Book Review: Voodoo Shanghai by Kristi Charish

Voodoo Shanghai

Voodoo Shanghai book cover

Title: Voodoo Shanghai
Author: Kristi Charish
Series:
Kincaid Strange # 3

Genre: Urban Fantasy
Date of Publication: February 18, 2020
Publisher: Vintage Books Canada


Synopsis

“Just when Kincaid Strange thinks her life is back on track and she’s finally put her time as a paranormal practitioner with the Seattle PD to rest, her ex (and Seattle cop) Aaron asks her for help with yet another strange and ominous case. Martin Dane, the White Picket Fence Serial Killer who terrorized West Coast families living the suburban American dream, appears to be back at it with a fresh murder in Portland. There’s only one problem: Dane has been dead for three weeks.

Kincaid can’t resist a paranormal mystery. Despite her misgivings, she agrees to examine the Portland crime scene. What she discovers is a place of supernatural power unlike anywhere she’s ever been–and the reason Aaron had been so tight-lipped about the case details. There’s already a voodoo practitioner on the scene: Liam Sinclair, a TV celebrity of questionable talent and dubious intent.

Kincaid wants nothing more than to finish the job and retreat to Seattle, but the deeper she looks, the less the murder adds up. When she uncovers a much more sinister mystery–missing ghosts, scores of them, whom no one is looking for–there’s no turning back.”Goodreads

Plot 

Voodoo Shanghai is one hell of a thrill ride from start to finish. As usual, Kincaid gets herself into trouble, and she seems to make enemies every place she goes.  The novel opens with her dealing with an unruly ghost that’s haunting her parents because they didn’t make the right offering to her spirit. The designer purse was the wrong colour.  This book is full of dark and twisty plot points, but there’s also quite a bit of Charish’s characteristic dry humour, which is part of what makes this series such an entertaining read.

One of the major appeals of this book is the dynamic world that Charish has created. The magic has very distinct rules, and much of the book is spent explaining how it works, either through Kincaid’s interactions with clients or through her lessons with the sorcerer who coerced her into becoming his apprentice for a two year term.  None of this information seems dry, as it all comes from Kincaid’s point of view, which interjects quite a bit of gritty humour into every scene.

Voodoo Shanghai is the third and final instalment in the Kincaid Strange series, and it sure does go out with a bang. Unfortunately, while the major plotline for this book was resolved (no spoilers!) there was still a cliffhanger hinting at what’s to come.  I want to see what’s to come! Gah, Vintage Books Canada better order more books in this series, stat.

Characters

Kincaid is a tough-as-nails practitioner, and she won’t let herself be controlled by the men in her life. That said, even her love interest, the Seattle PD detective Aaron, tries to control her to a degree, and I’m glad to see that she still doesn’t back down on what she believes in, even when Aaron pushes her.  It was interesting to see her starting to try to be more professional in this book, even wearing a blazer to meetings with clients, and she tries so hard to not always say exactly what’s on her mind. Is that character development, Kincaid? Even with the subtle softening of her character, she’s still the Kincaid I’ve grown to love.

We also get a deeper look into Gideon Lawrence, the thousand-year-old ghost of a sorcerer who took Kincaid on as his apprentice in the previous book. Before, we thought he was simply “evil”, but it becomes clear over the course of this novel that he has his own moral code, as grey as it may be, and we get a taste of the past that has made him who he is today.

Setting 

This time, the novel isn’t all set in Seattle, but a good chunk of the storyline is set in Portland, since Kincaid is summoned to work on a federal case.  As mentioned in the Plot section, the America that Charish has created is incredibly unique, authentic feeling, and three-dimensional.  The world of Kincaid Strange is similar to ours, but for paranormal elements which are all seamlessly interwoven into our reality, making for a believably dark and compelling alternate universe.

 

Voodoo Shanghai

I recommend this book to those who want a gritty paranormal mystery with a strong female lead, dynamic worldbuilding, and lots of the undead.

