Meet the author: Q&A with Craig DiLouie, author of The Children of Red Peak

Earlier this month, I read and reviewed The Children of Red Peak, the disturbing, haunting, and utterly terrific new novel by author Craig DiLouie.

The author has kindly agreed to answer some questions, which I so appreciate! So without further ado, please enjoy these fascinating responses.

Did you always want to be a writer? How did you get started?

Thanks for having me as a guest, Lisa! I grew up on a small farm outside a small town in New Jersey. It was a great place to grow up but awfully boring. During my teen years, I discovered Robert E. Howard and fell in love. Though he’s best known as the creator of Conan, he wrote short pulp fiction in a number of genres back in the ‘30s. For me, it was the perfect escape. After a while, I caught fire with the idea that I could not only visit these worlds, I could create them. From that day on, I wanted to write. While most of my career has in been in writing—journalism and education in the electrical industry—it’s only in the past 10-15 years or so that my fiction writing career has really taken off. While it’s taken me so long to get where I am, I’ve gone so much farther than I ever dreamed. It’s been a gratifying and humbling journey.

Can you describe your path to getting published?

Well, I started back in the ‘90s. Back then, writers faced a Catch 22. The best way to get your work published was to already be published, which is still true today, though you now have more options for publication. I felt like a character in a Kafka novel, given a lavish invitation to a party I’d never actually be allowed to attend. In the early ‘00s, I lucked out selling a psychological thriller direct to a small press, which led to two more books getting published with them. One of these was Tooth and Nail, a zombie book I wrote on a lark. Sales exploded, a matter of having the right book at the right place at the right time. Its success led to two more zombie books, an agent, and finally publication of four books with Simon & Schuster and my current publishing home, Hachette. Along the way, I discovered a model for self-publishing that’s been a lot of fun and keeps me incredibly busy as a separate venture.

What are your favorite genres to read?

I tend to read the kind of thing I’m writing at the time, so I’ve been reading a lot of horror lately. That being said, I recently fell in love with Bernard Cornwell’s Warlord Chronicles, a fantastic retelling of Arthurian legend I highly recommend, and his Saxon Chronicles, which was adapted for Netflix as The Last Kingdom.

Do you have certain books that you’ve read over and over?

A few, and these are the books that stay on my bookshelf, while I tend to give the rest away to people I think will enjoy them. 1984, Blood Meridian, The Road, The Iron Heel, The Killer Angels, and The Handmaid’s Tale come to mind, among others.

Who are your favorite writers? Are there particular writers who’ve inspired your own writing?

This is a great question but one that’s a bit complicated for me to answer, as I love writers in different ways depending on whether I’m thinking about them as a writer or a reader. As a writer, I admire people like Jonathan Maberry, Josh Malerman, Peter Clines, David Moody, and many others who exemplify how to do great in their art and profession, handle success with grace, and remain generous and kind to colleagues. Then there are authors I admire as a writer simply for things they’ve taught me through their fiction—Jack Ketchum to not be timid when it comes to pushing boundaries, John Skipp for so perfectly finding the subtle comedy in horror, Michael Shaara for the well-placed, evocative adjective, and so on. As a reader, I probably most admire writers like Naomi Alderman and Claire North who can come up with brilliant concepts that challenge me and make me think.

What would you most want new readers to know about you?

Another great question. I guess I’d want them to know that with each novel I write, I try my absolute hardest to give them a few hours of escape into a realistic world where ordinary people they can care about will undergo extraordinary challenges, and that after they close the covers they will be invited to reflect on interesting themes. Fiction is very YMMV, so if I don’t succeed with every reader, I’d want them to know I cared and that I worked my heart out trying.

What made you decide to focus on cults in The Children of Red Peak?

The Children of Red Peak is a psychological thriller with elements of cosmic horror. The story is about a group of people who grew up and survived the horrific last days of a religious group that devolved into a cult. When one of them commits suicide, the remaining survivors come together to confront their past and the entity that appeared on the final night. It’s told in two timelines, one where we see them as kids growing up in a group and how everything goes wrong, and the other years later where they’re adults coping with trauma and ultimately trying to find closure on the tragedy by returning to Red Peak.

