Reads of June 2023

The Other People, C.J.Tudor
First, let me say I like C.J.Tudor’s work and I found the opening of this book gripping. Can’t say I would call it horror unless I count human nature as being horrific. I’ve seen this referenced to Stephen King’s work, but it made me think of Dean Koontz. This is a suspense novel. A thriller. And I found it immensely enjoyable. The whole concept of a father seeing his daughter in the back of a strange car, which he tries to follow and loses track of, is a solid opening. It’s a fabulous book if one overlooks a likely plot hole; namely the incompetency of the police and the simple matter of DNA evidence. This book may have worked if set in another era where forensics weren’t so advanced, and there are also a few supernatural elements that aren’t fully explained… at least not to my satisfaction. In short, a superb book let down by a plot implausibility, which I struggle to believe no one — writer, editor, publisher — spotted. Saying all that, I still enjoyed it enough to suspend disbelief, mainly because of the suspense and will read more by this author.

No One Gets Out Alive (audio), Adam Nevill, read by Colleen Prenderghast
I picked this up for two reasons: It’s one of my favourite horror novels (yes, I’ve already read this), and I’ve enjoyed audio books read by this reader. It’s best to think of it as a book of two halves, though both have their share of scares. Many may feel this book goes on too long, and this especially comes across in narration (and in the second half), but I still enjoyed this story immensely. Some skilled editing could shorten this by making some sentences more concise, but I’d struggle to find much, if anything, worthy of deletion. This tale works as a horror on so many levels. As a ghost story, societal commentary, the isolation and fear of a woman alone, and the helplessness anyone would feel trying to make others accept an unbelievable truth. Suspenseful.

Neil Gaiman at the End of the Universe (audio), Arvind Ethan David, read by Neil Gaiman and Jewel Staite
This is a short audio story only running for approximately 30 minutes. The premise is cute and funny and it’s something I could imagine Neil Gaiman writing. Neil wakes up to discover he’s the one-man crew of a deep space mission and fun ensues. Enjoyable narration and a fun half hour.

Moon Over Soho, Ben Aaronovitch
Must admit I enjoyed this one more than the first in the series, though for most of the book I felt it wouldn’t bother me if I didn’t read more. The plot feels less frantic this time, and there are some excellent chases (especially by ambulance) where I didn’t want to put the book down. Plus a nasty ‘fun’ surprise in a fortune-telling machine. The book still seemed to suffer from a protagonist who seems less interesting that the surrounding characters — as though he’s simply a device to hang everything on. The depth of his character feels a little flat, though maybe this is something that improves with subsequent books. I’ve the third book, so may reserve judgement until I’ve read that. I like this series, but finding it hard to pinpoint exactly why it’s not holding my attention as much as I want it to.

A Monster Calls, Patrick Ness
I knew the story though this is my first reading of this book, but I doubt it will be my last. Technically classed as a book for children, it’s one all of us need to read. Almost all of us will be in young Conor’s position at some point — losing someone we love from an illness. We’ll experience emotions we hate ourselves for, and perhaps, don’t even understand. This book deals with all that and more. It also teaches forgiveness, especially for oneself, and that emotions don’t always surface in the best or most obvious ways. Children may lose some of the nuance depending on age but, if they don’t take to it, I’d recommend trying again as they grow older. Indeed, the older one is, the more this might tear the reader apart. It may well devastate adults more, as we understand the pain in these pages too well. I’d have to place this among the best books ever written, and it’ll break your heart.

Back From the Dead, Chris Petit
I enjoy the occasional thriller, and the idea of letters from a girl long dead intrigued me enough to pick up this (inherited) novel, but I can’t claim to have liked this. The style is wandering with characters I find difficult to bring into focus. There’s no one here to root for, which is usually a requirement for a memorable protagonist. This book seems to comprise despicable, chameleon people who act pleasant, savage, angry, happy, miserable… a different way with each other each turn of the page. Undoubtedly deliberate, this makes the story feel surreal. Yet the author is well-acclaimed and has written a slew of novels. This, an earlier work, is perhaps the art of honing one’s craft. I liked the parts where the story tied in with actual events, something the author appears known for, and the total package certainly sets discordant threads thrumming in the reader’s mind. Not for those with a dislike of the need to pay close attention, and ultimately it’s a grim experience with the lead as obsessive as the wretched people who hire him. My feelings are ambiguous as this will stick in my mind a while where I would prefer it not to.

Intensity, Dean Koontz
When Chyna Shepherd crosses paths with a killer, she has to fight for more than her own life. A re-read for me I’m pleased to say I would still rate among the author’s best books. While I might not have thought this was as perfect as I did on my first read many years ago, much of this book remains intense. Yes, the antagonist possibly feels excessive, but not as caricatured as some famous criminals real or invented. Whatever writers can dream up, reality often trumps. But I recall the protagonist being among the first truly strong female characters despite her making one or two stupid mistakes. Being human and ‘not thinking’ makes for a more realistic person. She’s not superhuman. There are spiritual elements, which is often the case in Koontz books, but there’s no reason to buy into these if the reader doesn’t want to. The same elements could be coincidence yet give Chyna strength and determination. Only her belief in them is important. There is some animal injury and death, so that may be a trigger warning for some; I could deal because ultimately what happened is still the killer’s fault, but realistic in context, and not gratuitous.

The Midnight Club, Christopher Pike
If you’ve watched the Netflix series, don’t expect the same story in the book, though many of the book’s elements are present on screen. Also, the book’s publicised as a horror, and it most definitely isn’t that. It’s about teens coming to terms with their terminal illness. It’s profound, touching, and bittersweet, and a significant accomplishment — creating a book about death for teens that’s thought provoking. However, sometimes I felt drawn in and at others as though I was standing very much outside. I couldn’t help feeling that, if written today, it could have been so much more, and that some slight issues are terribly dated because of bigotry, which the author was clearly, and rightly, addressing. Taking these issues into consideration, the book would have been more outstanding when published than it is now, but still worth reading.

About Sharon

Writer of Dark and Light Fiction. Fact, fiction, poetry, short stories, articles and novels. Cross-genre, slipstream, non-traditional romance, gothic, horror, fantasy and more... Visit this diverse writer's site.
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