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Book Review: From a Buick 8 by Stephen King (Bottom of TBR Pile Challenge)

October 9, 2014 2 comments

cover_buick8Summary:
When Pennsylvania state troopers are called in for an abandoned car, they expect it to be a simple report and transfer to impound. But instead they find a car that is slightly off.  It looks like a Buick 8 but isn’t quite one.  Plus its engine by all laws of mechanics should not work.  The troopers agree to make the Buick their responsibility, putting it in a shed and keeping an eye on it.  Because it’s not just a car. It might not be a car at all.

Review:
I was told before I read this by other Stephen King fans that it’s not one of King’s better books, but I would like to read everything he has written, so I picked it up anyway.  This is a book that builds thrills slowly and gently to a conclusion that may not seem satisfying to many readers.

The biggest thing that I think took the thrills out of the book for me is that I am not a car person.  When the narrator was describing the Buick 8, I had no idea any of it was off at all, so it didn’t give me the creeps.  When they first describe the engine, for instance, I was surprised they were freaked out by it because it just seemed like a mysterious engine to me….like all engines.  I definitely think there are more thrills to be found here if the reader is a car person.  A car person will get caught up in what’s awry with the Buick, and see it as the mystery that the state troopers recognize it to be immediately.

What this book excels at is what King always excels at.  The book establishes the place and feeling of rural Pennsylvania beautifully.  The characters all speak in accurate and easily readable dialogue.  There is a large assortment of characters, and they are easy to tell apart.  The timeline of the book is carefully selected for just the right tempo for the book.  These are all wonderful things that kept me reading and made me engaged with characters I might not normally identify with.

Some readers might find that the plot and thrills move too slowly for them.  The Buick has issues gradually over time, and the conclusion they build to might not feel like a satisfying conclusion for all readers.  Personally, I enjoy slower moving thrillers, so this worked for me, but it might not work for all.  Similarly, I believe the ending will be more satisfying to those who have read the entire Dark Tower series than to those who have not.  What is going on with the Buick is more understandable and a bigger deal if the reader is aware of all of the context provided by the Dark Tower.

Overall, if you are a car person who will appreciate a car that is slightly off and also enjoys slowly moving thrillers enhanced by a strong sense of place, this will be a great read for you.  Similarly, those who have read the Dark Tower may be interested in this book due to some possible connections to that series.  If neither of those descriptions fit you, you may want to pick up a different Stephen King book for your thrills.  He certainly has plenty to choose from.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: Harvard Books

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Book Review: Breed by Chase Novak (Series, #1) (Audiobook narrated by Peter Ganim)

October 2, 2014 4 comments

Red outline of a woman's pregnant body against a black backgroundSummary:
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….

Review:
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

Source: Audible

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Reading Challenge: R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril (RIP) IX

September 4, 2014 4 comments

Banner for the RIP IX challenge.Hello my lovely readers!  Many book bloggers are already familiar with Carl of Stainless Steel Droppings’ RIP Challenge.  For those who aren’t familiar, it’s a reading challenge, covering the months of September and October, during which you read delightfully creepy / horror books to go along with the feelings of fall.  The books can be in any of the following genres:

Mystery.
Suspense.
Thriller.
Dark Fantasy.
Gothic.
Horror.
Supernatural.
Or anything sufficiently moody that shares a kinship with the above.

There are multiple different ways to participate, including reading short stories and watching movies, plus there’s now a readalong you can participate in.  I’ve participated twice before purely in the book reading portion of the challenge, and that’s what I’m going to be doing again.  I’ll be doing Peril the First, for which you read four books that broadly fit in any of the categories above.

Books I already own that I could select for the challenge are listed below.  I’d love to hear from you in the comments if there’s one you’d particularly like to recommend to me from my list!

  • A Banquet for Hungry Ghosts by Ying Chang Compestine
  • Barely Breathing by Michael J. Kolinski
  • Beverly Hills Demon Slayer by Angie Fox
  • Brains: A Zombie Memoir by Robin Becker
  • Breed by Chase Novak
  • Cycle of the Werewolf by Stephen King
  • Deadtown by Nancy Holzner
  • Disclosure by Michael Crichton
  • From a Buick 8 by Stephen King
  • I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead by E. A. Aymar
  • The Keep by Paul F. Wilson
  • The Kitchen Witch by Annette Blair
  • Nightmare Fuel: Volume 1 by Bliss Morgan
  • The Shimmer by David Morrell
  • Smokin’ Six Shooter by B. J. Daniels
  • A Spell of Winter by Helen Dunmore
  • State of Decay by James Knapp
  • Still Missing by Chevy Stevens
  • The Strain by Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan
  • Tales of the Chtulhu Mythos by H. P. Lovecraft
  • Unshapely Things by Mark Del Franco
  • The Veiled Mirror: The Story of Prince Vlad Dracula’s Lost Love by Christine Frost
  • The Walking Dead, Volume 16 by Robert Kirkman
  • Wanted Woman by B. J. Daniels

I think I should be able to find four books from a list that large, don’t you?