I picked cults because, well, they’re fascinating and mysterious. I wanted to show the only difference between a cult and any religious or similar belief group is in the level of harm. Thematically, I wanted to explore belief as a basic human trait—one could argue it’s actually a survival trait—and show how it can produce great moral achievements and happiness but also some of the world’s worst evil. The difference between a happy religious community and a hellish cult is a slippery slope as one can logically lead to the other. For me, that was fertile ground for horror and an opportunity to explore challenging ideas.

Otherwise, I was inspired by a reading of Genesis. God tells Abraham to take his son Isaac to a mountain and sacrifice him as a burnt offering. Abraham does this only to be stopped by God at the last moment. I wondered: What would that story be like if told from Isaac’s point of view?

What kind of research did you do?

I always do a ton of research for my books to ground the story and make its world as realistic as possible. In The Children of Red Peak, I made an even bigger effort as the survivors all have professions that relate to the ways in which they cope with the trauma they still carry with them so many years later. Beth is a psychologist specializing in trauma, which required a great deal of study to get right. Deacon is a musician who purges his despair onstage, which required a deep dive into the life of an indie rock band. And David is a cult exit counselor, which allowed me to study and present cults from a more scientific point of view. The result is a lot of challenging and intriguing information that enriches the narrative.

The depiction of the Family of the Living Spirit in their original setting seems mostly peaceful and positive, yet it was scarily easy for them to shift to a doomsday mentality. How does this relate to real cults that you’ve researched?

Yes, that’s where the real horror in the novel is buried—in how easily and quickly this isolated, relatively happy, devout religious community goes to hell on their slippery slope of good intentions. They believe God is constantly interceding in their lives and will end the world soon. As the author, I treated them and their beliefs respectfully but took them seriously at their word, that they really believed what they believed with all their heart. Then an authority figure in their lives comes forward and says yes, God talked to me, he’s waiting for us on a mountain, and we’ll be severely tested when we get there so that only the worthy can ascend. Of course, most of them are going to go, and when Heaven is the reward, what wouldn’t you do to get there?

This was a fascinating product of my research. I was far less interested in trying to recreate the Manson Family or the Peoples Temple or Heaven’s Gate and far more interested in exploring the psychology of why somebody gets into a group like this and how it can all go wrong. The product, again, is great horror, but the main horror doesn’t come from Red Peak but instead from within the human spirit, its yearning for meaning and life after death and its potential to be misled.

I was so distressed by the characters’ lives and traumas in The Children of Red Peak, and I remember feeling really moved by the characters in your other books as well. What’s the key to bringing your characters to life?

For The Children of Red Peak, producing the characters was challenging as I wanted them to start as children with basic personality traits that as adults have run amok as coping mechanisms, give them professions that reinforced and allowed them to act out these mechanisms, and then give them a very difficult choice when they return to Red Peak. This process started with a basic need for the character, and I went from there. So for David, he starts out as this kid who’s dragged across several state lines to live in an isolated community that’s very alien to him. The first thing he does when he gets there is hide. Once I pinned him as somebody who hides, I knew everything about him as a kid, adult, what job he’d have, even how he takes his coffee. By going right to the core of the character—what they want, what they need, their flaw or misbelief, and the wound that created the flaw—I have everything I need to create a living, breathing person on the page. By the end of the book, the characters really did take on a life of their own, and more often than not, they surprised me by telling me what they wanted to do and say next. I really came to love them, which is a hazard for writers of horror, a genre where you have to hurt your darlings.

I’ve been haunted by Our War ever since I read it, and the closer the 2020 election got, the more it was on my mind. Did you have our current political situation in mind when you wrote it? The scenarios in Our War seem terrifyingly possible to me. Did you mean the book to be a cautionary tale?

The book is absolutely a cautionary tale. When I wrote it, I saw the potential in growing polarization and tribalization in America to explode in civil unrest, violence, and possibly a far more catastrophic fracturing of the country. This is not new with our current president, it’s been in the works for decades. I could talk to you all day about this, so I’ll stop there before I dump an essay on you. I’ll just say I hope the novel stays fiction!

