Sunday, July 17, 2016

Recently Read: In-Depth Reviews - July 2016 Edition

As I mentioned in my most recent Show Us Your Books! post, the last month(ish) has been kind of "meh" for me when it comes to books. I stuck to reading only books I owned throughout the month of June for the Read My Books challenge with Erin and Dani, but apparently there was a reason some of these books had been collecting dust on my shelves. (And, if you're wondering, I do plan to post about my experience with this challenge tomorrow. The end of this week was just kind of busy and I didn't have the time to write a post and link up on Thursday.)

I feel like I usually have more to say about a book when I don't enjoy it, so these reviews are long. (And this is exactly why I started posting shortened versions for the link-up this year!) I mostly write these reviews as a way to work out my thoughts and feelings on the books I've recently read, but I always hope that maybe someone will find these reviews useful (particularly if they're on the fence about a book).

And, if you think they're boring, that's okay too. As I said earlier, I'll be posting at least one book related post next week, but I'll also be posting other stuff ... So you can always just check back for that.

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Forsaken by Andrew Van Wey - 446 pages

Completed on 06/20/2016

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I honestly felt a little bad about giving this book a 2 star rating because I had mixed feelings about it before I even picked it up.

In general, I'm not a huge fan of supernatural horror/thrillers. I think they can be well done, particularly if the supernatural element involves demonic possession. For example, I loved The Exorcist (though I still haven't read the book!) and A Good and Happy Child by Justin Evans is one of my all-time favorite books (and one of the only books that actually frightened me enough to give me nightmares). That shit really freaks me out.

I'll also admit that I enjoy a good vampire story now and then (though not if the vampires are of the sparkly variety). Interview With the Vampire has been one of my favorite movies for years (I didn't really care for the book, though), and Let the Right One In is one of the best vampire movies I've ever seen. (And I'll be reading the book soon for the Semi-Charmed Summer 2016 Book Challenge!) Vampires don't frighten me, but I find the idea of them fascinating.

So, that being said, I knew I might not like Forsaken even before I picked it up. However, I was intrigued enough by the premise to not only add it to my "To Read" list, but also purchase it when I realized my library didn't have a copy. (Thankfully my "purchase" was actually free ... I used a gift card!) Something about it kind of reminded me of the movie Sinister, which I was surprised to find I enjoyed quite a bit (even with the appearance of Vincent D'Onofrio, whom I really dislike as an actor).

I didn't have high hopes for Forsaken, but I at least thought I might find it unsettling or interesting. And, while it started off strong and definitely had a few unsettling moments, I was mostly just filled with the overwhelming feeling that Van Wey was in need of a good editor.

I'm assuming that this novel was self-published. Now, before I go on with this already long review, let me say that I have nothing against self-publishing. I think it's a great way to get your name and your work out there. However, if you're going to go this route, I think it's important to have people look over your book.

No one is perfect. It's easy to make an error while typing, to forget something about a character or description as you move through your novel (especially if you've been working on it for a long time!), etc. That's why editors are so important. Even if your "editors" are simply friends or family members you trust (and not professional editors), they may pick up on things you don't.

While I was reading Forsaken, I found countless errors. And, while it bothers me much more to find multiple errors in a novel from a major publishing house, errors in general annoy me because they pull me out of the story. I know that it may not bother everyone in the same way, but when I see an error in a novel, it's all I can focus on for at least a couple of minutes. I think of different ways the sentence could have been phrased. I turn back a few pages to make sure I'm remembering things correctly and that the author did, in fact, completely fuck something up. I stare at a typo and wonder how no one noticed it. I know it's probably ridiculous, but I slightly obsess over it until I finally have to tell myself to just move on and continue reading the story. (And it's okay if you think it's weird that I do this ... It is.)

Even if I could forgive the errors (and I tried, I really did), I still couldn't quite get into this book. Van Wey had an interesting idea with a lot of potential, but it just didn't work. The biggest issue I had with the story was that he used way too many cliches. If I'm reading a novel for the first time but it still feels very familiar, that's a problem.

He also created a subplot around infidelity. I know that this storyline bothers some people, but it honestly doesn't bother me. I've read plenty of really great books with plots or subplots centering around this topic. That being said, his use of infidelity in this story felt tired and unnecessary. I understand that he wanted to tie the girl into some events that happened later, but he could have completely omitted the affair and it would still make sense. (Sorry, I know I'm being vague, but I hate spoilers!)

