Cover Image: The Stranger Times

The Stranger Times

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Member Reviews

Netgalley and Bantam Press (Random House UK, Transworld Publishers) provided an ARC, in exchange for an honest review.  I've written the review as spoiler free as possible. 

The Stranger Times is a very enjoyable and engrossing read. It has an excellent mix of personalities with good character development, a plot that moves at a good pace and it keeps you guessing with twists and turns along the way.  

It's an intriguing story which opens with the protagonist, Hannah, down on her luck. Her dream interview has gone very badly wrong and now she's faced with attending a back up interview she never intended to need and accordingly has done no preparation. 

First impressions aren't great, she's late and a man is threatening to throw himself out of a window above. He's engaged in conversation with another man and it turns out the pair are two reporters for the Stranger Times.

The Stranger Times is very aptly named, everything about it appears strange or weird.  Or maybe both.  The paper is based in a former church and features a host of misfit characters which all seem to get along and create content for the newspaper and get it published on time.

Vincent is the editor, he's loud, brash, old-fashioned and very difficult to work for; Ox and Reginald Fairfax the Third are reporters; The enigmatic teenager Stella; Manny who runs the press and lives in the basement; Simon who wants to be a reporter but isn't allowed inside the building and Grace the office manager who holds it all together.     

I found myself questioning how The Stranger Times managed to keep going and this becomes apparent as the story develops.  The Stranger Times finds itself at the center of a story so out there that even it probably wouldn't publish.  Moretti is a great character, particularly odious and despicable taking a greater role as the plot progresses, weaving occult and conspiracy threads.  I like how the plot manages to maintain a balance between these themes and maintain credibility, it's a difficult balance to achieve.  The plot also has a rounded and balanced ending which ties all of the threads together really well.
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I can't tell you how much I loved this book. It's absolutely hilarious and just what I needed. "The Stranger Times" isn't just funny though... It has an absolutely cracking story to carry the humour and brilliant characters to be the "victims" of it! I loved the writing too! This is the first book of what promises to be a fantastic series, and I couldn't be happier with that news!!

My thanks to the author, publisher, and NetGalley. This review was written voluntarily and is entirely my own, unbiased, opinion.
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The Stranger Times was a fun, fast-paced mystery novel that is a little bit out of the ordinary. Although it's set in dreary Manchester, The Stranger Times brought a bit of light into the final days of 2020. 

I loved the plot, I loved the setting, and I really liked the characters. The overarching plot is fantastic. It is full of action and McDonnell creates an unusual feeling of suspense. I'm not actually sure how to describe it but the novel does not necessarily focus on finding out who was murdering people, as detective novels do, but figuring out why and the way the story is told - through switching POVs - builds suspense as you're fed snippets of the antagonist's plan and his actions but you're never given the full story. I'm not going to lie, at times I was slightly more interested in the scenes at the Stranger Times offices - the daily insanity of working there - rather than the actual plot. Don't get me wrong, the main plot was excellent and the way McDonnell added magical aspects to mundane Manchester was skilfully done, but I just loved the light-hearted moments when Hannah, the main character, and her colleagues were at work. For me, it was this combination of a dark, dangerous mystery that kept me on the edge of my seat and the frequent bizarre, but jovial, snippets of life working at The Stranger Times that made this book so great. 

McDonnell's writing style was a complete joy to read. The novel was funny, fast-paced (but well-paced too!), and dynamic but also dark, tense, and almost theatrical. McDonnell takes our world, specifically Manchester, and infuses it with magic and I really enjoyed this particular take on magical realism because it was presented as an underground world. Not literally underground but 'underground' in the sense that it is hidden from the rest of the world, like a black market or the mafia or something. 

Each character was unique - very unique, in fact - and multi-faceted and, although I think it helps that most of the main characters were a little bit odd, they were all memorable. Hannah was almost wonderfully bland at the beginning of the novel. She acted as a foil to the other characters, mainly because she was so different and so out of place, but she has her share of quirks too which were revealed throughout the novel and I loved her as the main character.  

