Bites
September 28, 2012

Published April 15, 2009.

Author website.

Four sisters and their mother make their way from a spiritualist town in New York to London, becoming acquainted with journalist W. T. Stead, scientist Nikola Tesla, and industrialist John Jacob Astor. When they all find themselves on the Titanic, one of Tesla’s inventions dooms them…and one could save them.  (goodreads.com)

For the first half of DISTANT WAVES I was wondering what the hell this book had to do with the Titanic.  It was mentioned once or twice in off-hand remarks, and not by name, and a couple of the people that were on board made appearances within the story but other than that it was a story that centered around Spiritualism, a mother defrauding people with her mystic “skills” and her daughters’ lives as a result of this woman’s charade.  The story in and of itself wasn’t bad.  I actually found it pretty interesting and I liked Jane but don’t give me ‘A Novel of the Titanic’ and not have the ship make an appearance until halfway through the book.  That’s going to make me cranky.  I don’t like to be cranky when I read.

Once the Titanic did show up it played its role like it does in any other story about it; you’re reading the melodrama occurring on it all the while just holding your breath to see how the main event is going to destroy everything nice that’s seemingly going on.  I didn’t like how the sisters got onto the boat.  It was just far too contrived for my tastes and I really don’t think the people letting on passengers would have let stowaways slip by.  Considering the ship and all the hype it should have been something the White Star Line was prepared for.

The ending pretty much murdered what was otherwise and interesting story.  I’m okay with authors taking liberties with history but to take major events and alter their causes for the sake of the story is really bothersome.  To the point where I was audibly going ‘what???”

All sense of immediacy was gone as the iceberg was approaching.  No one seemed to be all that worried about it from those watching it head right towards the ship.  Then Tesla tests his magical mystery machine and supposedly breaks the ship.  It didn’t REALLY hit the iceberg.  Excuse me?  And as the ship sank?  Poof, gone.  The major cataclysmic event was literally blinked out of the plot.  Gone.  Ground zero happens, people start running around a little confused, poof Jane is being rescued by the Carpathia.  I’m not even talking about a sentence to say it sank.  An element happened that actually eliminated the sinking from the story and skipped right to the rescue.  Infuriated would be a good word to describe me.  How do you have ‘a novel of the Titanic’ and just skip the sinking?

The individual elements of DISTANT WAVES were good; I liked the Spiritualism aspect, how historical people were factored into the plot, all of the characters were likable on some level and it even got a hint steampunky.  But I think the Titanic itself ruins this story of the Titanic for me simply because it was so bastardized.  The author actually altered history to serve her plot.  No.  Me no likey.  If that kind of thing doesn’t bother you then you might just like DISTANT WAVES.  Like I said it’s a pretty good story.  But the Titanic is killer.  No pun intended.  Too much was changed in a story that was only supposed to be historical fiction, not alt history or the like.  It’s unfortunate but that’s the way it is, I guess.  Titanic in one book and the rest of the plot in another, yes.  Both would have been good.  But they just didn’t mix well, like a recipe whose ingredients didn’t quite mesh.

Ban Factor: Low – An historical fiction centered around the Titanic.  One can hardly pick a more prudish time in our history.  The Spiritualism might offend but that’s assuming they know what the word means.  One mustn’t overestimate the banners.

August 26, 2012

Published August 11, 2009.

Author website.

SOMEONE ELSE WILL DIE SOON she tells herself. 

SOMEONE ELSE WILL DIE AND I WILL BE RESPONSIBLE. 

A few days after the first time you walk in your sleep, you kill someone. That’s how the end begins. 

Emma Montgomery has been having gruesome nightmares. Even worse, when she wakes up, she isn’t where she was when she fell asleep. And she’s not the only one. One by one the students of Saint Opportuna High start having nightmares, and sleepwalking. And the next morning one of their classmates turns up dead. 

Something is making them kill in their sleep. Emma and her friends need to band together, to keep themselves awake until they can figure out what’s behind the murders–before anyone else dies.  (goodreads.com)

There’s a reason that NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET, despite all of it’s cheesiness, is, at its very core, frightening: because Freddie attacks people in their dreams, in their sleep, when they’re at their most vulnerable.  SLEEPLESS also tapped into that inherent attack method and it’s why I think, even despite my ultimate disconnect with the story, it’s still scary.  Sleeping is something a person just can’t not do.  You have to sleep but that’s also where you’re being attacked and there’s nothing you can do to prevent it.  Anyone that doesn’t think that’s scary to at least some degree is lying.  Liars!

