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So, house keeping post is coming up later in the week. I’ve been falling behind lately and want to address that. Switching over from that, I do have a review for you all today. Thanks to the folks at Tor, who provided me a review copy, here’s The Empty Ones. Enjoy!

The Empty Ones cover

You’ve seen them before. You’ve even seem the charming strangers with nothing behind their eyes. Carey’s been fighting them since the seventies. Kaitlyn just found out about them a couple weeks ago. To being hunted endlessly by the empty one that nearly killed them, they’ll have to track him down first. Meanwhile a blast from Carey’s past turns up and she doesn’t seem interested in helping save the day.

Robert Brockway’s The Empty Ones is a decent follow up to The Unnoticeables and a solid book in its own right. It’s definitely a middle book, though one that has the courtesy of tying up its own story before jumping for the next book.

It being a middle book is sort of where my big complaint comes from. With The Unnoticeables there was an awareness that there had to be more creepies than just what the protagonists were dealing with, but it was pretty well all small scale stuff. It was local, almost personal, to the protagonists so it felt huge and each thing they stumbled into built it up more and reinforced how out of their depths they were. This book doesn’t have that. It physically takes the protagonists out of their usual haunts and has them chasing the monsters. Having that makes the whole plot feel smaller, or less, even as the stakes are higher this time around.

Part of what makes this an issue is the difference between what the reader knows from the 2013 sections and what the reader learns from the 1978 sections of the book. In the first book, the split timelines worked really well because it allowed the reader to see something in action and then learn about it or vice versa. The parallels aren’t nearly as clean in The Empty Ones, so we get a lot of new information in the past that doesn’t really seem to inform the present or the previous book. It can feel  awkward even when it does land right, making scenes feel off kilter and characters feel not like themselves.

That’s a big part of what I meant when I said it’s solid in its own right but only a decent follow up. On its own, The Empty Ones has a lot of the same energy and punch as The Unnoticeables. The characters are still easy to care about. The monsters are still that extra spark of creepy. Even the new things that don’t totally work in context of the previous book are really cool if taken as part of a standalone novel. Reading it as a sequel though leads to comparisons and little rough spots throughout. The wonderful bittersweet ending to The Unnoticeables is suddenly fractured because we don’t have to wonder how Carey got from there to being nearly alone. Sammy Six’s story matters a whole lot less now because of new details. What’s lost is a lot of character stuff, and not necessarily little stuff at that.

On its own this is a really fun book. The antagonists are far stronger than the heroes, so the heroes have to be clever or just runaway. The characters feel very human or that perfect degree of just slightly wrong. The tone is by and large spot on. Emotive scenes hit the right chords, generally at the right times. And ultimately, while I like it better on its own than as a sequel, it makes me want to keep reading. I want to see where everything goes.

So, where does this leave The Empty Ones? As a standalone book it would be nearly a five out of five. The issue is that it follows a book that I would more than happily give a five to and, while it does well on its own, it doesn’t stack up to the book it follows. So that earns The Empty Ones a four out of five.

Gauntlet

So that was a week without a review. Fun. Today though, I have something for you. Thanks to the awesome folks at Ace, here’s Gauntlet. Enjoy!

Gauntlet cover

A year ago Kali Ling was the first female captain in the Virtual Gaming League’s history. Now she’s the youngest ever team owner. With a new tournament starting up, pitting the best gamers in the world against each other, Defiance is definitely on board. But, between the new pods that constantly adapt to players actions and all her new responsibility as team owner, can Kali stick to her convictions or will she wind up being just as bad as the rest of the VGL when the chips are down?

I have issues reviewing this book. That’s one thing I absolutely need to mention first off, because what’s good can be really good. Unfortunately that’s balanced by the fact that what’s bad tends to be really bad. So, let’s get going.

One of the big things with Gauntlet, much like the book before it Arena, is that Holly Jennings tends to do really well with her character stuff. When Kali is interacting with her team there’s this great flow, these are characters who care about and support each other. They work through their issues by talking, and it’s made clear that communication is part of why they work as a team. I love this aspect of the book. I adore that problems get worked through because friendship and communication. But then that’s kind of why I can’t stand the romance between Kali and one of her teammates, Rooke.

