Category: Two Star


So this is a review that I did not feel entirely comfortable with the writing of. I did not read the first book, Echos, so things felt more than a little disconnected. I do want to thank the nice folks at Entangled Teen for sending me an ecopy of this for review. This is Alice Reeds’ Fractures. Enjoy!

Fractures cover

Miles and Fiona survived the island. Survived a bear. Their rescue by the FBI should have taken them to safety, a new home and new identities. Instead they were taken to a villa in Poland where everyone has strange expectations for them. Instead they find themselves on a freighter in the middle of the ocean with no food or water. If they want to survive and maybe even stop whoever is behind all of this, Miles and Fiona will have to work together and remember all that has been done to them.

I confess that I did not realize that Alice Reeds’ Fractures was the second book in a series until I was around a third of the way through. I had assumed that the aspects that made it feel like a sequel were a deliberate stylistic choice to leave the reader as lost as the main characters were. I was about it, it felt like a cool idea that could have paid off really well. For obvious reasons it did not pay off, this is the second in a series and that realization was part of what started my path towards losing interest in what was going on.

Fractures feels very like a middle book in that everything feels like set up for something later in the series. It moves very slowly with long spans of Miles worrying over his relationship with Fiona or angsting over his brother or how poorly his father thinks of him. Those stretches of internal concerns made Miles a protagonist I just could not get into, he felt so whiny and constantly down on himself that it felt difficult to keep reading at times, like he should have had another solid book worth of character development rather than just retreading the same beats over and over.

Having missed the first book, the antagonists here seemed like their whole plot was poorly worked out. What the protagonists, and thus the reader, find out is interesting but thin. We get an end goal but not much on how the process is meant to work or why. That could work on a level of keeping the protagonists on their back foot until everything came together. But then things never so much come together as the solution gets dumped into the protagonists’ laps less through their actions and more because the book needed to end. It feels like the plot boiled down to nothing and then tied up far too quickly and too neatly for things to actually be over.

There was a lot that could have been interesting here or well done if given a little more attention. Miles aside, the characters show promise. The antagonists are this huge organization that has been picking out and buying specific teenagers to do military experiments on and everything is shadowy and mysterious and so much could have been explained better. The antagonists could have been so much more threatening if the reader was given more reason to believe that the characters were in danger or if the villa felt more locked down than it did. Even the romance could have been better if the reader was shown Miles making the effort to show Fiona that he cares rather than just thinking about how much he loves her over and over. The bit with their files could have had a much bigger effect if it actually affected the characters rather than Miles just talking about how worried it made him and how it was clearly affecting Fiona too.

Fractures winds up having a lot of things that should have been minor issues adding up to something unenjoyable. I found Miles utterly worthless as a protagonist. The antagonists were bland and flatly villainous. It is the kind of book that I am certain would have been more enjoyable if I had read the first in the series, but I also have no intention of going back and reading the first book. I could probably be convinced to read Alice Reeds again later in her career but for now, Fractures gets a two out of five from me.

It occurred to me while writing this that I really want to ramble about a few sub genres at some point. Not sure how well I would do with that, but it still might be fun. This one is from the nice folks at Entangled Teen, here’s Cindy R. Wilson’s Sting. Enjoy!

Sting cover

The Scorpion robs warehouses in the Light District. These raids help the denizens of the Dark District survive as more and more of the jobs they rely on disappear. But it only takes one person betraying her for the Scorpion to be killed off, replaced in the minds of the Enforcers with a teenage girl, replaced  in their minds with Tessa and thrown in jail to rot far from the people she cares for.  If she wants to get out, to even have the chance at revenge, Tessa will have to team up with the prisoner in the cell next to hers, an outcast from the very Enforcers she wants to stop, Pike. Will their escape allow them to pursue revenge or will the attempt doom them both?

In many ways, Cindy R. Wilson’s Sting feels very much like a book failed by its genre. It feels like a book that had romance ladled into it to avoid filling in the gaps in world building. Or like the author really wanted to dig into the basic social stratification ideas that are heavily used in cyber punk but then backed out for fear of really saying anything. But then it really seems to not know what to do with the romance angle either.

Throughout the first third or so of Sting the reader is introduced to the Dark District with its falling in buildings and denizens who can barely find enough to eat and the jail, Decay, which is being used to erase the jobs that people in the Dark District used to work, thus depriving them of a way to survive, but that has more regular meals and solid shelter than our protagonist can ever remember having had. Tessa wants out though, wants revenge, wants to get back to her sister and helping the people of the Dark District. To do that she has to follow Pike’s plan, which means that she and the reader wind up plopped into the Light District. The reader was shown the Dark District in ruins and told that the Light District was much wealthier, that they had electricity and excess food and all the industry. But then it winds up being so much more than that. The Light District is presented as this big glamorous thing with lights everywhere and brilliant colors on everything and expensive parties regularly.

While I am aware that cities exist with this level of social stratification and that there are people like the Enforcers who want to hurt others seemingly just because they can, it just seems comical here. There is a literal closed off border between the two districts of this one city, a closed off border with armed guards all hopped up on propaganda and undeserved power ready to hurt the Darksiders who might try and go to the Light District for a job or something. It winds up being one of those things that, I am certain that something like it exists, but as presented in Sting it all feels like short hand for actual world building. It feels like the differences needed to be made as stark as possible so that the plot could be remembered through all of Tessa’s random moments of angsting over falling for Pike or over the feelings she had for River.

