Archive

Posts Tagged ‘thriller’

Book Review: Doctor Sleep by Stephen King (Series, #2) (Audiobook narrated by Will Patton)

February 13, 2014 2 comments

Red-tinged image of a face with the author's name and title in smoke-like white letters over the top.Summary:
Danny Torrance didn’t die in the Overlook Hotel but what happened there haunts him to this day.  Not as much as the shining does though.  His special mental powers that allow him to see the supernatural and read thoughts lead to him seeing some pretty nasty things, even after escaping the Overlook.  He soon turns to drinking to escape the terror.  But drinking solves nothing and just makes things worse.  When he sees his childhood imaginary friend, Tony, in a small New Hampshire town, he turns to AA to try to turn his life around and learn to live with the shining.

Abra is a middle school girl nearby in New Hampshire with a powerful shine.  She sees the murder of a little boy by a band of folks calling themselves the True Knot.  They travel in campers and mobile homes, seeking out those who have the shine to kill them for it and inhale it.  They call it steam.  They’re not human. And they’re coming after Abra.  Abra calls out to the only person she knows with a shine too, the man she’s talked to before by writing on his blackboard.  Dan.

Review:
A sequel that takes the original entry’s theme on overcoming your family origin and ramps it up a notch, Doctor Sleep eloquently explores how our family origin, genetics, and past make us who we are today.  All set against a gradually ramping up race against the clock to save a little girl from a band of murdering travelers.

The book begins with a brief visit to Danny as a kid who learns that the supernatural creatures exist in places other than the Overlook, and they are attracted to the shine.  This lets the reader first get reacquainted with Danny as a child and also establishes that the supernatural are a potential problem everywhere.  The book then jumps aggressively forward to Danny as a 20-something with a bad drinking problem.  It’s an incredibly gritty series of scenes, and it works perfectly to make Dan a well-rounded character, instead of a perfect hero of the shine.  It also reestablishes the theme from The Shining that someone isn’t a bad person just because they have flaws–whether nature or nurture-based.  That theme would have been undone if Dan had turned out to be an ideal adult.  It would be much easier to demonize his father and grandfather in that case, but with the way King has written Dan, it’s impossible to do that.

The way Dan overcomes both his drinking and his temper, as well as how he learns to deal with his shine, is he joins Alcoholics Anonymous (AA).  In contrast to his father who tried to quit drinking on his own, Dan attempts it in a group with accountability.  This then shows how much easier it is to overcome a mental illness with community support.  I appreciated seeing this.  I will say, however, that some of the AA talk in the book can get a bit heavy-handed.  Some chapter beginnings include quotes from the book of AA, and Dan can sometimes seem a bit obsessed with it when he relates almost everything to something he learned or heard there.  AA definitely plays a vital role in many people’s recovery from addiction, and it’s wonderful to see that in a work of fiction.  However, it would have been better for the reader to see the role of AA more than to hear quotes from AA so often.

The big bad in this book is a band of supernatural creatures who were once human and still look human.  But they change somehow by taking steam and go on to live almost indefinitely.  They can die from stupid accidents and sometimes randomly drop dead.  The steam is acquired by torturing children who have the shine.  The shine comes out of their bodies as steam when they are in pain.  They call themselves The True Knot.  This troop is a cartoonish group of evil people who try to look like a troop of retirees and some of their family traveling in a camper caravan.  The leader of this group is Rose the Hat–a redheaded woman who wears a top hat at an impossibly jaunty angle.  I was pleased to see Rose written quite clearly as a bisexual.  Her sexuality is just an aspect of who she is, just like her red hair.  Seeing a bi person as the big bad was a delight.  Her bisexuality isn’t demonized. Her actions as a child killer and eater of steam are.  She is a monster because of her choices, not because of who she is.   I alternated between finding The True Knot frightening and too ridiculously cartoonish to be scary.  I do think that was partially the point, though.  You can’t discredit people who seem ridiculous as being harmless.

How Abra is found by The True Knot, and how she in turn finds Dan, makes sense within the world King has created.  It doesn’t come until later in the book, though.  There is quite a bit of backstory and build-up to get through first.  The buildup is honestly so entertaining that it really didn’t hit me until after I finished the book how long it actually took to get to the main conflict.  So it definitely works.  Abra is a well-written middle school girl.  King clearly did his research into what it’s like to be a middle schooler in today’s world.  Additionally, the fact that Abra is so much older than Danny was in The Shining means it’s much easier for the reader to understand how the shine works and see a child, who understands at least a bit what it is, grapple with it.  This made Abra, although she is a child with a shine, a different experience for the reader who already met one child with a shine in the previous book.  Abra is also a well-rounded character with just the right amount of flaws and talent.

There is one reveal later in the book in relation to Abra that made me cringe a bit, since it felt a bit cliche.  It takes a bit of a leap of faith to believe, and I must admit it made me roll my eyes a bit.  However, it is minor enough in the context of the overall story that it didn’t ruin my experience with the book.  I just wish a less cliche choice had been made.

The audiobook narrator, Will Patton, does a phenomenal job.  It was truly the best audiobook narration I’ve heard yet.  Every single character in a very large cast has a completely different voice and style.  I never once got lost in who was speaking or what was going on.  More importantly to me, as a New England girl born and raised, is that he perfectly executes the wide range of New England accents present in the book.  Particularly when he narrates the character, Billy, I thought I was hearing one of my older neighbors speak.  I could listen to Will Patton read a grocery list and be entertained.  Absolutely get the audiobook if you can.

