Bites

Published: May 23, 2013
Publisher: Automatic Publishing
Author: Website
Info: Goodreads

Royal Bodyguard Hatter Madigan’s search takes an unexpected detour when he travels ‘within’ guided by a mischievous and often maddening young girl named Nekko. Nekko’s origin is a Zen mystery, but her devotion to Hatter’s quest to find the lost Princess is unwavering. After Nekko kidnaps his Hat and leads him on a fearless chase across the rooftops of 1871 San Francisco, Hatter must acknowledge her as a teacher. It is written that when you are ready the teacher will appear, but if the teacher is a 12-year-old girl and you are a High Ranking Bladesman you may discover that all you can do is laugh.

Hatter and Nekko’s adventure around the ring of fire begins when they track a stolen samurai sword with a Wonderland connection to San Francisco’s styling 19th century hiphop crime madam Missy Tong and her eager protégé, the outspoken Lil’ Dick. A stowaway trip aboard a shanghai sailing ship ends on the Hawaiian Islands where a surfboard becomes Hatter’s vehicle to illumination. And then on to Japan! Good grief it’s Chikao and the gang, schoolhouse demons, cosplay, manga, noodles and a long lost brother from another world. Duality? No. Milliners.” (goodreads.com)

This was probably my least favorite for the series so far, mainly because it made me cringe with how stereotyped everyone of non-white ethnicity was. From the very stereotypical Chinese/Japanese accent to the mystical Japanese girl functioning solely to bring the white man to enlightenment, it was all so . . . stereotypical. It really clouded the story for me to the point where I’m having a hard time remembering around the stereotypes.

The thing is I’m not even sure if this sidetrack storyline was even necessary for the story arc itself. It just seemed like a way for the author to jaunt through history to a self-serving time period to mix things up a bit. This was more about Hatter trying to find himself, but I feel like there are better ways he could have done that. Or at least ways that didn’t employ Long Duk Dong-level stereotypes coupled with Matt Damon’s The Wall/white savior elements.

ZEN OF WONDER doesn’t really add much to the whole storyline so if you’re looking for one to skip, this would be it. It’s not like there’s any Hatter growth in it at all. It’s just all rather pointless.

2

Published: November 11, 2015
Publisher: Image
Author: Website
Info: Goodreads

It’s 1,655 years after Eden, and life on Earth has already gone to hell. The world of man is a place of wanton cruelty and wickedness. Prehistoric monsters and stone-age marauders roam the land. Murder and destruction are the rule of the day. Humankind is a failed experiment. This is life before the Flood. The story of man on the verge of his first apocalypse. Welcome to the world of the Goddamned. (goodreads.com)

I like the concept, but the story kind of fell flat for me and I wasn’t a fan of the art. It’s that very messy, kind of hard to see kind of art that smudges all together. Especially when there are fight scenes it’s like a Magic Eye trying to figure out.

The concept itself is neat, setting the story in the world following the fall of Eden (not immediately but far enough) and showing just how far people haven’t come. They’re basically flopping around the world pillaging and plundering each other, not really knowing what to do in a prehistoric Mad Max kind of world. Cain just seemed kind of mopey, though. A bit too brooding for me. And the set-up with the kid seemed a little too contrived for my tastes.

I liked where it ended and the introduction of another character within that same fictional world, but I’m turned off enough by the art and I don’t care enough about the story enough to carry on with it.

2.5

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

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 5, 2017

Published: August 1, 2017
Publisher: Traversing Z Press (self)
Author: Website
Info: Goodreads

Caroline Daniels must marry, and marry well. But in her remote corner of England eligible suitors are few and far between, and none hold a candle to her closest friend, Diana Fitzroy.

When Sir Edward Masterson arrives, he seems the answer to Caroline’s financial worries, though she instinctively dislikes the reticent, older merchant. Soon Sir Edward has set his sights on acquiring both Caroline and the decaying Harkworth Hall.

