Category: Rating


I return! I’m pretty happy with this one, hopefully I’ll be just as happy with the next one. This one’s thanks to Curiosity Quills Press, here is Richard Roberts’ Please Don’t Tell My Parents I’ve Got Henchmen. Enjoy!

Please Dont Tell My Parents Ive Got Henchmen cover

Teen super villain Penny Akk has bested adult heroes and villains, been to Jupiter, and caused a super hero to start heroing just to stop her. She’s super successful at villainy. But it isn’t what she wants. When she takes up a classmate’s challenge in an attempt to solidify herself as a hero she fails but opens the doors for her classmates to reveal their own powers. Suddenly it seems that every super powered kid wants to join the club Penny and her friends started to cover for their Inscrutable Machine activities or fight her, sometimes both. With a ton of kids suddenly looking up to here, a wanna be rival sparking for a fight, and a relationship building it’s going to be an odd semester.

Please Don’t Tell My Parents I’ve Got Henchmen returns to the familiar world a super hero inhabited Earth and to the closer setting of the characters’ middle school. This works massively to the book’s advantage though as it gives a good basis for the characters to know each other and interact, putting the new characters on a solid footing right from the start. It also brings things back to the level of Penny worrying about her parents discovering her secret identity while trying to work out a way to ditch Bad Penny for good.

That’s a bit of a double sided thing here. It feels in a lot of ways like the Audit, Penny’s mom and retired hero, is either willfully deluding herself or not nearly as perceptive as she’s meant to be. But it’s still fun to see Penny interacting more with her parents again after not seeing them for most of the last book. Plus it sort of feeds into this family aspect that’s started off early on with the Inscrutable Machine being called on to help convince a retired villain to rejoin his family and be the father he wants to be.

A lot of things sort of echo down in this one and let the reader in on more of Penny figuring out who she wants to be. Her parents forbid super activity early on, leading to her also being unable to do things as Bad Penny, which slows things down a little. It also gives us this fun space for development though. We see Clair getting more into her cat burglar thing, following in her mother’s footsteps, and Ray is working out what he wants to do with himself and his powers.

There’s also this fantastic thing with the other super powered kids, they want what it seems like Penny has. They want to be able to practice with their powers and not to have to hide them. So, suddenly the club that our protagonists started to hide their super villainous exploits is full of all these kids who have seen what they’ve done and want to learn. That gives us room for all these scenes with these characters first seeing things like the Chinatown super villain weekends or even just meeting some of the various supers for the first time. It’s a nice reminder of how awestruck Clair and Ray were back in the first book as well as being a cool way to introduce some of these new characters’ personalities and abilities.

That said, there are a few weird characterization moments where it sort of feels like this one character wasn’t meant to be antagonistic but then part way through just sort of remembered that she really didn’t like Penny. It’s a little jarring. There was also this bit towards the beginning regarding super villains Rage and Ruin’s relationship that felt super awkward and unnecessary, it didn’t add anything or do much for the scene.

Those bits were really the only things that took away from my enjoyment of the book though. I really enjoyed the new characters and want to see more done with them in future books. And it left me excited to see what’s going to happen next. So, that earns Please Don’t Tell My Parents I’ve Got Henchmen with a four out of five.

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I had a hard time writing this one. It gets minorly spoilery, due in part to the official blurb itself . This one’s thanks to netGalley for providing me a copy for review. Here’s Sean Grigsby’s Daughters of Forgotten Light. Enjoy!

Daughters of Forgotten Light cover

Oubliette, prison city, population: forgotten. Unwanted. Worthless. The women society doesn’t want. It’s been Lena Horror’s home for the past ten years. A flimsy truce keeps everyone from killing each other. Keeps the gangs mostly in line. At least, until something unexpected arrives in the quarterly supply drop. Back on Earth, Senator Linda Dolfuse has been ordered to find an excuse to wipe the prisoners off of Oubliette to allow good, honest citizens of the United Continent of North America a chance at a better future away from the frozen Earth and its endless war. Seems like a smooth enough job until she sees something on the drone footage that shouldn’t be there, the baby she’d given up.

This is one of those books that I started reading ready to love it. The concept of a prison world ruled by motorcycle gangs where unwanted and misbehaving women are sent to be forgotten, that’s something that has a lot of potential. Unfortunately the writing just doesn’t stand up to the concept.  Similarly, the Earth side portions, where corrupt politicians live big while their constituents are often forced to sell their children to Oubliette or the massive unending war just to survive, could have been fascinating. That concept could have carried a book on its own if it had been done well. It just doesn’t. And then, of course, we have the mess with the baby.

