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A-E (by author)

Posted: 15 June, 2015 at 11:51 am   /   by   /   comments (0)

Reviews on this page:

Charlee Allden: Deadly Lover — Stealing Mercury

Jess Anastasi: Atrophy

Simone Anderson: Changing Tides

Elizabeth Andre: The Time Slip Girl

Ilona Andrews: Silent Blade — Silver Shark

Zoë Archer: Collision Course

KS Augustin: Europa Europa — I Am Ebony Strike — On Bliss — Prime Suspect — Restoration

Sienna Bronwyn: Black Hole Bounty

Diane Burton: The Protector

Melodie Campbell: Code Name: Gypsy Moth

Beth Cato: The Clockwork Dagger

Wendy Lynn Clark: Liberation’s Kiss

G Cockel: Archangel Down

Nina Croft: Break Out — The Descartes Legacy

Daco: Electromancer

JC Daniels: Final Protocol (SFF Dragon) — Final Protocol (Norm Zeeman)

DJ Davis: While You Were Away

Genie Davis & Pauline Baird Jones: All I Got For Christmas

Kris DeLake: A Spy to Die For

Michelle Diener: Dark Horse — Dark DeedsDark Minds

Ruby Dixon: Ice Planet Barbarians

Diane Dooley: Blue Galaxy

Ella Drake: Black Ice Heart

DT Dyllin: Starblind

Barbara Elsborg: Taking Stock

Sylvia Engdahl: Journey Between Worlds

A Spy to Die For (Kris DeLake)

Review by Jo Jones

When Spy Meets Spy

Agent: Agent Skylight

Profile: Seasoned Assassin Guild Super-Sleuth. Talented enough that she can write her own rules.

Budget: Unlimited.

Agent Jack Profile: Main investigator for the loosely federated Rover Assassins. Guided by a strict moral code, fierce loyalty, and a sense of duty.

More Than Sparks Will Fly

review-aspytodieforOn opposite sides of a high-stakes game, lust lures two spies together in a passionate encounter. Little do they know that the heat of the moment would bind them, turning their worlds upside down. Hunted by deadly assassins, can the pair and their love withstand the onslaught?”

The timeline in A Spy To Die For is the same as the timeline in Assassins In Love, Book One in the series. Unlike Misha and Rikki who are assassins, Sky and Jack are spies, one for the Assassins Guild and one for the Rover Assassins.

Characters: Sky and Jack are both characters with secrets. Both have trouble trusting and both usually work independently.  Both characters are very well developed and it is plain to see that they will not react favorably to each other. Jack it strictly by the book and Sky makes her own rules. The difference between the two is what makes it such fun to see what happens when they have to work together to survive.

Plot: I thought the plot here was a little weak. The book is more romance-centered than action- and danger-centered. This is more of a small splinter off the plot in Assassins In Love and the tension is not as intense.

If you are looking for a light fun read check out A Spy To Die For. It is a good place to get your SFR (Science Fiction Romance) fix. Even though it is Book 2 in the Assassins Guild series, it can stand alone, but pick up Assassins in Love for a double SFR fix.

Sourcebooks published A Spy To Die For by Kris DeLake in 2013.

Kris DeLake is a pen name for Kristine Katherine Rusch.

All I Got for Christmas (Genie Davis & Pauline Baird Jones)

Review by Marlene Harris

This is definitely a “mixed-feelings” type of review. And it’s not so much that I have different feelings about the two novellas in this collective as that I have mixed feelings about both of the novellas in this collection.

Let me explain…

There are two stories in this collection, Riding for Christmas by Genie Davis and Up on the House Top by Pauline Baird Jones. While I liked the concept of this joint release, I had some issues with the executions. Completely different issues with each story.

Review-AllIGotForChristmasRiding for Christmas felt more like a ghost story than science fiction romance. The time travel element is a weirder than normal bit of handwavium, but the science fiction aspects, such as they were, felt like the story would have been better served if they had been fantasy or paranormal elements instead. Considering the setting, the Native American trickster deities, either Coyote or Raven, would have served just as well as the aliens to make this story happen.

In 1885 Sam Harrington is captured by aliens, and put in stasis for a century. Then on a whim, or perhaps a desire to find an excuse to let Sam go, the aliens let Sam out for Christmas, at the sight of the old farm he was on his way to visit during that snowstorm that obscured the aliens way back when.

Sam discovers the granddaughter of his old friends, visiting the derelict ranch that she has just inherited. The lives of everyone connected to Sam went badly after his disappearance, and Jane MacKenzie is all that’s left. She’s an orphan whose drunken grandfather didn’t want her, but still left her his broken down ranch.

Sam’s one night of freedom coincides with Jane’s visit to the ranch, where she gets lost in a snowstorm. She and Sam spend one night together outside of time, where they talk and comfort each other, but share nothing more than a kiss.

The aliens return Sam to his own time, and Sam has the future that he should have had, including marriage and children and grandchildren. That lonely future that Jane Mackenzie was part of never came to be—but it is still the life that Jane remembers. Until she has an encounter with another Sam Harrington, and they swap ghost stories.

The story had a very cute concept, but the characters didn’t speak to me. Or the situation didn’t. Or something I can’t put my finger on. Was it all outside of time? How did the aliens manage to futz with time? And more than once at that. We don’t get quite enough of either character to really feel the story.

And it always felt more like a ghost story than SFR to me. The aliens are as nebulous as that ship they hid in the snow.

Escape Rating for Riding for Christmas: C+

Up on the House Top was a lot funnier than Riding for Christmas. And there is also a lot more heart in the story, or perhaps that’s more meat.

Gini comes back to her mother’s remote cabin in Wyoming for Christmas, with her twin sister’s two recalcitrant step-children in unintended tow. Van her husband Bif (they’re his kids) had an emergency at work, and never do come to get the terrors. No one can figure out what kind of work emergency they might have a NASA without a ship in space, but Gini does eventually find out.

As much as anyone finds out anything about the real truth in this story.

Because when Gini gets to her mother’s, the love of her life is waiting in the cabin along with mother. But it’s been 20 years since Gini and Dex broke up, Dex is now the County Sherriff and Gini is entertaining a surprise marriage proposal from her rich and chilly boss.

It’s a weird meeting made even weirder by the presence of Gini’s mother Desi, who has always been a bit “out there” and is further out there than normal. Things get even crazier the next morning, when Gini and Dex wake up to discover that they have reverted to their 13-year-old selves, at least physically, and that 80+ year old Desi is now about 7. Which seems to be the age at which she was originally captured by the little green men (and possibly one little green woman) who are all over the house.

Gini isn’t sure whether to go with the flow, fear for her sanity, or try to take the house back from the invading forces. Those little green men say that first contact never goes well, but this particular instance is proving to be a humdinger.

By the time the dust settles, the men in black have been foiled by decorating the flying saucer on the roof as an extra terrestrial vehicle for a big green Santa, and life is back to normal. Except that the little green men have taken their little friend Desi away with them, and that Gini’s 13-year-old self finally had the courage, or perhaps the self-centeredness, to finally ask Dex what went wrong all those years ago.

The story has a lot of things to say about the relationship between adult children and their aging parents. It also manages to get a fair number of licks in about the normal self-centered phase that teenagers go through. And there are plenty of geeky in-jokes to make SF fans laugh and chuckle.

But the story lurches from one crazy incident to another, and at points it feels more like an excuse for those in jokes than an actual story. And this reader never did figure out exactly what purpose those two real kids served in the plot. The girl was not just selfish, but completely unlikeable from beginning to end.

And there’s an “it was all a dream” ending. The question left in the reader’s mind is which parts?

Escape Rating for Up on the House Top: B-

Archangel Down (The Archangel Project: Book One), G Cockel

Review by Jo Jones

Review-ArchangelDownIn the year 2432, humans think they are alone in the universe. They’re wrong.

Commander Noa Sato plans a peaceful leave on her home planet Luddeccea … but winds up interrogated and imprisoned for her involvement in the Archangel Project. A project she knows nothing about.

Professor James Sinclair wakes in the snow, not remembering the past twenty four hours, or knowing why he is being pursued. The only thing he knows is that he has to find Commander Sato, a woman he’s never met.

A military officer from the colonies and a civilian from Old Earth, they couldn’t have less in common. But they have to work together to save the lives of millions—and their own.

Every step of the way they are haunted by the final words of a secret transmission:

The archangel is down. (Blurb from Goodreads)

Commander Noa Sato and Professor James Sinclair find themselves together in a fight for their lives. A fight where nothing is as it seems.

Noa is on leave and has come to visit her brother. She is arrested; questioned about The Archangel Project and put in a work camp. James is shot down when he comes to visit and wakes with a huge chunk of his memory missing. James finds Noa after she escapes. They need to get off the planet and that common goal keeps them together.

Don’t look for a lot of romance in Archangel Down. Do look for a story that sets the scene for the next books in the series. Everything that happens to Noa and James helps build the world they find themselves on. There is non-stop tension as both work to find a way to escape the planet. At first neither trusts the other but they have no choice about working together to stay alive. The relationship between the two is very slow building, adding to the tension in the story.

The big question throughout the book is, what is the Archangel Project? Why was Noa questioned about something she had never heard of? Why did they say the Archangel is down after James is shot down? There are hints about the answers to these questions but do not look for them in this book. Those will come in the next two books.

At first Noa and James are the only two characters in the story. As they plot and plan their escape, other characters are added to the mix. The slow introduction allows for better and more complex character development.

James and Noa spend most of the book working toward a relationship based on trust. There is just the hint of romance. Most of Archangel Down develops the world, sets the plot in motion and fleshes out the characters. Look for more in Noa’s Arc, book two in the Archangel Project due out soon.

Atrophy (Jess Anastasi)

Review by Jo Jones

review-atrophyNo one on Erebus escapes alive…

Twelve years on the prison planet Erebus makes a man long for death. The worst part for Tannin Everette is that he was framed for murder. He’s innocent. When the ship Imojenna lands for emergency repairs, Tannin risks everything to escape…only to find himself face to face with the captain’s undeniably gorgeous sister.

Zahli Sherron isn’t planning on turning Tannin in. In fact, she actually believes him. Sure, he’s sexy as every kind of sin, but he’s no criminal—so she hides him. But no one escapes from Erebus and lives to tell about it. With every day that passes, Zahli further risks the lives of the entire crew…even as she falls in love with a man she can never have for herself. (Blurb from Goodreads)

Atrophy is part Science Fiction Romance and part Space Opera. Zahli and Tannin are attracted but there is a big problem. That problem is found in Zahli’s brother, Rian, who is the captain of the space ship Imojenna. The Space Opera part is the quest Rian is on. I found Rian the most complex character in the book. It is hard to put him in any category. Things have happened to Rian that make him difficult to understand or to get a focus on his personality. His reactions drive the story.

The plot has several different twists. It starts as a prison break and ends as a hunt for aliens. The development allowed each character to come more and more into focus. Don’t look for a solution to the alien part of the plot. Zahli and Tannin do get their HEA but that problem is almost part of the background. What the story really does is introduce a great cast of characters, built a complex world, highlight a very big problem, give some of the backstory, and set the hooks for future stories in this world.

I am looking forward to seeing much more of the Imojenna and her crew.

Entangled: Select Otherworld published Atrophy by Jess Anastasi in 2015.

Blue Galaxy (Diane Dooley)

Review by The Book Pushers

Publisher: Carina Press
Publish Date: May 9th
How I got this book: NetGalley

Falling in love is easy; staying alive long enough to enjoy it just might be impossible.

Javan Rhodes, the hard-drinking, disreputable captain of space freighter The Kypris, took a mission to save himself from hitting the bottom of the food chain. Transporting Sola, a beautiful young aristocrat, from Earth to an unknown destination on the outer rim of the colonies is lucrative, but also highly illegal.

As tough as it is to evade both the law and the lawless, the hardest part of the job is not falling in love with his irresistible cargo. Just as he decides that he will never be able to hand her over to the warlord she must marry, he discovers that Sola has been playing a very dangerous game—one that could not only cost them their lives, but could also affect the balance of power in an increasingly dangerous universe. (Blurb from Goodreads)

Review-BlueGalaxyIt’s no secret that I love a good Sci Fi Romance, especially one set in space with epic battles and fun plot twists. When I saw new author Diane Dooley’s new release, I knew I had to get it. While I wasn’t absolutely blown away, I was pretty impressed by this debut book.

Captain Rhodes is looking to forward to his newest mission, taking one of the Earth’s equivalent of royalty and transport her to a far unknown location. His only rule is to not ask questions, and after one look at Sola, Rhodes knows he is going to have a hard time keeping him hands to himself, as well as his questions.

There were a lot of things I enjoyed about this book, mainly the world building. I really liked the differences in social class, and how both Rhodes and Sola dealt with the issues surrounding them. The conflict within the world itself, especially surrounding The Dictator and the quest for absolute power was fun and exciting to read about. While the plot seemed to drag in certain places, other times it would pick up and run, taking me on a journey I’ll never forget.

At first the romance between Rhodes and Sola didn’t work for me, mainly because Rhodes fell instantly “in love” with Sola, and usually that is just one of those things that irks me. However, as the romance progressed I did find myself enjoying it more, getting pulled into the passion between them. Plus, when Sola reveals her big secret, I liked the way Rhodes handled it, especially given the severity of her deception.

