Bites
August 15, 2017

Published: November 1, 2016
Publisher: Ace Books
Author: Website
Info: Goodreads

The RAGE tournaments the Virtual Gaming League’s elite competition where the best gamers in the world compete in a fight to the digital death. Every kill is broadcast to millions. Every player leads a life of ultimate fame, responsible only for entertaining the masses.

And though their weapons and armor are digital, the pain is real.

Chosen to be the first female captain in RAGE tournament history, Kali Ling is at the top of the world until one of her teammates overdoses. Now she s stuck trying to work with a hostile new teammate who s far more distracting than he should be.

Between internal tensions and external pressures, Kali is on the brink of breaking. To change her life, she ll need to change the game. And the only way to revolutionize an industry as shadowy as the VGL is to fight from the inside. (goodreads.com)

I’ll admit ARENA started a little slow for me. It’s not that I wasn’t enjoying it but I wasn’t engrossed in it either. Just kind of reading the words as words and getting myself from one end of the book to the other.

But once Kali’s issues really started developing, and Rooke came into play, that’s when things got good, in my opinion. It became less of a focus on these games that the group played in order to win some tournament (where there wasn’t a whole lot at stake a la Hunger Games, just contracts and prize money and fame) and focused more on the individual, the group dynamic, and bucking the system through peaceful protests. It all really grew on me the more Kali came into herself and broke out of her role within the Games.

I like the world that Jennings develops, especially since it’s not much different from the world we know today. It’s a relatable distance in the future where tech has changed enough that we have these immersive gaming arenas and virtual gaming is a televised sport (although the fact that the players can actually feel the things being inflicted on them is disturbing in a skirting-the-edges sort of way), but the rest of the world hasn’t changed all that much. It’s not this super-distant into the future look. Just a couple decades where Nintendo is still relevant in a nostalgic sort of way.

Kali is a great character that has to rocket herself over a ton of hurdles in order to get from one side of the book to another. She has a major event happen to her toward the beginning that rocks her world in a rather destructive way. Because of that she practically nose dives off a cliff before being dragged back over by the last person she thought would help her, and the last person whom she thought she’d learn anything from.

I like how the story, despite all of the technological advances in gaming, fell back on very old world philosophy in order to get the team through the Games. It was refreshing. As was Kali working through her issues. It bordered on a Lifetime movie sort of read where things fell into place a little too nicely and a little too neatly, but not so much that I couldn’t suspend my disbelief nor did I stop rooting for the characters. I was okay with some sweetness and the more I read the more I liked the message the book was sending.

If I say much more I’ll spoil things, but I liked it enough to add GAUNTLET, the next book in the series, to my want list. I want to see where Kali takes everything, especially after where she left it off at the end of ARENA. The book was different than what I thought I was getting. It just feels that it’s further in the future than it really is, but that really worked in its favor. Definitely worth a read for older YA and the NA crowd about a young woman trying to find out who she is and where she fits in on her own terms. Really enjoyable.

4

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

Published: October 1, 1993
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Author: Website
Info: Goodreads

The bold print seems aimed at her directly: “Detail-oriented student for cataloguing personal library.” But when Robin Bailey answers the ad she is surprised that she has already been recommended for the job by Parker Swanson, the gorgeous new guy in school. Parker’s grandfather will pay her to organize the collection of antique books that belonged to Parker’s stepmother, a Medium who died by her own hand. Suddenly Robin is plunged into Parker’s dark and twisted family saga, trying to protect his stepsister Claudia who is haunted by visions of her evil mother and driven to desperation. Parker says Claudia is crazy. But Robin has heard and seen the ghost! Now her part-time job is a full-time nightmare! (book back blurb)

I would have taken the blurb from Goodreads like I normally do, but it was just outright wrong. So I got it directly from the source.

HELP WANTED is a book that’s halfway to being the ridiculous cheese of RL Stine, but it’s also half-grounded in something resembling reality. Robin appears to be a rather level-headed, somewhat well-rounded, character that comes off as genuine and like a real human being. So does her friend Walt. Not a whole lot of drama or hyperbole going on with either of them, all things considered. Parker is an egotistical jerk that Robin puts in his place time and time again and luckily doesn’t fall for his crap at all. And her alleged best friend Faye is just a stuck up, drama queen bitch. Not sure how her and Robin are even friends, they’re so opposites. And Faye isn’t even that appealing as a human. Completely self-centered and not all that supportive of Robin, Robin would have been wise to ditch this one years ago. Luckily Faye just kind of falls off the map halfway into the book, probably because Cusick realized she was kind of a twit.

