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Posted: 15 June, 2015 at 10:49 am   /   by   /   comments (0)

Reviews on this page:

Sharon Lynn Fisher: Echo 8 — Ghost Planet

Donna S Frelick: Trouble in Mind — Unchained Memory

MA Grant: Lace & LeadHonour Bound

Susan Grant: How to Lose an Extraterrestrial in 10 Days

Inari Gray: Wars of the Heart

Laurie A Green: Farewell Andromeda

Anna Hackett: At Star’s End — Beneath a Trojan Moon — Beyond Galaxy’s Edge — On a Cyborg PlanetThrough Uncharted Space

Alexis Hall: Prosperity

HR Harrison: From Stars They Fell

Kelley Harvey: Breathe

Catherine Haustein: Natural Attraction

JC Hay: His Low Born Heart

Reesa Herbert & Michelle Moore: Peripheral People

Shona Husk: Yours to Command

Pippa Jay: Keir

Kelly Jensen & Jenn Burke: Chaos Station

Pauline Baird Jones: Core Punch — The Key

Renae Jones: Hellcat’s Bounty

Dara Joy: Ritual of Proof

JA Kenney: Silver Strife

Kim Knox: Kissed — Synthetic Dreams

Eve Langlais:  Accidental AbductionC791

Corinna Lawson: Ghost PhoenixGhosts of Christmas Past — Luminous — Phoenix LegacyPhoenix Rising — Phoenix Inheritance

Meg Leader: Starcrossed Bride

Karalynn Lee: Slip Point

Sharon Lee & Steve Miller: I Dare

Eva Lefoy: Download My Love

JJ Lore: Beyond Love

Rae Lori: City of Simplicity

Accidental Abduction (Eve Langlais)

A classic review by Jo Jones

Review-AccidentalAbductionAccidental Abduction is another Science Fiction Romance with a familiar plot; a feisty earth girl meets big strong purple alien and true love follows. It is how Eve Langlais uses the plot that makes this story so much fun. Megan has been pushed overboard and left to drown in the Pacific Ocean by her current boyfriend. Just as she is about to lose strength and give up, she is scooped up by an alien space craft gathering marine samples. And that is when the fun begins. Tren was a successful mercenary who has traded that life for a more peaceful one as a “wrangler and transporter of rare species from undeveloped galaxies”. While the life was boring, at least no one was shooting at him. Boredom went out the window when he scooped up Megan.

Tren and Megan are a lot of fun. Megan has a smart mouth. Tren likes to have the last word. Their trip, while predictable, is a lot of fun and full of laughs. Both Tren and Megan fight their attraction. It is only when Megan is in danger that both realize it is more than lust.

Eve says that she “loves to write hot romance, usually with hot shifters, cyborgs or aliens”. Accidental Abduction has hot romance and aliens along with a cute story.

If you like fun SFR stories, pick up Accidental Abduction or any of Eve’s other Abduction stories. You will be in for some great characters and a lot of laughs.

Smashwords published Accidental Abduction by Eve Langlais in 2011.

Summary: Accidental Abduction has hot romance and aliens along with a cute story.

At Star’s End (Anna Hackett, Carina Press)

Review by Marlene Harris

Space pirates and the Mona Lisa. Now there’s a combination that doesn’t turn up everyday!

review-atstarsendAt Star’s End is a rollicking space piracy adventure wrapped around a hot romance between an archeologist and the pirate captain. Although the emphasis in the story is on the action/adventure and the romance, the science fiction aspects provide just the right sauce, along with a touch of pathos.

Star’s End is a place. A mythical place where the first Earth colony ships, loaded with the most beautiful art and artifacts of our dying planet, ended up. By the time period of this story, Star’s End is a lost legend, it appears in history books, it’s treasures are mostly known through surviving computer files, but no one has ever found the actual place. It seems to be literally at the stars’ end.

Archeologists’ careers have come to unhappy ends in the fruitless search for the lost Terran treasure, including the career and life of Dr. Eos Rai’s mother. Eos has devoted herself to proving her mother’s theories correct. And at last she has a lead on the trove—but her bosses at the Galactic Institute of Historic Preservation refuse to back an expedition.

That’s where the Phoenix brothers come in. Dathan Phoenix, along with his brothers Niklas and Zayn are pretty legendary themselves. Legendary treasure hunters, that is. The Phoenix brothers search for treasure and historic artifacts for purely mercenary motives; they’re in it for the money.

Eos is in it for the thrill of the hunt, and for the glory of getting her latest finds into the museum. But without museum backing, the Phoenix brothers are her only choice for this personal mission. A mission that becomes even more personal when she and Dathan can’t seem to stop the spark of attraction that flares up between them.

They’ve always been on opposite sides of the fence, but opposites definitely do attract.

Treasure hunts also attract poachers, including a hunter who is as much after brother Niklas as any treasure they might discover. (I hope this story turns up in a later book).

As they get further away from civilized space, the chase gets more and more dangerous. Too many rivals try to kidnap Eos for the secret she holds. But no matter how difficult the hunt, Eos never gives up or gives in.

Except to what she feels for Dathan.

Escape Rating A-: Another review called At Star’s End the love child of Indiana Jones and Firefly, and that’s a pretty good description. The universe by the time of the story has gotten kind of dark and gritty, much like the background of Firefly. But the adventure part of the story is pure Indiana Jones’ treasure chasing, non-stop action and danger, with a heroine who gets herself into, and out of, every kind of trap and trouble imaginable.

This is Eos’ story. Her information, her find, and often her danger. It’s about what she wants, and what she thinks she wants. Does she just want to find Star’s End, or is she trying to validate her mother’s career? Does she want to go back to the Museum, or does she want a more interesting, and more dangerous, future with Dathan? If he’s looking for a long-term relationship, and not just a fling, that is.

If you love the action/adventure type of science fiction romance, let these space pirates steal you away, and steal your heart.

Beneath a Trojan Moon: The Phoenix Adventures #4 (Anna Hackett)

Review by The Book Pushers

Publisher: Self
Publish Date: Out now
Reviewed by: E
How I got this book: ARC from Sci-Fi Romance Quarterly

Fortune teller Relda Dela-Cruz is a woman with a secret. One she’ll do anything to conceal. She hides in plain sight on the market world of Souk, content with running her profitable fortune-telling business and never letting anyone too close. But when assailants attack her in pursuit of a powerful artifact, Relda collides with the city’s handsome, new marshal. A man who leaves no stone unturned and no secret covered.

review-beneathatrojanmoonWar has left former Galactic Special Forces Captain Hunt Calder tired and empty, but one look at sexy Relda—with her wild curls and lush curves—brings him back to life. When she’s threatened over the mysterious Trojan Moon, Hunt will let nothing stop him from protecting her. Even Relda herself.

As they face alien attackers and killer droids, Relda can’t resist her burning attraction to Hunt. But she knows he’s the most dangerous threat of all, because he doesn’t just want her body, he wants her trust and her secret, too. A secret with the power to destroy Hunt and Relda, the city, even the planet itself. (This blurb came from the author’s website.

Looking at this blurb I thought it had definite possibilities because it included several tropes I enjoy—woman with a secret, burnt-out former military city marshal with instincts for trouble, aliens, and droids. It was a short fun read and even through it is the 4th installment in the series, it does stand alone in terms of the characters. I think if I had read the previous stories, I would have had a better grasp on the universe but I didn’t find the knowledge required.

Relda was alone, hiding in plain sight unable to really relax and trust anyone. Yet, because of her past, she had a soft spot for girls and young women in similar situations so she gave them the tools for a successful if not profitable life without having to sell access to their bodies. Even though those women were dedicated to Relda she was raised with so much fear, she thought she had to continue hiding what she really was and what she could do. However, she did not have any problems fighting back physically or otherwise, which I enjoyed seeing. As her back-story emerged, I could understand her fears regarding other people learning her identity and even her fear of herself.

I didn’t get as much about Hunt which was a slight disappointment because I really wanted to know how he became so burnt out. It would have helped me understand his transition from empty and cold to burning hot and alive once Relda entered his life. I liked how protective he was and yet he also believed in Relda’s self-control and the positive impact she made on those around her. I really wanted to get to know him more because I saw hints of depth in the results of his actions but I didn’t get to see his character growth.

The action, both when it came to the enemy and that of a more pleasurable intimate sense was intense. Both Hunt and Relda were attracted to each other from the very beginning and I liked how it was evident because Relda did her best to always act professional and standoffish towards Hunt instead of indulging in harmless flirting. Hunt seemed focused on her as if she was a puzzle he needed to solve but he never lost sight of the danger she was in. When they finally acted on their attraction, it was rather explosive. What I liked about the two of them together was how Hunt proved at the end, he knew Relda better than she knew herself. I really enjoyed the variety of attackers because it signified the complexity of Hackett’s universe and made me curious to read more. I also found Relda’s ability make me wonder what other things were hiding in plain sight or used openly.

Beneath a Trojan Moon did turn out to be an enjoyable read. I wanted to see more depth of character on Hunt’s side but I found myself enjoying Hackett’s writing and her pacing. I am also curious to see what else exists in her rather complex universe so I think I need to do some exploring in her backlist.

I give Beneath a Trojan Moon a B.

Beyond Galaxy’s Edge: The Phoenix Adventures #5 (Anna Hackett)

Review by Marlene Harris

If you want a rollicking good time of an SFR series, you absolutely can’t go wrong with Anna Hackett’s Phoenix Adventures. I love this entire series—it’s a terrific blend of sci-fi adventure with hot and heart-stopping romance.