Overall, this sequel to The Shining successfully explores both what happened to Danny Torrance when he grew up and a different set of frightening supernatural circumstances for a new child with the shine.  This time a girl.  The themes of nature, nurture, your past, and overcoming them are all eloquently explored.  There is a surprising amount of content about AA in the book.  It could either inspire or annoy the reader, depending on their mind-set.  Any GLBTQ readers looking for a bi big bad should definitely pick it up, as Rose the Hat is all that and more.  Recommended to fans of Stephen King and those that enjoy a fantastical thriller drenched in Americana.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Audible

Buy It

Previous Books in Series:
The Shining, review

Counts For:
mia2014badge

Book Review: Sleepless by Charlie Huston (Audiobook narrated by Ray Porter and Mark Bramhall)

January 18, 2014 2 comments

A city in sepia tones with the title of the book in fuzzy white letters over the black sky.Summary:
In an alternate 2010, the world is slowly falling into disarray, partially due to terrorism, but mostly due to a new deadly illness.  SLP makes the sufferer an insomniac, unable to sleep for years, until they fall into a state of insanity known as the suffering.  The sleepless, as those with the illness are known, change the structure of society. Movie theaters are now open 24/7, there’s an increase in sales of odd and illicit things, as the sleepless get bored.  Most importantly, the sleepless have moved much of their energy into online MMORPGs.  Some spending countless hours gold farming there, making a good buck with all their hours of alertness.

Park, an old-fashioned cop, is determined to save the structure of society, one bust at a time.  He’s committed to his work, in spite of his wife being sleepless and being increasingly unable to care for their infant daughter.  So when his boss asks him to go undercover to look for people illegally selling the one drug that can ease the pain of the sleepless–dreamer–he agrees.

Jasper is an elderly ex-military private investigator without much of an eye for sticking to the rule of the law who is asked by a client to hunt down and return to her a thumb drive that was stolen.  He slowly discovers that that thumb drive ended up in the middle of much more than some art thieves and finds himself sucked into the world of illicit dreamer.

Review:
My partner and I both enjoy a good noir story, so when we saw this summary on Audible, we thought it would make an entertaining listen for our 12 hour holiday road trip.  The story was so bad, we could only take it for about an hour at a time and eventually just turned it off so I could read out loud to him from a different book.  I eventually soldiered on, though, because I honestly just had to finish it so I could review it.  In what should be a fast-paced noir, there is instead an overwrought amount of description of unimportant things that slow what could have been an interesting plot down to a crawl.

Noir as a genre is a thriller that generally features a hard-boiled detective (sometimes a hard-boiled criminal).  It’s fast-paced and usually short featuring a lot of grit and mean streets.  One thing Huston does that puts an interesting twist on the noir is he incorporates both a cop who is being forced to turn detective and a criminal-style private investigator.  He features both sorts of main character.  This intrigued me from the beginning.  However, the writing includes far too much description of unimportant things for a crime thriller.  For instance, there is an at least 5 minutes long description of a computer keyboard.  I could literally space out for a few minutes and come back to the audiobook that was playing the entire time and miss literally nothing. It would still be describing the same chair.  This really slows the plot down.

A golden robot holding a gun.On top of the overly descriptive writing, the narration is overwrought, like a stage actor trying too hard.  The best explanation I can make for the narration is, if you have ever seen Futurama, the narration switches back and forth between being Calculon and being Hedonbot.  Now, I admit, the audiobook narrators played these parts perfectly. In fact, I had to check to see if they’re the same voice actors as Calculon and Hedonbot (they’re not).  I really think the audiobook narrators are what saved the story enough to keep me reading.  I kept laughing at the visual of Calculon and Hedonbot doing this overwrought noir.  But that is clearly not what makes for a good noir.  The tone and writing style were all wrong for the plot.

In addition to the writing style, there’s the plot.  In this world that Huston has imagined, gamers have become all-important.  When people go sleepless, they become intense gamers.  If they don’t do this then they become zombie-like criminals.  I don’t think this is a realistic imagining of what would actually happen if a huge portion of the population became permanent insomniacs.  Not everyone is a gamer or a criminal.  There’s a lot more options in the world than that.  Additionally, in this alternate 2010, the art world now revolves around MMORPGs as well. The art work that is now sold is thumb drives of the characters that people make in the games.  There is a long speech in the book about how making a character in an MMORPG is art.  Yes, somepeople might think that. But it is incredibly doubtful that the entire world would suddenly overnight start viewing character building in an MMORPG as an art form.  I won’t explain how, because it’s a spoiler, but the gamers also come into play in the seedy underworld of illegal drugs.  At the expense of a plot that follows the logic of the world the author has created, gamers are made to be inexplicably all-important.

hedonbot holding grapes and apologizing for nothingI also must point out that the science in this book is really shaky.  SLP was originally a genetic disease that suddenly becomes communicable.  That’s not how diseases work.  Communicable and genetic diseases are different, they don’t suddenly morph into one or the other.  Additionally, in the real world, there’s no way an illness would be given a scientific name that is an abbreviation for the common name (SLP for sleepless).  Think about swine flu.  The common name is swine flu, the scientific name is H1N1.  Similarly, the drug to treat SLP’s official name is DR33M3R, which is just the street name, dreamer, in leetspeak.  This isn’t fiction based in true science.

One thing I did appreciate in the book is that the semi-criminal private investigator, Jasper, is gay.  He’s extremely macho, ex-military, and he bangs his also macho helicopter pilot.  I like the stereotype-breaking characterization of Jasper.  It’s nice to see a gay man given such a strong role in a thriller.

Overall, this alternate 2010 noir gets too caught up in overly long descriptions of mundane things and an overwrought narrative style to keep the plot moving at a thriller pace.  The plot features an unrealistic level of importance for MMORPGs and the gamers who play, as well as unsound “science.”  One of the hardboiled main characters is a stereotype-breaking gay man, however, which is nice to see.  Recommended to those who enjoy an overly descriptive, overacting narration style with gamers featured unrealistically at center stage who don’t mind some shaky science in the plot.

2 out of 5 stars

Source: Audible

Buy It

2014′s Accepted Review Copies

January 5, 2014 7 comments

Here on Opinions of a Wolf, I have started accepting review copy submissions for the upcoming year in November and December.  Then, out of the books submitted to me for review, I select 12 to review in the upcoming year.

This year, 34 review requests were submitted.  This means I accepted only 35% of the submitted books.  Of those 34 book submissions, 2 didn’t follow my review request guidelines, so were automatically eliminated.  Of the authors submitting, 74% were male and 26% female.  The most popular genre submitted to me was thriller with 10 submissions.  The least submitted genre (that wasn’t a genre I don’t accept) was a tie between romance, horror, urban fantasy, and fantasy, with 2 each.  I ultimately accepted: 4 scifi, 2 fantasy, 2 horror, 2 thriller, 1 urban fantasy, and 1 historic fiction.