Overall, I just really enjoyed this novel! It was odd but wonderful and I'd highly recommend it if you're up for a dark read full of magical realism. I'd definitely buy it for myself so that I can reread it and, if this becomes a series, I'd read the sequel too!
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I absolutely loved this book. The witty sarcastic humour, the characters and the pace of the book are just perfect. So what is the stranger Times? Its a newspaper that reports on the strange and paranormal
The Stranger Times is a mystery fantasy tale. The story takes place in Manchester. Enter stage left our MC Hannah Drinkwater I mean Willis. After finding out her husband cheats on her and actually burning down their house , she decides its time to leave him and find a job. We are introduced to the rest of the characters really early on. Ox and Reggie both work for the the news paper and they have to be my favourite characters. There are so many quirky eccentric characters that make this book what it is. 
The story does take a dark turn as things start to get spookier. A homeless man is found dead and we are introduced to DC Tom Sturgess. 
This wont be my last book of the series i read. Can no wait for the other books.

Thank you to Netgalley, Random House UK, Transworld Publishers and C.K McConnell for giving me the chance to read this gem of a book
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The Stranger Times is a newspaper, but not like others. It is more a periodical, as it is only published once a week, but that isn't why it's different. The Stranger Times reports on those stories you won't read in The Times or the Guardian, the 'aliens ate my homework' kind of story, ghosts, hauntings, oddities and demonic possessions. The staff number just seven and the team requires a 'new Tina', or, to clarify, an assistant editor. 

Hannah needs a job and she isn't choosy, so, when she attends an interview that ends in the editor's office catching fire, and she falls into employment by default, she takes a step into a different world.

The Stranger Times reports but doesn't judge, that is the point of it for Banecroft, the editor, and it is a commentary on what OTHER people believe, not a championing of those beliefs. Banecroft doesn't believe a word of it, but that doesn't matter. However, when the wannbe reporter who has camped on the paper's doorstep apparently commits suicide, they all have to change their approach.

The wit in this novel is unrelenting, written as a light comedy, with colourful, vibrant characters and a plot that somehow works. The world of magic folk in Manchester is revealed, and it's background. There is something of an info dump towards the end where everything is explained in one go, which is a bit distracting and too much  information in one lump, but otherwise, it is an entertaining read and you keep going to enjoy the writing and to find out what the heck is going on!
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This book was something a bit different. I quite liked the setting, this newspaper of strange happenings in an old church, and I really loved the characters, especially all those who work at the newspaper. the relationships between the main characters are great. There is a real 'none-of-us really like each other and we certainly wouldn't be friends in other circumstances but here we are and we are family' vibe which I think works well in the story. The story itself is a bit slow paced but not in an uninteresting way. things unfold in a natural way that slowly reveals something a little bit more about each of the characters and how they came to be where they are so that you keep reading to find out the next revealed secret or tidbit that gives you greater insight. I am planning to buy the finished book when it is released as I think it is worth a second read.
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A brilliant piece of writing, a wonderful combination of the bizarre, weird, fantastic and horrific. 

The author brought all the characters completely to life, and gave them distinct accents without any need for spurious spelling. The feeling of well-rounded ness was enhanced because some of them, well, weren’t! The plot twisted enough to make it a satisfying crime mystery, and it was so funny I laughed as well - sometimes at inappropriate moments, I expect. 