The Phoenixes of the Phoenix Adventures are two sets of good looking rogues who are the opposite sides of one galaxy-spanning family. Brothers Dathan, Zayn and Niklas Phoenix operate a successful relic hunting company on the slightly more settled side of the galaxy, and their cousins Dare, Rynan and Justyn (also brothers) operate an equally successful but slightly less famous convoy-leading company (and smuggling business) out on the galaxy’s edge.

review-beyondgalaxysedgeThis is Justyn’s story, and it is quite a wild ride. Because Justyn the smuggler finds himself on a dangerous treasure hunt. And it’s all a very elaborate ploy. Justyn isn’t nearly as interested in the artifact he’s chasing as he is in the Galactic Security Services Captain who is chasing it.

Justyn has spent years putting himself in the way of Captain Nissa Sander. She never manages to find his contraband cargo, no matter how many times she stops and searches his ship. She’s completely unwilling to admit to herself that her encounters with Justyn are the high point of her job. She keeps fooling herself that a stellar career in Galactic Security Services is all she wants. And she’s damn good at it. But it isn’t what she wants for herself. It’s what she tells herself she wants in order to please her demanding father, a career GSS officer who never quite made it to the big leagues.

Justyn keeps letting Nissa catch him. He just makes sure she never catches him with anything he shouldn’t have. His ship has way more hidey-holes than Nissa will ever find. So he lets her keep finding him over and over, just so that he can see her. And tease her a bit. He knows that he’s not what she wants or deserves, but he can’t resist arranging those few minutes in her company.

They both believe that they will always be on opposite sides of a very high fence of legalities. Until someone breaks into a museum and steals one of the founding documents of interstellar law and democracy – the U.S. Constitution from old (meaning our) Earth.

The treasure hunt gets even more complicated when they chase down the thief – only to find out that the document he stole was a forgery – created almost a thousand years ago. Does the real Constitution even survive?

Nissa is tasked by her commanding officer to find the real constitution, if it exists, and deliver it to the admiral personally, and at any or all costs. The Phoenix brothers (both sets) enlist the aid of any family and friends they have to track the course of the ship originally carrying the Constitution, and trace it beyond the galaxy edge, outside the confines of civilized space.

Nissa has no jurisdiction beyond the edge, only a powerful motivation to protect her career and especially her father’s pension from the admiral’s machinations. But just as they get close, Nissa discovers that the superiors she has always relied on cannot be trusted. The only people she can count on are the Phoenix brothers who are out there with her. And especially Justyn.

When all hell breaks loose, and Justyn and Nissa finally find themselves on the same side. For once. And possibly forever.

Escape Rating A-: This was a terrific adventure. It had all the elements that made At Star’s End so much fun. Nissa is working for the forces of law and order, just as Eos planned to turn the relics she was hunting over to the Galactic Institute. Both Nissa and Eos were betrayed by the people who should have been on their side. And most importantly, neither Dathan nor Justyn were anywhere near as bad as their reputations were cracked up to be.

Not that Justyn isn’t a smuggler, because he is. But he seems to do it either mostly for sport, and teasing Nissa, or because he’s turning most of the profits over to an array of charities he supports on various convoy-stopover planets. He’s a little bit Robin Hood. He also mostly just carries small luxury items, like cigars or fancy booze. Nothing big, nothing worth killing over.

And he really likes to torment Nissa with the possibility of catching him.

Except for his unwillingness to admit that he’s been in love with Nissa for years, Justyn knows exactly what he’s doing.

Nissa, on the other hand, is kind of a mess. She’s a great GSS officer, but her heart isn’t in it. Her father cuts her to ribbons every single time they talk, and he’s always pressuring her about something. Basically, daddy is re-living his own career through Nissa, and her opinions generally don’t matter. She should be old enough to know better, but she seems to be conditioned to obedience, which really bites her in the ass when the admiral both bribes and blackmails her at the same time.

It was fairly obvious to this reader who the really evil person is in this mess. Nissa should have figured it out a hell of a lot sooner – it would have saved everyone a world of hurt. Of course, if she had, this story wouldn’t contain nearly as much edge-of-the-seat excitement, and our hero and heroine wouldn’t have been forced into close proximity so often that they were forced to acknowledge their mutual feelings.

Those two had enough frustrated chemistry to light the rocket boosters all by themselves. When they finally get close, its explosive.

Beyond Love (JJ Lore)

Review by The Book Pushers

Publisher: Evernight Publishing
Publish Date: 21 Apr 16
Reviewed by: E
How I got this book: ARC from Sci-Fi Romance Quarterly

Every mining outpost needs a sheriff, and Eidan Cozad is just the Eleoni for the job. Newly arrived on planet with his deputy sister in tow, he faces corruption, hostility, and nearly continuous rain. A chance encounter with a defiant human postal worker adds yet one more complication to his mission.

Review-BeyondLoveNeat and tidy Teah Ruida thought when the Eleoni arrived and enforced some law and order, it would be easier for her to deliver her packages. Instead, she’s somehow become embroiled in spat after spat with the handsome and assertive Sheriff himself. Even though she doesn’t want to think about it, she’s become madly curious if the rumor about the strange markings Eleoni hide under their clothes is true.

Tension between Eidan and Teah ignites into passion that defies the barriers between their races. When there’s a violent ambush initiated by the settlement’s criminal organization, the future of their love hangs in the balance. (This blurb came from Goodreads)

I have a weakness for alien/human relationships and a weakness for westerns. So when I read this blurb I thought Beyond Love had a very good chance of melding two of my favorites into a seamless whole. I am glad I requested this because Lore certainly managed to catch and hold my interest while making me hope she continues to write in this world.

Teah managed to escape earth and change her life by applying to work in the Eleoni government. She didn’t expect to find a job as a postmistress and certainly not to be working on a relatively lawless very rainy mining planet. Even with the lack of creature comforts Teah still enjoyed her job and was looking forward to meeting her first Eleoni when they arrived to police the settlement. While her first encounter didn’t go quite as smoothly as she hoped, I found it amusing.

Eidan was certainly out of his element and resented his assignment to this rainy desolate planet far away from the center of things. He was grateful for his sister deciding to accompany him even as he felt bad this meant the end of her relationship because her mate refused to join them or wait for the end of this assignment. Then he encountered Teah and found himself equal parts annoyed and intrigued. Eidan was so by the book especially when he felt uncomfortable it made several of his encounters with Teah and the other humans seem rather stilted when mentally he wanted them to be anything but that.

Lore did a good job of displaying the interspecies tension and prejudice along with the struggle of trying to start imposing some sort of order but there were times when I wanted to see more interaction between the three main species. I felt like the Kotzes were barely mentioned and wanted to see more of them in order to flesh out the world. I also wanted to learn more about the set up of the universe, the Eleoni, and why humans were a distant third when it came to power/influence. I did like learning some of the specific differences between humans and Eleoni as the relationship between Teah and Eidan grew.

Brida, Eidan’s sister, was a nice counterbalance to Eidan’s seriousness even as she dealt with the ramifications of her ended relationship. She seemed interested in getting to know inhabitants of the settlement and had a gift of dealing with others in addition to her skills as a sheriff. I wanted to get to know her more and I hope Lore writes a story featuring Brida as the heroine because I think she has a bit more depth and complexity then her brother. I really really wouldn’t complain at all of she ended up with a certain nefarious character who also raised my interest and who I think would be a lot of fun.

I do have a few world-building issues as I stated above because I think the romance and sex scenes had a stronger focus but overall I enjoyed reading Beyond Love. I am going to look into Lore’s backlist and continue to check to see if she does expand this world because I think it shows a lot of potential and she has built some intriguing characters.

I give Beyond Love a B.

Breathe (Kelley Harvey)

Review by Norm Zeeman

review-breatheThis is part one of a multipart story. At 173 pages, I found it a very quick read, but too short for full character development, although the story starts right at the point where we get to the action. The characters we meet at the beginning are a teen girl, Lexa, and her hunky teen friend, Gabe. Gabe’s family tells him that his father is a winged alien and they are waiting to see if Gabe, the oldest son, will also have wings. He does. There were three alien Zellans who found themselves on our planet. They settled down, got married, had kids and the “how” of the Zella-to-Earth travel is left very vague. Lexa, too, is unaware of her alien heritage and when her wings develop, she is terrified that she is a freak and so hides them from everyone. By the fourth chapter, we have the possibility of yet another alien creature with the ability to blend into the shadows and be really scary, but it never gets much clearer than that for this book.

Gabe and Lexa have feelings for each other that go beyond the really strong friendship they grew up with. At the beginning, Gabe doesn’t know Lexa is also half alien, so he is scared to share his wings with her and she doesn’t know she and he are both alien so she doesn’t share her wings with him. I felt it wasn’t much of a relationship if they don’t trust each other enough to share something this important, but I get that this is a plot device to create interest and tension. In Chapter 18, when we add in Nathaniel, the equally hunky son of the third alien, who just happens to be close in age to Lexa and Gabe and also has his wings, the authors have created the quintessential teen love triangle. Nathaniel and Gabe make the mistake of letting Lexa know once she gets her wings that she is the only possible mate for both of them and she has to choose. This sets up the conflict, but the big thing is that Lexa is terrified of heights. She doesn’t think much about her wings as she will hopefully never get off the ground. Each one of three has an additional gift from their alien DNA—Lexa can find lost things and the other two’s gift are equally useful but not really defined.