The baby thing bothers me, in part because it could have been done so much better, but largely because it lands the book with a bunch of hardened prisoners who all want this helpless kid for what feels like no reason. Each gang is only allowed six members and, even with the treaty keeping outright murder from happening, none of them should be willing to give up one of those slots for something that’s such a handicap against the other two gangs. Of course this means that all three gang leaders want the kid, because reasons? I keep coming back to that. I don’t want to say that they all want the baby because women, but it feels an awful lot like that. The cannibals want her, the all black gang wants her, and Horror wants her. Horror wants the kid mind, not the Daughters as a whole. It also isn’t even like the baby was a secret test and the drone was sent to see how the prisoners would react to her, the drone came way later in the book and existed just long enough to force the two stories together.

The time line is super vague. Three months pass between our introductory supply drop and the one the drone shows up on. That’s three months for both Senator Dolfuse on Earth and the prisoners on Oubliette, with it being repeatedly mentioned that there is nothing to do on Oubliette except fighting or having sex. Three months where Horror and the Daughters of Forgotten Light seemingly do nothing except get their new member, Sarah, her motorcycle and her weapon. Then it’s like Horror remembers that the cannibals have that baby she wanted and she’d been itching to break the truce her mentor set up anyway, let’s go take the kid despite having not prepared for a fight at all.

The worst of this is, the three month gap was taken up with Senator Dolfuse’s adventures in ill defined guilt and getting the drone on the shipment. She’s probably the single character we spend the most time with, but she feels way less important than the others. The Earth bits would have probably served better as shorter segments that attempted less with the world building, as is, they just felt like they dragged on forever without showing anything for it. It could have been great to see Dolfuse checking in more actively with the Vice President, or having her interact with characters that are against shipping, showing her growing awareness and how she changes as a result. That could have been aces.

If we had seen any character development, that would have been great. Most of the women on Oubliette are terribly static, which isn’t helped by the vague timeline because there isn’t really anything for them to grow from. Horror we see being aggressive and murdery, but it feels empty because she’s just like that, either ready for violence or ignoring everything because baby. The new girl goes from being afraid of everything, including the other Daughters, to being jaded and nearly as violent as Horror in the space of something like three paragraphs. She gets what feels like way too much page space talking about how Oubliette has taught her not to trust anyone when we don’t see Oubliette teaching her not to trust. It doesn’t work, especially given that early on Sarah feels like she’s meant to be the reader’s view point into the workings of Oubliette, and we never really get that either.

Even leaving aside the character issues, the world building really isn’t there for me on this one either. There are so many things that feel like they need explanations that just get breezed by. Why are only men sent to the army? Why wasn’t an eye already being kept on Oubliette to make sure that they weren’t just dropping prisoners into an airless void? Why not provide something for the women on Oubliette to do with their lifetime of being stuck in the middle of nowhere? How can the UCNA afford to ship these women to space and fight this massive war, but then food is horribly scarce and the average citizen is in real trouble of needing to sell one of their kids to survive? It’s all very forced feeling, things need to happen so that the plot can exist, but they can’t be gone into deeply enough to feel solid because reasons. I really feels like the author was trying to fit two or three books worth of information and ideas into half a plot.

Daughters of Forgotten Light is a book that I really, really wanted to like. I was excited to start it despite the baby thing in the blurb. I mean, really, space motorcycle gangs and a plot from Earth to wipe them out, that falls right in my wheel house. It just didn’t have nearly enough substance to it, everything felt half done and under baked with a rush to the end that leaves neither a satisfying conclusion nor the possibility of a next time. There were a lot of cool ideas. But then they felt wasted when nothing came of them. I finished the book not caring if anything changed for the better, if anything changed at all. I feel like Sean Grigsby could be a really decent author with a couple more books under his belt and a better feel for character and flow. After this, I’m not likely to be there for it though. Daughters of Forgotten Light gets a one out of five.

This came out later than planned. This one’s thanks to the awesome folks at Curiosity Quills Press. Here’s Richard Roberts’ Please Don’t Tell My Parents I Blew Up The Moon. Enjoy!

