Saturday, April 1, 2017

Stygian by Santino Hassell Audiobook Review

Jeremy has been isolated and adrift since the death of his brother. Most people just see him as the skinny emo kid who wears eyeliner and plays drums. No one gets him. Nobody tries. He thought the indie rock band Stygian would become his anchor, but—lost in their own problems—they’re far from the family he sought.

Still, hoping to get close to Kennedy, the band's enigmatic guitarist, he follows Stygian to northern Louisiana for a summer retreat. They had planned to spend six weeks focusing on new music but things go awry as soon as they arrive at the long-deserted Caroway mansion. Tempers flare, sexual tension boils over into frustration, and Jeremy turns away from the band to find a friend in his eerily beautiful landlord Hunter Caroway.

Kennedy suspects there’s something off about the creepy mansion and its mysterious owners, but Jeremy thinks he's finally found somewhere he fits. It isn’t until Kennedy forces the Caroway’s secrets into the light that Jeremy realizes belonging sometimes comes with a price.

Audiobook Details
Length: 5 hrs, 53 mins
Narrator: Geoffrey Alan

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Reviews by the Wicked Reads Review Team

I’m not entirely sure how to review Stygian. Having read the book’s description on the publisher’s website and knowing that it’s listed as a vampire novel, I still had a hard time wrapping my head around the vampires. Yes, I have read enough vampire romances to know that it’s the authors’ twists on the legend that can make or break a book and that there are a myriad of ways an author can make their vampires different. Yet I still had difficulty with Stygian, and as I write this review, trying to parse it out for myself, I think it’s because Hassell has pulled off an astounding feat of misdirection. Bear with me while I ramble.

Almost every vampire romance I’ve ever read involves the main character falling for the vampire – truth be told, I’d be hard pressed to name one that didn’t. As the story plays out and Jeremy spends more and more time with Hunter (even if we don’t see it actually occur), it would appear that Hassell is taking the reader in that direction, that Jeremy and Hunter will be a couple. That is, when the author isn’t distracting the reader with the ongoing strife between the band members. Misdirection. Even when the band members aren’t making any progress on their music, there is an abundance of personal drama between them. More misdirection. When Kennedy steps in and draws Jeremy’s attention away from Hunter, and then Hunter later convinces Jeremy that Kennedy’s sudden surge of attention is because Kennedy feels threatened by Hunter being the focus of Jeremy’s attention, we begin to see how Hunter is attempting to manipulate Jeremy. Even more misdirection. On top of that, we have secrets among the band members, secrets that affect Jeremy directly, as well as seemingly unstable personalities, especially Watts, who can be downright nasty at times, making them hard to like. Yet. Even. More. Misdirection.

But what is the reader being misdirected from? In short, everything. It’s almost ingenious how Hassell uses the various elements of the story to distract the reader from what they know from the blurb and then what is actually going on, which left me grasping at threads as the topics shifted, almost seamlessly. The events speed up and slow down to keep the reader off balance, and because the characters are off balance themselves. Just as Jeremy seems to be grasping at what’s occurring around him, something happens to distract him from the truth that is edging his consciousness, keeping him off balance. Even when the scenes play out to reveal what I knew from the blurb, I was still unsure of its truth because Hassell did such a good job of shoring up doubt, denial, and the need to come up with a more rational explanation. I should note that I felt as though the book ended rather abruptly, but that’s probably because I was caught up in the story and wasn’t yet prepared to breathe easily. With that said, Geoffrey Alan’s narration probably contributed to that as well because he kept me glued to my Kindle, immersing me in Jeremy’s emotions – fear, anxiety, loss, and love – and leaving me hanging on his every word, waiting to see how the story would play out. In short, I was utterly captivated by Stygian.

I have to say that this book really was hard for me to get into at first. There were so many people and so much that was going on that it really did take me a bit to get into it. However, it was still good enough that even though I was confused with all the characters and the setting, I didn't want to put it down. The further into the story that I got, the more I didn't want to put it down.

I really enjoyed the way the author yanks the reader's emotions around and gets us so involved in the story. I really hope we get more stories like this from Santino Hassell. I enjoyed his Five Boroughs series, I liked this one just as much if not more.

