Ketchum throws you down into the muck that is the worst of humanity, pins you there and rubs your face in it. If you haven’t read him before you should know this before jumping in. Stranglehold takes an unflinching look at the kind of real life horror that occurs every day. The kind of horror that trickles down, creating a legacy of pain and torment.
Lydia meets Arthur and falls in love. He’s decent and kind and a respectable business owner. But Arthur is a good actor. He’s a sociopath who believes he’s been put on earth to make people realize the world is an ugly pain-filled place. He has done some terrible things in his past and though he fools Lydia for a while, he can’t hide his true self forever. After they have a baby they name Robert, the cracks begin to show and Arthur’s behavior becomes increasingly abusive towards Lydia. Lydia sticks it out until he crosses a line and she realizes she’s been living with a madman and files for divorce. She allows him visitation for Robert’s sake. He loves Robert after all and even after her own abuse at his hands, she believes he is a good father who would never hurt their son . . .
What happens next is just grueling but it wouldn’t be a Ketchum book if it was all unicorns and rainbows. The book follows Lydia through the injustices of the legal system. Lydia assumes she is doing the right thing by following all the rules but playing by the rules isn’t enough. A nasty, ugly and unfair trial begins. It’s infuriating and sad and the innocents, unfortunately, are the ones who suffer the most. It really makes you understand why some people take their kids and run.
I really felt for Lydia and Robert. Lydia’s own past was one filled with abuse and that was the last thing she wanted for her child. She feels guilty and bravely stands up to Arthur once she realizes what a deranged beast he truly was beneath the respectable façade. But sadly she was helpless once she entered the courtroom and had to depend on other people to do right by her.
This book was suspenseful but it will more than likely make you angry. It was horribly grim and unpleasant but it’s one of those books that you have to see through to the end regardless of the fact that you know you’ll probably be sorry.
Narration Notes: Chet Williamson reads with an intense, serious tone well suited to the bleak material. I think he would do an amazing job with a gumshoe noir type of hero because he has that type of voice. He brings Arthur to life; his voice is menacing, mean and calculated and just what this piece demands. Much of this story is told from Lydia’s point of view, however, and I always think it strange when a male is chosen to read a female character Williamson does a decent enough job with Lydia, forgoing the silly cringe-worthy falsetto that some male narrators use, but I would’ve preferred a woman to voice her thoughts, if I’m being completely honest. He’s not bad by any means, but a woman (at least for Lydia’s parts), would’ve been a better choice. When it comes to Robert I have no complaints. He sounded like the confused, scared kid that he was supposed to be and the other male character were easily discernible from one another.
A woman awakens with a gun and a name badge and no memory of who the heck she was before this moment. She’s adaptable though, assumes the name Felice, and sets off to see what’s up.
What’s up isn’t anything good. Much of the world seems to have been burned to ashes and there are “screaming meemies” lurking about ready to suck the life out of you. Felice manages to find some food and a young boy who is also apparently suffering from amnesia. She takes it upon herself to protect him and to get to know him. I loved her then. How could you not?
So, you may be thinking this is just another post-apocalypse zombie-ish filled tale. Well, it is and it definitely is NOT. I know this makes no sense whatsoever but if I go into any sort of plot detail I’ll ruin it all for you and I’m not going to do that. I’ll only say that things take a unique turn and then another and though you may be confused here and there (or maybe that was just me) it all comes together in the end.
I love character focused books and Trooper #4 features a tough, smart and tenacious lead in Felice. She’s thrown into a confusing as hell situation and brings you right along with her as she tries to unravel everything that’s going on around her. She doesn’t sit around waiting for someone to save her or boo hoo about her situation. She digs in and figures things out on her own. She also has a snarky side which made me love her even more.
When someone gets overly complicated to show off how smart they may be she:
“Tuned out the techno babble. Really, who needed it?”
And, this description? Tell me you’ve never thought something similar about someone? (If not, you’re a nicer person than I’ll ever be!)
“The smirk on her face. The kind you wanted to smack off with sandpaper.”
Again, how could I not love her?
I listened to this book as unabridged audio and highly recommend it if you like a strong lead, twists, suspense and can deal with some plot confusion that gets cleared up. There’s nothing worse than a book that wraps up and leaves you confused, right? This isn’t that book. The story was expertly narrated by Barbara Benjamin-Creel . She has an almost musical voice that pulled me into the story from the very first scene. She does a beautiful job with Felice and the various other characters. I always knew who was who and she brought the scenes to life, something many a narrator fails to do, adding a depth to the story.
I can easily recommend listening to Trooper #4 if you’re looking for something different.
Spun is a novella, 2 hrs 47 mins (or 140 pgs), and is a spin-off of a previous book called “Spin”. I haven’t read Spin yet (but plan to now) and had no problem following this story. I wish all attached stories could manage to do this.
Amber is a former child star struggling to get her life together. She is the classic tale of child star turned wastrel. She fell in love with a bad boy, has been in and out of rehab for drug and alcohol addiction, has a strained relationship with her parents, ruined all but the lamest of career opportunities with her on-set bad behavior and instability and is now hounded by the paparazzi who want nothing more than to see her continued downfall.