I could maybe even overlook most of these issues if the book had been scary, but it wasn't. Not at all. As I said earlier, there were a few unsettling moments. But, for a horror novel, Forsaken was really lacking in, well, horror.

I like horror stories because I like to feel scared. It's an adrenaline rush for me. When people ask me about it, I compare it to riding a rollercoaster (and, for the record, I also love rollercoasters!). I don't want to be scared all the time or anything, but if I'm in the mood for an adrenaline rush, I might pick up a horror novel or watch a scary movie.

That's exactly why I chose to read Forsaken: I was in the mood for something scary. When I looked at the summary on Goodreads, it promised that it was "the scariest book ever." I didn't really expect it to be the scariest book ever, but I did expect to feel that adrenaline rush I was craving. And, as you can probably guess based on the rest of this review, I didn't. The only thing I felt was disappointment.

The Silent Wife by A.S.A. Harrison - 326 pages

Completed on 06/26/2016

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When I originally picked The Silent Wife up at Half Price Books a couple of years ago, I was expecting a taut psychological thriller. I think I fell into the trap of picking books from lists with titles like "The Next Gone Girl" or "If You Liked Gone Girl, Read This." While it annoys me that nearly every psychological thriller published in the last few years has been heralded as "The Next Gone Girl" (I mean, really ... Don't these authors deserve some credit of their own? I have to assume that everyone isn't hoping to simply publish "the next Gone Girl."), I still sometimes look into the books on those lists because those are the types of books I enjoy most.

That being said, The Silent Wife wasn't really what I was expecting. It definitely has some elements of a psychological thriller, but I thought it was more of a study of a toxic relationship and the dissolution of said relationship than a true psychological thriller. You know what's going to happen if you read the summary. (And, if you skipped that, you'll still know by the second page). There's a bit of suspense since you don't know when/how the murder will happen until further in and you don't know whether or not she'll get caught, but overall I expect more suspense in a thriller. (And that's why I don't classify this as a "true" psychological thriller. You know, just in case you were wondering.)

I wouldn't say I was really disappointed in that, though ... Mostly just surprised. I think that because I actually enjoyed the book, I was able to readjust my expectations and just go with it.

The biggest issue I had with The Silent Wife is that it had a very slow start. As I was reading, I kept thinking, "It's going to take me forever to make it through this book!" The author chose to share nearly every mundane detail of her characters' lives. And, while it does help shape them into actual people with habits and hobbies and flaws, I think some things could easily have been left out to keep the story moving.

Despite the slow start, I was hooked once the book picked up a bit. I loved to hate Todd (the husband) because he was a gigantic asshole. Jodi (the wife) wasn't a particularly likable character either, but maybe that's what happens when you're in a shitty, toxic relationship for many years. Who knows?

The only other thing I didn't really like about this book was a subplot that was never fully developed. There are several flashbacks from an experience Jodi had with a therapist years ago scattered throughout the novel, and there's sort of an allusion to something that happened to her as a kid, but it was never really explored further. It also didn't seem to have much relevance to the rest of the story, but I think the author could have potentially found a way to work it in. As it was, it was just sort of there. (If you've read this book and thought it was significant to the rest of the story, please feel free to discuss it with me in an email to avoid any potential spoilers in the comments section. I may be missing something, so I'd love to know your thoughts!)

Overall, I really enjoyed The Silent Wife (enough to give it a 4 star rating). Harrison did an excellent job detailing a crumbling relationship, and the main characters, though unlikable, felt pretty realistic. It may not appeal to all fans of thrillers (particularly since it's not fast-paced or overly suspenseful), but I think it's worth reading if you can overlook the slow start.

Hillary: Tail of the Dog by Angel Gelique - 251 pages

Completed on 06/29/2016

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Very rarely do I read a book that makes me feel physically ill, but Hillary: Tail of the Dog did just that. In fact, I felt a lot like this through a good portion of the book:

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Many of you know that I like dark and disturbing entertainment. However, Hillary: Tail of the Dog was a little much ... Even for me.

One of the major issues I had with the book, though, wasn't the fact that it was disgusting. It was the fact that I felt like Gelique was just throwing shit in for shock value. Yes, I knew the book would be shocking: it literally comes with a warning on Goodreads because some of the content is not suitable for all readers.

However, I felt that some of the things in the story were completely unnecessary (particularly the cannibalism). As I was reading, I wondered if the author simply thought, "What else can I add to this to really freak people out?" And, if you're curious, I'm saying this as a person who doesn't really mind cannibalism in a story. Although I've only seen the movie versions of the series, Hannibal Lecter is one of my favorite fictional villains. That is an example of cannibalism done right. The cannibalism in Hillary?  Not so much.