Please Dont Tell My Parents I Blew Up the Moon cover

Bad Penny and the rest of the Implacable Machine are bored out of their minds. Going back to school after a break full of super villainy and fighting heroes both their own age and grown up will do that. So of course they jump at the chance to visit Jupiter and see things no human has before. No human except the ones who already live there. With a homemade space ship and the help of a giant spider the Implacable Machine will see everything from alien invaders to robot overlords and the colonies trapped between them. With any luck, they’ll be able to help the rebels and their new friend get their homes back and be on their way towards heroism.

Please Don’t Tell My Parents I Blew Up The Moon follows Please Don’t Tell My Parents I’m a Super Villain pretty directly with the Implacable Machine trying to settle back into day to day school lives. It’s got a really strong start there, giving the reader a taste of how dull things are after Penny and company have gone toe to toe with some of the best of the best but then have to go back to being just kids. It gives the reader one of a number of good reasons why the team is so ready to take up Spider’s offer to see what lies beyond the asteroid belt first hand. But it also pulls back a little to anchor things back in the reality of the setting, which is good because the book goes way out there.

This one feels a lot slower than the previous book, largely due to the necessity of doing all the world building for the Puppeteers and the Jupiter colonies and, and, and. This is unfortunate because it slows the book down just enough that it makes it easy to put down. There are all these places being introduced and their rules and culture and it leads to things feeling a little flat. The Puppeteers are scary aliens that can take over people and force them to do whatever. One of the colonies is very steam punk flavored and people are constantly being told what to do by the automatons that functionally rule the place. It feels sketched out but not quite filled in.

There’s a similar problem with some of the characterization. The new friend character bounces between being totally cool with Penny’s powers and how they work and then freaked out about it and jealous over how her brothers and everyone else react to Penny’s power. It’s like a switch flips when Roberts felt the situation demanded it. It doesn’t tend to feel like it fits, like there should have been more build for it and more awareness on Penny’s part. The final boss of the novel has a similar issue, though I can’t really go into that without spoilers.

There are parts that are a ton of fun, especially early on before they reach the Jupiter colonies. The whole bit surrounding the Red Herring being built is a lot of fun. Plus the little bits of Penny and company in class and their classmates’ reactions to Penny’s power manifesting make for a couple of nice notes that what she’s got going on is out of the ordinary. I’m also interested in seeing how the workings of her power continue to develop, given the way Mourning Dove reacts to it and how much it seems to be capable of when given free reign. I’m really excited to see more of all that as the series continues.

As and over all thing, I enjoyed Please Don’t Tell My Parents I’m a Super Villain more than Please Don’t Tell My Parents I Blew Up The Moon. While both needed world building it flowed much better for me in the first book, likely due to being set in our world but with supers.  I would have liked to see more put into the new characters introduced, but I feel like at least a couple of them are going to show up again later, so it seems pretty reasonable that they would get more development then. Please Don’t Tell My Parents I Blew Up The Moon is nowhere near a bad book though and I am very much looking forward to reading the next one, so it gets a three out of five.

Late again. Sorry all, things have been sort of running in all directions and I feel like I can’t catch up. That aside, this is the first in a series that I’m going to be reviewing the entirety of thanks to the awesome folks at Curiosity Quills Press. Here is Richard Roberts’ Please Don’t Tell My Parents I’m a Super Villain. Enjoy!

Please Dont Tell My Parents Im a Super Villan cover

Penelope Akk wants to be a hero like her parents. She knows her power will activate any day now and she’s more than ready to prove herself. When it hits like a lightning bolt of inspiration and leaves her with a new tool that is more than amazing, she’s on her way to greatness. At least, she thinks she is until a confrontation with a hero’s sidekick leaves her and her friends labeled villains. Turns out that no matter how much she wants to be a hero, Penny Akk is really good at being a super villain and her friends aren’t all too ready to talk her out of it. Might as well have fun while it lasts, right?

Richard Robert’s Please Don’t Tell My Parents I’m a Super Villain is something of an odd duck of a novel. There’s this whole world built up with heroes and villains and powers. There were aliens that invaded awhile back, but no one’s seen them in forever. Then we have the protagonists sort of getting dropped into all of this. They’re all varying degrees of familiar with the world’s heroes and villains, Penny because of her parents and Clair and Ray due to being into the fandoms, but this is the first time they’re in the middle of it all. It’s odd but easy to go along with.

This book was a lot of fun in a way that I haven’t seen in a while. There’s this massive element of embraced silliness that comes with the whole super villain deal, largely because we’re seeing them as people interacting with, essentially, comrades rather than just antagonists. The little mistakes that Penny makes when telling the Machine to do certain things because she simply hadn’t thought of them are great. They’re a sort of growing pains for a villainous mastermind in training deal. The bits with Clair just goofing around in her bear suit or geeking out about various heroes and villains with Ray do a great job of keeping the tone light and fun.