A great book. I’m looking forward to more in what promises a sequel, if not a series.
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I am a long time advocator for "bonkers" to be a genre in its own right and this book would definitely be worth of inclusion therein. And that's a good thing...
The Stranger Times is exactly what is sounds like - it's a newspaper which reports on strange things that happen. Hannah is on her uppers when she answers an ad for a job there. When she eventually finds the office, in a disused church, and meets the editor - a foul mouthed drunkard - she really thinks her life is ended. But, as things transpire, it's only the beginning as, with fresh eyes, they start to link things previously dismissed and realise that maybe something terrifying is going to happen, and soon...
I loved this book. It's all things weird and bonkers and wonderfully larger than life. The paranormal, the unexplained, the weird, the wonderful - they are all front and centre in this book. And all connected with a brilliantly plotted and executed narrative that spins quite a yarn.
But as well as being a scary battle of good vs evil, it's also very funny. Side-splitting at times, often puerile, but funny nonetheless.
And the characters are excellent. So well drawn and a veritable hotchpotch of an eclectic mix. All with their roles within the gang and all playing those parts well. I took to Hannah from the off, how she got to where she was when we met her and her determination to get back on her feet.
By the time I got to the end of the book I started to get a bit sad as I was going to have to say goodbye to the characters - some of whom I had really bonded with - but then, reading some of the other reviews here, I am delightedly overjoyed to find that this is book one of a new series - well - all the YAYs! Can't wait to witness the new shenanigans of book two...
My thanks go to the Publisher and Netgalley for the chance to read this book.
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The Stranger Times
by C. K. McDonnell
Random House UK,
Thank you to Netgalley and Random House UK, for this review copy.  This is my unbiased review of the author's work and style. If you want plot lines and spoilers, please see the publisher's blurb and other reviewers' reports.
It is rare that I take to a story immediately and even rarer that it grips me such that meals arrive late, and sleep gets missed. But C K McDonnell has achieved all of these and I feel refreshed and optimistic about what future goodies he has in store for us. Reading his new work (he has published many other works under his actual name Caimh McDonnel), I was immediately struck by the similarity between his structuring and that of the late lamented Douglas Adams. There is also a touch of the Pratchett’s and Neil Gaiman. I am not suggesting that he is following their style but at a time of dearth in the fantasy book industry it gives one a welcoming warm feeling that here is an author that is going places and I for one want to enjoy the journey. 
The structuring of the book pulls one along as the story switches from one venue to another and more characters fill the pages, building the tale until, like reading a Dickens novel, you don’t want it to end. 
Personally, I’d give it six stars, but the constraint of conformity means I can only offer five.
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What a wonderful, bizarre, and very aptly named book! I found it well written with well drawn out and original characters. It seemed to be a mixture of different genres which I loved, the author's humour (clearly witty and sarcastic in the best way) shines through throughout as well.

All in all I found The Stranger Times to be a great antidote to a pretty rubbish time - go read it!
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The Strangers Times could have gone either way really, but I knew within a short time of starting it that I wasn’t going to make it to the end.

Dark forces are present in our world and The Stranger Times newspaper reports on the weird and wonderful occurrences caused by them.

Hannah is having a bad time and goes for the job of assistant editor as a last resort not expecting that she will soon be facing a battle between good and evil.

This book has a host of unusual characters, but it felt like it was trying too hard.

The Stranger Times was hard to get into and forgettable.
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My thanks to Random House U.K./Transworld Publishers/Bantam Press for an eARC via NetGalley of ‘The Stranger Times’ by C.K.McDonnell in exchange for an honest review. It is due to be published on 14 January.

This quirky novel is not easy to summarise, yet I will give it a go though without spoilers, of course. The Stranger Times is a Manchester based weekly newspaper that reports on the weird and unexplained. Yet actual Dark Forces are converging on the city and the newspaper specifically.

Hannah Willis has just moved to Manchester from London following an acrimonious divorce. With no qualifications and in desperate need of a job she responds to the following unusual web ad: ‘Publication seeks desperate human being with capability to form sentences using the English language. No imbeciles, optimists or Simons need apply.’ 

After a very odd interview Hannah is hired for the position of assistant editor, a job that she learns is something of a revolving door. This becomes understandable once she meets the editor, Vincent Banecroft, a drunken, foul-tempered (and mouthed) man who disparages the publication he edits. The rest of the staff are a ragtag group of wastrels and misfits, leaving Hannah feeling very much the token mundane. 

Then tragedy strikes during Hannah’s first week prompting the staff to undertake some serious investigative journalism that brings them face-to-face with darker foes than they could ever have imagined.

C.K. McDonnell is the pen name of Irish crime author Caimh McDonnell. Alongside the journalistic elements, this novel also combines aspects of crime fiction, including a police investigation, with fantasy and the paranormal. Added to the mix is broad humour, satire, and plenty of witty dialogue. I expect that it will make a superb audiobook. 

