Tomorrow marks the official end of Carl of Stainless Steel Droppings’ RIP Challenge, and since I know that I will not be finishing another read for the challenge, I decided to post my wrap-up today.
I got really into the reading challenge this year, as I’m sure you could tell from the influx of creepy books on my blog! Most of the books I read over the last two months fit into the parameters of the challenge, which is to read something sufficiently creepy in any of the following genres to set the tone for Halloween:
Or anything sufficiently moody that shares a kinship with the above.
I read a total of 10 books for the challenge. I’ll break the list down by rating for you all.
5 star reads
- A Banquet for Hungry Ghosts by Ying Chang Compestine (review)
- Still Missing by Chevy Stevens (review)
- Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn (review)
4 star reads
- I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead by E. A. Aymar (review)
- Beverly Hills Demon Slayer by Angie Fox (review)
3 star reads
2 star reads
- Brains: A Zombie Memoir by Robin Becker (review)
- Barely Breathing by Michael J. Kolinski (review)
- The Walking Dead: The Fall of the Governor: Part One by Robert Kirkman and Jay Bonansinga (review)
- Favorite read: Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn (review)
- Least favorite read: Barely Breathing by Michael J. Kolinski (review)
- Most disturbing: Still Missing by Chevy Stevens (review)
- Most amusing: Beverly Hills Demon Slayer by Angie Fox (review)
- Most unique: A Banquet for Hungry Ghosts by Ying Chang Compestine (review)
- Biggest gross-out: From a Buick 8 by Stephen King (review)
Of these 10 reads, 3 were review copies and 3 fit into my Bottom of the TBR Pile Challenge. As for format, 4 were print, 4 were ebooks, and 2 were audiobooks. A nice distribution, I think!
The challenge really put me in the mood for Halloween. It maybe did too good of a job! I’m ready for some light-hearted romances now, people. Lol. The focused selection of reading materials really helped me take a good chunk out of my TBR pile, which I appreciated. Stay tuned in November for a return to the wide variety of reading you’ve come to expect here at Opinions of a Wolf!
Did you enjoy seeing me participate in the challenge? Did you participate in the challenge too? What was your favorite review I wrote for the challenge?
When Leslie married Alex, she knew they both agreed on wanting children. What she didn’t realize, though, was how fiercely Alex, the last son in a long line of wealthy and powerful New Yorkers, would want only their own biological children. He’s willing to try anything to get them biological children, and she feels she can’t deny him one last-ditch effort with a doctor in Slovenia that a couple from their infertility support group swears worked for them. And the woman has the baby bump to prove it. So they fly off to Slovenia, and from the first instant in the doctor’s office, Leslie feels that something just isn’t right….
I’m a real sucker for evil pregnancy/children stories. Rosemary’s Baby and The Omen are two of my favorite movies. So when I heard about this new take on a classic trope, I knew I had to try it out. The book ends up being much less about pregnancy and more about the perils of genetic modification, providing an interesting twist on the evil pregnancy trope that carries out through the childhood of the babies that were conceived.
Essentially, the parents’ genetics were so messed up by the treatments performed by the doctor that they start turning into something different from human. Something a bit more animalistic. The children, of course, also have some of this animalistic genetics, but most of the differences don’t show up until puberty. This allows the children to be innocents for most of the book while their parents have gone off the rails from their very first treatment. My favorite part of this book is how it offers a smart critique of pushing our bodies to do something they don’t want to do. Where is that line? How far should we push things with science and at what point will using science make us something different from human? And is that something different going to necessarily be better? Leslie clearly feels that her children were ultimately worth everything she, her husband, and their bodies went through, but the book itself leaves the answer to that question up to the reader.
Beyond this concept, though, the actual execution of the characterizations and the plot get a bit messy. The writing can sometimes wander off onto tangents or become repetitive. Some aspects of the plot are explored too much whereas others are glossed over too quickly. The book starts out tightly written and fast-paced but toward the end of the book the plot gets disjointed and goes a bit off the rails. Part of the issue is a bit of a lack of continuity regarding just how messed up Leslie and Alex actually are by the treatments. Are they still at all human or are they completely untrustworthy? Is there any possibility of redemption for them? At first both seem equally far gone but then Leslie seems to pull back from the edge a bit, thanks to a MacGuffin. It’s hard to be frightened of the situation if the frightening aspect of the parents comes and goes at will.
Similarly, in spite of the book wanting us to root for Alice and Adam (the twins Leslie and Alex have), it’s hard to really feel for them when they come across as extraordinarily two-dimensional, particularly Alice. Children characters can be written in a well-rounded way, and when it’s well-done, it’s incredible. Here, though, Alice and Adam seem to mostly be fulfilling the role of children and not of fully fleshed characters.
Most of these issues are more prevalent in the second half of the book, so it’s no surprise the ending is a bit odd and feels like it leaves the reader hanging. I was surprised to find out there’s a sequel, as I thought this was a standalone book. On the one hand I’m glad there’s another one, because the story isn’t finished. On the other, I’m not a fan of such total cliffhanger endings.
Overall, the first half of the book offers up a thrilling and horrifying critique of just how far people should be willing to go to get pregnant. The second half, however, is not as tightly plotted and drops the well-rounded characterization found in the first half of the book. Recommended to pregnancy and/or genetic modification horror enthusiasts who may be interested in a different twist but won’t be disappointed by a cliffhanger ending.