One of my favorite part of Sci Fi Romance books is that the plot is constantly twisting and turning, things are never exactly as they seem, and sometimes the bad guys are really good.Blue Galaxy has some great twists that I didn’t seem coming, and totally loved. While the blurb hints that there is more going on with Sola than meets the eye, I was completely stunned at her revelation. It was fun and unexpected and a great turning point in the story.

More and more I’m seeing short stories without chapters, and while I might be the only one, it really kinda bugs me when they are left out. While the lack of chapters doesn’t exactly take anything away from the story, it’s just weird… Blue Galaxy is shorter, only about 60 pages or so, but the story itself is told in a great way, wraps up everything nicely and left me wanting more. I do hope that Dooley will continue to write in the genre: her style is engaging, her voice is fun and her world is exciting.

All in all, I give Blue Galaxy a B-

Break Out (Nina Croft)

Review by Jo Jones

Who can resist a Science Fiction novel with a Vampire space ship owner? I couldn’t. I first read Break Out as a novella and loved it. My one complaint was the weak world building. That changed when the novella was rewritten as a novel. Now there is interesting world building, great characters and a really convoluted plot. Everything a book needs to make it a difficult to put down.

review-breakoutRichardo Sanchez is a two thousand year old vampire who really has learned how to change with the times. In 3048 he is the owner of the space ship El Cadazor (or “Blood Hunter”). The ship is filled with an eclectic crew, each with secrets of their own. They take on a rescue mission for Skylar Rossaria who is also full of secrets. Skylar is not what she seems. Her mission is not what she thinks. And then there is her attraction to Rico. He is a further complication she just does not need.

The job the crew of El Cadazo accepts – to break an assassin from the most secure prison in the galaxy.

That is a great plot idea and Croft keep it moving with dialog, character development and action. It is interesting to see the change in Rico as the story progresses. He never had much to do with his crew but with the addition of Skylar he becomes more involved in the everyday affairs on the ship. He also has some of the very best dialog in the book. Here are a few examples:

“Son of Satan,” the priest cried.Rico rolled his eyes. “We’re not actually related.”

Tannis swiveled her chair to face him. “Been eating the natives, Rico?”“Dios, I go out for a snack and all I get is hassle. I’ve got to eat.”

“Is she dead?”“No, she’s not bloody dead.” Rico ran a hand through his hair. “Jesus why does everybody think I go around killing people?”

Skylar snorted. “This big stupid brain-dead, bloodsucking idiot thought we’d attack first.”“All-dead, actually,” he inserted cheerfully.

Look for an interesting crew, great dialog and a surprise ending. Break Out is a very good combination of Space Opera and Science Fiction Romance. Just the kind of book I love and to make it even better there are more books in the series. After you finish Break Out, pick up Deadly Pursuit, Death Defying and Temporal Shift.

Black Hole Bounty (Sienna Bronwyn)

Review by Norm Zeeman

Jerusha Whitchab-Tuleh wakes up a prisoner on a spaceship headed to the Gruyan Galaxy through a black hole. Her captor, General Selvar Toyeb of the technologically advanced race, Atlapans, says they need her very special blood to save their race from a deadly virus because she is the last descendent of one of their ruling class who dallied with earth women several generations ago and left some children there. So, an albino, Latina/Kuna Indian lab tech with turquoise eyes and a husband and daughter on Earth is now not only a long-lost princess on an alien planet, she is their savior. That’s cool. A little overboard, but I can buy it.

The general starts a blood harvesting process that is so vigorous that Jerusha requires healing treatments after each bloodletting session – sessions which consist of mental Theta wave bombardments which causes sexual arousal to the point where Jerusha loses control. This is not necessarily a bad thing, as she thinks the General likes her. She couldn’t be more wrong, and when this comes out, the author wastes no time or effort painting him as a total blackguard of the highest order. Since I didn’t like his gorgeous, arrogant, sexual-healing self to begin with, I really don’t like him now.

review-blackholebountyWhen Jerusha is rescued/re-kidnapped by Berwyck, she thinks this is worse than the situation she was in before. And of course it is. Berwyck is another alien from a different species: the seemingly less advanced, cave-dwelling Molari, created by the Atlapans to be their warrior slaves (which didn’t quite work out well for either of them). Jerusha is fatally injured in the escape/kidnapping attempt and, with no General Selvar to Theta wave her back into health, she must accept Berwyck’s varr for the life-giving properties it has. Complications arise when it becomes apparent that she must take this treatment every day (from the loathsome, although hunky alien, Prince Berwyck) or she will die. Stockholm Syndrome can be expected and it does indeed occur, but I don’t see the attraction myself.

Another complication is that her attempted escape from her first kidnapping by General Selvar delayed the second kidnapping by Berwyck, and therefore delayed Jerusha’s arrival at the underground city of the Molari. Her blood was supposed to be used to save the queen’s life, but as Jerusha didn’t know that, she arrived too late, and the queen died. Oops.

A trial is convened by the new (and none too stable) Molari queen to decide Jerusha’s fate and…I’m not going to tell you what happens, but, rest assured, more interesting revelations occur. And then it’s the end of the book, with only a “To Be Continued” to let you know the next book is coming!

Regarding the book’s main characters, Berwyck’s description made him sound handsome, but the name kept conjuring up a mental image of an aging English butler. I couldn’t get that out of my head every time I heard his name, which made it difficult to picture him as the exact opposite!

I loved Jerusha’s pet torture vine, Vee. It was a really cool alien creature. I also loved her connection to the rhendar, huge lizard creatures that she could mentally control. Unfortunately, I felt they were vastly under-used.

Jerusha was a different enough character that you didn’t feel she was just another stereotypical white girl slash long-lost princess with super martial arts skills. She wasn’t any of that, and I felt that made her portrayal stronger and easier to relate to.

To be honest, I didn’t like either of the male characters. Unfortunately, the author did too good of a job of portraying them as essentially callous, and nothing that happened later on in the book changed my mind. Jerusha doesn’t get tenderness from either of the male leads. The healing sessions with Selvar might have been fun if he had been a more sympathetic character, but she was pretty much mind-raped by him. And there’s no way to make sucking varr venom out of an alien’s nipple pouch sound anything other than icky, so no matter how much it seemed she enjoyed it, I just couldn’t buy it. This was no fault of the author as she tried every way possible using every tool in her arsenal of words to make this sexy and all I felt was “Eeww! Ick!” It’s not hard say “I’ll pass”, when you compare the non-awesomeness of mental sex with a gorgeous psychopath to voraciously sucking life-giving goo from a pouch belonging to a celibate warrior-priest barbarian who isn’t old enough to have his double-dick drop yet. Yeah, that was a surprise, but I’m sure we’ll hear more about that in the next book because you can’t drop a bomb like that and not use it.

Written in first person, most of what we learn is from an annoying internal monologue that gets weird really fast. I didn’t see much character growth during the book; most of the time Jerusha just reacts to the things going on around her. In terms of worldbuilding, we have a generic spaceship, some underground caves, a hot and dry desert, back to the caves and then back to another spaceship. From those locales, there isn’t much to build on. For much of the book, Jerusha is either in a prison cell or shunned by everyone around her, so meaningful interactions to show motivation or character development are rare.

There were many awesome revelations towards the end of the book, but no happy-ever-after and, it seems, no happy-for-now either. I hope the author uses the new twists to the fullest in the next book, because they left me wanting more and “varr-aciously” hoping for better.

Black Ice Heart (Ella Drake)

Review by Normalene Zeeman

Ensign Joan Halley of the Geonate space military, forced to enlist at age six, yearns to transfer to the Nex, a secretive special ops branch of the Geonate military. Compulsory military service after attending government schooling makes this world sound very dictatorial and chilling, but I like Joan and Georgie’s BFF relationship. By page six, we meet quick-healing, super-strong, Cenak Bronson, scheduled for execution upon arrival at the prison asteroid. Joan’s first assignment as a probationary Nex officer is to keep an eye on Cenak until he is handed over to prison officials. Cenak allegedly killed a whole barracks full of “sleeping recruits before their first training day”, yet Joan seems to have empathy for the cruel treatment of the prisoner, and, from what we’ve read so far, I don’t understand why. Everything we’ve been told about him to this point leads us to believe he is a cold-blooded, conscienceless, mass-murderer who deserves to die.

Review-BlackIceHeartBy Chapter Four, Cenak and Joan are on the decimated prison asteroid, taken captive by the Scoriah. With the ship broken and stuck on the prison asteroid with the Scoriah and the possibly-not-fully-human Cenak, Joan has no choice but to play along with Cenak and hope to stay alive long enough to escape. At the young age of 16, Cenak was forced to mate with the now-deceased clone-daughter of the Scoriah matriarch. The matriarch orchestrated Cenak’s rescue on the prison asteroid, although the details of exactly how that worked is very sketchy. The Scoriah babies’ accelerated growth and birth killed the mother and the babies were taken away to be raised by scientists. Cenak’s anger at the scientists’ uncaring sacrifice of the mother, in order to keep all twenty-four Scoriah babies alive, causes him pain as he had begun to care for her.

We don’t learn much about the Scoriah warriors right away. They are huge humanoids with grey skin covered in long hair, with long arms ending in razor sharp claws and humanoid facial features, seemingly based on advanced Neanderthals, but cuter. The timeline for their growth is also a little vague. It seems they are only a few months old due to their accelerated growth, but Cenak seems to have been on many missions for the scientists and the military during their gestation and artificially-induced, early birth. The Scoriah matriarch tells Cenak that she is a sterile lab-created blend of Geonate DNA and the “indestructible female Ferrashi Neotio” which we learn much later on is an insect found on Ferrash. She was also only months old when they created the clone-daughter who was fertile (um, why was she fertile but her clone-mother wasn’t? It felt like she pulled this from Orphan Black [er, in case anyone (like me) didn’t know, Orphan Black is a TV series about clones who were implanted in different women for obviously…dum dum DUM…mysterious reasons –Ed.]).

At the young age of four months, the clone-daughter was mated with Cenak and soon after she birthed the twenty-four Scoriah brothers but didn’t live through it. This is the first mention of the planet Ferrash and we learn much later that it is the Scoriah home planet, but if the Scoriah matriarch is the first of her kind and lab-created, and the Scoriah babies are lab-created from her clone-daughter, how do they have a home world? One of the powers of the matriarch is to make the scientist who created her fall in love with her and do her bidding, but it’s not clear what about her was so appealing. The matriarch, Donetta, (finally we have a name for her) is also crazy-smart, gifted with DNA-splicing knowledge and every other kind of skill and ability that makes it possible for her to help capture a spaceship, discover where Cenak was being taken, run the machines in the lab (which contains exactly what is needed, even though it seems they are still on the prison asteroid) to bring the fertilized eggs to life and implant six of them into Joan. None of that made sense to me, and it felt like this was tacked on to make the plot work. I didn’t buy it.

The Scoriah matriarch desires more Cenak/Scoriah babies and it seems the only human womb available is Joan, now Mother-of-Monsters 2.0. Donetta forces Joan to give a blowjob to Cenak so that semen can be collected and Joan is artificially inseminated. This wasn’t necessary with the clone-daughter so I’m not seeing the point, other than to give us some sex.

With Joan pregnant and the Scoriah packing up to leave the asteroid on a ship Donetta managed to find, Cenak needs to find a way to escape before Joan’s pregnancy comes to the same bloody and fatal end-of-motherhood that birthed the first twenty-four Scoriah. In Chapter Six, the author throws in the fact that the scientist who created him (wait, Cenak is also lab-created?) and Donetta, is still alive and helping her bring these new Scoriah into existence. This also felt tacked on so that the author wouldn’t have to explain how a nine-foot tall, rail thin, grey-skinned monstress managed to do all the science-y stuff without help and get the scientist to fall in love with her. Plus, Joan has military training and years of experience, yet she went down like a creampuff from the very beginning. Again, it felt too contrived.

In Chapter Seven, we learn that there were other women on the asteroid, but Donetta didn’t try to make any of them Scoriah surrogates. Why not? When Joan asks where they got the ship, she is told that Mother obtained it and that is all the explanation we get. During this chapter, the Scoriah start to sound very intelligent, although in the beginning they couldn’t put a sentence together and have it make sense. When very high-concept thoughts come out of them, it’s hard to remember who is talking as there seems to be no reasoning behind this abrupt change in their personalities, other than to make them more likeable. In this chapter, one of the Scoriah tells Joan he is twenty years old and grew up on the planet Ferrash, but earlier we were told that all twenty-four are brothers born at the same time of the same mother and are only a few months old. Now I’m really confused.