I really liked the foreshadowing, it was enough to keep the tension going and the dueling chapters by Lexa then Gabe, gave me short quick infodumps from two points of view, which helped me understand the background. I wish there had been more on the aliens, but possibly additional details will be included in the next book. I did like the characters, but felt they verged too close to being stereotypes. The teen angst was thick enough to cut with a knife, overshadowing the rest of the story so that you don’t really know where it is going. However, the end was killer—totally unexpected—although the foreshadowing was there, too. I just didn’t catch it. I’m not sure how the author will recover from this ending unless one of the other characters comes up with a “maguffin”. You know, that thing, gadget, gizmo, superpower, alien technology without which the plot can not move forward. I hate it when it’s done badly, but love it when it’s done well. I can’t wait to see what happens in the next book.

This feels like a teen book, there is no sex, but some hot and heavy kissing. The comparison to Pittacus Lore’s I am Number Four series or James Patterson’s Angel young adult series, really does have to be made as both of these series are stellar “aliens hiding on earth” and “aliens with wings” stories. This one doesn’t quite measure up, either because it was too short or just didn’t have enough background and punch to make it stand out from the crowd—but I’ll read the next because I have to know where it goes.

C791 (Eve Langlais)

Review by Marlene Harris

Two of the things I love about Eve Langlais’ books are her snarkier than snark dialog (which usually makes me laugh) and that her heroines are not cookie-cutter Barbie size 2’s. Even in a science fictional type story like C791, her heroines always feel more real because they aren’t supposedly perfect, just perfect for the hero.

review-c791C791 is the first book in her Cyborgs series, so it needs to both introduce the world she has created and fulfill Langlais’ trademark of being one hot love story. It works on both counts.

There have been lots of ways for futuristic stories to develop cyborgs, but it’s usually done by either converting a human with the addition of a few cybernetic parts (think Six Million Dollar Man) or by bringing an injured person back from the brink of death (or after) by taking away their previous identity when they are completely reprogrammed (think Robocop). In the latter situation, the military is almost always involved in some skullduggery.

The cyborgs in this series were created by the military, and they seem to have started with unwilling participants and then reprogrammed and brainwashed them. They know that they were once men, but not who they were.

However, like the Cylons in BSG, the cyborgs rebel. Not for any mysterious motives, but simply because the military decides to exterminate them all. A few of them have broken their programming, and don’t merely refuse to walk out the airlock, but reprogram their brethren to turn on their former “masters”.

I keep using words like “men” and “brethren” not because I’m using “men” as the universal word for “people”, but because as far as anyone knows, there are no female cyborgs. Of course, not everything that “everyone knows” is always the truth. The military has lied about absolutely everything involved with the cyborgs.

The cyborgs are hunting the galaxy for those involved with the program. Not just for revenge, but primarily for information. They don’t know how they were created, and they can’t reproduce biologically. (Like Data, they are fully functional, but they’re all shooting blanks.)

Just as the cyborgs are creating their own culture, their leadership is all too aware that they are a dying race. And that’s where Joe’s story begins. He’s on a mission to find some of that information, and has allowed himself to be captured so that he can infiltrate the systems in this one particular lab while the military thinks they are torturing him. (How this works is very cool).

But as part of their testing, the military bring in a lab technician to take “samples”. Chloe is slightly clumsy and not the willowy type that is considered beautiful, but she is one of very few women on the military base. Her compassion for the cyborg as well as her own sweet nature break through the impassive shell that Joe has formed around himself.

So even though his wooing redefines rough (the cyborgs are not all that socially ept) his desire to protect Chloe, and simply his unrelenting desire for him, wins Chloe’s heart. Chloe lets herself be swept along, even though she doesn’t believe that Joe can return all of her feelings.

Then her secret is revealed, and she’s not sure she can survive all the negative feelings that she has engendered among the entire cyborg colony. Or if she is worth loving at all.

Escape Rating B+: If you are looking for a short and very sexy sci-fi romance to sweep you away, then C791 just might fill the bill. Or any other craving that happens to be in need of filling.

Just like all of Eve Langlais’ books, this one is absolutely fry your circuits hot. But there is also a very cool sci-fi story mingled with the sex.

The story of the cyborg rebellion, how it started and where they are in the development of their own society, would make for good SF with or without the romance. There have been other series where the military has been overcome or outwitted by people they have made other than human and enslaved (Lora Leigh’s Breeds series comes to mind), but the worldbuilding that creates these more than humans is off to a great start.

Chloe, the heroine, often seems like a bit too much of a victim, but when all is revealed, her reasoning, and her courage in the face of overwhelming circumstances, shines through. Joe, as the leader of the cyborgs, makes a terrific hero. He’s not just brave and self-sacrificing, but he’s also endearingly awkward as he falls in love. He’s the ultimate geek hero.

So far, there are four more books in this series, and I can’t wait to scoop up each and every yummy bite.

Chaos Station (Jenn Burke and Kelly Jensen)

Review by Norm Zeeman

review-chaosstationThese two authors make the reading experience a joy. Zed has been in covert ops for the last four years and when he sees news footage of his good friend Emma killing civilians on a space station, he needs to find a ship to get him there fast so he can help get her out of trouble. The chance of him finding Felix’s ship was practically impossible, but when they come face-to-face, Zed feels that his looming insanity has finally overtaken him and he can’t believe that the lover he thought was dead is standing in front of him. Thinking Felix dead, Zed had immersed himself in a new and experimental covert military program that had him in deep cover for the last few years. Unaware that Zed was deep undercover, Felix thinks Zed abandoned him. Zed has just resurfaced after being forcibly retired at the end of the war with the alien Stin and had never heard that Felix had been rescued from their torture. The Chaos is the trading ship Felix and Elias bought together and Elias is Captain and Felix is Chief Engineer. Felix was taken in as an engineer by Elias and his father on their family spaceship as they were the ones who kept Felix alive after his escape from the Stin and he feels like this is his family and second home. That is where we start the story and the author wastes no time getting us into the action. It’s a lot of world building in a very short number of pages, but the authors keep us turning pages to find out how these star-crossed lovers fare.

These two have some serious history that they have to work through, but Emma’s rescue takes precedence and even though both of them are invested in each other, neither sees a way to make a long-term relationship work with their current conditions. Felix knows Zed is hiding something, but can’t get him to divulge what is wrong as it has to do with the deep cover mission he was on. Zed doesn’t want to draw Felix into his troubles and thinks that as soon as this mission is over, he’ll retreat back into the shadows until death quickly finds him. Felix doesn’t want to lose the only home he has had for the last four years so he’s not willing to put himself in line to be hurt again, but his feelings for Zed are strong and deep. You get the visceral impact of the emotion in Zed and Felix’s sidelong glances and the way they each smile when the other is mentioned and you can feel the tightly-stretched, sexual tension in every scene they are in together.

Each one of these characters has so much baggage, history and quirks that they feel more real than my next-door neighbor, definitely more likeable and oh-so-easy on the eyes. Secondary characters, Captain Elias, ship doctor Nessa and the alien engineer Qek add so much to this story in how much they care for Felix and want him to be happy. Qek’s grasp of human humor is hilarious as much when he gets it wrong as when he gets it right, and it always brings a chuckle. Even the setting, while being a generic spaceship and space station, has just enough detail to make it feel like a real place, not necessarily a place you want to visit, but real, nonetheless. Small details like the accessories in Felix’s cabin lend depth to his character and Zed’s reaction to them shows his connection to Felix.

While the background of Zed, Felix and Emma’s military history is what drives the story, the connection between Zed and Felix comes through with emotion-packed conversations where what they don’t say is just as important as what they do. The military background is well written, not so much a part of the story that the authors have to get “mil-spec” technical, but you get a good feel for how it drives the characters now and helped define their personalities from their shared experiences in the past. It’s done so well that you only need a sentence here and there to bring a wealth of implied and remembered history to their motives and reasoning. The science is kept well to the background and I couldn’t find any glaring errors. That is such a nice change and will easily lend itself to this book never becoming obsolete because the science in it was bad or outdated—I love when that happens. I can go back and re-read it as many times as I want to—and I will want to.

Now we get to the sex. Several scenes show rock hard abs, strong shoulders, melting glances and the shower scene was to die for. However, these two alpha males show enough dysfunction to make me want to slap them and lock them in a cabin together until they work it out This is M/M, beautifully written, but not graphic, while still being so sensuous and caring, that you just have to root for these two guys to get a happy ending.

This is exactly how you write “show, don’t tell” and every budding author should read this to learn how it’s done. The length was perfect; the pacing wasn’t rushed but the action scenes weren’t drawn out to the point where you want to skim. The sex was awesome, but not Laurell-Hamilton-over-detailed enough to make me skip pages. The storyline was solid enough to move the characters forward with a real plot with real motivations and the super-hero-soldier stuff and its aftermath felt like it could happen to anyone. All around, one of the best science fiction romances I’ve read all year.

City of Simplicity (Rae Lori)

Review by RK Shiraishi

Review-CityOfSimplicityCITY OF SIMPLICITY is a novelette by Rae Lori; it’s a sweet heat level, dystopian SFR.

The heroine is citizen 52710, Lyn, who wakes up to her morning coffee and a dose of emotin to keep her emotions and rational thoughts under check. She goes out to enforce peace and law in the world and help it be perfect…except it’s creepy how no one ever seems to have memories and they all dress the same and take heavy does of emotin to get through the day. She is haunted by dreams of another life and a man she must have loved.

