Cover Image: The Only Child

The Only Child

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Member Reviews

I listened to this book via Overdrive. I also received an ebook copy of this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. 

TL;DR: I was a little let down by this book, but I still think there are people who will enjoy it. If you’re interested in the plot give it a go. Don’t go in with very high expectations but don’t write it off without trying it.

I haven’t read very many translated books in my life and I’m working on changing that. The Only Child was my first translated book of the year (I know, it’s July), and it was an okay book for me. I enjoyed the premise and once I got going I was happy to continue reading, but every time I put it down I felt little interest in picking it back up again. 

My two biggest problems with this book were the writing style and the narrator. I have quite a bit to say about the former (and why the writing style might not actually be the problem), so let’s start with the latter. 

The audiobook narration was initially almost a dealbreaker for me. There was a very noticeable shift in audio quality midway through the first or second chapter. Additionally, the narrator seemed to have trouble with many of the Korean words. This was especially evident to me in the first half of the book. There were noticeable pauses before many of the Korean words, and it almost sounded like a poorly edited recording break. She also had less inflection than I prefer in my narrators, but this wasn’t as big of a problem for me. I’m not sure if I became desensitized to these issues or if they improved over the course of the book, but either way they were no longer pulling me out of the story in the last half. 

I also did not enjoy the writing style of the book. To me it felt repetitive and poorly edited. The characters tended to feel stiff and unrealistic, more like someone’s initial idea of a character and not a complex, developed person. There could have been several reasons for this. It could have been a poor translator, and based on other reviews I have read this is the direction I am leaning towards. However, I would also like to acknowledge that my dislike could be coming from a Western bias. As I mentioned above, I am still new to the world of translated books. Because I review and recommend books professionally, I see this as a personal flaw that I am working to rectify. It also means that some of what I disliked about this book could have been my lack of familiarity with Korean writing styles, which I do not consider a valid reason to not recommend a book. I did go into this story knowing I could have this bias and trying to keep an open mind, but I do not want to assume that just because I had these intentions I succeeded. 

All in all, I think people should give this book a shot if they are interested in the premise. If you end up hating the first few chapters, you can always put it down. If the writing style is a translation issue, I hope someday we may get a different translated edition. 

3 Stars

I recommend this book to: folks who enjoy thrillers with a slower pace, books taking place outside North America, and stories with mild Silence of the Lamb vibes; and anyone who’s interested in reading more books translated into English.
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The Only Child was written by Mi-ae Seo, published by HarperCollins on February 11, 2020.  I was given a copy through NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.

Criminal psychologist Seonkyeong receives an unexpected call one day. Yi Byeongdo, a serial killer whose gruesome murders shook the world, wants to be interviewed. Yi Byeongdo, who has refused to speak to anyone until now, asks specifically for her. Seonkyeong agrees out of curiosity. 

That same day Hayeong, her husband’s eleven-year-old daughter from a previous marriage, shows up at their door after her grandparents, with whom she lived after her mother passed away, die in a sudden fire. Seonkyeong wants her to feel at home, but is gradually unnerved as the young girl says very little and acts strangely. 

At work and at home, Seonkyeong starts to unravel the pasts of the two new arrivals in her life and begins to see startling similarities. Hayeong looks at her the same way Yi Byeongdo does when he recounts the abuse he experienced as a child; Hayeong’s serene expression masks a temper that she can’t control. Plus, the story she tells about her grandparents’ death, and her mother’s before that, deeply troubles Seonkyeong. So much so that Yi Byeongdo picks up on it and starts giving her advice. 

The plot was super interesting to me, being a true crime junkie.  If I had solely read the book, I probably would have rated it much lower.  It would have been hard to keep the characters straight.  I ended up switching to the audio and it was much easier to follow.  I was hoping it would be creepier, but overall it was a decent listen.
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Nope, not for me...DNF. I tried and tried, but could not get into this novel.  