PS If anyone is doing the short story challenge, I have two short stories published that fit within the parameters (and are free!).  Also, my published novel fits into the challenge too.  Check them all out on my publications page.

 

Book Review: The City of Time and Memory Part I by J. A. Childress (Series, #1)

June 5, 2014 Leave a comment

Black and white image of a giant clock with a red person jumping from it.Summary:
Zak wakes up from a night of drunken revelry to find himself in his apartment but not his apartment building.  His apartment is now part of a massive structure of multiple different architectural styles that looks like it goes on forever. Plus his bathroom is missing.  Shreya wakes up in her car in a parking garage to Hungry Eyes playing on the radio and an ominous car nearby nicknamed “Die Pflaume.”

Review:
This first entry of a new serial does a quick job establishing a strong setting but just when the action gets going, it leaves the reader hanging.

When I accepted this review copy, I must admit that I didn’t realize it was the first entry in a serial, I thought it was in a series.  Serials offer small episodes of an overarching story in bite-size chunks the reader picks up.  Think of it as reading an episode of your favorite tv series.  I think it would help if this was marketed more clearly as a serial, since certain readers love that reading experience and others aren’t too keen on it.  Making it clearer that it’s a serial will help it better reach the right readers.

A good serial entry will read much like an episode in a tv show with a large, overarching plot, but also a smaller plot that can be told in one episode that is, ideally, tied to the overarching plot in some way.  This gives the reader the satisfaction of completing a piece of smaller plot but also keeps them engaged in the series as a whole.  This serial does a good job setting up the overarching plot.  People are waking up in what appears to be an alternate universe that is possibly punishing them for something they did that they can’t remember with sinister beings chasing them or tormenting them from afar.  It’s a good mystery, but it is just getting going when the serial entry stops.  This would be ok, but the big weakness of the serial entry is that there is no self-contained smaller plot.  Thus, instead of feeling any sense of satisfaction of having learned something or completed one mystery, the two main mysteries of the overarching plot are just getting going and then stop abruptly.  Without the presence of a second, self-contained, smaller plot for this entry in the serial, this just leaves the reader feeling cheated out of getting the whole story, rather than the dual experience of satisfaction at the wrap-up of the smaller plot and intrigue at the larger plot.

The setting of the alternate universe is well-established and delightfully creepy.  Everything being just a little bit off is creatively written without being in the reader’s face.  The author also includes a drawing of a mysterious symbol that Zak sees, which helps build the atmosphere.

In contrast, Zak and Shreya feel a bit two-dimensional, but this is possibly because they have such a short time in which to be established.  Similarly, the demonic character who chases Zak comes across as corny, straight out of a B movie, not frightening like he is, presumably, supposed to.  The world building is so good that the two-dimensional good guys and cheesy bad guys stick out like a sore thumb.

The one flaw in the writing style is there are way too many similes.  At times it feels that every other sentence contains one.  Any descriptor used too much can go from artful to annoying.  A lighter hand on these would be helpful in future entries.

Overall, this first entry in the serial establishes a delightfully creepy alternate universe where everything is just off.  The lack of a smaller, self-contained plot in addition to an overarching plot will make this frustrating to read, unless the reader has the next entry at hand to read immediately.  Recommended primarily to horror fans who like their horror in small bites and enjoy the concept of a serial who won’t mind waiting a bit for the conclusion to the mystery in future entries.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: Kindle copy provided by author in exchange for my honest review

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Book Review: The Red Church by Scott Nicholson (Series, #1)

March 22, 2014 2 comments

A glowing red church next to a silhouette of a tree with a blueish lit sky.Summary:
The Red Church was the base of a new cult started by Wendell McFall in the 1860s.  But when he took things too far and sacrificed a child, his congregation hung him from a tree.  Nowadays, the children of the town view the Red Church as haunted…and so do some of the adults.  When Wendell’s descendant, Archer, returns to his hometown from California, he brings the cult back with him in a new form. Archer claims he is the second son of God, and that Jesus was the first son who failed to deliver God’s true message.  When he reclaims the Red Church and murders start occurring, half the town suspects Archer, while the other half falls under his spell.

Review:
This book was loaned to me by someone who really enjoyed the series.  For most of the book, I felt that it was well-written horror but of a religious bent that isn’t for me.  However, the ending doesn’t quite live up to the rest of the book.

At the beginning, the book feels like a horror story written by a Baptist person truly committed to their faith.  The main antithesis to Archer’s cult is the Baptist church in town.  At the core of the conflict are a married couple.  The wife falls firmly under Archer’s spell while the husband stays true to the Baptist church.  Their two small boys are caught in the middle.  The most interesting parts of the story are when the third person narrator focuses in on these two boys, showing their crises of faith and the siren call of the cult, as well as the confusion engendered when their mother and father fight over religion.  I could definitely see this reading as a richly crafted, frightening horror for someone who is Baptist, or at least Protestant, themselves.  For the non-Christian or non-religious reader, however, the frequent mentions of Jesus, capitalizing pronouns referring to God, and attempts at creating horror at the mere idea of not following Jesus fail to aid in establishing the horror.  They become something to skim past rather than part of the atmosphere of the book.

