Review: Benjamin Pepperwhistle and the Fantabulous Circus of Wonders

Benjamin Pepperwhistle and the Fantabulous Circus of Wonders
Benjamin Pepperwhistle and the Fantabulous Circus of Wonders by Cornelia Grey
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I like this author and she’s done some really incredible short stories, however, this one is just straight up weird. It’s not so much that I personally don’t have a gun fetish, because I can read a great number of stories where I don’t share the particular proclivity, but more so that the characters, behavior, and more so the writing were just overwrought and uninteresting. The gun kink is of course the theme but it’s the only aspect to the entire story. There is literally nothing else to the draw the reader’s attention. If someone has a deep and abiding love of the depiction of a gun fetish, perhaps this will be a hit with them. Otherwise I can’t really see whom this will appeal to, but ymmv.

Benjamin Pepperwhistle of the truly inspired naming has a serious gun kink. He loves everything about guns and talked his way into a job with the circus so he can be an assistant to the famous pistoleer, Cole Beauchamp. After a week of learning how to shoot Benjamin and Cole have their first show, which cements their mutual desire for guns, getting shot at, and each other.

I struggled with this one from the very beginning, as the language used often didn’t do much for me.

Benjamin could smell the telltale scent of burned power, the sizzling leftover of the detonation. It called to him like the raspy, enchanting voice of a fiery-haired siren. He tiptoed around the tent until he found an opening where the flap closing the entrance had been carelessly lowered, leaving a convenient crack. He didn’t even think twice before bringing his eye to it—didn’t even take the time to look around, the greed making him careless—and he was instantly rewarded. There it was, filling the tent, seeping slowly outside: the smell of burnt powder. Benjamin inhaled deeply. He loved the smell of inert powder, but this… this was what he preferred, the scent that made his blood pump faster, his body heat up.
It took him a conscious effort to turn his focus on watching, instead.

This paragraph early on stood out to me because I remember thinking I had no idea what was going on and why this guy was in rhapsody. I didn’t realize he was in love with the scent of gunpowder at first. Then when I did, I was just bewildered. Perhaps I should have realized this book was about a gun kink and wouldn’t have been so confused so I’ll put that problem as my ignorance. Even so there is so much overwrought emotion and poetic waxing about guns, their beauty, their smell, and touch that I was just bored. Nothing really happens in the story except Benjamin’s internal monologues about wanting to have sex because of guns.

Literally nothing else happens. The story mentions that Benjamin spent a week practicing how to shoot but honestly this was a mere statement and the remaining time was spent on Benjamin staring into space while fantasizing about having sex with Cole, having sex with Cole while shooting guns, shooting off his dick (metaphorically) while shooting off guns. The entire narration felt over the top, melodramatic and kind of silly. Then the idea that a blushing, bumbling Benjamin that can barely speak two words without tripping over himself and has a page long internal freak out about his humiliation that he can’t shoot a gun (an admission that in no way warrants the extreme and extended overreaction) has an orgasm and then turns into some kind of dominating force over the much older, much more experienced Cole just had me laughing out loud at the absurdity. It wasn’t even sexy, just kind of unbelievable.

Perhaps this could be chalked up as a story not for me. I just wish the premise had offered something in addition to the gun kink. Some action, some storyline, something other than page after page of poetic language to describe the eroticism of guns and Benjamin’s constant boner because of them. He likes guns. I get it. If you like guns perhaps you’ll get it too.

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Review: Panic

Panic by Lauren Oliver
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I found Panic to be mildly interesting with great potential but ultimately failed under the weight of its own angst. The story itself has so much possibility and Oliver has the storytelling capability of making this an incredible book. Unfortunately she commits a cardinal YA sin of not actually advancing her characters from their initial weak, immature, and irritating teen behaviors to much more mature, developed, and rational young adults. Instead they simply get a happy ending without any consequences to their truly dangerous and immature actions while having learned absolutely nothing over the course of what should be a transformative summer. Some readers have said this is similar to Hunger Games or Divergent, which it’s not in any way. Both of those are rip offs of Battle Royale and Panic is a study of desperate immature teenagers with no future because they’re too stupid to actually grow up. Totally different books.

