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Book review Book reviews Tuesday Book Blog

#TuesdayBookBlog THE DRIFT by C. J. Tudor (@cjtudor) (@PenguinUKBooks) A jigsaw puzzle of mysteries in a dystopic but not so-distant future #bookreview #2023publication

Hi all:

I don’t normally review books months in advance of their publication (as I’m always behind with my reading), but, for some reason, I read a comment about this book, and as I’ve been following the author for the last few years and have always enjoyed her novels, I managed to convince myself that I had missed the launch of the book, managed to get hold of a review copy, and rushed to read it as soon as I could, only to discover that it is not due to be published until the 19th of January 2023. I considered programming the post for later, but as I don’t know what my circumstances will be like by then, and the book is already available for pre-order, I thought I’d share the review with you. I’ve realised that the author had published a book of short stories as well, and I hope to bring you those in the near future.

This is a good one.

The Drift by C. J. Tudor

The Drift by C. J. Tudor

An overturned coach. A stranded cable car. An isolated chalet . . .

Three groups of strangers. A deadly killer. No escape.

THE DRIFT . . . survival can be murder

Praise for C. J. Tudor:

‘C. J. Tudor is terrific. I can’t wait to see what she does next’ Harlan Coben

‘Britain’s female Stephen King’ Daily Mail

‘A mesmerizingly chilling and atmospheric page-turner’ J.P. Delaney

‘Her books have the ability to simultaneously make you unable to stop reading while wishing you could bury the book somewhere deep underground where it can’t be found. Compelling and haunting’ Sunday Express

‘Some writers have it, and some don’t. C. J. Tudor has it big time’ Lee Child

‘A dark star is born’ A. J. Finn

https://www.amazon.com/Drift-C-J-Tudor-ebook/dp/B092YVZJQJ/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Drift-C-J-Tudor-ebook/dp/B092YVZJQJ/

https://www.amazon.es/Drift-English-C-J-Tudor-ebook/dp/B092YVZJQJ/

Author C.J. Tudor
Author C.J. Tudor

About the author:

C. J. Tudor lives with her partner and young daughter. Her love of writing, especially the dark and macabre, started young. When her peers were reading Judy Blume, she was devouring Stephen King and James Herbert.

Over the years she has had a variety of jobs, including trainee reporter, radio scriptwriter, dog walker, voiceover artist, television presenter, copywriter and, now, author.

Her first novel, The Chalk Man, was a Sunday Times bestseller and sold in thirty-nine territories.

https://www.amazon.com/C-J-Tudor/e/B074WBT1GL/

My review:

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

I discovered C. J. Tudor when she published her first novel, The Chalk Man, and I had no doubt that her name would become a familiar one for many readers. I have read several of her novels since (all of them, if I’m not wrong), and I also have a collection of her short stories already waiting on my reader. I am happy recommending her books to readers who love thrillers with a touch of menace and more than a few drops of dark humour. Her writing is fluid and engaging; her plots are gripping, and her protagonists always have a surprise or two in stock for us. She is the real deal.

All of this is in evidence in her latest novel, which is due to be published in January 2023.

The description of the plot is sparse, and that is for a very good reason. As you can guess, the action of the book is divided into three settings, and readers of classic mysteries will soon realised that they all seem to be variations of the isolated location mystery: a number of characters are locked (sometimes physically, sometimes not) in a place that is not easily accessible to others, where strange things start to happen (characters disappearing and being murdered are the most common). One of the characters becomes the de-facto investigator (sometimes a real investigator, sometimes not), and readers follow this character’s attempts at finding out what is going on. So, here we have a similar situation, only that we have three stories taking place in three different locations, in a fairly dystopian version of the not-so-distant future (although nowadays not quite as outlandish as it might have been a few years back) where the population has been decimated by an infectious illness. We have two groups of survivors headed to the same safe place, and the third is a group of people actually working and living at that safe location. I can’t share too many details of the story without revealing too much, but I can say that two of the characters whose point of view we follow are women (one, Hanna, a young student, and the other, Meg, an ex-policewoman), and then there is Carter, who works at the Retreat. All of them are survivors, all of them keep secrets, and you would be right if you thought these groups must be connected somehow. But no, of course, I can’t tell you how.

