Tomorrow marks the official end of Carl of Stainless Steel Droppings’ RIP Challenge, and since I know that I will not be finishing another read for the challenge, I decided to post my wrap-up today.
I got really into the reading challenge this year, as I’m sure you could tell from the influx of creepy books on my blog! Most of the books I read over the last two months fit into the parameters of the challenge, which is to read something sufficiently creepy in any of the following genres to set the tone for Halloween:
Or anything sufficiently moody that shares a kinship with the above.
I read a total of 10 books for the challenge. I’ll break the list down by rating for you all.
5 star reads
- A Banquet for Hungry Ghosts by Ying Chang Compestine (review)
- Still Missing by Chevy Stevens (review)
- Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn (review)
4 star reads
- I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead by E. A. Aymar (review)
- Beverly Hills Demon Slayer by Angie Fox (review)
3 star reads
2 star reads
- Brains: A Zombie Memoir by Robin Becker (review)
- Barely Breathing by Michael J. Kolinski (review)
- The Walking Dead: The Fall of the Governor: Part One by Robert Kirkman and Jay Bonansinga (review)
- Favorite read: Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn (review)
- Least favorite read: Barely Breathing by Michael J. Kolinski (review)
- Most disturbing: Still Missing by Chevy Stevens (review)
- Most amusing: Beverly Hills Demon Slayer by Angie Fox (review)
- Most unique: A Banquet for Hungry Ghosts by Ying Chang Compestine (review)
- Biggest gross-out: From a Buick 8 by Stephen King (review)
Of these 10 reads, 3 were review copies and 3 fit into my Bottom of the TBR Pile Challenge. As for format, 4 were print, 4 were ebooks, and 2 were audiobooks. A nice distribution, I think!
The challenge really put me in the mood for Halloween. It maybe did too good of a job! I’m ready for some light-hearted romances now, people. Lol. The focused selection of reading materials really helped me take a good chunk out of my TBR pile, which I appreciated. Stay tuned in November for a return to the wide variety of reading you’ve come to expect here at Opinions of a Wolf!
Did you enjoy seeing me participate in the challenge? Did you participate in the challenge too? What was your favorite review I wrote for the challenge?
Jake Wood plans to visit his cousin, Jana, in Los Angeles. He hasn’t seen her in over 10 years, and he’s hoping the visit will help snap him out of the guilt he’s feeling after being the sole survivor of a workplace shooting. But when he arrives in LA, Jana fails to meet him or return his phone calls. He’s not worried at first, since he knows that she just got an exciting job working for the renowned scientific researcher Dr. Gregory Mirek. When he drops by Jana’s house and finds her best friend, Laurie, who hasn’t heard from her in days either, he starts suspecting she’s missing, and it might have something to do with Dr. Mirek.
I like a good mystery, and the description and cover of this book gave it a bit of a noir feel, so I was excited to see what twists on the noir mystery genre the book could bring. Unfortunately, a potentially interesting plot was held back by both some awkward writing and portions of the book that just left a bad taste in my mouth.
The plot is interesting and different enough from other mysteries to keep the reader engaged and intrigued. I personally have not seen a modern mystery revolving around a missing cousin, and I liked how different this felt. The inclusion of a mystery about Dr. Mirek and just what he’s researching into what happened to Jana, who is working for him, gave it another level of interesting information and twists that keeps the reader reading. On the other hand, the inclusion of Jake’s past trauma being the sole survivor of a work-place shooting felt tacked on and did not add much to the plot. If anything, at the beginning of the book, I was wondering if this book was the second in the series, since it felt like I was supposed to already know what had happened to Jake.
The writing really doesn’t support the plot very well, however. There is quite a bit of showing instead of telling as well as passages that just read awkwardly, instead of building the suspense they were supposed to. The quote below is an example of this.
After a long pause she said, “Yes, sacrifices,” in a faraway voice. At the time, I didn’t realize that she was referring to issues much more meaningful than gridlock. (loc 673)
There were also passages that just felt out of touch with modern life, particularly for the age of Jake, the main character, who sometimes reads like an old man. For instance, when Jana first doesn’t show up he googles her for the first time ever and looks at her Facebook page for the first time ever. There is no way cousins that got back in touch after a decade of low contact would wait that long to google each other or look at each other’s Facebook pages. Even people in this age-range who don’t use Facebook themselves will still google a new contact. Jake’s lack of technological and social media savvy just felt really wrong for his demographic.