I know this is a terrible question to ask an author, but is there one particular book among all you’ve written that you’re especially proud of? One that feels most representative of your work as a whole?

I don’t mind the question at all, though my answer may sound like a bit of a cop out. First, I love all my books equally, though for different reasons—of course I would, right, as in a creative sense, they’re my children! But in the end, the work I’m most proud of is always my most recent. I say this because today I’m a better writer than I was a year ago, and not as good a writer as I’ll be next year. I’m constantly growing and learning as a writer, and I’m excited about what I’ll end up working on in the future.

Can you share anything about your next project? What can we look forward to in your future books?

I’ll be pitching some ideas to Hachette soon for my next big standalone novel. In the meantime, I’m working on a new self-published series about a carrier pilot in WW2 I hope to roll out by mid 2021. These stories are simple, fresh, fun dime novels and serve as a sort of palate cleanser for me between the bigger, more emotionally intensive novels.

Thank you, Craig DiLouie! I can’t wait to read your next books! Thank you for taking the time to provide such fascinating answers to my questions.

Author bio:

Craig DiLouie is an American-Canadian author of speculative fiction with notable works including Our War, One of Us, Suffer the Children, The Infection, and the Crash Dive series. His most recently work is The Children of Red Peak, now available from Hachette’s Redhook imprint. Learn more at www.CraigDiLouie.com.

Shelf Control #244: The Miseducation of Cameron Post by Emily M. Danforth

Shelves final

Welcome to Shelf Control — an original feature created and hosted by Bookshelf Fantasies.

Shelf Control is a weekly celebration of the unread books on our shelves. Pick a book you own but haven’t read, write a post about it (suggestions: include what it’s about, why you want to read it, and when you got it), and link up! For more info on what Shelf Control is all about, check out my introductory post, here.

Want to join in? Shelf Control posts go up every Wednesday. See the guidelines at the bottom of the post, and jump on board!

Title: The Miseducation of Cameron Post
Author: Emily M. Danforth
Published: 2012
Length: 485 pages

What it’s about (synopsis via Goodreads):

When Cameron Post’s parents die suddenly in a car crash, her shocking first thought is relief. Relief they’ll never know that, hours earlier, she had been kissing a girl.

But that relief doesn’t last, and Cam is soon forced to move in with her conservative aunt Ruth and her well-intentioned but hopelessly old-fashioned grandmother. She knows that from this point on, her life will forever be different. Survival in Miles City, Montana, means blending in and leaving well enough alone (as her grandmother might say), and Cam becomes an expert at both.

Then Coley Taylor moves to town. Beautiful, pickup-driving Coley is a perfect cowgirl with the perfect boyfriend to match. She and Cam forge an unexpected and intense friendship–one that seems to leave room for something more to emerge. But just as that starts to seem like a real possibility, ultrareligious Aunt Ruth takes drastic action to “fix” her niece, bringing Cam face-to-face with the cost of denying her true self–even if she’s not exactly sure who that is.

The Miseducation of Cameron Post is a stunning and unforgettable literary debut about discovering who you are and finding the courage to live life according to your own rules. 

How and when I got it:

I found a copy on the book swap shelf at work.

Why I want to read it:

I remember seeing positive reviews for this book over the years, and I know there was a movie version too. After reading Plain Bad Heroines this fall, I’m really interested in reading more by this author.

I haven’t been reading much YA this year, but this does sounds like a good one!

Have you read this book? Would you want to?

Please share your thoughts!


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Want to participate in Shelf Control? Here’s how:

  • Write a blog post about a book that you own that you haven’t read yet.
  • Add your link in the comments or link back from your own post, so I can add you to the participant list.
  • Check out other posts, and…

Have fun!

Top Ten Tuesday: Thankgiving gratitude

Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl, featuring a different top 10 theme each week. This week’s topic is a Thanksgiving Freebie, so I thought I’d put together a list of the top ten things I’m grateful for right now.