Chapter Eight makes it seem that Cenak is much older as he talks about the many Nex-controlled military and assassination missions he went on while waiting for the babies to be born and immediately after. In Chapter Nine, Joan calls the Scoriah nice, charming, friendly, psychopaths and we learn they can make pie – on a spacecraft – and they are pretty awesome with swords and have the knowledge to handle all the duties of running a spaceship, but who taught them those things? At this halfway point, Joan’s practical side still wars with her conscience after she watches Cenak cold-bloodedly kill the guard who had been torturing him at the beginning of the book, but she is massively pregnant and needs his help to stay alive. From this point on, we notice changes in Joan, Cenak and the Scoriah that lead you to believe they will all have a happy ending because as part of a military experiment, Cenak was given an untested berserker drug which caused him to kill until there was no one left to kill, so it wasn’t really his fault that he was a killer, he is really a very nice – um, lab-created-guy. This would have been nice to know at the very beginning.

The setting was very well-portrayed and character development was good once you got past the weird timeline glitches. You get a good sense of the puppy-style nest that the Scoriah sleep in as it is the same on the asteroid, the spaceship and on Ferrash; you really feel their loyalty to Cenak, the father, and Joan, the mother. The plot is a little loosey-goosey, but you can figure it out. Most of the secondary characters who are not Scoriah feel like plot devices used to impart information and move the story along and they don’t add much to it. There is more sex later on, but I didn’t buy the relationship and it felt like another obligatory sex scene.

This is a very short book and I expected to zip right through it, but I had to go back and re-read parts multiple times because I couldn’t figure out the timeline. I get that the author didn’t want to give a huge infodump right at the beginning, but I was confused about the how and when all the way through the book. I finally made my own timeline as I went along and updated it every time I learned something new that changed it. This happened a lot towards the end, as the author tried to bring all the pieces together quickly and make Cenak and the Scoriah loveable and to make Joan want to keep them. I think I would have started with Cenak being given the berserker drug in a flashback and gone from there. It might have saved a lot of explanatory digression towards the end, where we had to drop out of the story many times for a smidge of information to explain what just happened. Another ten pages to fill in the gaps and tighten up the timeline would have made this story so incredibly awesome, because the bones are there, but the flesh was missing.

Changing Tides (Simone Anderson)

Review by Psyche Skinner

I really wanted to like Changing Tides. Sci fi M/M in a dystopian setting is a favorite of mine. Nor is there anything wrong with a basic “love at first sight” plot with political complications.

review-changingtidesHowever a great deal of the on page action in this novel is…. no action at all. The first third of the plot is pining and exposition about the character’s backstory. On top of that one of the characters whose point of view we see, manages to not reveal either of the two huge secrets in his life to the reader. And even after a major plot twist and short action interlude we are returned to a string of scenes with one or both of our heroes, in a room, thinking about backstory events or having sex. sex is great, don’t get me wrong, but I do prefer a story with more than one sort of action.

On top of that the writer has a few ticks, like frequent use of “the other man”, “the younger man” or “the shorter man” when “he” or a name would have served better—and would created much less of an amateur fanfiction tone. Also characters think rhetorical questions to themselves in the third person (“Would Orion feel him all day?”—it is Orion thinking this) and other strange choices of expression that I would have expected a good editor to correct.

I also struggle to make sense of why a military oligarchy would suppress the careers of married people, and sterilise and ban marriage and adoption for anyone still single at the age of twenty-five. It makes for some plot tension early in the story, but is never really explained in a sociological sense. Why would a paranoid military nation with no obvious crowding problems would be actively trying to reduce its population? Nor are we really shown the book’s world which seems to be filled with generic vehicles, generic buildings, and technology somewhat below our own world—none of these things being specifically described in any way.

Any sympathy I might still have for the main character wanes when he starts doing exactly the same thing the “evil” government did by passing summary justice on people with the approval of the other rebels.

As a reader of sci-fi romance I have learned to cut my losses and generally be happy if even one part of the story makes sense: either the speculative elements or the romantic relationship. In this case I really do not feel that either passed muster. This story centers on a very slight romance dressed up in the costume of science fiction, and not a very well-tailored costume at that.

Code Name: Gypsy Moth (Melodie Campbell)

Review by Toni Adams

review-codenamegypsymothThis is not a space opera. Let’s just be clear on that. What ever intention there was for this to be a space opera was non-existent. For this to be a space opera, there would have drama, story, and action set in a science fiction backdrop. The main location for the story is a bar set on a planet of aliens, so one point on the checklist is marked.

Code Name:Gypsy Moth is a “space opera”. After doing what sounds like the Lorena Bobitt on a fellow high ranking official, Countess Antonella becomes Nell the spy who is undercover as barkeep on a docking planet. What was she undercover for? No idea. Only in the two years that she was there, she nabbed herself a muscle man boyfriend named Dal (who read and acted like Hellboy to me for some reason). Dal is shadowed by an ex-Reaper (considering “reaper” has a such a bad connotation, I’m assuming a bad group) named Alpha.

So what happens in this story? Your guess is as good as mine. There were about a gazillion (all right, not really a gazillion but it sure felt like it) plots that went nowhere. What was the danger? Throwing a body down the wrong incincerator or having her wooden furniture become kindle.

No,really, what was the danger?!

As far as I can tell, none really. It seemed like everyone else was in danger. The people around them were either pulverised or in danger of death. It was as if everyone else was wearing a red shirt but the main characters. They were able to walk away from pretty intense fights, solves problems pretty easily, and then decided to go off planet so that Nell and Dal could get married.

It’s not the worse story I’ve read. Since it was only about 60 pages in pdf form, it was a “short” read.

Although the weird writing made it seem like I was reading a long novel. The first person narrative can be bit tiresome and repetitve. There’s nothing in the story for me to be emotionally invested in. The cuteness of the characters can go for so long before it becomes boring. It really did feel like I was skimming the surface of a potentially great story.

Flipping back to the cover, I noticed that it had in big large letters: IMAJIN QWICKIES. After some brief internet searching, this is my thought on it: not a good idea. Whatever the point of this subset is, it results in churning out an annoying and frustrating story. Not frustration stemming from teasing a great story out of my grasp. It’s frustration that there was no story for me to see the great potential of it in the first place. It should just have to be short, not stuttering or trailing off into distracted transgressions. When the reader has to constantly flip back to the previous page to see if they missed a paragraph, it makes for a very frustrating read. Normally, this novella would be chucked out but curiosity and the fact it was so short kept me going.

The tagline for this story on the interwebs has it written that it has Campbell’s type of humor. If the humor was all the nods towards science fiction pop culture jokes, then brava, accomplished. The tagline for Imagine Quickies is Qwick reads for Busy People. Busy people aren’t idiots. They are short on time. If you are aiming to cater to this demographic,then encourage stories that engrossing, makes their short breaks transcendent, and actually leaves an impression.

Moving aside from the cringeworthy spelling of ‘quick”, this whole little subsection of the publishing company needs to be re-worked. A “qwick” :;shudder:; story should be a platform for authors to impress readers with the challenge of presenting a short but well written story with a cohesive plot, meaningful actions, and so forth. A short story is limited by the number of pages, so a good story is really, really important. The loose ends in Code Name: Gypsy Moth do nothing to entice me to continue on the story when this story failed to cement my interest.

This really brings to mind the comparison to this and anthologies. Anthologies have been popping up on my radar. Big name authors (like Tanith Lee or Neil Gaiman) will draw my eyes to the collection but it is also with the anticipation of finding a new author to follow along. The assumption is that if a lesser well known author is between the pages of commercially known authors, then the anthology editor must have found their work somewhat equal to big guns. Which has been true. Many authors have been introduced to me that I am now following. So then what is the point of Imagin Qwickies? A glimpse to the authors potential ? Showcasing their established authors? If so, then none of this was perceived well on my end.

With that said, I sincerely hope that the author has a chance to expand on this universe or space opera with more in depth and clarification. A barkeep/ spy/ fiance heroine is pretty darn interesting in the realm of science fiction. The characters are the strongest part in the story. The action description is the second strongest (some of it quite wonderfully graphic). Overall, this just reads like a late night science fiction episode from the nineties.

Collision Course (Zoë Archer)

Review by The Book Pushers

Mara Skiren is a scavenger, a black-market dealer. Blackmailed into helping Commander Kell Frayne infiltrate a treacherous corner of the galaxy, Mara learns that her biggest danger is from her sexy, by-the-book partner. She’s a loner with more than a few battle scars on her heart, but something about Commander Frayne stirs up her long-buried need for an intimate connection.

An ace pilot for the elite Black Wraith Squadron, Kell’s mission is to rescue a lost pilot and ship. Unable to deny his attraction to the beautiful, rebellious woman, he decides bedding her would cool his ardor. But one taste is not nearly enough, and he finds himself sharing more of his real self with Mara than he has with anyone.

review-collisioncourseWith deadly criminals on their heels and an increasingly dangerous assignment to complete, he’s starting to wonder… If they survived, could he let her go? And will Mara want to stay?

I’m a big fan of space opera romance, and man oh man does Archer deliver one of the best I’ve ever read!

Mara is down on her luck when she gets blackmailed into helping the 8th Wing get back one of their pilots and top secret ships. Because of her special skills (dealing in the black market), Mara really doesn’t have a choice. But her day gets worse when she realizes she has to work with a partner, the sex on legs Kell.

The two are instantly attracted, but for them both, the mission has always come first. But with danger lurking around every corner, the two quickly fall to their passion. With their enemies, other mercenaries and mercs hot on their heels, they will have to work together to complete their mission, get out alive, and figure out just where life can take them.

I really can’t say enough fabulous things about Collision Course. I loved the world Archer created, and the fact that she didn’t go heavy on the science fiction. It was soft, easy to understand and get involved in, and so compelling I immediately got sucked in. The balance of space battles and romance were the perfect combination to give any romance reader a thrill ride, regardless of the sub-genre.

Mara and Kell were super fun characters as well. Both were strong in their values and beliefs. I enjoyed that they both had such depth to them, even though the story was shorter than your average novel. The history they each had to go through to get to where they are today, was so fun to watch unfold. I loved that Kell was, in many ways, a very alpha hero. And at the same time, he gave Mara a lot of liberties to be her own woman, pilot her own ship, and get them out of some sticky situations. Likewise I enjoyed Mara’s ability to be a super strong heroine, and yet vulnerable and able to change at the same time. Plus, they had this great chemistry together. They burnt hot and steady and I enjoyed watching them deal with that.

The action was great in this as well. I loved the way that Mara and Kell had to rely on each other to continually get out of sticky situations, they way they each played off of the others skills. Again, there were so many things I loved about the world building: the different planets, the in space fights, the neat ships and crazy scenarios were so fun to read.

The book was constantly moving at a fun pace, and I never felt like I was left behind or confused ( as can happen in some Sci Fi Romance). For anyone out there thinking about jumping into the Sci Fi Romance genre, this would be a great starter book for you!

All in all, I give Collision Course an A.

Dark Deeds (Class 5 #2) by Michelle Diener

Review by The Book Pushers

Publisher: Eclipse
Publish Date: 4 January 16
Reviewed by: E
How I got this book: From Sci-Fi Romance Quarterly

Far from home . . .

Fiona Russell has been snatched from Earth, imprisoned and used as slave labor, but nothing about her abduction makes sense. When she’s rescued by the Grih, she realizes there’s a much bigger game in play than she could ever have imagined, and she’s right in the middle of it.

Far from safe . . .

Battleship captain Hal Vakeri is chasing down pirates when he stumbles across a woman abducted from Earth. She’s the second one the Grih have found in two months, and her presence is potentially explosive in the Grih’s ongoing negotiations with their enemies, the Tecran. The Tecran and the Grih are on the cusp of war, and Fiona might just tip the balance.

Far from done . . .

Fiona has had to bide her time while she’s been a prisoner, pretending to be less than she is, but when the chance comes for her to forge her own destiny in this new world, she grabs it with both hands. After all, actions speak louder than words. (This blurb came from Goodreads)

Review-DarkDeedsAfter hearing several people I share reading interests talk about Dark Horse, Book 1 of Diener’s Class 5 series, I gave it a read and provided a review in last quarter’s issue. It was an enjoyable story set in a very large universe and I was interested in seeing what would happen next. Luckily Dark Deeds was available for this issue and I think I almost sprained by fingers typing my email request in as fast as I did. I am glad to say it was worth my hurry.

Similar to Dark Horse, this story starts with a captured human woman and from there things took some very interesting turns. The story focused on Fiona and her drive to regain her sense of independence and emancipation. I really enjoyed seeing how she interacted with the different species she encountered and how she was continually working to turn things to her advantage. She might not have an immediate reaction to an event but as I continued reading, I loved seeing how she would come back later and make her point known usually at the expense of someone who deserved it.

Hal was a contradiction in some ways – he wanted vengeance but at the same time he also demonstrated mercy. He was on a mission to hunt down some pirates after they hurt his crew and killed innocents when his ship stumbled across Fiona, an abused captive, and from there his best plans were continually thwarted. I liked how his first instinct was to protect and not just to protect Fiona but his crew and any others around him unless they were actively trying to kill him. I thought it was admirable that he continued with that mindset after defeating the enemy but not killing him. I thought that really said a lot about who he was on the inside. I thought he was a more fully developed character then the hero from the first book even as he dealt with his own particular struggles.

Diener has done a great job of giving each Class 5 a different personality and maturity level. The main Class 5 in Dark Horse seemed much more infantile and evilly devious, while the secondary Class 5 was just full of rage. The Class 5 here seemed more adult and determined to get revenge but willing to listen. I have to say in some respects they remind me of McCaffrey’s Brainships only they didn’t start with an equal symbiotic self-aware relationship but they have the same drive to learn and needed a mission.