Those readers who worry about different storylines and points of view making things confusing don’t need to worry. Although the three stories are narrated in the third person, each section is clearly labelled, and the three characters are quite different in their thoughts and outlooks, so confusion should not be an issue. For those who appreciate having advance warning, there is violence; there are pretty graphic scenes that have made some reviewers class it as horror (I think it is a combination of both thriller and horror, but I love horror, so that is a plus for me), and there is nothing cozy about the story (even though there is a dog and… No, I can’t say). Also, those who prefer not to read and/or think about pandemics after COVID-19 might want to give it a miss.

Anybody who doesn’t fall into these categories appreciates a well-written, tightly plotted, and gripping story (stories) that will keep their mind going and wandering about what is really going on and who is doing what should read this novel. I liked the two female protagonists in particular (not that they were without their issues and contradictions), but even in the case of the male, their circumstances and their sheer determination to keep going made me side with them and keep reading. The story centres on the plot, which is beautifully and cleverly constructed, but the characters have to face many personal and moral challenges, and some of the questions and decisions they have to make will have all readers wondering about right and wrong and about what they would do if they were in the same circumstances.

Despite the tense atmosphere and the dire straits, the characters find themselves in, or perhaps because of them, the author also offers us some glimpses of humour (mostly dark), some beautiful descriptions, and thought-provoking reflections that allow us to catch our breath. There are some wonderful little details that we only become fully aware of at the end (oh, and I love the ending, mini-epilogue and all), and I am very impressed by the talent of the author to make all the pieces of the puzzle come together seamlessly. People who love a mystery will probably start to tie some threads early on, and some will be faster than the characters (although, of course, we have more information than they have, and we are not under the same kind of pressure), but, my guess is that most won’t be disappointed when everything is revealed.

In sum, this is another great novel by C.J. Tudor, and one that I am sure will keep her followers coming back for more. And those who haven’t read her yet, if you like the sound of this, what are you waiting for? 

I leave you a few quotes, although I recommend checking a sample online if you aren’t sure the writing style will suit your taste.

Here’s the other thing my grandpa taught me. You´re either a good guy or you’re a survivor. And the earth is full of dead good guys.’

One of the characters, when asked why they care, says:

Because caring is all we have left. If we stop caring —about life, about other people— who are we? What have we become?’

If the road to hell is paved with good intentions, it’s also a oneway street. No going back.

 Thanks to the publisher, the author, and to NetGalley for this very early ARC copy (there might be changes to the final version, although I didn’t spot any evident mistakes), and thanks to you all for your patience, your comments, and for reading my reviews and sharing them around. Make sure you keep reading, and never forget to smile. ♥

Categories
Book review Book reviews Tuesday Book Blog

#TuesdayBookBlog Sea of Tranquility: A novel by Emily St. John Mandel (@picadorbooks) (@EmilyMandel) Pandemics, time travel, and gorgeous writing #sci-fi

Hi all:

I am back, and I have a few books to share. This one is by an author I have come to truly treasure. Oh, and it will be published on the 28th of April, so not long to wait.

Sea of Tranquility Emily St. John Mandel

Sea of Tranquility: A novel by Emily St. John Mandel 

The award-winning, best-selling author of Station Eleven and The Glass Hotel returns with a novel of art, time, love, and plague that takes the reader from Vancouver Island in 1912 to a dark colony on the moon five hundred years later, unfurling a story of humanity across centuries and space.

Edwin St. Andrew is eighteen years old when he crosses the Atlantic by steamship, exiled from polite society following an ill-conceived diatribe at a dinner party. He enters the forest, spellbound by the beauty of the Canadian wilderness, and suddenly hears the notes of a violin echoing in an airship terminal—an experience that shocks him to his core.

Two centuries later a famous writer named Olive Llewellyn is on a book tour. She’s traveling all over Earth, but her home is the second moon colony, a place of white stone, spired towers, and artificial beauty. Within the text of Olive’s best-selling pandemic novel lies a strange passage: a man plays his violin for change in the echoing corridor of an airship terminal as the trees of a forest rise around him.

