Bites
September 21, 2012

Pub date: September 25, 2012.

Author website.

Something has happened in Spokane. The military has evacuated the city and locked it down. Even so, disturbing rumors and images seep out, finding their way onto the Internet, spreading curiosity, skepticism, and panic. For what they show is-or should be-impossible: strange creatures that cannot exist, sudden disappearances that violate the laws of physics, human bodies fused with inanimate objects, trapped yet still half alive. . . . 

Dean Walker, an aspiring photographer, sneaks into the quarantined city in search of fame. What he finds will change him in unimaginable ways. Hooking up with a group of outcasts led by a beautiful young woman named Taylor, Dean embarks on a journey into the heart of a mystery whose philosophical implications are as terrifying as its physical manifestations. Even as he falls in love with Taylor-a woman as damaged and seductive as the city itself-his already tenuous hold on reality starts to come loose. Or perhaps it is Spokane’s grip on the world that is coming undone.  

Now, caught up in a web of interlacing secrets and betrayals, Dean, Taylor, and their friends must make their way through this ever-shifting maze of a city, a city that is actively hunting them down, herding them toward a shocking destiny.  (netgalley.com)

BAD GLASS is something different.  In a good way.  It’s part horror, part apocalyptic, part science fiction and fantasy, hitting on every thread that each of those genres can unwind.  I had moments reading this book that actually made my stomach churn.  Of course I was eating lunch at the time and vomiting all over the lunch room table at a place I’ve worked at less than a week would certainly leave an impression.  Not a good one.  I really like where I work so I breathed through it.

In terms of character I felt it was a little thin.  I didn’t really have any motivation to care about any of the characters and when things really started to happen I felt more like I was watching the news than I was invested in reading a novel.  The emphasis of the story was on Spokane.  It was the antagonist here, as the blurb says, hunting them.  Literally.  I LOVED Spokane and I talk about it as if it were a fleshy type of character.  It was the most dynamic thing here, morphing itself to engulf the more static characters.

Taylor was your typical hard ass, stand-offish girl that leads by example.  Not unlikable but she wasn’t anything I warmed to.  Then her character took a major shift towards the end and I don’t think it quite fit.  It was too out of character and felt more like a contrivance to catapult the story forward than anything else.  I didn’t mind per se because I was still interested in the story but it was a point of contention.  I’m not a fan of characters deviating for the sake of plot.

Amanda is one character one day and then goes off the deep end the next without much segue, throwing another shock factor into the spokes of the plot.  Charlie was endearing, being the youngest of the group.  He was the techie, helping the rest of the gang keep in contact with the outside world all the while continuously searching for his parents whom he KNOWS are still in town.  Floyd is hung up on the death of his brother, Mac’s a clingy dick from the beginning and Dean himself wants to believe he dissolves into the town with the rest of them but I didn’t buy it.  He’s there for less than a week, put through all kinds of shit for the sake of his art but won’t simply walk away when things get really bad (and everything will gladly get out of his way to walk and once he gets out of Spokane all the craziness will stop but nooooooooo).  He sacrifices his life for Taylor, whom he’s known A WEEK but will not return the affection nor even much of a hint that it’s reciprocal, because he just can’t leave her.  No.  I don’t buy that either.

I don’t buy it as much as I don’t buy Taylor’s character shift.  Dean’s very presence beyond the first few days felt forced, his reasons for staying insubstantial at best.  Eventually it stopped being about his photography and started being about Taylor, again a stand-offish girl that would barely look at him.  I’m going to keep driving right past that tag sale and move on to the next one.

Spokane on the other hand was a living, breathing character consuming all the others, eventually literally.  The things that happen within the city, whether they just happen to the surroundings or to the people themselves, were so incredibly vivid that I could almost feel all of the panic and worry and wonder at what was going on.  From the weird bodily mutations to nature bucking it’s own trend, I believed it all.  It was the most vivid part of the story.  If it weren’t such an integral part, if the story focused more on the characters than on the surroundings, I would have lost interest pretty quickly.  But I kept reading for Spokane.  I wanted to see what the hell was going on with it.

I almost expected the ending to crap out.  I don’t know why but I was anticipating the whole thing ending up being a dream.  It was alluded to.  I’ll spoil it for you: it’s not.  Thank god.  I would have been so incredibly pissed off I don’t know what I would have done.  You get an answer but it leaves a lot of whys hanging out there and you still don’t REALLY know what’s going on by the time the story ends.  You have an idea and I think it’s enough to satisfy the curiosity that the plot brews but there’s definitely room for more.