This novel was a delight from start to finish - laugh out loud funny yet with plenty of thrills and some serious moments as well. I was very pleased to read that it’s the start of a series and I will be looking forward to another visit to the offices of the Stranger Times next year.

Highly recommended.
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DNF'ed, I really tried to get into this book but the storyline and overall execution were severely offputting.

Thank you for the opportunity!
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A fun premise - the staff of a paranormal newspaper stumble across a real paranormal mystery - but the second half gets bogged down in some rushed world-building that doesn't quite come together. Thanks to NetGalley for the ARC.
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Despite the fact that fantasy novels on the whole tend to take themselves a little too seriously, walking the fine line between fantasy, horror and comedy is a tricky one. This may be because world building itself is a serious business and using humour poorly can undermine the effect and take the reader out of the world. Striking the balance between horror and humour can be even harder. But this level of difficulty just serves to highlight when it is done well. Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series, Ben Aaronovitch’s Rivers of London series, both successfully took on the challenge. More than that, their authors avoided huge exposition dumps early on and took their time to completely flesh out their worlds. Which brings us to CK McDonnell’s new novel, and clearly the start of something substantially bigger, The Stranger Times.
The Stranger Times is a small newspaper in Manchester operating out of an old church and reporting on the bizarre, unexplained and occult. “Its stated task was to report the weird and wonderful from around the world ‘and beyond’.” Running stories like ‘Nessie is the father of my child’ and ‘Virgin Mary Halts Terrorist Attack’. The reader’s introduction to this byway of the information superhighway is Hannah Willis, recently divorced and out of cash with no qualifications and needing a job, so much so that she will even respond to this ad:
‘Publication seeks desperate human being with capability to form sentences using the English language. No imbeciles, optimists or Simons need apply.’
The paper itself is staffed by what turns out to be a fairly dysfunctional found family of odd souls from the editor Banecroft down. But Hannah finds a glimmer of acceptance even as she has to deal with the weird folk who seek to have their stories investigated by the paper. But then things get real. Readers already know that magic exists in this world and that an evil magic user is around with a mission that involves kidnap and the judicious use of a werewolf. When his plans impact on the staff at The Stranger Times they start investigating and in doing so open themselves up to learning about the real magical folk and monsters who walk among them.
CK McDonnell is a not very secret pen name for prolific Irish crime author Caimh McDonnell. So it is not surprising that the driving force behind this genre mash is a criminal investigation with paranormal undertones. Of course, the crime genre has a long history of using the press or investigative journalists as a means of investigation. McDonnell doles out clues sparingly, allowing the reader to build up a picture of this world before a fairly lengthy exposition that sets up the finale. This exposition builds, much like other modern celtic-based fantasy, on an ancient conflict between humans and fae. But even that explanation leaves plenty of aspects of the world only briefly touched on or referenced (including the final scene) to be explored in future books (and other media – The Stranger Times also has a website and a podcast).
The Stranger Times is the perfect way to see off 2020 or to see in 2021. It is a well mixed brew of wild, irreverent, bizarre, tense, compassionate and funny. And the perfect introduction to a new urban fantasy milieu which looks like it may be around for a while.
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I received a free copy of this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review – as always, thanks so much to Netgalley for sending this to me!

This is probably one of the hardest reviews I have ever had to write, largely because I had such a strange experience with this book. ‘Mixed feelings’ is an understatement.

The Stranger Times follows Hannah, a soon-to-be-divorcee, former spoiled heiress who’s trying to make it on her own for the first time and looking for her first real job. In doing so, she stumbles upon The Stranger Times, a chaotic and deeply weird newspaper that reports on the weird, the wonderful and the downright ridiculous. The editor, Banecroft, is a belligerent drunkard: his staff includes a god-fearing receptionist, a runaway teen, an intermittently suicidal Liverpudlian, a UFO-conspiracy theorist and the world’s most relaxed printing press operator – and now Hannah, whose editorial experience goes no further than correcting the typos in her text messages. Together, they all struggle to throw together each issue of this terrible paper that barely anybody reads – a process which is rudely interrupted by a tragic death on their doorstep, at which point their new focus becomes investigating the nature of the killer. 