The various villains that the team winds up rubbing shoulders with are likewise really entertaining. A special focus is given to the other mad scientists, who each have their own particular theme or type of tech that they specialize in, but it winds up being a bit like seeing all the members of this one club grouped up. They rib each other and joke around about their various inventions and how they work. There’s this fantastic character, Apparition, who I feel like I would read a book about on her own. Another character Lucyfar feels like she could also be a favorite of mine later on in the series. Plus, the villains take the protagonists seriously and treat them like they know what they’re doing. The heroes don’t, which feels a little weird all said.

There are a handful of places where it feels like the team winds up doing villainous things because the plot demands it rather than because it fits entirely with what’s going on with the characters. I also found myself wishing that more was done with Miss A, the sidekick who kicks off the Inscrutable Machine’s villainy, because she felt like she could have been such a fantastic antagonist for them. In addition to that, her whole plan to flush out the children of super villains that she’s convinced are at her school is terribly irresponsible and breaks with the idea of not making it personal that’s sort of threaded through a lot of the discussion of hero/villain dynamics. She’s pretty implicitly breaking the understood rules with that and I want to see something come of it.

That said, there’s time for something to come of it, and I’m interested in seeing what comes next. There’s a lot of promise to the world here and Please Don’t Tell My Parents I’m a Super Villain gives really good bones for the series to come. It earns a four out of five and I’m going to be coming back to this series later on.

Well, this isn’t when I intended to post this. Life kind of ate my ability to get this one polished up for Friday, which is unfortunate. Having finished the series and written reviews for all three books, I find myself kind of wanting to do a spoiler-y overview of the whole deal. Talk about the things I enjoyed more in depth and bring up a few of the places that I think it could have been stronger overall. That might be a project for later. In any case, here’s Five Nights at Freddy’s: The Fourth Closet by Scott Cawthon and Kira Breed-Wrisley. Enjoy!

FNaF The Fourth Closet cover

The past isn’t easy to escape. Charlie died, John was there when it happened, but a woman with her face showed up at the dinner days later. He’s certain it wasn’t her no matter how the rest of their friends insist. Some things aren’t meant to be forgotten. There’s a new pizzeria in Hurricane, Circus Baby’s Pizza. Kids are disappearing again. Just like ten years ago. Strange things are happening, Charlie isn’t herself and nothing she’s doing or saying adds up. Jessica doesn’t want to believe John, but what if he’s right? Carlton, Jessica, Marla, and John have a few more answers to find if they want to lay the past to rest.

I have mixed feelings on this one. Five Nights at Freddy’s: The Fourth Closet is meant to be the final book in the trilogy started back in The Sliver Eyes. There are a number of good moments here, places where things just click and they work really well. But clunky scenes and spots where things just don’t feel solid are also interspersed throughout. There’s been this B movie feel to the books so far. Things haven’t needed to makes absolute sense because it’s been fun enough to make up for it, there’s only so serious you can get with haunted animatronics after all. The Fourth Closet tries to be a more dramatic book, so a lot of the B movie vibes don’t carry as well.

Part of this is down to how rushed the various story lines can feel. We go from the question of if the new woman was Charlie to the reveal of her being an antagonist in what feels like no time at all. There’s a lot early on of John’s life falling apart due after Charlie’s death that drags on for a couple chapters, but doesn’t really do anything once the story gets rolling. There’s a lot that feels like it should have been introduced earlier and allowed to build longer for better impact. A lot of things feel like they should have been given more weight within the story but where cut short to rush on to the next thing.

That’s sort of the major thing for me on this one. When The Fourth Closet lets characters be the focus within the plot it can work really, really well. There’s a bit where resident fashion girl, Jessica, is trapped by the antagonists and has to keep safe and try and figure out what they’re doing. The reader gets to see her forcing herself to think on other things to stay calm, we get to see her being competent and focused. Her confrontation with one of the animatronics is one of my favorite parts of the book. Another character, Carlton, gets a lot of really good lines that reflect his previous funny man characterization. But then he also gets a really nice character arc that picks up his feelings of having failed his best friend from The Silver Eyes. Even Charlie and Circus Baby get a couple of nice moments, though I wish there had been more lead up to those moments.