Panic is about two teenagers, Heather and Dodge, who narrate the story about the summer after high school. They give in a small, dying town with no real possibilities or opportunities. Every year after graduation the high school seniors play a dangerous game of chicken in which players basically take turns doing stupid and often illegal stunts to prove they are fearless. The last one standing, literally, takes home a bunch of tax-free cash. Heather and Dodge play the game for their own reasons – Heather wants the money to get the hell out of town while Dodge wants to play to kill the brother of a past winner. That winner paralyzed Dodge’s sister in the finale of the game two years ago and Dodge has been waiting to repay the revenge debt ever since. Heather’s best friend and obvious love interest, Bishop, and other best friend and Dodge’s love interest, Natalie, round out the main cast.

The plot is moved forward with the game of Panic but the story is really about these two teenagers that navigate the summer with increasing desperation and immaturity. I guess they’re supposed to mature and become better, more capable people at the end but unfortunately that never happens. In fact they are all exactly same silly, borderline too stupid to live teenagers they were at the start of the book. I actually hoped for Heather’s death at one point because I thought then, FINALLY, these kids would learn a lesson and feel bad about something. Look – I get that they’re teenagers and thus selfish, immature, and stupid by definition. However they’ve all graduated high school and supposedly are 18 so they should be on the cusp of actually growing the fuck up. Enough melodrama and actual dangerous, illegal, harmful action happens that anyone with a working brain would think twice about their behavior and decide a change is in order. Unfortunately these four just sail off into the sunset with the money and win and never have to change or face the consequences of their actions. Is that a happy ending?

I found the setting very effective. A small town that feels oppressive, dead, and suffocating to the teenagers within is very common. The theme of wanting to get out, wanting to make a life, a real life beyond the seemingly endless boundaries of the town is a feeling no doubt most teenagers encounter. Those teens that aren’t that smart and have zero prospects of college or a career, like our narrators Heather and Dodge, must feel that desperation even more keenly. It’s understandable they feel as though a bunch of money and revenge would actually give them purpose. Unfortunately when they win that money, nothing happens. They don’t leave town or change, grow up and understand their actions were foolhearty, illegal and frankly wrong. They simply go swimming and are all happy, still living in the same town.

I struggled with this not just because of the ending but I found it too predictable and silly. I got frustrated when truly dangerous and wrong actions would occur and there were never any consequences. Lying, stealing, cheating, arson, breaking and entering, gun play, letting dangerous animals on the loose – none of it had any effect on these characters but to make them so scared they couldn’t talk. They certainly justified everything in their head enough to ignore all the potential consequences, which was fine because nothing happened to them anyway. Heather could literally kidnap her sister and take her away from her mother without problems because the mother was a drunk anyway. Heather could lie, steal, and take advantage of the only person willing to take her in but that was ok because the woman actually loved Heather and Heather just couldn’t trust it. So all her actions are ok. It’s not that her actions weren’t understandable but considering the game they all participated ended in serious injury to multiple people, one person’s death, and countless property damages, it’s unbelievable nothing ever happened to these kids in even a small way to make them face the truth. Instead they actually were rewarded. I couldn’t get beyond that.

There are supposedly twists and turns but you could see them coming a mile away. Nothing was actually surprising and the game could only have ended one way, ridiculous, over the top and so melodramatic I actually rolled my eyes and was shocked someone didn’t nix that ending before publication. The story had great potential but the author always took the easy way out, letting her characters skate through unharmed and unchanged. What’s the point of creating such an environment if there is no danger of the characters being harmed or having to grow up? Isn’t that the point of the entire story – the characters grow through hardship? Apparently not here.

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Review: Who Knows the Storm

Who Knows the Storm
Who Knows the Storm by Tere Michaels
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’m intrigued by this start to a new series and actually came close to speed-reading the book because I literally didn’t want to put it down. That said, I think the story is full of plot holes and does a lot of hand waving to cover up some illogical leaps. I’m on the fence about whether this actually bothers me or not because the characters are solid and the overwhelming action keeps the book moving so quickly it’s hard to stop and pick out the errors. I do hope the author slows down future books just a touch to make the plot more cohesive and solid. I’d also like it if the numerous open-ended questions from this book got answered but somehow I think they’ll always remain a mystery. Either way I’d recommend this book to fans that like a lot of action but can be very forgiving of weak plots and obvious gaps.