I enjoyed watching Hal and Fiona together even though their romance didn’t seem as strong to me. It appeared based more on physical attraction and admiration of their respective abilities then emotional depth. I think the science fiction aspects of world-building, and character development were stronger then Dark Horse which I enjoyed. I also thought Diener was able to tie events which kicked off Dark Horse and Dark Deeds to a recognizable timeline which added a great deal of depth. However, I would still like to see the couples outside of stressful events and get an idea of the rest of who they are. Even the small glimpses of Rose and Dav in this story didn’t manage to convey more then they were still together romantically and acted as a formidable team.

After the events of Dark Deeds I find it hard to believe the Tecran will be able to have any sort of plausible deniability about violating the Sentient Beings Clause or that they were planning war. I also think some other member worlds have some explaining to do. Diener has left the door open for all sorts of other adventures. There are still two Class 5 ships under “enemy” control and one who is sort of a free agent but doesn’t have any strong loyalties to any particular individual. I don’t think it will be as “easy” to free the other Class 5s and I wonder if there will be a “human” for all. I will continue to look forward to the next book and maybe do some finger exercises in preparation for typing my review request.

I give Dark Deeds a B+

Dark Minds, Class 5 #3 (Michelle Diener)

Review by The Book Pushers

Publisher: Eclipse
Publish Date: 22 July 2016
Reviewed by: E
How I got this book: ARC from the author via SciFi Romance Quarterly

review-darkmindsThe mind is the most powerful weapon of all . . .

Imogen Peters knows she’s a pawn. She’s been abducted from Earth, held prisoner, and abducted again. So when she gets a chance at freedom, she takes it with both hands, not realizing that doing so will turn her from pawn to kingmaker.

Captain Camlar Kalor expected to meet an Earth woman on his current mission, he just thought he’d be meeting her on Larga Ways, under the protection of his Battle Center colleague. Instead, he and Imogen are thrown together as prisoners in the hold of a Class 5 battleship. When he works out she’s not the woman who sparked his mission, but another abductee, Cam realizes his investigation just got a lot more complicated, and the nations of the United Council just took a step closer to war.

Imogen’s out of her depth in this crazy mind game playing out all around her, and she begins to understand her actions will have a massive impact on all the players. But she’s good at mind games. She’s been playing them since she was abducted. Guess they should have left her minding her own business back on Earth… (This blurb came from Goodreads)

I enjoyed reading and reviewing the previous two books in this series for earlier issues of Sci-Fi Romance Quarterly, so when I learned this was up for review for the current issue I HAD to request it. I do recommend, if you are interested and haven’t read the others, that you start with Dark Horse because the series builds with each entry.

Imogen had been abducted from Earth some months previously, and after a series of transfers interspersed with stays of various lengths, finally found herself aboard a small ship with a semi-decent crew keeping her prisoner. However, the ship was boarded and Imogen was the only survivor. She ended up one transfer later as one of many different prisoners and multiple species on a much larger ship. She was the only person from Earth and found herself singled out by their captor, the thinking mind of a Class 5 ship. Captain Camlar Kalor and his team were on a peacekeeping mission to meet up with the heroine from Dark Deeds, Class 5 #2, when their ship was boarded and they found themselves prisoners aboard the Class 5 ship as well.

I enjoyed watching Imogene and Cam work together as they tried to uncover what motivated the Class 5 ships, the Tecran, and their allies. I liked getting a different view of their politics and learning some of how deep the conspiracy went. I appreciated how each ship had a different personality under their anger and the continuing theme regarding the importance of music. I did miss watching a human manipulate the Council although Imogene did do a lot of manipulation. Unfortunately I found the romance difficult to buy because Cam and Imogene spent most of their time regarding each other suspiciously or separated.

While I thought Dark Minds contained some of the same elements I enjoyed in the previous two stories, I had problems with the execution. Primarily, I think Diener tried to cram too many different plot lines into this story and then close them all out in one fell swoop. This resulted in my feeling very let down with a particular scene and left wondering about several of the more intriguing dangling plotlines. When I visited her website to find out what was next and discovered Dark Minds is intended to be the last of the Class 5 series, I felt even more disappointed even as I started to understand why certain things happened.

Overall, I think the Class 5 series started off extremely well with a very promising huge universe and sadly didn’t live up to its promise in Dark Minds, the final installment. Diener’s characters remained fun and I enjoyed seeing all three of the Earth women interacting but I wanted to see less coincidence and what felt like “easy” answers and more of the complexity I found in Dark Horse.

I give Dark Minds a C-/D.

Dark Horse (Michelle Diener)

Review by The Book Pushers

(Publisher: Eclipse / Publish Date: 15 June 2015 / Reviewed by: E)

How I got this book: Copy from Sci-Fi Romance Quarterly

Review-DarkHorseSome secrets carry the weight of the world.

Rose McKenzie may be far from Earth with no way back, but she’s made a powerful ally—a fellow prisoner with whom she’s formed a strong bond. Sazo’s an artificial intelligence. He’s saved her from captivity and torture, but he’s also put her in the middle of a conflict, leaving Rose with her loyalties divided.

Captain Dav Jallan doesn’t know why he and his crew have stumbled across an almost legendary Class 5 battleship, but he’s not going to complain. The only problem is, all its crew are dead, all except for one strange, new alien being.

She calls herself Rose. She seems small and harmless, but less and less about her story is adding up, and Dav has a bad feeling his crew, and maybe even the four planets, are in jeopardy. The Class 5’s owners, the Tecran, look set to start a war to get it back and Dav suspects Rose isn’t the only alien being who survived what happened on the Class 5. And whatever else is out there is playing its own games.

In this race for the truth, he’s going to have to go against his leaders and trust the dark horse. (Blurb from Goodreads)

I was not tracking this story when it released six months ago but slowly I started to see the title mentioned more and more in my tweet stream. So it went on my mental list of stories I should check out. As fate has it, right after it appeared as a recommendation to other people in my twitter feed I received the list of stories for this quarters issue. Lo and behold Dark Horse happened to be one of the offerings. I think I about broke my fingers I was in such a hurry to request it before anyone else did. While I thought Dark Horse started slowly and yet in what seemed to be the middle of a story, I quickly became engrossed and thoroughly enjoyed my reading experience.

It says a lot about my state of mind that I approached this story concerned it wasn’t going to live up to the hype I saw. I was afraid the characters were going to be simplistic and the only protagonist Rose’s erstwhile “ally”. Boy was I wrong. Diener built a really complex world with a variety of characters and differing motivations. The battle for survival at all costs versus falling in line with the niceties of civilized trappings was shown in many ways. I enjoyed the diversity of species and their individual idiosyncrasies even as they struggled to work together with the unusual situation.

I admired Rose’s determination to make the best of her situation not just for herself but for others inadvertently involved. Her altruism did irritate me a bit because I just don’t forgive that easily but I thought it was balanced by how she refused to let anyone walk over her. I also liked how she remained loyal and kept her promises even if it meant having to risk herself. I thought the relationship between Rose, Sazo, and Dav was a lot of fun and the personalities were so different I was never afraid of a mental love triangle. I also thought the way Sazo enjoyed the challenge of trying to hack his way into Dav’s ship was very entertaining.

One of the other things I thought stuck with me was how central Dav’s thoughts and feelings were. Rose was the alien away from everything familiar but Dav seemed to really be the one struggling with her differences. Rose had a purpose and drive while Dav kept trying to adjust to his attraction to her and the implications of what she and Sazo along with the other Class 5 battleships meant not just for his world but everyone in his universe. Watching his growth as the story progressed was delightful.

I thought the title Dark Horse really fit this story because the surprises kept coming. Dark Horse was a complete story but hope Diener has sequel(s) in mind because there is more in this universe. I would also like to see some other people/species besides Rose develop a bond with Sazo’s brethren. With this story, one I thought reminded me of why I love SFR, Diener has landed on my list of authors to watch.

I give Dark Horse an A-

Deadly Lover (Charlee Allden)

Review by Marlene Harris

review-deadlyloverThe setting of Deadly Lover reminds me a lot of Sonya Clark’s Trancehack. Both are set in a near future where people who can practice “magic” are locked up in ghettos to keep them away from the rest of the population. When I say “magic”, I’m using the Arthur C. Clarke definition of “any technology sufficiently advanced is indistinguishable from” and not spellcasting. There’s also a resemblance to the near-future setting of J.D. Robb’s In Death series.

Deadly Lover takes place on an Earth that is ahead of us but not terribly far distant in time. The two visions of the future are different in the details, but the worlds aren’t that much different from our own. In Deadly Lover, that difference has been caused by the introduction of the Ormney people into our midst. The Ormney are humanoid but not quite human—they have a native ability to travel similarly to a Star Trek transporter, but without using a machine. It’s an inborn talent, and some of them are better at it than others. It is also the way that the Ormney traveled from their dying planet to ours. It’s not clear whether their planet was merely far away in space, or in a different space-time continuum altogether.

There’s a certain amount of handwavium on this point, but it doesn’t get in the way of the story.

Also, just for added references, the place that the Ormney go to while they are unsyncing and resyncing feels a lot like the “between’ in Anne McCaffrey’s Pern series. Without either the dragons or the rapey tropes that my friend Cass hates so much.

The Ormney have only been on Earth for 20 years, and interspecies relationships are still very much in the building stage. There is a lot of suspicion and fear on both sides, but not yet much real understanding.

Mostly because the Ormney are keeping a shit-ton of critical secrets.

Lily Rowan has already been exposed to a few too many of those secrets. In her job as a civilian security consultant working for a very secretive para-military research company, Lily was nearly killed when a training exercise went seriously pear-shaped and her Ormney teammate was poisoned and went bat-shit crazy.

Kiq went crazy because he was exposed to a toxin that works one way on humans, and an entirely different way on Ormney. A secret that was known to his people but not revealed until it was much too late.

And then it gets out, as important and dangerous secrets inevitably do.

The moment that Agent Lily Rowan is cleared for duty, she finds herself in the middle of a crime in progress—yet another Ormney is exhibiting the same symptoms as her training partner, and she is forced to kill him to protect civilians from his murderous rampage.

No good deed goes unpunished. Lily finds herself assigned to investigate the incident, and the series of dead bodies, both human and Ormney, that follows in its wake. Too many elements of the case mess with Lily’s peace of mind. The police detective assigned to the case is her estranged cousin. The chief human diplomat for Ormney-human relations is her ex-fiancé, and the chief investigator from the Ormney side is a man that Lily finds all too compelling.

But Ormney have no interest in human females. Or is that another half-truth that the Ormney have allowed humans to believe? And is that the secret behind the rash of murders, or is it something even more deadly?

Escape Rating B+: This is a compelling story. I loved the way that the secrets were revealed slowly and carefully, because there are so damn many of them and they are at the root of this case.

However, at heart this is a romantic suspense story. What Lily has to do is investigate a series of murders, and figure out who the serial killer is, with the help of other officers who just so happen to be family.

Along the way she falls in love with her investigating partner, a man who should be off limits but isn’t. Jolaj, the Ormney Law Keeper who works with Lily, is not just a fascinating character but everything we learn about the Ormney culture adds depth to him and his side of this story.

Some of the more interesting aspects of the story were on Jolaj’ side of the equation—how much to keep secret, how much his people should adapt and assimilate, how much they should keep themselves separate, apart and isolated. Jolaj finds himself caught in the middle.

But it would have been relatively easy to remove the science fictional elements of this story and still have an interesting tale of romantic suspense. Especially when we discover that the villain is a peculiarly human kind of murderer—a psychopath who has been practising his technique for every bit as long as the Ormney have been on Earth. They aren’t his real target, they are just an excuse for more and bloodier killings.

I will confess that I was lured by the red herring, and didn’t figure out who the real killer was until the protagonists did. Being along for the ride kept me flipping pages fast until the very end.

Electromancer (Daco)

Review by Norm Zeeman

When arch villain Momo threatens to destroy the world with The Big Zapper—a weapon of mass destruction the likes of which has never been seen before—it’s up to Alexa Manchester and her new electricity-harnessing superpowers to stop him.

With a little help from her sexy chauffeur, Sigfred Sawyer, and some exciting encounters with the mysterious and handsome Blue Arrow, soon Alexa’s love life is charged up, too. And to defeat the seemingly invincible Momo, it might just take the naturally super power of love to save the day.

Review-ElectromancerOffering all the Kabam! Pow! Zap! of beloved comic book sagas with the beating heart of a love story, this over-the-top, genre-blending send-up is sure to delight superhero fans and romance readers alike. (Blurb from Goodreads)

At 149 pages this is a very quick read, so my review will be equally short. Written in comic book style with over-the-top antics and superheroes too good to be true, I laughed through most of the book. The alliteration of almost every character’s name made me chuckle. The drop dead gorgeous heroine and hero made me re-live my childhood with many hours hidden under the covers with my favorite comics of Superman and Wonder Woman.