I do feel like John was the major weak point in the character work though. Any empathy for Circus Baby sort of hinges on the reader being familiar with her from the games’ lore, she really needed that lead up as more than just another monster. But that’s sort of expected at this point, the Five Nights at Freddy’s novels are an alternate universe to the games but still pull heavily from them. John doesn’t really have that excuse. He’s billed as the protagonist of this novel, but then he doesn’t really do anything that any of the other characters couldn’t have. Most of what he does do is bone headed and could have been easily worked around. He’s the not love interest who seems desperate to be in love with the idea of Charlie rather than the character herself. The other characters have their own lives going on outside of the plot, things that happen outside of undead murderers and possessed robots. John doesn’t have that and is a much weaker character for it. He needed something outside of his feelings regarding Charlie to work.

I feel like that’s as far as I can go without delving into major spoilers. In a lot of ways, I feel like The Fourth Closet should have been broken up into two books and more time given to both the new batch of missing kids and Charlie and not Charlie. It’s very wanting in more room to spread out and show the best of itself. There are some legitimately tense scenes here that I really enjoyed. There are some emotional scenes that are good, but that could have been so much more if only we had more time to process them. There’s the big reveal that could have been so awesome, if it had been built up better or if characters were given time to react to it and themselves process it. It’s fun, but flawed in serious ways, which nets Five Nights at Freddy’s: The Fourth Closet a three out of five. I’d revisit this series again if another book was released.

This one was a bit difficult to get written. I enjoyed it a great deal, but didn’t have a ton to say about it. That said, this one’s thanks to the awesome folks at First Second. Here’s Hope Larson’s All Summer Long. Enjoy!

All Summer Long cover

Bina and Austin have been friends forever and with summer vacation starting she’s excited to get started on their yearly Summer Fun Index. At least, she’s excited until finding out he’s headed to soccer camp instead. There’s a waiting list and he’s super excited, but that leaves Bina alone for a month with nothing to do. She practices her guitar and watches way too much tv, but the summer doesn’t really get started until she finds herself hanging out with Austin’s older sister Charlie. When Austin comes home, he’s acting weird and distant and embarrassed. They’ve been friends forever, but are Bina and Austin growing apart or just growing up?

All Summer Long is an interesting slice of life, a school summer vacation from the middle of middle school. The time where things start changing super quickly and the people you’ve always known start growing into new versions of themselves. It’s a nifty coming of age story with a focus on music that makes me want to look up the bands mentioned.

All Summer Long is comparatively short, hitting the high notes of the summer rather than the entirety of it. Though, in a lot of ways that feels a lot like my memories of summer vacation. Bina’s friends are all away, her best friend isn’t texting her back, and her parents want her to do homework instead of watching tv. She’s in for a boring one until she starts hanging out with Charlie and listening to the Steep Street album Austin lent her before he left. She’s got family stuff happening, but happy family stuff, with her older brother and his husband adopting a baby. It’s coming of age stuff, and most of it’s cute. The parts that aren’t are the kind of arguments that come from growing pains, for all the characters involved.

I don’t have much more to say about this one. I enjoyed it a lot and, like a lot of First Second books, think it would be a great fit for a middle school library. Hope Larson did really good work here, this is something I’ve read multiple times leading up to reviewing it. I give All Summer Long a five out of five.

Going up a little late, not terrible though. I admit, I spent most of the day in line at the book store and hunting down a novel I’ve been massively looking forward to. That’s for later though. This time I’ve got Leander Watts’ Meet Me in the Strange for you, courtesy of netGalley. Enjoy!

Meet Me in the Strange cover

Davi’s life is comfortable, if uneventful. Uneventful, at least until that Django Conn show and Anna Z. Uneventful, until the gorgeous girl and all her talk talk talking about the alien drift and other dimensions. Uneventful, until Anna Z.’s brother comes hunting for her and they make a run for it, following Django Conn and all the glister and glam that follows the man and his music.

There is a level of oddity I expect from a book titled Meet Me in the Strange. Even more so when it features a rock star/ possible otherworldly being as a major part of the story. Leander Watts presents something a bit beyond the expected level of odd, though enjoyable so.

This is a book that thrives on its setting and the interactions between Davi and Anna Z., or rather how taken with Anna Z. Davi is. She does most of the talking between the two of them, and it paints these fantastic jumbles of ideas and thoughts. Frankenstein’s monsters and souls from the way way out there, the evolution and change of humanity and a sort of mutation of the soul, it’s got this fantastic patter to it that dances along to an almost hypnotizing beat. She’s out there and disconnected, but then it works.

