Category: series


Guest Post Hank Quense

Hey all, I’ve got a guest post for you today from Hank Quense, author of the Zaftan Troubles series of sci-fi/fantasy novels. Today, he’s provided us a totally non-fictional interview courtesy of Margaret Hammerhead and the Faux News Network. Enjoy!

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Faux News Network Interviews Author Hank Quense

 

My name is Marcia Hammerhead and I’m the literary reporter for FNN.  Once again, my boss insists that I interview a scribbler of fantasy and science fiction stories. My boss KNOWS that I prefer epic poetry and literary works and that I despise genre fiction.  But, here I am about to interview Hank Quense who has penned yet another novel despite the lack of success of his previous works and his apparent lack of talent.  Mr Quense, tell us what trash you are about to unleash on the unsuspecting reading public.

Hank Quense: Hi Martha. Thank you for the warm welcome.

MH: It’s Marcia, not Martha.

HQ: My new series, Zaftan Troubles, consists of seven ebooks and describes what happens when an alien explorer ship discovers Gundarland, a world populated by humans and fantasy creatures.  The zaftans are a vicious race who believe treachery and assassination are social skills.

MH: Good heavens!  You mixed science fiction and fantasy together?  Have you no shame?

HQ:  The two genres work well together.

MH: What’s the point of writing such a mishmash?  Are you indecisive to the point you can’t chose a single genre?

HQ: The point is entertainment and satire.  And the mixing of genres was a conscious decision, Margaret.

MH: Martha, not Margaret. Tell us about the characters?

HQ: In the first four books, the main characters are MacDrakin, a dwarf miner and Leslie Higginbottom, a constable.  The two have a budding relationship that is torn apart about the appearance of the aliens and their explorer robots.  The government orders Higginbottom to protect the robots while MacDrakin declares war against the robots and the aliens.

The next three books occur many years later when the Gundies (as they’re called) confront the zaftans in outer space.  The two main characters are Sam, an android with an organic brain and Klatze, a young zaftan naval officer who is determined to succeed using her ability rather than murder.

MH: What!  How can you write this nonsense?  Do you do drugs?  Booze? it is not possible to come up with this stuff without using some sort of stimulants.

HQ: Sorry, Marcia. I don’t do that stuff.  My stories come from unstimulated brain.

MH: This has to be some sort of anti-genius.  It should be declared illegal.  I suppose the novel uses the obsolete technique called plots?

HQ: It sure does.  The series has a number of plots and subplots.

MH: Did it ever occur to you to write stories about normal, human people, the kind of stories that comprise true literature.

HQ: Nope.  Sounds too boring.

MH: You said this series has seven ebooks in it.  I hope that’s the end of it.  I shudder to think that still another of your books will test our sanity.

HQ: Right now, Martha, Im working on books 8 through 10 for the Zaftan Troubles.

MH: It’s Marcia, not Martha. The very thought of you continuing this rubbish is giving me a headache.  I can’t stand any more of this genre trash.

HQ: Thanks for the great interview, Martha.  Good-bye.

MH: It’s Marcia.  Roll the wrap-up music.  I need a drink.  Where’s my bottle of merlot?

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Author bio: Hank Quense writes humorous and satiric scifi and fantasy stories. He also writes about fiction writing and self-publishing. He has published 18 books and 50 short stories along with a few dozen articles. He often lectures on fiction writing and publishing and has a series of guides covering the basics on each subject.
He and his wife, Pat, usually vacation in another galaxy or parallel universe. They also time travel occasionally when Hank is searching for new story ideas. To learn more, visit http://strangeworldspublishing.com/wp/.
Hank recently published Books 1 and 2 of his 7-part satirical fantasy series, the Zaftan Troubles, about an advanced alien species who steal resources from other worlds for profit. They’re available on Amazon:
Book 1: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07F8352QC/  and https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07F883MW9  and the rest of the series is scheduled to publish later this year.
You can see the video trailer here: https://youtu.be/NHMJ_XRzrtI
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This came out later than planned. This one’s thanks to the awesome folks at Curiosity Quills Press. Here’s Richard Roberts’ Please Don’t Tell My Parents I Blew Up The Moon. Enjoy!