The accepted review copies are listed below, alphabetically.  Summaries are pulled from GoodReads or Amazon, since I have yet to read them myself and so cannot write my own.  These books will be read and reviewed here in 2014, although what order they are read in is entirely up to my whim at the moment.

Close-up of an elephant's eyeBad Elephant Far Stream
By: Samuel Hawley
Genre: Historic Fiction
Summary:
Bad Elephant Far Stream is an elephant’s life story, told from her own perspective, through her own eyes.
Inspired by the life of a real elephant known as Topsy, it follows Far Stream from her birth and capture in the wild in Ceylon in the late 1860s, through her transportation to America and thirty years with the circus, which ultimately led to her being labeled as “bad.” It’s an unusual and uncompromising novel that explores the questions: What is it like to be an elephant trained for human amusement? What does such a creature think? What does it feel? What does it yearn for?
Bad Elephant Far Stream takes the reader on a voyage of discovery to find out

Image of a man and a woman standing next to a car in front of a creepy house.Barely Breathing
By: Michael J. Kolinski
Genre: Thriller
Summary:
Jake Wood receives an e-mail message from his cousin Jana whom he hasn’t seen in over a decade. Jana has learned of Jake’s tragedy: The seven people dead and the downward spiral of depression and survivor’s guilt his life has become. She invites him to leave a bitter cold Iowa winter to visit her in sunny Los Angeles.
Jake accepts Jana’s invitation but when he arrives, she is nowhere to be found. All Jake knows for certain is that Jana was working for renowned primatologist Dr. Gregory Mirek, a scientist with a towering reputation and a wide circle of wealthy and influential friends.
With the assistance of Jana’s best friend Laurie Summers, Jake travels across California and into Las Vegas in search of Jana. It’s a path that leads to a desperate real estate developer, a seedy casino owner, and the discovery that Dr. Mirek has ghastly secrets that he will do anything to protect.

Black and white image of a giant clock with a red person jumping from it.The City of Time & Memory
By: Justin Childress
Genre: Horror
Summary:
The City rises up from the silent gray clouds that surround it, structures like tombstones, built with recollections of bad days gone by, populated by fading screams and stale sobs. Unnameable nightmares stalk the streets, the alleys, the stairs, hungry for those unfortunate to find themselves lost in the City of Time & Memory.
Zak awakens to find himself in his room, but not in his house. His doorways no longer connect to the rest of his home, but to silent hallways and endless gray voids. He must find a way out of the labyrinth of alien rooms and endless stairwells, before something finds him.

A colorful nebula.Enormity
By: Nick Milligan
Genre: Scifi
Summary:
Jack is the most famous rockstar in the world… he’s just not from this planet.
Before joining NASA’s space program, Jack had dreams of a career as a professional musician. When a deep space mission goes awry, he crashes on an alien planet. Jack discovers that his new world is inhabited by a race of humans that have evolved in parallel to those on Earth. He picks up a guitar and performs the most wondrous rock songs of his home planet. Neil Young. Leonard Cohen. Bob Dylan. Superstardom beckons as audiences around the globe revere Jack and his apparent songwriting abilities. He basks in the boundless glow of a hedonistic dream world. But Jack soon learns that his lie will have sinister consequences.

Purple pentagram against a black background.The House of Azareal
By: Erik Dreistadt
Genre: Horror
Summary:
Christopher Porter lives a peaceful life with his wife and twin children in the mountains of Tennessee. Christopher’s life is about to be turned upside down as he and his family are drawn to a mysterious, old house deep in the woods near their home. After entering the house, he struggles to keep his family safe and try to escape the mysterious creatures living inside.

Title against a foggy image of a man walking in the woodsI’ll Sleep When You’re Dead
By: E. A. Aymar
Genre: Thriller
Summary:
Tom Starks has spent the three years since his wife’s murder struggling to single-handedly raise their daughter, Julie, while haunted by memories of his dead spouse. When he learns that the man accused of her murder, Chris Taylor, has been released from prison, Tom hires a pair of hit men to get his revenge. But when the hit men botch the assassination, Tom is inadvertently pulled into their violent world. And now those hit men are after him and his daughter.

Man in a hat standing next to a Europeanish building

 

One Death at a Time
By: Thomas M. Hewlett
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Summary:
“People think Alcoholics Anonymous is for drunks. It’s not. It’s for us, the real drinkers. The blood drinkers. All the rest of those meetings are just for show.”
Los Angeles, 1948. Detective Jack Strayhorn is killed while chasing down a suspect in the Black Dahlia murders all by himself.
Los Angeles, 2010. Jack Strayhorn is back in L.A. as a private investigator with a simple mission: catch the bad guys and try not to kill any innocent people along the way.
To him and his kind, human blood is the strongest drug in the world. Fortunately for Jack, he found the secret group within AA dedicated to helping Vampires survive the madness and destruction of their disease.
When a city councilmember with ties to a drug-dealing Fae clan is found dead in his home and the woman lying next to him is Jack’s current missing person’s case, tracking down the ghostlike hitman will test him like nothing before.
But this time, Jack won’t be alone. With the help of his unique powers of investigation, his magically talented friends, and a Medical Examiner with a few secrets of her own, Jack will face down a gang of outlaw biker werewolves, spell-casting Fae high on pixie dust, and an underground order of Vampires intent on ruling the world.
As Jack learned long ago, the only way to get through eternity is one death a time.

