Bites

Published: February 22, 2017
Publisher: Space Goat Productions
Author: Website
Info: Goodreads

When Johnny hears a rumor that Sarge’s body is hidden somewhere in the forest outside the campground, he recruits Violet and some of the other campers to go on a mission to find out if it’s true. (goodreads.com)

So I loved the art in this comic. Like a lot. It’s truly beautiful, all the colors and shading. I couldn’t take my eyes off of it.

The story on the other hand . . eh. It’s weird. Why are all these zombies at this military-like camp? Are they training for the zombie army? And why is Sarge just a head on a stick? Not a whole hell of a lot he can do. Is the guy who pushes him around on a cart supposed to be his arms to whip these zombie kids into shape?

And then they’re searching for his body, like it has some kind of mind of its own. I don’t know. I don’t feel real rooted in this world. Granted I think the comic is for younger kids, like middle school at most, so I think a lot of backstory gets skipped. But I end up with a lot more questions than what’s answered, mainly because it gives zero exposition. Not even really trickled throughout unless you want to count the ghost story of Sarge’s body. But even then everything’s existing within a bubble.

Young kids would probably like it. It’s amusing enough and the visual are fantastic. But it’s lacking in its story, for sure.

2.5

I received a copy of this comic from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

October 14, 2017

Published: May 1, 1994
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Author: Website
Info: Goodreads

Why is her boyfriend Tom avoiding her – while other boys pursue her as never before? Jenny Thornton has changed. So have her friends. Because of Julian, the Shadow Man, who has returned to terrorize them with a new game, a hunting game, Lambs and Monsters. They’re the lambs, to be stalked, pounced upon, and lost to the Shadow World forevermore. The monsters are the Lurker , a ghostly wolf, and the Creeper, a phantom snake. One by one, Jenny’s friends disappear, leaving behind only a paper doll – and a riddle with clues about who will be next . . . Jenny must find Julian’s hidden base and save her friends before it’s too late. But how can she resist the predatory prince of darkness who has returned to make her his own? (book back blurb)

I reviewed the first book a while ago and my recap for it just went up last month at The Devil’s Elbow. This month I’m recapping THE CHASE and having never read it before, of course it needed to be reviewed here too. Oh such Labyrinth-y goodness.

Granted I was a bit torn with THE CHASE. The pacing was a little all over the place and the first sentence in that blurb is really misleading. Jenny doesn’t have dudes falling all over her now. One guy asked her to the prom who wasn’t Tom. The blurb could have started with the second sentence and have been fine. Anyway, pacing. It lingers on minutiae in this book where it didn’t in the last, giving me drawn out scenes when they were postering (as in handing out posters with Summer’s face on it because everyone thinks she’s just missing) that didn’t really advance the plot at all, or the whole thing with this guy pursuing Jenny, which really wasn’t much of a thing. There’s a fair amount of cigarette lighting in the book and things don’t really start to get rolling until a little more than halfway into the book, which is far. I often felt like telling Smith to get on with it up to that point.

However, I did like the total mindfuck going on up to Game #2. They were just spaced far enough apart in that first half that they didn’t connect too well and too much time passed between them to really maintain interest. Plus Smith likes to drag on with unnecessary physical details and expounding a little too much on what’s going on in people’s heads so that slowed the plot down too. But the mindfucking was good. I wish she spent more time there.

About a third of the way through the book I started having real issues with the type of focus Smith was giving Dee, her Aba, and then a Polynesian woman. It seemed like every POC that popped up in her books were in some way otherworldly and deserving of this . . . other type of description that no one else got. Then I remembered Wing from DE mentioning not liking Smith’s othering of Dee. Not sure what that meant I looked it up. Yup. That’s it. That’s what was really bothering me. It’s almost like Smith’s overcompensating by making all of the POC in her book mystical and gorgeous and unreachable . . . except that just plays into typecasting, doesn’t it? Dee, the angry but beautiful black girl who’s regularly described as having lioness and panther-like qualities, who wants to fight constantly, and who is regularly described as having a savage or barbaric smile (OMG NO). Aba, the mystical black grandma offering pearls of wisdom to help the children along. And the Polynesian women, a cop and there for a second, was described as being model beautiful. It was just so glaring and off-putting.