When Gaspery-Jacques Roberts, a detective in the black-skied Night City, is hired to investigate an anomaly in the North American wilderness, he uncovers a series of lives upended: The exiled son of an earl driven to madness, a writer trapped far from home as a pandemic ravages Earth, and a childhood friend from the Night City who, like Gaspery himself, has glimpsed the chance to do something extraordinary that will disrupt the timeline of the universe.

A virtuoso performance that is as human and tender as it is intellectually playful, Sea of Tranquility is a novel of time travel and metaphysics that precisely captures the reality of our current moment.

https://www.amazon.com/Sea-Tranquility-Emily-John-Mandel-ebook/dp/B099DRHTLX/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Sea-Tranquility-Emily-John-Mandel/dp/0593556593/

https://www.amazon.es/Sea-Tranquility-Emily-John-Mandel-ebook/dp/B099DRHTLX/

Author Emily St. John Mandel

About the author:

EMILY ST. JOHN MANDEL is the author of six novels, including Sea of Tranquility, The Glass Hotel, and Station Eleven, which was a finalist for a National Book Award and the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction. Her work has been translated into thirty-two languages. She lives in New York City with her husband and daughter.

https://www.amazon.com/Emily-St-John-Mandel/e/B002BMMGK2/

My review:

I thank Pan Macmillan/Picador and NetGalley for providing me an ARC copy of this novel, which I freely chose to review.

I discovered Emily St. John Mandel eight years ago thanks to Station Eleven, which I loved, and I was also very impressed by The Glass Hotel, so I had great expectations for this one, and I wasn’t disappointed. Although it is not necessary to have read the other two novels mentioned to enjoy this one, there are characters and points of commonality between the three, and the way the story is structured (or rather fragmented and then put together, creating interesting and beautiful shapes) is also similar, with jumps back and forth in time (several centuries here), and, in this case, centred on a popular subgenre of science-fiction, time travel.

I don’t read science-fiction often, although I have read some novels in the genre that I’ve enjoyed. This novel is not hard science-fiction. There isn’t a lot of attention paid to how things work and the complex science behind it (the main character knows nothing about it and freely admits to it), nor long explanations and descriptions of the future settings we visit. There are several colonies on the Moon, and also further away, but although we get a feeling of how living there might be (because the characters experiencing it have always lived there, and we perceive things through their eyes. If anything, they are more intrigued by life on Earth than the other way round), there isn’t a deep analysis of every aspect of life in the future, and the mention of metaphysics in the description fits the when trying to describe this novel. It does ask some big questions, about what is important in life, about reality and simulation, about people sometimes living many lives and reinventing themselves, and about circumstances that can make us reconsider our reality, our priorities, and our sense of self.

Because I feel that the way the story is told and the plot are intrinsically linked, and it is difficult to talk about one without unravelling the other, I won’t even try. The blurb provides enough clues for readers to decide if they might want to investigate further. We get snippets of the lives of several characters, who have led completely different lives separated by centuries but are somehow linked. We have men, women, younger and older characters: a female writer famous for writing a dystopian novel set during a pandemic (sharing many similarities with St. John Mandel, in a fascinating exercise in metafiction); a young man exiled by his well-off family to Canada who goes on to fight in WWI; an old violinist who plays at an airport after losing his wife; a woman trying to find a friend whom she thought had betrayed her and discovering something truly disturbing; a listless man trying to find a job that will grip him and help him give meaning to his life… We get to see things from all those characters’ perspectives, narrated in the third person, sometimes in the present tense, but mostly in the past tense, but perhaps because of the fragmented nature of the narrative, and also because of the peculiarities of the characters (who seemed to all be preoccupied with analysing and observing what was happening around them, rather than fully experiencing and living their lives, at least at the beginning), I felt as if I was peering over their shoulders and being a spectator, although with privileged access to their thoughts as well. It wasn’t a problem for me, and as the novel progressed and the whole picture became clearer, I came to change the way I felt about some of the characters and to understand and appreciate them more. Being an avid reader, I really enjoyed the character of Olive Llewellyn, an author from the Moon on a book tour on Earth. The fact that her book has a lot in common with Station Eleven, and also the way her visit coincides with a pandemic on Earth, makes her feel particularly close to us and to our recent experiences, but, as I said, the rest of the characters grew on me, particularly Gaspery, who gains in complexity and interest, and I’m sure I won’t forget him in a hurry.