Painting of a woman in a white dress next to a pond.The Reflections of Queen Snow White
By: David C. Meredith
Genre: Fantasy
Summary:
What happens when “happily ever after” has come and gone?
On the eve of her only daughter, Princess Raven’s wedding, an aging Snow White finds it impossible to share in the joyous spirit of the occasion. The ceremony itself promises to be the most glamorous social event of the decade. Snow White’s castle has been meticulously scrubbed, polished and opulently decorated for the celebration. It is already nearly bursting with jubilant guests and merry well-wishers. Prince Edel, Raven’s fiancé, is a fine man from a neighboring kingdom and Snow White’s own domain is prosperous and at peace. Things could not be better, in fact, except for one thing:
The king is dead.
The queen has been in a moribund state of hopeless depression for over a year with no end in sight. It is only when, in a fit of bitter despair, she seeks solitude in the vastness of her own sprawling castle and climbs a long disused and forgotten tower stair that she comes face to face with herself in the very same magic mirror used by her stepmother of old.
It promises her respite in its shimmering depths, but can Snow White trust a device that was so precious to a woman who sought to cause her such irreparable harm? Can she confront the demons of her own difficult past to discover a better future for herself and her family? And finally, can she release her soul-crushing grief and suffocating loneliness to once again discover what “happily ever after” really means?
Only time will tell as she wrestles with her past and is forced to confront The Reflections of Queen Snow White

Brightly colored buildingsThe Running Game
By: L. E. Fitzpatrick
Genre: Scifi
Summary:
Her father called it the running game. Count the exits, calculate the routes. Always be ready to run because they’ll always be coming for you. Whatever happens, they’ll always be coming for you.
Rachel had let her guard down and they had found her. She could run now, leave the city and try her luck beyond the borders, but with no money and a dark secret to hide her chances of survival are slim.
But then she meets two brothers with a dangerous past and secrets of their own. Can they help her turn the game around?

Pencil drawing of Abraham LincolnThe Second Lives of Honest Men
By: John Cameron
Genre: Scifi, Historic Fiction
Summary:
On the evening of April 14th, 1865, a flawless duplicate replaced the 16th President an instant prior to his assassination. Two centuries later, Honest Abe opened his eyes to a world in desperate need of guidance.

Image of what appears to be a golden bird with a glowy bit in it.

 

 

 

 

Stinger Stars
By: Paul Bussard
Genre: Scifi
Summary:
Stinger Stars is the story of mankind’s first contact with another intelligent species—a man-made species that can enable humans to regenerate lost or damaged body parts. Tragically, the intelligent creatures must be repeatedly maimed in order for them to produce the regenerative agent that makes them so useful. Set in a world of rival genetic research companies, ruthless alpha males, unauthorized experiments, and industrial espionage, Stinger Stars follows Maria de la Cruz, a lowly biology student with a stunted arm, as she struggles with the very personal moral and ethical issues—whether to protect the intelligent animals from cruel exploitation or benefit from their suffering to regain the use of her arm.

A Hindu god holding a sword and staring at a lizard.The Underworld King
By: Ranjit More
Genre: Fantasy
Summary:
60,000 miles below the surface of the earth thrives a kingdom inhabited by daityas – giant, fanged beings of the night who sometimes travel to the surface above and eat humans in the hearts of grim forests. Their four-armed king, Drumila, faces a new peril, and this time it is advancing upon him not from the heavens, where his eternal enemies reside; but from the darkest depths of creation. The naagas -giant, flame-breathing serpents- are traveling towards the capital of daityas, intent upon reducing them to ashes, and Drumila must do something about it. For no matter how strongly he detests his subjects’ lifestyle and nature, it is his duty to protect them as king.
Moved by Drumila’s plight, the powerful sage, Shukracharya, swims down into the underworld upon the back of his giant crocodile and convinces his disciple-king to migrate to the surface of the earth.
What follows is an epic exodus to the world above and a strange encounter with a beautiful girl thereupon. Nandini seems to be human, but all signs point towards her having descended from the heavens, the least of which are a delicate waist and long eyes extending up to her ears. But is this a trick of the gods? Drumila will find out soon enough, when the battle begins.

Book Review: Gone by Bryan Alaspa

November 9, 2013 Leave a comment

Image of a yellow tent in blackness.Summary:
A newly formed company’s owners decide that what the small group of employees need is a bonding camping trip.  Bear isn’t a fan of camping, but he agrees to go along anyway.  When the site is more rural than he was anticipating, he starts to question his decision.  When they wake up the first morning and find one member of the party missing, he’s sure he made a mistake coming camping.  On each successive morning, another camper is gone.  Who is taking them and why?

Review:
I picked this up, along with seven other books, during Smashwords’ 2012 Summer/Winter Sale.  I’ve always enjoyed the classic horror trope of we-all-go-to-the-woods-and-shit-gets-real, so I was intrigued to see what Alaspa did with it.  There’s enough different in the plot to keep you reading, in spite of some awkward sentence-level writing.

People disappearing from their tents and leaving their clothes behind, one per night, is a nice subtle change to what one generally sees in the everyone in the woods story.  Usually people get eaten by zombies or axe murdered or something obvious.  A simple disappearance was different enough that I was genuinely curious as to what was causing these odd disappearances.  Added into this are the methods used by whoever is doing the abducting to keep the campers in their campsite.  They try to paddle away but the currents mysteriously change.  They try to walk away through the woods but the trees attack them, etc…  These methods worked within the context of the supernatural seeming disappearances.  I also liked that their supernatural experimenters make it impossible for them to get hurt, so they are forced to wait their turn.  It all felt a bit like a subtly done allegory for animals in a slaughterhouse, and it kept me reading and engaged.

The only element of the plot that didn’t work for me is that the first person to disappear from the group is also the only person of color in the group.  Having the Latino guy be the first one to disappear is so stereotypical and B-movie that I actually cringed.  Let poor Carlos be at least the second one to disappear. Or, heck, make him be one of the last ones standing.  Getting to play with the regular tropes of whatever genre you write in is one of the benefits of indie writing, so use that to your advantage.

Unfortunately, some of the writing style on the sentence level isn’t up to the same level as the intricate plot.  There is quite a bit of telling instead of showing.  Not enough trusting the reader to get it.  There are some awkward and puzzling sentences in the book as well:

The ground was wet and my hands were damp when I put my hands on it. (loc 616)
The hand turned into fingers and slammed the lids of my eyes closed. (loc 2809)

Additionally, I started counting the number of errors that were clearly not typos, and I got over 30.  I fully expect some errors to get through, they tend to even in traditionally published works, but I find anything over 5 to 10 to be excessive and feel more like a first draft than a fully done, ready to publish work.