I hope this brief description of the characters has painted a good picture of what I enjoyed about this book: its eccentric but loveable cast. I remain at least partially convinced that this book is thinly-veiled Black Books fanfiction (Banecroft, the drunken Irish editor-in-chief, bears more than a passing resemblance to Bernard Black; he also has an employee who just HAPPENS to be called Manny. Coincidence? I think NOT!) and I truly enjoyed the chaotic energy these characters brought to the page. A large segment of the book simply follows the characters bantering at each other, and I really enjoyed the back-and-forth of their conversations; the dialogue is (with some exceptions, which I’ll touch on later) brilliantly funny and leaps off the page. 

I had such high hopes for this book, largely because it was the first book I can honestly say has ever given me even moderate Skulduggery Pleasant vibes. People are always asking me for books similar to Skulduggery Pleasant, and I wish I could oblige, but I’ve honestly never found anything that compares until I read this. Its humour, snappy dialogue and the brilliant mixture of magical and mundane were so reminiscent of that series, and I was hoping I’d finally have a good recommendation to pass along. Unfortunately, as I kept reading, things kept cropping up that made me more and more dubious about whether or not I was enjoying this, and whether it’s something I could whole-heartedly recommend.

First of all, in terms of structure, this book is a bit weird. I’d almost call it sloppy – though that sounds a little harsh. It’s more that there doesn’t seem to be much plot to speak of for the first 50-70% of the book – just a lot of witty remarks with occasional segues that hint there is actually a point to all of this, before we drop back into the office to watch Banecroft perform some Tom and Jerry-esque stunts with a blunderbuss or spend twelve pages making fun of the weirdos who wish to be interviewed for the paper. This is the first book in a series, and you can definitely tell – it feels very much like a set-up book, giving us lots of threads that’ll be important later on, to the detriment of the plot of the first novel. This in itself wasn’t a deal-breaker – I’ve always been one to prioritise characters over plot, and while I did occasionally feel a bit frustrated by the pace, I enjoyed the characters enough to be pretty happy reading about their day-to-day exploits. It does come as a bit of a shock towards the end, when suddenly a whole novel’s worth of plot is crammed into the last 30% and you feel like you’ve been going for a pleasant afternoon drive with Grandma when she suddenly puts her foot down and you start shooting down the motorway at 200mph – but I could handle that. 

My main issue with this book is going to sound very hand-wavey, and perhaps it is, but the best way I can describe it is that it gave me a bad vibe. That sounds very sinister, and perhaps a little melodramatic. It wasn’t constant, but little things kept cropping up that made me start to feel uncomfortable. 

Firstly, the humour in this book walked a very fine line between funny and sly, and often went too far over the line for my liking. It felt as if the author was trying too hard to be funny at all times, in a way that made it all start to seem forced – which was sad, because it detracted from the moments where the book was genuinely amusing. The jokes often had quite a mean-spirited edge at a lot of points, which was also disappointing. It’s been proven time and time again that it’s entirely possible to be funny without having the joke be at someone else’s expense, and this book felt a little overly reliant on the kind of humour that encourages you to laugh AT people rather than with them.

In addition to this, there were some edgy, ‘ooh, political correctness gone mad, ha-ha’ sort of remarks slipped into the book in this very irreverent way that I really didn’t like: 

‘Let’s start with the Chinese one and then we’ll do the fat one.’
‘Sorry,’ said Hannah, ‘but that is totally inappropriate.’
Banecroft flicked some cigarette ash on to the floor. ‘Oh, the late one has something to say.’
‘Yes,’said Hannah. ‘Yes, I do. I know you’ve got your whole being-horrible-to-everyone thing going on here, but you cannot refer to somebody as “the Chinese one”. It is racist.’
‘No, it is not.’ Banecroft turned to Ox. ‘Are you Chinese?’
Ox looked at Hannah and then nodded. ‘I am. I’m proper Chinese, me.’
‘See? […] Now, if Malcolm X of suburbia is done trying to empower the oppressed workers, we’ve got a paper due out on Friday.’