BAD GLASS is, atmospherically, a great blend of horror and apocalyptic, the latter really just on the edge of the world about to go to hell in a Pinto.  There are some truly terrifying moments and the way Gropp wrote all of the changes it really plays with your mind and you won’t know what to think about everything that’s happening.  You’ll start to second-guess things and you’ll be trying to figure it out right from the moment Dean gets into the city and starts seeing these things first hand.  It’s light on character development but the city itself is such a huge personality in the book that it’ll just overwhelm everything else.  Really I don’t think there’s room for much else in terms of the other characters.  And I’m okay with that.

Ban Factor: High – Swearing, m/m sex, drug use and the world going to hell.  Not a good combination for the banners.

Published May 18, 2010.

Author website.

Billy Brent and Alice Stephens are star-crossed like all great lovers. Their need for each other drives them from Istanbul to Miami, Venice to Mexico. After years of encounters and escapes, they lose themselves deep in a desert wilderness, searching for a way forward, only to learn that sometimes the trail simply forks.  (amazon.com)

I scratched this one very early on, like a couple dozen pages in early on.  Really, I’m okay with literary.  I can handle it.  But there comes a point in literary where it stops being good to read and starts being a showcase of the author’s perceived awesomeness and that’s where my eyelids start to sag.  If I wanted to gaze at a naval I’d pick at my own.  Thanks.

Perhaps it was the incessant use of ‘waked up’ that made me want to murder puppies.  Yes, technically it’s correct.  And technically it makes my ears bleed.  I don’t know if this was the author trying to be quirky and use a little-used form of ‘to wake’ to make his writing stand out as OMG EDGE AND AWESOME.  Or if this was a means to showcase the inherent quirkiness of the MC, except it made Billy sound like a pretentious douche.  Either way I just couldn’t take it.  After about five instances of the MC being ‘waked up’ I stopped. I don’t care how awesomely quirky it makes anyone look.  I don’t care if it’s technically right.  It either makes one sound completely uneducated (who actually uses waked up for past tense? personally I’m on board the woke up train) or like a self-aggrandizing dick.  The former would be okay if the MC were actually uneducated.  He’s not.  He’s traveling Europe, getting high, existentially pondering life and spending SOMEONE’S money doing it.  Which files him into the latter category.  Gross.

Or maybe it was the meandering drug-induced hazed of a “plot” I kept trying to get involved in but it just seemed far too all over the place for me to keep track of.  Billy’s trying to get back together with Alice despite the fact that she’s married (what a stand-up guy) and his buddy contracted malaria or something and was hospitalized so the poor guy (the MC, not the sick friend) had to hop himself up on his own and there was a lot of drugs and stuff.  I didn’t really see much of a point to it all and I certainly wasn’t seeing any “star-crossed lovers” going on here.  Just Billy trying to harass some chick into leaving her husband for him.  The relationship looked pretty one-sided where I stood.

Nope, just wasn’t into it.  The instances of ‘waked up’ were enough for me to DNF it but if that weren’t a problem the spirograph plot would have kicked me out eventually.  I just didn’t give a rat’s ass about Billy and Alice was just a voice on the phone at the time I stopped.  Plus whatever plot there was seemed more focused on drugs and Billy dissecting his own thoughts than anything else.  Blah.  Not for me.

Ban Factor: High – Just for the drugs alone.  There are a lot of drugs.

Published September 28, 2010.

Author website.

Jane Austen 

Novelist . . . gentlewoman . . . Damned, Fanged, and Dangerous to know. 

Aspiring writer Jane Austen knows that respectable young ladies like herself are supposed to shun the Damned–the beautiful, fashionable, exquisitely seductive vampires who are all the rage in Georgian England in 1797. So when an innocent (she believes) flirtation results in her being turned–by an absolute cad of a bloodsucker–she acquiesces to her family’s wishes and departs for Bath to take the waters, the only known cure. 

But what she encounters there is completely unexpected: perilous jealousies and further betrayals, a new friendship and a possible love. Yet all that must be put aside when the warring French invade unsuspecting Bath–and the streets run red with good English blood. Suddenly only the staunchly British Damned can defend the nation they love . . . with Jane Austen leading the charge at the battle’s forefront.  (goodreads.com)

I was a little apprehensive to read JANE AND THE DAMNED after my failed attempt at EMMA AND THE VAMPIRES.  One, I hadn’t read the blurb in a while so I was under the impression that it was a JANE EYRE remake and two, I haven’t been thrilled with the writing style of books set in this era so it was setting itself up to fail for me.  It ultimately didn’t and I enjoyed the plot but it had its faults and a lot of that hinged on the writing itself.

I didn’t know why this story was about Jane Austen.  You’d think there’d be some kind of relevance to it but it rightly could have been some made-up character created strictly for the book and it wouldn’t have made a bit of different.  So I was haunted by the question, “Why the hell is this Jane Austen?” throughout, making it a touch distracting.

