  I doubt it would have even scared little-kid me, and I further doubt it was written to be; I imagine my nieces giggling in delight over this one.

 

The Valley of the Beasts by Algernon Blackwood was, far and away, my favorite as an adult.  The writing was gorgeous and the plot, while incredibly simple, was a morality tale that never dates.  A lot of people today would read this and think "racist!!", as Blackwood's choice of character descriptions is revealing of the sensibilities of his time and age.  Those people would miss the forest for the trees;  I'd argue there's a definite satiric bent to his word choices, because it's the Native Canadian Indian that comes out of the story as hero, and the white Englishman who has a much deeper lesson about life and morality shoved (deservedly) down his throat.

 

The Haunted Trailer was the weakest of the collection for me; very meh.  As was The Truth About Pyecraft by H.G. Wells, though it has an ironic twist that's very Poe.  The Wonderful Day is another delight; the best of Karmic fantasy.  In a Dim Room won the kewpie doll for most unexpected ending.  It's short, abrupt and it works.  The Waxworks by A.M. Burrage is hands down the spookiest and would definitely have scared younger-me, as would The Upper Berth by F. Marion Crawford.

 

The final story is The Isle of Voices by Robert Louis Stevenson.  The plot didn't do that much for me, but the writing is wonderful.  Nothing scary about it either, for either now-me or then-me.  But it definitely made me curious about finally getting around to reading more of his work.

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