Category: Two Star


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.

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Devil’s Demise

So, this has been a time and a half coming, hasn’t it? I’m not planning on this being my review for the week, but I did want to get it up since I feel like I’ve been dragging my feet on it. I was sent a copy of this one by Authoright for review. This is Devil’s Demise. Enjoy!

Devils Demise cover

A killer stalks the streets of Edinburgh seeking a twisted revenge on beautiful women. Successful beautiful women. He gets off on their fear, on the power he has over them and the pain he can inflict. He’s untouchable. That is, he’s untouchable until one of his victims survives.

Lee Cockburn’s Devil’s Demise is a frustrating book for me. This is distinctly a first book, with all the pitfalls those tend to have, but it’s a first book that I had really wanted to like. There were a number of solid ideas here and I feel like the characters could have been interesting given more space to interact, but then the writing itself didn’t support them.

A lot of my issues with the writing come from the odd sort of third person omniscient thing going on. It is all tell and no show to the point that our introductions to the major characters are more or less just lists of traits and how other people react to them. After being told so much how evil and terrible the antagonist was, the serial killer who had committed multiple on page rapes, it started to feel more than a bit like Cockburn didn’t trust her audience to understand but that she also didn’t know how to get it across better. Likewise, being told how good and honest and hardworking the protagonist was without being shown much at all of her doing her job, I started to not believe it, she complains about her boss and worries about her maybe girlfriend a lot though. This continues throughout the book, we get told how bad the protagonist feels about failing to catch the killer or how she and her maybe girlfriend are just so into each other or how terrible and glory hogging the boss character is. It’s distracting and leaves me feeling very little for the characters except mild annoyance.

It’s also all very declarative. The characters don’t so much speak as they declare things at each other. When a situation is meant to have humor, it gets noted that that’s just the sort of gallows humor police all have.  This is, again, very repetitive. It ties into how everything is told to the reader while also making the characters feel less human because the way they communicate is just off.

The book also has a weirdly huge focus on all the sex these characters are having. It feels like if you cut out all the sex scenes the book would be a third its total length, half if you removed the consensual sex scenes. I’m probably exaggerating somewhat but this is a book that interrupted itself multiple times, completely breaking tension, to show characters having sex. The sex scenes themselves wound up feeling repetitive and emotionless and half the time I had trouble figuring out just what characters were doing. Though, again, that feeds into the book being so reliant on telling the reader everything. If the action isn’t being shown, then it is going to feel stilted.

That’s really as far as I can get into the writing without going into spoiler territory. As I’ve said before, this was a book I really wanted to like. The concept of a serial killer driven to punish successful women by his own feelings of not being given the respect he deserves is an interesting one for me. Mission driven serial killers are terrifying. I liked the idea of one of his victims surviving and becoming the focus of his hunt, because a single victim could give the reader more time to get to know them and identify. We did get a fair amount of time with the victim, but we spent a lot more with the killer and that just felt weird for me. I feel like stepping back from the killer, leaving him more in the shadows and more a mystery would have been a benefit to the book. I really didn’t want to know how hard he got every time he thought about hurting women.

Ultimately, I’m left disappointed by Devil’s Demise. It’s a book I wanted to like and it had a number of ideas that could have been good. Unfortunately, the writing and the repetition of descriptions and opinions wrecked it for me. I feel like Cockburn could be a solid writer with more practice and the benefit of a second pass with an editor. I wouldn’t read the next book in this series, but might try out one after she has had more practice. Devil’s Demise gets a two out of five from me.

I’ve got a review written this week, and it’s even on time! This one’s thanks to the awesome folks at Tor, here is R. S. Belcher’s The Night Dahlia. Enjoy!

The Night Dahlia cover

Caern Ankou has been missing for several years. All the trails are cold and have been for quite some time. In desperation, her father brings in Laytham Ballard the only former Nightwise in the organization’s history. It’s simple, find the girl, save the soul of his lost love. Thing is, if Ballard wants to find Caern, he’s going to have to chase her across the world to do so. He’ll have to face former friends, old enemies, even the case that’s left him haunted ever since. Nothing to it.

The Night Dahlia is an interesting book in that it earned its way up from a one star read to a three star read and then back down to a two. There were cool ideas, yes, some of the ideas here were really cool. Some of the scenes were cool, but for every cool or impactful scene there are three that nullify anything that could have worked with them.