On the other hand, there are portions of the sentence-level writing that are eloquent and beautiful to read.  Particularly, any instance where characters are having sex is quite well-written, and I would be interested to read work from Alaspa focused more on romance or erotica.

When she touched the part of me that was hard and eager I nearly exploded. (loc 1828)

Overall, this book contains a strong horror/thriller plot that will keep the reader engaged in spite of some awkward sentence-level writing and a few too many textual errors.  I recommend it to horror readers who are intrigued by the plot and don’t mind these short-comings.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: Smashwords

Buy It

Book Review: The Shining by Stephen King (Series, #1) (Audiobook narrated by Campbell Scott)

November 6, 2013 1 comment

View of an old wooden door from a low perspective. Summary:
Jack Torrance, a writer and schoolteacher, almost let his temper and alcoholism destroy himself and his family.  But he’s joined AA and is determined to get his life, family, and career back on track.  When he hears through a friend about a hotel in rural Colorado need of a winter caretaker, it seems like the perfect solution.  Spend time in seclusion working on his new play and provide for his family simultaneously.  But what Jack doesn’t know is that The Overlook Hotel has a sinister past, and his son, Danny, has a shine.  Psychic abilities that make him very attractive to the sinister forces of the hotel.

Review:
The new release of Doctor Sleep, the surprise sequel to The Shining, at the end of this September made me realize that while I had seen the movie (review), I had never gotten around to reading to the book.  October seemed like the ideal time to immerse myself into an audiobook version of a Stephen King story, and since I knew I loved the movie, I figured I was bound to enjoy the book.  Surprisingly, this is a rare instance where I enjoyed the movie version better than the book.  While the book version is definitely an enjoyable thrill-ride, it never quite reaches the highest heights of terror.

The characterization is the strongest here that I’ve seen in the King books I’ve read so far.  All the characters are three-dimensional, but the Torrance family in particular are well-explored.  Jack and Wendy (his wife) read so much like real people, because while both make some horrible mistakes, neither are truly bad.  Neither had a good childhood or much help to overcome it, and both want so badly to have a good family and a good life but no clear idea on how to do so.  Danny, a five-year-old, is handled well as well.  He speaks appropriately for his age, not too advanced or childish.  The use of a third person narrator helps the reader get to know Danny and his psychic abilities at a deeper level than his five-year-old vocabulary would otherwise allow for.  This level of character development is true to a certain extent for the rest of the characters as well and is handled with true finesse.

The plot starts out strong and frightening on a true-to-life visceral level.  The Torrance home life is not good, and that’s putting it lightly.  Wendy feels she has nowhere to be but with her husband, due to her only relative being her abusive mother.  Jack is terrified of turning into his father, who abused his wife and children, and yet he has broken Danny’s arm while drunk.  And in the midst of this is Danny, a child with special needs.  This was where I was the most engrossed in the story.  Before the hotel is even a real factor.

The Overlook is the supernatural element of the story that is supposed to kick it up a notch into horror territory.  It is never made entirely clear exactly what is up with the hotel but we do know: 1) there is a sinister force at work here 2) that sinister force is out to have people kill others or commit suicide and join their haunting party 3) for some reason, people with a shine are more attractive to this sinister force as someone to have on board 4) the sinister force extorts whatever weaknesses are present in the people in the hotel to get what it wants.  So the sinister force very much wants Danny to be dead, as well as his father and mother, although they are sort of more like side dishes to the whole thing.  The sinister force figures out the family dynamics and extorts them by kicking Jack’s anger and Wendy’s mistrust up a notch.  It also gets Danny to wander off where he’s not supposed to go.  But things don’t really get going until the sinister force possesses Jack.  I get why this might freak some people out.  The sinister force gets the people to do something they normally would never do.  However, personally I found the parts where Jack’s own real shortcomings cause him to do something sinister, like breaking Danny’s arm, to be so much more frightening.  Jack’s regret over his actions and fear of himself are much more frightening because what if you did something like that? Whereas a sinister force is easier to distance oneself from mentally.  It’s gory and thrilling but it’s not terror-inducing evil.  Perhaps if the things Jack does at the hotel were just things inside himself that the hotel allows to come out, it would still be truly terrorizing.  But it is clearly established in the book that the sinister things Jack does in the hotel are due to his being possessed by the hotel.  They are not him.  This removes a certain amount of the terror from the book.

The audiobook narrator, Campbell Scott, did a good job bringing a unique voice to each character.  His pacing and reading of the book was spot-on.  However, the production quality of the reading didn’t match his acting.  The entire recording was too quiet.  I had to crank my headphones up all the way, and I still had trouble hearing the book when walking around the city, which is not normally a problem for me.  In contrast, whenever Jack yells, it blew out my eardrums.  Some better sound balance was definitely needed.

Overall, this is a thrilling read that begins with a terrifying focus on overcoming flaws and bad dynamics from the family you were raised in then switches to a less frightening focus on a sinister force within a hotel.  It thus ends up being a thrilling read but not a terror-inducing one.  Those seeking a thrilling tale with well-rounded main characters being threatened by the supernatural in the form of ghosts and/or possession will certainly enjoy it.  Those who are less frightened by the supernatural might enjoy it less.  I recommend picking up the print or ebook over the audiobook, due to sound quality.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Audible

Buy It

Book Review: Deeper than the Dead by Tami Hoag (Series, #1) (Bottom of TBR Pile Challenge)

June 5, 2013 2 comments

Images of fall leaves with the title of the book written over them.Summary:
When four children stumble upon the displayed body of a dead woman, they and their teacher are pulled into the investigation.  But when this murder is connected to others, that makes it a potential serial killer, and that means the FBI wants to get involved. Quietly.  Of course, it’s only 1985, the edge of modern forensics, so they must pursue their murderer with a combination of science and old-fashioned detective work.