Thank you to NetGalley for an advanced copy for my honest review. I'm sorry I'm not able to add anything to my review, but I couldn't do it anymore.
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"I thought my mom beat me every day because everyone hated me, that nobody wanted me in the world. I thought my very self was a horror. Only later did I find out that it was just my mom who hated me. Do I hate my mom? No, no. How could I? She's my mom. I love my mom."

SYNOPSIS | Seonkyeong is a criminal psychologist who has been tasked with interviewing a famous serial killer (Yi Byeongdo) who up until this day has remained silent about their crimes. During that same day, Seonkyeong's husband turns up with his eleven-year-old daughter (Hayeong) from a previous marriage after her grandparents have died in a mysterious fire. Seonkyeong has never actually met Hayeong and quickly begins to feel unnerved as the child has erratic temper tantrums.

MY THOUGHTS | I normally read a book in a couple of days from picking it up and if I DNF'd books, this would be the type of book that wouldn't make the cut. I did not gel with this writing style at all. I don't know if that is because it is translated, but the writing was just painful for me. Its hard to describe exactly what I didn't like, but the mystery element was very heavy handed. It didn't allow any chance for me to theorize, instead if painstakingly told me every little detail of every situation and what that meant, to whom, and why. I felt like I was reading a bad crime documentary where I didn't care who the murderer was or why they committed that crime.
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With precision, the author tells of the psychological issues around this thriller. The interaction between the killer and their childhood was interesting.  Although I enjoyed this story, I failed to make connections and that internalization is what makes a book outstanding.
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Before beginning my review, a quick Google search told me that Mi-ae Seo, the author of this book, is also a screenwriter. If I had known that going in, my opinion may have been different as I can totally picture this on-screen. Now, on to the review.

THE ONLY CHILD by Mi-ae Seo is yet another book in a cycle I can't seem to break. The plot intrigued me and I genuinely thought this was one I would love, but it just didn't work for me.

One day, Seonkyeong, a criminal psychologist, receives a phone call. Notorious serial killer Yi Byeongdo has finally agreed to be interviewed under one condition: she is to be the one conducting the interview. Although she feels out of her league, Seonkyeong agrees out of curiosity. On the same day that the interviews begin, eleven year old Hayeong, her husband's daughter from a previous marriage, comes to live with her after a fire destroys the house she lived in with her now deceased grandparents. As time goes on, Seonkyeong starts to notice disturbing similarities between Hayeong and Yi Byeongdo - similarities that make her wonder what the child living under her roof is truly capable of.

THE ONLY CHILD was my first venture into Asian crime fiction. In all honesty, I think the biggest issue that I had with this book was the translation. It just felt clunky and, in many places, too wordy. Details were repeated multiple times in one paragraph and there were times each little action was explained, which seemed unnecessary for most of the story. For this reader, that took away from my ability to engage with the story Seo was trying to tell.

One thing that never changed was the fact that I found the premise of the book intriguing. As someone with a background in psychology, I was interested to see how criminal psychologist Seonkyeong made the connections between Hayeong and Yi Byeongdo, as well as how she tackled those problems. I'm not sure if it wasn't well-written or if those aspects just got lost in translation, but for most of the book, I didn't truly feel connected to the story or the characters.

While this book is marketed as a psychological thriller, that's not what I would label it as, which might be part of why it didn't work. Expectations are huge for me and going in with the wrong ones can really taint the reading experience for me. That being said, I'm not entirely sure what category I would put this one in.

As always, don't let my thoughts on the book discourage you from reading it if the plot appeals to you. I know of quite a few people who have read this one and loved it. Overall, I didn't hate the book and can definitely appreciate the authors attempt here, which is why it earned 3 stars from me!