Don’t get me wrong; I liked SLEEPLESS.  But there was something there keeping me from really connecting with the story, most likely the way it was told.  It was third person limited and flipped between Emma and Jake throughout the book but it wasn’t necessarily the POV that did it.  I think it had more to do with the mechanical, almost dry execution of the story that kept me at bay.  It kept me interested but I’ve been interested in newspaper articles too.  It was more of a recounting of events with little effort at trying to make me scared.  For a horror novel that’s a pretty big deal.  I WANT to be scared when I read horror.  That’s why I read it.  Yeah, it’s masochistic but quite frankly I liked being scared.  If horror doesn’t scare me then it’s failed it’s most integral part.  I couldn’t even feign frightened.  Yes, the things happening to the kids was scary but I didn’t feel it.  I just read the story and carried on.

The New Orleans event laced throughout the book dragged on a bit too long without coming to its useful point.  I get the technique but I don’t think it worked to the story’s advantage here.  Of course it kept me reading but I was more annoyed with it toying with me than anything else.  I wanted to know HOW it was relevant and it kept teasing me for chapters.  I was irked.  It ultimately wove itself in but it didn’t end up being what I thought it could be.  It slid down a more more cliched route that ended up being a bit contrived.  No vengeance or cover-ups or anything like that.  The ending was really ho-hum and a bit of a disappointment.

I liked Emma and Jake as characters.  They were both probably the best parts of the book.  They were just really well-fleshed out characters that I felt came alive on the page.  I believed their actions, their words and how they made everything unfold around them.  It worked.  I think SLEEPLESS could have been an amazing horror story if the rest of the elements around Jake and Emma were as finely tuned as they were, not to mention the story would have been better if it ended up being something BIGGER than what it was.  Again, disappointment, but Jake and Emma were good, with Emma taking the lead despite everything going against her.  She was the glue of the group, making things happen instead of waiting for them to happen.  If I knew I was about to kill someone in my sleep I’d like to think I’d take the same initiative and do something about it instead of just cowering in the corner.  No cowering for Emma.  Always a plus.

I think someone not as attuned to horror would find SLEEPLESS far scarier than I did but seeing how desensitized to it I am it fell kind of flat in the scare department.  I wish it were scarier for me because it would have been amazing!  I liked almost everything I was reading.  All that was missing was me being scared.  But it had just enough elements (like the execution of the voice) going against that amazingness to bring it down to something that was decent to read but didn’t instill the horror like it should have.  It will make you think twice about sleeping, and watching slides, I’m sure but the ending didn’t lend itself to anything greater than another teen horror cliche.  I liked it but that’s about it.

Ban Factor: High – Kids are dropping dead all over this novel, not to mention there’s some boob grabbing of the unmarried variety as well.  The banners would squeal.

Pub date: June 26, 2012.

Author website.

A massive fantasy omnibus containing all three novels in the Obsidian and Blood series:


Servant of the Underworld: Year One-Knife, Tenochtitlan – the capital of the Aztecs. The end of the world is kept at bay only by the magic of human sacrifice. A priestess disappears from an empty room drenched in blood. Acatl, high priest, must find her, or break the boundaries between the worlds of the living and the dead.


Harbinger of the Storm: The year is Two House and the Mexica Empire teeters on the brink of destruction, lying vulnerable to the flesh-eating star-demons – and to the return of their creator, a malevolent goddess only held in check by the Protector God’s power. The council is convening to choose a new emperor, but when a councilman is found dead, only Acatl, High Priest of the Dead, can solve the mystery.


Master of the House of Darts: The year is Three Rabbit, and the storm is coming… The coronation war for the new Emperor has just ended in a failure, the armies retreating with a mere forty prisoners of war – not near enough sacrifices to ensure the favor of the gods. When one of those prisoners of war dies of a magical illness, Acatl, High Priest for the Dead, is summoned to investigate.  (netgalley.com)

OBSIDIAN & BLOOD ended up being one of those books that kept me reading but I wasn’t over the moon about.  Don’t get me wrong; I liked what I read but I only read through SERVANT OF THE UNDERWORLD.  I just didn’t feel compelled to keep reading.

I liked the world that de Bodard created.  It felt effortless, as if it didn’t need explanation.  It just was.  It might be because it’s Mayan, of which people have a general understanding of.  They may not know the workings of the years (I sure didn’t) or which gods to curse to and why (something that nagged at me a lot but I eventually just started ignoring it) but even without explanation the world felt fully fleshed.  It felt like it was something that actually existed.  It was tangible and I believed it in absolutely from the very beginning.  I’m not going to sit here and pretend I know a ton about the Mayans.  I don’t but reading de Bodard’s world felt genuine to me.

I also liked how she made the gods beings that humans could actually interact with.  They bestowed power to the priests and priestesses directly.  You could visit one of their temples and speak with them as if you would speak to someone in your house (assuming your sacrifices were worthy, of course).  They were a part of the created world as much as the temples and people themselves.  They weren’t intangible beings that people worshipped to blindly.  Faith was essentially removed from the equation because the gods had proven themselves in multiple ways.  No one could deny them; it would be like denying a chair.  Or a reed mat.

