Bites

Published: September 25, 2017
Publisher: Rabbit Publisher
Author: Website
Info: Goodreads

In this origin story, Harry Moon is up to his eyeballs in magic. In the small town of Sleepy Hollow where every day is Halloween night, his archenemy, Titus Kligore, has eyes on winning the annual Scary Talent Show. Harry’s sister, Honey Moon, says Harry needs better tricks so he finds a new and better magic wand. Still, Harry has a tough job ahead of him if he is going to steal the crown. He takes a chance on a magical rabbit who introduces him to the deep magic. Harry decides the best way forward is to “do no evil ” while the battle to defeat Titus goes epic. (goodreads.com)

Whoa, buddy, are there some serious issues with this book. Like deeply troubling issues.

So to start, I’m not sure who the target audience is. On Goodreads it’s listed under children’s but Harry’s in 8th grade and is 13 years old. I would probably peg this as being for someone in the 7/8/9 age range and while it’s not uncommon for kids to read up the age of the protag and style of writing don’t seem to fit.

Combatting bullying is the main theme of this book. Harry’s the one on the receiving end of said bullying. The thing is, the bullying in this book is a bit outdated. That’s not to say bullying isn’t still a physical problem, but it’s definitely moved more into the realm of the psychological and insidious, taking place online and outside of school where the bullied can’t escape. HARRY MOON doesn’t even touch on that. The bullying Harry received is taunting and then Titus, the bully, holds him down and shears his head with a pair of sheep shears.

So that’s assault and the police would be involved if that were to happen. That’s not something that you treat with kindness and you have a touchy-feely conversation with your kid over a sundae about. That’s press charges territory. And electronics are a thing in this world. The kids have cell phones and laptops and everything but cyber bullying doesn’t exist, apparently.

That was my first thought when I read that scene but I’m like okay. This book is obviously not going there. It has a message to tell and it’s going to tell it. Fine. So I kept reading and it was going along okay. I was really afraid there was going to be some godly moralizing going on based on the marketing material I had for it, but that’s actually kept to a minimum. I just thought it’s kind of weird that magic and religion to that extent are co-existing in the same book. As an outsider they seem very antithetical to me. But whatever.

And then we get to Sarah, Harry’s former babysitter and assistant for his magic act. Initially I didn’t think anything about their relationship. They’re only three years apart and I imagine she just stopped babysitting for him and she’s just kind of humoring him in a big sister sort of way with being his assistant and being encouraging. Of course Harry’s crushing on her hardcore but for most of the time she’s very adamant that they’ll always have that age difference and nothing will come of his crush.

Until she kisses him. On the lips. To which I went

Why? Because she’s 16 and drives and is in high school and Harry’s 13. Of course he’s over the moon about this and she actually shows some intent there and I’m just like:

Because I’m pretty sure it’s illegal in most states. This should not be in a children’s book as being okay. At all. Because it’s pedophilia. Thing is you can age them up and it would be less of an issue (if they’re in their 20s). But he’s THIRTEEN. She’s SIXTEEN. This is what Lifetime movies are made of. No. This is not sweet and awww and how cute. This is fucking gross.

And then you have the effectively morally superior Harry talking about do no evil and only using his magic for good. And there’s this paragraph at the end where some of his friends got in trouble and he’s looking at one friend in particular standing with his very angry dad and he thinks about all the welts that the kid comes to school with and how he lies about them to cover them up. And Harry just kind of turns his back on it and thinks about how thankful he is that his parents don’t beat him and basically sucks for his friend but THAT’S not the kind of evil Harry’s going to be fighting.

This book does not fit in the current market. At all. Its message is antiquated at best, downright ignorant at worst. There are elements added effectively to add detail that just end up raising eyebrows. I mean yeah, show some “diversity” in characters in how not everyone has a great home life but dropping little tidbits about how one of Harry’s friends gets the shit beaten out of him by his dad and have Harry, who’s on a crusade against evil, just ignore that, is not the way to go about adding detail to flesh out characters.

And then the “love interest.”

No. That’s horrifying. People go to jail for shit like that.

Update your thinking, guy. This book is indicative of the author not understanding what kids these days are going through or how to address them. This is not a well-represented book on bullying for multiple reasons. It’s so out of touch and so whimsical with a serious issue while outright ignoring other very heinous problems that I just can’t take it seriously as any kind of lesson book. It teaches nothing that a kid can use that would be pertinent to their lives.

Missed the mark on this one. Big time.