Caroline’s future seems secure, save that his enigmatic secretary hints at a dark secret, and Sir Edward shows an unusual interest in tales of monsters … and the blood in Caroline’s veins. (goodreads.com)

What a delightfully creepy book! I was a little nonplussed about the voice at the beginning, kind of a “oh not another one of these” moments, but the plot unfolded nicely and I got sucked right into it to the point where I didn’t even notice the voice. In fact the voice ended up adding to everything that was going on so it all worked out in the end.

Caroline is a character that’s been shoved into a particular role that she doesn’t really want to be in but society tells her it’s a must so she does it despite her heart screaming otherwise. But soon circumstances change and even though Caroline is desperate for a change, what society wants is so ingrained in her that it’s hard for her to do what’s right by her and by her family. It creates excellent tension among her, Mr Chase and Edward Masterson.

On top of that there’s this sinister, underlying scheme going on and you’re not sure whether there’s a supernatural element to it or if the men involved are just all sorts of shady and Johnson does an excellent job of toeing that line without dragging out the story in any unnecessary way.

And it’s a shorter story, my digital copy coming in as just over 100 pages. Johnson doesn’t waste words and she doesn’t waste time getting to the point but she doesn’t sacrifice setting or character development to get there. Another excellent balance.

I really hope there’s more to this story, at least one more book, because after what happens at the end it can’t just end there!

4.5

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

Published: October 7, 2014
Publisher: Berkley
Author: Website
Info: Goodreads

New York City in 1978 is a dirty, dangerous place to live. And die. Joey Peacock knows this as well as anybody—he has spent the last forty years as an adolescent vampire, perfecting the routine he now enjoys: womanizing in punk clubs and discotheques, feeding by night, and sleeping by day with others of his kind in the macabre labyrinth under the city’s sidewalks.

The subways are his playground and his highway, shuttling him throughout Manhattan to bleed the unsuspecting in the Sheep Meadow of Central Park or in the backseats of Checker cabs, or even those in their own apartments who are too hypnotized by sitcoms to notice him opening their windows. It’s almost too easy.

Until one night he sees them hunting on his beloved subway. The children with the merry eyes. Vampires, like him…or not like him. Whatever they are, whatever their appearance means, the undead in the tunnels of Manhattan are not as safe as they once were.

And neither are the rest of us. (goodreads.com)

What I liked about THE LESSER DEAD was that it was something different. A fourteen-year-old sort-of child vampire surviving in 70s New York. Excellent depiction of New York at the time. I practically felt like I was there, all the grit and grime and grossness, but also the endearing and nostalgic. I really liked that. Plus it’s a lot of how Joey gets by, how he feeds (kind of repugnantly but at least he recognizes what is and isn’t consent, especially as it pertains to his ability to hypnotize people), and how he passes in the world of the living.

I also liked how the vampires were slightly different and just how in the human world there are classes of people, there are classes of vampires. In this world vampires can’t tolerate direct sunlight and if they get hit with it it leaves scars. No vampire healing from that. They can tolerate cloudy days without little more than a headache and this particular group of vampires doesn’t kill people. Feeds from them, sure, but in order to keep the cops looking the other way they don’t do deaths.

The vampire children part of it was eerie too, especially how that whole relationship developed. I can’t go into details without spoiling, but Buehlman did a good job of making them creepy, that’s for sure. They’re kid vampires and they’re constantly hungry and that has devastating consequences. it also makes the vampires bat around the idea of just what the kids are, whether there are different species of vampires and if these kids are some of them. They do eventually get their answer, but it’s not one they’re going to like.

Joey has a great voice and I think the world Buehlman developed around him was vivid in its darkness and shadows and crusted corners. It’s a New York everyone thinks of, pre-Guiliani. It’s the dangerous city everyone knows and loves, made even more dangerous by the fact that vampires are living in the subway tunnels and feeding on people every night.

But I didn’t love it like I really wanted to. It just didn’t strike me in the way I wanted it to after reading the blurb. It’s not that I wanted it to necessarily be more than what I got but I wanted more out of it. That probably doesn’t make a ton of sense but there you go. Buehlman creates some great characters and sets a great scene. He also added to the vampire mythos and world nicely. But I’m just kind of meh about it. THE LESSER DEAD is a good book and I’d recommend it for any vampire fan. But it just has that little something missing that I can’t quite put my finger on.

3