The effortless blood-letting and sacrifice, while kind of shocking, felt like it fit.  This was a natural occurrence for the Mayans, part of daily life and it was treated as such in the text.  Attention wasn’t drawn to it, there was never a big deal around it.  If Acatl had to cut himself to serve a purpose he did it and that was that.  If something had to be sacrificed it was and no one bat an eye.  The author really kept herself out of the story in terms of moralizing and I really liked that.  This was what the Mayans did.  Full stop.

I liked Acatl as a character.  He definitely had some issues to contend with especially when he started getting deeply involved in his brother’s murder trial.  But a distance was there.  I just couldn’t connect with him on a deeper level than as a character I was reading on the page.  Not necessarily a bad thing but it had me skating through the story, skimming the surface.

The overall story I felt was far more murder mystery than anything fantasy.  As much as I really liked the effortless feel of the world it ultimately played second string to the story as a result.  Personally I like my fantasy worlds being characters in the story itself.  I like them lively and front and center.  So I definitely have a double standard here.  I admit that.  What can I say?  It’s just how I feel.  I wished there was more of a balance between the world and the plot, where it didn’t feel so much like a crime novel with a different background.  I think that kept me from really connecting as well since I’m not too big on the crime genre overall.  I’m okay with it but I don’t actively read it.

If you’re a fantasy fan the Mayan world in OBSIDIAN & BLOOD is definitely one to take a look at.  It stands out again your more standard fantasy fare of castles and dragons and Merlin-like magic and whatnot.  Beware of the names as I found them very hard to pronounce and don’t expect to get much by the way of explanation for anything.  The book is written as if the reader is already aware of the world they’re reading about.  So it might take some acclimating or you might end up like me and feeling a little distanced from it as a result.  Still it’s a pretty good read.  I just didn’t feel compelled to read beyond the first book.

Ban Factor: High – Total lack of Christianity and total pagan sacrifice and blood-letting.  I love it.  They hate it.

Pub date: May 22, 2012.

Author website.

Every summer the trucks roll in, bringing the carnival and its infinite possibilities to town. This year Tessa and her younger sister Lulu are un-chaperoned and want to be first in line to experience the rides, the food . . . and the boys. Except this summer, jealousy will invade their relationship for the first time, setting in motion a course of events that can only end in tragedy, putting everyone’s love and friendship to the test.   Alternating chapters of prose and comics are interwoven in this extraordinary novel that will break your heart and crack it wide open at the same time.  (netgalley.com)

Now I’m kinda torn on YEAR OF THE BEASTS.  On one hand I liked the voice and the storytelling, along with the set-up of the story itself, how it alternated between prose and comic.  On the other hand I just wasn’t all that thrilled with the story and ended up thinking is was a bit melodramatic.

The whole carnival aspect that the blurb emphasized is really minimal.  It happened at the very beginning of the story and while it was the catalyst for the story to move forward the way it did that’s the end of its relevance.  Ultimately this story, based on the comic portion, is far more rooted in Greek myth than anything fanciful like a carnival.  Not that there’s anything wrong with that but it makes the blurb slightly misleading.

In the prose portion Tessa ends up making herself a rival to her sister, who ends up getting the guy she has a crush on.  And it begins to develop as your standard sibling rivalry except it’s a little more one-sided.  Tessa finds herself inferior to Lulu in looks and personality and whatnot.  But Tessa ultimately finds her own boy.  He just turns out to be someone that “isn’t acceptable” to the crowd she hangs out with so she hides him.  And he kind of wants to stay hidden, refusing to hang out with her while with her friends.  A bit of a douche.  He redeems his douchiness towards the end of the story but ultimately he’s a pretty big dick, saying that he just CAN’T go out with them as a group, blah, blah, emo, blah.

The comic portion runs along side the prose, telling it in a fashion that was so over the top melodramatic that I had a hard time getting over it.  Tessa’s Medusa and has to wear a scarf over her hair in order to keep from turning people into stone while Lulu, the beautiful mermaid, gets adored and praised to the point of suffocation.  It was just a little much for me.  Trust me.  I had, and still have, body image issues, but Medusa?  Seriously?  It seemed a little too much for me to swallow.  Great art and everything but it elevated the story to a point just left of ridiculous in my eyes.

The ending had me crying.  Without a doubt it was pretty heart-wrenching.  I did like the way Tessa recovered from it though.  The event at the end changes a lot of people’s lives and it opened up their eyes to a greater world.  The ending, really, was spot on.  I couldn’t have asked for a better one.  If there was less melodrama leading up to it I probably would have liked it better.