Back in Arena, Rooke was brought in to replace one of their other teammates. He was new and hot and kind of a jerk, so obviously he’s the love interest. It felt under developed then. In this book though we start off with the relationship reset, Rooke has cut Kali out and left the team with no explanation. He did it for her own good, so he says, which immediately loses my interest. It feels like a lot of the Kali and Rooke working things out got cut in an earlier draft and was only left in so that she would be as off balance as possible at the beginning of the book. There was a lot of really self pitying stuff from Kali regarding how she’d been just as bad to him last year that just didn’t really pan. I could have done with a lot less of it, especially since the whole Kali and Rooke thing feels like Jennings was told she had to have a love interest in there somewhere.

Gauntlet can also feel very scattered. At first the deal is that Rooke fell off the wagon and what if he can’t sort things out. Add to that Kali not being able to balance leading the team and doing her job as the team owner. Add to that the tournament itself and something being off about it. Add to that the team being attacked in the tabloids. Add to that Kali still wants to fight corruption in the VGL and do what’s best for her teammates. It can alternate between feeling like there are three different plots that never really go anywhere and feeling like everything is happening at once. A lot of that could have been cleaned up by removing repetition and focusing more on the tournament itself and any single one of the other problems. There was a lot of repetition, mostly things that the reader really shouldn’t have needed to be reminded of like Kali worrying about doing what’s best for the team.

I would have personally loved to see more of the tournament itself. Jennings does a great job with her action scenes and, with the core idea the book is being sold on being a massive tournament, I feel like going more into the game itself would have been an excellent choice. It’s hard to overstate how much I like the fight scenes here. They feel visceral and epic. They’re the place where the characters are in both the most and least amount of danger and that lends them an interesting weight that a lot of the rest of the book lacks. The fights feel a lot like a well done boss fight. They feel like Defiance is up against the wall.

When we finally get the big fight scenes it’s, of course, near the climax of the book. So, it’s actually kind of fitting that my last issue with Gauntlet is with its ending. There were a couple of places where it would have felt really natural to end Gauntlet. They would have been solid and left it open for the next book without feeling like an ad for it. The author went past both of those and just went ahead and set up book three. My issue with this is twofold. One, it gives up a more solid satisfying ending for a much weaker one. Two, it makes the rest of the book feel like less. Suddenly it feels like reaching the end of a game and finding out that the ending it paid DLC. It feels like there is less point to Gauntlet because here’s this cliffhanger that steals this book’s resolution for another book’s beginning.

So, where’s that leave Gauntlet? A big part of my issue with reviewing Gauntlet is that the stuff I didn’t enjoy made me dislike that I enjoyed the stuff I did. For every time there was a scene of Defiance being a great team and friends and just really jiving well together, I remembered that Kali and Rooke didn’t have that for their scenes as a couple. For every awesome fight, there were a bunch of other scenes that felt like repetition for the sake of padding. For all that I really enjoyed the bulk of the book, the ending left me feeling like I just discovered that my Little Orphan Annie decoder ring was an ad this whole time.

It’s a decent enough read, and a good sophomore novel. There’re definitely bits that need work. Jennings could certainly tighten up her writing some, get rid of some repetitiveness. But at the end of the day, even with its issues, Gauntlet is a fun read. Frustrating because of the bigger problems, but fun. It’s definitely a three out of five, but I think with a little more time and a couple more books Jennings could be a five star writer.

So, Words Again

As I continue my quest for a steady posting schedule I find myself failing again and again. I’ve spent the day reading the book I’m posting a review of and trying to get some things sorted out. That hasn’t been real successful, but hey, adulting isn’t really about succeeding in my experience so much as keeping going.

So yeah, review should be up tomorrow evening. Unless something terrible happens and I’m stuck home because of the weather or something, then it’ll probably be earlier. Either that or I’ll just post the spider dance gif with no other explanation.

I’m having a bit of trouble with this one for a few reasons, but it’ll all come out in the wash. Might have some stuff going on on another blog soon. Nothing big, just building a character for an upcoming game my group is going to run. It should be fun writing exercise though.

I’m late, it’s tomorrow already! Sorry everyone. Though I suppose it’s a good thing I’m reviewing the comic for a blast from the past. This is, again, a book that I received through NetGalley for review. Enjoy!