I did get the opportunity to review the audiobook version of this book as well and I sadly have to say that I really didn't feel like the narrator did a great job. While he didn't do terrible, I really felt like he read entirely too fast and that may have contributed some of my confusion in the beginning.

2.5 - 3 Stars

Audiobook portion of the review:

I will preface this review by saying I'm new to audiobooks, and don't necessarily find it easy to fall into the story.

I believe my rating may have been higher by half a star if I'd read instead of listened. Simply because I'd be reading at my pace, eye skipping over things subconsciously, with my imagination supplying how a character sounded.

I had a hard time with the narration with the multiple accents and inflections used, especially during lusty or emotional scenes. I would be pulled from the story, and sometimes even laugh when it was highly inappropriate. Laugh, truly, especially with Kennedy during sexy time, and all the time with Hunter.

Also, with reading, I would have been able to discern between dialogue and monologue. I had to struggle to figure out if Jeremy was saying it or thinking it when he was interacting with others because the audio narrator didn't pause or change the inflection. These sections were directly in between Jeremy interacting and speaking with others.

Storyline portion of the review:

Stygian is a group of four musicians going into the swamps of Louisiana for a 'retreat.' They end up at a haunted antebellum house owned by a mysterious brother and sister duo. The four musicians are actually two couples struggling to find a way through their relationship.

The narrator is Jeremy, an emo kid who lost his brother to suicide. He doesn't feel a part of the band, just as he feels separate in life. No friends. No family. Emotionally pained. Jeremy replaced the past drummer who died in a car accident. He's hooked on his bandmate, who loved the girl who passed away. So I believe it was supposed to be a gay kid crushing on a straight guy kind of story at first, where the crush would resent him for taking her place, but that got muddy pretty quickly.

Stygian has a heavy mystery thread woven throughout, with a steamy romance underlying it. However, I have to be truthful. It reminded me of a B-rate Horror flick. You have the level-headed one. The flake. The pretty one. The instigator. The bad people. The townsfolk who won't help but keep their mouths shut.

The cast is so busy arguing with each other, creating unnecessary drama, refusing to leave the 'haunted' house, they're easily separated by those driving a wedge between them. They were so slow on the uptake, that I was groaning in irritation as I listened (this is where I probably would have read faster through these parts and not been so laughably frustrated at the characters).

I found myself shouting at my Kindle, "Just LEAVE!" "Don't argue about it. LEAVE!" "If you love the guy, take him to a freaking hospital!" Ya know, like when you tell the girl in a horror flick to run outside, not upstairs to her death. That's the emotion I felt while listening to StygianFrustration. I began doubting the intelligence of the characters, along with any emotions they felt for one another.

Their romantic avoidance, push-pull tension didn't make any sense to me, other than to allow them to continue to argue and allow the 'bad' people to infect their lives. Why was Kennedy so tight-lipped and hot/cold routine? It didn't fit other than to open a door for Hunter. Kennedy would say one thing and do another. He never 'showed' Jeremy how he felt about him. Actions speak loudest, and a BJ and avoidance isn't flattering or life-affirming. Maybe if there was some backstory laid into the foundation it would have come together and made sense. But as it was, it was just jarring and choppy how they would go from making out and receiving oral favors to not talking ten minutes later, like the book rewound a few chapters.

I feel bad stating my opinion, but I can't recommend this title unless the reader is a huge Santino Hassell fan. Horror fans will know what's going on immediately, which will result in them groaning in frustration as they suffer through the rest of the story. MM Romance fans will expect more than a choppy romance featuring arguing and BJs. If you don't take the story too seriously, and read at a fevered pace, I'm sure it will be entertaining.

If I could add stars for the amazing cover, I would – 10 stars go to the cover artist.

Santino Hassell was raised by a conservative family, but he was anything but traditional. He grew up to be a smart-mouthed, school-cutting grunge kid, then a transient twentysomething, and eventually transformed into an unlikely romance author.

Santino writes queer romance that is heavily influenced by the gritty, urban landscape of New York City, his belief that human relationships are complex and flawed, and his own life experiences.

Connect with Santino

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Reviewers on the Wicked Reads Review Team were provided a free copy of Stygian by Santino Hassell, Narrated by Geoffrey Alan to read or listen to and review.

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