3 out of 5 stars
Annie O’Sullivan extremely forcefully declares in her first therapy session that she doesn’t want her therapist to talk back to her; she just wants her to listen. And so, through multiple sessions, she slowly finds a safe space to recount her horrible abduction from an open house she was running as an up-and-rising realtor, her year spent as the prisoner of her abductor, and of her struggles both to deal with her PTSD now that she’s free again and to deal with the investigation into her abduction.
I was intrigued by the concept of this book. Yes, it’s another abduction story, but wrapping it in the therapy sessions after she escapes was an idea I had not seen before. So when I saw this on sale for the kindle, I snatched it up. I’m glad I did, because this is a surprisingly edge-of-your-seat thriller.
Stevens deals with the potential issue of back-and-forth with the therapist by having Annie say in her first session that in order to feel safe talking about what happened to her, she needs the therapist to say very little back to her. It is acknowledged that the therapist says some things to Annie, but it appears that she waits to talk until the end of the session when Annie is done talking. What the therapist says isn’t recorded but Annie does sometimes respond to what she suggested in later sessions. This set-up has the potential to be clunky, but Stevens handled it quite eloquently. It always reads smoothly.
The plot itself starts out as a basic abducted/escaped one, with most of the thriller aspects of the first half of the book coming from slowly finding out everything that happened to Annie when she was abducted. The second half is where the plot really blew me away, though. The investigation into her kidnapping turns extremely exciting and terrifying. I don’t want to give too much away. Suffice to say that I wasn’t expecting most of the thrills to come from the investigation after the kidnapping and yet they did.
Annie is well-developed. Her PTSD is written with a deep understanding of it. For instance, she both needs human connection and is (understandably) terrified of it, so she pushes people away. Stevens shows Annie’s PTSD in every way, from how she talks to her therapist to how she behaves now to subtle comparisons to how she used to be before she was traumatized.
Other characters are well-rounded enough to seem like real people, including her abductor, yet it also never seems like Annie is describing them with more information than she would logically have.
I do want to take just a moment to let potential readers know that there are graphic, realistic descriptions of rape. Similarly, the end of the book may be triggering for some. I cannot say why without revealing what happens but suffice to say that if triggers are an issue for you in your recovery from trauma, you may want to wait until you are further along in your recovery and feel strong enough to handle potentially upsetting realistic descriptions of trauma.
Overall, this is a strong thriller with a creative story-telling structure. Those who enjoy abduction themed thrillers will find this one unique enough to keep them on the edge of their seat. Those with an interest in PTSD depicted in literature will find this one quite realistic and appreciate the inclusion of therapy sessions in the presentation.
5 out of 5 stars
Tom Starks has not been the same since his wife, Renee, was brutally murdered with a baseball bat in a parking lot. He’s been struggling for the last three years to raise her daughter, who he adopted when he married Renee. When Renee’s killer is released after a retrial finds insufficient evidence to hold him, Tom becomes obsessed with dealing out justice himself.
I was so excited that two of my 2014 accepted review copies fit into the RIP IX reading challenge! This book’s title jumped out at me immediately when it was submitted, and I had been saving it up specifically to read in the fall. I’m glad to say that this thriller does not disappoint, although it goes in a bit of a different direction than I originally anticipated. And that’s a good thing.
The main character is not who you usually see from a thriller with a person seeking violent justice. He’s bookish. Rather weak and simpering. Afraid of his own brother-in-law, who used to be a boxer. But he was madly in love with Renee, and so when her supposed killer is released, he becomes obsessed with making him dead. The catch is, Tom quickly figures out that maybe he’s not cut out to do the killing himself, and that’s where the book gets unique and interesting. I was expecting from the title and description to see a typical bad-ass main character chase down a killer around the country (or the world) and ultimately get his revenge. That is not at all the story we get, and yet, it is still thrilling. There is still violence and chase scenes, it’s just they aren’t the ones you usually see in a book like this. And that helps it. That helps keep the thrill level up, since it’s so much harder to predict what’s going to come next. Tom, with his weakness and inability to parent well, is almost an anti-hero, and yet we keep rooting for him because his grief for his wife is so powerful and relatable. It’s strong characterization and plotting mixed into one.
The scenes where Tom is seen teaching The Count of Monte Cristo at the community college where he works slow the thrill down. They feel a bit too aware of themselves, with comparison between The Count of Monte Cristo and the plot in this book. Plus scenes of classroom literary analysis simply slow the thrilling plot of the book down. The one scene where it really works is one scene in which Tom is freaking out about his own life so much that he fails at teaching well. This establishes that Tom’s life is starting to get out of control. Overall, though, there are just too many scenes of him teaching for a thriller.
The setting of Baltimore is interesting, and I was glad to see that it wasn’t set in the more stereotypical Washington D.C. Aymar writes Baltimore beautifully. I’ve never been there, but I truly felt as if I was there, seeing both the run-down aspects, as well as the beauty. I often end up skimming over setting descriptions, but Aymar’s drew me in.
The plot has just enough twists and turns to keep the reader guessing, but not so many that the reader feels jerked around. Also, the plot twists stay rooted in reality. I could truly see this happening in the real world, and that makes a thriller more thrilling.
Overall, this is a unique thriller, with its choice to cast the opposite of a bad-ass in the role of the main character. This grounds the typical revenge plot into reality, lends itself to more interesting, unique plot twists, and has the interesting aspect of a flawed, nearly anti-hero main character that the reader still roots for. Recommended to thriller fans looking for something different and those interested in first dipping their toe into the thriller genre.
4 out of 5 stars
Source: Kindle copy from author in exchange for my honest review