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* Thank you to OLA Super Conference, Vintage Books Canada, and the author for the arc to review! *

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Book Review: The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

The Haunting of Hill House

Book Cover

Title: The Haunting of Hill House
Author: Shirley Jackson
Genre: Horror, Literary
Date of Publication: 1959
Publisher: Penguin Classics, among others


Synopsis

First published in 1959, Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House has been hailed as a perfect work of unnerving terror. It is the story of four seekers who arrive at a notoriously unfriendly pile called Hill House: Dr. Montague, an occult scholar looking for solid evidence of a “haunting”; Theodora, the lighthearted assistant; Eleanor, a friendless, fragile young woman well acquainted with poltergeists; and Luke, the future heir of Hill House. At first, their stay seems destined to be merely a spooky encounter with inexplicable phenomena. But Hill House is gathering its powers—and soon it will choose one of them to make its own.Goodreads

My Thoughts

It’s hard to separate out the four appeal elements for this book, because they’re all so interwoven and dependent on one another.  But I’ll try! 

Language

Jackson’s style of writing is clearly the primary appeal for this novel. This is a classic for a reason, and there is significant imagery and symbolism in everything that appears on the pages. The novel begins with somewhat of a light tone, talking about the house and the darkness within it, but as the story progresses, this lightness is swallowed by darkness, and the tension rises with every turn of the page.  A lot of the horror of this novel is not in what happens, but in how it is written. Jackson has a way of eliciting fear and dread in the reader, just by careful word choice and sentence structure.

Setting 

Set in an old house that’s so peculiarly built that it rivals the Winchester Mansion in California, the setting is what makes this novel so memorable. The house is described not in just physical terms, but also in the way that it makes people feel.  The history of the house and everything else has so much thought and care put into it that it feels more fleshed out than the main characters. And that’s because it is its own character.  

Plot

This novel has a slow pace, particularly at the beginning, but the language is so beautiful and engaging that I didn’t even notice.  That isn’t to say that nothing happens, but it happens at its own pace, and the plot isn’t at all rushed. We don’t get one of those books where so much happens at the beginning that it lags in the middle. The Haunting of Hill House has the opposite effect, where it begins slowly, taking its time to get where it wants to go, but the plot unravels quicker and quicker as the story progresses. I would say that if you have a hard time getting into the story, you should give it another shot, because the book just keeps getting better and better.

Characters

I was surprised by how funny this book was. The characters are witty, and some of the things they say serve to transform them into three-dimensional, relatable characters that could exist today, not only sixty years ago. Some of the imagery made me laugh out loud, particularly in the beginning of the book when Eleanor leaves to find Hill House, and she steals her sister’s car.  While this book is quite short, I felt that I really connected with Eleanor, and her character development (at the risk of spoiling anything) is quite fascinating and beautifully facilitated by Jackson’s firm grasp of the written word.

The Haunting of Hill House

I recommend this book to literally anyone who claims to be a fan of haunted house stories. 

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Book Review: Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are? by Frans de Waal

book photo

book cover

Title: Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are?
Author: Frans de Waal
Genre: Non-Fiction
Date of Publication: May 10, 2016
Publisher: W. W. Norton Company


~ My Thoughts ~

I loved this book. In my undergraduate degree, I only had space for a few electives, and one of the classes I took was “Primate Behaviour”. In this course, we were required to read two Franz de Waal books: Chimpanzee Politics and Our Inner Ape. Usually when I’m “forced” to read something, I don’t enjoy it–whether it’s because I don’t have the time to enjoy it or because I’m contrary that way is besides the point. My point is that I genuinely loved these books, so much that I’m continuing to read de Waal’s publications even after university.

One thing I love about de Waal’s books is that they’re so accessible to the general public, but not at the sacrifice of accuracy or including information about scientific process. He talks about things in layman’s terms, making them fun and engaging, all the while teaching the reader a ton of information on the topic.  As you may already know, I’m a librarian, and I do a lot of instruction in my job. In the ACRL’s Information Literacy Framework, one of the frames is “Scholarship as Conversation”. I doubt it’s even intentional in de Waal’s books, but the way he effortlessly talks about other researchers’ work and discoveries, how they contributed to general knowledge, how he himself has built off previous studies does a great job of showing how this conversation goes on in his field, and in science in general.

