Bites

The Off the Shelf and Titanic 100th Anniversary Reading Challenges are both completed!  Woohoo!  How accomplished do I feel right now?  The only challenge I have left is my Goodreads goal that I set for myself: 100 books this year.  I’m eleven away from my mark.  I think I can manage that between now and the end of the year.

This was the year of reading challenges for me.  I actually completed them.  I most likely won’t be competing in any next year because I’m simply just going to read the books I already have without having to worry about quotas so I’m happy to be ending this year on a good note.  Go me!

September 28, 2012

Published April 15, 2009.

Author website.

Four sisters and their mother make their way from a spiritualist town in New York to London, becoming acquainted with journalist W. T. Stead, scientist Nikola Tesla, and industrialist John Jacob Astor. When they all find themselves on the Titanic, one of Tesla’s inventions dooms them…and one could save them.  (goodreads.com)

For the first half of DISTANT WAVES I was wondering what the hell this book had to do with the Titanic.  It was mentioned once or twice in off-hand remarks, and not by name, and a couple of the people that were on board made appearances within the story but other than that it was a story that centered around Spiritualism, a mother defrauding people with her mystic “skills” and her daughters’ lives as a result of this woman’s charade.  The story in and of itself wasn’t bad.  I actually found it pretty interesting and I liked Jane but don’t give me ‘A Novel of the Titanic’ and not have the ship make an appearance until halfway through the book.  That’s going to make me cranky.  I don’t like to be cranky when I read.

Once the Titanic did show up it played its role like it does in any other story about it; you’re reading the melodrama occurring on it all the while just holding your breath to see how the main event is going to destroy everything nice that’s seemingly going on.  I didn’t like how the sisters got onto the boat.  It was just far too contrived for my tastes and I really don’t think the people letting on passengers would have let stowaways slip by.  Considering the ship and all the hype it should have been something the White Star Line was prepared for.

The ending pretty much murdered what was otherwise and interesting story.  I’m okay with authors taking liberties with history but to take major events and alter their causes for the sake of the story is really bothersome.  To the point where I was audibly going ‘what???”

All sense of immediacy was gone as the iceberg was approaching.  No one seemed to be all that worried about it from those watching it head right towards the ship.  Then Tesla tests his magical mystery machine and supposedly breaks the ship.  It didn’t REALLY hit the iceberg.  Excuse me?  And as the ship sank?  Poof, gone.  The major cataclysmic event was literally blinked out of the plot.  Gone.  Ground zero happens, people start running around a little confused, poof Jane is being rescued by the Carpathia.  I’m not even talking about a sentence to say it sank.  An element happened that actually eliminated the sinking from the story and skipped right to the rescue.  Infuriated would be a good word to describe me.  How do you have ‘a novel of the Titanic’ and just skip the sinking?

The individual elements of DISTANT WAVES were good; I liked the Spiritualism aspect, how historical people were factored into the plot, all of the characters were likable on some level and it even got a hint steampunky.  But I think the Titanic itself ruins this story of the Titanic for me simply because it was so bastardized.  The author actually altered history to serve her plot.  No.  Me no likey.  If that kind of thing doesn’t bother you then you might just like DISTANT WAVES.  Like I said it’s a pretty good story.  But the Titanic is killer.  No pun intended.  Too much was changed in a story that was only supposed to be historical fiction, not alt history or the like.  It’s unfortunate but that’s the way it is, I guess.  Titanic in one book and the rest of the plot in another, yes.  Both would have been good.  But they just didn’t mix well, like a recipe whose ingredients didn’t quite mesh.

Ban Factor: Low – An historical fiction centered around the Titanic.  One can hardly pick a more prudish time in our history.  The Spiritualism might offend but that’s assuming they know what the word means.  One mustn’t overestimate the banners.

Published September 1, 2009.

Author website.

Anastasia Romanov thought she would never feel more alone than when the gunfire started and her family began to fall around her. Surely the bullets would come for her next. But they didn’t. Instead, two gnarled old hands reached for her. When she wakes up she discovers that she is in the ancient hut of the witch Baba Yaga, and that some things are worse than being dead. 

In modern-day Chicago, Anne doesn’t know much about Russian history. She is more concerned about getting into a good college–until the dreams start. She is somewhere else. She is someone else. And she is sharing a small room with a very old woman. The vivid dreams startle her, but not until a handsome stranger offers to explain them does she realize her life is going to change forever. She is the only one who can save Anastasia. But, Anastasia is having her own dreams…  (goodreads.com)

I got to just about under halfway before I put DREAMING ANASTASIA down.  I couldn’t invest myself in it.  It’s not that the writing was bad or it wasn’t interesting.  I just felt it was a bit . . . ridiculous.

