Category: soft sci-fi


So, here’s a review where I dip my toe in a setting that I know not a ton about. I feel like the book stands well enough on its own to be enjoyable even if you aren’t super familiar with the rest of the Star Wars extended universe. This has sort of inspired another thing I want to talk about. For now though, enjoy!

Star Wars Queen's Shadow cover

On the last day of her rule Queen Amidala stayed ensconced with her handmaidens and trusted guards, relaxing on the one day she could before trying to build a life as Padmé Naberrie. A life she would have to put off building once the new Queen asked her to continue serving Naboo. The planet needed a new representative in the Galactic Senate, who could be a better fit? Who else loves Naboo and its people well enough to fight for them? And so Padmé agrees to take up the mantle of senator, to remain Amidala for as long as she is needed. A senator needs to be a much different person than a queen though, Padmé and her handmaidens will need to figure out what that means if she is going to navigate the Galactic Senate.

I confess, I started E. K. Johnson’s Star Wars: Queen’s Shadow because I wanted something science fiction but with little to no narrative consequence. So a book focused on a character who, while I’m certain other aspects of her personal arc have been covered on other books, by definition cannot be allowed to do anything that would have consequences for the greater Star Wars narrative seemed like it would fit the bill pretty well. The blurb suggested that it would be mostly character work, something that sounded really good honestly. It was pretty well exactly what I was looking for.

As much as this is a book about Padmé, and her change over from Queen to senator, it’s also very much about her world and the people she surrounds herself with. Early on each of Padmé’s handmaidens get a fair amount of focus all the better to drive home how close they all are and how much they care about Naboo, how idealistic Naboo’s culture is even after the Trade Federation’s attack. It gets the reader attached to everything Padmé is about to leave behind. Gives a taste of her relationships and the rules she’s lived by before leading into a place where those relationships and rules are not nearly as effective as they had been at home, are in fact detrimental in some ways. I adored that. Having the protagonist not only very clearly relying on others, but having that be a core feature of how she is able to accomplish things and adapt is something that I had not really realized that I miss in a fair number of other books. Because Padmé’s handmaidens are more than just her staff, she trusts them with her life and there’s this support structure there. Especially with Sabé, Padmé’s best friend and bodyguard and body double, very nearly the deuteragonist in some places where she acts as an agent outside of the happenings directly in the Galactic Senate.

I found myself wanting to see more of the handmaiden characters as the book went on and focused more on Senator Amidala. I find myself wanting to see more of them having finished the book, it left me curious about how they would deal with the Empire but not doubting for a moment that each of them would rebel in her own way be that art or politics, providing space for those displaced or fighting directly. I want to know where they went from the last chapter of Queen’s Shadow and where that took them.

That also leads me to one of the only issues I had with Star Wars: Queen’s Shadow.  The ending, specifically the epilogue, just completely took me out of it. The final chapter wrapped things up on a low note but left the reader with a sense of hope. Padmé and her team are going to keep fighting for what’s good and right in the galaxy.  The Epilogue shattered that in a way that starts off beautifully mirroring the first chapter but that also feels unnecessary and almost mean spirited in how it deals with some of the characters. It took me from knowing that cannon will still happen with everything that implies and hammered it in like a crooked nail in an otherwise fantastically built piece. It killed the sense of hope that the final chapter ended on and that’s what I find myself coming back to over and over like a missing tooth. The death of hope and how very out of place it feels in the context of the rest of the book.

That’s my only big issue and, aside from a couple of odd romance-ish moments that felt a little out of place, I think it was my only real issue. If not for the epilogue Star Wars: Queen’s Shadow would be a five out of five for me. It leaves me wanting more from the characters and I am definitely planning on looking for more of E. K. Johnson’s work. So, all told Star Wars: Queen’s Shadow earns a four out of five.

Late posting this, yesterday didn’t really happen. The “And Another Thing” is something I’ve been wanting to write something for for a while and I’ve been meaning to go back and talk about this since I realized it, but haven’t really taken the time to put it to paper as it were. So now seemed like a great time to get this done. This is sort of touching on an older review, you can find that here. I might make this a semi-regular thing for books that I couldn’t get to everything reasonably or series after I’ve already reviewed the books that make them up. It could be a lot of fun, this one was at least.