As far as the characterizations of the main characters goes, Jake is moderately well-rounded but he also isn’t much of a noir hero. He’s clumsy, bad at appearing bad-ass, and hesitant, and yet simultaneously he’s good at fist-fighting (thanks to wrestling moves from high school), and he keeps being asked to be in porn by random people on the street (or if he is in porn). When his character isn’t thrust into noir-style encounters, it is well-rounded and interesting. When his character is, however, it feels awkward and unnatural. Laurie is relatively well-rounded and interesting, as is her boyfriend. We don’t see anybody else enough for them to be more than a passing two-dimensional character, and these are handled well.
The book does, however, put a bad taste into my mouth both in how it deals with fatness and how it deals with bisexuality. The book comes across as fatphobic. Any overweight character is also bad, and Jake judges them for being fat. I’m not saying an overweight person can’t be bad, but when every single overweight character is bad and the “good guy” main character judges them for it, it comes across as fatphobic.
Dr. Mirek is revealed to be bisexual, and the reveal is in the most insensitive way possible. Jake is pretending to be a journalist who had a tough interview with Dr. Mirek. He’s talking to an undergrad journalist student who previously interviewed Dr. Mirekto under the guise of getting more information on him from her than he could himself. She states that he was really creepy toward her in her interview and then reveals that she thinks he might be bisexual in a tone that implies that this is just as bad as creeping on her during her interview. To this Jake responds,
I don’t think my editor wants me writing that Dr. Mirek is a bi-sexual creep with a gambling problem. (loc 1594)
First, bisexual is spelled wrong, and it is never spelled correctly in the book. Second, this entire conversation implies that bisexuality is just as bad as being addicted to gambling or engaging in inappropriate come-ons. Just as with the fatphobia, there is nothing wrong with a bad guy character being bisexual, but equating his bisexuality with his badness, implying that it is part of what makes him bad, is a problem, and it is biphobic.
At the end of the book, it is revealed that Dr. Mirek had a relationship with Laurie’s boyfriend (implying the boyfriend is also bisexual, I might add), and that the boyfriend only participated in kidnapping Laurie and covering up the illegal animal experiments because of this relationship. The implication from the tone of the book is that getting into a same-sex relationship with Dr. Mirek is what brought the boyfriend down into crime. Even in the trial, the defense lawyer
conceded that Dr. Mirek and Danny Clarke had a consensual homosexual relationship. (loc 3694)
I would like to note that since this was a review copy submitted to me last November/December for review this year, I was extra offended at the biphobic content, as my review policies explicitly state that I do not wish to review anything with biphobic content. I am offended that an author who read my review policies well enough to submit properly and get accepted, who also knew one of his characters was bisexual, did not take a moment to check and see if this representation could possibly be biphobic. It is offensive to me as a person, and I feel that the author owes me an apology for putting me through reading something I very clearly stated I did not want to read. It is often impossible to know from a blurb if a book will be biphobic/homophobic/transphobic, and it is really up to the author to self-censor and not submit for review something like that to a reviewer who explicitly stated they do not wish to read that content. In all honesty, though, rather than an apology from the author, I would prefer he take some time to read up on bisexuality and biphobia to correct this biphobia in future writing.
Overall, the plot is interesting but the writing at the sentence level struggles. Additionally, the tone of the book is fatphobic and biphobic, which will both offend some readers and shows a lack of writing three-dimensional characters, since people are bad based on their bodies and sexualities and not their character. I recommend readers looking for a modern LA noir look elsewhere.
2 out of 5 stars
Source: Kindle copy from author in exchange for my honest review
On Nick and Amy Dunne’s fifth wedding anniversary, Nick comes home from working at the bar he co-owns with his sister to find his wife gone. The door is wide open, furniture is overturned, and the police say there is evidence that blood was cleaned up from the floor of the kitchen. Eyes slowly start to turn toward Nick as the cause of her disappearance, while Nick slowly starts to wonder just how well he really knows his wife.
I’d been wanting to read this since it first came out, but when the previews for the movie came out, I knew I also wanted to see the movie, and I just had to read the book first. Because one should always read the book first. A friend head me talking about it and offered to loan me her copy, and I flew through the book in just a couple of days. Even though I had guessed whodunit before I even started to read it, I was still swept up in a heart-racing read.
There have been many reviews of Gone Girl, so I am going to try to focus my review in on why I personally loved it, and also address a couple of the controversies about the book. Any spoilers will be marked and covered toward the end of the review. Please note that this review is entirely about the book and does not address the movie at all.