*Special thanks to Netgalley and Ecco for providing me with a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. This in no way affects my opinion of the book or the content of my review. All opinions my own.
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I was so excited to receive a galley of this one. It sounded right up my alley and ended up...being right up my alley. Devil-child + "accidental" deaths + good characters + excellent ending. I positively ate this up.
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Seonkyeong, a criminal psychologist, has received an unexpected phone call. It seems serial killer, Yi Byeongdo, known for a series of gruesome murders that shocked the world, would like to be interviewed. He feels that the time has finally come for him to share his story and the only person he is willing to tell is Seonkyeong. Out of curiosity she agrees to meet.

On that same day Hayeong, her husband’s eleven-year-old daughter from a previous marriage, shows up at their door. Her grandparents have passed away after dying in a house fire that Hayeong narrowly escaped. As Seonkyeong works to make Hayeong feel at home she starts to discover that the young girl is prone to strange behavior. Seonkyeong starts to see worrisome similarities between the serial killer and her stepdaughter, but is it all in her imagination?

The minute I read the premise for THE ONLY CHILD I knew that I wanted this book in my reading lineup. I absolutely love stories that focus on criminal psychologists, serial killers, and children, so when they’ve all been mixed together it sounds like the perfect combination. As publication day got closer and closer I started to see a series of mixed reviews for this book, which made me hesitate to pick it up. Most of the reviews pointed to the pace of the story and lack of action as a source of their dislike, so I opted to consume this book via audio in an attempt to mitigate that issue. The result? I absolutely loved this story!

The book opens with the introduction to two events, Seonkyeong meeting with serial killer, Yi Byeongdo, and Hayeong losing her grandparents. At first I had no idea where the author was planning to connect these two timelines together, but after about 100 or so pages I started to find my groove between the two and their merger. Once the storylines joined into one, with Seonkyeong walking the reader through her daily life they started to make more sense. I think unfortunately that this delay in connection will scare off a few readers, but I do think pushing through in this book is worth it. 

The pacing, which I mentioned earlier, is certainly slower than most books being published in the crime fiction genre these days. I think it’s important to point out that this is a translated work by a Korean author. Two years ago I read THE GOOD SON by You-Jeong Jeong and noticed that this book was much slower in pace and much like THE ONLY CHILD, instead of thrills, the author wrote more in the style of a character study. 

If you’re curious about THE ONLY CHILD, but want to use some caution on if you’ll love this one, I cannot recommend the audiobook enough. Greta Jung truly brings the characters and story to life through her narration. I also highly recommend starting this book with the mindset that this is not a thriller and a suspenseful character study.

A huge thank you to Ecco Books for sending me a free copy of this book!
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I became a fan of Asian crime fiction since discovering the likes of Kanae Minato and Natsuo Kirino so I was very excited to be granted an ARC of The Only Child.

"I shouldn't have gone in, even if the locks were open. But curiosity got the better of me and I went inside. And I realized.

That I had opened the door to hell."

A criminal psychologist, Seonkyeong, has been asked to interview the notorious serial killer, Yi Byeongdo, per his request. He has never willingly spoken to anyone before and it's even more curious as to why he chose Seonkyeong to speak to. They have never met before. Something about this case ignites her curiosity and she is determined to find out what it is he has to say.

"Bang! Bang! Maxwell’s silver hammer came down upon her head..."

Meanwhile, her husbands 11 year old daughter from a previous relationship has come to live with them under mysterious circumstances. It appears that her grand parents that were caring for her died in a house fire in which Hayeong escapes. Since her husband is a doctor he spends very little time at home leaving the responsibility of caring for Hayeong squarely on Seonkyeong's shoulders. As the days go by and as she spends more time in the company of Hayeong she is noticing the child exhibits disturbing behaviors.

The author seems to be exploring nature vs. nurture and whether our past childhood abuses shape the human that we turn out to be or are we born that way.

This was a decent read but was a bit predictable. Don't expect shocking twists that come out of nowhere. It's all very straightforward storytelling. I have to admit that I didn't buy part of the ending (Yi Byeongdo) while the other part I enjoyed very much (Hayeong) which makes this so hard to rate. 3.5 stars!