In a lot of ways, The Night Dahlia doesn’t feel confident. There’s this feeling like Belcher wasn’t comfortable with the emotive weight of key scenes and felt the need to hammer them home shortly after to make sure that the reader gets it. That lack of confidence killed a lot of moments for me, especially towards the end where the story hit a lot of what should have been big character moments only to fritter them away. It all winds up being a bit too neat considering how much of a mess the protagonist is supposed to be.

Laytham Ballard himself is also a big part of why a lot of scenes didn’t work. His whole deal is that he’s a bad man, a fallen hero driven rogue by one bad case. But then he spends enough of his time drunk or high or generally running away from himself and the plot that I could believe that he’s washed up, as so many minor characters tell him, but I have a hard time seeing him as more than that. He can come across as the creepy guy at the occult shop, insisting that he just knows a girl is a sensual creature just by looking and describing nearly every woman he runs into’s breasts. He can come across as slimy for the same reasons, plus his constant dodging of the rules of his contract. But Ballard doesn’t come across as the wicked fallen hero that he seems to want to be. There’s a scene that shows what could have been, where he’s legitimately kind of frightening and inflicts a pretty awful curse on a number of people because one of them annoyed him, but that’s once.

That actually feeds into a lot of my issues with The Night Dahlia and Laytham Ballard in particular.  It might be due to missing some of the set up in Nightwise, but a lot of the book just doesn’t land for me. Ballard makes a big point of talking about how his magic style is a mutt thrown together with stuff that works best for him, that could be really cool. But then, when he uses magic, his big thing is using his chakras and pushing energy through them. He uses the specific names of the chakras he’s using but then doesn’t generally explain what that means and the magic isn’t given sensory detail often beyond boiling or bubbling up through whichever chakra he’s using, so it winds up feeling lazy and a little disorienting.  Things just sort of pop up that could have been interesting concepts but either aren’t gone into or just feel too out there. Like Ballard having a random musical interlude at a bar while out looking for clues, he just sort of gets pulled into playing a set with some local band. Everyone there knows his old band and is just super pumped for this random guy to jump on with the band they actually came to see. A lot of it feels like is exists in service to Laytham Ballard rather than the plot.

There’s this really great bit about half way through that shows us a younger Ballard on the big life ruining case. It contextualizes him, gives a foundation to a lot of the things he does in the present day of the story. There’s still messy bits to the writing itself, but it does a lot to make me care about that version of Ballard. But then we jump back to the present and a Ballard who is still in the middle of his bad decisions and is still more about doing things his way than getting to the bottom of things. There’s a character arc here, but it’s done in a way that feels sort of fractured. Like I mentioned about, scenes that should have emotional impact happen but either only sort of land or don’t feel like they have any consequences.  Of course things not landing makes everything feel less impactful.

That’s where I’m left with The Night Dahlia. It had some nifty ideas, some moments that could have been super solid, and some just odd stuff. But it never landed right. It’s a book that felt like it had earned a single star up to around the half way mark and then nearly earned its way back down. It sort of always felt like I was just a touch out of the loop or hadn’t done my homework. The Night Dahlia gets a two out of five.

Ahhhhh, I got this thing read and reviewed in less than a day. I feel wired. So this is the first book in The Essential World of Darkness and seems to be one of the few to have received a print run prior to the omnibus. We’re starting Halloween off with vampires. Enjoy!

Vampire Diary The Embrace cover

Auston Jacobson is many things. A runaway, a pastor’s son, a bartender, but he’s no monster. Not even with the horrible dreams he’s been having lately. The hunting dreams that he remembers so clearly. The ones where he wakes up sweating and aching. He only started the diary because Danya, the cute girl who comes to the bar a lot, suggested it. It gives them something to talk about. But it’s scaring him more and more.

Vampire Diary: The Embrace was written by Robert Weinberg and Mark Rein-Hagen with art by Daniel Thron and Chris Elliott. This book was hard to read, literally difficult to make out what the words on the page said, hard to read. Vampire Diary: The Embrace is the story of a young man coming into his own and then losing it all to something far more dangerous than he could have imagined. The concept and story are both pretty simple and interesting in their own right. I like the idea of a diary style book from the view point of someone being stalked by a vampire, it’s interesting.

Interesting is really the only thing this book really has going for it. The story has a lot of potential, but the writing is really basic and can get super overblown. It gets so bad that it’s funny at points. The concept is solid and it is definitely the kind of thing I would keep in character for a Vampire game, but it doesn’t totally work here because of the protagonist. He’s too much, nothing is just a thing, everything is big and probably leads back to his dad and how bad his dad treated him. The parts with Danya were pretty solid though, mostly because those bits were love song overblown rather than teenage sad poetry overblown.