Then there’s the setting. There’s this whole retro-future deal where they’re talking about recent space visits and Davi’s buying music on records, but then instead of feeling set in the past it feels like the future as seen by the 80’s. The Angelus hotel is stately and elegant and a historic throwback that draws in all manner of fancy visitors. Anna Z. talks about classic horror movies and old stories in relation to Homo Lux and the alien drift. But then there’s this bright energy with the glam-boys and glister-girls and the teen speak used. It’s unfamiliar, but feels right from a words perspective. Like, I really enjoyed the slang as part of the world building because even when I didn’t get it, it felt right.

If I have an issue with the book though, it’s that the plot is really not present for most of the run of the book. The antagonist takes awhile to show up and we’re told how much of a threat he is and shown how scared of him Anna Z. is and then not a lot happens with him. When I said that the book thrives on its setting and character interactions, that’s almost all it has. This wasn’t a major problem for me because of how much I enjoyed everything else. But it is the weakest part of the book.

So, in a lot of ways Meet Me in the Strange makes me think of Ziggy Stardust era David Bowie, just with the way it feels. It’s spacey and odd and a ton of fun. It says, at times, quite a lot but also very little. The chapters are short and it feels a bit like eating chips, you just want to keep going. I actually really want to listen to some of the music from the book’s world, to catch the kind of wild brilliance that Davi and Anna Z. hear. It gets a four out of five from me. The weakness of the plot is the only thing keeping it from getting the full five.

So, it took a little longer than to the end of the night. But , it turns out I had a bit more to say than I’d thought. Worse things have happened. I spent two weeks tracking down a copy of the second book in this series, here is Sarah Kuhn’s Heroine Complex. Enjoy!

Heroine Complex cover

Aveda Jupiter is San Francisco’s super heroine, stopping demonic invasions as they crop up throughout the city. She’s brilliant at it and fantastic with the crowds. Unfortunately she’s also brilliantly difficult to work with, at least for anyone except her assistant Evie Tanaka. Unfortunately for Evie posing as Aveda Jupiter, being her while the real Aveda is out of commission, is much more difficult than just working for her. Stopping the incoming demonic invasion might just be easy by comparison.

Sarah Kuhn’s Heroine Complex was a total impulse pick for me while I was visiting my folks awhile back. The cover was cool and the blurb sounded fun. It kind of reminded me of some of the stuff I read back in high school. Plus, I just like the concept of the sidekick having to take on super hero level stuff and, through that, becoming a hero in her own right.

I liked Evie a lot, she opens up as the book progresses and lets herself have her feelings instead of keeping them locked back. Evie starts out so afraid of her feelings, afraid of what could happen if she felt strongly enough to trigger her powers. She’s afraid of the damage she could do if she lost control again. But then she’s forced to play the hero and the love interest is brought in and her feelings for him grow. She learns to not be afraid of them or of herself, which is a plot line that I enjoy greatly. It feeds into that character coming into her own, thing that I tend to enjoy so much.

I do wish less had been as reliant on the love interest, Nate, as it felt like it was. The book starts with Evie and Nate being almost at odds. He’s this big grump who serves as the team’s physician and demon researcher, he doesn’t do his share of chores around the HQ, and he’s inflexible in his methods. At least until Evie as Aveda needs a body guard/date to an event and it’s revealed that he looks really good in a suit. Then long moments are given over to Evie and Nate having couple moments and he becomes Evie’s rock. It interrupts the story and, since I’m not really here for the romance, drags more than a little. Admittedly, my issues here are almost entirely to do with how much page space the romance takes up rather than with Nate himself. He’s a solid character and it was nice to see him come out of his shell a little as he and Evie got closer.

The romance was mentioned in the blurb, so I expected it, but it felt fairly sudden and out of nowhere.  They were at odds and then they weren’t. He was an off putting grump and then he wasn’t. The turnaround is fast and I find myself wishing that there had been more of a slow burn thing going on. I also find myself wishing that it had eaten less of the page count just on its own, that more had been done make it feel like a break from the plot that gave Evie a much needed break from being something she wasn’t. It could have given a great view into her growth rather than feeling like the reason for it. This is one of the things that reminds me a lot of the stuff I was reading a decade ago and it’s the only bit I feel like I could have done without.