So, one of my big issues with Free Chocolate was pacing and information related. There would be long stretches of nothing new, of repetition, of the reader being reminded that Bo is in trouble because of the Zamite’s usually eating stowaways or of the corporate assassin calling her to remind her that he’s going to kill her family if she doesn’t get the cacao beans back and provably destroy them. Of how she doesn’t know as much about her boyfriend as she thought.

It hit me some time later.

Each chapter is an episode of a soap opera.

Each chapter.

And I missed that on my first go round with the book.

This is a thing that could have been brilliant. But I feel like it’s let down by the novel format and, as a result, becomes a letdown of a read.

One of the big things with soap operas is getting the viewer to come back every day. So, there’s a lot of characters and a lot of plot lines running constantly. Even if one plot line ends during an episode there’s still several more going and chances are that the ending of one will result in the start of another. It’s a constant cycle and characters are continually being introduced and developed and moved out of the story.

It’s a daily thing and needs to keep people coming back daily. But it’s also only a half an hour to an hour daily, so small amounts of all of this can be twined together and stretched out. But it loses something if you’re watching episodes back to back to back. Things fall a little flat because tension doesn’t work if it’s kept cranked up over a long amount of time. Plus, a lot of the repetition on a soap opera covers if you miss a day here and there.

Same thing with Free Chocolate. Since every chapter is an episode and soap operas require continual high tension it winds up being clunky. Plot lines and information are continually reintroduced. Characters are continually gone back over.

It feels like it could work really well over the course of a couple of months. Just like, post one chapter a day and have it go from there and I think the pacing would have worked a lot better.

So, I’m late getting this posted, but it is still technically Wednesday. I’ve written and rewritten this at least four times. I think this one is as close to something I’m happy with as this is going to get. This series was one that I really enjoyed and I’m hoping to see more from Roberts in the future. This one is thanks to Curiosity Quills Press, here’s Richard Roberts’ Please Don’t Tell My Parents You Believe Her. Enjoy!

Please Dont Tell My Parents You Believe Her cover

As part of the Inscrutable Machine Penny Akk, Bad Penny, has faced heroes and villains and threats from the very moons of Jupiter. She’s faced enemies turned friends and friends turned enemies. But when she was ready to face the thing she feared the most, telling her parents about being Bad Penny, she found herself trapped in a robot body by her own power. With her friends away and her parents believing the fake Penny her powers built instead of her, Penny will have to find new allies and pull off the biggest heist of her whole career. Bad Penny is going to have to steal her own life back. A super villain’s work is never done.

As would be expected of the last book in a series that I really enjoyed, I have thoughts on Richard Roberts’ Please Don’t Tell My Parents You Believe Her. A number of them in fact. This is a book that was split between opening up the world it’s set in for later stories, giving the reader more on some of the side characters and how things work, and also tying up Penelope Akk’s story. That’s where I get a little bit frustrated.

Please Don’t Tell My Parents You Believe Her is the book it needs to be more than the book I would have hoped it would be. It’s the tie up novel. The place where Penny finally gets to shed Bad Penny for a chance to be a hero. But first she has to beat the most dangerous super villain she’s ever faced, herself. And yet, even with the stakes as high as they are for Penny, I found myself more interested in what was going on with Ampexia or Cassie or what was going on with the other Penny at the Akk household.

That’s actually something that I would have really liked to have seen with how far the other Penny takes things. How did Penny’s parents react to that? We see the Audit reject Bad Penny early on because she defaults to believing the flesh and blood Penny over robotic Bad Penny. Never mind that the Machine stubbornly sticks to Bad Penny. This drove me up the walls, because it feels like it should have been a bigger thing all around. Like, we get the letters from super villain camp that Penny writes to cope with what’s going on but I wanted to see more of the parents being worried of if they made the right choice. Which is an odd stand out, because we see her friends trying to split time between the Pennys.

But then there’s all the support Penny gets early on from, mostly new, side characters who deal with robots. She gets to team up with the mascot from her childhood favorite pizza place, Gerty Goat. Ampexia shows back up as a team mate and makes for some really enjoyable scenes of Penny getting to know  her and learning to take a chill between bouts of villainy.