As if I haven’t read absolutely ridiculous books in my day.  Or currently.  The majority of what I read is inherently ridiculous.  But I just wasn’t feeling DREAMING ANASTASIA.  I don’t think it’s anything I can specifically put my finger on.  I don’t believe my move had an influence because I was reading other books just fine.  So can’t chalk it up to not being able to invest myself in the story.  I just felt all of the little pieces that knit the story together were one contrivance after another.  From Anne being a descendant of this brotherhood explaining her dreams and weird powers that randomly manifest when the shit hits the fan to the shit itself embedding itself in the fan blades I wasn’t buying it from the beginning.  It felt more like a finely fit cluster of puzzle pieces than something organic that grew into its own story.  That every piece of the DREAMING ANASTASIA story was meticulously crafted and set in place, as if strategizing a chess game where the mover of the piece is the one in control as opposed to the piece itself.  I felt led along and each element in the story was displayed to me as if I were at a museum exhibit.

It’s not inherently a bad thing.  Like I said, there was nothing wrong with the writing.  I liked the dialogue between all of the characters.  That in and of itself felt genuine.  It was absolutely action-packed right from the beginning and the Romanov history was definitely an interesting aspect of it all.  I just wasn’t connecting with it.

Ban Factor: High – Fairy tales come to life and chicks with magic powers.  Someone’s got some devil in ’em.

August 29, 2012

Published July 1, 1990.

Author website.

When the Devil’s Elbow roller coaster goes off its track and several teenagers are hurt, everyone thinks it was just an accident. So no one listens when Tess says she saw someone tampering with the track. 

But one person knows it’s true. That person is playing a deadly game – and is going to make sure Tess doesn’t stand in the way. Tess soon finds she’s being terrorized, with threatening notes, menacing phone calls, slashed tires, and nasty pranks. When another “accident” occurs in the Funhouse, Tess is sure that she was the intended victim. Who is committing all these horrifying acts? And why? 

Tess is just beginning to realize that the Funhouse can scare you …to death.  (goodreads.com)

There are few things more awesome than cheese and FUNHOUSE certainly fit that mould nicely.  Not only that but I love reading un-updated works if for nothing more than the outdated styles of dress.  Boys in cutoff jeans?  Ha!  But I remember it.  Most of it would probably be pretty innocuous to the younger readers now simply because the descriptions aren’t too detailed but every once in a while you’ll get the little nugget of nostalgia that’ll have you going ‘yup.’  Love it.

FUNHOUSE combines two of my favorite things: horror and boardwalks.  Thanks Lost Boys.  You rear your mulleted head once again.  There just always seems to be something sinister underlying a carnival-like atmosphere.  I’m pretty sure it’s the clowns.  Are the looking at the same cover I am?  So going in it had the proper ambiance for me to be nice and cozily happy.

The thing about a lot of these old school cheesy YA horror books is that there really isn’t any supernatural involved; they’re mostly thriller but the way they’re written it could go either way.  This particular novel utilized pseudo-flashback pieces that involved a diary and insinuated at maybe a haunting.  Personally I think that’s just enough to pull it all together.

Another common theme in the cheese is the novel having at least one character that you desperately wish would get hit by a bus.  They’re just total shitbags that you can’t help but wonder why they have friends at all.  Trudy was that person in FUNHOUSE.  She’s just an all around nasty, negative human being that any normal person would probably drop like a bad habit.  But I guess because she’s rich and all their daddies work together she’s automatically lumped in with the rest.  Sucks for the rest of them.

Tess is the kind of heroine that I wish I saw more of in today’s YA.  She has Sam (her perhaps/maybe-boyfriend) constantly trying to protect her but she’s so adamant that she can take care of herself that I couldn’t help but go yeah!  Granted she takes it to a point of it being a fault, especially when the events start getting drastic and her life appears to really be in danger but she wants to stand on her own two feet.  She don’t need no man to protect her!  Yes!  Aside from that she is strong, wanting to solve the mystery behind all of these events even in the face of doubt and ridicule.  Everyone else things it’s a string of unfortunate accidents (of course) but Tess knows better.  There are too many elements going on for any of it to be coincidental.

Hoh is one of the better old school YA horror writers.  She doesn’t pander to her audience and just lets the story tell itself.  None of the dialogue feels contrived and the characters feel real to me.  Of course there’s a bit of the melodrama going on and the entire plot centers around a bunch of rich kids but they’re not obnoxious about it.  They don’t flaunt their parents’ wealth.  It’s not a motivating factor in the story; they all just are and who their parents are just happen to be who their parents are.  It’s not a card to play, which I liked.

