Bites

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

Pub Date: October 10, 2017
Publisher: Scholastic Press
Author: Website
Info: Goodreads

Here is a thing everyone wants:
A miracle.

Here is a thing everyone fears:
What it takes to get one.

Any visitor to Bicho Raro, Colorado is likely to find a landscape of dark saints, forbidden love, scientific dreams, miracle-mad owls, estranged affections, one or two orphans, and a sky full of watchful desert stars.

At the heart of this place you will find the Soria family, who all have the ability to perform unusual miracles. And at the heart of this family are three cousins longing to change its future: Beatriz, the girl without feelings, who wants only to be free to examine her thoughts; Daniel, the Saint of Bicho Raro, who performs miracles for everyone but himself; and Joaquin, who spends his nights running a renegade radio station under the name Diablo Diablo.

They are all looking for a miracle. But the miracles of Bicho Raro are never quite what you expect. (goodreads.com)

Here’s the thing: I have kind of a love/hate relationship with Maggie’s writing. I HATED the Lament series and as a result didn’t even attempt The Wolves of Mercy Falls series. I read THE SCORPIO RACES and thought it was pretty good. I no (haven’t read the last one yet). And now we get to ALL THE CROOKED SAINTS.

Meh.

I feel like this was a book where the publisher was like, Maggie write a book because you word good. And Maggie gave them a book with words and they published it. I didn’t think it was necessarily overwritten. I did like the fairy tale-esque sort of style she was going for. But I felt it was really rambly in a trying-to-be-quirky sort of way that I really wasn’t digging. This felt like sort of an experiment she was trying and for me it didn’t quite click.

All those rambly, dangly loose ends do end up tied up at the end, and rather nicely. Everything felt far less rambly and random and scatterbrained at the end and I actually rather liked the end. Just not thrilled with the road she took to get there.

I liked the world she developed so close to my own home (Arizona, this story is set in southern Colorado) so I felt pretty rooted in the setting itself. I liked the sort of magical realism she dabbled in with the miracles and the process through which people have to go through in order to come out the other side of them. I just didn’t feel all that connected to any individual character because she kept hopping all over the place to tell everyone’s stories.

It’s a whimsical story in its darkness and light, but for me it was read from a distance. I didn’t feel invested in anything. But that’s the trouble with fairy tales, isn’t it? Personally I think they’re a gamble in that you can tell a tale that either sucks a reader in or leaves them at a distance. Then again that’s really true of any writing. But doubly true to these kinds of tales.

Maggie paints a good scene. She’s descriptive in ALL THE CROOKED SAINTS without being overwritten. I just didn’t connect with the particular style she was going for. Didn’t love it; didn’t hate it. Just kind of meh. I look forward to her Ronan books though. Absolutely.

3.5

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

August 8, 2017

Published: September 4, 2016
Publisher: Self
Author: Website
Info: Goodreads

Rhianwyn of the Caderyn is conflicted about giving up a warrior’s life to become a wife and mother, but her love for her new husband is enough to at least make her consider it. However, with the conquering Gaians moving ever closer to her homeland a peaceful life may no longer be an option, for Rhia or for any of her people. With rival tribes, old suitors, and the dangerous General Lepidus to contend with, Rhia soon finds her new family in unprecedented danger, and her choices now must be about more than just herself… (goodreads.com)

It’s a LONG book, that’s for sure. But even with that I didn’t find myself bored with the story. It’s not a fast-moving plot. It’s a slow burn that takes its time developing the world and the characters. It definitely has more plot than something character-driving, but a lot of time is spent on the characters as well and how they react and deal with the situations that arise around them. I was really afraid it was going to be a slog, but it wasn’t. I didn’t begrudge reading the story at all, and I thought Harker balanced detail with story excellently.

Rhia is an incredibly self-aware woman who adapts to change really well despite everything. She’s brutal but sympathetic, able to be demure when the situation calls for it, but not afraid to speak her mind when it’s rendered either. She’s a dynamic character who is a breeze to follow from one situation to the next.

The story itself is vividly painted. I was able to picture everything that happened, down to details, without actually being inundated with them. Sometimes with these books you get authors who go LOOK AT ALL THE RESEARCH I DID and instead of weaving those details seamlessly into the story you get great big heaps of unnecessary detail-dumping. That didn’t happen here. I felt the world-building and the story wove together seamlessly. Some of it was a little strange, like the communal bathing where Rhia’s dad was just hanging out with her and her friends while they bathed, all tits out and making vague sexual innuendos. Not sure how necessary that particular scene was, or how historically accurate, but at least it was a one-off. For everything that happens there isn’t any gratuity in the story, sexual or violent.

Harker created some excellent characters that were really easy to follow and blended them into a great story that felt like nothing to read despite how long it was. Personally I think that’s a sign of a good writer, someone who can write these longer books without having them FEEL like longer books. The only issue I really had was the WHY of the world. The blurb says it’s influenced by Iron Age Britain, which would have heavy Roman influence. Except 95% of this wasn’t influence, it WAS Roman and old Britain. There’s a hint of magic toward the end and I’m wondering if that element of the world is fleshed out better in the next book. But as WILDCAT stands I didn’t really see a reason why it couldn’t have just been set in that real world time period and the magical element thrown in. Not like artists haven’t taken liberties with history before. Just that thought kind of dogged me throughout the book. I couldn’t help but think that a book like AN EMBER IN THE ASHES is Roman influenced. It’s a vague homage, but the author really went her own way with it. WILDCAT isn’t influenced. It’s too heavily and too closely Roman/Britain to be just influenced. It didn’t make the story bad, but it did linger a question mark over my head about it.

Ultimately it’s really good, slow burn story that begs you to take your time reading it. Harker’s taken a lot of care in researching and developing this world and he’s created some really great characters doing it. I look forward to the next book!

4

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