I’m so thankful for:

  1. The health and wellbeing of my family and friends, and my own health too
  2. The upcoming inauguration on January 20, 2021! So thankful that the US will finally have competent, honorable leadership.
  3. Related to #2, but it deserves its own recognition: Shattering the glass ceiling! Hurray for our first woman VP.
  4. Zoom and FaceTime — yes, I’m sick of Zoom work meetings, but I’m so grateful that I connect with family across the country.
  5. Having a job. Can’t take it for granted, when so many don’t. I’m grateful to have steady employment and benefits right now.
  6. A never-ending pile of good books to read!
  7. Being able to stream so much great entertainment.
  8. Living in a place with (mostly) year-round sun, so even if I’m always home, I can get outside to read in the sun or go for long walks.
  9. Medical professionals, teachers, supermarket staff, and all the other front-line workers performing essential services.
  10. All the responsible people who wear masks and practice social distancing.

And of course, I can’t forget to say THANK YOU to all the wonderful people in the blogging community. I love the support, connection, insights, and fun!

What are you thankful for this year?

If you wrote a TTT post, please share your link!

The Monday Check-In ~ 11/23/2020

cooltext1850356879 My Monday tradition, including a look back and a look ahead — what I read last week, what new books came my way, and what books are keeping me busy right now. Plus a smattering of other stuff too.

Life.

Happy (almost) Thanksgiving! I hope everyone is staying safe and planning low-key holiday celebrations. Enjoy your pie and turkey!

What did I read during the last week?

The Turn of the Key by Ruth Ware: My book group book for November. Meh. Just a 3-star read for me. My review is here.

The Princes in the Tower by Alison WeirFascinating history. My review is here.

Clanlands by Sam Heughan and Graham McTavish: I listened to the audio version of these two actors’ fabulous Scottish adventure. My review (and a fun trailer) are here.

Pop culture & TV:

I finished season 4 of The Crown, and loved it. But I’m sad that we’ve reached the end of this particular cast, as new actors will take over to portray the royals in seasons 5 and 6.

I’m also so happy that His Dark Materials is back! Season 2 is off to a great start.

Puzzle of the week:

Another fun one!

Fresh Catch:

It’s a new Seanan McGuire book! Always a reason to cheer.

What will I be reading during the coming week?

Currently in my hands:

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V. E. Schwab: I’ve read about 100 pages so far — dying to see what happens!

Now playing via audiobook:

The Cruel Prince by Holly Black: I read this book earlier in 2020, but I happened to see that the library had the audiobook available to borrow, and I think revisiting this terrific trilogy sounds like a great idea!

Ongoing reads:

Outlander Book Club is re-reading Outlander! We’re reading and discussing one chapter per week. This week: Chapter 24, “By the Pricking of My Thumbs”.

Our current classic read is part 2 of Don Quixote. My book group is reading and discussing three chapters per week. I solemnly swear that I’m going to try my best to keep up!

So many books, so little time…

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Book/Audiobook Review: Clanlands by Sam Heughan and Graham McTavish

Title: Clanlands: Whisky, Warfare, and a Scottish Adventure Like No Other
Authors: Sam Heughan and Graham McTavish
Narrator:  Sam Heughan and Graham McTavish
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
Publication date: November 3, 2020
Print length: 352 pages
Audio length: 10 hours 22 minutes
Genre: Travel/adventure/history/nono-fiction
Source: Purchased
Rating:

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

From their faithful camper van to boats, kayaks, bicycles, and motorbikes, join stars of Outlander Sam and Graham on a road trip with a difference, as two Scotsmen explore a land of raw beauty, poetry, feuding, music, history, and warfare.

Unlikely friends Sam and Graham begin their journey in the heart of Scotland at Glencoe and travel from there all the way to Inverness and Culloden battlefield, where along the way they experience adventure and a cast of highland characters. In this story of friendship, finding themselves, and whisky, they discover the complexity, rich history and culture of their native country.

Take two actors, put them in a rickety camper van, and turn them loose in the Scottish Highlands. What do you get? Clanlands, the new book by Outlander stars Sam Heughan and Graham McTavish — part road trip memoir, part bromance, part history lesson, and all good fun.

Sam and Graham met thanks to their work on Outlander, and in Clanlands, they set out together to explore their native land, traveling from site to site in search of deeper meaning and connection, with the occasional adventure and crazy stunt thrown in along the way.