The hero, Spenser, is working with a resistance group and trying to get Lyn to remember him. The goal is to expose the media controlled world they now live in—that holds a dark secret. It’s kind of Brave New World/ Logan’s Run-ish and a neat story. It’s a intriguing world…and Lyn’s process of regaining her memories and discovering the falsehood of the world around her is well done.

I hope the author considers working in this universe again with perhaps a longer story.

Core Punch (Pauline Baird Jones)

Review by Marlene Harris

Core Punch certainly occurs sometime after The Key [also reviewed in this issue –Ed.] in Pauline Baird Jones’ Project Enterprise series, but the science-fictional elements in Core Punch are not the center of the story. Core Punch is a survival-against-the-elements story; where the hope-to-be survivors are both cops, and it’s possible that a mysterious enemy has taken advantage of the storm to make sure that everything that can go wrong does go wrong for our heroes.

There is often a question in the story whether they are meant to survive, meant to die, or are just in the middle of a gigantic and deadly test. Their mission is always clear—get out alive. But someone (several someones) may have different agendas of their own.

review-corepunchThe story takes place in a future New Orleans, where technology was used 20 years in the past to move the citizens of “The Big Easy” or “The Big Uneasy” in Jones’ future, from New Orleans Old (NOO), the city we know now, to New Orleans New (NON). NON is a quasi replica of NOO, except that it is a sky city, elevated above the wreck of NOO. And they have skimmers and space cars. The future envisioned in The Jetsons is finally here! NOO has survived not only Hurricane Katrina, but also a Hurricane Chen sometime between 2005 and the book’s now. In the book’s now, Hurricane Wu Tamika Felipe is bearing down on both NOO and NON, fully capable of earning its inevitable nickname, WTF.

Violet Baker and her partner are police officers in the NONPD, unfortunately taking a police skimmer (just as flimsy as it sounds) down to the surface of NOO to pick up land dwellers who ignored the original warnings that WTF was an SOB.

Vi Baker is related to most of the NONPD. The Baker family collectively cleaned up the corruption in the New Orleans PD by replacing all the corrupt cops with family. But it’s kind of strange for Vi, not only is the NONPD effectively the family business, but her Captain is also her Uncle.

Her partner Joe is where the science-fictional element really finds its way into our story. The exploration of the galaxy that results from the Project Enterprise mission in The Key has become an intergalactic tourism and exchange program. Joe, whose real name is unpronounceably Dzholh Ban!drn, is a cop from another galaxy on a job exchange program. He also happens to be slightly purple. And equipped with a nanite he calls Lurch. (Yes, that Lurch).

Joe is also the only cop in the NONPD that Vi finds attractive. While it helps that he’s one of the few who is not a blood relation, it’s also that he really is handsome, if slightly shy and by-the-book (and purple).

Vi refers to LOTS of things as crapeau. The police skimmer that she and Joe were assigned to retrieve reluctant surfacers is the epitome of crapeau. It is so crapeau that it crapeau’s out in the middle of the worst hurricane NOO has ever seen, while they are transporting an unexpectedly found murder victim and his dog.

Joe isn’t sure whether the skimmer was just that bad, or whether someone is setting him up. And whether Vi is really his enemy, or just the woman he desperately wants to kiss before the storm finishes them off.

Escape Rating B+: It may be because I haven’t read The Big Uneasy (and I want to), but this relatively short novella left me wondering about how the universe got from “first intergalactic trip” in The Key to “frequent enough for exchange programs” in Core Punch.

They are definitely the same universe, because of the Garradians and Joe’s nanite, although Lurch is a bit more advanced an AI than the individual nanites in The Key.

Whatever is going on with Lurch and his enemy needs fleshing out. There was a part of me that kept wondering what Lurch’s agenda was. Not just that he wants to eliminate his enemy, but he seemed to have some other secrets up his virtual sleeve. It may be that he just can’t share the perspective of a flesh-and-blood (and hormones) creature. But it felt like Lurch was hiding something besides himself.

Also I wasn’t sure if Vi had actual powers, or if she was just really good at manipulating people. The story could be read either way. But I really liked both her and Joe. A lot of things in her world may be crapeau, but she herself was pretty terrific.

Fighting the storm in that absolutely crapeau skimmer made for edge-of-the-seat tension. There were times when I felt like I was torquing my own body to help them wrest a few more feet of motion out of that POS vehicle. Core Punch read like it was the introduction to something bigger, and I really want to see whatever that is.

Download My Love (Eva Lefoy)

Review by Jo Jones

review-downloadmyloveWhat happens when your prince is really made for you and only you? That is the premise in Download My Love. Samantha Gold is a back-to-basics woman in spite of the fact that her father is the inventor of modern mechanoid life. Now her life is in danger and the one sent to keep her safe is Security Core agent Everett, a mechanoid that her father made just for her.

I like how the story developed. Lefoy manages to pack a lot into 50 pages. The danger is real and arrives at the beginning of the story. The focus then shifts to Samantha and Everett. As soon as that happens the danger intensifies. So does the attraction between the two. Samantha has to decide if love with a mechanoid is possible. Everett has to come to terms with the emotions he is starting to feel. Look for the two to find time for sex as they run for their lives. The plot moves fast, the action is non-stop and the romance adds to the tension.

I loved the blurb where it says “a man so perfect for her that he even loves her cows’. And, yes, in addition to saving Samantha, he also saves her cows.

Echo 8 (Sharon Lynn Fisher)

Review by Marlene Harris

Echo 8 takes place in multiple alternate versions of Seattle, some of them better off than our own, and some much, much worse. But all close analogs. If you have read anything about the parallel universes theory, even fictional versions thereof, you’ll understand exactly what I mean.

The story takes place in a very near future: it’s only 2018 in this world. Which means that it is also an alternate to our own, because the Seattle Center Tower has fallen in theirs, and here, it’s still up and very much a landmark of the city. (It’s on everything. I’ve even seen Chocolate Towers)

review-echo8But the former Colman School is a former school in all the ‘verses. In ours, it’s now the Northwest African American Museum. In theirs, it’s the home of the Seattle Psi Institute. And the SPI (cool initialism) is studying a phenomenon called “Echoes”. Echoes are people from a parallel universe who wind up in ours by accident. Part of that accident is that their version of the Earth suffered a huge asteroid strike, and they died. Instead of going wherever it is the dead normally go, they come here. And then they die anyway, cut off from their home universe’s source of energy.

I’m not sure which is scarier – that when they arrive here they are energy vampires, or that no one has tried to talk to one of them to figure out what the hell is going on. But then, the various government security forces are treating these people, the Echoes (also called fades because well, they eventually do) as enemies and security threats. There is a lot of “shoot first and ask questions later” going on. With the added fun factor that sometimes the Echoes are too faded to shoot – the bullets go right through.

Also a bit of “torture first and let them die” going on. The security services are not treating the Echoes as displaced persons – they are just a threat. Admittedly the trail of sucked dry dead bodies they leave in their wake does urge caution.

Only the scientists want to find out the whys and wherefores of the Echoes. They see (sometimes they don’t exactly see) people. Admittedly, people they want to experiment on a bit, but still people.

Tess Caulfield is a psychologist and parapsychologist at the Seattle Psi Institute. And the FBI has brought her an Echo to talk to. The FBI calls him “Echo 8”, because he’s the eighth Echo they have captured. Tess finds out his name is Jake.

Tess and Jake find a way to communicate. He needs energy to survive in our world. She needs answers. And poor Jake, stuck between universes, finally finds someone he can love. But never touch. In her world, he sucks the energy from her every time they are in close proximity. In his world, the shoe is on the other foot and Tess can’t touch him.

But theirs is not the love story that weaves around this book. That is the relationship between Tess and the FBI agent who is assigned as her bodyguard (and minder). Ross McGinnis has talents of his own, talents that he has suppressed. Ross is disillusioned when he discovers that the FBI’s plan is to use him, Tess and the Echoes for missions that Congress would not approve of, missions that will tear the soul out of anyone who performs them.

Tess and Jake go on the run, with disastrous results. Ross sucks it up and does his job, until he discovers that his career in the FBI is not worth his life, his sanity, or especially his love for Tess. And that the force he signed up with is not the one he is now working for. But before everything can be straightened out, he will have to take a trip to the dark side, of his job, of his soul, and to the other Earth that has been ripped in two.

Whether he can make it back from all that is a big risk – with a big reward if he can figure out his demons. And if Tess can let go of hers.

Escape Rating B+: There was a point about 2/3s of the way through where I almost stopped reading – the story got very dark and it looked like no one was going to get a happy ending out of this one. Or even an ending where someone doesn’t turn completely to the dark side of the Force. (Don’t worry, things do get brighter). I felt for the characters so much that I didn’t want to see anything terrible (or at least terribly permanent) happen to them.

Although Echo 8 is being talked about as a love triangle, it really isn’t. Jake may be what Tess would have chosen if her world hadn’t gone completely off the rails, but it did and he isn’t. And he does seem to be mistaking a bit of his gratitude for love, but Tess is the first person who has cared about him at all in a long time.

Ross is much more of a puzzle. Tess and Ross have a lot of chemistry that both of them are trying to ignore. He distrusts her work – because he’s always had a niggling feeling that his excellent hunches might be more than just hunches. And he doesn’t want to know, because it will change his view of the world.