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

December 2, 2017

Published: October 1, 2011
Publisher: Darby Creek Publishing
Author: Website
Info: Goodreads

I thought the bus was filling with smoke. But then the smoke took the shapes of shadowy, faceless people. …

Lamar takes the late bus home from school after practice each day. After the bus’s beloved driver passes away, Lamar begins to see strange things – demonic figures, preparing to attack the bus. Soon he learns the demons are after Mr. Rumble, the freaky new bus driver. Can Lamar rescue his fellow passengers, or will Rumble’s past come back to destroy them all? (goodreads.com)

This was a great freaky little read for reluctant readers. I’ve enjoyed all of the books I’ve read in the Night Fall series and THE LATE BUS was no exception.

Jasper mixes terrifying elements of the supernatural with the psychological for a blended story that really plays with the mind. Considering the way things disappear, how not everyone can see these things, and the voices Lamar hears, it really toes the line of what’s real and what isn’t. And Jasper does it in a way that doesn’t invoke the cheese card (a la RL Stine). The characters are realistic and relatable, truly scary things happen to them, and things are resolved in a way that doesn’t require huge blow-outs and contrived situations. It all really works.

And even for a story that’s written for reluctant readers I don’t feel like I’m being talked down to. The writing is simple and to the point but it has a job to do and it does it. It tells the story. It gives me characters struggling through these scenarios. It gives me creepy, scary elements. But it doesn’t moralize me or condescend to me at all. I think the people at Lerner/Darby Creek really nailed the line for that.

Two thumbs up for THE LATE BUS! A great little chiller to read right around Halloween.

4.5

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

November 25, 2017

Published: March 30, 2017
Publisher: Urbane Publications (vanity)
Author: Website
Info: Goodreads

Ceri Edwards and two school friends lift the lid on an ancient book of recipes belonging to Betty Williams, a volunteer at the local hospital in Pontypridd, South Wales. Two Kansas City cops step off a flight at London Heathrow and one of them falls to the ground with a painful conviction that there’s something evil in the air. United in their destinies, Ceri and the police officers are drawn into a world where prophecies are pitted against invisible forces planning to raze London to the ground and bring down the Royal Family. It all rests with Dai Williams, recently knighted MI5 agent and reluctant hero, to bring some order to the improbable events and to ensure that afternoon tea at The Ritz continues for another hundred years. A great cross between Kim Newman and Ben Aaranovitch and a thrill for any fan of contemporary urban horror. (goodreads.com)

This book had no idea what it was and I had no idea what I was reading.

Just to break down the blurb, the teens and the Kansas City police officers are completely unrelated and don’t even meet until the very end of the book. Dai Williams is rather useless and has nothing resting with him. I don’t know who Kim Newman or Ben Aaranovitch are but I can tell you this is not urban horror. I don’t know what this was other than ridiculous.

The only way I can really describe the book is it’s like following a stumbling drunk home. You’ll eventually get to your destination but not before you lurch around, wander down some side streets, go backward, forward, side to side, fall face down into a puddle and get back up again. The author was way more concerned about being quippy and dropping as many “intelligent” references as possible than just telling the story. Development didn’t just happen. It happened with a reference to a show or with a snide comment or a paragraph of meandering thought. It was so all over the place it made keeping the actual story straight exceedingly difficult.

I really shut down when “the knowing” turned into a prophetic nutsack. That’s not a euphemism. A dude’s balls give him “the sight.” I don’t even know what to do with this book. It looks vaguely put-together. Nice cover. Interesting, if a little quirky, story going on. But the actual book is a mess. I’m motion sick at the end of it for all the lurching it does. I know what the author is trying to do but I think it falls flat. The exceedingly heavy-handed “humor” coupled with a lot of English-specific colloquialisms made context nearly impossible and the book feels like it wasn’t plotted. It just zigzags all over the place with very little cohesion.

THE KNOWING just didn’t work in any respect. It’s tonally off from the blurb, it can’t stick to its own story, and the author has shoved himself so deeply into the never-ending quips that it became too difficult to even see the characters anymore. The world is lost too. It doesn’t seem at all developed, but instead seemed like a good concept that just coasted on the surface without any digging. And it provided great support for telepathic testicles. So there’s that.

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

November 18, 2017

Published: September 1, 2015
Publisher: Harper Teen
Author: Website
Info: Goodreads

Sometimes the past is better off buried.

Senior year is finally over. After all they’ve been through, Dan, Abby, and Jordan are excited to take one last road trip together, and they’re just not going to think about what will happen when the summer ends. But on their way to visit Jordan’s uncle in New Orleans, the three friends notice that they are apparently being followed.. And Dan starts receiving phone messages from someone he didn’t expect to hear from again—someone who died last Halloween.