Reading or listening to Clanlands, we learn about the history and role of the clans in Scotland, the various wars and rebellions, and how Scotland’s history is still very much a part of the land and its people today.

We’re also treated to Sam and Graham’s ongoing banter, in which they complain, ridicule, and criticize one another (while making it clear how very much they actually do value each other’s friendship.) It’s pretty adorable.

There are also stories shared about the filming of Outlander and how the show has changed their lives, as well as stories from their earlier acting days and the various roles and opportunities that led them to where they are today.

Plus, Sam seems to delight in making Graham as uncomfortable as possible at all times, so besides hair-raising near-misses while driving, there’s also kayaking, bicycling, climbing rocks and rocking boats, a motorcycle sidecar ride that nearly ends in disaster, and so much more.

I’d originally picked up a hard copy of the book, then had to get the audiobook once I realized it was narrated by Sam and Graham. I highly recommend going the audio route! The two narrators put so much of their personalities into their narration, and listening, we’re treated to their bickering and comedic moments in a way that the printed page doesn’t capture nearly as well.

Outlander author Diana Gabaldon wrote the book’s forward, and she reads this on the Clanlands audiobook, so yet another treat for fans.

The book includes pages of terrific photos, as well as maps and various lists and glossaries, but fortunately, these are also available with the audiobook as a downloadable PDF.

I think Clanlands is especially a treat for Outlander lovers — you really do need to know who the two authors are and have a sense of what they’re like to appreciate their chemistry and how funny they are together. Still, there’s a lot of truly interesting information included about Scottish culture, history, and locations, so a non-fan could enjoy much of the book too.

The road trip that Sam and Graham describe in Clanlands was taken while filming the upcoming Starz series Men in Kilts, which I personally cannot wait to see.

If you’re looking for a holiday gift for the rabid Outlander fan in your life who already has ALL of the Outlander books and assorted memorabilia, consider getting them Clanlands. They’ll love you for it.

And if you yourself are an Outlander fan, particularly a fan of the TV series, then treat yourself to the audiobook. For me, it’s been a laugh-inducing, silly, informative, and overall delightful way to spend 10 hours!

Book Review: The Princes in the Tower by Alison Weir

Title: The Princes in the Tower
Author: Alison Weir
Publisher: Ballantine
Publication date: 1992
Length: 287 pages
Genre: History
Source: Purchased
Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Despite five centuries of investigation by historians, the sinister deaths of the boy king Edward V and his younger brother Richard, Duke of York, remain two of the most fascinating murder mysteries in English history. Did Richard III really kill “the Princes in the Tower,” as is commonly believed, or was the murderer someone else entirely? Carefully examining every shred of contemporary evidence as well as dozens of modern accounts, Alison Weir reconstructs the entire chain of events leading to the double murder. We are witnesses to the rivalry, ambition, intrigue, and struggle for power that culminated in the imprisonment of the princes and the hushed-up murders that secured Richard’s claim to the throne as Richard III. A masterpiece of historical research and a riveting story of conspiracy and deception, The Princes in the Tower at last provides a solution to this age-old puzzle.

After watching The White Queen on Starz a couple of weeks ago, I realized how little I knew about the War of the Roses and the complicated history of English royalty prior to the Tudors. And one of the things that really caught my attention was the story of the lost princes.

I’d heard about “the Princes in the Tower” before, but didn’t know the historical context at all. After learning about the missing princes through the fictionalized version of Edward IV’s reign and Richard III’s ascension, as presented in The White Queen, I was dying to know more.

I’ve had a few Alison Weir books on my shelves for years, but only those focused on Henry VIII, his children, and his court. I eagerly picked up her 1992 historical investigation into the fate of the young princes.

It’s a fascinating story, and one that’s pretty mind-boggling in terms of cruelty and tragedy. Upon the death of Edward IV, his young son Edward was the acknowledged heir. Edward IV named his brother Richard as Lord Protector for his son, but the protectorship by law would only last until the young king’s formal coronation.