The tone of the book sucked me in from the beginning. How the book alternates between Nick’s current life and Amy’s diary of the early years of their relationship clearly showed that the relationship started out strong and fell apart, and I wanted to see how something so romantic could have gone so awry. Amy’s diary entries simultaneously sound feminine and realistic. She swears to the same extent that my friends and I do, and I loved seeing that in romantic, feminine diary entries. Nick’s portions, in contrast, perfectly demonstrated the measured response to a disappearance that could easily happen if a relationship was on the rocks a bit at the time. Nick’s reactions felt very realistic to me, and I appreciated it.
Even though I predicted the whodunit, I still found the end of the book to be thrilling, as exactly how it happened was not something I was able to predict.
If you don’t want any spoilers and just want to know why you should read the book, let me just say that anyone who has been in a long-term relationship will find the complex relationship between Nick and Amy frightening and chilling and will be left giving their partner side-eye periodically throughout the book. If you like the idea of a book that makes you freaked out at the thought of how truly awry a relationship can go, then you will enjoy this thriller.
On to the spoilers.
This book has been accused of misogyny for three reasons. Nick’s internal dialogue, the character of Amy, and the fact that Amy falsely accuses an ex-boyfriend of rape. I did not find this book to be misogynistic at all, and I will now address each of these points.
Nick clearly struggles with how he relates to women due to the fact that his dad is a misogynistic bastard. It is realistic for a good person to struggle with bad internal dialogue due to hearing such dialogue from a parent. This is a very real thing that happens, and that people go to therapy for. The very fact that Nick fights against this internal dialogue shows that he knows that it’s wrong and is trying to win out over it. Just because one character has misogynistic internal dialogue does not make an entire book misogynistic nor does it make that character misogynistic. It just makes the book realistic. In fact, I find the fact that Nick ultimately defeats his internal misogynistic dialogue by realizing that it’s ok to hate women who are actually horrible but not all women to be really progressive. Some women are horrible people. Nick learns to turn his internal “women are bitches” dialogue into “Amy is a bitch,” and I think that’s awesome. Now, this point is related to the next point, the character of Amy.
There is at least one strain of feminism that thinks that it’s anti-woman to ever portray any women as bad or evil. There is also the strain of feminism that just says men and women are equal and should be treated equally. I am a member of the latter portion. It is equally harmful to never want to admit to women’s capability for evil as it is to say all women are bad or all women are childlike or etc… There are bad women in the world. There are evil women in the world. Women are not automatically nurturing, women are not automatically good at mothering, women are not automatically goddesses. Women are capable of the entire spectrum of evil to good, just like men are. It is unrealistic to act like women are incapable of evil, when we in fact are. This is why I find the portrayal of Amy as a narcissistic sociopath to be awesome. Because there are women just like her out there in the world. I was continually reminded of one I have known personally while I was reading the depiction of Amy. The patriarchy hurts men and women, and one way that it does so is with the assumption that women are incapable of evil. Nick and Amy’s other victims are unable to get people to believe them about Amy because Amy is able to externally project the virginal good girl image that the patriarchy expects of her. They don’t expect her to be evil. She appears to be a card-carrying, patriarchy-approved cool girl, therefore she is not evil and Nick and the others are delusional. It’s an eloquent depiction of how the patriarchy can hurt men, and I think that a lot of people are misinterpreting that a misogynistic slant.
Finally, the false rape accusation. Yes, it is extremely unlikely to happen. (An analysis in 2010 of 10 years of rape allegations found that 5.9% were able to proven to be false and 35.3% were proven to be true. The remaining 58.8% fell into a gray area of not being proven either way. Source) However, this means that false allegations of rape do indeed happen. 5.9% is not zero, and this isn’t even taking into account the gray cases that couldn’t be proven either way. Just because we have a problem with rape in this country and with rape culture does not mean that every accusation of rape is actually true. Just as not all men are rapists, not all women are truth-tellers. And let’s not forget that men can be raped, and women can be falsely accused of rape as well. Amy’s false rape accusation also fits well within her character development. As a teenager, she falsely accused a friend of stalking her. Then she accuses this man she dated in her 20s of raping her. Then she frames her husband for her murder. It’s a clear downward spiral, and the false rape accusation, complete with faking restraint marks on her arm, is a realistic warm-up to her insane attempt at framing her husband for her own murder. It fits within the character. It is not a malicious, useless, throwaway plot point. It fits who Amy is, and real life statistics support that it could indeed happen.
All of these aspects of Amy and Nick and Amy’s relationship are part of what made me love the book. I am tired in thrillers of so often seeing only men as the sociopathic evil. I have known women to be sociopaths in real life and in the news, and I like seeing that represented in a thriller. I also appreciate the fact that Nick is by no stretch of the imagination an innocent golden boy. He has some nasty internal thoughts, and he was cheating on Amy. And yet I was still able to feel sympathy for the cheating bastard because he gets so twisted up in Amy’s web. It takes some really talented writing to get me to sympathize with a cheater at all, so well done, Gillian Flynn.