The author writes beautifully, combining brief and magical descriptions of locations, capturing awe-inducing moments in poetic language, and expressing complex ideas in simple but effective ways. This is a book where plot, characters, structure, and language live in perfect harmony, and despite the jumps in time and the moments of action, the overall tone is contemplative and reflexive. There are moments of telling, due to the nature of the story, but this does not detract from the atmosphere or the flow of the novel, and it does feel like a pretty short read that manages to pack quite a lot of meaning and thought into few pages. Despite the changes in time lineand point of view, the narration is always clearly signposted, and there is no risk of getting lost within its many worlds.

A few samples from the book (although there might have been changes prior to publication):

What if one were to dissolve into the wilderness like salt into water.

Olive here, thinking about the death of one of her characters in her novel, which one of the readers had described as “anticlimactic”:

 ... isn’t that reality? Won’t most of us die in fairly unclimactic ways, our passing unremarked by almost everyone, our deaths becoming plot points in the narratives of the people around us?

The thing with being away from her husband and daughter was that every hotel room was emptier than the one before.

What you have to understand is that bureaucracy is an organism, and the prime goal of every organism is self-protection. Bureaucracy exists to protect itself.

This is the strange lesson of living in a pandemic: life can be tranquil in the face of death.

I enjoyed the ending, and I can’t imagine a more satisfying one. There are twists and plenty of mysteries in the story, but things come together in the end. I am not sure if readers will find the ending surprising or not (it might depend on how much they read about time travel and how closely they follow the clues), but I enjoyed the sense of closure (for all the characters), and also the overall feeling of quiet, calm, and hope that its end brings. We might agree or disagree with the main character’s decisions, but I liked his attitude towards life and towards his fellow human beings.

Do I recommend this book? Definitely. I am sure fans of the author will enjoy it. Readers looking for a hard science-fiction novel or keen on a time travel narrative full of big adventures and thrilling moments might want to look elsewhere. But those who enjoy beautiful writing, don’t mind getting lost in speculation and allowing their minds to wander through a world of possibilities, should try this book. And if they haven’t read Station Eleven and The Glass Hotel and enjoy this one, they shouldn’t hesitate and just keep reading St. John Mantel.

Thanks to the publisher and to the author for this wonderful book, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to like, share, comment, click, review, and above all, keep safe and keep smiling.

Categories
Book review Book reviews Tuesday Book Blog

#TuesdayBookBlog THE VISITOR: A POST-APOCALYPTIC MURDER MYSTERY by Terry Tyler. A twisted murder mystery in a twisted time #murdermystery #bookreview

Hi all:

I’m sharing a review of the latest book (to date) of an author who keeps visiting my blog. And she’ll carry on coming.

The Visitor by Terry Tyler

The Visitor: A Post-Apocalyptic Murder Mystery by Terry Tyler

In 2024, a mystery virus ravages the entire world. ‘Bat Fever’ is highly contagious and one hundred per cent lethal.

A cottage tucked away in an isolated Norfolk village seems like the ideal place to sit out a catastrophic pandemic, but some residents of Hincham resent the arrival of Jack, Sarah and their friends, while others want to know too much about them.

What the villagers don’t know is that beneath Sarah’s cottage is a fully-stocked, luxury survival bunker. A post-apocalyptic ‘des res’.

Hincham isolates itself from the rest of the country, but the deaths continue―and not from the virus. There’s a killer on the loose, but is it a member of the much-depleted community, or somebody from outside? Paranoia is rife, as friend suspects friend, and everybody suspects the newcomers.