Richard, seeking power for himself, brought Edward V into the Tower for protection in the months leading up to the coronation. He eventually convinced the boys’ mother, Queen Elizabeth, to send her younger son Richard to join Edward.

In a brief period of time, Richard convinced Parliament to delegitimize the boys, by declaring Edward IV’s marriage to Elizabeth invalid. With Edward’s heirs named as bastards, Richard was more easily able to claim the throne, and was eventually coronated himself.

Meanwhile, after a few documented months in the Tower, the young princes were never seen again.

Over the centuries, mystery has swirled around their disappearances. They are presumed to have been murdered, and the murder is most frequently attributed to Richard III, although other theories dispute this and even question whether they actually died in the Tower at all.

Author Alison Weir combs through sources from the time period as well as soon thereafter, and delves deeply into both what the written record shows as well as what details may have been omitted. She painstakingly builds her case, and by the end of The Princes in the Tower, presents a very compelling argument for her conclusion.

I found The Princes in the Tower an intriguing read, occasionally dry (especially to someone who — I admit — more frequently picks up history via historical fiction), but always full of interesting facts, sources, and speculations.

She carefully identifies which sources were contemporaneous with the events related to the princes, and which were created after the fact (such as Sir Thomas More’s chronicles), and how changing political climates could have affected the way in which events were portrayed.

Highly recommended for those interested in intricate studies of complicated times. I look forward to reading more of Alison Weir’s work.

Book Review: The Turn of the Key by Ruth Ware

Title: The Turn of the Key
Author: Ruth Ware
Publisher: Gallery/Scout Press
Publication date: August 6, 2019
Length: 337 pages
Genre: Thriller
Source: Purchased
Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

When she stumbles across the ad, she’s looking for something else completely. But it seems like too good an opportunity to miss—a live-in nannying post, with a staggeringly generous salary. And when Rowan Caine arrives at Heatherbrae House, she is smitten—by the luxurious “smart” home fitted out with all modern conveniences, by the beautiful Scottish Highlands, and by this picture-perfect family.

What she doesn’t know is that she’s stepping into a nightmare—one that will end with a child dead and herself in prison awaiting trial for murder.

Writing to her lawyer from prison, she struggles to explain the unravelling events that led to her incarceration. It wasn’t just the constant surveillance from the cameras installed around the house, or the malfunctioning technology that woke the household with booming music, or turned the lights off at the worst possible time. It wasn’t just the girls, who turned out to be a far cry from the immaculately behaved model children she met at her interview. It wasn’t even the way she was left alone for weeks at a time, with no adults around apart from the enigmatic handyman, Jack Grant.

It was everything.

She knows she’s made mistakes. She admits that she lied to obtain the post, and that her behavior toward the children wasn’t always ideal. She’s not innocent, by any means. But, she maintains, she’s not guilty—at least not of murder. Which means someone else is.

Full of spellbinding menace and told in Ruth Ware’s signature suspenseful style, The Turn of the Key is an unputdownable thriller from the Agatha Christie of our time.

The Turn of the Key is my book group’s pick for November, and I suppose I’m glad to have been “forced” to read it. I’ve been hearing about this book and author Ruth Ware for a while now, so it’s good to know what all the fuss is about!

From the start, we know that there’s something off about the main character. We meet Rowan as she reaches out by letter to a lawyer she’s heard about, one who might be able to turn around her hopeless case. Rowan is in prison, awaiting trial for murdering a child left in her care. And while Rowan admits that she’s done plenty wrong, she insists that she didn’t kill the child.

From here, she relates her strange story, starting with the advertisement for a nanny. A wealthy couple is offering a huge salary for a live-in nanny for their four children at their Scottish estate. To Rowan, this is simply too good to be true. The money involves a huge step up for her, she’s ready for a change, and as we later learn, she has other reasons for wanting the position too.

It’s a weird set-up. The house is a huge, beautiful old Victorian, but the back half has been totally converted into a sleek, glass-walled modern structure. The estate encompasses acres of woods and trails that the children are free to roam about unattended. The children range from toddler to teen, and seem like a handful, but Rowan is enchanted.