The story itself was compelling and while I wasn’t buying the supernatural slant that kept getting spun, I did keep trying to figure out who was behind what and what exactly was going on. I didn’t see the ending coming, which is awesome with these books because even I can see them from a million miles away. It was also kind of nice the way it ended, rather atypical without giving away any spoilers.

Of course, what would cheesy old school YA horror be without a couple of ridiculous deaths? You get a solid three of them within the pages of the book, four if you want to count the stepmother, but that’s off-page. Cusick doesn’t have the ridiculous and absurd creatively with deaths that Stine does, but there’s some literal backstabbing and crawling maggots happening. So kudos for that.

One of the truer thriller books coming out of that era, and some of the more level-headed, HELP WANTED lands closer to the top in terms of re-readability and standing the test of time. Most of the characters (at least those that matter) aren’t caricatures of real people and the drama isn’t so over the top that it comes off as absurd. Robin and Walt are great characters that are actually relatable and the ending has a good twist. I really can’t ask for much more when it comes to these books!

4

March 1, 2015

These things . . . are dangerous.  VNSA has been having this gigantic book sale once a year for decades.  This was my first year going.  You can bring your own receptacle for carrying books because there is a line for the four shopping carts they offer and screw that.  So I brought a small suitcase.  The carry-on size with wheels.  I didn’t think  was going to come close to filling it because I’ve been all picky with my book-buying lately.

AHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA.

It got to a point where I had to go off to the side of the book floor and repack my suitcase because it was overflowing.  Silly turd I am.

The place is kind of a madhouse, taking place at the Phoenix Fairgrounds, and people actually camp out days in advance to be one of the first people in on Saturday morning.  Considering  this is one of the shittiest sections of Phoenix I really hope they’re armed or some kind of security is provided.  Truly.  Horrifying.  Saturday, of course, is the worst day.  My friend with whom I went did Saturday last year and she and her friend who also came along said they had to wait two hours outside just to get in.  Eff that.  So while we probably didn’t get the cream of the used books crop on Sunday we also didn’t have to piss around outside for hours waiting to get in either.  And thankfully it was cloudy and pretty cool because it rightly could have been awful inside.  And they don’t allow drinks in so there’s that.

Another benefit of Sundays: everything’s half off.  So when you’re done and you drag your haul to check-out they tally your shit up and then divide it by two.  For the following haul I paid $40.  I nearly wet myself.

There wasn’t a ton of order in this place.  Books were sorted vaguely by sections.  The hardbacks had some semblance of alphabetizing but the paperbacks were just a cess pool of cracked spines and no order whatsoever.  Initially when I went over to that section I was like HELL NO.  A half hour later I’d grabbed a fair amount of supernatural porn and was pretty happy with myself.  We ended up spending about an hour and a half in that place.  Seriously.  When I’m around books I go into a time suck.  Did not feel like an hour and a half at all.

So let’s take a look at the books, shall we?

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The porn haul.  I dig Heather Graham’s supernatural stuff so I decided to beef up my shelf with some of her work, if you couldn’t tell.  I’ve never read any Laurel K Hamilton either so good time to start in on that.  The bondage vampires book caught my eye too.  I wonder why . . .

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My cheese haul.  You can always count on a smorgasbord of these types of books being there.  A couple ended up being duplicates because I couldn’t be bothered to check my Goodreads list to see if I had it first.  A whole $1.00 lost.  What am I to do?  Also, first edition Night World #1.  NBD.

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My YA haul.  A rather scant selection of titles.  The section itself was half an aisle of books, a quarter of the pickings being Twilight.  I ended up buying A GREAT AND TERRIBLE BEAUTY today so I can get myself started on that series since I got the companion.  HIGH SPIRITS is actually WE HEAR THE DEAD by Dianne K Salerni and SISTER ASSASSIN is MIND GAMES by Kiersten White.  I was really surprised to find such early copies of these books.  Snatched them up for posterity’s sake.