That’s not to say I didn’t like Jane.  I did.  She was a very strong woman that, although reluctantly, embraced her vampirism and used it to fight the French when they invaded (a point to be dealt with in a moment).  She stood her own as a fighter and even as her fellow Damned looked down upon her as not only a fledgling but an orphaned one (her maker having abandoned her and she was adopted by another) she stood tall, pulling off feats that eventually made them proud.

The writing didn’t really lend itself to telling the story well, though.  I felt the progression was jerky and I often found myself shoved out of the story due to a ragged transition from one scene to the next.  The language was trying a bit too hard and while I never found it stilted it lent to the crappy transitions that kept pulling me out of the story.

That’s not to mention that as I was reading I had a niggling feeling that Napoleon’s army invading Britain just didn’t sound right.  Did it make for some good drama?  Of course.  Jane wouldn’t have been able to become the fighter she did without someone to fight so steadfastly against.  But it didn’t seem right.  Love the interwebs as it verified my unsettled thoughts: Napoleon was never actually able to get past the Royal Navy to fight on British land.  Talk about taking gross liberties with history to serve the plot.  It only puffs up the question as to why it had to be Jane Austen as the lead in this story.  I have a big problem with that.  Adding vampires to Jane Austen’s life is one thing.  I was entertained by all of that.  But why bastardize history so much?  I don’t get it.  Wait, I do get it: it served the plot.  And yes, this book is a work of fiction.  But holy crap Napoleon’s army never invaded Bath nor took London.  It’s a contrivance of epic proportions that I still just don’t understand.  Too many questions and not enough answers.

I did finish JANE AND THE DAMNED, much to my surprise.  I enjoyed it and I ultimately came to like Jane and Luke together but Jane is a little too bi-polar for me.  She changed her mind about accepting her vampirism as often as she changed dresses and it was rough going trying to keep track of where her brain was in terms of not only her vampirism but her love of Luke.  It wavered too much for my liking.  She turned out to be a really strong heroine in terms of fighting capabilities and standing on her own but she ultimately had too much negative about her that, for the most part, cancelled it out.

I was entertained so the book served its purpose in that regard but it’s incredibly historically inaccurate, I still have no idea why Jane Austen was the focusing character and the writing leaves a bit to be desired.  If you’re looking for a light, entertaining read reminiscent of Austenian works with a bit more fangs and blood and don’t have much else to read JANE AND THE DAMNED will probably whet your appetite.  Just don’t expect it to do much else.

Ban Factor: High – Vampires and they’re shown as hedonistically as possible to make it all the worse.  But our dear Jane has arguments with conscience that might appease the banners, however slightly.

Published August 17, 2010.

Author website.

In Vanishing and Other Stories, secrets are both kept and unearthed, and lives are shaped by missing lovers, parents, and children.  With wisdom and dexterity, moments of dark humor, and a remarkable economy of words, Deborah Willis captures an incredible array of characters that linger in the imagination and prove that nothing is ever truly forgotten.  (book back blurb)

Every once in a while I’ll come across a book with such stunning writing that when I get to the end of it I can’t help but heave a great big sigh of relief.  There is hope.  There is talent.  There are WORDS.

I like reading anthologies but they’re usually a compendium of stories from different writers so each work is, by default, going to be different.  Different styles, different prose, different methods.  Personally I find it a lot harder for an author to write a single anthology composed entirely of their own stories and have each story differentiate itself from the last.  My experience in that is pretty even keel; one working out not so well and the other I ended up loving.  VANISHING?  Yeah, I pretty much loved it.

VANISHING has stories told of life.  They’re not all that action-packed.  In many not much really happens outside of a character’s internal monologues.  But the way they’re all written Willis just sinks her claws into each and every one of her characters and forces them off the page so that you can’t help but see them as their own individuals.  And that’s exactly what they are.  From the grieving scientist in ESCAPE to the lonely teacher in THE FIANCEE to the boy-turned-man in AND THE LIVING IS EASY, each are individuals, each are wholly separate and each are as vivid in my mind as if they were all given their own books.

VANISHING is one of those books that one SHOULD read because it’s that kind of book.  These are the stories that would get taught in literature classes, dissected for meaning, subtext, intent.  To some that’s a bad thing but I loved reading good short stories when I was in school.  It was how I was introduced to the likes of Flannery O’Connor.  And she’s pretty awesome.  But just because people SHOULD read it doesn’t make it bad or dull.  They’re all engaging stories, each and every one of them, with a range of protagonists, a range of ages and a good mix of both sexes.  There is literally something for everyone in VANISHING and the writing is so good all the rest would just suck you in anyway.

All of the stories are inherently real, spun golden by words that would make any writer envious (including this one).  But it’s not a high falutin, overtly showy type of writing.  It’s glorious, simple enough to hook the resistant but intricate enough to ensnare the more well-read, those with noses held higher than others.  When literary does it right, it REALLY does it right.  Willis’s writing is effortless.  She doesn’t come across as trying to impress or show off her writing prowess.  Her words are for the stories and the stories are for you.  It’s that simple.  And they’re wonderful.

