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Book Review: Barely Breathing by Michael J. Kolinski

October 23, 2014 1 comment

Image of a man and a woman standing next to a car in front of a creepy house.Summary:
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.

Review:
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.

*spoilers*
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)
“Conceded” implies that this relationship is innately bad.  Additionally, it is biphobic to call a same-sex relationship involving at least one bisexual person a “homosexual relationship.”  Essentially, the bad guy is depraved and one of the ways in which he is depraved is by being bisexual and pulling others into situations where they have sex with men and women (the book never admits to the presence of non-binary people).
*end spoilers*

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

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2014’s Accepted Review Copies

January 5, 2014 11 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.