Alexa Manchester lives in a fairy tale mansion with awesome gardens, a princess bedroom and a confidante who is part Mary Poppins and part Pepper Potts. The premise is that rich, gorgeous, Alexa is all set to provide free energy to the world when her energy source is stolen and the resulting explosion exposes her to radiation that turns her into Electromancer, who can shoot electricity from her body. She needs to find out who stole her property and get it back, hide the fact she is a superhero, fend off the advances of the mayor and not give in to her attraction to her bodyguard/chauffer Sigfried. Although the actual “consummation of Alexa’s love” only takes a few pages with the first time being only a short, very highbrow, paragraph, the romance is front and center.

Every character has comic book qualities and the ending you can see from a mile away, but it was laugh out loud funny and zany. The antics of the mayor alone will keep you in stitches. Put your inner editor on pause and just enjoy. The ending leaves room for several sequels and I hope the fun continues.

Europa, Europa (KS Augustin)

Reviewed by RK Shiraishi

(This book was provided by Sci-Fi Romance Quarterly in exchange for an honest review.)

Review-EuropaEuropaSalvia has been genetically engineered from human DNA, and various aquatic creatures, to do surveying in the deep seas of Jupiter’s moon Europa. Salvia is so far from human that she does not think of herself as human though she is sentient and can communicate. Her handler is Doctor Faisbain, the only human she has any real relationship with. But Salvia is unhappy working on the planet alone, and demands that she be given a partner to continue working.

A partner is engineered for her—Rhus, who is male. Salvia hadn’t expected that nor had she expected the beginning of romantic affection and sexual feeling for Rhus. Meanwhile, the corporation has plans to replace Salvia with Rhus, believing that Salvia is no longer cooperative. They have trackers on both Salvia and Rhus to force their compliance.

Salvia and Rhus discover their love for each other-but also a personal journey of seeing themselves as a separate, sentience species and desiring a life of their own.

I enjoyed the story of Salvia and Rhus. This is mainly Salvia’s story—she begins the chain of events and is the main point of view character. Salvia’s relationship with Dr. Faisbain is complex, but the whole ‘evil corporation’ is a bit one dimensional. Still it is a powerful story, well told. I appreciated that the writer made use of the concept of genetic engineering both in creating her post-human characters and describing the environment they exist in. (There is a postscript about the science behind the concept). Be aware there is some explicit content.

This is a novelette and will be enjoyed by fans of KS Augustin and those new to her unique style.

Final Protocol (J. C. Daniels)

Reviewed by SFF Dragon

(An ARC was given to me by Science Fiction Romance Quarterly)

Final Protocol is a first-person novel told entirely from the heroine’s point of view. It is set on several of the New Earth colony planets where Earth’s refugees settled, as well as being inhabited by indigenous species, and at a time long after Earth has been abandoned due to war and disease. It features an assassin named Silence who has no memory of her life prior to ten years ago, and is controlled by her ‘handler’ using both torture and a device called a bioseal.

Tip #1: Don’t get on her bad side. Tip #2: There’s no good side.

Her name is Silence. If she was ever known by any other name, she doesn’t remember.

She is a killer. If she was ever anything else, she doesn’t remember.

She has an owner. If she was ever free…well, that she does remember. She was free and then somebody gave her to a madman to pay a debt that wasn’t hers. She’s his toy, his pet…and his trained killer. She kills at his whim or she dies.

She has a target. Her so-called owner…the man who makes her life a living hell. If she could kill anybody in the universe, it would be him. But he holds her life in his hands.

And she has a wish—to find a man she barely remembers. A man she knows she once loved. The man who betrayed her and stole away her freedom.

With one final target between her and the tantalizing promise of freedom, she moves in for the kill. There’s one problem. There’s something strangely familiar about her mark. Something that echoes in the void where love used to live.

Warning: One woman with a mission, one evil bastard who lies as often as he breathes, and a man who’ll stop at nothing to find what he lost. Be warned…some questionable consent lies within.

Review-FinalProtocolI’ve read books by this author before, under a different name and loved them, but this is the first sci-fi romance book by this author. It’s also the first I’ve read under the name J. C. Daniels, and, having read the blurb, I expected it to be equally as good, but I almost gave up on it. It didn’t hold my attention and I spent the first half of the book wondering if all of it was going to be this disconnected and disjointed narrative, with Silence’s thoughts running in all sorts of different directions while she again planned an execution she’d never found the courage to carry out. The second half, though, is totally immersed in a really good story of deceit, lies, betrayal, redemption and re-discovered love. If I hadn’t read it from the start, I’d wonder if it was the same book.

Silence may have no memories of who she is or where she came from, but she always remembers in her dreams. Sadly she doesn’t remember them either when she wakes, but she does remember soft green eyes and being called “my star” by the man they belong to. I had tears in my eyes for the person Silence used to be, the pain she’d suffered and the man she finally remembers when she’s sent to kill him.

There is one woman, Silence, but Tip 2 is totally inaccurate, because not only does she have a good side, she demonstrates it when she refuses to kill an old man on the planet Aris and then again when she can’t kill her final target. The mission could be any one of several over the course of the book, none of which are the one given in the blurb, and it gets confusing until it settles into a definite story around half-way through. If she was ever free, no, actually she doesn’t remember that until nearly the end of the book. In fact she has no memories before ten years ago. She has fleeting fragments, like the echoes of memories, but she doesn’t remember being free. She knows only what she’s told, and that’s not strictly accurate either. There is definitely an evil bastard, or three, but the one she concentrates on is the one she thinks of as her ‘handler’, Gold. She very definitely has a wish, but it’s finding a botanist on a planet she’d never visit, who can remove the bioseal from her brain and free her from Gold. The man who’ll stop at nothing to find what he lost? He never even started and hasn’t done anything to find her in the last ten years because he thought she was dead, then when she is given him as her next target, he wants her to kill him, but she can’t do it. The ‘some questionable consent’ in the blurb? That is very definitely called rape, and she’s had to endure it repeatedly along with so much more over the ten years she’s been Gold’s slave. Fortunately there is a happy ending and something approximating romance, although a rekindling would be more accurate, and I was happy for them. I hoped their actions would include taking down Gold’s work, but the book stops before the plan gets further than the beginning, which is a shame.

On the whole, I enjoyed the book, especially once it settled into a solid coherent story and the initial rambling ended, although it did provide some history, background and context. I liked several of the characters who only appeared briefly, especially Gnari and the old man, Cree Ru, that she was initially sent to kill at the start of the book. Each gave her something that helped to maintain her humanity and choose a different path than the one she originally walked. I’d like to read more about what happened next, and will read more books by this author, but, despite the second half of the book being a really good and well written story, the first half gave me a headache trying to put things in order, so I’ve given it 3 stars out of 5.

Final Protocol (JC Daniels)

Review by Normalene Zeeman

At eighty-eight pages, this is a quick read with a good tight plot. JC Daniels is the pen name for Shiloh Walker whose other science fiction I love, so it was a sure bet that this one would be equally good. We start out with a quick blurb at the beginning to set the scene. Our heroine, Silence, has been an assassin for the last twelve years, held to the job against her will by a bioseal. In order to control her, her owner/handler, Gold, placed this bomb in her head that will explode at his command if she doesn’t complete her missions.

Review-FinalProtocolWhat I liked:

Silence tells us right away that she has evaded capture on a dozen planets in four systems, so we know she can kick butt with the best of them. And she is smart, because she does some research on the planet and the people where her current assignment lives – yay – research. We librarians love it when characters do research. Partial memory loss is a good device to ramp up the mystery of who the guy was who sold her to Gold, and the one flashback is just enough to whet my appetite for more.

We learn more about Aris, the planet where she had the assignment in which we met her. She failed to complete that mission because she liked the elderly gentleman who was her target and so that she could have an internal monologue about whether or not she has a soul – she does!

There are three alien species that we meet and they sound really cool and unique and I would love to hear more about how they affect the story and Silence, but they are under-used and the description we get about them is wasted if we don’t get more out of them.

We meet the love interest, Orion, around page 59, where we find out that Gold has set Silence on him as her last target. From this point on, there is enough space left to develop the happy ever after so it doesn’t feel rushed. Orion is not only gorgeous, smart and a gifted negotiator, he is the only one with the knowledge to take out the bioseal. That is a good thing, even if it felt a little contrived. Silence starts to remember that he was the one who gave her to Gold, but as the backstory comes out, you find out there is more to the story than that.

What I didn’t like:

The setting where her home base is might be a little vague. On page 20, it seems Jakor is a New Earth planet, but on page 21, we learn that Jakor is the name of the city. On page 31, it seems that the Mihor quadrant is a portion of the planet, but on page 34 it is revealed that Mihor is a slice of the city Jakor. Silence calls Jakor “a forgotten piece of hell and my keeper ruled over it with an iron fist,” but I’m not sure what that really means in the way of what Gold controls, although he sends Silence on jobs across four star systems. I’m not sure what the name of the planet is, but it has three suns and three moons and the gravitational forces acting on it should probably make it unstable and uninhabitable – but obviously it is not. How can you even see the three moons if there are three suns? While this isn’t exactly bad science because NASA has found a tri-solar system (yes, look it up), three suns is maybe too many without some explanation of how that works.

The planet Hsain, where she goes for her last assignment has four suns, no nights and is really hot, so how does anything survive? Really, four suns?

Silence’s spaceship runs on dark matter and has the capability of “animation sleep” which might be suspended animation or cryosleep, but I’m not sure. She has a top-of-the-line medbay, but it doesn’t stop her from getting space sick – but can fix her up just fine afterwards.

The sex is only in one scene but it’s not graphic and it is when Gold rapes her to prove he owns her. I didn’t love it but it made sense for it to happen, but it was a little weird that she makes such a big deal out of how much her body responds but her mind doesn’t – it’s like Stockholm Syndrome gone a little crazy.

As a love interest, Orion needs more character development, but I get that the page count didn’t allow for that. I’d have preferred a little less description in the beginning in order to flesh out the end. The timeline seems a little off as Silence isn’t that old, the relationship with Orion seems to have been deep and long-standing prior to her slavery and she spent 12 years as Gold’s assassin so she has to be about 35-40 years old – but she seems much younger.

What I really didn’t like was the length – it was too short – I wanted more. Gold’s comeuppance was a little anticlimactic and it didn’t seem realistic that after 12 years of torture from him, Silence could be content with this ending – oh well, room for a sequel is there. If you want more, definitely try out Shiloh Walker.

Forged in Fire (A.R. DeClerck)

Review by Jo Jones

Gin Draven is a soldier. THE soldier. Sworn to protect the nine planets in the galaxy humans made their home in ninety thousand years ago. He lives for winning the war. He loved a woman once, and she cost him his sanity, his eye, and his heart. He’d taken every moment of their time together and buried it deep. Until the day she strolled back into his life.

review-forgedinfireMaeve was a woman. THE woman. Back to make Gin Draven her husband. She wants the same thing he does. The end to the war that plagues them all. She knows secrets that can help him win the war, and secrets that could destroy them both.

War brought them together, and war tore them apart. The strongest loves are Forged in Fire.

World Building: This is a loosely defined world. There are the nine planets that are close together. While we know there are nine not all are important to the story. There is enough detail to support the action and the back ground of the characters but just what is needed and no more. While this is SFR there is very little science in the story. The future worlds are there but the science is not.

Back-Story: Forged in Fire tells the story of Gin Draven and Maeve. They have a lot of history and none of it is good. The first part of that back-story is revealed at their arranged marriage. It continues to unfold when and where it is needed.

Plot: This is an action packed story where the action and the character’s back story drive the plot. Just as you think one problem is solved another pops up.

Characters: It was very easy to get a sense of both Gin and Maeve. There were also some interesting side characters with hooks to future stories in this world.

Writing: Everything flowed evenly. The story is well-paced and works well in a format that is only 93 pages long.

I would call this is more futuristic romance than science fiction romance. It is very easy to poke holes in some of the ways the characters move from scene to scene. Don’t let that keep you from enjoying Gin and Mauve’s story.

Nevermore Press published Forged in Fire by A.R. DeClerck in 2014.

I Am Ebony Strike (KS Augustin)

Review by Rachel Cotterill

Ebony Strike hasn’t been called that for a while. It was her pseudonym while she was fighting in martial arts contests, but she’s since established herself as a security expert under a different (equally false) name, so it’s a surprise when someone turns up at her door asking for Ebony’s time. And even more shocking when she learns that her home is threatened — and the local administration hope she can dig them out of a hole by entering the most dangerous and lucrative contest of them all.

Review-IAmEbonyStrikeI loved Ebony herself from the first page. There aren’t nearly enough older heroines in sci fi, nor black protagonists, nor women with proper martial arts expertise. Add in the fact that she has a strong sense of justice just beneath the tough exterior, and I was lost.

I was also drawn in by the setting, a televised tournament with something of a Hunger Games aesthetic: although the Rewards Series is voluntary, there’s a high risk of death or permanent injury, and only the last one standing will take home the prize. Ebony herself admits that she’d never have chosen to sign up for such a thing, but for her home, she’ll take risks she’d never have considered for wealth or fame.