Review:
I wish I could remember how this thriller made it into my TBR Pile.  It’s a unique entry into the serial killer/forensics sector of the genre due to the time period Hoag chose to set it in.  She states in her author’s introduction that she wanted to set her thriller in the 80s due to a personal nostalgia for the time but only after starting her research did she realize what an important time period it was for forensics.  I think it’s yet another example of an author following her interests and getting a unique work out of it.

The plot alternates perspectives between the four children, their teacher, the older FBI agent on the case, and the killer (without revealing who the killer is), all in the third person.  The changing perspectives help keep the plot complex and moving, as well as give us multiple plausible theories on who the killer is.  That said.  I was still able to predict the killer, and I honestly felt the killer to be a bit stereotypical.

The serial killings themselves  are all of young women who either are currently at or have recently left the local halfway house.  The murder/torture methods are sufficiently grotesque without going over the top.  Fans of the genre will be satisfied.

The characters are a bit two-dimensional, particularly the older FBI agent, the young cop on the force, and all of the murder suspects.  I also, frankly, didn’t appreciate the fact that an expert in the field calls one of the mothers a crazy borderline.  She was presented as entirely the flat, evil representation of people with BPD that we problematically see in the media.  This is why writing two-dimensional characters can be problematic.  We only see the woman being overly dramatic and demanding.  We never see her softer or redeeming qualities.  I’d have less of a problem with this presentation of this woman with BPD in the book if it was a first person narration or a third person narration that maintained one perspective.  Then it could be argued that this is that one character’s perception of the woman.  But given that multiple perspectives are offered, presenting so many people in a two-dimensional way is rather inexcusable, and it’s irresponsible to write mental illness in this way.  I’m not saying every character with a mental illness needs to be written in a positive light, but they should be written as three-dimensional human beings, not monsters (with, perhaps, the exception of sociopathy).

This is a book, then, with an interesting idea and fairly good plot but shaky characterization.  Some people don’t mind that in their thrillers.  I admit I speed-read, eager to find out who the killer was.  But I also was bothered by the flatness of the characters.  If you think this won’t bother you, then you will probably enjoy this book.  Those with a mental illness should be warned that the representation of mental illness in the book could be upsetting or triggering.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: PaperBackSwap

Buy It

Book Review: The Isle of Blood by Rick Yancey (Audiobook narrated by Steven Boyer) (Series, #3)

April 29, 2013 2 comments

Tree and birds silhouetted against a moon and a green background.Summary:
Will Henry states that this is a story that Dr. Warthrop did not want told…and proceeds to tell it anyway.  When a British man shows up with a package being delivered under duress, Dr. Warthrop is ecstatic to realize it is the nest of the Magnificum–the holy grail of monstrumology.  Dr. Warthrop decides to leave Will Henry in New York while he pursues this beast.  But when his monstrumologist companion returns claiming that Warthrop is dead, Will Henry and two fellow monstrumologists travel to Europe to track him–or his body–down.

Review:
Not as engaging or thought-provoking as the first two books in the series, I can only hope that this third entry is suffering from the common penultimate book malady where the book which must set everything up for the finale of the series can sometimes drag.

There are two problems in this entry that make it fail to be as engaging or thrilling as the first two books.  First, Will Henry is left behind in New York for a significant portion of the novel.  We are thus left with a whiny teenager bemoaning Warthrop’s choice to be responsible for once and keep him out of danger.  We also are left with very little action for far too large a portion of the book.  The second issue is perhaps a bit of a spoiler but suffice to say that the monster is disappointing and its disappointment is easily predicted.  If we had a lot of action with a disappointing monster, that’s still engaging.  If we had less excitement with a surprising, phenomenal monster, that’s still thrilling.  The combination of the two, though, prevents this thriller from being as thrilling and engaging as it should be.

Of course there are other elements that still worked, which is why I kept reading it.  Yancey’s writing is, as ever, beautiful to read (or listen to) and contains much depth.

“So many times we express our fear as anger…, and now I think I wasn’t angry at all, but afraid. Terribly, terribly afraid.”

The settings are unique, and the characters are strong and leap off of the pages.  Will Henry becomes more fully fleshed-out in this entry as we start to see his descent into a love affair with monstrumology.  We also get to see Warthrop at what he himself perceives of as his lowest point.  It’s a dark bit of characterization but it works very well for the story Yancey is telling.

Overall, I was a bit disappointed, purely because the first two entries in the series were so phenomenal.  The third book is still a very good book.  Fans might be a bit disappointed, depending on how attached they are to the unique thriller aspect of the series, but the characters and writing still make this well worth the time.  Fans will remain in eager anticipation of the final entry in the series.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Audible

Buy It

Previous Books in Series
The Monstrumologist, review
The Curse of the Wendigo, review

Series Review: The John Cleaver Series by Dan Wells

March 6, 2013 Leave a comment

Introduction:
I post series reviews after completing reading an entire series of books.  It gives me a chance to reflect on and analyze the series as a whole.  These series reviews are designed to also be useful for people who: A) have read the series too and would like to read other thoughts on it or discuss it with others OR B) have not read the series yet but would like a full idea of what the series is like, including possible spoilers, prior to reading it themselves or buying it for another.  Please be aware that series reviews necessarily contain some spoilers.

Notebook paper with blood on it.Summary:
Fifteen-year-old John Wayne Cleaver is not a serial killer.  At least not yet.  John’s therapist believes he has Antisocial Personality Disorder, commonly known as sociopathy, although he can’t legally deliver the official diagnosis until he’s 18 years old.  But both his therapist and himself hope John can learn to control his illness in the meantime.  An illness John refers to as Mr. Monster.  This becomes more difficult as a serial killer shows up in his town.  John starts to wonder if he can harness Mr. Monster to find and kill the killer.  A killer he soon learns is supernatural and ultimately faces.  The demons continue coming to his town, and John feels his grasp on control and an ability to function in average society slipping.  Are there really more and more demons coming to his town? Or is it just his sociopathy getting the better of him?

Review:
This trilogy starts with an incredible bang, but makes a slow trajectory downward to end on a whimper.