Tessa and Lulu were sort of flowy characters, swirling around each other pretty seamlessly as the story progressed.  They fed off each other, each being strong when the other was weak, providing a homeostasis within the story itself.  But it does get thrown off and people have to adjust.  It’s all in how they adjust to that wrench that reinstates that kind of nirvana.  Leading into the ending again it all fit.  Homeostasis was rebalanced, tenuously and for the time being.  But I’ll take it.

See what I mean about torn?  I liked it but I kinda didn’t like it.  The voice was phenomenal.  I loved how the story was told when it was in prose.  In comic it was a bit much but the art was fantastic.  The plot itself was kind of dull, nothing that hasn’t really been done before but the ending blew me away a bit.  Not expected at all.  So can I recommend YEAR OF THE BEASTS?  Probably.  The only way to know if you’ll like it is to read it.  I obviously can’t tell you one way or another.

Ban Factor: Low – I really don’t know what would get banner panties in a twist in this one.  The characters talk about kissing but that’s the extent of the sexuality.  Medusa turning people into stone?  Can be horrifying.  Not much by the way of swearing though.  A little bit but you’d need to dig to find it.

May 7, 2012

Published April 26, 2011.

Author website.

It is a day like any other when seventeen-year-old Melinda Jensen hits the road for San Francisco, leaving behind her fractured home life and a constant assault on her self-esteem. Henry is the handsome, charismatic man who comes upon her, collapsed on a park bench, and offers love, a bright new consciousness, and—best of all—a family. One that will embrace her and give her love. Because family is what Mel has never really had. And this new family, Henry’s family, shares everything. They share the chores, their bodies, and their beliefs.  And if Mel truly wants to belong, she will share in everything they do. No matter what the family does, or how far they go.  (goodreads.com)

First and foremost, I am NOT sympathetic to the whole hippie subculture.  Not in the slightest.  They need to shower and get jobs, quite frankly.  And develop an opinion that isn’t based in LSD highs and commune thought process.  So why did I opt to review a book that is exactly this mentality?  Because it’s pretty much a roman a clef of the Manson family and I thought it’d be an interesting fictionalization.  It further solidified my disdain for hippie speak and mentality and it was interesting but I felt the ending was a bit of a cop out.

Told in episodic verse, kind of expanded poetry, it kind of made the whole story a bit hazy to read.  There were times I had trouble figuring out what was going on because the language got a bit purple but I could buy it as the flower child’s thought process.  So it wasn’t too bad in that regard.  But still it was a bit thick.  Although it did do a good job in its thickness to portray life at the commune/cult.  The flowery-ness flowed in the sexual drug haze that surrounded the MC all the time.  And I really liked the little cracks in the facade, where Mel got bits and pieces of what all of this was really about but after some more magical mystery juice and free love she was sucked right back into it.

You get to see that all of these people in this compound are broken in some way.  They’ve been wronged by the people they loved in one regard or another and they ultimately come together in that wrongness to try and make it right.  It’s really a nice route to recovery.  Too bad their leader was a sociopath that kept them doped so he could manipulate them into doing what he wanted done.  He perverted the message for his own gain.  Not surprising in the slightest but it was interesting to watch the world break down from broken eyes.

The ending . . . I don’t believe this to be a spoiler because we all know how the Manson story ended.  If you don’t I highly recommend a history textbook.  Well the story culminated with an event much like the Mason family brought to fruition except in FAMILY one of the victims escapes and the MC gets away.  Fail.  Hard.  Yeah, awesome, that she came to a hardcore self-realization at the end there.  Super.  She’s also an accessory to murder.  No sympathy from this chick right here.  Sorry.  I don’t know what I was supposed to feel or meant to feel but I was wholly expecting her to run into the arms of the cops.  Nope.  She runs off into the night and the story is left hanging.  An exceptionally unsatisfactory ending.  I don’t find this artsy or endearing or quintessential to the whole hippie mindset. I needed it to go down like the real event it was modeled after.  I think Mel would have resonated far more as a character if she didn’t get to run away from her problems for a second time.

Don’t get me wrong; it wasn’t a bad book.  I just wasn’t thrilled with it.  I liked the character development and the set-up of the story, the cracks in the hippie visage, even though the prose was on the flowery side.  But the ending was a killer for me.  Very anti-climatic and I didn’t feel like there was any kind of justice done.  Mel just gets to continue her cycle of running yet again because she’s been broken yet again.  It felt empty and the escape unearned.  After a few months of hedonism you get to get away with conspiring to murder a houseful of people because the high wears off and you realize what you’re doing.  Um, no.

So yeah.  It was a quick read because of the verse which I’m kinda glad for.  I don’t think I could have taken this story if it were denser although I’d tolerate it if the ending were fixed.

Ban Factor: High – Hippies, drugs, free sex and murder.  Enter the banner psychotic episode.