I confess, a lot of my frustrations here are made much worse by the ending. It feels far too tidy. Too like Wilson was dedicated to that ending from the start and refused to adjust it in light of how dark her antagonist wound up being. It sort of casts everything that came before it in a very artificial light. It feels unearned in a couple of ways.

From a genre angle, as much as I want to compare it to cyber punk, the comparison does not fit well. It is not technology making the Darksiders’ lives worse. Technology really fails to feature heavily, Tessa’s scorpion bots aside. Everything that makes the Darksider’s lives worse is down to one single antagonist and his underlings. The romance plot is certainly key to Sting’s word count, but manages to feel unnecessary and over done. It tends to feel more like filler than important to the character’s arcs. The scenes where Tessa thinks about her feelings for Pike were, at best, frustrating interruptions to what felt like the actual plot even as it feels like the reader is never properly let in on what Pike’s plan is. I kept waiting for something about that to come up, for us to get a better look at how they were planning to deal with the antagonist and show that Pike is as clever as the reader is told he is, but then it never came up.

There was so much here that had the potential to be well done if only given more room for development. So much that should have been given another pass or two before this was sent to the presses. And it just makes the finished book so much more disappointing that the potential was there and not given the development it needed. It took me multiple weeks to finish Sting, not because it was terrible or insulting, but because it was so easy for me to just put it down and do something else. I found other things to do because Tessa getting torn up over her feelings got old just so, so quickly. I came closer to just not finishing Sting than I have any other book in the past three years. For that, it gets two stars.

Selected

So, this came out later than intended. I admit, I kept putting both the book and the review aside for other things. It has been a fun weekend for me though. This one is thanks to the kind folks at Entangled Teen, here’s Barb Han’s Selected. Enjoy!

Selected cover

Easton Academy is a prep school for the elite of the elite in New Maine, the kind of school where Legacy students from old money families go to make connections before heading off to college and whatever their parents expect of them. Victoria Aldridge is not old money. Is not nouveau riche. Is not typical of the students that walk Easton’s hallowed halls.  She’s part of the new Selected program, lower class students with high IQs or brilliant athletic performance backed by rich patron families. As long as she does as well as expected, as long as she is the best, her family has food and a safe place to sleep and she has a shot at a bright future. At least that’s what she has been telling herself for the last three years. When one of her friends is caught passing her a mysterious note everything in her life at Easton starts to crack. If she wants to figure out what’s going on she’ll have to learn to trust the Legacy boy who’s started showing interest in her out of the blue. If she cannot, she might not make it out of Easton alive.

Barb Han’s Selected is a book that feels very much like it knows that it is the first in a series and so does not bother telling a compelling or complete story on its own. Which is a shame because the premise is really interesting. The nation is split in fifty countries and Maine has developed a rich/poor divide that would make a cyber punk dystopia salivate. Our protagonist has to be the best of the best at the fancy school she’s been selected to attend so that her family can have a better life, even as she’s the target of resentment from many of her classmates. But then the most attractive boy in school shows up and we toss that right out the window until the final third or so of the book. Let’s start there.

I feel like this is a case of the author having solid ideas but either not enough of them to give the story substance or she just really wanted to write a romance story and slotted the dystopian ideas around it. A fair amount of that is down to the protagonist, Tori. The reader is introduced to her in her Junior year of high school at Easton Academy and despite, as we are told her having a really high IQ and breaking the curve for all of her tests, she is desperately worried that she has not done well enough on a recent test. Fair enough, her family relies on her Selected status for a better life, but we never really see her struggle with her classes or her dancing in any meaningful way. Classes are easy, she’s brilliant. Tests are easy, she’s brilliant. Dancing is easy, she’s been doing it all her life.

Maybe the book was meant to focus more on her social struggles, her friends disappearing, but so much of the text focuses on her relationship with school golden boy Caius that her friends fade into the back ground. There wasn’t really time put into making the reader care about her friends or friendships, so when things started to go wrong it had no impact. Tori’s friends are, in fact, consistently pushed to the side either in favor of more focus on the romance aspect or because Tori just can’t talk to them about her feelings and what’s going on, they would never understand.  Similarly, so much focus was put on her relationship with Caius that it both seemed to swallow up everything else and left me hoping that something would happen just to get him off the page for a little while. Plus, there were enough moments of Caius talking about his feelings for Tori that just felt super uncomfortable and manipulative, not liking her having a male friend, repeated angry moments early on about her thinking a Legacy like him would have an easier life than her, and other more minor stuff. It made it really hard to buy in to the romance to start with.

If the romance was cut out of Selected it feels like all but around a third of the book would be gone.  This remaining third or so of the book, much like the setting, has some solid ideas and could have made for a really awesome book. Unfortunately, it takes half or more of the book for the plot to really get going and by that time I had long sense stopped caring about the characters or what happened to them. There are some moments from early on that, in retrospect, were setting up elements for a reveal later but they fell flat because the intervening text failed to support any of Tori’s friendships enough for the characters to feel like proper characters. It is frustrating. It is frustrating because there are so many ideas here that could have been good with a little more work, really good if some of the focus on that work was moved to letting the other characters be more rounded.

That is about all that I can say about Selected. There was a lot of potential in both the setting and the ideas behind the plot. But it got sacrificed for a frankly bland instant romance that had a lot of red flags early on. I will not be there for the next book in this series or, likely, the next several books Barb Han writes. Selected shows that she has solid ideas, but the writing lets them down badly.  It earns a two out of five from me.

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.

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.