There’s a lot of early on heist stuff, since Penny’s lost most of her gear. Between that and the bits with other characters that feel like they could have been expanded, kind of makes me wish that this had been split between two books. One with Penny adjusting to her robot body and gathering her allies and a second with the heists and the build up to the big fight with other Penny. It could make the expansion of characters and the whole robot deal feel like it had more room to breath while also allowing more space for Penny to deal with and question her current state of being. But, I also say that as someone who enjoyed the series and would really like to read more of it.

That’s really where I come down on this I think. It was an enjoyable book and it tied up the series exactly the way the series needed to be tied up for character stuff. But it also leaves room for more stories and showed a lot of characters who’s stories I’m really interested in reading. It’s the book that it needed to be, but that also leaves me wanting more from this setting. So, Please Don’t Tell My Parents You Believe Her gets a four out of five from me. I’m going to go find the prequel.

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.

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.

This one was difficult. I try to avoid spoiling the books I review, but then this one had a basic enough plot that there wasn’t a ton to dig into. I had fun with it though. This is another one from First Second books, Mike Lawrence’s Star Scouts: The League of Lasers. Enjoy!

Star Scouts The League of Lasers cover

During a routine troop meeting Avani receives an invitation to join the Star Scouts’ elite secret society, the League of Lasers. It’s the chance of a life time and all she has to do to join them is survive a minor initiation challenge. It wouldn’t be a big deal if she was just trapped on a planet full of hostile frog aliens with no breathable air and dwindling supplies, but the worst possible thing had to happen and land her stranded with her worst enemy, Pam. How will she make it a full week?

I missed the first volume of Mike Lawrence’s Star Scouts, having read The League of Lasers I feel like that is something of an over site. This one does mostly stand alone though, so not having read the first one winds up being mostly a matter of not being familiar with characters instead of missing big chunks of plot or anything of that nature. Plus, I had a ton of fun with reading it anyway.

Let’s start from there. This was a really fun graphic novel that is, at its core, about teamwork and building friendships past misunderstandings. It does that by throwing the two leads in a situation that neither of them are individually able to deal with and letting the emergency situation force them to team up. This is one of those plots that crop of fairly regularly, but I’m a fan of it and enjoy reading it when I come across it. That aside, it’s also a really nifty adventure on an alien world.

The world itself is familiar with forests and mountains and bodies of water, familiar, but just different enough. The fauna is largely big and threatening, because there needs to be an outside threat for our protagonists to face, but they’re also notably alien. That’s actually a pretty big thing with the character design, the aliens look alien. Some of them have more human features or features like earth animals, but all of them have things that make them notably non-human. That’s something that I really enjoyed.

The story itself gives us Avani and Pam having to survive on a world with air one can’t breathe and dwindling supplies. The technologically developed native species is hostile to them, but largely out of fear. I do admit that the turnaround in Avani and Pam’s behavior towards each other feels a little fast, but that can easily be chalked up to the graphic novel being short. They have a number of scenes that sort of fast track them from enemies to teammates and, while quick, they do their job and the two working together is believable and fun. The side plot, with Avani’s Star Scouts troop similarly deals with characters being forced to work together and emphasizes the main plot well.

I am not the target audience for the Star Scouts books, which throws my opinion on this off a bit. The big thing with The League of Lasers is that I had fun with it. It’s a cute sci-fi adventure comic with nifty character designs and a fun story. I would review the next one given the chance. Likewise, if Lawrence ever wrote a sci-fi YA novel I would be tempted to check it out. So, I’m giving it a five out of five.

So, this was meant to go up yesterday, unfortunately I was dead and did not manage to be up for much longer than it took to drink some tea. On happier notes, I do have the review. This one’s thanks to the nice folks at First Second here’s Castle in the Stars: The Space Race of 1869. Enjoy!

Castle in the Stars The Space Race of 1869 cover

In search of the fifth element, aether, Claire Dulac flew to the very edge of the stratosphere. She promised her son and her husband that she would return.  But she never did, her hot air balloon disappeared leaving no trace of her behind. A year passed. Her husband, Archibald, was certain she was lost forever, going on with his life as an engineer as best he could. Her son though, Seraphin is certain that there’s still hope. A letter summoning them to Bavaria offers hope, someone’s found her logbook, a king who wants to fly. But with hope comes danger, someone else in the castle is after the secret of aether powered flight.