The Flintstones Vol 1 Cover

Meet the Flintstones, they’re the modern stone age family. You’re familiar with them. We all are. So let’s go back to Bedrock and see what a modern look at a stone age family looks like.

The Flintstones is something of a slice of life comic centering on, of course, the Flintstone family as well as the Rubbles and Bedrock itself. It’s anachronistic in a way that feels totally true to the old cartoon, while also turning a sharp eye on modern life, and also being a ton of fun. It also goes back to the cartoon’s sitcom roots, being aimed at an older audience. It feels weirdly subversive to see the concept for an old show turned to, more or less, current concerns. I like that quite a bit.

It’s also interesting to see what Mark Russell did with the characters. Fred and Wilma are more communicative, which is awesome in so many ways. The club Fred and Barney belonged to in the cartoon is a veterans’ society now, which ties into just how bedrock came about. Pebbles and Bam Bam are probably the most changed, being teenagers here rather than babies. They often provide a B-plot that reflects the main story in miniature. That’s more than kind of cool. I do sort of wish we’d seen more of Betty. Since she’s Wilma’s friend rather than Fred’s and most of Wilma’s screen time is with her husband, Betty gets pretty left out. I feel like I want the next book to focus more on Betty and Wilma, I want to see more of what’s going on with them especially after the response to Wilma’s art at the museum.

On to the art! Steve Pugh does a really cool job here. Characters from the original are, for the most part, immediately recognizable while also having dropped a lot of the cartoonyness from before. The random background characters have distinct looks. The coloring, done by Chris Chuckry, is vibrant and conveys mood well. My only issue with the art at all is that it does tend to combine massive beefy dudes with comparatively small women.  That honestly feels like it could be a throwback though given that the main characters are fairly set design wise and, as the comic goes, we get more body diversity in the background characters.

So, final thoughts. When I first saw that this was going to be a thing months ago I didn’t expect it to be much, mostly due to cherry picked panels and not really knowing what to expect beyond the old cartoon. I’m more than pleasantly surprised to be proven wrong. The writing is solid, the art is good, and while it can be serious there’s always a thread of humor. I like the anachronistic stuff, especially all the little background stuff like store names, it fits and it feels like The Flintstones. So that’s a five out of five from me.

I’m something approaching  early this week. I wanted to get this posted the day it came out instead of  waiting until tomorrow. I also wanted to do something to apologize for being so late last week, so I’m posting a review tomorrow as well. Bringing this to you thanks to NetGalley, here’s a review of DC Universe Rebirth: Batgirl volume 1: Beyond Burnside. Enjoy!

Batgirl vol 1 Beyond Burnside cover

Batgirl is on vacation, and Barbara Gordon is headed to Okinawa in hopes of interviewing Chiyo Yamashiro, the Fruit Bat, a vigilante from the 30’s. Even on vacation Barbara manages to find trouble in the form of her childhood friend Kai and the three “students” hunting him down. Can she figure out what Kai’s gotten himself into and how to save him or will Batgirl flunk out?

I feel very out of my depth reviewing this. It’s been since Gail Simone left the Book that I’ve read a Batgirl comic and I’ve missed a lot. That said, while there’s some thing’s I’m not a huge fan of, I find myself really liking this iteration of Barbara Gordon’s Batgirl. Hope Larson does a good job with the characters and a more than reasonably good job with the story.

Let’s actually start with that. What makes this Batgirl different than what I’m used to? She feels a lot younger for one, that’s one of those things I’m not real big on, but it also lends a lighter feel to the comic so it balances out. She’s apparently running her own company as well, a company that makes enough that she can travel around the world pretty easily, so that’s something I’m curious about. I’m also interested in what’s going on in Burnside, which seems to be Batgirl’s Bludhaven, her Gotham in a way. So a lot of that actually makes for a really good jumping on point. The character is familiar enough not to alienate a reader who’s either lapsed or someone who knows her from something else, but also fresh enough to feel new.