Please Dont Tell My Parents I Blew Up the Moon cover

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Please Dont Tell My Parents Im a Super Villan cover

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FNaF The Fourth Closet cover

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Heroine Complex cover

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dead Jack and the Soul Catcher cover

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

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

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

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

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

Hey all, sorry for going radio silent again. Odd week. It’s Friday the 13th and I figured what better time to treat you all to an excerpt from a book that, as I hear it, does some really cool stuff with werewolves. The author, Dan O’Brien is re-releasing his entire bibliography, so if you’re interested this could be an awesome time to check him out. Either way, enjoy!

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Synopsis: A predator stalks a cold northern Minnesotan town. There is talk of wolves walking on two legs and attacking people in the deep woods. Lauren Westlake, resourceful and determined FBI agent, has found a connection between the strange murders in the north and a case file almost a hundred years old. Traveling to the cold north, she begins an investigation that spirals deep into the darkness of mythology and nightmares. Filled with creatures of the night and an ancient romance, the revelation of who hunts beneath the moon is more grisly than anyone could imagine.

An excerpt from Bitten:

THE CREATURE crashed into the sides of its space. Tearing broken, rusted objects from the shelves, it threw them to the ground in angry fits of rage. Tears streamed down its face and the guttural whimper that echoed in the oversized shed was the only shred of humanity that remained.

With each mashed piece of its life, it plunged deeper into madness; closer to the monster it was slowly becoming. The light of the day had all but faded. Reaching out and grasping a light bulb that hung dimly at the center of the shed, it crushed it, allowing the shards to rip apart its hands.

Blood dripped on the work table and the partial husk of Wayne Joyce’s mutilated face. It had stretched out the flesh, drying it and coating it with deer oil. Its cries were crocodile tears; there was no emotion left except rage, hatred. Remorse and guilt long since disappearing into the abyss that was its mind.

The winds howled.

It responded.

Black thread, spooled with a sharp needle, sat beside the human mask. It reached down with one of its mangled hands, lifting the needle and then the flesh. Pressing against its skin, it drove the needle into its own face, drawing blood and an angry snarl. Each time through, there was a growl and a pool of blood. The task was complete: the flesh attached to the monster.

Little folds lifted from its face. The wind whipped against them, drawing its attention. Reaching out to a staple gun, it pressed it against its face. The creature drove thick steel staples into its face, flattening out the macabre mask.

The table was a massacre.

Leftover pieces of the trophies it took were lifeless artifacts of its ascension to death-bringer. Reaching out for the long claw of torture it wore as a glove, the creature groaned. Language was lost. More and more, it felt like an animal, a creature meant to destroy everything.

The rage built like steam. It coursed through its veins, polluting every aspect of humanity that remained. The moon would rise soon––full and omniscient. That would be the moment of its ascension.

It would be its masterpiece.

 

If you love supernatural fiction, a good mystery, and a fun story, then you’ll want to give Bitten a look. Releasing in July as well is the follow-up novella, Drained. The third novella in the series, Frighten, will be released in early 2019.

What readers are saying about Bitten

“Bitten is an extremely well-balanced and engaging novel. It contains mystery, suspense, horror, romance, and best of all – a creative, genre-bending twist on werewolf mythology. The story is quick-paced and dark without being too heavy or overdramatic. The protagonist is a strong and courageous FBI agent who is able to assert herself without casting aside her femininity. She reminds me of Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone and Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum…. If a sequel follows, I will definitely read it.”

“Author Dan O’Brien left his mark with Bitten. I’ve now read three books by O’Brien, but BITTEN is by far my favorite. It not only showcases his literary skills, but leaves the reader wanting more. What else could an avid reader ask for?”

Get it today on Kindle!