I don’t think it’s too much of a spoiler to say that our heroine does well in the early rounds of the competition. In the final round of the tournament, the two remaining finalists must live together as they face various further challenges, and to provide extra “entertainment” their food is spiked with drugs to reduce inhibition and inhance libido.

And this is where I started to struggle. The drugs introduce huge issues of consent, despite it being clear from Ebony’s internal monologue that she’s genuinely attracted to her rival. And there are consensual sex scenes, too, but the drug-induced sex is graphic, while the consensual scenes are soft-focus and mainly off-camera, giving the reader an uncomfortable sense of being one of the series’ voyeuristic fans. It’s cleverly done, in that respect, but this is being pitched as sci fi romance, and lack of consent is about as unromantic as you can get which turned me right off.

I was also somewhat dissatisfied with the ending, in which Ebony fails to take responsibility for the resolution of either the action or romance plotlines. After showing herself to be more than capable of problem solving in the earlier chapters, I was disappointed with her sudden resignation when her surroundings shift, and the way she leaves her fate to the decisions of others.

Overall, this was an entertaining if not quite satisfying read, featuring a stand-out main character who I’d like to read more about, preferably in a story where she retains more agency and initiative.

Ice Planet Barbarians: Part One (Ruby Dixon)

Review by The Book Pushers

Where did you get the book: E-arc by author
Publisher: Self published
Release date: Out now
Reviewer: Has

“You’d think being abducted by aliens would be the worst thing that could happen to me. And you’d be wrong. Because now, the aliens are having ship trouble, and they’ve left their cargo of human women—including me—on an ice planet.

And the only native inhabitant I’ve met? He’s big, horned, blue, and really, really has a thing for me…”

ICE PLANET BARBARIANS is a six-part serial (like a TV show) with a new installment out every Friday. The entire storyline will be available for FREE with Kindle Unlimited, or you can wait to download the full story as a bundle for $3.99. (Blurb taken from Goodreads)

review-iceplanetbarbariansWith Barbarian heroes, a science fiction setting, an awesome and funny heroine, and crash landing with a planet full of weird and wacky aliens, you know you’re in store for a wonderful and entertaining serial.

I am not a huge fan of serials because I don’t have patience to wait for the next installment, and if the serial is good, then its like eating Pringles; once you pop and you can’t stop and I get frustrated waiting for the next chapter in the story. But I was lucky enough to score the full e-arc! So this made me a happy bunny. But this is a serial that does work if you do like to torture yourself with weekly episodic installments, or waiting for the entire serial so you can glom it all in one go. But dear readers, this is serial that belongs in ‘My Preciousssss’ category because unlike other series with this premise, Ruby Dixon does an engaging and gritty twist from ‘Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus’ trope, and it was fanfuctingtastic!

I loved Georgie—the heroine who awakens on an alien cargo ship with other abducted women. She use to worry about about everyday chores and a boring job as a bank teller but now she has to worry about surviving in an alien frozen world, along with the band of wounded and frightened women, when they are left stranded after being dumped by their captors.

ICE PLANET BARBARIANS is a gritty, dark, and at times uncomfortable to read.

Trigger warning:

There is a rape scene in the beginning which Georgie witnesses.

But the dark tone and grittiness is balanced with the humour with the heroine’s dry wit.

“Me? I’m just a Floridian in a stolen space suit with no weapon and a busted wrist. I know how this is going to end.”

Her first encounter with Vektal, who appears in the tail end of the story, is a highlight! It’s such a funny and very sexy first meeting. I did laugh out loud a few times because she was greeted in such a sexy but unconventional way, but a way that she definitely enjoyed! I also loved the fact that Vektal was truly alien, with ridges and horns on his head and even a tail with blue grey skin. And that they both found each other strange but were also drawn together!

Vektal was a delight. He is an alien hunter/warrior but realises that the small but strange creature he comes across in his snare is actually his mate, by which he recognises via his innate spirit force called “Khui”. I also loved how his thought processes worked especially in contrast with the heroine who countered it with humour. And it was hilarious to see them to try to communicate with each other and their assumptions which was fun to see play out.

Overall, this is a terrific start to a serial that promises to have a hot romance that is filled with wit, action and memorable characters. I was hooked within the first few pages!

I give ICE PLANET BARBARIANS: Part 1 a scorching B+!

Journey Between Worlds (Sylvia Engdahl)

Review by Jo Jones

Eighteen-year-old Melinda Ashley never wanted to go to Mars. She had her life all planned out – marry Ross and become a teacher. but when her estranged father convinces her to take an interplanetary vacation, she finds herself tempted to leave behind her comfortable existence on Earth.

Review-JourneyBetweenWorldsMars isn’t at all what she expected, and when she meets Alex Preston, a second-generation Martian colonist, she finds herself on a surprising new path. Sylvia Engdahl’s classic novel has been revised and updated by the author to reflect new discoveries and research about Mars. (Blurb from Goodreads)

Sylvia Engdahl wrote six novels between 1970 and 1981. They were written for young adults but many older adults found and loved them. Today Engdahl has updated and re-released them for a new audience. She says that while Journey Between Worlds is Science Fiction, it is mainly a love story. If you only look at the bare bones of Journey Between Worlds, it is girl goes to Mars – girl meets boy- girl falls in love with boy and stays on Mars. It is much more than that.

While one journey between worlds is between Earth and Mars that is not the main journey. That one is the journey Melinda takes. As the story starts, she is graduating from high school and has a nice safe future planned in the little Oregon town where she lives with her great-grandmother. Then her father gives her a big surprise for her high school graduation. He has business on Mars and has arranged for her to go with him. That starts an entirely different journey for Melinda. She does not want to go but does not want to hurt her father’s feelings. Getting on the ship to Mars starts Melinda on an entirely different path from the one she had all planned out. That path starts when she meets Alex who is returning home to Mars after living on Earth for several years. As days, weeks and months go by, Melinda begins to grow and change.

The world that is depicted in Journey Between Worlds shows a very realistic picture of colonies on Mars. Melinda starts with many fears about life away from Earth. As she spends time on Mars, she begins to change her way of looking at how she wants her life to progress. She starts to realize that what she wanted in life was much less than what she needs and deserves. Going to Mars and meeting Alex were the two main things helped her change. The love story between the two builds slowly. It takes a situation where Melinda must face her greatest fear to realize that she loves Alex and does not want to leave Mars.

While this is a very nice coming of age love story it is also makes the case for space colonization. Engdhal feels that we must move off Earth for the human race to grow and survive. That theme runs throughout the book. If you read and like Journey Between Worlds you should look up Engdhal’s recent Science Fiction books written for adults.

Liberation’s Kiss (Wendy Lynn Clark)

Review by Jo Jones

I liked how Liberation’s Kiss starts with a kiss seen from the perspectives of the two main characters. Cressida sees the two adults kissing and thinks the kiss is a romantic moment while Xan knows that the kiss was used to change his programming.

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000026_00023]Cressida is on a Kill List and has been on it since she was 12. Her parents have hidden her and as a result she has lead a very sheltered life. Xan is an android programmed to carry out the kill order. Then the kiss happens and Xan’s programming changes from kill to protect. For the first time he has free will. When he finds Cressida she thinks he is the person sent to rescue her and is so happy she kisses him. The first kiss changes Xan’s programming and the second kiss adds lust to the story line. A great set up for the two to grow and change.

The change happens as they escape from one dangerous situation after another with some time for lust and romance in between. The tension builds to an exciting ending with a set up for the next book in the series.

Protecting Cressida is the main point of the plot with lust and trust issues an added undercurrent. There is a lot of excitement but for me there were some things missing. There was world building but I wanted more. The same was true of back-story. I wanted to know more about the history behind the fall of the Old Empire and more about who is taking its place. There was the mysterious woman who kissed Xan but that is all I know about her. Is she part of a group? Who is she working with? Other than looking for Cressida’s sister what are else is ahead for Cressida and Xan. I think adding some of what I found missing would have added additional layers to the story line and made it stronger.

Wendy Lynn Clark is the publisher of Liberation’s Kiss.

On Bliss (KS Augustin)

Review by The Book Pushers

After a scientific mission, Hoara Felin crash lands in a prison planet called Bliss where none of the inhabitants are able to leave. Her two crew members didn’t survive the impact, and Hoara is the only survivor who is found amongst the wreckage by Toh, an alien shifter and a prisoner of Bliss. Both Toh and Hoara share and succumb to an instant attraction but any respite and time has disappeared because the crime-lord of the territory, B’nen, is suspicious. He is also tracking the missing crew-member, Hoara, who needs to leave the dangerous planet because what B’nen planned for her is not something she will accept.

review-onblissOn Bliss is a premise that I truly love in my Sci-Fi Romance. I love struggle for survival stories, especially in a harsh setting that Bliss is set on. KS Augustin’s description of Bliss is stark, desolate and atmospheric. I liked the idea of different territories being run by crime-lords who are lethal and ruthless. Toh, an alien shifter, struggles for acceptance. Even though he is a fellow prisoner, the other humans view him with hate and suspicion.

But when Toh rescues Hoara, he comes alive and more animated because she ignites feelings he thought were long dormant inside him. They soon embark on a relationship and their romance is sweet and hot, although I did find the romance did have the insta-sex trope and I would have liked more of a build-up for better tension. But this was a short story and within its confines, KS Augustin created a fun and sexy overtone with the love story and you got to love a hero who is multi-talented with his shape-shifting abilities.

I really enjoyed Toh and Hoara’s characters; they were both engaging and likable. However, I think I was intrigued more with Toh being an alien shifter. I liked the concept and the ideas that Augustin presented in the story about his culture and world. It was interesting especially in contrast with the hate and prejudice they face by humans because of a misunderstanding between the two species which views them as suspicious and dangerous. Yet in reality they were more spiritual and inquisitive, and their main focus was exploring the universe. I wished there was more time spent on this story, because the ideas and themes that were highlighted were strong enough for a longer story, and I think this was the one main negative aspect of the story. I really wanted to learn more about this world and even though I was satisfied with the romance and overall story, Augustin has certainly laid out an intriguing world that I hope she explores again in the future.

Overall, On Bliss is a fun and sexy read that will help while away a lunch-hour or evening. The world-building is solid and vivid, and the story flows really well. The romance, is the best element because it was sexy and I was thoroughly entertained!

I give On Bliss a solid B-

Prime Suspect (KS Augustin)

Review by Jo Jones

There is a lot packed into Prime Suspect’s 68 pages. First there are the characters, then the plot, then the back-story and finally the setting.

review-primesuspecgtThe setting is the Republic and Prime Suspect shines more light into the universe where Augustin sets many of her Science Fiction stories. Prime Suspect offers is a glimpse into the Republic Space Fleet and how the Republic looks at aliens. Heron served in the Space Fleet until he questioned an order. That order involved shape-shifters, another alien species and got Heron tried for mutiny. All of that is back-story and adds to the world that Prime Suspect is set in.

There are several important characters in the book. Acqui K’liven is the Security Chief and from the first I was inclined to dislike him. Subah Doisson rents Heron a room and soon becomes very important in its life. The maintenance crew Heron works for play a part but the job Heron does is more important to the story.

Then there is Heron itself. I found it the most fascinating character of all. Heron Meed is a hermaphrodite. It has both female and male characteristics. Heron’s race is from the Morhea Sector and is known throughout the Republic.

Heron had its own description of how the citizens of the Republic see hermaphrodites. They are “alleged carriers of terrible venereal diseases. Because they were apparently abominations in the eyes of several major deities. Because they were immoral, oversexed beings bent on taking over the galaxy.” In spite how others looked at Heron, it had been a member of the Republic’s Space Fleet.

I think the role of the hermaphrodite was very difficult to write. I kept seeing male characteristics in Heron and had trouble thinking “it” instead of “him”. What I did see was a person with honor and integrity. Its time in prison did not change that. Woven into this is the plot. There is a romance. Heron is a very sexual being but it does not want to risk alienating Subah. It likes and wants her but makes no move. It was fun to watch Subah try to break down Heron’s resistance.

But this is not just a romance. Someone is trying to destroy the station and Heron discovers the sabotage. Heron is a suspect just for who it is. Reporting it would be the thing to do but Heron does not know whom to trust.

Put all of this together and you have an exciting, well-written story. There are twists and turns, several surprises, danger and a romance that changed both Heron and Subah. Prime Suspect is a good addition to anyone’s Science Fiction Romance collection.

Restoration (KS Augustin)

Review by RK Shiraishi

RESTORATION is true SF Romance. A combination of alien worlds, alien culture, and the ups and downs of falling in love combined with social commentary on aging, ageism, and the meaning of love. Though the current trend of SFR seems to lean towards fast paced adventure and heavy eroticism this story bucks the trend as a quieter, introspective, sweet heat level romance. And a truly engaging read.