Meanwhile Michael has some variety of spaniel eyes, Audrey has spiky lashes and bangs, and everyone else kinds of blends in. Smith has a real bad habit of using rather unique descriptors repeatedly. They stand out “nicely.”

Anyway, I’m a big fan of psychological thrillers and horror and THE CHASE fits better into that arena than anything else. I really, really liked the mind games Julian played, wearing the group down before taking them one by one. Truly, it’s perfect. But then we get sort of a repeat ending from book one and I want to say it’s lazy but it also plays into Julian’s character so I’m not sure which way to sway on that one. But I like that Smith went with the brain game with book two. Considering how mentally mangled those kids would be after what they went through, and with losing Summer (I have a feeling she’s not actually dead . . .) their brains would be ripe for poking. And Julian did just that. It’s demented and dark and it made me like the story even more. Jenny is standing more on her own two feet and barreling headfirst into things. Tom is no longer her crutch. Instead she stands on her own and that’s kind of awesome.

I’m looking forward to working my way through book 3 next month. Be sure to check out my recap going up at The Devil’s Elbow on the 23rd!

4

Published: August 1, 2017
Publisher: Burkshelf (self)
Author(s): Website
Info: Goodreads

Courtesan. Spy. Assassin.

Across the Kingdom of Arestea, the shadowy league of professional killers known simply as the Guild has long since earned its terrifying reputation. And none of its current members are more infamous than the Black Lily. No one knows who the Lily is, but everyone recognizes the efficiency with which he or she brings down even the most guarded targets. There is no one, it is said, who is safe from this fiend once they have caught the assassin’s attention.

Now Lily herself is about to discover if her reputation has been inflated or not, for she has just been assigned the most daunting mission of her career: infiltrate the royal palace and eliminate the entire Arestean line of succession to make room for the Guild’s puppet ruler. It’s a challenging job, but one that will secure her place in the history books should she succeed.

But when unplanned circumstances take the king from his country to help secure the front lines in his latest war of expansion, Lily is left trapped in her assumed persona behind the palace walls and forced to stall for time. And when a particularly bad stroke of luck reveals her cover to the king’s brother, Crown Prince Adrian, Lily finds herself ensnared in her own web, forced to use all her skills of subterfuge and manipulation if she is to stay one step ahead of the naïve but righteous young man and finish her mission — or die trying. (goodreads.com)

Let’s just start with the cover. Because it’s horrid. I’ve certainly seen worse, but this one is not good. Very much “I did this myself in GIMP and it looks okay enough.” It’s just . . . very off-putting, very amateur-looking, and very indicative of a self-published novel. Luckily what’s beyond the cover is markedly better than what this digital manipulation would otherwise suggest.

Markedly better, but still not great. The pacing is somewhat jerky, lingering too long on exposition and unnecessary world craft-type of nonsense that fills in pockets of worldbuilding because you don’t get to see a lot of the world for most of the story. So you get aristocrats droning on about this city and these goods and I found myself not really paying attention during those parts because they were boring. Just get along with the plot, please.

The story itself is pretty interesting and I would like to know more about this assassins guild, especially toward the end there (no spoilers). Unfortunately for an assassin you don’t get to see Lily really do her job all that much. The book starts off on an upswing where she kills an unsuspecting jerk in a brothel and that was fun. But then she slips into her courtesan role with a bad accent where we see more of her heaving bosom than anything else. Most of the scheming is going on in Lily’s head while outside she’s having meals and conversations with people. So for a story about an assassin, there’s not a whole lot of assassining going on.