Most terrifying of all is that nobody knows who’s next on the list…

The Visitor is Terry Tyler’s twenty-second Amazon publication, and is set in the same world as her Project Renova series, while being a completely separate, stand-alone novel.

https://www.amazon.com/Visitor-Post-Apocalyptic-Murder-Mystery-ebook/dp/B08ML72P2K/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Visitor-Post-Apocalyptic-Murder-Mystery-ebook/dp/B08ML72P2K/

https://www.amazon.es/Visitor-Post-Apocalyptic-Murder-Mystery-ebook/dp/B08ML72P2K/

Author Terry Tyler
Author Terry Tyler

About the author:

Terry Tyler is the author of twenty-two books available from Amazon, the latest being ‘The Visitor’, a post-apocalyptic murder mystery set in the same world as her popular Project Renova series. She is currently at work on ‘Megacity’, the third and final book in her dystopian Operation Galton series, after which she may decide to write something a bit more cheerful. Proud to be independently published, Terry is an avid reader and book reviewer, and a member of Rosie Amber’s Book Review Team.

Terry is a Walking Dead addict, and has a great interest in history (particularly 12th-17th century), along with books and documentaries on sociological/cultural/anthropological subject matter. She loves South Park, the sea, and going for long walks in quiet places where there are lots of trees. She lives in the north east of England with her husband.

https://www.amazon.com/Terry-Tyler/e/B00693EGKM

My review:

I received an early ARC copy of this novel, which I freely chose to review.

I have read and reviewed a number of novels written by Terry Tyler, both in her Project Renova Series (I have to catch up with a volume of short stories, but otherwise, I think I’ve read all of them), and also in her Operation Galton series (I’m eagerly waiting for the next one). I am aware she writes in other genres, and I’m sure I’ll get to read some of her other works too, but, for some reason, I seem to be drawn towards her dystopian novels (perhaps these feel like particularly dystopic times, one way or another). She is a great writer and manages to combine gripping plots, a credible and varied cast of characters (very recognisable), and an immersive fictional world, which closely resembles or reminds us of our daily lives, especially for those who live or know the UK fairly well.

As the book’s description and the author’s note at the beginning explain, although the novel is set in the Project Renova world, it is a thriller/murder mystery, and it is not necessary to have read any of the books of the series to enjoy it or follow the action. That doesn’t mean you won’t enjoy it if you have read the whole series or some of it, rather, you’ll hit the ground running, as you’ll have much more background information than the characters do. Not that it will help you discover who the murderer is, but… That would kill all the fun, wouldn’t it?

This being a Terry Tyler’s book I wasn’t expecting a standard crime novel, and yes, although lovers of the genre and those who are fans of mysteries will still find plenty of red herrings, assorted clues, twists and turns, and plenty of potential suspects (at least to begin with), things are a bit more complicated than usual. This is not a frantically paced story, where we hardly have time to breathe. Of course, there are hints of things to come from the very beginning, but there is a slow build-up and the early part of the book is dedicated to providing a solid background to the story, explaining how the virus started and took hold, while at the same time introducing us to the four friends who seem destined to be the main characters in the story. Of course, things don’t go according to plan, and although a group of four meets up in the village of Hincham to take advantage of the foresight of Sarah’s uncle in building a fully stocked (and secret) bunker, there are some changes.

The idea of setting the thriller in a small village isolated due to a pandemic is very clever. It turns on its head the convention (of subgenre) of a mystery set in an old house or an isolated island (or a ship, like one I read recently), because apart from the limited cast of characters and the lack of resources to investigate, in this case, there is limited to no hope that there will ever be any meaningful help coming from outside (or it is dispelled very soon).  And the paranoia, accusations, and blaming of outsiders are further enhanced by the lack of information, loss of contact with the outside, and the quick loss of modern life comforts and resources (no electricity, no running water, no police, no telephone, no local services at all…).  While the characters have many other things to worry about, the fact that what should be one of their strengths (being a small community where everybody knows everybody else) seems to have become a weakness and mistrust is rampant, makes the situation much harder. There’s nowhere to hide and nobody will come to the rescue.

Tyler creates a very credible and recognisable village in Hincham, and most readers will feel familiar with the setting and the characters, which are quite recognisable and realistic. As always, the author shows her strength in her development of the characters, especially the four sharing Sarah’s cottage, and although we don’t get to know that much about some of the villagers or the other strangers, there is enough there to create clear a picture in our mind. The visitor of the title is somewhat different, but I won’t go into any detail about it, as I want to avoid spoilers. For the same reason, I don’t want to talk about the characters too much, but let me say that although I didn’t like most of them (I confess I wasn’t particularly fond of Jack, who is the main narrator. There is nothing wrong with him per se; it’s probably me being me), that didn’t impact my enjoyment of the novel. I liked Finn and Avalon in particular, and I liked what I saw of a couple of the villagers, but we don’t get to know them well enough to make a full judgement of them. Oh, and yes, I’ll freely admit to really liking the baddy. (I won’t get into detail or analyse what possible pathology there might be or why the Visitor behaves that way, as this is not a psychopathology textbook and does not intend to be). So there.