Nox Boyt’s life wasn’t all that great even before the apocalyptic floods that destroyed New York City. His mother was in a sanitarium and his father was absent for months at a time, leaving Nox on his own with a credit card. Once the floods came, however, Nox’s life changed in ways he couldn’t have predicted. Now ten years later he’s a vigilante for his neighborhood, a near slum that’s never recovered. He keeps the drug dealers and violence out of his area while maintaining a day job and raising his “son.” All Nox cares about is his son and safety so when a good hearted prostitute, Cade Creel, suddenly appears with a note for Nox’s son about his parents, complications ensue. It either helps or hurts matters that Nox can’t control his attraction to Cade.

The story starts with sixteen-year-old Nox in the days leading up to the floods. It then skips a decade to show Nox as an adult with a teenage child going on to intersperse flashbacks of what happened in the flood to current events going on. It’s a method that actually works here as it keeps the tension high and questions coming. It gives Nox’s backstory in bits and pieces so the reader is left wondering what exactly happened and how the various characters fit into the story both past and present. I liked this technique and found it more successful than most stories that use flashbacks. A downside is that it leaves crucial information hidden for most of the story but that helps keep the tension humming and wondering who can be trusted. So for the most part it works.

What I struggled with is that there are simply too many unanswered questions and plot holes that seem to be ignored. For example there is a massive suspension of disbelief required to think that the country would allow NYC to turn into a waste zone for most of the city and a den of iniquity in the other. NYC is supposed to become an exclusive area for the rich and famous to feed their seedy and illegal desires seems far fetched at the very least. The fact that the remaining city is basically a lawless slum is also a stretch too far. I put my disbelief on hold and went with it but it was always in the back of my mind that this would never happen. Additionally many times the logic of the story seems to falter. Without discussing them in too much detail I had tremendous issues with Nox’s decision to lie to Sam about his parents, there’s absolutely no point in this continued lie. Also Mr. White’s involvement and the scene at the sanitarium are laughable in a good light, ridiculous in another. The fact that Nox is way too smart to ignore so many near constant signs, Sam’s abduction from the “safe house”, the ease Nox got him back at the casino, then they got away so easily. Nox is supposed to be super paranoid yet he never thinks twice about any of these situations. It goes against his character.

Aside from those issues, which I acknowledge affected my enjoyment when I stopped to actually think about the book, I liked the characters. Almost everyone feels well developed and intentional. There are a few obviously evil villains thrown in but thankfully not too many. Cade and Nox have off the charts chemistry and their sex scenes were hot. Sam is a great teenager with just enough stupidity to get himself in trouble but not enough to be really dumb. Cade is sometimes a little one note playing off a good hooker stereotype but overall delivers well. The pace of the book is almost lightening fast with so much action going on it’s sometimes hard to follow. I think there is actually too much action and the book could have pulled back a bit to reassess but I liked how each incident layers on the next and feels deliberate. It works well.

Overall I enjoyed the book a lot while reading but found a lot of questions and logic gaps when I thought about it in the ensuing days. I’m eager to read the sequels but I do fear the story is getting so complicated it could be hard to keep up. This is one I’ll probably have to read again before reading the sequels to remember all the various details. But I think it’s worth it.

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Review: DMZ

DMZ by Andrea Speed
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I chose DMZ without reading the blurb because of the author. I like Andrea Speed’s work and liked the cover so those sold me. I’m not sure if reading the blurb would have helped with this particular short story though. It’s not bad but it’s nothing special and not that interesting. It feels like a deleted scene from a novel rather than a complete short story on its own. The writing is clean and evocative but my attention wandered for such a quick story.

Part of the problem is that while a lot technically occurs in the story, I felt very disconnected from the action and characters. Thus I was left feeling like “nothing happened” when that’s not true. The story starts with Carlos hanging upside down and bleeding from a helicopter shot out of the sky in a hostile country. Ky, who happens to be an old university crush of Carlos’, saves him. After a night in an abandoned building the two are successfully rescued. It’s a decent premise but perhaps too ambitious for such a small length.