Ross is very obvious about his skepticism, and Tess is definitely hostile with him. He denigrates her profession at every turn. No one would want to put up with that. She also resents having a bodyguard, and she is sure (correctly) that the FBI’s agenda is not hers, and she doesn’t like the idea of someone she can’t trust watching her every move.

The story surrounds Tess, Ross and Jake, and their collective attempt to find a way not just to communicate with the Echoes, but to work together for the collective good. Jake is initially just selfish, and Ross has very divided loyalties, but they all have to find a way to figure things out. There are a lot more Echoes around our world than anyone guesses, and the count of mysterious dead bodies is climbing everywhere. The security services have kept things under wraps until now, but that can’t last.

We all know of people who seem to suck our energy out of us, but how do you find common ground with someone who literally can – and will die if they don’t? It makes things more interesting (and darker) that one character is a soul sucker of one kind or another whichever world he’s on.

Echo 8 is mostly of the laboratory-type of SF. Tess is a researcher, and the story turns on the number of ways that her research can be subverted, and how badly.

As a former Seattleite, it was also fun to get the science-fictional tour of different versions of the city. I loved the twisted sense of deja vu.

Farewell Andromeda (Laurie A. Green)

Review by Psyche Skinner

review-farewellandromedaFarewell Andromeda is a delightful novella with a few shortcomings that bothered me more, the more I thought about them. Like many shorter works, it is more of a scenario that is set up and resolved than a story with a beginning, middle and end. It is, however, a fairly interesting scenario. Green takes the usual boy finds girl, boy rescues girl, boy and girl are happy together situation and semi-genderflips it. We have a tough spaceship captain, Tiharra, who falls for intriguing Donner, only to find he is destined to die in a matter of days (that might count as a spoiler, if it was not already in the blurb).

What I liked was the confident world-building with a minimum of exposition, and a scenario where the female is the somewhat more confident of the two. The secondary characters have real presence despite appearing only briefly, and the futuristic technology, while in a classic space opera mold, has many novel elements rather than being the usual Star Trek clone.

That said, the story is seriously rushed at the end, as if it was designed to be 10,000 words longer but the author suddenly lost interest. Even the heroine’s abiding neurotic thoughts about a previous breakup are simply tied up in one sentence (where Previous Bad Boyfriend is finally written off for doing something Future Wonderful Boyfriend promptly does, but now it is okay for some reason). Essentially, the swapping of classic gender roles is not complete as the female character is not ultimately the one who saves the day, and not the one who maintains their planned trajectory through life only with a new life-partner sidekick.

From Stars They Fell (HR Harrison)

Review by Toni Adams

For such a small story, this sure contained a punch of sweet, fun, diversity, interesting, with a dash of longing. Most novellas are too rushed and fails to deliver a great story. Not From Stars They Fell. H.R. Harrison wrote a complete novella: a good beginning, intriguing characters, and a fititng climax. It is not perfect but it does deliver enough of a story to keep it in your mind.

Review-FromStarsTheyFellA winged alien crash lands upon Earth and is discovered by dwarves. This happens right at the beginning of the novella and made me wonder if this was going to a sci-fi version of Snow White. Which would made sense since that Disney Snow White sings like an alien. It does become similar with a Snow White story: the dwarves take the winged alien, who introduces itself as Veni, to their home. There they all bond though crafting and chores. It is upon a market day that Veni’s eyes land upon a new type of mammal: a human male (The Prince?). The attraction is immediate and the two bond. This is a novella about the growth of this relationship. Or I suppose a Snow White as an alien story (personally preferred).

The romance between Veni and her prince, er, Wystan is genuine. It is a good genuine love story. It even features some jealousy bits, courting behavior, first dates, and a bona fide rescue. Give that this is a great couple, it is even more amusing to note that this is essentially an inter-species relationship, a distinction that was bemusedly noted later on. It was genuinely surprised how not awkward the sex scene was. It was pretty fascinating to read how that was reasoned out, although it really makes me wonder how the two will ever create spawns of their own. Genetic manipulation?

Most notable about this novella is that it features two diverse things: a person of color with a disability. Wystan is described as a deaf, dark man. The skin color diverged from what Veni has seen so far, so it was natural for her to focus on him at first. Veni has a (most convenient) translating implant that allows her to pick up all forms of communication, verbal and non verbal. She is able to communicate with Wynstan via sign language and the two have a language between them.

The other notable thing for the novella caused a bit of a reading hindrance. It was only obvious later when I realized that Veni’s species inhabit both female and male forms. Veni uses a different set of pronouns: “ze” and “hir”, both of which I kept mistaking as typos. This must have a lot of sense to those who identify as pansexuals.

For all of it’s good fun, there were definitely some hiccups and awkward scenarios. The scene with Wynstan’s mother was pretty odd. Instead of reading as a scene of a son introducing his love interest, it’s a scene where Wynstan takes Veni over to heal her. He had mistaken her for an angel and had hoped to have Veni help his mother. Which he doesn’t tell Veni until they get there. Then Veni proceeds to taste the blood so the computer within her can read the results. It’s just all a bit too awkward. It does introduce a seed of reality to Wynstan that Veni is not human. That doubt does fleet away and they continue their courting.

The ending of the book hints that there may be more connected to this story. I highly doubt this Royal group would let it end like that. I definitely wouldn’t mind reading more about it. This is a story that would have definitely benefited from being expanded upon.

All in all, a very cute novella that was delightful to read.

Ghost Phoenix: The Phoenix Institute #3 (Corinna Lawson)

Review by Marlene Harris

I read The Phoenix Institute series all in one giant binge, and I’ll admit that Ghost Phoenix is the point where it almost jumped the shark. But the romance between the hero and heroine was so much delicious fun that it pretty much jumped back.

review-ghostphoenixThe evil dude in the previous book, Phoenix Legacy, went by the name Edward P. Genet V. At the end of the story we discover that his real name is Edward Plantagenet, briefly King Edward V of England. Back in the late 1400s.

If the name rings any bells at all, it’s because Edward V was also one of the famous Princes in the Tower. Shakespeare claimed that Edward and his brother Richard were killed by their uncle, the recently discovered Richard III. (Contrarians say that the Princes were murdered by their sister’s husband, King Henry VII. We may never know.)

But it turns out that the people that the Phoenix Institute has discovered are not the only folks out there with special gifts. The Plantagenets have a strain of self-healing in their DNA, making some of them effectively immortal. Edward was one such, as was his brother Richard. In this scenario, they weren’t killed after all—they disappeared into the shadow court of their immortal queen, who turns out to be Eleanor of Aquitaine.

Eleanor is wasting away of some unknown malady that is preventing her from accessing her healing talents. Edward’s pursuit of Delilah and Drake’s genetically engineered baby was all part of his plan to create someone with the talent to heal others. However, messing with Drake’s family was a guaranteed way of getting killed. A sword through the heart will kill anyone. Even a self-healer can’t heal around a big honking piece of sharp metal in a truly vital organ.

Richard is forced back to court by his duty to his brother, and to his queen. He never approved of Edward’s methods, but now he has to find out what truly happened to his brother, and find a cure for the queen. Since Drake and Delilah’s baby is now out of reach, the court has discovered another possible method—studying the corpse of the mad Russian monk Rasputin, who was also had the power to heal others—as well as being a charismatic and nuttier than a fruitcake. Legend has it that Rasputin was poisoned, shot and drowned, so it is assumed that one or all of those methods overcame his self-healing ability.

Richard thinks he’s looking for a valuable corpse. So he hires Doyle Antiquities, especially Marian Doyle, to dig up (if necessary literally) the body of Rasputin. The Doyle family is known for possessing a rare psychic gift—the ability to turn to mist and go through walls. Marian is the only member of the family in this generation to possess the gift—as well as a talent for researching where lost treasures might be found.

Richard discovers that Marian is the most pleasantly surprising person he has met in centuries. She is intelligent, beautiful and talented, and always manages to do the unexpected. As they hunt what they think is an artifact, they discover that in spite of the centuries, they belong together. If they can survive the mess they have gotten themselves into.

Rasputin is still alive, and his followers are every bit as fanatical in the early 21st century as they were in the early 20th.

Escape Rating B+: The combination of the immortal Plantagenet court with Rasputin went really too close to the “believe three impossible things before breakfast” idea. In a world where multiple people have some kind of psychic/telekinetic talent without having had the equivalent of a mutated spider bite them in a lab, it is logical that there would be others with some talent.

There are so many stories about Rasputin, that it isn’t a stretch to believe he had some real power. He and his followers certainly thought he did. But adding the Plantagenet court into the mix almost went over the top.

But Richard Plantagenet is surprisingly empathetic as the surfer dude who could be king. He has rejected much of the isolation of the court and become a surfer in California. He may love the queen, but his attachment is to contemporary life. Watching him straddle both worlds makes him more human. He is still an autocrat at times, but he also knows how to value the short-lived human lives around him—and he knows there are lines that can’t be crossed, a lesson his brother never learned.

Richard meets with the Institute and Philip Drake, yet everyone walks away with their organs intact. He mourns his brother, but acknowledges that Drake’s actions were more than justified. He would protect himself and his to that same extreme—he can’t fault Drake for doing the same.

However, it is Richard’s relationship with Marian that grounds him and makes him human enough to feel for. He needs to win her love and approval, and she keeps him on the relatively human straight and narrow.

It is also her talents that discover the truth about the Queen’s illness. He needs her, and she needs him to boost her confidence so she can break away from the family that uses her and takes her for granted. In the early scenes, where Richard puts her overbearing grandfather in his place, that makes the reader first see him as “one of us” and not “one of them”.