SUMMARY: The story centers on Van Motaff, a widely respected philosopher approaching her retirement from academia. The Rahfoni have a long life span -150 years or more – with three main life stages. Van Motaff is ready to enter her third life stage. However, she is assigned the task of tutoring a young man who has been separated from Rahfoni society. Eton, a Rahfoni orphan, has been raised for years by an alien race known as the Ithari. As Rahfon’s planetary government wants to start trade negotiations with the Ithari, Eton is to be reintegrated into Rahfoni society. It turns out that he is a descendant of a once wealthy and powerful family and as such his reintegration process is carefully watched from both the Rahfoni and Ithari sides for its possible political implications. The Rahfoni hope to gain technology ; the Ithari hope to gain medical knowledge to increase their lifespan. True to SF, KS Augustin uses the lifespan differences as a bold part of the plot, raising interesting questions about age and social expectations.

review-restorationREVIEW: The strength of this SFR is that it combines all of the elements of what is truly and engaging SFR read. Without giving away too much of the plot (because you really, really need to read this one) I’ll highlight some of the features that made the book appeal to me.

Themes: The Rahfoni are long lived; the Ithari have short life spans. Eton has been raised as an alien, going through life stage markers at a faster pace than is normal for his birth species. In many ways, he is closer to Van’s social ’age’ if not in fact. Van Moffatt is a woman facing retirement-though for her species she still has a long time left in her lifespan. She has some of the markers of aging (beautiful descriptions of her coming to terms with her older body) but in many ways, including her desire for love and partnership, are things that people face in all stages of life.There are real discussions about women and aging in Rahfoni society versus men and aging. Does the difficulty in her relationship occur because Eton is younger or because of the life marker expectations of aging? I appreciate that KS Augustin makes use of alien worlds to discuss larger issues about ageism and sexism.

Multicultural setting: Rahfoni society borrows from a Southeast Asian influence rather than the usual western default. There are no space men who look, talk, and act like modern day westerners with blue hair or green blood as their only ’difference’. It’s fine to have humanoid characters-the Rahfoni are clearly humanoid-but including truly alien, aliens makes an SFR world all the better. From the Ithari to the Ergifani who created Van’s household AI, it’s a rich and detailed world that KS Augustin has developed. Rahfoni society borrows from a Southeast Asian influence rather than the usual western default.

Secondary characters: KS Augustin gives the secondary characters depth which adds to the tension in the story. Van’s ex-husband; her department supervisor Administrator Blen; even the household AI are all put to good use in the story. And an up and coming politician serves as the perfect villain.

The story is complete, thought there are some tantalizing loose ends concerning a few of the characters that give the impression the author plans to revisit this world. I truly hope so, as I feel this kind of SFR, which is willing to engage larger philosophical questions, is an important part of the genre.

Silent Blade (Ilona Andrews)

Review by Marlene Harris

Revenge is a dish best served hot and with a side of passion cones.

Although the revenge that Meli Galdes plans and the revenge she actually gets are two different things.

review-silentbladeBlame it on those passion cones, which are a dessert in the province of Dahlia on this futuristic world that Ilona Andrews has created for her Kinsmen series.

The future is a dangerous place. As envisioned in this series, the ability to survive interplanetary journeys and planet colonization was provided to certain families through genetic modification. Their descendants rule, through the inheritance of lethal talents and deadly implants.

Those with special abilities are Kinsmen. Survival of their families, and their family corporations, is considered the highest achievement—by any means necessary.

Meli Galdes was a casualty of two families’ desire for greatness. A daughter of the Galdes, she was contracted in marriage when she was ten to the heir of the Carvannas family. Unfortunately for Meli, young Celino Carvannas saw their impending marriage as a fence around his freedom. As soon as he could, he disavowed the contract, leaving Meli unmarried but still bound. No one else would court her for fear of angering Carvannas should he decide to someday claim his bride.

So Meli chose to be disavowed by her family, so that she could do business for them in secret. Deadly business—we call it “wetwork”. As an “excise”, Meli became her family’s best and most deniable assassin.

When she tires of the game of death and the loneliness of her life, Meli retires. But her father asks her to take one last job—to kill the man who broke her heart, all those years ago. Killing the head of the Carvannas corporation will save the Galdes family business from ruin.

Meli gets close to Celino by turning herself into a woman he can’t resist. The problem for Meli is that it makes her the woman she once trained to be; the perfect partner for Celino.

So should she condemn her family by sparing her target, or kill the man she has come to love?

Escape Rating B+: This is too short! The world creation looks fascinating, but I want to see more of it. How did the families get this way? What other powers are available? How do they know how rare particular talents are?

Underneath the futuristic setting, Silent Blade is a second-chance-at-love story. Meli and Celino missed it the first time around, because their six-year age difference loomed large when they were 16 and 22 respectively, but is miniscule now that they are adults.

Celino was also a selfish asshat, because he could have set Meli free instead of leaving her in limbo. (On the other hand, selfish, 22 and privileged go hand-in-hand.) Celino had the world at his feet, and he didn’t think beyond his own desires.

Meli comes back into his life and makes him desire her. She is just what he is looking for, but doesn’t know it. She, on the other hand, knows perfectly well what she is setting up. She just doesn’t expect that her own emotions will be engaged. Again.

She can destroy him. She can even manage to destroy him in such a way that her family survives the crisis that started this mess. It takes her a long time to accomplish her mission without leaving dead bodies in her wake.

Even though she is left broken-hearted again, at least this time, she has company—a man who finally realizes that it is worth breaking his own chains.

Silver Shark (Ilona Andrews)

Review by Marlene Harris

Silver Shark is set in the same universe as Silent Blade, but tells a much different love story and shows us a much different side of this particular future.

It’s also twice as long, which gives the reader not just more world building, but also more character development.

review-silversharkAnd it’s still too short.

This is not a peaceful future that we see. Resources are scarce, and interplanetary conflict is a fact of life. Brodwyn has been at war with Melko for all of Claire’s life. Each faction claims the planet Uley, and neither will give up.

Everyone contributes to the war effort. Claire is drafted at age 14, forced to leave her terminally ill mother behind so that she can put her “psycher” talents to use for Melko. Claire is extremely powerful, able to infiltrate and kill on the bionet. She fights because that’s all there is to life in her world.

Then Melko surrenders. The talent that has been her biggest asset suddenly paints a target on her back. The conquerors will be certain that she is too dangerous to live. So she hides her abilities, making herself seem like any other refugee, no matter what painful tests are administered to smoke out psychers like her.

As an ordinary refugee, she is sent to Rada, the home planet of the first book, Silent Blade. Her shielding is so perfect, she appears mind-blind, making her the perfect candidate for a job with Ventura Escana. His firm specializes in security, and he is a powerful psycher.

He thinks Claire’s mind is restful because it’s so quiet. He has no clue that the woman he has hired to be his administrative assistant is nearly as powerful as he is. He doesn’t discover that the reason she is so capable, that she is so perfect at anticipating his needs, is because she is just like him.

Ven just thinks she’s perfect.

Until she is forced to open her shell and save her fellow refugees. Ven is as fascinated with the female psycher he battles on the bionet as he is with the admin he is not supposed to touch.

Then he finds out they are one and the same.

Escape Rating A-: This story goes into more depth about this futuristic world. We see Rada through Claire’s eyes, as she learns to adapt to a life that has a future other than war and more war. She wants to live, and maintaining her shield is a requirement, but we see her struggle.

There’s also an element of the classic love trope where the admin or secretary falls in love with the boss, and it’s done very well. Unlike so many stories of this type, Claire and Ven really are equals in power, even if he doesn’t know it. He needs someone who will challenge him, and Claire is more than capable of being very challenging on every level.

We see more of Claire’s perspective than Ven’s, but both of them are interesting, likeable characters and the reader wants to see their happy ending. But the ending was a bit sudden, and Ven is way too accepting of the fact that Claire has been deceiving him all along. I’d love to have seen them take a bit more time to work things out.

While it isn’t necessary to read Silent Blade before Silver Shark, reading both does provide more background for the world, and it makes the scene where Ven brings Claire to meet Meli and Celino that much more fun.

Starblind (D.T. Dyllin)

Review by Jo Jones

review-starblindStarblind is filled with interesting characters set is a world where Earth is gone and humans are not the top of the food chain. Jane, our space ship captain, is half human and half unknown. Her crew members are all from different races. She owns her ship and she and her crew make their living as bounty hunters. Sometimes getting the bounty is easy and sometimes it is not. This time it is not easy and that leads to mystery, tension, danger and romance.

Jane is entertaining. She has both great external dialogs with her crew and others and a lot of internal with herself. While she is witty and fun to listen to what she is not, is a good captain. She was just too whiney. The other characters on her ship were not that well developed. They each had one main characteristic and their main job was to keep Jane on track.

Ash is an interesting well-developed character. His actions are often unexpected and he keeps Jane and everyone else guessing.

Jane often leaps without looking and when she takes a job to capture Ash she finds she is in a no-win situation. Ash is much more than she suspected and, to make it even more difficult, she is attracted to him from the start. Sex with Ash just gets her into more trouble.

I had mixed feelings about Starblind. The story is fast paced and tension filled. Back-story is important and is worked into the plot as needed. The same is true for world building. The development of secondary characters was very one-dimensional and left me wanting more. Jane and her personality rubbed me wrong for most of the story. I hope she is more of a captain and less of a whiner in future stories. I liked Ash. His actions kept the story moving.

Since this is the start of the series some things are solved and some are left hanging. Jane, Ash and the crew will be back for further adventures.

Stealing Mercury: Arena Dogs #1 (Charlee Allden)

Review by The Book Pushers

Publisher: Charlee Allden
Publish Date: March 2015
Reviewed by: E
How I got this book: ARC from SFR Quarterly

Born a slave, Mercury is an Arena Dog, genetically engineered to fight and die in the Arena for the entertainment of others. Trained as a gladiator from boyhood in a violent world, where men must form alliances and share what little bounty they have to survive, his only goal has been to keep his men alive. But two are dead and the rest are condemned to be hunted down and killed for sport. Worse, their demise will leave a woman Mercury has sworn to protect, alone and vulnerable. And then there is Samantha—a courageous human he has no right to claim. But she is his. He feels it deep in his soul and with an ache in his body he can’t deny.

Samantha Devlin is an indie-freight pilot who has lost everything: her ship, her crew, and her father. When an old friend hires her as an emergency replacement to pilot a cargo carrier for the Roma Company, she’s shocked to learn her cargo is three, living, breathing, and dangerously sexy Arena Dogs. When Samantha learns she’s taking the men to their deaths, she must decide if she is willing to risking everything for a man whose customs require that he share her with one of his men and demands he return to Roma to protect another woman. Mercury, their leader, and Lo, his emotionally broken arena-brother, challenge all her notions of honor, loyalty, and love. Her heart tells her Mercury is worth any cost, but her head sees nothing ahead but disaster. (This blurb came from Goodreads)

review-stealingmercuryWhen I was browsing the different SFR stories up for review for this quarters ment, Stealing Mercury looked like it had several different elements I have enjoyed in the past—genetic engineering, gladiators, evil corporation, woman pilot with a questionable past—so I requested it. Stealing Mercury had its ups and downs for me as Allden tried to get me invested in Mercury and Samantha’s struggles as well as world-building with partial success. I felt as if this story really had two distinct parts.

The first part of the story did allow me to get to know the Arena Dogs, Samantha, and their overall opponent. I felt for the Arena Dogs and liked Samantha’s spirit most of the time but on several occasions I really wondered what in the world Samantha was thinking when she did something she knew would provoke the villains or prevented Mercury from permanently eliminating the villains. The pacing in the first half was rather slow, which made me think more could have been shown on-screen between Samantha and the Arena Dogs instead of spotlighting negative encounters with their “handlers”. I did appreciate the time between initial meeting and the start of physical intimacy but I wish I had seen more of Samantha gaining the trust of the Arena Dogs instead of being told she had a habit of spending time with them after trust had been established. As a result, while I could buy the physical sexual attraction, I had some issues with the depth of emotional attachment.

The second part of the book is where the pace drastically increased and yet I felt as if Allden started several new threads while picking up one left undeveloped for much of the story and completely leaving out another initiated in the beginning. While the overall focus remained on trying to rescue some of the Arena Dogs still under Roma Company’s control, I was distracted by the multitude of subplots which appeared. Any one of those subplots would have been fascinating to follow but none of them were closed out in this particular installment so I am guessing they will come up again as this series continues.

Stealing Mercury was a story with a lot of promise but an uneven execution. Allden started several intriguing threads but really didn’t bring any of them to a conclusion while meandering towards a rescue attempt back at the Arena. Allden did create a vast universe full of different species, politics, technology, and some undiscovered mystery, so there is plenty to explore. I just hope succeeding books have smoother pacing and a tighter focus.

I give Stealing Mercury a C.

Taking Stock (Barbara Elsborg)

Review by RK Shiraishi

Zoe is a single schoolteacher recently diagnosed with inoperable brain tumor. She is facing a Christmas alone—and getting ready for one last vacation in the Caribbean to pursue a one-night fling before she becomes too ill. Zoe discovers—much to her horror—that she had nothing to read on the plane. Our heroine decides to go to the local 24 hour Supa-Mart to get something.

review-takingstockThis is the hook that drew me in, I must confess. I have worked at one of those 24 hour super-stores. (Starts with W, ends in MART.) Like one of the secondary characters, I too was working my way through college. There is something fun about a novel that brings back memories of long nights of minimum wage.

While Zoe is visiting the superstore, strange things begin to happen. The entire store is evacuated, save for Zoe and a handful of other customers. Two of the customers happened to be very attractive men with no ID, who ask odd questions, and seem overly fascinating with English words. These, of course, are the sexy alien dudes.