In addition to this, we have a chapter where the author uses several racial and homophobic slurs in the space of a few pages, and while this is clearly condemned by the text, I still don’t think it was an adequate reason to use those kinds of words. Again, if you have no way to show that your villain is a bad person other than having them throw slurs around, you need to go back to the drawing board. 

I wanted to love this book, and I can’t act like there weren’t aspects of it that I really liked, but I couldn’t shake this uncomfortable feeling I had while reading that the author was nudging me and winking and expecting me to share in these icky, snide jokes he was making at other people’s expense. It really soured the reading experience for me, which was a shame, because I liked the characters and it seems like there’s a really solid foundation for a great urban fantasy series being built here. I very rarely get to read books set in Manchester (which is my closest major city) and get that pleasant feeling of recognising the settings and the accents and little inside moments that comes with reading a book set where you’re from. I don’t know if I’ll continue with this series or not – my fondness for the characters is very much at war with my concerns about the content, and it’s left me with a really bad taste in my mouth. 

The Stranger Times was – for the most part – a fun, interesting and quirky read, but I really can’t get over my reservations towards the author’s idea of a throwaway joke. I really don’t know what to make of this one, other than a lingering feeling of disappointment that what I’d hoped would be an amazing book was soured by its insistence on making marginalised people the butt of the joke. 
3.5/5 stars
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This is a quirky, fun little book about a newspaper that publishes only 'news' stories of the weird and wacky (often paranormal) variety.  Frankly it is pretty bonkers story-wise and character-wise but it is also a perfect piece of escapism to read in a world that has become far too serious.  Oh, and there's a sequel coming too!!!
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The Fortean Times and the National Enquirer are real newspapers in the same way that Dr Pepper is a real doctor. But while The Stranger Times may appear to be another such questionably-sourced publication, the news it reports - on subjects like vampires, werewolves, etc. - are all true. Hannah Willis becomes the latest in a string of Assistant Editors of The Stranger Times who figures this out shortly after starting - just in time to cover a dark magician’s infernal goings-on in the Manchester underworld that might make her the last hire of the paper… evarrr!

CK McDonnell’s The Stranger Times, the first in a series of urban fantasy novels, is a decent beginning that, while not telling the most compelling or original of stories, introduces a beguiling cast of characters in a pleasing style that will mostly appeal to fans of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld and Ben Aaronovitch’s Rivers of London books.

The book gets off to a good start. McDonnell introduces his fair-sized cast skilfully while establishing the plot: a homeless person is murdered in grisly circumstances closely followed by a supporting character loosely connected to the paper. And then... things stagnate for quite a bit of time with characters slowly realising what we already know: that there’s a bad guy going around a-killing. The pacing never really recovers after that and the final act is an uninspired and neatly-forgettable Hollywood-esque conclusion.

I guess “Mild Spoilers” for the rest of the review…

The plot twists aren’t tense as there’s never any doubt of their resolution. Will the paper be shut down forever? Nope, because this is the first book in a series dependent on there being a paper. Will they stop the bad guy? Of course, because this is the first book in a series where our heroes will face more bad guys in more books.

I wasn’t that gripped with much of anything that was happening because a lot of it was predictable - even when a minor character dies early on, I knew they were going to be resurrected because this is set in a world of magic so why not? And then in the epilogue, there they be. Yawn. McDonnell isn’t able to make the reader feel the emotions his characters are feeling because events either have little or no weight to them or you can guess what’s going to happen next so you’re never convinced that what he’s telling you is what it is.

That’s also the weakness of magic itself in any story: write yourself into a corner? Magic will set you free! And so it goes here. He at least tries to quantify magic (poorly - “she’s a Type 8!”; it’s still vague, and sounds dumb) but it’s still used as a get out of jail free card with regards any scene and, rather than create an exciting finale, made for a tedious one instead.

Still, the cast and their amusing office dynamics more than make up for a fast-moving, gripping story. Hannah is a fine protagonist/reader surrogate - flawed but likeable and “good” - while Vincent Banecroft, the irascible curmudgeonly editor-in-chief (think Spider-Man’s J. Jonah Jameson but Irish) stole the show with his bottomless fury energising every scene he was in.

