Monday, September 21, 2015

Book Review: RUTHLESS by Carolyn Lee Adams

Warning: As always, I try to stay relatively spoiler free. But it doesn’t hurt to proceed with caution.

Rating:  Five Stars—ajklsdflk (when words fail to describe how wonderful a book is)


I won a free copy of RUTHLESS from the author, Carolyn Lee Adams, on Literary Rambles. (Thanks, Carolyn and Natalie!) And I think I can safely say I haven’t read a book like this in a long while.

I was going to write a brief description, but the Goodreads summary is far superior to my efforts, so I’ll just give you the link instead.

Okay, let’s talk about this.

Ruth. As our main character, Ruth is technically the hero (heroine) of the story, but she has more than a smidge of the villain in her. The harder her kidnapper, Wolfman, pushes her, the harder she pushes back. I love that she’s not your average, unintelligent thriller heroine, who makes all sorts of stupid decisions and should, by all rights, get killed by the tenth page. Instead, she’s tough and competitive, smart and clear-headed. She wastes no time whining about her predicament or cowering in fear. Instead, she forces herself to keep going, always thinking on her feet, always sizing up her opposition and strategizing her best move.

On the one hand, we have Ruthless, the girl who bosses around the other girls in the stable, the girl who gets her way and always wins, the girl who enjoys inflicting pain on her kidnapper. But we also have Ruth, the girl who cares about Caleb—even if she can’t seem to overlook his hick exterior—the girl who almost cried at some of the things her parents said about her, the girl who had to grow up listening to those parents fight all the time. She might not be a huggable duckling, but she’s loyal to those she loves, and she might be cold and calculating, but she’s also a very sympathetic character.

Wolfman. I like that we get to see a little bit of what goes on inside Wolfman’s head, because I think it’s important that we understand what drives him. With his belief that all girls with red hair are bad and that he must punish and purify them, it’s clear that he’s more than just a little bit off. Since I was given a window into his childhood life, I could still feel somewhat sorry for him, even if I couldn’t cheer him on. But I also like that Ruth doesn’t simply try to label him as a product of poor parenting (although that would definitely play a part). Instead, she recognizes that it’s possible he was born with this inclination toward violence, that sometimes the fault lies deeper than a missing father and a drunken mother, that there might actually be something fundamentally wrong with the human heart itself.

Another great thing about Wolfman is that he doesn’t talk much, so when he does speak, what he says matters. He’s no moustache-twirling villain with long monologues about his superiority or anything like that. His speech about Ruth’s sins is well-worded and sprinkled with truth that cuts to the heart. Clearly this guy is very observant, someone who can read people well and hit the points where it will hurt the most. He also doesn’t take up a lot of narrative space, because most of the story follows Ruth as she tries to avoid him, but because he’s often not physically there, his presence is all the more palpable.

The Narrative Structure. Ordinarily, I’m not a big fan of flashbacks, because they often are placed as memories designed to deliver exposition. But Carolyn Adams does remarkably well in this case. By inserting glimpses from both Ruth’s and Wolfman’s pasts at just the right points, she helps mix up the pace and avoid monotony while providing tasty little chunks of backstory. Another benefit to these is that they really help flesh out the characters—their motivations and driving forces—in a short space of time, without making it feel forced.

Dominance vs. Submission. The story doesn’t dwell on this issue, but it does raise some discussion-worthy points. On the one hand, we have Ruth, whose overbearing nature allows her to make monetary decisions about her father’s business. And on the other hand, we have Wolfman, who believes that all women need a man to keep them in line. While the story doesn’t make any judgments or final statements on the subject, it does show some of the consequences of both ideologies.

With Ruth, she may be intuitive and hard-headed and efficient, but her parents also know they can’t approach her about any of her faults or any issues they may have with her because she will argue them down—a skill that may work well in business but doesn’t necessarily fly in family or social life. With Wolfman, we get to see how he came by his ideology that the only good woman is a perfectly submissive one. We get to witness his pain and shame at how his mother beat him. When his uncle tells him that Wolfman’s mother is bad because she’s a woman and women are like that without a man to keep them in line, we know that this hits on a sensitive, vulnerable point. But we also get to see, with the killing of the piglets, what might be a sadistic, unstable side of this uncle.