As for the contents of this book, I’ve learned so many things that I can use in casual conversation (though it depends on who you’re talking to). Anytime I see a crow I tell anyone who’ll listen about how they recognize human faces and hold grudges for generations.  

book photo

I highly recommend this book to those who are interested in animal behaviour (not just apes in this book, but a variety of species), and to those who want to crack into reading nonfiction science books but aren’t sure of where to start.

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Book Review: All Systems Red by Martha Wells

All Systems Red

All Systems Red

Title: All Systems Red 
Author: Martha Wells
Series: The Murderbot Diaries #1

Genre: Science Fiction
Date of Publication: May 2, 2017
Publisher: Tor


Synopsis

Set in a distant future, a team of scientists are sent to a planet to conduct surface tests,  and they are required to bring along a Company-issued droid. They’re utterly unaware that this droid has hacked its AI, effectively enabling it to do whatever it wants. “Whatever it wants” means that it spends its free time watching cheesy soap operas.  The droid refers to itself as the Murderbot–though it would never say that to the humans it was sent to protect. When danger is afoot, the Murderbot feels compelled to continue to protect the scientists no matter the cost.

Plot

I don’t usually read hard science fiction, but one of the categories for the PopSugar Reading Challenge is “A book set in space”, so I was thrust into this category, whether I wanted to explore it or not. I decided to read this book because it’s short–only a novella, it had an interesting premise, and very positive reviews on Goodreads. Boy am I glad I picked this book. 

At only 89 pages, this book packs a lot of action and adventure between its covers. The plot never lags, and Wells does a fabulous job of balancing all four appeal elements, which, of course, is likely why this book has appealed to so many readers. The plot is engaging and fun, and Wells resolves the plotline while hinting at the possibilities of what’s to come with the followup books in this series. Books which I’ll be definitely checking out.  Hard science fiction books, here I come!

Characters

The Murderbot is a dynamic and relatable character, despite not even being a human being. It’s funny and socially awkward, which is something that many bookworms such as myself can relate to.  It has a heart, which becomes evident as the story progresses.

Given that this is a novella and the focus is clearly on the Murderbot, I haven’t marked Martha Wells down for not developing the other characters quite to my liking. That said, each of the teammates had a unique personality so that I didn’t have a difficult time telling them apart. They each had their own way of viewing and dealing with the Murderbot, which coloured its perception of these characters in interesting ways. 

Setting & Language

Set in a science fiction world, Martha Wells does a fabulous job of making it easy for me to follow, which is no easy feat considering I rarely read in this genre. All the science fiction-y words were understandable within context. She doesn’t spend reams of pages describing how the world works, but reveals things as they are needed to be known by the reader. If you’ve read any of my other reviews, you would know that this is something that I value in a book.  Books with info-dumps automatically receive fewer stars, even if the rest of the book is up to my standards of reading. 

All Systems Red

This is a perfect gateway book into the hard science fiction genre. It contains all four appeal elements, so even if you aren’t interested in reading science fiction, you should give this one a shot, because it might just surprise you.

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Book Review: Lock Every Door by Riley Sager

Lock Every Door

Lock Every Door Cover

Title: Lock Every Door
Author: Riley Sager
Genre: Mystery, Thriller
Date of Publication: July 2, 2019
Publisher: Dutton


Synopsis

Jules Larson is broke. She found out that her boyfriend was cheating on her the same day she lost her job, and now she is also homeless. So, she seeks out a new job as an apartment sitter so she’ll have a place to live while she job hunts. Little does she know that the apartment is in the Bartholomew, one of New York City’s oldest and most historical buildings, and the setting of her favourite novel. When she accepts the job, the rules she is required to follow seem a little strange, but they’re paying her so much money that she doesn’t ask any questions. That is, until she starts to wonder what has happened to the other apartment sitters…

Plot 

This novel has an intriguing premise. The plot is steady throughout, and as is very common in psychological thrillers these days, we’re introduced to two timelines. The present day, where Jules has awoken after a car accident in which she got into after “escaping” the Bartholomew. And one to a week or two earlier, when she first accepts the job as an apartment sitter, all bright eyed and filled with hope. While I understand that this type of storytelling is necessary for the lazy reader these days–I guess we don’t like reading something unless there’s action right away–I rarely enjoy this in novels. For Lock Every Door, most of the story is written about the events leading up to whatever frightened her so much that she didn’t obey the cardinal rule of looking both ways before crossing the street. While Sager may have been forced into this dual narrative, he does a fabulous job of not revealing too much in the present day timeline. He does this by keeping these chapters short and punchy, and they actually left me wanting more. 