I’m not a hundred percent sure of how I feel about Alex Alice’s Castle in the Stars: The Space Race of 1869. It is beautifully illustrated and the story has a lot of potential, but then that potential feels a bit mishandled in a lot of spots. It really needed to be slowed down and expanded on to let things feel less rushed.

That’s actually my big issue with the story. There’s a lot of ground to cover here and not enough space for it to be covered in. We get the introduction, Claire takes off on her fateful voyage, Seraphim hasn’t moved past it and is obsessed with aether a year later, then the letter arrives. We get introduced to the main plot and the other two young characters, Hans and Sophie, and the villain. But then the villain’s plot is revealed and we sort of zip from that to the climax of the story and the lead in for the next book.

I feel like that’s definitely to the book’s detriment. The story was interesting and I would have liked to have seen more of pretty well everything from it. This applies especially to the intrigue plot and the parts with Seraphin and the other kids regarding the aether ship. I liked the characters and would have liked to see more of them, but they’re left as mostly sketches instead of being fully realized.

Again though, I feel like the hands down best part of the book is the art. It’s got a soft almost watercolor feel to it. What’s interesting to me is that the art can be either very emotive or super cartoony without either feeling out of place. This is fantastic and not something I’m entirely used to, but I like it and would like to see more art like this in the future.

So, I’m left a bit cool on the actual plot of the story but like the ideas and really like the art. This leaves me in an interesting place where I’m interested in knowing what happens in the next book, but if I miss it then I wouldn’t be too terribly bothered. I want to know the rest, but I’m also a bit concerned that it would feel rushed again. That’s leading me to give this one a three out of five. The story is alright, the ideas are interesting, the art is good, but Castle in the Stars: The Space Race of 1869 needs a little more.

Project Pandora

And I’m late again. Thanks for sticking with me folks. This one was kind of hard to get done, so that wasn’t fun. Right, so the review of the week is thanks to the nice folks at entangled teen. This is Project Pandora. Enjoy!

Project Pandora cover

Apollo switched back to Tyler in the middle of a job, something that shouldn’t have been possible. Tyler’s aware of his burner phone, though not its implications. He doesn’t know about the second life in the shadows of his everyday, not until it starts bleeding through. Not even when he realizes that the girl he’s crushing on has a phone just like his. They’ll have to learn quickly, find out what’s at the core of Project Pandora, before they’re tracked down and reprogrammed.

Aden Polydoros’ first novel, Project Pandora, is not a book that would find itself in my top or bottom ten for this year. This is one of those books that, it’s not bad but it also isn’t memorable. There are a lot of solid ideas here and I feel like the book could have been really good with a little more refining. In short, it feels very much like a solid first book.

The official blurb promises action and mystery, danger. While the book itself takes a very slow burn approach to its plot. That’s not in and of itself a bad thing and, in all fairness, in a more solidly plotted book could have been a fantastic way to flesh out the characters. Here it winds up dragging on and feeling like padding. We get these scenes of our characters going about their regular student lives and having their YA romance stuff going on, and it isn’t bad but it also winds up feeling disconnected from the plot really quickly. I feel like if more had been done with their programming breaking down earlier in the book it would have been better and could have lead to more of the mystery that was promised in the blurb. As it stands, the Project Pandora stuff is mostly carried by one character and, since he’s got no other life, it doesn’t really give use any build. That more wasn’t done with that side plot is really disappointing, that was one of the more promising ideas presented.

That’s where a lot of my apathy about Project Pandora comes from. There’s a lot of good ideas for the plot and characters both, but those ideas are fumbled in the writing itself. We have these two pairs of characters, the nice young folks who don’t realize they’re assassins and the beauty and the beast pair who have this instant attraction for each other. We follow all four of these characters, which winds up both killing any mystery that could have happened and leads to a lot of overlap in storytelling. There are so many ways this could have been taken and built upon, but what we got was a lot of teens pining after one another and stressing over high school stuff plus Hades’ issues. The ideas were there and so were the bones of a good story, but they weren’t fleshed out well.

I have very few feelings about this book beyond wishing that the author had done just a little more with it or refined it more. Part of this might be that Project Pandora suffers from being the first in a series, maybe some stuff was left out on purpose so it can be filled in later. Part of it might be that this is the author’s first book and he’ll improve with more practice. Either way it gets a three out of five. I might give Aden Polydoros’ next novel a shot, but this one didn’t impress me.

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.