Dan OBrein author picture

Dan O’Brien has over 50 publications to his name––including the bestselling Bitten, which was featured on Conversations Book Club’s Top 100 novels of 2012. Before starting Amalgam Consulting, he was the senior editor and marketing director for an international magazine. You can learn more about his literary and publishing consulting business by visiting his website at: www.amalgamconsulting.com. Follow him on Twitter at @AuthorDanOBrien.

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.

I’m later than I meant to be. After spending the first half of the week stressing out and not getting anything done I kind of crashed yesterday and got even more nothing done. I also hit PM instead of AM scheduling it, which it A+. But I’m back now, so it’s all good. This one is thanks to the awesome folks at Curiosity Quills Press. This is Sarah Madsen’s Weaver’s Folly. Enjoy!

Weavers Folly cover

A run gone bad leaves elven thief Alyssa D’Yaragen, Lysistrata when she’s on a run, with a fantastic opportunity. All she has to do is work with the guy who made the last run go bad for her and steal some data from a company. A super high profile mega corporation , Americorp, whose security is guaranteed to give both of them more than a run for their money, but still. The pay and challenge are way too good to pass up. Complicating things somewhat her ex, Tristan, shows up begging forgiveness and offering a too good to be true opportunity for information gathering. More complicated even than a cheating ex are the sparks that fly when she meets gorgeous Seraphina Dubhan, feelings and all that. When she becomes the target of magical attacks any other concerns have to take a back seat to keeping her friends out of the cross fire and surviving. Surviving and, of course, getting the Americorp job done.

I initially found myself comparing Sarah Madsen’s Weaver’s Folly to a number of things, mostly Shadowrun. The whole protagonist is a highly specialized thief in a world with both magic and cyber punk style tech is what does it I think. Magic and technology not working together is also a similarity, but I feel like that is a sort of ground rule thing. You don’t want to give a character supercharged magic powers and a cybernetic body to keep them from getting worn out using them, so it’s a functional limiter in the world of the story.

I like that a lot actually. It separates the main character from a near necessary set of tools and forces her to rely on other characters, particularly Logan.  It also gives her an edge that most other characters simply can’t access while forcing her to keep it a secret. I feel like more weight could be given to the secrecy aspect later in the series, but it does make a degree of sense. I feel like this would go hand in hand with more focus being brought in on the elven aspect of the magic, or the elven aspect of Alyssa.

The characters interest me more than the magic though. There are a few places where the interactions are a bit stiff, but most of those feel like they’re meant to be a little awkward. I like most of the characters and enjoyed seeing Alyssa and Logan working together. I wanted to see more of Alyssa’s roommate and more of Seraphina, the mysterious woman Alyssa winds up crushing on. Alyssa herself has an interesting thing going on with regard to where she belongs between Arcadia and Atlanta. She has people she cares about in both places and both places are part of her. It was interesting to see her think on that some.

Weaver’s Folly feels like a first book in a couple of ways. This is largely due to some clunky exposition early on, a couple of things get explained in a block immediately upon being brought up rather than later where they would have flowed better. The bit with light elves, like Alyssa, and dark elves historically hating each other was a particularly jarring example. I would have liked to have seen more on that throughout, since it seems like it should be important in later books.

That kind of ties into my other issue, there’s this prophecy early on that comes back up a couple of times and it feels like it should tie really heavily into one of the antagonists. It feels like it should but the support for that connection isn’t there, just boom here’s an antagonist. This was really frustrating for me for a lot of reasons, but a lot of it boils down to looking back and seeing places where foreshadowing might have been attempted but wasn’t done well enough or consistently enough to add up to anything. It wound up feeling like it had been shoved in at the end to lead into the next book.

The thing at the end affected my reading of the book more than anything else. Stumbles are an expected thing in the first book in a series. But I flat don’t like it when the end of a book feels like the prologue to the next. That said, there’s enough that Madsen did well in Weaver’s Folly that I was already planning on reading the next one when it comes out. I liked her characters and would have liked to have seen more of them. The separation between cyber punk Atlanta and deeply magical Arcadia is fascinating to me. I’m curious about the specifics of how magic works here. The whole of the book leaves me wanting more and for that, Weaver’s Folly gets a four out of five.

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.