The twist at the end of the novel wasn’t quite as good as I was expecting. There’s a development previous to this twist, introduced as a red herring to distract from the truth, and to be honest, I would have preferred if that were the twist. However, the story is just so darn compelling, and the execution of this twist was quite well done, so I don’t mind that it’s a little far-fetched.

Characters 

While the characters are engaging in this novel, I did find that they were generally quite stereotypical, and we didn’t really get that exciting moment of finding out that there’s more to someone than meets the eye (aside from the twist at the ending – being vague so I won’t spoil it for anyone!). There’s the rich former film star, the handsome, charming doctor, and the manic pixie dreamgirl, who actually gets called such in the novel. However, despite the rather two-dimensional side characters, I found that I genuinely connected with the protagonist.  She was a compelling and relatable person who was just a normal woman trying to get by after losing her job, her boyfriend, and her home.  

Setting 

Like any good thriller set in a location of relevance to the plot, the setting is its own character. The Bartholomew has a sordid history that is gradually revealed.  

Language

The prose in Sager’s writing is often what makes the book such a fantastic read. While the plot in this story wasn’t as unique as The Last Time I Lied, the writing was so beautiful that I didn’t care. I can’t wait for Sager’s next book!

Lock Every Door

 

I recommend this book to anyone wanting to read a psychological thriller with a Gothic feel, a relatable protagonist, and isn’t afraid to suspend their disbelief.

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*Thank you to NetGalley and Dutton for the e-copy for review*

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Book Review: The Whisper Man by Alex North

The Whisper Man

The Whisper Man Book cover

Title: The Whisper Man
Author: Alex North
Genre: Mystery/Thriller
Date of Publication: August 20, 2019
Publisher: Celadon Books


Synopsis

After the sudden death of Tom’s wife, he moves himself and his son, Jake, to the dreamy town of Featherbank to start over. Little does he know that a little boy was recently kidnapped and killed, in a way that is oddly reminiscent of the Whisper Man, a serial killer that haunted Featherbank twenty years earlier. A serial killer that is supposedly behind bars. Tom’s fresh start might be over before it begins, as the Whisper Man puts Jake in his cross hairs.

Plot

“If you leave a door half open, soon you’ll hear the whispers spoken”.

Chills!

The Whisper Man is one of the spookier thrillers I’ve read in a while. Fast-paced and atmospheric, I finished this book in just a couple of sleepless nights.

The book itself has a relatively common premise – a serial killer from years ago may have had a partner who has struck again. But this book introduces unique elements–The Whisper Man with his nursery rhyme, the multiple perspectives, including one of the father of a potential future victim. The story is gripping, and Alex North has a phenomenal way of taking this trope and running with it.

There are quite a few good twists in the book, and the first one actually had me reeling. I did not see it coming. I had to reread that page of that reveal a few times, because the knowledge would not stick!

Characters

One of the highlights of this book is the touching relationship between Tom and his son, Jake. Even though they haven’t had an easy time since Tom’s wife died, they love each other dearly, and it comes across in the writing. They fight, as many fathers and sons do, but everything is laced with the pain of losing someone so close to them.  There are fatherhood themes throughout the novel tie in together quite nicely to make this book more than just a thriller about a serial killer.

As mentioned earlier, the book is told in multiple perspectives. The protagonist, Tom, has chapters that are written in first person. We also get scenes from the points of view of Jake, as well as investigators Pete and Amanda, but these chapters are all in third person. Jake’s chapters were particularly engaging. They’re well-written, but you can easily tell they’re from the viewpoint of a child, with that wide-eyed innocence shining through in the author’s writing.

The Whisper Man

I recommend this book to those who want to read a serial killer thriller that is fast-paced, engaging, and not quite like the rest of them.