The first book is incredible.  It bashes ableism on its head by featuring a main character who is a teenager struggling with a mental illness, and not an easy one to identify with either.  People with APD lack empathy, which can make it difficult to empathize with them in return.  Wells carefully crafts a realistic yet sympathetic teenager with APD.  His struggles to defeat his mental illness and be a functioning member of society are great to see in a novel period, let alone in a YA one.  On top of this, we have a single mother running a business with the help of her just graduated high school daughter and part-time help of her teenage son.  It’s the perfect mix of non-traditional and yet not off the wall family to have as a backdrop for John.  We have all this, then, with a thriller plot that starts with the hint of a serial killer then deliciously builds to the revelation that the killer is a demon.  This fantasy element fits perfectly in with what is hot in YA right now, giving an interesting, unique main character an appealing wrapping.

Knife under an x.I was stoked after reading this and had high hopes for the trilogy.  The middle book maintains some of the elements that made the first book amazing but missed on others.  On the plus side, John is still who he was in the first book, although with more confidence.  He tries to date, and his family has their own struggles.  Although the thriller pacing is less deftly done, it still works in the context of this book, particularly since the middle book of a trilogy is traditionally setting things up for the last hurrah of the final book.  Plus this book manages to accomplish two things.  It has John learning more about himself and his mental illness and it shows him learning more about demons.  It ends on a powerful note with him inviting one of the demon’s friends to Clayton County to face off with him.  He’s tired of waiting for things to come to him and is ready to go on the offensive.  Thus, although this book wasn’t as strong as the first, I had high hopes that it was setting us up for a powerful final book in the trilogy.

Things really fall apart in the final book, which is what makes the trilogy taken as a whole disappointing.  Everything is building toward the final book.  Toward what John ultimately learns and what he ultimately becomes.  Unfortunately the answers to both of those questions are a major let-down after the unique and albeism-smashing features of the first two books.  In the climactic scene, John’s mother sacrifices herself to save her son.  When he loses her, he realizes that he is feeling feelings.  He’s feeling the pain of losing her.  When he realizes this, the lightbulb goes off in his head that he stopped feeling feelings when his father abandoned them.  It was just him trying to deal with his broken family.  I shit you not.  And then he decides he has been healed by his mother’s death.  His mother’s sacrifice opens him up to letting himself feel things again. What. The Fuck.

Burnt paper background to book title.First of all, going numb after being badly emotionally hurt is a real thing.  But it’s not a real thing that would be mistaken by a therapist as Antisocial Personality Disorder. And being numb doesn’t mean a person starts daydreaming about killing everyone around him and the girls he has crushes on in particular.  Numb is not the same as lacking empathy, and it honestly doesn’t even take a therapist to see that.  Numb looks and feels different from sociopathy.  They are not the same thing and simply could not be mistaken for each other.  If we decide that perhaps Wells didn’t mean to imply that John was simply numb and didn’t have sociopathy, then we can only read this as saying that John’s father abandoning the family *caused* his son’s sociopathy and that his mother’s sacrifice cured it.  I’m sorry, but your dad running off does not give people Antisocial Personality Disorder, and it certainly isn’t cured in the span of 10 minutes by someone sacrificing their life for yours.  (By the way, does anyone see the heavy-handed religious symbolism in that? Because it is definitely there).  The cause, as with many mental illnesses, is officially unknown but is believed to be a combination of genetics and severe environmental factors such as child abuse (source).  Since John is not abused, then we can only assume that in his case his APD is genetic.  It is utterly ridiculous to present the matter as his APD being caused by something as simple as a parent leaving.  Similarly, there is no cure for APD.  People do not get magically better overnight.  It can be managed so a person may have a healthy, normal life, but it does not just disappear.  The symptoms do sometimes become less severe on their own in a person’s 40s (according to the DSM-IV-TR), but John is not 40, and he doesn’t suddenly get better thanks to aging.  The whole climax of the series turns the series from being about a person with a mental illness learning to function and do positive things into a story about how a father abandoning his family destroyed them and almost ruined his son for life.  The former is unique and powerful.  The latter is heavy-handed and preachy.  Plus that whole dynamic belittles mental illness and makes it out to be just overcoming a bad part of your life, rather than the very real illness that people deal with every day.

So what we have here is a trilogy that starts as one thing and ends as another.  It starts as a thriller with a unique main character demonstrating dealing with mental illness in an engaging, realistic manner.  It ends with a thriller that quickly goes from spine-tingling to heavy-handed and preachy.  It is unfortunate that this preachiness also gets the facts about a mental illness wrong and presents these false ideas to a YA audience in such an attractive, fantastical thriller wrapping.  Ultimately the writing is good but the last book in the trilogy takes a nose-dive when it comes to facts and the realities of having and living with a mental illness.  Thankfully, one can read the first or first two books in the trilogy without reading it all.  There are not major cliffhangers that compel the reader to continue on, and the first two books stand on their own well enough.  I’m disappointed that the series as a whole is not something I can recommend whole-heartedly.  I’m disappointed that after starting out so strong, Wells went so far astray.  That doesn’t change the quality of the first two books, though, so I still recommend them. But only if you’re capable of leaving a series partly unread.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: PaperBackSwap, Audible

Books in Series:
I Am Not A Serial Killer, review, 5 stars
Mr. Monster , review, 4 stars
I Don’t Want to Kill You, review, 3 stars

Book Review: I Don’t Want to Kill You by Dan Wells (Audiobook narrated by Kirby Heyborne) (Series, #3)

March 2, 2013 4 comments

Burnt paper background to book title.Summary:
Teenaged John Cleaver had his sociopathy under control but when his town was plagued with two different demons, he had to let it loose a bit to fight them.  He invited the demon Nobody to come face off with him, but he and those around him are left wondering if Nobody is real or if John’s sociopathy has just gone out of control.  Meanwhile the teenage girls of the town are committing suicide left and right, and John can’t help but wonder why he’s ever tried to save anybody.

Review:
This is one of only a few YA series that I’ve enjoyed reading.  The paranormal/youth aspect are almost like a Dexter lite, which is enjoyable.  I must say, though, that I was disappointed by the ultimate ending to the series.  However, since I write up series review posts every time I finish a series, I’ll leave my analysis of the series as a whole to that post, which will be coming up next.  For right now, let’s look at the final book on its own merit.