Dr Veronica Carter, the paper’s giggly lawyer (or is she…?), and the paper’s owner Mrs Harnforth, who was comparable to Ankh-Morpork’s ruler Lord Vetinari, were both memorable and enjoyable characters too. McDonnell also keeps us interested in these characters with surprise moments that reveal hidden depths like Banecroft’s vulnerability when it comes to his wife or mild-mannered Reggie’s vicious side when a pair of would-be muggers appear.

McDonnell leans a bit too heavily on prefab elements/archetypes at times. He describes the villain Moretti as a “Danny DeVito lookalike” which is lazy descriptive writing (though it did give me a good idea of the character so it was effective to an extent). The werewolf hitman’s motivations were to save his sickly kid (cue eye-rolling) and all that rubbish about the Accords (rules for magic users) could’ve been taken from any urban fantasy story.

There are some fun scenes though like Hannah sitting through her first Loon Day, when the paper allows members of the public into their church-based offices to try to sell them their insane stories, and Moretti’s Men in Black-esque visit to a magic shop. And the interstitials - excerpts of stories from The Stranger Times proper - were a cute addition.

I would’ve liked to have seen more originality and a stronger core storyline but this first book of The Stranger Times succeeds in establishing the world and tone of the series, and, more importantly, its likeable cast of main characters. Easy to read, mildly entertaining, even funny at times - while not as good as Pratchett or Aaronovitch’s books, McDonnell’s novel is still worth checking out for fans of those authors.
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This was a delightful undemanding read. For those with ample time at this time there could be no better way to while away the unfilled hours curled up with this amusing, inventive, and entertaining book. Neither fantasy or science fiction, it occupies a niche which is entirely the creation of the author's imagination, and combines gentle  adventure with humour. Just the thing for those who want for a while to be transported effortlessly into a cosy yarn.
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This is going to be a really hard review to write. Mainly because my notes for this consist mainly of words like ‘fantastic’ and ‘bloody brilliant’, held together by abundant swathes of exclamation marks. I might as well have just drawn a big smiley face and left it at that!

Briefly attempting coherence: The Stranger Times is a humorous, paranormal mystery-slash-urban fantasy which had me grinning from the very first page. Our main character, Hannah Drinkw… Willis, is having a hard time, which gets weirder rather than easier when she applies for a position at her local paranormal newspaper offices. There we – and she – meet the most incredibly entertaining and lovable band of misfits imaginable. There is motherly Grace, rebellious Stella, comedy duo Reggie and Ox, the unemployable Simon and, presiding over them all is the impossibly obnoxious Vincent Banecroft (channelling Bernard Black).

In very little time at all, Hannah goes from doggedly humouring her new employers (from what seems to be a form of existential shock), to investigating a spate of mysterious local deaths, to facing down monsters with little more than a stapler and the office coffee mugs. Luckily, not all of her new colleagues are what they initially appear to be. Or maybe unluckily, depending on who you ask.

C.K. McDonnell’s worldbuilding is fantastic; I am desperately keen to find out all about the Founders and the different types of Folk. I adore that he takes tired old standard monsters like werewolves and vampires and spins them into something completely new and far more interesting. To be fair, his character development and plot-wrangling are ‘bloody brilliant’ too and the pacing is spot on. I have no criticisms at all… not even those little niggly nitpicking ones!

This book was an utter joy from beginning to end. I have already pre-ordered my hardback copy (Happy Unbirthday to me!) and feel a strong urge to sit pressing F5 repeatedly until I see a sequel pop up for purchase. Ideally it will then be the second book in a very long-running series… I will beg if I have to!



'As well as the Storn interview, Hannah had another one lined up for today – mainly because she had forgotten to cancel it. The advert on the website had been, well, different: ‘Publication seeks desperate human being with capability to form sentences using the English language. No imbeciles, optimists or Simons need apply.’'

– C.K. McDonnell, The Stranger Times


Review by Steph Warren of Bookshine and Readbows blog
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