Psychology. Aside from glimpses we get into the inner workings of Ruth’s and Wolfman’s minds and hearts, we also get to see the way fear can make people selfish and uncaring. Also, as we follow Ruth through the woods, we witness the effects of hunger, dehydration, and sleeplessness, and I love what happens when Adams pushes Ruth to the breaking point.

Issues. While I highly recommend this book, I do want to warn you that there is some strong language and thematic material, as is to be expected. Coming into the story, I was a little worried that the premise might lead to a lot of needlessly inappropriate content, but I feel that Adams skillfully presents an honest portrayal of the sick things humans can do, without dwelling on the less savory bits. (I like it when authors do this, when they show us mud but don’t force us to wallow in it.)


All in all, RUTHLESS is a deep and gripping book with tight pacing and a stream-lined plot. I would definitely recommend it, especially to fans of Steven James.


What about you, my little coffee beans? Have any of you read this novel? If so, what are your thoughts?


  1. Oh yes! You know who Steven James is!

    Sorry. But. . . nobody I talk to in the blogsphere knows. I'll mention him in my posts and people are like, "It's not YA. It's a thriller. Never heard of it."

    Okay, so back to what's relevant. This sounds really awesome! I like the characters and the difference. I feel like there are two extremes being portrayed here. It sounds fascinating.

    Also, I like how you say "they show us mud but don't force us to wallow in it." I couldn't have said it better. I love it when the author does that!

    1. I TOTALLY KNOW HOW YOU FEEL. I think I've bumped into only one other person who even knows who Steven James is. *sobs* And I'm always worried about recommending him because DISMEMBERMENTS AND STUFF. Yeah, they don't bother me, but I can see someone being like *puke* I will never listen to Liz again *puke* And that would be unfortunate.

      Yeah, they are definitely two extremes, so it makes for an interesting dynamic--two opposing ideologies warring against each other, so to speak. It really is fascinating, and gripping. I gobbled that book right up.

      Aww, I'm glad you like that line. It just randomly came to me, and I was going to try to think of something more pretentious sounding, but then I was like, "Nah, I'll just go with that and see what happens." And yes, I love it when authors do that. I get a little disgruntled when they force me to roll in mud against my will. It distracts me from any points they might be trying to make.

      Thanks for commenting! :)

  2. I don't know who Steven James is (I feel so clueless!). Sorry!

    Ruthless seems great. I don't usually do Psychological Thrillers, not because I dislike them but because I just love fantasy much more, but I might try to read this book. However, the characters seems VERY twisted. I don't mind these type of characters, but I always need to prepare myself mentally for them, lol. That's because they scare me a little.

    1. It's okay! :) Steven James isn't a huge name, I guess, so there's no need to feel bad.

      Ruthless is very great, and it isn't needlessly violent or dark or anything. The characters are twisted though, especially Wolfman. I hope you enjoy it! :)

  3. Oooh, this sounds great. Why do you keep suggesting awesome stuff and building my TBR pile? How dare you?!? (I'M KIDDING PLEASE DON'T STOP!)

    It sounds like there's a great dynamic between Ruth and Wolfman, especially if the author explored the dominance/submission thing. It's something we get to see in quite a few novels (like every dystopian ever) but rarely do we get to see the not-so-great side of it. It's great and all for Tris to take down the entire social structure in Divergent but no one except the bad guys spent a whole lot of time thinking about the consequences. *rant over*

    Anyways, thanks for another great review!

    1. *hides in shame* Just kidding. *gloats instead*

      There really is a great dynamic--I think it's really what makes the book. You can just feel the tension between the two just coming up off the pages like steam. *applauds your rant*

      You're welcome, and thank you!

  4. This book sounds intriguing, for sure, and I liked what you said about the author "showing the mud, but not forcing us to wallow in it." I just might try this one out. :)


    1. It is definitely intriguing for sure. And thank you. You should definitely check it out.

      Thanks for commenting! :)