Ghost Planet (Sharon Lynn Fisher)

This joint classic review from The Book Pushers

A world in peril. A bond deeper than love.

Psychologist Elizabeth Cole prepared for the worst when she accepted a job on a newly discovered world—a world where every colonist is tethered to an alien who manifests in the form of a dead loved one. But she never expected she’d struggle with the requirement to shun these “ghosts.” She never expected to be so attracted to the charming Irishman assigned as her supervisor. And she certainly never expected to discover she died in a transport crash en route to the planet.

Reincarnated as a ghost, Elizabeth is symbiotically linked to her supervisor, Murphy—creator of the Ghost Protocol, which forbids him to acknowledge or interact with her. Confused and alone—oppressed by her ghost status and tormented by forbidden love—Elizabeth works to unlock the secrets of her own existence.

But her quest for answers lands her in a tug-of-war between powerful interests, and she soon finds herself a pawn in the struggle for control of the planet…a struggle that could separate her forever from the man she loves.

review-ghostplanetE: When I read the blurb to Ghost Planet I found it fascinating. The thought of a new world, symbiotic ghosts, and of course a struggle for planet control intrigued me. I went into this without any expectations and I am glad because Fisher took her story in directions I never imagined. The combination of the ghosts, how they were treated due to the Ghost Protocol and what happened if/when people broke the rules was something else. This reminded me of some of the older science fiction exploratory novels of my childhood with the seamless addition of some romance.

Has: I totally agree with you about this book going into unexpected ways and I adored the premise which was refreshing and oh so haunting. The opening chapters of when Elizabeth finds out her fate and coming to terms to it had a stark and sad tone and I felt that Sharon Lynn Fisher really captured the emotions of grief and loss in a bittersweet way. In a lot of ways, this reminded me of a combination of Ghost and Solaris but Fisher injected her own unique twist on this premise and I freaking loved it!

I also loved Elizabeth’s stubbornness and determination in not succumbing into her fate and fading away and despite the melancholy tone which I have to say the setting of a New Seattle really adds to the overall theme of the story—there were also touches of humour, passion and life which helped to balance the book. The start of the romance between Murphy who is the psychologist who created the Ghost Protocol and ends up breaking all the rules to fall in love with Elizabeth was a fantastic and I loved how themes of love, grief and hope was explored via their unusual bond.

E: I agree the way Fisher started up the story with the initial attraction and then all of a sudden the change… I really liked how this was a case unlike most of the others but the logic fit. I also think that Elizabeth’s background was what enabled her to resist what the Ghost Protocol was designed to do. It also gave her a unique perspective that came in handy as the twists and turns continued. One of the early signs of that was how Elizabeth while promising to stop pestering Murphy started talking to other ghosts and reminded them that they were still alive in a sense with the ability to eat, feel, etc. That the ghosts could talk to each other and therefore experience some contact.

Of course rebellion doesn’t come without a price and that price is initially steeper then either Elizabeth or Murphy could have imagined. They got a very good display of how science can over weigh any thought of human decency but then the ghosts aren’t “human.” I have to admit that I thought the way a few scientists used Elizabeth’s knowledge of science and lab protocol against her inspired in a sick sort of way.

Has: And this is why I loved how Fisher explored these themes in the book, because it really delved into what grief and love is about and what if there was a second chance in regaining someone you lost? But it also didn’t have to be someone a person knew well or was very close to. I liked the fact the planet/alien entity also offered potential possibilities and seeing that Murphy and Elizabeth who were almost strangers on earth but had a second chance was interesting and I loved the dynamic they created with each other. It was also ironic but important to see that here is a human colony settling in an alien planet but trying to control and shape it into their ideas and conventions and not respecting or embracing on what it could offer. That message really rang out loud for me and it was important to see how it panned out over the course of the story but without it being a heavy-handed or preachy.

E: I liked that aspect too. I think it can be important sometimes to remember that just because we have a way of doing things that doesn’t mean that other ways are wrong or won’t work they are just different. One of the other aspects I liked was how Fisher showed things from different angles. We had the more benign side with the Ghost Protocol, then the dark side of the Ghost Protocol and experimentation, and then the ugly side of the flip in power/control that can occur when rage and hurt find an outlet without control. Fisher also showed through Elizabeth that no one had really made any long-term documentation of the results when a settler and ghost were permanently separated for failure to follow the Ghost Protocol. The ghost wasn’t really of concern but the reaction to the former settler was never considered. The long term reaction could have provided some evidence that things weren’t necessarily as the settlers thought they were… It took the combined effort of a lot of different people, ghosts, and outsiders to actually make a difference on Ghost Planet.

I loved how the solution wasn’t a single individual or idea but a combination. As I said earlier this reminded me of the science fiction of my youth. I want to say thanks to Fisher for proving that I still have that love and giving me several hours of enjoyment. I hope she provides more.

I give Ghost Planet an A.

Has: Ghost Planet for me was a such a surprise, because although I didn’t have high expectations even though it had an interesting premise. I was surprised HOW much I really liked it because of how it approached themes of love and loss but exploring it in a wonderful way. When a character states “People Die. Love Doesn’t” – this really sums up the book and the characters for me. Despite it being a SF romance, this goes beyond a high tech and high speculative premise because it really examines the full spectrum of human emotions and what it is to be human. And at its heart, there is a fantastic romance, which has flawed but real characters who have been given a second chance at love and by finding it they become truly alive and I loved that message.

This has definitely become one of my favourite books this year and it is a standout debut by Sharon Lynn Fisher who has a fantastic voice. I highly recommend it because it was fresh, and different and it was chock-full of emotions. I want more please!

I give Ghost Planet an A.

Ghosts of Christmas Past: The Phoenix Institute #3.5 (Corinna Lawson)

Review by Marlene Harris

Ghosts of Christmas Past is a direct sequel to the earlier novella in this series, Luminous. It fills in some of the background gaps that were left at the end of the first book, and tells a lovely story about what happens to the hero and heroine after the supposed happy ever after. The journey to HEA is a bit rockier than anyone expects.

And the nod to Dickens is totally exploited. The scenes of A Christmas Carol do come into play in this story, in a way that is novel but totally in keeping with the season.

review-ghostsofchristmaspastBut don’t read Ghosts of Christmas Past without having read Luminous first. The Al and Noir stories feel like a separate sub-series in The Phoenix Institute. You know the Institute is in the background, but Noir and Al only have limited contact with it.

The issue in this story is their contact with each other.

At the end of Luminous, Al hands Noir the results of his research into missing young women at the time she was taken. He helps her reunite with her parents, and gives her the information she craves about the person she was before the kidnapping.

Lucy was a 17-year-old artist. She was also a white girl from the middle-class suburbs. Al is a black cop in a corrupt city. He’s also about 15 years older than Lucy. Between those facts, and Al’s general lack of belief in himself and his ability to be anything other than a workaholic cop, Al is certain that Lucy will leave him sooner or later, possibly sooner. So he’s already detaching himself.

But Lucy isn’t just Lucy anymore. She suffered over 5 years of being a human guinea pig and then rescued herself with her own latent psychic abilities. Lucy may be part of Noir, and vice versa, but she is not the woman she would have been if the kidnapping hadn’t happened. She needs to find her way to being a synthesis of Lucy and Noir. While she loves her parents, and is grateful to have found them, she is very, very far from being the little girl they remember.

Lucy is her own woman, and that woman loves Al James, workaholism and all. She just has to get him to believe it. While they both help and work against each other to solve a murder and corruption case in City Hall.

They’ve always been good at solving crimes together. Now they have to figure out if they trust each other enough with all the other parts of their lives. And Al needs to finally develop some other parts to his life, before it’s too late.

Escape Rating B+: Ghosts of Christmas Past feels like it completes the story in Luminous. We find out a bunch of things about both Al and Lucy/Noir that we didn’t learn in the first book. It was not clear by the end of Luminous whether Noir’s talents were created in the lab, or whether it was something in her all along. It was good to see that question answered, and to discover that Noir’s talents were latent, but they were something within Lucy’s DNA. Doctor Jill (Frankenstein) was crazy but not that talented.

It also fits better into this worldbuilding that Lucy was a latent. So far, none of the gifted have been created in a lab, and I like it better this way. We have met the future, and it sometimes turns invisible. Or heals itself.

Lucy’s talent is also a variation on Marian Doyle’s talent in Ghost Phoenix. The self-healing talent seems to be surprisingly wide-spread in this relatively small group, so it is good to see that other talents are as well.

But the core of this story is about trust. Al can’t let himself trust that Lucy will stay. Lucy is having a difficult time trusting that Al will make room in his life for her, especially since he isn’t recognizing the way that she has and continues to make room in the life she is creating for him. Lucy is both Lucy and Noir, but Al seems to think that she has to make a choice, and that it won’t include him.

Lucy feels forced from all sides—her parents want her to be the girl she was, and Al wants her to be Noir and not Lucy. Meanwhile, Al has to solve a murder at the City Museum that involves corrupt officials, the lover of one of Lucy’s friends, Tiny Tim’s crutch and Snow White’s glass coffin.

Al needs Lucy and her new artist friends to solve the case. It just takes him a while to see that putting the case together is a metaphor for their relationship.

Hellcat’s Bounty (Renae Jones)

Review by RK Shiraishi

review-hellcatsbountyA novella length lesbian romance space western. That pretty much sums it up in a great tagline. And you know, it’s lots of fun.