The flipside is that the arc that Beyond Burnside covers is very standard Batfamily stuff. The new old friend, Kai, just happens to be Barbara’s roommate at the first place she stays. He gets attacked while they’re out seeing a festival and meeting Fruit Bat, thus introducing our villain. Necessary coincidences happen as required. It’s a good building point, and I’m curious about some of the characters, but it does feel like a safe introduction kind of story. This being the first arc for the DC Universe Rebirth for Batgirl, that’s not a bad thing just very safe.

I’m not familiar with Rafael Albuquerque’s art. It’s not my favorite thing, and I do feel like it’s one of the weaker parts of the book. This is mostly due to the lack of backgrounds throughout the book. Having a single solid color backing the panel can be a great way to reinforce the emotion of a scene, if used sparingly. I feel like it’s overused here, which makes it lose its effectiveness and just feels a little off. Albuquerque’s faces can be fantastically emotive, though they can also slip into something just slightly off, something about the angling in some of the close-ups or just going a little too far with an expression.

I enjoyed this a good deal, it was fun, it did the job of introducing the world at large to keep my interest past this arc, and the one-shot story at the end was a good way to tie up loose ends and cool down from the arc. Batgirl Volume 1: Beyond Burnside gets a four out of five from me, it would have been a five if not for the few issues with the art.

Hey all, I’ve got a post for you from Eugenia Jefferson, author of Confessions of a Frustrated Millennial. Enjoy!

Hello everyone! My name is Eugenia R. Jefferson and I’m author of Confessions of a Frustrated Millennial. It’s a book about three black millennial women who are trying to navigate post-college life and achieve their dreams.

 

How I came to write this book has been an interesting, yet long journey. When I was little I dreamed of becoming a writer. I wrote short stories as a girl and I enjoyed reading. However, as I got older I started to realize that just being a writer wouldn’t bring in “money” so when I went off to college I decided to major in journalism and then went back and got my master’s degree in Integrated Marketing Communications.

 

The first job I landed after my master’s degree was a marketing communications coordinator at a non-profit association. I absolutely hated my job. I was nitpicked on and every mistake I made was taken to HR. Eventually, they let me go and I fell in a deep depression.

 

It was one of my biggest failures. I was searching for a new job and it seemed like nothing was happening for me. While unemployed, I decided to return back to my first love of writing. That’s when I started to develop the characters Natasha, Danielle and Jayla. All of them had a piece of me even though their stories are all different. The more I started to write the more cathartic it was. I was frustrated where I was in life at the time, but the more I shaped my own characters, the more I started to trust the process in my own life. I knew God was writing my story as I was writing my character’s story. I wrote the book on and off while in between freelancing jobs. However, I finally finished at the end of 2015.

 

While this book highlights some of the uncertainties that millennials go through, I feel that the subject is broader than that. It’s for anybody who’s about to give up on a dream. It’s for the person who has anxiety about where their life is going. It’s for the new graduate who doesn’t know what they want to do in their life.

 

Life is a process and while some parts are harder than others it’s a beautiful journey – good and bad.

 

Confession of a Frustrated Millennial is available through Amazon (paperback and Kindle) and Barnes & Noble.

And, in a turn of events I’m sure no one saw coming, I am late posting my postponed review. Who would have thought, right? I’d have had it if not for that sleeping curse. But it’s here now, much to everyone’s delight. Thanks to the awesome folks at Tor, here’s The People’s Police. Enjoy!

the-peoples-police-cover

When Officer Martin Luther Martin was ordered to serve his own eviction notice he didn’t expect to wind up the face for the following police strike against the loan lizards trying to foreclose on everyone. When bordello owner J. B. Lafitte called the strike on being self serving, only helping the police, he didn’t expect them to agree. When MaryLou Boudreau first woke up from dancing with a full hat and no memory of how it wound up that way she never expected to wind up as Mama Legba, television personality and horse to the Loa. No one expected Papa Legba himself to address Luke on tv or the question he would ask. “What do you offer?”

This one might get a little weird, there may also be a few spoilers so heads up. Norman Spinrad’s The People’s Police is a bit of an odd duck as far as fantasy or urban fantasy novels go. It’s well written in many respects, but I’d have a hard time calling it a fun read. It’s got definite fantasy elements, but is also almost cynical in its approach to politics and the way we’re governed. It’s got a really political thesis, but then avoids a lot of what makes that thesis political, becoming sort of a preaching to the choir deal. It’s actually a little hard to come up with much of an opinion on it because of all that, I’m really not used to that.