The flipside to the romance, something that I really enjoyed quite a bit, was Evie’s history with Aveda. This friendship that they’d had since they were grade schoolers that had kept solid for years and years through being social outsiders and the initial demon portal, through Evie’s power erupting horribly and Annie’s rise to super heroism and reinvention as Aveda Jupiter. It’s a friendship that’s gone a bit sour with Aveda’s whole super heroine diva thing and the way she tends to steamroll Evie’s thoughts and feelings on issues. Evie’s there to deal with Aveda’s temper tantrums and to guide her into better moods when things aren’t going her way, but then there doesn’t seem to be a ton she gets out of it aside from a pay check and fulfilling a sense of loyalty to her oldest friend. It was nice to see that have to change as Evie continued to stand in for Aveda and the public loved her and her power. It was nice to see how their relationship changed and strengthened as the plot rolled on.

That’s really where I land on this one. Heroine Complex was a fun nostalgic read for me. The characters were awesome and, while I could have done with less of the romance aspect, I’m definitely reading the other two books in the series. I want to spend more time with these characters, to see them grow and continue to come into their own. I want to see what Sarah Kuhn does going forward and how a world with demon portals and super heroines continues to develop. I’m giving Heroine Complex a four out of five and noting that the second book is already on my desk waiting for its chance to be read.

This was later than planned, still working on fixing that. I’ve been looking forward to this one for a long time. Thanks to  James Aquilone, here is Dead Jack and the Soul Catcher. Enjoy!

Dead Jack and the Soul Catcher cover

Dead Jack, the best zombie detective in Shadow Shade, saved Pandemonium from certain destruction. It was totally him. The cost was high though, Oswald hasn’t woken up since her took the blast from the Pandemonium Device exploding. Without Oswald there Jack’s fallen off the wagon, spending his days in a haze of dust and Devil Boy. He hasn’t had a case in weeks. Lucky for Jack an old army buddy from his living days, Garry, has tracked him down with the promise of finding their souls. Just, get someone to translate the diary Garry stole, find the alchemist who has their souls, and dodge the neo-Nazis that want to use his sidekick to wipe out Pandemonium. Nothing difficult for the best zombie detective in Shadow Shade. Right?

Dead Jack and the Soul Catcher follows a book that I enjoyed a great deal, removes a big chunk of what I liked about it, and still leaves me waiting for the next book. The last book gave us a noir style detective with all the tropes associated, but then never tried to make him right or to present his behavior as correct. Dead Jack is a massive jerk, and that’s great because he gets called on it. Here though, Oswald is out of the picture so that element of humanization is absent. Instead we get more of Dead Jack the character instead of Dead Jack the plot device, we get into his history as he’s forced to deal with feelings and memories and a lot of things that he generally doesn’t.

A lot of Jack’s memories tie into his time in World War 2, particularly dealing with his death and the horrific experiments visited upon him. The way he became Dead Jack. This works pretty fantastically to show the reader more about the man Jack had been, especially when that man and the zombie we know don’t line up quite right. That’s a fantastic draw for me. Tie it in with Dead Jack seeming to soften up to his companions a little and I’m excited to see where his characterization goes from here.

Now, the group of neo-Nazis who had been experimenting on him follow Garry into the story. They’re after the diary and him again, but more than that, they want Oswald as part of a plan to steal all the souls in Pandemonium. They are the biggest threat of the book, bigger than dark elf prison guards or giant spiders or the devil himself. They have the ability to potentially bring Pandemonium to its knees. They’re weirdly obsessed with their uniforms and how nice they are. The book manages to strike a balance between making it clear that they’re fanboys for the original Nazis and that that is ridiculous and making it clear that they are an actual threat to Pandemonium and very dangerous. It also makes it incredibly satisfying when they get punched.

Much like Dead Jack and the Pandemonium Device this isn’t a super serious book and it plays with familiar tropes. I enjoy it all the more for that. This was a fun read, it maintains the quality of the first book, and it leaves me impatient for the next one. So, yeah, Dead Jack and the Soul Catcher gets a five out of five. If James Aquilone keeps this up he’s going to wind up one of my favorite authors.

Free Chocolate

Sorry about taking so long on this one. I had a lot to say but not a great way of saying any of it without spoiling the last third of the book badly. I feel like there’s a lot here that I want to flesh out elsewhere, since that would entail spoilers. In any case, this one’s courtesy of netGalley. Here’s Free Chocolate. Enjoy!