Less enchanting is the smart-house design. Everything is run via an app called Happy, that controls all lights, locks and unlocks doors, interfaces with phone calls, replenishes the grocery list, plays music and audiobooks, and so much more. There are cameras everywhere. Creepy!

The parents, Sandra and Bill, are strangely hands-off, to say the least. Upon hiring Rowan, they depart on a business trip the very next day. Suddenly, Rowan is left alone with children who don’t know her (and seem very hostile), a house she doesn’t know how to operate, and only a thick binder left behind by Sandra to offer her instructions on the daily routines and needs of the children.

There are so many red flags that honestly, if I were in Rowan’s shoes, I’d be heading for the hills. Being left alone with children I’ve just met for weeks? Living in an isolated old house? The creaky floors and strange noises? The scary walled garden? The impossible-to-figure-out house app and Sandra’s remote surveillance? No thank you very much.

Still, we also suspect early on that Rowan has secrets. What was her real reason for wanting this job? Why does she hesitate when someone calls her by name? Why does she hide her necklace and just seem so damned awkward all the time?

I had a lot of guesses about Rowan’s secrets, but I was wrong. I was slightly more on target with some of my guesses about the murder — I mean, I got that wrong too, but I figured out some of the “hows” at least!

The ending is pretty abrupt and perhaps a little manipulative, and there’s an ambiguous line thrown in right before the end that has me wondering what happened to Rowan after she finished telling her story.

Overall, I was only partially engaged; hence my 3-star rating. Granted, I’m not a thriller fan in general, so take my responses with a grain of salt. Still, I thought there was something stilted about the set-up, and felt that Rowan’s actions didn’t make enough sense going along. She displays a temper toward the children that made me go in some really dark directions which turned out not to be true — which is a relief, but then why such strong displays of anger? For a childcare professional, Rowan’s anger issues seem really inappropriate and probably should disqualify her from working with children.

Also, it didn’t feel rational to me that a person would show up and take this job in the first place with no adjustment period, and the smart-house aspects are creepy without really adding to the plot. Likewise, the awful garden is in the mix as a danger sign and huge clue… except in the end, it doesn’t really have anything to do with what’s going on, except for being yet one more thing to freak out the main character.

Rowan’s letters from prison make her sound pretty unhinged, so learning that she’s not as unreliable a narrator as we’re led to believe makes me feel like I was being handled, rather than tricked by a clever story.

I don’t know. I was engaged and needed to see how it all turned out, but never particularly connected to any of the characters or cared about them as individuals — not even the children, who didn’t seem particularly realistic.

So yeah, just a 3-star read for me. *Shrug*. Kind of disappointing, considering that I have another book by this author on my shelf. Here’s hoping I have better luck with the next one!

PS – I keep having to stop myself from referring to this book as The Turn of the Screw… and I assume that’s an intentional nod to the classic. New nanny, strange and potentially haunted house, weird children… although the Henry James version doesn’t include invasive smart devices and apps!

Shelf Control #243: The City in the Middle of the Night by Charlie Jane Anders

Shelves final

Welcome to Shelf Control — an original feature created and hosted by Bookshelf Fantasies.

Shelf Control is a weekly celebration of the unread books on our shelves. Pick a book you own but haven’t read, write a post about it (suggestions: include what it’s about, why you want to read it, and when you got it), and link up! For more info on what Shelf Control is all about, check out my introductory post, here.

Want to join in? Shelf Control posts go up every Wednesday. See the guidelines at the bottom of the post, and jump on board!

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Title: The City in the Middle of the Night
Author: Charlie Jane Anders
Published: 2019
Length: 366 pages

What it’s about (synopsis via Goodreads):

Would you give up everything to change the world?

Humanity clings to life on January–a colonized planet divided between permanently frozen darkness on one side, and blazing endless sunshine on the other.

Two cities, built long ago in the meager temperate zone, serve as the last bastions of civilization–but life inside them is just as dangerous as the uninhabitable wastelands outside.

Sophie, a young student from the wrong side of Xiosphant city, is exiled into the dark after being part of a failed revolution. But she survives–with the help of a mysterious savior from beneath the ice.

Burdened with a dangerous, painful secret, Sophie and her ragtag group of exiles face the ultimate challenge–and they are running out of time.