The sex was . . . odd. Kudos for the bisexual lead, but the sex with the lady’s maid was gratuitous. The thing is, I like erotica. I like sex in books. But it needs to be well-placed. The scene with her and Alec made sense. The scene with the two women didn’t actually contribute to the plot at all and just seemed rather throw-in, kind of hammering home like “WE HAVE A BISEXUAL CHARACTER IN OUR BOOK LOOK AT HER BED THIS WOMAN.” It felt disingenuous.

The relationship between Lily and Adrian, though, I think was the best part of the book. That actually felt surprisingly natural, especially as it developed (again, no spoilers). The antagonism between the two of them was done well without being overblown and I didn’t find myself rolling my eyes at any stupid decisions anyone was making or plot-serving misunderstandings happening because there were none. Those two fit together really well. They each had a calming effect to the other’s personality that served to soften Lily’s edges and unclench Adrian’s posterior.

The world itself was rather typical. Some kind of medieval type of world that isn’t from this one but still has exotic-sounding names and a castle and a “low quarter” with swords and guards and what not. Nothing to write home about.

All in all it’s an interesting enough story, but the plot needs to be tightened. One of the better self-published books, I think, but still room for improvement.

3

I received a copy of this book from the authors in exchange for an honest review.

September 30, 2017

Pub Date: October 10, 2017
Publisher: Berkley Books
Author: Website
Info: Goodreads

Framed for a murder she didn’t commit…

As one of HM Prison Holloway’s most high-profile new inmates, Helen Grace has a target on her back and nowhere to hide. She has made a long list of enemies over the course of her career–some are incarcerated within these very walls. When one of Helen’s fellow prisoners is found mutilated and murdered in her own locked cell, it’s clear that the killer is someone on the inside.

But time is running out for Helen as she races to expose the person who framed her, and the body count in the prison starts to climb. Helen will need to draw on all her investigative skills and instincts to catch the serial killer behind these murders and discover the truth–unless the killer finds her first. (goodreads.com)

I’m really rather cranky that I’ve effectively spoiled books five and six for myself by reading HIDE AND SEEK. I didn’t realize I was so far behind in the series until it was basically too late. Not enough time in the day to catch up and I had a time limit on this book so I did what I could and hoped for the best.

HIDE AND SEEK is the first book in the Helen Grace series where I questioned a plot device as being a little hinky. It involved suspects in the prison murders and once the guards started getting tagged they started getting all up in armsr about it. The thing is, the way this one prisoner died, common sense, especially for those investigating, would be first to the guards. So a tiny little element that seemed a bit too convenient for the sake of some added drama, but by no means was it detracting. And since it was the only element I took even close to an issue with it obviously wasn’t that big of a problem for me.

Again, pissed that I spoiled two books worth of plot reading this. No one’s fault by my own and it certainly doesn’t mean I’m not going to go back and read them. I want to know details! But I know what’s coming and it does take some of the fun out of it.

With this being the fourth book in the series I’m reviewing I’m running out of things to say about it. Arlidge is holding strong in his writing, drawing the reader in immediately and holding them by the collar until the book ends. Even at book six I haven’t seen any deviation from quality of writing or plot. It’s not getting outlandish or anything. Arlidge is holding strong, delivering a gripping story and likable yet incredibly flawed character for whom you can’t help but root (well, maybe not all of them, some are just outright unlikable and that’s okay, they’re still fun). I can’t get enough of this series and I haven’t tired of it yet. Now just to fill in the gaps.

5

I received a copy of this book for review from the publisher through First to Read in exchange for an honest review.

Published: March 28, 2017
Publisher: Treehouse Publishing Group
Author: Website
Info: Goodreads

Rose Madsen will do anything to keep from being married off to one of the men in her Fundamentalist Mormon (FLDS) community, even endure the continued beatings and abuse of her mother. But when her mentally handicapped baby sister is forced to strangle the bird she loves at the behest of the Prophet, Rose frees the bird and runs away.

Adan Reyes will do anything to escape the abusive foster care system in Phoenix, even leaving his good friends and successful high school athletic career behind him. Ill-prepared for surviving the desert, Adan hits the road only to suffer heat stroke. Found by a local handyman, he catches a glimpse of a mysterious girl–Rose–running through town, and follows her into the mountains where they are both tracked and discovered by the men of the FLDS community.