For most of the book, the basic plot of Archer versus the family and the sheriff and the crime scene detective flows nicely with just the right touch of horror.  Toward the end of the book, just who Archer is and what precisely is going on becomes muddled.  A lot of what happens with Archer and his church just doesn’t make a lick of sense.  In spite of the religious leanings of the book, I was still engaged and wanting to solve the mystery of Archer.  Instead, who he is and what the rules of the world are become increasingly muddled.  The ending generally should clear things up, not leave things more confusing than they were before.  That kind of confusing ending would be disappointing to anyone who read the book.

I also was disappointed by one particular aspect of the ending.  A person who was abusive gets forgiven because forgiveness is what the Baptist church teaches.  It bothers me when books brush off abuse as something just getting Jesus in your heart can fix.  It’s misleading and dangerous to encourage people to think that way.  Granted, this is a horror book, so it’s doubtful many children will be reading it, but that still doesn’t make it a good message.

The characters are interesting and widely varied.  The children, particularly, are well-written.  The scenes are well-envisioned and communicated.  I never had any issues imagining any of the scenes vividly.

Overall, this is a well-written horror book that flounders a bit at the end.  It is richly steeped in the Baptist faith.  As such, I recommend it most highly to Protestant horror fans who don’t mind a bit of a confusing ending that doesn’t answer all the questions.

2 out of 5 stars

Source: Borrowed

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Giveaway: The House of Azareal by Erik Dreistadt (INTERNATIONAL)

February 22, 2014 1 comment

Purple pentagram against a black background.This giveaway is now over! Since no one entered, there are no winners.

It’s time for the second giveaway of 2014 here at Opinions of a Wolf.  Lots of the indie authors whose books I accepted for review in 2014 also were interested in me hosting a giveaway at the time of my review, so there will be plenty more coming up in the future too.

There is ONE ebook versions of The House of Azareal(review) available courtesy of the author, Erik Dreistadt!

What You’ll Win:  One ebook copy of The House of Azareal by Erik Dreistadt

How to Enter:  Leave a comment on this post stating your favorite horror trope.

Who Can Enter: INTERNATIONAL

Contest Ends: March 8th. Two weeks from today!

Disclaimer: The winner will have their ebook sent to them by the author.  The blogger is not responsible for sending the book.

Book Review: The House of Azareal by Erik Dreistadt

February 22, 2014 2 comments

Purple pentagram against a black background.Summary:
Christopher is so grateful for his twins that seem a true miracle after he and his wife, Annamarie, had trouble conceiving.  He can hardly believe it’s their 8th birthday already, and he won’t let anything spoil the celebration, not even an odd nightmare about being eaten by hellhounds he had the night before.  But his children wander off into the woods after the party.  When Christopher and Annamarie find them, they’ve stumbled upon an abandoned house.  The children convince them to explore it.  But the house quickly turns into a living nightmare.  A nightmare designed and run by Azareal.

Review:
This is my second read of the twelve review copies I accepted for review here this year (see the complete list).  I was looking for a shorter read after my previous two chunksters, and this short, fast-paced horror seemed like the perfect fit for my mood.  The book puts a fresh twist on both haunted houses and trouble conceiving horror plots, although the writing style and dialogue struggle to support the excellent plot.

The story at first appears to be a straight-forward haunted/evil house plot.  Right away, I liked that Azareal’s house isn’t the one the family lives in or one the family has just moved to.  Instead, it is a house found in the woods, akin to Hansel and Gretel.  That’s a trope I enjoy, and I liked seeing it used in the plot.  Having the parents go into the house with the children was the first of several twists on tropes in the plot that made the book so engaging.  From the point the family enters the house onward, the plot continues to twist and turn unexpectedly, yet believably.  Gradually it becomes apparent that this is more than a haunted house book, it includes the occult, as well as a trouble conceiving plot.  The fact that the results of using the occult to aid in conceiving doesn’t have consequences for eight years is a nice twist.  Most books show consequences either during the pregnancy or immediately after the baby is born.  The inclusion of new twists on both of these horror plots in one book makes the book fast-paced and engaging.  It is a quick read that will propel you forward to see how it ends.

Unfortunately, the writing style doesn’t quite live up the high quality of the plot.  Some of the dialogue feels forced and awkward.  Similarly, while some scenes are set well, others are written in an awkward manner with focus on minute details that are irrelevant to the plot or the setting and not enough focus on other details that are.  The writing style is good enough that it doesn’t ruin the enjoyment of the book, but it does knock it down a couple stars.  The book is mostly well edited with the exception of one grammar mistake made quite a few times.  Either using its for it’s or vice versa.  Since it’s the same mistake made repeatedly, it’s easy enough to gloss over when reading it.  However, I would advise for future books that the author keep an eye out for this particular issue during the editing process, especially since the rest of the grammar and spelling is so well-edited.

Overall, this is a fast-paced read that combines two horror plots into one book and puts unique twists on both.  The writing style isn’t quite as good as the plot, but it’s still an enjoyable read.  I’m looking forward to future works by the author.  Recommended to horror fans looking for a quick, unique read.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: kindle copy from author in exchange for my honest review

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