Thank you to NetGalley and Ecco Books for providing me with a digital ARC in exchange for my honest review.
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I think I had really high expectations for this book because I think Koreans typically do thrillers really well - we come up with some crazy stuff!  But while I am not a huge thriller reader, I could anticipate everything that was happening in this book.  It's interesting though, I kind of imagined how the book would read in Korean and I do think it would probably be way better in the Korean language so I don't know if it was a translation issue but there  were moments where I think if I read it in its original language, I may have appreciated the writing more than the plot.  Unfortunately, it would take ages for me to read it in Korean as my reading skills are limited!  That being said, the question of whether serials killers are born or made is always an interesting one.... This book definitely seems to have an opinion on it!  There are references to Silence of the Lambs and it definitely had a familiar vibe to that book/movie.
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Eleven year old Hayeong is found uninjured after a fire kills her grandparents with whom she had been living since the death of her mother. Hayeong is collected by her indifferent father Jaeseong, a busy surgeon. Jaeseong has recently married Seonkyeong, a criminal psychologist who seems woefully unqualified for her job. 

This book had the interesting idea of comparing the stories of an adult serial killer with that of a child who shared a similarly abusive background. Unfortunately, I found the writing choppy, flat and colorless, which was possibly caused by the translation but I have no way of knowing that.  The characters were also flat and colorless. There was no obvious connection between Jaeseong and Seonkyeong. I had no idea why they were married. Since Seonkyeong was tasked with interviewing an imprisoned serial killer, the book kept drawing comparisons to “The Silence of the Lambs”. I don’t think that it is wise for authors to draw attention to better books. It was obvious where this story was headed, except for the very end at which one character acted so stupidly that it could not have been predicted. This book was just ok for me. 

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher.
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I think this book had a lot of unmet potential. 

The "twist" wasn't much of a twist for me. The beginning of the book had some really cool components that I wish had continued throughout, but they didn't. I wish we'd gotten more of the main character's lectures about what makes a killer, and I wish we'd gotten more flashback scenes to childhood of a couple of the characters. Would have been cool if they'd gone back and forth between a couple of characters and the reader didn't immediately know who we were talking about, but alas, that did not happen. 

I did like the main character, and found her relatable. No one else was built out enough to have strong feelings about, for me. 

Overall, it was okay. A fun read, but had a lot of unmet potential.
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Can serial killers be identified while still children? A new Korean thriller, The Only Child, attempts to answer that question by merging a family drama with a jailed serial killer’s tale.

Beginning with a police procedural investigating a series of arsons, the book then tells the first-person tale of a child wandering unhurt at the scene of the fifth fire. When her grandparents are found dead in their bed, she is placed in her father’s home. Her abusive mother is dead and she has nowhere else to go.

In a parallel story, young professor Seonkyeong is asked by the police to interview notorious serial killer, Yi Byeongdo. It seems he has been asking for her by name. The police want her to entice the convicted murderer of thirteen women to tell her about other missing women he killed. But what does he want?

Seonkyeong believes that serial killers show signs of their future aberrant behavior as children—bed wetting, arson, and animal cruelty. Yi Byeongdo had those traits. But so does Seonkyeong’s new stepdaughter, the young girl discovered at the recent fire. Does that mean her stepdaughter is destined to be a serial killer?

Comparing a plot that is being copied almost word-for-word with the title of its source material doesn’t make the copying suddenly okay. Half of The Only Child is a direct lifting of the setup of Silence of the Lambs. Combining it with a domestic thriller didn’t work. What are the odds that all of these unlikely events would occur at the same time to an obscure college professor?

Unfortunately, I can’t recommend this mishmash of twice-told tales. 2 stars.

Thanks to Ecco, HarperCollins Publishers and NetGalley for a copy in exchange for my honest review.
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I find myself on a bit of an international tour with my reading. Recently, I was in Nigeria with a police procedural and now I'm visiting South Korea with this intense psychological thriller. I had a little difficulty getting going with the story at the beginning because of the names but once I decided in my head on a pronunciation this book was hard to put down. The writing also struck me as a little stiff at times but I'm wondering if that is due to translation rather than any failing on the part of the author. The author so effectively takes the reader into the minds of her characters that is was impossible for me not to be impressed.