The story centers around life on a space station mining port—Rosewood—that is under constant threat by amoebic type life forms, generally called blobs. It’s a harsh, unforgiving, space station full of people managing to survive and build a life. Thus, the very close parallel to the western setting.

The romance centers on Anelace, a woman who makes her living hunting blobs and Meidani, who works out a saloon in town, but also provides underground medical care. Anelace is injured on a job once again, and she goes to Meidani to help. The simmering love between the two begins to ignite.

This is a solid love story set in space. Most of the focus is on Anelace—she’s funny, tough, fiercely independent, but has a gentle heart and a desire to be loved. Meidani’s life is not as fleshed out, though we get a sense of conflict in her background concerning her birth father and his unwillingness to acknowledge her and help her get into medical school. There are a lot of interesting places—saloons, church, a shopping district. The colorful characters and quick, witty dialogue are what make the story work. There is the good girl/bad girl, femme girl/butch girl dynamic: but Jones turns it on its head and you never know what to expect. It’s also interesting that gay marriages are fully accepted as the norm along with straight marriages, and there don’t appear to be any strict male/female gender roles. Rosewood becomes the western environment that has all the inclusion that a “real” western story tends not to have.

It’s short. It’s fun. It’s sexy. Some explicit sex.

His Low Born Heart (JC Hay)

Review by Toni Adams

A general question here: Is anyone else tired of the importance of being a “poor person” versus a “rich person”?

Or even this question: Is anyone else finding it hard to believe that love at first sight will overcome personal hangups?

These were the thorns in my side that kept me from fully absorbing this story. Other than the romance, I enjoyed most of it. The enjoyment came from hoping that the parasitic aliens would take over.

review-hislowbornheartFor, oh-dear-goodness, do these humans deserve to fail. I want them to fail. The take down of the society would be an immensely beneficial asset.

As you can figure out, this is a human versus aliens type of story. In the center of the human social structure is an elite society that has watched too much “Downton Abbey”. That’s how I pictured this whole place: Downton Abbey with fighter jets.

This story focus on the daughter of a Duke, Thalia Groswald. She’s the oldest and with their mother gone,so she handles the finances of the estate. Running an estate takes a lot of time and energy, so she has no time for the frivolities of the nobility. Oh (insert dramatic hand gesture), she is doomed to a spinster.

I don’t understand it either. Why would that make her a spinster? Other than her own personal opinion and gossip-prone noble people, she’s not described as an ugly person. So then it’s not her looks that make her feel like a spinster. It all must be in her head. The only underlying reason I could fathom was that she works hard to maintain the estate. This talent should highlight her efficiency as a noble woman (I’m pretty sure a lot of noblemen would appreciate their spouses keeping a closer hand on the finances). No, she’s a spinster because she makes herself one. She isolates herself from society, she hides behind her beautiful sister, and she has so no self esteem.

Until Janus Donaghue walked into the gala her family was hosting. In less than a millisecond, every personal hangup she had about herself dissolves away. Enter the baffling antics of a coy, flirtatious, sex-ified woman. Huh, that was quick.

This brings me to the other perspective I have on the relationship between Janus and Thalia. Maybe she is physically lacking or plain like Jane Eyre. Then once they see each other, then beauty is in the eye of the beholder as they say. Which is much more romantic spin but the mental flip that happens to Thalia is jarring.

Now we get to deal with the personal demons of Janus. See he was poor. That’s it. His main issue is that he came from a poor background. Despite his years in the ELITE Empress Wing, his amazing skills with the jet (which we only have a glimpse of), his intelligence, none of it holds any importance. He’s poor,folks. He doesn’t deserve to be in the same room as the men he commands let alone to actually love a noble woman.

Meanwhile, a war is brewing somewhere. A war between the grubs, a parasitic worm that wheedle their way into your brain and take over. Humans that have been infected with the grubs become well spoken, reasonable creatures with a clear hierarchy but with a fair debate system. Truly, this is a terrifying parasite. I see now destruction other than taking over humans.

Yes I am a grub supporter.

Normally the thought of a parasitic creature taking over a human brain would be unsettling and horrific. In this society, go for it. I see no redeeming qualities.

  • They squabble over stupid society parameters while “fighting” a war
  • Money is spent on a gala, instead of defending themselves
  • Our hero/heroine combine into a fornicating machine — devoid of any personal issues or their surroundings
  • They have NO way of figuring out a grub-infested human except to OPEN their brains?! Lack of technological capabilities or barbaric?
  • Their military goes on defense shifts but they don’t hold much importance to it (except Donaghue).
  • Poker seems to be a really big deal.
  • I don’t see anything else in this society that is worth redeeming.

I may be the only person hung up on this, but I have seen it so often lately that it’s driving me crazy.

Yes, there is a distinction how a person is raised in a luxurious, entitled lifestyle and working man’s atmosphere. They are very distinct and can shape a person’s perspective. I just wish that it wasn’t used a s a conflict between our hero and heroine. Or the whole story. It was such a huge issue that the drama with the parasitic grubs are pushed towards the end of the novel. Which is a shame. Whenever the grubs were involved, my attention was snagged.

The more the division was highlighted the more it aggravated me. Is this really that important? Is it more important than preserving the human race? I would think in these times, boundaries are relaxed and collaboration is made to unite. Instead, it just becomes painfully shallow.

I would have rather seen the romance blossom because Thalia and Donaghue worked together. Their combined talent and intelligence would have been the saving grace of humanity. Instead, they pit personal issues against one another creating a wall that blinds themselves to each other and the danger encroaching them. Many times I just couldn’t figure out how this society could have jets but not the ability to detect grub-infested humans? Not even an ultrasonic device? A brain pattern reading machine?

Honour Bound

Review by Marlene Harris

I reviewed the first book in this series, Lace & Lead, all the way at the beginning of Sci-Fi Romance Quarterly, possibly even the very first issue. (You’re absolutely right, M! It was in Issue 1 –Ed) As part of the SFR Galaxy Awards, I also gave Lace & Lead an award for Best Space Western. I called it the Firefly in a Jar Award, because Lace & Lead felt a lot like Firefly, even though that isn’t logical when you break it down.

Review-HonourBoundI never expected a sequel to Lace & Lead, and now that I’ve read Honour Bound, I’m still not sure I have one. Honour Bound is the second book in the author’s Lawmen of the Republic series, but there’s nothing here to reference the previous book. They can be, and according to the author they are, set in the same universe, but the perspective on this universe is so different in Honour Bound that there is no need to read Lace & Lead before embarking on Honour Bound.

Not that you might not want to – Lace & Lead was awesome and surprisingly complete for such a short novella. I want to say that Honour Bound is the icing on what was already a marvelous cake, but I just can’t do the visual on icing that is more than three times bigger than the cake it covers.

So, while Lace & Lead read like a space western, Honour Bound reads more like epic fantasy with a romantic twist. I certainly found shades of Jim Butcher’s Codex Alera in the relationship between Cade and Talia, and also in its similarity to a fictionalized Roman Empire, but there was also a lot of political skullduggery, outright bigotry, and lots and lots of military tactics and action.

Where Lace & Lead reminded me of Firefly, Honour Bound feels more like Pern or Darkover, in that it is science fiction that feels like epic fantasy. There’s no magic, so it isn’t really fantasy, but there’s also very little high tech tech to push it into the military SF camp. What tech there is feels very contemporary, meaning contemporary to us now. I don’t see the kind of advanced tech that firmly grounds a story in SF. But this is definitely not our world, so SF it is.

The story in Honour Bound is about a system that’s gone to hell, as told from the perspective of a small group of people who at least at the beginning believe that the rot can still be cut out. Again, shades of an alternate Roman Empire.

Our hero is a man who has seen his world from both sides. While he is technically an aristocrat, his mixed race makes him a despised outsider to his own corrupt class. He has come to consider their hatred for him as the highest compliment. As a “prole”, Alexander Cade is given the worst military assignments in the Republic, in spite of having been the top graduate of his class at the Lawmen Academy.

He forms a tight unit with the men he both leads and befriends, and uses an obscure law to make sure that they all stick together and watch each other’s backs. They survive when they are not supposed to, sometimes only by the skin of their teeth, or the skills of their medic.

Which brings us to our heroine, Talia. Cade meets Talia when he is part of the liberation of the labor camp that she was imprisoned in at the age of 8. The labor camps appear to be operated by the Rebel faction, and they are horrific. Talia survives by becoming a cage fighter.

After meeting Talia, Cade makes it his mission to eradicate all the labor camps he can locate. He is effective, but makes many more political enemies along the way. There is something very rotten at the heart of the Republic, when his exposure of the network of labor camps nets him more political enemies than it does praise.

The blueblooded upper class that he hates is making money from the supposedly Rebel labor camps, and does not want its gravy train disrupted.

But as we see Cade rise in rank and gain horrific experience, he is always searching for Talia. When they met, he was all of 19 and she was 13 or 14, but her fighting spirit inspired him to continue his lonely crusade for justice.

When they finally meet again, they are both scarred adults who have been through too much in their too short lives. But they are finally both ready for each other.

And in the middle of a war to save as many of the despised tribal peoples of the Northern wastelands as they can, Cade finds himself at a terrible crossroads. Talia is the only woman who will ever be his equal, but the Lawman’s code he swore to uphold states that she should be killed for having seduced him away from marrying a pure blue-blooded woman and maintaining the pure bloodline.

Exposure of their relationship will get them both killed, along with all the men in Cade’s unit. But his life isn’t worth living without Talia.