There was also an obscene amount of what many people call "torture porn." These scenes go on and on and on and on. I don't think it would be an exaggeration to say that the last third or so of the book is almost exclusively made up of torture porn. It was uncomfortable at best and nauseating at its worst. (This is where I really started to feel sick, though there's an eyeball related scene near the beginning that made me a little queasy as well. I don't do eyeballs or excrement. Those two things make me want to throw up. And, if you're wondering, this book had both.)

If all of that wasn't enough, Hillary: Tail of the Dog also includes sexual abuse of a minor (Hillary is only 15). I wouldn't say that this topic was handled lightly (which I appreciated), but it made for some uncomfortable reading at times.

So why the 3 star rating?

Honestly, this book wasn't amazing. I'm pretty sure it was self-published, and, like Forsaken, desperately needed some editing. There were multiple typos, the description of one of the main characters changed drastically from the beginning to the middle of the book (so much so that I had to assume Gelique meant to use another character's name in the beginning), and some of the writing was sloppy (particularly the eyeroll inducing dialogue).

All that being said, I wanted to keep reading the story. When I give a book a 2 star rating, that's usually an indication that I could barely bring myself to continue reading because it's boring, stupid, etc. Yes, this book could be completely over-the-top at times, but it was gripping enough that I wanted to know what happened next. I also found myself thinking about it a lot when I wasn't reading it, and I think that helped bump the rating up a bit as well.

Several of you have asked if I would recommend this. I've responded to each person via email (unless they were a no reply blogger), but I'll share that answer here as well: no, not really. I was curious enough to give it a try, so I understand if your curiosity gets the best of you. I doubt very seriously that I'll read the other two books in the trilogy, though. While a part of me wants to understand more about Hillary's past and the events that led to all that happened in this book (the second book is the prequel), I just don't know if I can handle more of this crazy shit. I may just read some spoiler filled reviews on Goodreads and be done with the series.

Mister Sandman by Barbara Gowdy - 268 pages

Completed on 07/09/2016

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I purchased Mister Sandman several years ago after searching online for a book that was at least somewhat similar to one of my all-time favorite novels, Geek Love by Katherine Dunn. I knew nothing would probably ever come close to that book, but I wanted something with similar elements (particularly eccentric characters and a completely dysfunctional family).

I probably knew deep down that Mister Sandman would never live up to my expectations because it sat on my bookshelf for years before I ever bothered to pick it up. While it definitely had the eccentric characters and highly dysfunctional family, it fell flat for me in a lot of ways.

The biggest disappointment was the fact that I actually really loved Gowdy's writing style, but the novel was poorly executed. The story seemed like it was sort of haphazardly slapped together. Many of the events tied together throughout the novel and really came together at the end, but it was an awkward and often boring read. There's really no other way to describe it.

Maybe "awkward" was exactly what Gowdy was going for, though, because nearly every sexual encounter (and there were a lot!) was incredibly awkward as well. In some ways I felt the emphasis on sex worked, particularly when it came to the theme of "true self versus what is shown to others." (Even though this wasn't a great book I'd recommend, I'm still trying to be somewhat vague to avoid any potential spoilers.) However, because the book was about a dysfunctional family (and incest was not involved), the amount of sex included sometimes felt like overkill. I wanted to read more about the family's interactions with one another and less about each member's random hookups.

While the book did have some funny and interesting moments, I couldn't seem to look past the fact that it was so boring. And, to make matters worse, there were several racist comments and "jokes" that I personally found offensive. Maybe I'm too sensitive to that sort of thing, but it never fails to get under my skin. I will say that while I'm not really okay with that sort of thing, I can at least understand its inclusion in certain types of stories. For instance, if I were reading a book about the 1960s Civil Rights Movement, I would probably expect to encounter racist comments. I wouldn't like it, but, in the context of the story, it would make sense. In Mister Sandman, it just felt completely unnecessary. Yes, the book was set in the 1950s-1960s, but I think Gowdy could have omitted those comments and "jokes" and nothing would have been lost.

I disliked this book enough to give it 2 stars, but I wouldn't say I've completely given up on Barbara Gowdy. According to several reviews I've read, this isn't one of her best novels. There's at least one other book she's written that intrigues me (The Romantic), and I know it's available at my library ... So I may eventually give it a try. I think I could potentially enjoy her work, but there were just too many things that didn't work for me in Mister Sandman.

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