What really fascinated me with this story is the psychology behind the three main characters. The reader gets to go right along with Seonkyeong as she works her way through her own reactions to Yi Byeongdo and Haeyong and tries to use her training as a psychologist to understand how each of them has been shaped by their experiences. There are unexpected twists along the way and the ending could have gone a few different ways and wasn't quite what I expected. Overall, I was surprised at how much I enjoyed this book. Even though the story is set in South Korea, the issues addressed are universal.
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DNF @ 21%
I did not connect with this book (unfortunately), it started pretty bad and it got worse. There were some interesting parts but poorly developed and not enough to keep me going.
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The synopsis of the book was what drew me in. It was interesting, I liked the multi perspectives. And one character's story I found better than the other's.
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The Only Child is a translation of a Korean thriller featuring a criminal psychologist Seongkyeong who suddenly gets a phone call that a serial killer who has kept quiet for years suddenly wants to talk, but only to her. 

The same day this inexperienced criminal psychologist interviews Yi Byeongdo, she is surprised to find that her husband has brought his daughter from a previous marriage to live with them after her grandparents die after a fire that Hayeong was the lone survivor of. 

As the story progresses and Syongkyeong interviews Yi Byeongdo more, she starts to see parallels between her 11 year old stepdaughter and the serial killer. Is it possible that young Hayeong has the traits to one day become a serial killer herself?

This slow burn thriller is more character driven than plot driven and at times it doesnt flow too well, I'm guessing that's from the translation though. Once you get used to the rhythm  of the translation, it didn't really bother me too much though. Overall, the story was enjoyable and the exposure to Korean culture was interesting. If you like slow burn suspense or character driven novels, this one is worth a look.

My thanks to HarperCollins, author Mi-ae Seo, and Netgalley for providing me with a digital copy in exchange for my honest review.
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While part of the plot might seem familiar, it's Hayeong's story that's most interesting.  Seo has combined a sort of Silence of the Lambs situation where a criminal psychologist interviews a notorious and awful serial killer with a Bad Seed scenario of a child with a tortured past and possibly a not good future.  Remember than this is a translation from Korean and that accounts for some of the way it reads (although I do think the translation is good - it retains the rhythms of the original language).  Seonkeyong is not as accessible as a character as I would have liked but this has a fine sense of menace.  Thanks to the publisher for the ARC.  For fans of the psychological thriller looking for something different.
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The Only Child is about a criminal psychologist (Seonkyeong) who receives an unexpected call saying that a serial killer wants to be interviewed. That same day, her husband's daughter, from a previous marriage, shows up at her door after her grandparents die in a fire. Seonkyeong starts to see similarities between her stepdaughter and the serial killer and we are taken on a wild ride as she starts to dive deep into these two characters.

What I loved most about this book was the multiple perspectives, especially since one was from a child. I absolutely love books that use this format. It keeps me engaged and it makes the story more interesting and it also keeps you on your toes. There is a subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) creepiness to The Only Child that really unnerved me. There are so many suspense books out there today that it can start to feel a bit mundane, but this one had a significant edge to it that I really appreciated. I also really enjoyed the ending, but I can't say much about that or it will spoil it for you!

I did struggle with the translation. I'm not sure if that was just me, but it did inhibit me from fully enjoying this one. I also prefer more of a "crazy plot-twist" style story and this wasn't quite it for me, but I did enjoy the book and I do think that it's worth a read if you enjoy psychological suspense books.

Thank you to #netgalley and #harpercollins for this ARC.
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dnf at 30%.
I don't know if it's due to this being translated or what but I just cannot deal with the writing in this. the concept seems interesting but it was a drag just to get through 30% of it.
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