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*Thank you to Netgalley and Celadon Books for the arc to review*

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Book Review: I’ll Be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara

I'll Be Gone in the dark

I'll be gone in the dark book cover

Title: I’ll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman’s Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer
Author: Michelle McNamara
Genre: Non-Fiction, True Crime
Date of Publication: February 27, 2018
Publisher: Harper


~Synopsis~

Michelle McNamara was a true crime writer who coined the name “The Golden State Killer”.  She was instrumental in connecting his crimes across California.  This book, which is a perfect blend of true crime and memoir, was published posthumously.  The editors pieced together finished chapters with Michelle’s notes and articles about the Golden State Killer that she’d written over the years.

~My Thoughts~

This book isn’t about the Golden State Killer. Well, I suppose it is, but not directly. To me, this book is about the woman who was compelled to catch him.  I think this is important to distinguish, because many true crime books focus on the killers, on the horrible deeds they did, and barely touch the surface of the people who fought for justice.  I strongly believe that this shift in focus from the killer to the investigator is one of the reasons why this book became a bestseller.  Michelle McNamara was a truly special woman, and her ambition, drive, and hard work was instrumental in catching the Golden State Killer.

This important perspective is represented in the way that Michelle tells the story.  She talks about herself as well as others who investigated the crimes.  She talks about how her “obsession” (her word, not mine–it’s in the title!) affected her personal life. Her husband, Patton Oswalt, was a well-known actor, and she provided anecdotes, such as one where she was accompanying him to red carpet event, but all she could think about was the latest break she’d made in the case.

Continue reading “Book Review: I’ll Be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara”

Book Review: The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert

The Hazel Wood

the hazel wood book cover

Title: The Hazel Wood
Author: Melissa Albert
Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult
Date of Publication: January 30, 2018
Publisher: Flatiron Books


Synopsis:

Alice has never met her grandmother, infamous fairy-tale writer Althea Prosperine.  Althea earned her fame decades ago by penning a single collection of fairy tales about a strange place called the Hinterland.  Afterwards, she isolated herself in her enormous estate, the Hazel Wood, cutting herself off from the rest of the world.  Alice has spent her seventeen years of life on the road; her mother moves them from place to place as mysterious bad luck seems to follow them wherever they go.  But when Althea dies, Alice’s mother is happy. Ecstatic, even. She says they can finally settle down and place roots in New York. But this decision might have been a tad too hasty.  Alice’s mother is kidnapped by someone who claims to be from the Hinterland.  Now Alice must team up with a fellow classmate–Ellery Finch–who just so happens to be an expert on the stories that her grandmother wrote. Together they will go to the Hazel Wood and uncover the truth about the Hinterland

Plot 

The Hazel Wood reads like a fairy tale, but set in a gritty, modern world with iPhones, baristas, and high school classes.  Melissa Albert writes with a beautiful, lyrical style that is quite unique. Because of this, I was able to get into the head of the protagonist, Alice, quite quickly. I found myself understanding her and her predicament almost immediately.   

The plot and pacing of this book is phenomenal.  Albert lays out clues like bread bread crumbs, but I still didn’t know where they were leading until the twist smacked me in the face. That twist. Omg. Now I know why people were raving about this book last year. I’m doubly embarrassed for not reading this sooner. But how are you supposed to know what books are ‘must-reads’ until after they’ve already been out for a bit? 

Continue reading “Book Review: The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert”

Book Review: Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

Six of Crows Book Cover

Six of Crows Book Cover

Title: Six of Crows
Author: Leigh Bardugo
Series: Six of Crows #1
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy 
Date of Publication: September 29, 2015
Publisher: Henry Holt and Company


Synopsis

Six teenage criminal outcasts in the bustling city of Ketterdam come together to pull off an impossible heist. The result could change the world they live in forever. But do they all want the same thing?

World-Building

I never read the Grisha series, but that didn’t affect my enjoyment of this new book set in that same world. It was easy to jump into this elaborately created world.  Bardugo provides just enough information about the world for readers to understand how it works, but not so much that it feels like an info-dump. She interweaves this information into the plot, revealing what we need to know as we need to know it.  Perfectly done!