With their fates now intertwined, can Rose and Adan escape the systems locking them into lives of abuse? Will Rose be forced to marry the Prophet, a man her father’s age, and be one of dozens of wives, perpetually pregnant, with no hope for an education? Will Adan be returned to the foster home where bullying and cruelty are common? Is everyone they meet determined to keep them right where they belong or are some adults worthy of their trust? (goodreads.com)

Montgomery writes a compelling, gripping story about a girl trying to escape a cult and the passive observers around her who are finally forced into action. I couldn’t stop reading and practically swallowed the book whole. Montgomery doesn’t use a lot of flowery, overwritten language to tell her story and sticks to short, succinct passages of time and chapters that make the book feel effortless to read.

It was horrifying to read about the FLDS community up in Colorado City and even more horrifying to know that, while this story was fictionalized, such a cult does occupy the area at the Arizona/Utah border. And yes. These guys are a cult. And just like the first amendment doesn’t protect all free speech, it shouldn’t protect all aspects of religion, especially the abusive, pedophilloic aspects of it. It’s one thing when adults are consenting to this kind of idiocy. It’s quite another when girls as young as 13 for forced into purely procreative marriages with men old enough to be their grandfather while the boys are effectively ejected from their world because they’re useless. When the story went into the POV of the “Prophet” it was grotesque. The man was basically a pedophile and made all the woman under his rule dress in a manner that made them look like children so he could, quite literally, get off. Gross.

Rose’s story was heartbreaking and I couldn’t help but root for her as she slowly broken the chains that bound her. Adan, while a great character whom I liked, felt like a weird insert into this world that didn’t quite fit into this grander puzzle. He fit close enough, but not cleanly so even within the confines of the story he felt like an outsider placed there in order to move the story forward. Didn’t stop me from plowing through the story, but he’s the one slightly off element for me.

THE SCENT OF RAIN asked a lot of valid questions, especially centering around Chase and Trak as they came to terms with what they were seeing. They’ve basically spent their lives being silent approvers of what’s been going on and claiming they didn’t know how far it’d gotten. But when something’s happening right under your nose, how ignorant can you be about it? And these two characters really struggled with that toward the end of the story, including a woman within the cult, Beth, who left and came back and had a hard time swallowing what was going on. A definite (probably unintentional) parallel to what’s happening in our society today. At what point is it too much? How far down the slippery slope can one slide before they’re about to crash into a raging river?

The end was a bit anticlimactic for me. I wish there was more comeuppance for the Prophet than what we received but I guess that’s reality, right? Cut off one head of the hydra and three more grow back. Changing the minds of the indoctrinated is a difficult, nearly impossible, thing.

What really hit me were Montgomery’s notes at the end about how she went up to Colorado City to do research and how eerie everything around her was, especially about the children and how they treated outsiders. It makes my skin crawl.

Montgomery’s THE SCENT OF RAIN is an excellent addition to all of the information out there about the FLDS cults that exists and what’s going on. It’s frustrating to know that is it so difficult to take children out of these environments because of the unwillingness of the adults to testify against the men running their lives. And the inbreeding that’s happening and the children suffering in such awful ways as a result of that inbreeding. It’s horrifying. I don’t think people truly understand that this isn’t about freedom of religion but about the absolute control of a few over many, often to satiate latent sexual desires. It’s gross and these cults shouldn’t be allowed to exist, at least not when children are involved. If adults want to be idiots and do that to themselves, fine. But when children can’t make those decisions on their own they shouldn’t be forced into it.

The only real complaint I have is that the digital copy I received was a bit sloppy. This isn’t a self-published book but it is published with a small indie and it would have benefited from a line edit and formatting checks before being released. I ended up with some missing words in sentences, page numbers in the middle of the text, and scene shifts with no demarcation, to name a few. But I was so engrossed with the story that I was hardly bothered by these things.

4

I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review.