As the strange occurrences escalate, Dan is forced to accept that everything that has happened to him in the past year may not be a coincidence, but fate—a fate that ties Dan to a group called the Bone Artists, who have a sinister connection with a notorious killer from the past. Now, Dan’s only hope is that he will make it out of his senior trip alive. (goodreads.com)

For the most part Roux’s moved away from supernatural horror and into more of a thriller realm with a bit of a gothic twist. Which I like. Don’t get me wrong. I just wish the supernatural elements in CATACOMB weren’t added for the sake of being added. They didn’t really add to the story in any meaningful way and the one element toward the beginning didn’t actually go anywhere. It was there for the sake of being creepy and convenient but it didn’t otherwise add anything.

But the story itself was good if a little thin. The prevailing issue with the Bone Artists and their so-called debt wasn’t explained very well or fleshed out all that much. It provided what was needed to get Dan where he needed to be but even in hindsight I’m not sure I fully understand the purpose of the debt beyond a plot tool. But it still worked, at least. The concept of the debt doesn’t come in until closer to the end anyway so it wasn’t something that was constantly being brought up without purpose and pulling me out of the story at all.

The setting was excellent. Roux’s always painted a good scene and she certainly didn’t fall short when it came to New Orleans. In CATACOMB I think the pictures didn’t add a whole lot to the story, especially when it came to Dan’s parents and some of the more recent elements they were trying to capture. The pictures work for the old stuff that’s exceedingly far out of reach, in my opinion, but they were just kind of eh for me when they were just pictures of things in the kids’ lives currently. It felt like the thing (added pictures) that worked really well at the start of the series had run its course and what was added in CATACOMB just became filler.

CATACOMB definitely trended more toward thriller than horror this time around because it departed from the supernatural element. It’s still creepy in a bone deep sort of way, aided by New Orleans as a backdrop. The idea of this insidious cult controlling things from the bottom all the way to the top is kind of terrifying. But by now I think the quirk of the series has run its course. The book isn’t bad, but I think it’s exhausted and it’s time for a rest. Not sure if that makes any sense, but it did in my head.

3.5

November 7, 2017

Published: October 7, 2014
Publisher: Greenwillow Books
Author: Website
Info: Goodreads

Madeline Usher is doomed.

She has spent her life fighting fate, and she thought she was succeeding. Until she woke up in a coffin.

Ushers die young. Ushers are cursed. Ushers can never leave their house, a house that haunts and is haunted, a house that almost seems to have a mind of its own. Madeline’s life—revealed through short bursts of memory—has hinged around her desperate plan to escape, to save herself and her brother. Her only chance lies in destroying the house.

In the end, can Madeline keep her own sanity and bring the house down? (goodreads.com)

I’m kind of ambivalent about THE FALL. On the one hand it was excellently moody and set a great scene, but on the other the Usher curse isn’t really explained and this “madness” isn’t really madness and it’s all just there and as a reader we’re supposed to be spooked by it and I’m not.

I think the concept is a neat idea, that a house is sentient and somehow tied to the DNA of the Ushers. It calls to them and effectively forces them to do its bidding (mainly procreating, I guess, so it can have more Ushers to torture). But I think Griffin’s intent was to blur the line between reality and illusion more and it just didn’t work. I think as a reader I’m supposed to question Madeline as a reliable narrator and how much of what she’s seeing is real and isn’t and how much is self-fulfilling prophecy but I never doubted for a second. I mean, it works out in the end because it’s all still kind of creepy. But that “is it or isn’t it” isn’t there like I think it was meant to be.

I do like the idea of a sentient house, but there also seems to be a lot of inbreeding going on here and there’s supposed to be a creature in the tarn and I’m not sure what that’s all about. I mean really this book is all over the place for me in terms of actual story. Because it’s a house that “chooses” an heir and it wants Madeline to live and beget to bring it more Ushers but at the same time it tries to kill her and punishes her for doing things it doesn’t like. Seems rather contradictory.

I don’t know. THE FALL is definitely a moody book and if you’re looking for something to read on a gloomy, chilly, autumn night I think THE FALL will fit that bill nicely. But in terms of plot . . . eh. It leaves too many things hanging open, there are too many elements that seem to be there simply for shock value and don’t really serve any real purpose, and I’m not compelled by Madeline’s voice enough to really care about any of it. It’s been a long time since I’ve read The Fall of the House of Usher, but I imagine you’d be better off just reading the original. Not sure what THE FALL really contributes to the story at all.

2.5