Amber has made a complete mess of her life and she knows it. She doesn’t deny it, she doesn’t get all “poor me” and she doesn’t lay the blame on any one but herself. She’s trying to do what’s right even though it’s probably the most difficult thing she’s ever faced. This is why I liked Amber right away. She has managed to stay sober for two years and has avoided the former love of her life for over six months because he is her kryptonite. But then she’s dealt a devastating blow to the heart, forced to face betrayal after betrayal and has a family who doesn’t have any faith that she is actually “sober”. This story is about the roughest patch of Amber’s young life.
Amber is never unlikable, she’s just a mess. At this point in her life, she’s vulnerable and facing so many betrayals that you hope she’s able to come out of it with her sobriety and her sanity intact. I really felt for her, even teared up once or twice, if you can believe that. Told from Amber’s POV you see the entire devastating mess from Amber’s POV and you really feel her pain. She even managed to maintain a self-deprecating sense of humor about herself and her life that always kept the book from being completely dreary as Amber struggles to deal with becoming a stable adult.
I enjoyed this story and the breezy (but not immature) writing style. If you’re into audiobooks and this sort of dramatic story, this is a great choice. The narrator drew me in and kept me. Her voice sounds world weary but still young enough and I never felt jolted or lost when other characters spoke.
3 1/2 stars but I'm rounding up. Don't ask me to rate each individual story because I am far too lazy.
The cover? Oh how, it haunts me. Those must be demon tails, right? Otherwise I can’t deal. This is a short story collection of 16 horror and horror-ish tales narrated by Nelson Pyles. He has a down to earth every man sort of tone that kept me listening and he does a great job with the voices, never sounding forced or mechanical or too deadly serious.
The last thing Ellen remembers was walking her dog. Now her head hurts and she’s locked in a cage. As she gets her wits about her, she realizes that she is not alone and that she is in a dungeon . . . This is a crazy tale of tale of survival. Having recently read King’s Revival, I have to say this one gave me the creeps. Ugh, those images will forever be burned into my memory.
This is a straight up western revenge tale and, to be real, it just wasn’t my thing. A man walks into a bar to avenge the death of his crew. Death happens. I enjoyed the narrator’s work with the different voices but I’m not a big fan of this kind of thing.
This one is more my style. Percy is tired of the tedium of “ordering out”. It’s more fun when he can lure his meal into his lair. This story is more light-hearted than the previous two.
Perfect Little Hands
Yikes, this one is the darkest of the bunch so far. A man is grieving over the coffin of his dead step-daughter. He’s filled with jealousy and rage and as the story unravels he’s revealed to be the king of all creepy-ass step-daddies.
A journalist scores an interview with a convicted killer who tells him a strange story he never expected to hear. This is a crazy tale about childhood atrocities, a handicapped boy and perhaps a monster. This was one odd little tale that made complete sense in the end.
Gerald is a disturbed man. He has mommy issues and baby issues and he’s a bit of a mess but he’s managed to hide it from his wife until she reveals to him his worst fear come true and then everything unravels. I wish this one had been longer. I would’ve liked to have read all of the gory details.
What is wrong with me?
Twist of Pain
Sarah is unstable and she may or may have not have just kidnapped a baby. I figured out where this one was going long before the reveal but I grew up watching too many creepy tv shows and had a mom who (view spoiler)I’m hoping your childhood was different.
A couple plan a peaceful summer at a remote cabin in the woods. They probably should’ve stayed home. Hubby goes out for groceries and returns to find something terrible has happened but the worst is yet to come. This was a fun kind of cabin in the woods meets something other than hillbillies mash-up.
In the Shadow of the Equine
A man and his boy only want to spend some time bonding over majestic horses but instead they find themselves stranded on an island inhabited by deranged folks. This one has a bit of Alien/Lovecraftian inspired flair, great tension and some fabulous atmosphere. It was one of my favorites in the collection.
Sally suffers from a distressing hair disease that causes scabs and major hair fallout and requires obsessive brushing. She fears that she may have passed it along to her daughter. Her fear and anxiety are painful to witness but it’s obvious to see what the real “affliction” is here. Ew, this one will probably make you cringe. Body horror gets me every time.
A rather clueless fellow accidentally stumbles upon Spaceship Earth and soon learns he can never leave. This one had an eerie Outer Limits vibe that brought me back to my teens when I spent endless hours binging on Outer Limits, Twilight Zone and Tales from the Darkside.
Warmth Within Thy Depths
A deep sea diver finds more than he bargained for down below. It’s not all mermaids and singing crabs under the sea, people. This wasn’t one of my favorites but you can’t win ‘em all.
A lonely man awaits freedom from his imprisonment but is the cost worth it? This one was just ok for me.
A young man who grew up surrounded by tales of spirit beasts encounters a magnificent and strange bird while out hunting. His first instinct is to kill it. He quickly learns that one should never mess with a spirit beast. Another “meh” story for me but I think it had more to do with my lack of sympathy towards the protagonist than anything else.
This is the tale of a mad scientist working like, well, a madman to bring back what he has lost. I have a soft spot for these guys who believe their creation will change the world but usually only manage to make their miserable lives all the more miserable.