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My historical fiction haul.  I read THE PHYSICK BOOK OF DELIVERANCE DANE a while ago but I wanted it for my library.  I also decided to give Wilbur Smith’s older books a shot since everyone who commented on my review of DESERT GOD on Goodreads said they were far better.  For, like $3 for the two it couldn’t hurt.  Well, I guess they could give me a headache but we’ll see.  I also decided to try my hand at THE VAMPIRE LESTAT again.  I tried reading it a long time ago and just couldn’t get through it.  Too overwritten.  I did like IWTV, though.  Let’s give TVL another shot.

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Some random supernatural books.  John Saul’s always good for a creep fest, RL Stine is RL Stine, and I’ve been meaning to read more Walter Moers and I really liked the title of this one so yes.  Bought.

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Last but not least my thriller haul.  SIX YEARS ended up being a duplicate too but oh well.  $2 lost.  I’ll live.  Never read any JA Jance but she’s a local author who sets are work in Arizona and I think that’s neat.  I like seeing where I live in books.

I would say “that’s it” but that’s kind of laughable.  My TBR is disgusting now.  I can’t even reach the top of it anymore.  I’ve created a book monster.

Published in 2009.

The marriage of Marc Antony and Cleopatra is one of the greatest love stories of all time, a tale of unbridled passion with earth-shaking political consequences. Feared and hunted by the powers in Rome, the lovers choose to die by their own hands as the triumphant armies of Antony’s vengeful rival, Octavian, sweep into Egypt. Their orphaned children – ten-year-old twins Selene and Alexander – are taken in chains to Rome. Delivered to the household of Octavian’s sister, the siblings cling to each other and to the hope that they will return one day to their rightful place on the throne of Egypt. As they come of age, they are buffeted by the personal ambitions of Octavian’s family and court, by the ever-present threat of slave rebellion, and by the longings and desires deep within their own hearts. (book flap blurb)

I had wanted to read this book since it came out so when I won it from a fellow blogger’s contest, I was thrilled! Especially since I’m such a huge fan of the HBO series, Rome. When I was reading I kept envisioning the characters with the faces of the actors in the show.

The writing just sucks you in and keeps you reading from cover to cover. Considering the length of this book, it only took me a couple of days to read it all. I couldn’t put it down and didn’t want to when I had to.

There’s enough history included in the text to give you a great idea of just what high Roman life was like during that time but not so much you felt like you were getting information dumped on you. That’s a sign of an excellent writer that knows to keep herself behind the pages and the characters in the forefront. I’m sure there could have been so much more added regarding Roman life but if it had been, too much author knowledge would have seeped through. It’s hard to do such meticulous research and not include everything you find but the final product speaks for itself.

I had a hard time imagining the kids in this book speaking like they did and being as young as they were but like the addendum in the back of the book states, these were children being groomed as royalty. They’re not going to be children but future rulers so they’re, unfortunately, not going to get a chance to act like children.

I felt so bad for the romantic situation Selene was in and I felt for her every time she had a pang when looking at Marcellus or when he would do something for her. In the back of my mind I was rooting for her but, unfortunately, I knew how his story ended so I knew, considering how strict to historical facts Michelle was, that that story line wasn’t going to deviate. And while I didn’t know Selene’s history and where she ended up, I saw her arranged marriage coming from pretty early on. The hints are subtle enough that even someone who doesn’t know that part of history can pick up on it.

It’s hard to imagine that life was so much more precarious back then than it is now and how, at someone’s word, a person can just be killed for any reason, or none at all. This book had all the drama, love and torment of any good modern novel, except this could have actually happened. While we’re not too privy to what went on behind closed doors with the twins, a lot of inferences can be made based on what we do know. Bringing history to life is such an awesome power to wield and I think Michelle does an excellent job of raising these long-dead figures from their graves. This book has made me want to know more about Selene and Juba and read up on Alexander. Did Octavian really break Alexander the Great’s finger taking his ring? What happened to Cleopatra’s mausoleum? I can look at my pictures of the Pantheon and see Agrippa’s name on there and they mean that much more.

If you’re a fan of historical fiction, be sure not to miss this one. You’ll regret it if you do.

October 28, 2009

Omnibus featuring Bloodlust and Initiation, both first published in 2006.

Jason Freeman is stoked when his family relocates to DeVere Heights, Malibu. The kids at his posh new high school are surprisingly friendly, and pretty soon Jason’s part of the in-crowd. He even gets to meet the hot-but-unattainable girl.