FUNHOUSE is a great addition to my cheese library and one I’ll probably re-read at some point in the future.  There’s a classic feel to it, aside from the fact that the roller coaster is named The Devil’s Elbow.  How . . . threatening?

Ban Factor: High – Teenagers are ruthlessly targeted by some unknown entity for deliverance of dire pain.  Oh no.  We just can’t have that.  It’s too much for them to take.

August 26, 2012

Published August 11, 2009.

Author website.

SOMEONE ELSE WILL DIE SOON she tells herself. 

SOMEONE ELSE WILL DIE AND I WILL BE RESPONSIBLE. 

A few days after the first time you walk in your sleep, you kill someone. That’s how the end begins. 

Emma Montgomery has been having gruesome nightmares. Even worse, when she wakes up, she isn’t where she was when she fell asleep. And she’s not the only one. One by one the students of Saint Opportuna High start having nightmares, and sleepwalking. And the next morning one of their classmates turns up dead. 

Something is making them kill in their sleep. Emma and her friends need to band together, to keep themselves awake until they can figure out what’s behind the murders–before anyone else dies.  (goodreads.com)

There’s a reason that NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET, despite all of it’s cheesiness, is, at its very core, frightening: because Freddie attacks people in their dreams, in their sleep, when they’re at their most vulnerable.  SLEEPLESS also tapped into that inherent attack method and it’s why I think, even despite my ultimate disconnect with the story, it’s still scary.  Sleeping is something a person just can’t not do.  You have to sleep but that’s also where you’re being attacked and there’s nothing you can do to prevent it.  Anyone that doesn’t think that’s scary to at least some degree is lying.  Liars!

Don’t get me wrong; I liked SLEEPLESS.  But there was something there keeping me from really connecting with the story, most likely the way it was told.  It was third person limited and flipped between Emma and Jake throughout the book but it wasn’t necessarily the POV that did it.  I think it had more to do with the mechanical, almost dry execution of the story that kept me at bay.  It kept me interested but I’ve been interested in newspaper articles too.  It was more of a recounting of events with little effort at trying to make me scared.  For a horror novel that’s a pretty big deal.  I WANT to be scared when I read horror.  That’s why I read it.  Yeah, it’s masochistic but quite frankly I liked being scared.  If horror doesn’t scare me then it’s failed it’s most integral part.  I couldn’t even feign frightened.  Yes, the things happening to the kids was scary but I didn’t feel it.  I just read the story and carried on.

The New Orleans event laced throughout the book dragged on a bit too long without coming to its useful point.  I get the technique but I don’t think it worked to the story’s advantage here.  Of course it kept me reading but I was more annoyed with it toying with me than anything else.  I wanted to know HOW it was relevant and it kept teasing me for chapters.  I was irked.  It ultimately wove itself in but it didn’t end up being what I thought it could be.  It slid down a more more cliched route that ended up being a bit contrived.  No vengeance or cover-ups or anything like that.  The ending was really ho-hum and a bit of a disappointment.

I liked Emma and Jake as characters.  They were both probably the best parts of the book.  They were just really well-fleshed out characters that I felt came alive on the page.  I believed their actions, their words and how they made everything unfold around them.  It worked.  I think SLEEPLESS could have been an amazing horror story if the rest of the elements around Jake and Emma were as finely tuned as they were, not to mention the story would have been better if it ended up being something BIGGER than what it was.  Again, disappointment, but Jake and Emma were good, with Emma taking the lead despite everything going against her.  She was the glue of the group, making things happen instead of waiting for them to happen.  If I knew I was about to kill someone in my sleep I’d like to think I’d take the same initiative and do something about it instead of just cowering in the corner.  No cowering for Emma.  Always a plus.

I think someone not as attuned to horror would find SLEEPLESS far scarier than I did but seeing how desensitized to it I am it fell kind of flat in the scare department.  I wish it were scarier for me because it would have been amazing!  I liked almost everything I was reading.  All that was missing was me being scared.  But it had just enough elements (like the execution of the voice) going against that amazingness to bring it down to something that was decent to read but didn’t instill the horror like it should have.  It will make you think twice about sleeping, and watching slides, I’m sure but the ending didn’t lend itself to anything greater than another teen horror cliche.  I liked it but that’s about it.

Ban Factor: High – Kids are dropping dead all over this novel, not to mention there’s some boob grabbing of the unmarried variety as well.  The banners would squeal.