The story is told from a variety of characters’ points of view and in different narrative voices. I’ve mentioned that Jack is the main narrator, and he tells his story in the first person, but he is not the only one. Several other characters tell parts of the story in the first-person from their own perspective (the Visitor as well): some are important characters, and some quite incidental, which offers readers a slightly less claustrophobic or one-sided view. (There is no head hopping or confusion possible, as each chapter is clearly labelled with the name of the character or characters whose perspective we read). There are also some chapters in the third-person, some depicting the scenes of the murders, but not all. And there is the odd comment hinting at an omniscient point of view (or perhaps something slightly different, but I’ll keep my peace). Otherwise, the story is narrated chronologically, and other than some instances of sharing/narrating past events and the mandatory reveals towards the end (secrets there are aplenty, and people who have kept information hidden also), the story flows well, with no major detours. I mentioned the build-up at the beginning, and the pace does increase as people are killed and others leave, but it never becomes frantic. There is plenty of time for readers to make conjectures and scratch their heads, pondering the clues.

There are plenty of references to pop culture, TV series, music, fashion, UK everyday life, social media, writing (Jack is a writer) that help flesh out the era and the place, and lovers of all things British will appreciate. There are some dialogue gems and some dark humour (very sharp and dry, which I really enjoyed), and the writing is, as I’ve come to expect from this author, flawless. (No, I won’t share any quotes because it’s difficult not to slip up and give something away).

The one thing I found a bit jarring was the issue of COVID-19. Because the original Project Renova series was written well before it appeared, there is no mention of it in the other books (and yes, I kept thinking about the series as the illness developed and became a pandemic). Here it is mentioned often, mostly by people who think the “bat fever” will be the same, and they talk about just isolating for a few days, make jokes about hoarding toilet paper, etc. Although at first, I liked the connection to reality, I soon found it difficult to read, and it also kept stretching my suspension of disbelief, as the characters talked and acted as if COVID-19 had only lasted a few months and had been a minor inconvenience that was over in no time at all. Perhaps that was how things looked like after the first wave, but unfortunately, that was only the beginning. The touch of realism is broken by what has happened since, and imagining that people will be so blasé about it only three or four years down the line —the story is set in 2024, and yes, I know about COVID-19 deniers, and that attitude is well reflected in the novel— didn’t quite work for me. I guess it’s difficult to know what to do when reality becomes truly stranger than fiction and catches up with our fictional stories in ways we didn’t expect, but I would much rather have assumed Project Renova took place in an alternate reality where COVID-19 hadn’t happened. I don’t know if the author intends to make changes to some of the other titles in the series, although I hope not.  But it’s her story.

Did I guess who the guilty party was? It’s difficult to talk about it without giving anything away, but let’s say I had my suspicions, and I guessed some of the other secrets that are revealed at the end, although not all. I’ve already said I truly liked the baddy, and don’t worry, although there is the possibility of further stories for some of the characters, there is no big cliff-hanger. When it comes to warnings to readers… I think the main one is the fact that there are references to COVID-19, and I know I’m not the only one who still finds reading about the topic quite difficult. This is not a blood and gore story, but there is violence (even if not described in excessive detail or graphically and although it is not the most important aspect of the story), of course, so people who prefer cozy or gentle mysteries should stay away.

I recommend this book to fans of Terry Tyler’s books, to people looking for thrillers with a difference (especially those who enjoy an interesting setting and realistic characters), and to anybody who appreciates a claustrophobic backdrop with dark undertones, doesn’t mind a touch of the unexpected, and loves all things British.

 Thanks to the author for her new book, for her acknowledgments (bloggers included. Yes, me too!), thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to like, share, comment, click, review, and especially keep safe, and keep smiling!

 

 

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