After the death of his father, Stephen hits the road and lands in a very strange diner. This is another favorite. I have a fondness for weird “Stu” and this one hit all the right spots.
Like all collections of this sort, some of the stories grabbed me more than others. A few are “meh” or just not to my personal taste but most of them are entertaining and they’re all very different which I enjoyed. There’s some great little tales here that would make terrific little short horror movies.
*I received a copy of this from the narrator in exchange for an honest review.
Milk blood is a bleak, unflinching look at people in desperation situations. When I say bleak, I am not exaggerating. These people are more than down on their luck, they have hit rock bottom. It’s a gripping mix of the horror show that is drug addiction and otherworldly horror that feels so natural your skin may crawl. It’s descriptive and gut- wrenching and some truly terrible things happen to an innocent young girl. You might want to have something upbeat nearby because some of these scenes may wreck you. Unless I’m just getting wimpier as the years go by. Nah. I don't think that's it.
I listened to this story in its unabridged audiobook format which immerses you in the desolation of the story. The narrator is deadly serious (as he needs to be) and, to be honest, though it’s only 3 hours or so, I had to take breaks and listen to some silly horror podcasts in between. This story is intense and bothered me on a level that most horror can’t reach. It’s similar to Lynda Barry’s Cruddy in that way. Only without the humor. There's nothing humorous here.
Don’t do drugs people. Just don’t.
*I received a copy of the audio from the author.
4 1/2 but closer to a 5 than a 4 so I'm rounding up.
The Montgomery and Armstrong clans have been at odds for so long they don’t even remember how the feud began but they despise each other all the same. The king needs them allied and forces a marriage between the chieftain of the Montgomery clan and the fiercely protected daughter of the Armstrong clan. There’s nothing like a forced marriage to make peace, right?
Graeme is not pleased. Not only is he being forced to marry, he’s being forced to marry his enemy’s spawn who is rumored to be “touched” but he doesn’t let it show. Even when Eveline’s mother attempts to discourage the match he reacts with humor.
“She doesn’t speak. Hasn’t since she awakened from a deep slumber of over a fortnight.”
“Tis all? She doesn’t speak?” Some husband would be grateful for such a gift.
He doesn’t want to declare war against his king and resigns himself to the fact that his wife is one he’ll have to “take care of” rather than love. But from the moment he meets Eveline he realizes the rumors may not be entirely fair. She appears to understand him and she listens to him with her entire focus despite the fact that everyone believes she’s daft. She is lovely and sweet and determined to be a real wife and soon he is very conflicted about his longing for her.
This was a refreshingly old style historical Scottish romance that was incredibly charming. Eveline is not daft but she is deaf and we get to know her very intimately through her thoughts in the early scenes. From very beginning she is amenable to marrying Graeme because the timbre of his voice registers with her and breaks up the deafening silence that fills her days. The story is almost completely character focused until the last quarter or so which is probably why I enjoyed it so very much. It tells of Eveline’s struggle to fit in, her sweet and tender romance with Graeme who may be a rough and tough clan leader but is also one of the kindest, compassionate heroes around. Rounding out the characterization is Eveline’s friendship with Rorie and her attempts at becoming an accepted member of the clan.
I loved the romance development between Graeme and Eveline. They have an immediate connection and were able to communicate non-verbally. I was wondering how the author was going to handle that bit but she did it well. Eveline is very likable and intelligent and Graeme realizes it right away. He was understanding, patient and surprisingly tender towards her even in the very beginning. He wasn’t a typical man slut or a-hole warrior type. The two were very well matched and I enjoyed reading about them.
Eveline and Graeme’s younger sister Rorie’s relationship was, for me anyway, almost as engaging as the main romance. Rorie is tough and mischievous and lonely. She is a great ally for Eveline who really needed one. It was sweet watching them become so close and work through the language barrier quite amusingly.
“You did manage to tell me, although let me say this is the most one-sided conversation I've ever had in my life. I'm quite worn out now.”
“I was prepared to dislike you.”
Eveline flinched. Dislike was nothing new to her and yet it still managed to make her feel inferior.
“But I find that for whatever reason I’m unable to. You have a certain charm, I suppose. And now since I like you, it means I’m going to have to protect you from the rest of the clan, which also means they aren’t going to be happy with me.”
Rorie shrugged as she made the statement.
“They don’t much like me either, just so you know. The women think I’m hopeless and the men think I’m too focused on matters that shouldn’t concern a lass my age. They mostly ignore me, but if my brother weren’t the laird, I would be treated with higher disdain.”
I definitely recommend this book if you’re a fan of character driven romances. The plot wasn’t anything new if you’ve read a few of these “feuding clan and arranged marriage” plots but I didn’t care because the characters were so engaging. There are no big battles and political crap taking over the story. I hate it when that happens. The pace isn’t fast and furious but I never once found my mind drifting while listening.
Narration Notes: In a word? Fabulous. The accents were beautifully done and I didn’t want to stop listening. The narrative was pleasant but those accents, oh my! The narrator really brought the characters to life and I couldn’t get enough.
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