Finally, some people really don’t like the end of the book. They wanted Amy to get caught or someone to die or something. I thought the ending of the book was the most chilling of all. Nick is unable to find out a way to escape Amy, so he rationalizes out their relationship to himself (she makes me try harder to be a better person or face her wrath), and ultimately chooses to stay in the incredibly abusive relationship for the sake of their child when he finds out she was pregnant. It is realistic that Nick is concerned that if he divorces her he won’t be able to prove anything, she may falsely accuse him of things, and he won’t end up able to see his child. This is something people on both ends of divorced worry about, and Nick has proof that Amy is unafraid to fake major crimes just to get even with him. It is so much more chilling to think of Nick being trapped in this toxic relationship, justifying it to himself along the way, in an attempt to protect their child. Bone. Chilling. Because it could, can, and does happen.
Overall, the book is an excellent depiction of how the patriarchy hurts men as well as women, depicts a chilling female sociopath, and manages to be thrilling even if you are able to predict the twist.
Recommended to thriller fans looking for something different but don’t be surprised if you end up giving your significant other funny looks or asking them reassurance seeking questions for a few days.
5 out of 5 stars
When Leslie married Alex, she knew they both agreed on wanting children. What she didn’t realize, though, was how fiercely Alex, the last son in a long line of wealthy and powerful New Yorkers, would want only their own biological children. He’s willing to try anything to get them biological children, and she feels she can’t deny him one last-ditch effort with a doctor in Slovenia that a couple from their infertility support group swears worked for them. And the woman has the baby bump to prove it. So they fly off to Slovenia, and from the first instant in the doctor’s office, Leslie feels that something just isn’t right….
I’m a real sucker for evil pregnancy/children stories. Rosemary’s Baby and The Omen are two of my favorite movies. So when I heard about this new take on a classic trope, I knew I had to try it out. The book ends up being much less about pregnancy and more about the perils of genetic modification, providing an interesting twist on the evil pregnancy trope that carries out through the childhood of the babies that were conceived.
Essentially, the parents’ genetics were so messed up by the treatments performed by the doctor that they start turning into something different from human. Something a bit more animalistic. The children, of course, also have some of this animalistic genetics, but most of the differences don’t show up until puberty. This allows the children to be innocents for most of the book while their parents have gone off the rails from their very first treatment. My favorite part of this book is how it offers a smart critique of pushing our bodies to do something they don’t want to do. Where is that line? How far should we push things with science and at what point will using science make us something different from human? And is that something different going to necessarily be better? Leslie clearly feels that her children were ultimately worth everything she, her husband, and their bodies went through, but the book itself leaves the answer to that question up to the reader.
Beyond this concept, though, the actual execution of the characterizations and the plot get a bit messy. The writing can sometimes wander off onto tangents or become repetitive. Some aspects of the plot are explored too much whereas others are glossed over too quickly. The book starts out tightly written and fast-paced but toward the end of the book the plot gets disjointed and goes a bit off the rails. Part of the issue is a bit of a lack of continuity regarding just how messed up Leslie and Alex actually are by the treatments. Are they still at all human or are they completely untrustworthy? Is there any possibility of redemption for them? At first both seem equally far gone but then Leslie seems to pull back from the edge a bit, thanks to a MacGuffin. It’s hard to be frightened of the situation if the frightening aspect of the parents comes and goes at will.
Similarly, in spite of the book wanting us to root for Alice and Adam (the twins Leslie and Alex have), it’s hard to really feel for them when they come across as extraordinarily two-dimensional, particularly Alice. Children characters can be written in a well-rounded way, and when it’s well-done, it’s incredible. Here, though, Alice and Adam seem to mostly be fulfilling the role of children and not of fully fleshed characters.
Most of these issues are more prevalent in the second half of the book, so it’s no surprise the ending is a bit odd and feels like it leaves the reader hanging. I was surprised to find out there’s a sequel, as I thought this was a standalone book. On the one hand I’m glad there’s another one, because the story isn’t finished. On the other, I’m not a fan of such total cliffhanger endings.
Overall, the first half of the book offers up a thrilling and horrifying critique of just how far people should be willing to go to get pregnant. The second half, however, is not as tightly plotted and drops the well-rounded characterization found in the first half of the book. Recommended to pregnancy and/or genetic modification horror enthusiasts who may be interested in a different twist but won’t be disappointed by a cliffhanger ending.
3 out of 5 stars