My big issue with this book is its presentation. The combination of art and text is reminiscent of the blurbs in the World of Darkness source books. It’s super messy though, with art overlaid with text and pages where the lay out breaks the flow and really should have been done better. More thought to how this would affect the reader’s ability to enjoy the story would have been fantastic. Though, part of the layout issues might be that I’m reading a later reprinting rather than the original printing of the book. There are pages here that hurt my eyes to try and decipher with the art and text laid over each other.

I feel like this book would have been a lot better if the art had been more separated from the text. The pages where art covered the text itself hurt my eyes to try and read, thought those pages were also some of the most overblown bits so they may have been meant to be skipped. I’m not entirely sure. I’ve said it a lot but, while there’s a lot of potential to this, the book isn’t good. I’m giving it a two out of five.

Frost

Not much to blurb about today. It’s quiet in my neck of the woods and that’s pretty ok. I did wind up cutting several things from today’s review for spoilery reasons. So, if you all are cool with tagged spoilers in the reviews, let me know in the comments. Today’s book is courtesy of the nice folks at Scholastic. Here’s Frost. Enjoy!

Frost cover

At sixteen Frost has never been outside the apartment she grew up in, and with good reason, the world outside is a hunting ground for ravenous cannibals and robots gone rogue. It hasn’t been a safe place to live since before she can remember. She needs to leave though. Her pet, Romes, is dying and she can’t bear to see him in pain. Even as the memories of her father try to hold her back, to keep her in her safe prison with the family robot for company and protections, she knows she has to leave and save the only living thing left to her. She grew up on stories about the utopia at the other end of the city, the Battery, where all the science that’s been lost still exists. With Bunt’s help she might be able to make it.

So, M. P. Kozlowsky’s Frost is an odd book. I mean that in a lot of ways. Part of this comes from the fact that Frost feels very much like the first book in a series rather than a standalone novel. It builds slowly for a good two thirds of its page count, then crams in a ton of stuff that could be pay off but that also feels like set up for next time. This book is kind of a mish mash of ideas, so it can be a little difficult to separate them all out.

Let’s start there though. This book is a mess of ideas that could be really cool but then don’t really go anywhere. There’s too many separate threats and concepts for the time spent on any of them. We get a lot about Frost’s feelings and several imaginary flashbacks to before everything fell apart, but not a ton of world building. For example, the Days of Bedlam are the in world name for whatever happened to lead to the current world. It involved robots. That’s about all I know about it from reading the book. Building on that could have been a great way to show more of the world and to explain some of the other stuff. The cannibalistic Eaters, the Broot, the rogue robots, even the climate being messed up all seems to stem from this one set of events. How? It’s mostly waved away as people going too far and it blowing up in their faces, but that’s not satisfying and ,again, leads to this feeling like the start of a series.

There’s also not a lot going on here in the character department. Frost is our ingénue main character innocent, naïve, and just out to save her pet but she doesn’t really seem to change or grow in the course of the book. She’s out in the world for the first time in her life, finds out all this life changing stuff, deals with some seriously messed up situations, but then at the end she’s not a more mature character or more aware. She’s still desperately searching for the same thing she was at the beginning of the book and with not a lot of change in the tone of it.

But she inspires hope in people who meet her, that’s got to count for something, right? Not so much. The side characters she inspires hope in, Flynn and Barrow, are initially written as being hardened by the world they live in and the tragedies of their pasts. Then in comes this random girl, who is super sure that if she can just reach this mythical place she’ll be able to save her pet. She’s so sure of this thing that they both think is impossible at best that they both start believing in hope again. Flynn this could work with if it was done better. He’s the same age as Frost and, despite his tragic back story, is given several moments where he’s shown to want something to believe in. His father, Barrow, not so much. Barrow’s arc feels like it was cut short, which is unfortunate, it was a pretty standard “guy wants to protect his kid even if it means doing questionable things” but it felt more grounded than any of the other character arcs.

A lot of my issues boil down to being issues about character work or world building. There’s a lot of potential to Frost, lots of interesting ideas. In a few instances there’s a quality pay off to an idea established earlier, but there isn’t enough of that for the book as it stands. The book is also very simple both in how it deals with its characters and how the reader is fed how characters feel, almost to the point of it just being straight up telling. In a more solidly written book that wouldn’t have been as much of a problem, but here it goes back to feeling like the author had so many ideas that he didn’t have time to develop any of them.