So, start from the beginning, does the story live up to its blurb? Yes and no. The actual blurb for the book doesn’t really say much, so it’s hard for the book to not fall into it. At the same time the book lacks a certain degree of coherency for much of its run which, in addition to making it feel like it could have been trimmed a good deal, also leads to it feeling very scattered in places. Several characters could have been worked in much better, but instead weren’t introduced until the last probably fifth of the novel. The same can be said for certain events not having enough lead up and so winding up feeling misplaced.

We also get some weirdness with the language of the book both in that Spinrad occasionally chooses to write in characters’ accents, something I’m not a fan of, and that multiple characters will more or less verbatim use really specific wording. That bit is very like being beaten over the head with propaganda, like video game levels of it that you’re supposed to know what it is so you don’t take it seriously, which doesn’t fit because it’s part of the book’s main idea. It feels clumsy or like Spinrad doesn’t trust his audience to get it.

Here’s the kicker, none of that singly or grouped together runs a serious risk of killing a book for me, at least not usually. He’s also got some stuff that’s usually near guaranteed to get me invested. There’s good character work, any number of scenes are strongly written and play well to the reader’s senses, and the weird cynical optimism often works in the book’s favor. It doesn’t set though. We get a lot of back story in the first half of the book, but a lot of its told rather than shown. The supernatural aspect is interesting and the in book discussion had potential, though I feel like maybe Spinrad could have used something other than the Loa or done more to actively show his work. I know next to nothing about Voodoo, so I could easily be missing the mark entirely on that one, but still. Even the character work falls flat in places with a later character’s focus on his religion making him feel very cardboard where he, if introduced earlier, could have been much more dynamic.

I’m sitting at the point where I can easily see people getting really into The People’s Police and any number of other people reading two chapters and reselling it. Its writing is technically pretty good but lacks flavor, for lack of a better word, and has enough little things that I’m just neutral on the whole thing. So that said, The People’s Police gets a three out of five.

Postponement

Hey all. I’m going to be late with my review this week, it is still coming but it’s not going to drop until Friday or Saturday. It’s just kind of been a week and if I finished it now I’d be necessarily rough on the book and I don’t want to do that.

So that’s the bad news, the good news is that I’ve got some really cool books lined up for review in the next couple months. That’s more than kind of exciting, I think. I’m also going to be trying to post more, I’ve gone slack on that again.

You may get innundated with stuff about my garden in a couple weeks. I’ve restarted the beans and have some tomato and basil seeds going. Really looking forward to that.

But, yeah, I’ll have things to say in a couple days. See you all then.

Don’t Bang the Barista

I’m still trucking along. We had a cold snap, one thing lead to another, and now the cat beast has eaten the leaves off of every bean plant I’d gotten started. So that kind of sucks. I can always start again though, and it looks like this should be the last time it gets below freezing this spring. Anyway, I have a review for you all. Not going to lie, I bought this book mostly for the title. Enjoy!

Don't Bang the Barista cover

It is a known thing that baristas are the best thing since scones for the coffee drinking public. Even better when they’re as hot as the coffee they serve. It is also known that, when one spends a lot of time at a coffee shop, there is a single massive rule to remember in order to avoid exile or at least spit in your drinks: don’t bang the barista. In the face of Hanna, gorgeous drink slinger and drummer that she is, Kate’s having a bit of trouble remembering that rule. It doesn’t help that Hanna is a glorious flirt or that her friend Cass might have ulterior motives for reminding her of it.

Leigh Matthews’ Don’t Bang the Barista is a book I have definite mixed feelings on. Where it’s good, it’s really good and I had a ton of fun. Where it’s bad, it’s nearly unreadable.

Don’t Bang the Barista has an expansive cast, which works well here, the author does a lot of solid character work. I was probably more invested in the side characters than in Kate herself. They were fun and interesting and, because the reader isn’t following them, they got to stay that way even when serious moments hit. The barista from the title is a complete sweetheart. The pre-established couple has their issues but are shown to be working on them together. Even Kate’s ex, while she’s more of a plot device than a character, is well used in the story. I found myself invested in the side characters and having a good time reading about them.