Plot and Characters

There are a lot of critical characters in this book, and many of them get their own point of view chapters. For any other book, this would bog down the pace, making the story unnecessarily complicated and hard to follow.  Yet somehow Bardugo manages to propel the plot line forward while delving deep into every single character. She even integrates flashbacks to provide such depth to these characters. There isn’t a single two-dimensional, uninteresting character in the bunch. Even Wylan, who, at the beginning, I thought might be the one dud, has an interesting character-development, and I absolutely loved his interactions with Jesper.  

Having this many three-dimensional characters should result in a less-interesting plot. That’s not the case. The heist they plan and pull off is intense and compelling at every corner.  

I did find that the characters weren’t quite like teenagers. This is one thing I enjoy about books like these. The characters are mature beyond their years because of the situations they’ve had to survive, yet they still have some small resemblances to the teenagers that they actually are. There might be a hint of naivety or a touch of teenage narcissism. But this gives each character some growing to do, even though it already seems like they’re grown up.

Language

This is touched on in the plot and characters section.  How can you develop such intriguing characters and a compelling plot without being an expert at the English language? Bardugo selects every word carefully. There’s no extraneous paragraphs that should have been cut at the chopping block. Everything she writes has its purpose and is elegantly written. I suspect this is another reason why this book is so dang popular.  

Six of Crows Book Cover

I recommend this book to anyone who enjoys a good high fantasy novel, even if they’re not necessarily interested in young adult fiction.  This is a perfect gateway book into the young adult and fantasy genres, as it’s strong in all four major appeal elements of reading – setting, language, fictions, characters, and plot.  There are some surprisingly gory scenes, which is why I wouldn’t recommend this book to younger readers.

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Book Review: The Hiding Place by C. J. Tudor

The Hiding Place book photo

The Hiding Place book cover

Title: The Hiding Place
Author: C. J. Tudor
Genre: Non-fiction
Date of Publication: February 5, 2019
Publisher: Crown Publishing


Synopsis

Joe Thorne never thought he’d return to Arnhill, the little northern England town where he grew up, but he finds himself taking a job as a teacher at the local school.  But he doesn’t take the job because he’s desperate for an income, or even because he’s driven to help the students.  Something terrible happened in this town when he was a child, and he thinks that it might be happening again.

Plot

I was enthralled by The Hiding Place from cover to cover.  This is one of the most engaging books I’ve read in a while.  Giving it 5 stars was a no-brainer.  I highly recommend this book to anyone who likes that feel of Gothic horror without it being too terrifying to be able to sleep afterwards.

While insanely atmospheric, C. J. Tudor keeps the plot moving forward.  There are numerous extended flashbacks to Joe’s schoolboy days, slowly revealing what really happened twenty years ago.  The book is incredibly creepy, but I wouldn’t quite classify this book as a horror, although towards the end things definitely turn… horrific.

There are quite a few twists in this story. A few of them I saw coming a mile away, but I didn’t mind.  The tumultuous journey towards these twists was so damn appealing.  

Characters

While I’m beginning to tire of the trope of the main character being incredibly flawed and unlikeable, this book is an exception. Joe Thorne is a liar. He’s a coward.  He’s a tad narcissistic.  He even has a limp and a gambling addiction which contribute to the myriad of problems he faces in the book.  But he still has a spark of likeability, and I think it’s because of a combination of two things. He’s got a great sense of humour—that dry sarcasm that I greatly appreciate in a protagonist. He also feels terribly about how he handled things when he was child, and he’s hoping to make up for his mistakes.  All these characteristics make for a dynamic and fascinating main character.

Language

This book wouldn’t be so mind-blowing if it weren’t impeccably written.  C. J. Tudor has a gift for language, and she had more than a handful of lines that gave me chills. That said, occasionally the book bordered on pretentious.  Joe Thorne has a lot of observations about the world, and occasionally I would cringe at how ostentatious he was coming across.  That said, I really didn’t notice this too much until towards the end, and by then I was so invested that it would have taken a sledgehammer of prose to get me to quit reading.

The Hiding Place book photo

While this book has supernatural elements, it shares a lot in common with the typical psychological thriller that it would appeal to everyone, except for people who detest anything remotely fantastical with every ounce of their bones. I recommend this who wants to read a spooky story set in a small town that’s rife with a dark history, muddy present, and unclear future.

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*Thank you to Crown Publishing and Netgalley for the ARC for review*

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