That’s kind of where I ultimately land on Frost. It’s way too underdeveloped, if Kozlowsky had taken any one of the ideas he introduced here and focused on it the book could have been fantastic. Most of the other issues I had could have been forgiven if the story had been tighter. As it stands though everything is too scattered and underdone so what could have been a solid three to four book winds up being a two out of five, not because it offends me but because it needed so much more work. I might give Kozlowsky’s writing another shot down the road, but it would need to be a book that I’d heard good things about.

I’m late again. Not going to lie, this one was hard to write. LArgely because a lot of my issues with the book stemmed from spoilery things that were hard to write around and I didn’t want to do a spoiler filled review. This one’s from NetGalley. Enjoy!

Moonbreaker cover

Eddie Drood, former head of the Drood family and very secret agent, is a dead man. He was attacked and poisoned by Dr. DOA and cannot last much longer. To prevent anyone else getting hurt Eddie and Molly Metcalf, former magical terrorist turned ally and love interest, are going to do whatever it takes to stop Dr. DOA. If that means dealing with the Unforgiven God, fighting the Drood family’s past mistakes, or even going to the moon to prevent a world ending weapon from being used, well that’s just business as usual.

Moonbreaker is another book that is far into its series, leading to me having a number of issues with both the characters and story. That makes me worry a little about being fair to the story, especially given that I can’t help comparing it to books from Simon R. Green’s Nightside series which is set in the same world.

The characters, particularly Eddie himself, were a fair part of my issue here. Imagine that James Bond knew that he was kind of awful and was perfectly happy to explain that to his companion and, by extension, the reader. Also MI6 has not only hunted Bond in the past, but also has a habit of hording all the dangerous things and people they’ve managed to capture. Just in case. That’s the Eddie and the rest of the Drood family. For a first time series reader this makes Molly the reader’s view into the Drood family’s whole deal, and her horror with some of the things the family does just sort of gets brushed aside. It’s what and how they do things and it’s always been that way. That annoys me. I’m good with protagonists that aren’t golden heroes who do no wrong and help everyone, those guys get boring, this isn’t that. The Droods feel so married to the grey area that I just couldn’t get invested in them or Eddie.

My other problems is that the plot feels almost fractured. There are several conflicts that crop up that have little to do with stopping Dr. DOA or could have done better as the main conflict of another story. There are enough of those that by the time we get to the climax of the story there just isn’t any tension. Eddie’s presented as pretty boringly unstoppable for most of the book’s run due to his Drood armor, only being weakened by the poison in any meaningful way in the last quarter or so of the book, which doesn’t help with all the little conflicts feeling unimportant. Then the book was over and I could only be disappointed.

Molly was pretty awesome though. I kind of want to read a series about her. What didn’t work with Eddie being so, so over powered because of his armor, sort of worked in Molly’s favor. She’s also supposed to be super powerful but, because all the Droods have this ridiculous armor, she stands out more for holding her own despite being so much weaker by comparison. She’s also the one who wants to look for an antidote or something instead of just letting Eddie have his death. Trying to find a cure would have actually worked better for me as the B conflict that a lot of the other stuff and it could have hit a lot of the same beats the book did anyway.

Where does that leave Moonbreaker? Despite my best efforts, I know that my enjoyment of the older Nightside books leaves me more disappointed in this one than I would otherwise be. That’s not really fair to this book as a standalone and, again, it being later in the series doesn’t help things. I feel like there were a lot of good ideas here that wound up being used as padding instead of explored as well as they could have been. But it is rushed and disjointed, so it gets a two out of five. I would read Simon R. Green again, just not this series.

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.

Trapped in Wonderland

So this is late by a couple hours. Better than days or weeks, but still. I was sent a copy of Trapped in Wonderland by the author, Dani Hoots, for an honest review as part of a blog tour. She’s been great to work with and I hope you all enjoyed her guest post earlier today. Enjoy!

The first time Alice visited Wonderland she had been shoved in a locker. The second time she had to be rescued from the White Rabbit. Now she’s trapped in a world like a dream with four boys from her school who are, it turns out, characters from the story. But dreams are dying and it will be up to Alice to save both Wonderland and her own world from the Cirque de Reves and their mysterious leader.

Dani Hoots’ Trapped in Wonderland is something of a new spin on an old classic. The Alice here is not the original Alice who told her story to Lewis Carroll. Wonderland is different, being ruled by the Kingdom of Dreams and sectioned into Zones. Also the Mad Hatter, Cheshire Cat, Doormouse, and March Hare are all cute boys. It’s different from the original, but still feels very familiar on a lot of levels.