For starters it was hard to understand what was going on. Starting the story in the middle of the action I had no idea who anyone was or what the point of the story was. Perhaps reading the blurb beforehand would have helped but it took me several pages to get into the rhythm of the story. Unfortunately I never connected to Ky or Carlos at all. The third person narrator here created a distance between the story and reader that was never overcome. We were told many times that Carlos had a crush on Ky in university, that they were friends of friends, but not close. I was a little annoyed at the repetition of information when that space could have been used to give the characters more depth and interest. As it was they remained very remote, thin characters that I didn’t really care about. I sensed no chemistry between the men either. That might be due to the lack of sex, but considering Carlos was badly injured, a sex scene would have been ridiculous.

That said I’m not entirely sure what the point of the story was. It feels unfinished with neither a beginning nor an end. Perhaps this is part of a larger series? I quite like the author’s voice but this is not one I’d recommend. Overall I’m disappointed in this short and have already forgotten it, which is sad.

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Throw back review : Among the Living by Jordan Castillo Price, new audiobook version

5603414 Among the Living (Psycop #1)
by Jordan Castillo Price

My rating: 4 out of 5 stars




I listened to the audiobook version of this novella for re-read as I was curious about the narrator. Also I may have mentioned that I’m seriously into audiobooks right now and can read more that way than sitting down to read a book. I’m happy to say that I think the audiobook version lived up to my first impressions of the series, all the way back to 2009. Kind of impressive for books these days. I don’t think I enjoyed it quite as much as the first time I read it, nor did I pick up on all the nuances within the writing and characters when listening to the audiobook. This is a drawback I’ve come to expect from listening versus reading and I try to factor that in to both my comprehension of books and my enjoyment. That said, my review still stands pretty spot on to how I felt about the book now.

What’s different is of course the narrator. He’s got a slight spanish accent when he’s listing details such as the author’s name but has the smooth blandness of a good narrator when speaking in Vic’s voice. I did think his voice for Jacob was kind of funny. It’s deeper and more of an attempt at sexy and it always made me laugh a little. As did the sex scenes because frankly I’m a prude when listening to sex. I keep thinking about whether the narrator was embarrassed having to describe very graphic sex scenes, because of course it makes -me- blush. But overall I liked this narrator quite a bit. He’s got a good voice to listen to and keeps my attention. He does the various voices with enough inflection I could differentiate them. His voice is very mature and I always thought of Vic as pretty immature and young (despite actual age) so that took a minute to get used to. However, I’m kind of eager to listen to the whole series now. Also because this was a novella the audiobook version was incredibly short and I finished it in a day, which made me sad. I wanted more. I hope JCP decides to do audiobook versions of all her work.  Continue reading

Review: Flux Orbit

Flux Orbit
Flux Orbit by Emily Veinglory
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It’s really rare that I can’t put a book down and it’s even rarer that I stay up late to finish a book. That hasn’t happened in over a year but I literally would not put this book down until I finished. I basically read it in a day and while I didn’t love the ending, or every part of the book, I think it’s fair to say I really loved reading this one. It’s not what I consider a five star/incredible but it’s 4.5 stars that I’ll round up since it’s that good. Although it started slow, once Kell was in contact with the Coil, the book took off like a shot. I knew Veinglory was a good writer but this book made me really appreciate her imagination and sense of adventure. I really respect an author that isn’t afraid to make daring choices. Continue reading

Review: Chance Assassin: A Story of Love, Luck, and Murder

Chance Assassin: A Story of Love, Luck, and Murder
Chance Assassin: A Story of Love, Luck, and Murder by Nicole Castle
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

4.5 stars

I don’t remember what made me pick up this book but damned if I didn’t love it. The editing is atrocious with misspelled words, missing words, and wrong italics littering the pages, but after a while I was so into the story itself I didn’t care anymore. I do think the book would benefit greatly from a decent editor and even a copyeditor, so for any picky readers that are sticklers for such things this book can drive you insane with all its flaws. Thankfully, the story itself engaged my attention to such a degree that I could not only forgive but also overlook such problems. The strong, stoic, morally bankrupt assassin protagonist usually works for me and Chance Assassin played him so very well. I think this will work well with fans of this type of protagonist. Continue reading