The plot this time around was disappointingly full of obvious red herrings.  I knew within the first chapter where Nobody was hiding, and it was kind of ridiculous that talented, intelligent John was missing it.  Similarly, I found the serial killer who John identified as who he could end up being if he made the wrong choices to be a bit heavy-handed.  John was already well aware of the risks of his sociopathy from the very first book.  It felt a bit unnecessary to make this such a strong plot point.  It came across as preachy, which is something that this series had avoided so far.  Similarly, John goes to see a priest at one point in his investigations, and his conversations with him felt a bit too heavy-handed, almost like the (known religious) Wells was preaching at the readers through the priest.  Authors are allowed their opinions and perspectives, but preachiness is never good writing.  Perspective and opinion should be shown eloquently through the plot and characters.

Speaking of characterization, John was still strongly written, but his mother and sister were another story.  They felt less like they were doing what was logical and more like they were doing what needed to be done to move the plot forward.  On the other hand, I really enjoyed John’s new girlfriend.  She was well-rounded and realistic.  Plus she was fit while being curvy, which I think is a great thing to see in a book.

In spite of the slightly obvious plot, I still was engaged to get to the end.  Even though I knew whether or not there was a demon and who the killer was, I still deeply wanted to see how John would handle it.  The audiobook narrator, Kirby Heyborne, helped with this momentum.  His narration was just the right amount of tension while still remaining in a teenager’s voice.  Be warned, though, that there is some yelling in the book, so the volume does spike considerably at a few points in the narration.  You may want to keep the volume a bit lower than usual to accommodate this.

Unfortunately, where the plot ultimately ended up was deeply disappointing to me.  It was not at all a satisfying ending, and from a mental illness advocacy perspective, I actually found it distressing.  Whereas John’s sociopathy previously was handled with a lot of scientific understanding, I found the ending of this book to be completely out of touch with real sociopathy.  While it wasn’t offensive per se, it drastically oversimplifies sociopathy, both its treatment and its causes, which is just as bad as demonizing it.  I will address this issue more fully in the series review, but suffice to say that I found the ending to this book’s individual mystery and the series as a whole to be disappointing, particularly given the potential of the book.

Overall, then, this is an average book that wraps up an above average series.  If you are someone who is fine with stopping things partway through, I’d recommend just stopping with the previous book in the series, Mr. Monster.  But if you are interested in the overall perspective, this book is still an engaging read that doesn’t drag.  It just might disappoint you.

3.5 out of 5 stars

Source: Audible

Buy It

Previous Books in Series
I Am Not A Serial Killer, review
Mr. Monster, review

Counts For:

Finishing the Series Reading Challenge 2013 Badge
Mental Illness Advocacy Reading Challenge 2013 badge

Book Review: Blackbirds by Chuck Wendig (Series, #1)

December 21, 2012 1 comment

Woman with hair made of bird silhouettes.Summary:
Miriam Black is an early 20-something drifter with bleach blonde hair and a surprising ability to hold her own in a fight. She also knows when and precisely how you’re going to die. Only if you touch her skin-on-skin though.  And it’s because of this skill that Miriam became a drifter.  You try dealing with seeing that every time you touch someone.  But when a kind trucker gives her a lift and in her vision of his death she hears him speak her name, her entire crazy life takes an even crazier turn.

Review:
This is one of those books that is very difficult to categorize.  I want to call it urban fantasy, but it doesn’t have much supernatural about it, except for the ability to see deaths.  The world isn’t swimming in vampires or werewolves of goblins.  I also want to call it a thriller what with the whole try to stop the trucker from dying bit but it’s so much more than chills and whodunit (or in this case, who will do it).  Its dark, gritty style reminds me of Palahniuk, so I suppose what might come the closest would be a Palahniuk-esque urban fantasy lite thriller.  What I think sums it up best, though, is a quote from Miriam herself:

It starts with my mother….Boys get fucked up by their fathers, right? That’s why so many tales are really Daddy Issue stories at their core, because men run the world, and men get to tell their stories first. If women told most of the stories, though, then all the best stories would be about Mommy Problems. (location 1656)

So, yes, it is all of those things, but it’s also a Mommy Problems story, and that is just a really nice change of pace.  Mommy Problems wrapped in violence and questioning of fate.

The tone of the entire book is spot on for the type of story it’s telling. Dark and raw with a definite dead-pan, tongue-in-cheek style sense of humor.  For instance, each chapter has an actual title, and these give you a hint of what is to come within that chapter, yet you will still somehow manage to be surprised.  The story is broken up by an interview with Miriam at some other point in time, and how this comes into play with the rest of the storyline is incredibly well-handled.  It’s some of the best story structuring I’ve seen in a while, and it’s also a breath of fresh air.

Miriam is also delightful because she is unapologetically ribald and violent.  This is so rare to find in heroines.

We’re not talking zombie sex; he didn’t come lurching out of the grave dirt to fill my living body with his undead baby batter. (location 2195)

As a female reader who loves this style, it was just delightful to read something featuring a character of this style who is also a woman.  It’s hard to find them, and I like that Wendig went there.

While I enjoyed the plot structure, tone, and characters, the extreme focus on fate was a bit iffy to me.  There were passages discussing fate that just fell flat for me.  I’m also not sure of how I feel about the resolution.  However, I’m also well aware that this is the beginning of a series, so perhaps it’s just that the overarching world rules are still a bit too unclear for me to really appreciate precisely what it is that Miriam is dealing with.  This is definitely the first book in the series in that while some plot lines are resolved, the main one is not.  If I’d had the second book to jump right into I would have.  I certainly hope that the series ultimately addresses the fate question in a satisfactory way, but at this point it is still unclear if it will.

Overall, this is a dark, gritty tale that literally takes urban fantasy on a hitchhiking trip down the American highway.  Readers who enjoy a ribald sense of humor and violence will quickly latch on to this new series.  Particularly recommended to readers looking for strong, realistic female leads.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Netgalley

Buy It

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 968 other followers