Welcome to the City in the Middle of the Night 

How and when I got it:

I bought this book in February 2019, as soon as it was released.

Why I want to read it:

I’ve read the author’s previous novel, All the Birds in the Sky, and loved it. I’ve also been a fan of her writing from the io9 website — so of course, I had to have this book as soon as it came out!

It sounds like a very cool world, with one city always in sun and one always in darkness. I really do want to read this, and there’s no real reason why I haven’t already, except for the age-old problem of too many books and not enough time.

Have you read this book? Would you want to?

Please share your thoughts!


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Top Ten Tuesday: Ten terrific fictional pets

Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl, featuring a different top 10 theme each week. This week’s topic is Characters I’d Name a Pet After, but I thought I’d switch it up a bit and focus instead on great doggos and kitties in fiction.

Who doesn’t love a good animal story? Here are some of the very good dogs and cats of my recent reading:

Favorite dogs:

1. Rollo (Outlander by Diana Gabaldon)
2. Mutt (Kate Shugak series by Dana Stabenow)
3. Mouse (Dresden Files by Jim Butcher
4. Jess (A Boy & His Dog at the End of the World by C. A. Fletcher)
5 & 6. Little Ann & Old Dan (Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls)
7. Bongo (The Twisted Ones by T. Kingfisher)

TV Rollo

And a few cool cats too:

8. Adso (Outlander by Diana Gabaldon)
9. Medea (Mercy Thompson series by Patricia Briggs)
10 & 11. (because they’re a pair, and I can’t exclude either one!) Cagney & Lacey (Toby Daye series by Seanan McGuire)

TV Adso (cutie pie)

What great dogs and cats of fiction can you think of?

If you wrote a TTT post, please share your link!

The Monday Check-In ~ 11/16/2020

cooltext1850356879 My Monday tradition, including a look back and a look ahead — what I read last week, what new books came my way, and what books are keeping me busy right now. Plus a smattering of other stuff too.

Life.

It’s amazing to have a week not dominated by election-related fear. Besides working, I was able to go on a few long walks, enjoy family time, and plan a few minor home improvements with my husband.

What did I read during the last week?

The Children of Red Peak by Craig DiLouie: Really powerful and disturbing read. My review is here.

Mythos by Stephen Fry: A fabulous audiobook! My review is here.

To Have and To Hoax by Martha Waters: Light-hearted Regency romance. My review is here.

Pop culture & TV:

My new obsession is The White Queen on Starz. As of this writing, I have one episode left, and I have to force myself to go to sleep instead of staying up to an unreasonable hour just to finish. I love it. The cast is phenomenal, and I just can’t look away. I’m sure that I’m going to want to continue straight onward to The White Princess once I finish.

And by the way, this little book I picked up a few years ago has been invaluable! I’m not well-read when it comes to the War of the Roses and lines of descent, so I’ve kept this guide by my side through every episode:

See? TV is educational!

In other royal-related viewing, I’m so excited that the new season of The Crown is here! Can’t wait to dive in.

Puzzle of the week:

This one was hard work! It kept me good and occupied for a few days straight this week.

Fresh Catch:

When I get a little money I buy books; and if any is left I buy food and clothes. (Desiderius Erasmus)

Okay, that’s not entirely true for me (I do buy food!), but it’s pretty darn close. I had some Amazon credits this week, and stumbled across books in their 3-for-2 sale, and well… just couldn’t resist.

What will I be reading during the coming week?

Currently in my hands:

The Turn of the Key by Ruth Ware: My book group book for November. I’ve just barely started, but I’m pretty intrigued so far.

Now playing via audiobook:

Clanlands by Sam Heughan and Graham McTavish: You haven’t lived until you’ve listened to these two Outlander stars narrate their way along a whisky-infused road trip through Scotland. So much fun.

Ongoing reads:

Outlander Book Club is re-reading Outlander! We’re reading and discussing one chapter per week. This week: Chapter 23, “Return to Leoch”.

And dare I say it? It’s time for part 2 of Don Quixote. My book group is reading and discussing three chapters per week. Wish me luck!

So many books, so little time…

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