Then, the morning after one off-the-hook party, a girl washes up on the beach dead. There’s no explanation – except a suspicious-looking bite mark on her body.

Now Jason has to admit that what you don’t want to know can hurt you. And when an old friend pays him a visit, they have no idea that they’re about to put themselves in mortal danger. Literally. (book back blurb)

How are you put in mortal danger theoretically? That irked me.

Anyway, I’ve had this book for about 10 months, I’m just getting to it now and I just realized, when I picked it up to read it, that it was an omnibus. I had no idea. Gotta love my observant self.

So we have rich kids. In Malibu. The new kid that gets accepted. Rich kids have fangs. New kid gets tossed in the middle of it. How freakin‘ ORIGINAL. See, when I see the words ‘beach’ and ‘vampire’ together, my mind immediately goes to The Lost Boys so when I finally picked this up (after some puttering around, I kept going to Barnes and Noble, picking it up and putting it back down) and bought it, I was half-expecting something somewhat similar. Oh silly me. I should have known this wasn’t going to trend towards the good.

What a yawn fest. Seriously. Jason wants Sienna but can’t have her because she’s his buddy’s chick but none of the other girls entice him. That is the damn focus for 2/3rds of the first book. Internal back and forth and back and forth – oh god she’s so beautiful but I shouldn’t want to kiss her because she’s Brad’s chick but I want her but I can’t but I can’t help myself but I have to . . . SHUT THE FUCK UP! Talk about getting totally hung up. On both books, no less.

Also in both books, absolutely nothing going on except parties and pretty people for two-thirds of them. Anything worth reading is all shoved and resolved within the last third of the book. Thank god they both only took me an hour to read each. I might have had to stick this thing in a punkin‘ and to some chunkin‘.

The pretty, popular crowd, aka the vampires, weren’t your typical rich kids. They were actually down to earth and normal, which was nice and refreshing. That refreshing quality also made them boring as shit. And they’re vampires. WTF? Jason is the typical new kid without too much awkwardness, unless he’s around Sienna. And he’s around her a lot. They accept him but he’s the cool kid for being friends with the pretty people AND guys like Adam who’s a movie geek that never had an in before now. Add in the bratty sister and the overly concerned parents and you’re good to ride the cliche mobile down the trope highway.

Adam had the funny lines. Jason is not a compelling character at all. The events of both books really happen around him as opposed to to him. He just ends up getting himself involved because he’s the main character and he’d be even more boring than he already is if he didn’t. Sienna turns out to be a little on the slutty side because what would the books be without some teenage romance angst? Dani is your typical younger sister that’s as one dimensional as the page I read her on. Who else? The popular guys . . . Zach . . . cardboard. Jason’s friend from Michigan, Tyler, twitchy and was pretty much the only one with potential but the author likes rapid fire and clean-cut resolution so that didn’t play out like it could have. Am I missing anything? Doubt it.

Oh right. The nice vampires. That don’t kill people. And can go out during the day. And donate to charity. That exist because it’s a hereditary trait . . . JESUS FUCKING CHRIST. They weren’t just emasculated. They didn’t even have vaginas. They were just downright eunichs, neuters that needed to get back to their damn bridge game or something. Seriously. Can we cycle back in REAL vampires please? WTF is the point in being this all-powerful supernatural being if you can’t even use any of it? And have to go to high school? WTF is with vampires and high school? It was cool with the original Buffy. It was still cool with the series. By now it’s so tapped out that that ass is raw. Can we let it heal, please? For the sake of vampire balls? Vampires used to be something to fear. Now they’re something to snuggle. *yak*

I think a little more time could have been spent tightening the plot, not to mention editing out all of the typos, than rushing two books out in a year. Quantity over quality, huh?

I’d recommend these for a beach read but, in all honesty, I don’t even think they’re worth that. They’re just not exciting or compelling or even all that interesting to be honest. The second book definitely had more potential than the first but I’ll be damned if I read yet another book where I have to wait 120 pages before anything of interest starts to happen. I guess if you feel so inclined to reading them, they’ll literally only take about an hour to finish each. Dense is not the word I would use to describe these books. But really, I wouldn’t waste that hour. You could be doing better things, like raking leaves.