Free Chocolate cover

After the alien Krom made first contact Earth was left with one unique commodity, chocolate. Everyone in the galaxy adores the stuff and will do whatever it takes to get their hand equivalents on it. To protect itself Earth has closed its doors to the greater universe, no aliens allowed. In light of that and recent pirate attacks resulting in the accidental destruction of a civilian ship by and HGB pilot, culinary student Bodacious Benitez is summoned back to Earth to serve as the face of HGB, the Princess of Chocolate. Face of the company or not Bo has long disagreed with HGB’s methods and, with her Krom boyfriend’s help, is going to do everything she can to break HGB’s monopoly and bring chocolate to the universe.

I have a lot of thoughts on Amber Royer’s Free Chocolate. There was a lot of stuff that I feel like could have been fun and some stuff that I feel like needed more focus to work at all. More than anything, I feel like the book lacks focus. There are a number of places in Free Chocolate where it feels like Royer had three or four ideas for a book but not enough for any single one of them, so she kind of stitched them together. Things happen and don’t seem to have any consequences. There’s some stuff that gets talked about not at all, but then both Bo and the reader are expected to just roll with it. It feels disjointed.

A lot of this is down to how the book deals with its timeline. It takes ages for Bo to actually get into space and on the run from Tyson, the space cop, and then it seems like the action is constantly interrupted. There’s the corporate assassin who calls Bo repeatedly to remind her that there’s only so long until he has to hurt her family. There’s cooking for aliens while on the run and being terrified of said aliens. It slows things to a crawl and makes the book super easy to put down

There is also a linguistic thing that I feel slows Free Chocolate down as well, it also contributed to it being pretty easy to put down. There’s a number of alien languages mentioned as being spoken and a handful of words used when Bo doesn’t know them. It’s just sort of tagged and let go. But then Bo is a native Spanish speaker so, while I would expect some Spanish to be used, it’s done largely in a way that feels like the author is reminding the reader of that rather than as a natural part of how she talks. It’s this sort of immersion breaking thing that Bo never says but or head, it’s always pero or cabeza, or she’ll use a phrase and then immediately provide the translation. This wouldn’t be so bad if it weren’t for the fact that a lot of this happens in Bo’s internal monologue, so she winds up translating for an audience she shouldn’t be aware of. I feel like leaving the phrases without the extra translation could have worked well. Bo referring to Brill using various terms of endearment worked really well, I thought. It just sort of feels strange that we get more translating for the existent Earth language than the handful of alien languages.

All of that boils down to it being kind of hard to care about the characters and what’s happening to them. Bo is on the run from a massive corporation with an assassin threatening her family and a venomous space cop on her tail. She’s stuck surrounded by aliens that could easily eat her if she messes up while her boyfriend may have been playing her this whole time. All of that, with all the interruptions and characters dropping in and out in an attempt to keep the drama level high, and I really just could have cared less. Like, the pilot who’s accident kicked off the plot, he’s given this level of importance within Bo’s story that is usually saved for major side characters, love interests or best friends. But after she leaves Earth, he takes a background spot for the vast majority of the story. This is the guy she’s essentially willing to trade her life for, they knew each other for two or three days, tops. Brill, the alien boyfriend, swaps between being super loving and sketchy to no end. It’s like the story couldn’t make up its mind about if he was one of the antagonists, just using Bo to get a hold of the cacao beans, or if he legitimately cares about her and is doing something at least sort of heroic. That leaves the reader to decide about him right up until the end, but then there’s this attempt at explaining his behavior in context of Krom society, but he had not wanted to talk to Bo about Krom society so neither she nor the reader knows anything about it until then. It just doesn’t work for me. I’d have liked to have seen more of the space cop, especially the post Bo stowing away version of him, and Chestla, the cat girl TA, though. They were pretty entertaining.

The galley crew on the Zantite ship were also interesting and I found myself enjoying the cooking segments. Talking about cooking and food were the parts where Royer’s writing shines best. If this had been more of a science fiction cozy mystery thing and focused more on the food and cooking I think it could have worked better, those scenes are just that enjoyable.

That’s where I land on Free Chocolate I think. There are a lot of first novel issues here, largely in the character work and how scattered the overall plot can feel. There are the bones of something good here, but it exists in the small moments where Bo is allowed to be a chef and interact with other characters on that level. I could see Royer handling the grander scale, galactic conflict stuff after she’s written more fiction. That said, this is a book that I found incredibly easy to put down in favor of doing any number of other things. So, I’m giving Free Chocolate a two out of five with the note that, while I’m not likely to read the inevitable sequel, I might check out another one of Royer’s books later on in her writing career.