Taking Stock is a M/M/F erotic sci-fi romantic fantasy. Despite its dark premise, it’s actually rather humorous. It turns out that the store and its remaining customers are part of a network reality show for alien audiences. The two men, Kai and Rowe, are from the alien planet and are planted in the store to keep the reality show going. During the course of things, they both fall for Zoe and confess their long held love for each other.

The sex is very explicit, but I thought well done. (Explicit descriptions, but not violence, or crude language or dubcon.) Plus, despite the fact that it is definitely about the sexing, there is plenty of plot and character development. The secondary characters are hilarious—especially after they start to pair off and reality show drama ensues—and there are lots of little jokes about TV culture and mega-stores.

The only part that didn’t quite work for me was the megastate of Tantula. Basically, the government limits personal pleasures and directly influences thoughts and opinions via sentient implants. It’s a little complicated—which is fine—but that means you get odd info-dumps at times. Plus, I guess since so much is erotic fun and broad comedy, the scenes focused on Tantula didn’t always mesh. Elsborg is a thorough writer—she ties up all the loose ends—so the issues with Tantula are resolved. This plotline just wasn’t as engaging as the Zoe-Kai-Rowe reality show romance.

Taking Stock may not be the deepest SFR I have ever read, but it was a good time. If you want something playfully erotic and a fun escape, I can recommend this one.

The Clockwork Dagger (Beth Cato)

Review by Normalene Zeeman

review-theclockworkdaggerOctavia is a medician or healer but, although they are valued for their talents, that doesn’t mean the government supports them in anything like the style you would think they would. After graduating from the academy and getting ready for her first assignment, Octavia gets on an airship, similar to a dirigible, and within the first night is almost assassinated. Red herrings abound, for who is behind these attempts and why they are directed at her?

Mrs. Stout is an awesome addition to the cast and is more than just a supporting character; I loved her story arc. Alonzo Garrett is a flawed and wounded man whose story is heartbreaking and yet so real that you hope things go well for him…until you find out who he really is, then, maybe not so much. The motivations for the characters to act the way they do makes sense and you can relate to them.

I have many reasons to love this author: she lives in Phoenix, she amazingly set up the scene where the word “defenestration” is exactly the absolute perfect word to use; there are so few grammar and spelling errors that I was so proud of her; and there aren’t pages and pages of graphic sex that I have to wade through to get to the plot. In fact I think there are only a few kisses, but that doesn’t mean there wasn’t any sexual tension, because there was and the relationship between the two main characters was appropriate for the world and the culture. The world building and history was given in such small doses that I never stumbled over an infodump that threw me out of the story—a big plus! Character development was managed in such a way that by page 30, I was invested in these characters. When things started to go wrong, I really cared what happened.

I felt the relationship was believable and that it grew organically from the author’s ability to feel how her characters should feel. The author left us in a good way at the end but there is still room for a sequel and if there is one, I will be reading it.

The Descartes Legacy (Nina Croft)

Review by Marlene Harris

The Descartes Legacy takes a fairly standard romantic suspense story and enhances it with a bit of science fiction in order to create a “can’t stop reading” experience.

All the elements of romantic suspense are right there; heroine experiences a major life change event that makes her investigate something mysterious. Said investigation pushes the buttons of some very shady customers and heroine finds herself in serious jeapardy without knowing why. In swoops hero to save her life and help her with her investigation. Bad guys continue to pursue for nefarious reasons. Heroine makes life-changing discovery. Evildoers attempt to suppress heroine’s knowledge. After climactic fight, hero and heroine start new life together.

Just because something follows a formula, doesn’t mean that the author hasn’t taken the elements of that formula into new and interesting directions. In the case of The Descartes Legacy, those elements were born on the moon.


Jenna Young believes that she is dying. She believes that she has a genetic disease and that her father-the-doctor has been giving her medicine to keep the disease at bay. Then he dies suddenly and she’s running out of meds.

She thinks she’s sick, so she turns to another doctor to get the medication she needs. Her friend gets tortured and killed, and she has no idea why.

What she did makes perfect sense, based on what she believed. But what she believed isn’t true. Over the course of the story, Jenna discovers that nothing she believed about herself and her origins is true.

Her father didn’t just lie, he covered up his part in a world-spanning power-hungry organization called “The Conclave”. An organization whose genetic experimentation both created Jenna, and ordered her “termination” at age 4.

Jenna’s always known she was different. But as she is forced to dive into the murky politics of The Conclave, she discovers just how different she is.

And Jenna’s not the only one peering into the depths of the Conclave’s evil, nor is the death of her doctor-friend the only torture-and-murder to be laid at their door.

Lucas Grafton has been looking for revenge against that organization for ten years, since they murdered his wife and daughter. But Luke’s search for justice runs him headlong into Jenna’s need for the truth.

Luke starts out uncertain whether Jenna is an innocent bystander, a co-conspirator, or bait in a trap. Eventually he discovers that she is all three, but by then, he’s willing to sacrifice anything to keep her safe.

And she feels the same way about him.

Escape Rating A-: The story ends with a series of stunning revelations that make the reader yearn for more. It doesn’t feel so much that things have concluded as that there is a pause in the action. Jenna and Luke’s story isn’t over, and I want to know what happens next. Very, very much.

The science fictional elements in The Descartes Legacy are of the “laboratory” variety rather than the spaceship type. It’s not just that Jenna was created through some very tricky genetic engineering, but it’s the source of some of her genetic material that pushes the story through the science fiction envelope.

The “Descartes” in the title is not a reference to Renaissance philosopher and mathematician René Descartes, at least not directly. It refers to the Descartes Highlands on the moon, and to Apollo 16’s mission there.

The Conclave is a many-headed, completely heartless beast of an organization. The plot that Jenna and Luke discover is chilling in its inhumanity. Discovering the nature of that plot and stopping it add to the breakneck pace of the story.

But this is also a romance, and that part of the story hinges on the chemistry between Jenna and Luke. For all the science fiction, their story together has a few too many times when Jenna is a drugged and helpless captive, waiting for Luke to rescue her.

Considering the powers she discovers during the story, she gets kidnapped a bit often.

And there was definitely a touch of insta-love in their relationship. But the thriller and suspense elements still kept me racing to finish the story.

The Protector (Diane Burton)

Review by Jo Jones

The Protector is the third novel in the Outer Rim series. While it does stand alone, I could tell there were references that I was missing because I had not read the first two books.

Review-TheProtectorPela and Dillan have a past history but not a romantic one. That changes when Dillan arrives in time to help Pela rescue two girls who escaped from a slave ship.

That starts the romance, but it is a romance with problems. The big problem from Pela’s point of view is their age difference. She is several years older than Dillan. The big problem from Dillan’s point of view is convincing Pela that age does not matter.

While there is romance, it is not the only focus of the story. Slavers who steal children and then sell them is the other focus. For Pela, stopping them is very personal and she will let nothing stand in her way. That paints a big target on her back. The romance is worked into the action as Pela and Dillan try to find and stop the slave ships from stealing children.

Dillan’s determination to keep Pela safe also causes conflict between the two of them. The Protector is action-filled. Pela and Dillan are very well-developed characters who do a good job carrying the story. They are aided by some outstanding secondary characters.

However, there were some things that I felt I missed. There was not a lot of world building or back story, probably because it was done in the previous two books. It did not change the tension or action in The Protector but it did leave me wondering about references more than once.

There was one thing I disliked. Pela was cooking at the beginning of the story. Everything she cooked or used had a made-up name and I found it very distracting. If you are fixing something that is used like bread, just call it bread. Calling it something else interferes with the flow of the story.

The Time Slip Girl (Elizabeth Andre)

Review by Rachel Cotterill

Dara falls down the stairs in 2014 and wakes up in 1908. Agnes is surprised to find a mysterious, dark-skinned woman in her basement, but she’s a practical sort and takes it all in stride, even when it transpires that her visitor is from the future. As the two women share a bed—and increasingly begin to share their lives—it becomes clear that a century’s time difference is no barrier to love.

I think it’s important for anyone picking up this book to understand that Andre is a romance novelist: this is a romance novel with a time travel conceit, rather than a book about time travel. Concepts such as paradoxes and changing history are nodded at, but not addressed—the present-day protagonist, Dara, is very genre-savvy, and even Agnes in 1908 reads The Time Machine for research, but neither woman really understands how the time slips work. There’s a mad Edwardian scientist who has a theory, and some steampunk-esque devices that allow him to measure the atmospheric changes associated with the slips; his method is shown to have some predictive power, but that’s as far as it goes.

The historical detail, on the other hand, is beautifully done. Most of the story takes place in 1908, and there are various little touches that really bring the setting to life. A quick fact-check confirms that the author is spot on about everything from the availability of aspirin to the pieces performed at Prom 24.

Dara naturally finds life in the early 20th century quite different to 21st century Chicago, and this new world is not without its challenges, particularly for a black lesbian. Back home she’s been out for years, and was engaged to her girlfriend, until Jenny was killed in a tragic accident. In 1908 she’s already a novelty for her skin colour and, although she shows photos of Jenny to Agnes, she shies away from explaining the nature of their relationship. And at a variety show, the offensive minstrel act sends her running from the theatre.

For her part, Agnes got into trouble with her father after he caught her kissing a girl, and although her parents have since died, she hasn’t had another partner. She falls quickly in love with Dara, but she’s too afraid of losing her friend to confess her feelings.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book, despite the lightweight treatment of the science and the occasional line of clunky dialogue. Agnes and Dara were perfect together, and I enjoyed the way they were challenged by their different backgrounds and the unusual circumstances in which they met.

While You Were Away (D.J. Davis)

Review by The Book Pushers

Kev Thorsin has returned from a twenty-year war campaign across the stars to find that his own world has been overthrown by a corrupt regime ruling with an iron fist. His fiancé, Rianna Elain, is in the thick of it with a group of freedom fighters known as Libertas headed by the charismatic Terrill Briggs. They are on the run from a noose that closes tighter each day and may soon find themselves behind bars, or worse. Yet Kev knows of a place where they can live in safety, if they can just evade Tetraparagon forces and get off the rock—a task easier said than done. (This blurb came from

review-whileyouwereawayWhen I read the blurb I was captivated with taking the fact that someone who goes off to war returns to the people left behind have changed, the world has changed, and they have changed. In this particular case, the changes were quite drastic and led to what seems to be the beginning of an epic struggle. As much as I enjoyed the premise, I ended up feeling let down by the execution. Davis included so much in this story, it seemed like several aspects were superficially touched on or glossed over in order to string action scenes and other kinetic events together.

Kev was the sole survivor of his troop transport ship when it was destroyed in route to his home. After learning they were deliberately targeted, he was able to borrow a stealth fighter and finish his trip only to discover a planet full of bombed-out ruins and whose people lived in fear under brutal enforcement. He also discovered his fiancée’s name and picture on a most wanted list for associating with “terrorists”. I liked Kev’s cybernetic tools and enhancements along with his ease of using them but it seemed like he was the perfect all-knowing, adaptable, better-than-everyone-else warrior. He was always able to figure things out or had the keys to solve any problem despite being away for twenty years. He also didn’t seem to suffer from much disassociated shock at the unexpected drastic changes but it was great to see his faith in Rianna wasn’t misplaced.

Rianna, left behind when Kev was sent off to war, tried to do her part in sending him messages to keep his spirits up. Then as life started changing with more and more restrictions. Message traffic became censored and finally eliminated as Tetraparagon took over. Recruited by Terrill Briggs, she joined the Libertas and did everything she could to cause disruption and destabilize the Tetraparagon organization using guerrilla tactics. Throughout her entire time in the organization, she never gave up her faith that Kev would return to her. I really liked her support for Kev and how hard she fought for her people but I never really gained a sense of her as a person, just a freedom fighter who stayed faithful over a 20-year separation, and picked up some useful skills along the way.

While You Were Away was full of action, too much action. So many things occurred, from the moment the story opened until the final scene, that it was extremely difficult trying to get a sense of individual personalities. While described as a romance, Davis did not spend any time developing the romance for the reader, aside from a few flashbacks. Rianna and Kev picked back up where they parted twenty years ago and I had a hard time believing that, with all of the changes over time and the lack of connection, they meshed as if the separation was only a few minutes’ long. In addition to the lack of relationship development, I felt the constant action detracted from the world-building. Unfamiliar terms, technology, abilities, and species were included in this story as if the readers were already familiar with the world, which made me double-check that this was the first installment. I also had the sense that Davis plans to continue writing in this world because Terrill had a rather grandiose long-term plan whose first steps occurred in this story. While You Were Away ended at a natural break point, but the door was left open to continue their adventures.

I found While You Were Away a disappointing story. As I read, I realized I really didn’t care enough about the characters to wonder if, or how, they would get out of any particular sticky situation. I knew Kev would have the solution, Rianna would provide some assistance, and the others would go along with his solution. The elements of action, romance, and world-building were out of balance. I felt like I was reading a space action adventure because the story was so action-heavy at the cost of the bedrocks needed for this sub-genre.

I give While You Were Away a D-

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