I admit, this book frustrates me and I think a lot of that comes down to it feeling very like young. It has a lot of new writer problems like stilted dialogue and a lot of unnecessary details that could have been removed to improve the pacing. Most of the little details, like what manga Alice was reading, could have gone while keeping bigger things, like her getting up early to fix her own lunch because she wants to have a bento box. The book sort of waffles between things that build Alice’s character and things that just fill space on the page. There’s also a lot of repetitiveness and contradiction when it comes to certain things. The reader keeps being reminded both that Alice does ballet but is still super clumsy, or that she’s pretty sure that Wonderland is just a dream. It leads to the book feeling like it was originally posted as each chapter was finished rather than as a whole.

There’s this weird sort of conflict of character with regard to Alice and her family as well. It’s sort of a tie in to the plot itself. Her older sisters are both smart and successful, one is a med student and the other is studying physics. Her parents are both CPAs. None of them care about Alice’s art or her dancing or her interests. These things are, according to Alice at least, treated as pointless hobbies or something to be taken away from her if her grades drop. They want her to give up her dreams and become like them, but then these same parents who don’t seem to care about any of her interests also seem to be paying for all those interests. She’s going to ballet classes, has adequate supplies for her art, and has the food around to make her bento boxes. It feels like something written by a fairly young writer venting about their own life. It could be a really good real world tie in to the main plot if more was done with it or if her family was written more sympathetically, but as is it doesn’t work.

My feelings on this book ultimately wind up being fairly meta. The writing itself does feel very fan fic-ish or, again, like it was written by someone either very young or just not used to writing. There are a ton of references to pop culture, particularly anime and manga, that can get really distracting and make the book feel weirdly dated. There’s some issues with the editing that could have used a second going over. There’s a lot of potential here and, with Mrs. Hoots having written several other books, I’d definitely give one of her other books a go. Plus a couple of the characters were a lot of fun if a little stock and I completely love a couple of the concepts used.

So, where does that leave me? While I’ve had a lot of issues with the book it didn’t leave me feeling like I’d wasted the time reading it. It isn’t good, but it shows a lot of potential and leaves me hoping it’s an older project that’s just not getting its turn or a genre the author isn’t entirely comfortable with. That all taken into consideration, I’m giving Trapped in Wonderland a two out of five with the note that it could be a solid three with more editing and some cuts.

Late as always, but not by months this time. It’s a review! Enjoy everyone.

Some years ago humanity began settling a new planet so that they could leave the polluted shell that was Earth and once again feel the sun on their skin and breath without respirators. They terraformed their new home, built cities, and started shipping in colonists and animals. The planet is a perfect place for humanity to start again, or would be if not for one minor issue. The planet’s natives, the Indigenes, aren’t happy with their aggressive new neighbors and want their home back from the beings that drove them under ground. Not all is what it seems and, between an alien world and an inhospitable Earth, it can be impossible to know who to trust.

Eliza Greene’s Becoming Human is the kind of book that I really wanted to like. It had enough elements that I usually love that I should have liked it. Unfortunately, it also feels very much like a first attempt at writing and had a lot of pitfalls that go with that. I’m imagining that she will improve as she continues writing.

Becoming Human’s biggest issue, to my mind at least, is that it spends the first half of the book introducing characters but giving the reader no time or reason to care about them. Most of the characters who are given point of view chapters could have been safely omitted from the novel to focus more on Bill, Stephan, and a couple of others who were directly important to the plot. The flip side to the lack of character development winds up being one of the villains, Bill’s boss, she gets a couple of chapters of focus and they don’t do anything to make her a more engaging character or a better villain. I’m certain that I, as the reader, am not meant to like her. But rather than not liking her because she’s doing terrible things, I don’t like her because it keeps being drilled into my head that she doesn’t like other women and that she has to have things done “the Japanese way”. It’s acknowledged in text that Japan was where she was trained, but that’s pretty easy to forget and the focus on doing things “the Japanese way” feels less like she’s an exacting highly organized villain, and more like the author didn’t really have characterization set for her.

So that’s my biggest issue, the other big one I can think of is the ending. The author spent the first half of the book or so introducing characters and not really going anywhere with the plot. When the plot finally shows up it’s jumbled and feels rushed and then, just as the heroes are actually going to do something, the book ends. It’s a painful set up for the next book given that the reader doesn’t actually get much story in this book, just a lot of characters that don’t go anywhere and build up. This one actually bothers me more than the characters not being well done, but it winds up being a smaller issue as a whole because not being invested in the characters leaves me not invested in the series.

