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Recent books - Rachael
Recent books
Behind Closed Doors - B A Paris

Outstandingly good psychological thriller. It turns out it's currently #1 in Fiction in the Kindle store, and deservedly. I stayed up far too late finishing reading it (and then took about another hour to actually get to sleep, because it was exciting and scary). One of the most gripping and page-turning books I've read, and also very well crafted. Lots of things have multiple meanings - including the title (shudder). The very last three lines of dialogue are just so perfect and understated and expressive (who knew interior decorating could be so sinister).

It's about an emotionally abusive and controlling husband, so be warned if you'd find that too distressing. (He isn't physically violent - he has a threat she fears more than that.) You also might not like it if you only like morally ambiguous villains, because the villain is one of the most thoroughly evil characters I've come across. (He's also quite honest about his evil: he doesn't delude himself that he's misunderstood or pursuing a greater good, he's just evil because he enjoys it. Interesting question whether that's better or worse.) But despite the grim subject matter, the plot is actually pretty fun, if it's not too insensitive to say that - it's full of outwitting and out-outwitting and Xanatos gambits. And the multiple meanings, as I mentioned - he is quite fond of saying things which appear nice or neutral on the surface but which have a darker alternative reading, and lying with technical truths.

Strongly recommended if you like psychological thrillers. Unputdownable, and then stays with you afterwards.

The Accidental Time Machine - Joe Haldeman

A fun time travel story about a grad student whose experimental apparatus vanishes when he presses a button, and reappears N seconds later, where N increases faster than linear each time he tries it. He is my favourite type of sci-fi protagonist, who sets about experimenting with the weird phenomenon he's discovered and exploring its constraints (cf. Jumper). I thought he was too quick to conclude it was travelling forward through time, though, rather than, say, moving into a parallel dimension for N seconds. and then coming back. But he tests his hypothesis with a little chrononaut turtle, who doesn't eat or drink any of the supplied food and water on the trip and seems perfectly healthy - and then he boldly leaps in himself.

It has parallels with Stephen Fry's Making History, in which a failing grad student with a failing romantic relationship finds time travel the solution to his problems.

The thing I didn't like about it was that it's the travelogue-y kind of time travel story, like Gulliver's Travels but with a time machine (or, I guess, the original The Time Machine - I haven't actually read that, but have gathered a bit about it), because they only really go forward in time, so they get to see some socially satirical future societies (technologically regressive theocracy! decadent consumerist utopia!) Personally I prefer the kind of story where time travel is a really integral part rather than just a way to visit new cultures - so, changing the past, paradoxes, seeing your past self, that kind of thing. Back to the Future, basically. (The aforementioned Making History did that pretty well too.)

To Say Nothing of the Dog - Connie Willis
Another time-travel story. Quite silly, with a large helping of Victorian comedy-of-manners. The main characters are time-travelling historians trying to preserve the integrity of the timestream and prevent paradoxes (and working with limited information), but the timestream is almost a character in its own right, exercising a kind of agency and going to quite some lengths to sort things out itself. It was quite fun, but I thought it was longer than it needed to be. It had a similar feel to the Thursday Next series - I think fans of that would enjoy it.

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves - Karen Joy Fowler
Very interesting story about a girl who was separated from her sister in mysterious circumstances at the age of five, and doesn't understand why, or if she was to blame.
There is a reveal, and the book does that thing I like where things are written so you read them one way, but want to go back and reread them in the light of the reveal. And there is a very good in-story justification for the narrator to mislead you - it's not just "look, aren't I clever?"

Servants of the Storm - Delilah S. Dawson
YA thriller. I bought it because I was really gripped by the sample chapter, in which teenage Dovey and her best friend Carly are sheltering from Hurricane Josephine, trying to be brave as the house is demolished, and then Carly is swept away by the flood.
I didn't really enjoy the rest of the book as much. I didn't know, or had forgotten, that it was a supernatural thriller. So all these weird things are happening, and I'm looking for and anticipating an explanation, and it turns out it's demons. It felt like a bit of a cop-out. And as Dovey learns more about the demon world and its rules, she even says something like "Demon rules are stupid. It feels like you're just making them up as you go along." And that sums up my own dissatisfaction with the book. Either the worldbuilding was done sloppily, or it was conveyed badly.
One thing I liked was that it's another novel with a strong sense of place - in this case, Savannah, Georgia. This is the only book I've read in the "Southern Gothic" subgenre, but it was so flavourful that I feel I have a good concept of the genre from just one book.

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