There may not be anything supernatural in VANISHING but that doesn’t make it any less engaging.  It still hooks, it still drags you in and then spits you out, leaving you reeling in your book hangover because the writing . . . THE WRITING.  It stuns.  It really does.

Ban Factor: Low – It’s pretty innocuous.  There might be a couple of salacious pieces in there but that would require the banners to read and that’s just downright silly to expect.

July 23, 2012

Pub date: August 1, 2012.

Author website.

Kit Colbana—half breed, assassin, thief, jack of all trades—has a new job: track down the missing ward of one of the local alpha shapeshifters. It should be a piece of cake.

So why is she so nervous? It probably has something to do with the insanity that happens when you deal with shifters—especially sexy ones who come bearing promises of easy jobs and easier money.

Or maybe it’s all the other missing kids that Kit discovers while working the case, or the way her gut keeps screaming she’s gotten in over her head. Or maybe it’s because if she fails—she’s dead.
If she can stay just one step ahead, she should be okay. Maybe she’ll even live long to collect her fee…  (netgalley.com)

BLADE SONG is a bit out of my normal reading repertoire but at the moment I’m all about branching out and I’ve been following Shiloh  since she unabashedly spoke her mind about the Sirengate debacle.  So throw all of that together and I wanted to read something by her and see what she was all about author-wise because I already thought she was pretty cool as a person.

JC Daniels is the pseudonym for Shiloh Walker who writes romances, among a bunch of other books.  It looks like she writes PNR under her Walker name as well as her Daniels name and I just don’t know enough about her to know why she pseudonymously writes.  But needless to say my first Walker book was a Daniels book simply because the blurb appealed to me and it’s right up my alley for some adult PNR (because the YA stuff makes me a touch homicidal).

Kit is your kick ass heroine that smarts off right from the get-go and at least has the know-how to realize she should really keep her mouth shut most of the time she allows it to open.  She’s part Amazon that allows her to call her sword at a moment’s notice even if it’s not in the area and it also gives her some other heightened senses that help her out in tough times.  Her childhood was total crap and I really liked the way Daniels interspersed Kit’s PTSD with her current job, sending her reeling into her past.  Not that PTSD is a good thing but it’s authentic to the character.  For instance Kit spent a lot of time starving and injured in a pit at the hands of her grandmother.  When her and Damon come upon similar pits in the Everglades Kit starts flashing back.  I just felt those flashbacks were authentic.  I bought them and it added a new vulnerable depth to Kit that gave reason to her kick ass attitude.

I was a little less than thrilled with her speech.  I felt that her dialogue and slang was, at times, reaching and it grated on me a little bit but not enough to stop reading.  The story was fast-paced and entertaining enough that it carried me through what I didn’t care for and let me just enjoy the story for it’s entertainment value.  I’m finding I can do this more with adult books than YA, probably because I’m starting to burn out on YA, I think.

The writing itself was on the simple side in terms of words on the page and at times redundant but I still felt Kit was a fully fleshed out character.  I found her as real as could be, right along with all of the secondary characters that Daniels introduced, from the witches to the cats and even to the humans that she ended up interacting with.  They were barely there and when they were they were serving a purpose but they were fully realized.  I didn’t feel like they were puppets in a show, merely there to serve Kit.  They helped her, as much as she needed it, but they all were ultimately their own entity.

I was less than thrilled with the romance.  There was a bit by the way of sexy times but it was an antagonistic relationship that you could see coming from the beginning.  And the way Damon kept referring to Kit as baby girl made me want to strangle something.  From what I got Kit wasn’t all on board with that pet name either.  The progression of the romance was exceedingly fast for what ended up coming to fruition but ultimately I think the two actually work together.  They both antagonize and compliment each other in equal measure; neither are dependent on the other, both are a bit possessive (Damon a bit more so which I found off-putting) and both could hold their own.  So I was less than thrilled with it but I didn’t wholly not like it either.

You know it’s a good foray into adult PNR.  It satisfied a craving that I had for something different yet similar (how . . . vague of me) and not nearly as angsty as I’ve been getting with the YA crowd.  It was a good deviation from my otherwise norm.  It’s definitely gritty and doesn’t shy away from the themes it presents so if you’re a bit weaker in the will area BLADE SONG might not be for you.  But if you’re keen on some violence, a kick ass chick with some issues, a nominal amount of sexy times and a good set-up for the next book, BLADE SONG is your bag.  I didn’t love it but I’ll keep my eye our for more, that’s for sure.

Ban Factor: High – Is that a joke?  Did you read the last paragraph?