So, with those as my big issues for the book, what works? I did enjoy the idea of the Indigenes and the initial deal with Stephen sneaking around trying to figure out how humans work. There were a number of ideas on the Earth side of things that, while fairly stock at this point, could have been pretty awesome with a little more work. This being stuff like going more into how Earth wound up with a single government for the whole planet, how people dealt with the air being poisonous if you didn’t wear a mask, or even what was done to prevent near endless worker casualties with the combination of ridiculous work weeks and stimulant pills.

How, then, does it rate? Being Human has a lot of minor issues and two really major ones and, unfortunately, the parts it does well don’t do well enough to make up for those. It felt very much like a first book and could have done with a bit more polish before being released. That said with work from this point I think Eliza Green could become a solid author. So at the end of the day, it earns a two out of five.

It’s Not My Favorite

So, it’s been more than a couple of days, hasn’t it? Sorry about that. Work stress picked up again and I had to get most of my car’s air conditioning set up replaced, so that wasn’t fun. I have a review though. It is pretty spoilery, so heads up there, but here it goes.

Gwen’s life is in shambles except for her business as The Organizer, Rachel is in the process of breaking up with her girlfriend, and they have to help their parents move again. It follows that Gwen has always harbored dreams that her parents weren’t actually her parents and she would find a better more supportive family elsewhere. These dreams seem to be realized when she finds a set of pictures of a younger version of her mother that linked to a painter, Daniel Gregory, she of course leaps at the idea that he is her real father.

It’s Not My Favorite by Rue is, well, not my favorite by a long shot. It bills itself as a sort of romantic comedy featuring the Hutchinson sisters Gwen, who can organize anyone’s life but her own, and Rachel, out and proud to everyone except her parents. I admit, I was a little hesitant to buy it because Gwen’s shoddy love life got higher billing than Rachel’s anything, but it was listed as LGBT and on sale so I gave it a shot. I probably shouldn’t have.

Gwen is the focus of the book for nearly its entire run whether directly as the point of view character or indirectly as the object of another character’s concern in their chapter. This gets really old really quickly, because I didn’t start the book to read about Gwen and her running away from adult life because she didn’t get what she wanted. I didn’t want Gwen’s adventures in going half the world away from her problems and shtupping some English dude while her poor love interest tries to find her to fix things. To be honest, the whole book would be a lot more palatable if I’d started it expecting that or if her running away from everything had any notable consequences. She leaves her sister, who is dealing with relationship problems of her own, the dude who is inexplicably falling for her, and her business with next to no warning and very little prep. That bothers me, I know this is basically a romance novel, but as a retail associate I and everyone I work with has to give at least two weeks notice if we need or want to be off, so seeing a professional more or less abandon her business because she doesn’t get a new father/brother kind of pisses me off.

All of that comes down to me not liking Gwen in the least and, probably the bigger writing issue, not caring what happens to her. Not caring about, essentially, the main character means I don’t care about the romance. I really didn’t care about the romance. It was forced and badly written and just didn’t work for me. Just, yes, he’s hot and she thinks he might be her father/brother, he has feelings for her that he hasn’t felt since his wife died and she’s awkward. Then we get the trip halfway around the world where he follows her and then, when it looks like she’s with another guy, falls off the wagon. Then they agree to be friends and immediately fall into bed for a day. It’s like the book was made by throwing clichés at the wall and seeing what stuck.

But what about Rachel? She got nearly equal billing didn’t she? Well, yes she did. Her entire story arc took something like five chapters from “I think she’s cheating” to coming out to her parents. That’s it. She was interesting enough while she was the focus, but I’m not giving the book any points for barely having her in it.

So the only remaining thing is, how does the book rate? It’s Not My Favorite is very true to its name, while there were points where the writing was legitimately entertaining they were few and far between. Given that I got it because it featured a lesbian protagonist and then mostly ignored her for her sister’s relationship drama and trip across the world, I was severely disappointed. A more honest blurb would help with that a ton. It also has kind of a non-ending what with being the first in a trilogy, some stuff gets tied up but not enough and I didn’t care about the characters enough for it to feel satisfying in any meaningful way. So, yeah, while the book wasn’t unreadable It’s Not My Favorite by Rue earns a two out of five.