This probably doesn’t count as a spoiler, given that it’s a romance novel, but still. My big issue with the book is actually Kate’s love interest, Cass. Cass reminds me of why I stopped reading romance novels awhile back and just makes me very uncomfortable as the love interest here. I was actually waiting for the moment where it became clear that she was the antagonist and we found out who the actual love interest was going to be. She’s deeply childish with her feelings, doesn’t talk to the protagonist about said feelings, and is just super petty in how she deals with the woman she’s supposedly in love with. She won’t tell Kate that she’s into her, but then the minute Kate meets a cute girl and they start flirting Cass swoops in to break it up or she disappears and refuses to talk to Kate. This doesn’t get better as the story progresses, she’s static.

That kind of dovetails into my other issue with the book, Kate herself is sort of a wishy washy protagonist. That’s by no means a book killer for me and, given a more solid grounding on who she’s meant to be romancing and a better love interest, it might have worked out well. As is, when she’s holding a scene on her own it gets really tiring because of all the hand wringing and uncertainty. It combines with the lack of clarity on who the love interest is like a fresh summer peach and a handful of rusty tacks.

So, where does that leave us? I’m not going to lie, I really wanted to like this book, and for long stretches of it I did enjoy it. Heck, if Matthews either had excluded Cass from it or had developed her at all, I would be giving this a three or even a four. As it is, that one character takes any little problems the book has and magnifies them, leaving Don’t Bang the Barista with a two out of five.

I’m back, and I never left. But this is still a bit late, more things coming up this week. Progress is slow fixing that. I’m a little worried, but it’s workable. Also, there’s a review! Enjoy all.

FNaF The Silver Eyes cover

Ten years ago several children disappeared from Freddy Fazbear’s Pizzeria. Their bodies were never found. The restaurant closed and it’s owner committed suicide, seemingly from his inability to deal with his guilt. On the anniversary of one of the children’s death Charlie and several of her friends return to her home town to attend a memorial in his honor. Nostalgia turns to terror when she and her friends find the old pizzeria buried in an abandoned shopping mall and decide to investigate. Sometimes the past should stay forgotten. Some things never die.

So, Scott Cawthon and Kira Breed-Wrisley’s Five Nights at Freddy’s: The Silver Eyes is a bit of an interesting thing just as a concept. It’s a video game tie in novel, that isn’t canon to the games it ties into while still relying pretty heavily on the reader being familiar with the source material. The first part of that doesn’t hurt it for me, the second bit does though. In a lot of ways it’s like a cheesy horror movie in book form.

This isn’t a book that’s heavy on plot or character development, both things that I think really should have been worked on more. The plot is mostly an excuse to get our characters into the old Freddy Fazbear’s and is kind of a regurgitation of the third game’s story components. It doesn’t really do much to go into the murders themselves or the animatronics being haunted, that’s where I feel the meat of the story would have and should have been. Give me the characters having their nostalgia time and then trying to figure things out while dodging haunted robots. They could have also tightened up the ending to tie it in better.

That brings up the characters. Remember that comparison to a horror movie? That comes in big time with the cast. We get a lot of characters here, but only Charlie really matters for the vast bulk of the book. That leads to none of the cast getting a ton of development, which works in a movie with a dwindling cast but not so much here. It also leads to a couple of moments that feel out of nowhere because the characters involved weren’t acting like themselves, if the book had gone more into the supernatural stuff and used that as an explanation it could have worked, as it stands it really doesn’t.

That said, and bringing up that I read it because the games interest me, I did have fun reading this book. Part of that is that while the characters don’t work when it’s all of them together, because they kind of run together, the smaller scenes with just one or two characters really work at times. I enjoyed Charlie going back to her childhood home and seeing how things hadn’t changed in the house itself. That bit had really good character work and built tension well. The characters’ excitement over maybe seeing the old pizzeria again was great and could have worked into the horror really well.

So, where does this all leave Five Nights at Freddy’s: The Silver Eyes? While I had fun reading it, the book could have done a lot more with its material and its characters. Could have, but didn’t, and that’s really my big problem with it. I’d have liked to have seen a smaller, more developed cast and for the plot to show up faster and more coherently. For all that, I’m still giving it a three out of five. It could have done a lot more, but I still enjoyed it.