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?
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
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.
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
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.
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
Book Review: I Don’t Want to Kill You by Dan Wells (Audiobook narrated by Kirby Heyborne) (Series, #3)
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.
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
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.
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
Jac ran away from her family’s traditional perfumerie in Paris to pursue a career in mythology in her mother’s homeland of the USA. This move was spurred on by her mother’s suicide, and Jac’s own subsequent loss of touch with reality. Years of therapy later, all is well, but when Jac’s brother and current manager of the perfumerie goes missing, Jac must face up to her demons at home, as well as scenes in her own mind. Are they delusions or past life memories?
I requested this on NetGalley without realizing it was part of a series, but it is evident each entry in the series is about different people whose lives intertwine in a minor way. Thus, I was able to read this book without feeling that sense of disorientation that happens when you jump into the middle of a series. I’m glad too, because I found the story an intriguingly different plot-line for a thriller.
Essentially, there are some pottery pieces that Robbie discovers in his home that may or may not have once held a scent that allows whoever smells it to remember their past lives. A past life therapist wants these pottery pieces, Robbie wants to give them to the Dalia Lama, and the Chinese government wants to keep them out of the Dalai Lama’s hand in their on-going quest against Tibet. It’s a good big world plot, but the overall focus is mostly on Jac, which is how I tend to prefer thrillers. And Jac is a great character. She is strong, intelligent, a caring sister. She had a rough childhood, but still has her head on straight. Her struggle with whether or not she had past lives ends up not being as important as the reader might at first think, which I also appreciated. Jac’s character development is about accepting herself for who she is and not making selfish choices. It is not at all the romance I thought at first it was going to be, and that is a good thing.
Rose evokes the settings of Paris and NYC with equal aptitude. I must say I found myself craving an afternoon at the museum and some creperies when I was done with the book. The perfumerie business and house are equally beautiful and easy to picture, but also the tunnels underneath Paris are evoked well. Setting and characterization are strong points of Rose’s.
I did periodically feel the book moved too slow in the beginning. Also, I was disappointed that people who were evil now were evil in past lives and the good were always good. Similarly, only one person had a past life as a different gender. I get it that Rose’s point is that one needs to know one’s past lives in order to fix your mistakes that you make over and over, but I think it’s a bit short-sighted to think that if reincarnation did exist it would be that simplistic. Also, personally, I just don’t believe in soul mates, so having that as a strong theme in the book was rather eye-roll inducing.
Overall, this is a fun worldwide thriller with educated people at the center of it that includes thought-provoking themes like self-improvement and self-acceptance. Fans of the modern, globe-spanning thriller will enjoy it, as well as anyone who has a love of Paris.
4 out of 5 stars
Kris is a successful video editor in Charleston, South Carolina with two best friends she’s made her own family with. She has a beautiful beach house and a loving fluffy cat named Pegasus. She also just so happens to be precognitive. Her visions have never been about herself until she starts sensing that she is being watched, receiving late night phone calls, and finding flowers left at her house and on her car. Increasingly, she realizes she is in danger, and right then her old college flame moves in next door.
This is an interesting mix of suspense, romance, and paranormal that keeps the reader guessing and interested and shows promise in the writer.
Kris’s life prior to the stalking is relatable to the modern female reader. She has a core group of good friends, a pet she loves, a career that is solid but not yet stellar, and her dream home. All that she is missing is the man. The added touch of her visions gives her that extra something special, but her visions are not over the top. She can’t control when they come or what they’ll show her, so she treats them more as an odd talent. This keeps the heroine from being over-inflated, which is nice. The love interest, Nick, is cute without being a god and kind without being perfect. He’s a good guy with flaws, ie, the ideal love interest in a romance that we’ve, alas, been seeing less and less of lately.
The plot is this book’s strong point. It is scary and suspenseful, but still believable. No characters make obvious stupid mistakes that would make the reader scream at them, and let’s just say, Kris is no Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but she also isn’t a weak, quivering Disney princess. Kris is neither a super-hero nor incredibly weak, which is just the kind of heroine we need more of in literature.
All of that said, Grace shows promise as a writer, but she still needs to work on her craft. Her plot structure is excellent, but she frequently shows instead of tells. Similarly, she struggles a bit when first introducing a character, often falling back on the beginner writer’s method of explaining hair and eye color before anything else. Similarly, the book needs more editing for simple grammar, spelling, and typos. The book does not read like a strong author’s work, but it also is still enjoyable. I am left wanting to find out about the romances of Kris’s friends Cassie and Roni, but I am also hoping that the writing that goes along with creative plots improves in the next two books.
Overall, if you are a fan of suspenseful romance with a dash of the paranormal and don’t mind a bit of showing instead of telling, this book is a fun way to pass a few hours, particularly for the low cost of 99cents.
3 out of 5 stars
Source: Kindle copy from author in exchange for my honest review