And is a system that would require that he kill the woman he loves just because of her mixed race worth spilling his own blood for? Is the Republic he serves worth saving?

Escape Rating A-: Honour Bound was marvelous. Up until 3 am marvelous. The only reason I didn’t finish was that I could tell they were about to experience something very dark and ugly before the end, and I didn’t want that to be the last thing I read before sleeping.

The revelations at the end of the story are brutal and disgusting. Not unexpected, but it was the effect that those events had on the characters that sticks with me. I was very, very glad to discover on the author’s website that she is continuing the series, because there is just so much left to uncover. And hopefully fix.

The setting definitely has the feeling of an updated Roman Empire, or similar analog of a place that started out with the best of intentions and went completely to hell in the handbasket. The center is so corrupt that it is obvious that it needs to topple, the only question is who will do the toppling? We aren’t there yet, but I hope that getting there will be at the heart of later books in the series.

The romance in this story is a relationship between equals, and I always love those. While Cade has the formal military training, Talia has learned in a school of very hard knocks, and is every bit his equal as a warrior. Different, but equally tough and strong. The difference is that he is a leader, where Talia has always fought alone. Part of the story here is not just about Cade and Talia finding their balance together, but also Talia learning to work as part of a unit.

The members of Cade’s unit are all very different individuals, but they have a team spirit that can overcome anything, including their own government. Seeing the way that they work together in spite of their differences is a treat.

But as much as I enjoyed the romance and the camaraderie, it’s the political situation that has kept me thinking about this book. The saying goes that the only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing. The Republic has become expert at silencing, suborning and ultimately killing good men (and women) so that they are not able to effect change. It’s hard to fight back when you’re dead.

They’ve tried to get Cade and his men killed in a military action to prevent them from fighting for change. We see them fight back at every turn, thinking that they are fighting the good fight.

Then suddenly they are. And it’s awesome.

How to Lose an Extraterrestrial in 10 Days: Otherworldly #3 (Susan Grant)

Review by Jo Jones

review-howtoloseanextraterrestrialin10daysHow to Lose an Extraterrestrial in 10 Days is the third book in a three-book series by Susan Grant. Susan is a former Air Force pilot who now flies international routes for United Airlines. In her spare time she writes Science Fiction Romance.

I liked all of the books in this series, but How to Lose an Extraterrestrial in 10 Days is my favorite. It takes an unlikely hero, Reef, and a suburban housewife, Evie, on a series of desperate adventures. Reef stands for Robotically Engineered Enemy Fighter and is the villain in the first book in this series. He is a cyberpowered assassin who has been programmed and sent to Earth to kill Earth’s connections to one of the extraterrestrial powers. He was not successful and found himself with his internal computers turned off and his programming no longer working.

Enter, Evie, a divorced suburban housewife with family connections to the same representatives Reef was sent to kill. Evie has her own set of problems. Someone thinks her chocolate business is laundering money for the mob, and her ex-husband want to take their two children. What Evie needs is a bodyguard and Reef ends up with the job. Evie gives Reef ten days to prove he can do the job, thus the title of the story. Evie and Reef both have issues. It is fun to watch how they interact and of course fall in love. The solutions they find make this an exciting read.

How to Lose an Extraterrestrial in 10 Days won a Prism Award.

In case you’re interested, the books in the Otherworldly series are:

  • Your Planet or Mine
  • My Favorite Earthling


I Dare (Sharon Lee & Steve Miller)

A classic review from Jo Jones

We all have our comfort books, those books we read and read again and still again and again. One of my favorites is I Dare, the last book in the Liaden series. It has it all; action, danger, wonderful characters, great world building, and romance. I Dare takes all of the events from the previous 4 books and brings the series to a great ending. But wait; even with the ending there is room for more and a bit of a mystery at the end. It is great Space Opera and it also is one of my favorite romances.

review-idareThe five-book arc tells of the conflict between clan Korval and the Department of the Interior. The Department wants to control Liaden and Korval stands in the way. Korval is powerful. Their focus is ships and pilots and they have gone to ground in order to defeat the Department.

One of Korval’s own Pat Rin yos’Phelium is not a pilot. When he is mentioned in the first book he is described as a bon vivant, ne’er do well, and a professional gambler. He is just a rarely mentioned side characters. In I Dare he becomes a main character and is placed in a new and very dangerous position. The Department of the Interior has told him that he is the last of his clan. They want to use him to control Korval but he gets away and starts on a plan to stop the Department. Suddenly he is front and center in the action even as he describes himself as “the least of us all, who is left now to carry Balance to fruition.”

At his side is Inas Bhar, Juntavas Sector Judge Natesa the Assassin. It is the romance between these two that is my favorite. It does not take up much of the book. There is little physical contact between the two but Lee and Miller use every scene between the two to show the bond that is growing. They are two who never thought to give their hearts to anyone but find their soul mates while working for a common goal. Pat Rin would never make a move so it is up to Natesa to change in their relationship. That takes up less than two pages but it is a very powerful scene that catches me every time I read it.

There are other couples and romances in the series but after reading I Dare, Pat Rin and Natesa became two of my favorite characters. I recommend the Liaden series to any Science Fiction fans. It is a great series and today there are more than five books.

Baen publishes the Liaden series.

Keir (Pippa Jay)

Review by Norm Zeeman

This is a book where you have to read the first 100 pages without stopping. I kept getting confused each time I picked it back up, so I finally just went back to the beginning and read right through. The background information on the characters, the setting and the history is sparsely divulged and while I hate a huge infodump right at the beginning I, as the reader, was constantly challenged to make sense of what I was reading without one. I loved the diversity of the three planets that we see, one is highly technological and one is medieval and one I’m not sure about, but all are different.

Review-KeirEven though the title of the book is “Keir”, the main character seems to be gorgeous, 300-year- old Tarquin Secker, snarky and independent, who has the ability to create gates or portals to other worlds, but you don’t find out until page 187 that Quin can only make gates when she has access to an external power source and it seemed like the author just tacked that on to make the plot flow better. She has this power because she accidentally melded with a sentiac, who is an advanced being who changed Quin’s DNA and made her almost immortal. The almost is important towards the end of the book, but may be part of what, according to other characters, makes her an extreme risk-taker with trouble and disaster following in her wake. I wish there had been more information given on the relationships of the other characters to Quin and why she was a friend or not, but the author keeps that information to vague hints that don’t really satisfy.

The other main character is blue-skinned Keir, also a descendant of the sentiac, who although untrained, can make gates. His family is not blue-skinned and the feudal world he was born in thinks he is a demon. Because of his skin color, they kidnapped and mentally and physically tortured him when he was still a young child, by painfully and all at once putting tattoos all over his body. Thus, Keir has almost insurmountable trust issues.

Quin rescues Keir once and heals him from his injuries. Then, with Keir (even though you know that is a really bad idea), she returns to Keir’s planet searching for the sentiac, Rulk, to find out where Rulk sent Ryan. Unfortunately, they are both captured, and because she was reckless in her use of non-native tech, Quin must rescue herself and Keir while using lots more nifty tech. We discover that because they are both part sentiac, they have a mental bond. You would think this would be useful, but the author sometimes uses it and sometimes it doesn’t work, and the reasoning behind whether it does or doesn’t is iffy. The second rescue takes Quin and an injured Keir back to her base. The author spends much of the beginning telling us how mistreated and unloved Keir is. There is much effort made to make Keir trust Quin but again and again it doesn’t seem to work. Keir’s untrained use of his power makes Quin’s friends uncomfortable and afraid that he will hurt them after he accidentally uses his gatemaking skills to go back to his planet and stupidly try to free his mother.

Early in the book, we hear the three names that deeply and grievously haunt Quin: Ryan, Darion and Jared, but we get such little information on them that I wanted to shake the author. It makes it more confusing because Quin keeps bringing them up as an excuse for many of the crazy things she does or doesn’t do and I don’t know why. I also need to know who the Emissary is way earlier than when I finally do find out, and why was it such a mystery anyway? It should have been a great opportunity to explain some of Quin’s backstory. We also get mentions of Jinx, Chei-haven, Gethyon and, two-thirds of the way through, we find out she had a daughter, but we get nothing more on any of those people. Who are they? Why is it important that I know about them, and why don’t I know more about them if they are important enough to mention?

For me, the author does a poor job of explaining the deep and immediate bond Quin and Keir have and the extreme limits Quin goes to to repeatedly save him, because I don’t feel it in the writing. Maybe it is supposed to make her seem stronger yet still compassionate, but it makes it harder for me to connect to her. Quin constantly evades answering Keir’s questions about her past so I am also left equally confused and ill-informed and wondering why he likes her so much.

The 50-page, nine-day, angst-filled, island interlude may have been designed to get Keir and Quin in bed, but again, I didn’t feel it and it absolutely stopped the storyline dead as they take time to bond. If you have 24 hours in a day and your characters say less than ten sentences to each other with no indication of how the rest of the day was spent and, with every conversation, misunderstandings abound, I’m confused. They can read each other’s minds, so why is this happening? Then when they do fall into bed, it is way too easy.

When Quin and the Emissary finally meet, the whole climax only takes 10 pages and after 270 pages of buildup, I really wanted a more complete resolution.

We learn bits and pieces about the sentiac and the Siah-dhu and, in the beginning, it seems they are vitally important, but it never seems to have a resolution and when you get to the end and discover this is only volume one of a series about Keir and Quin, you wonder where the author can take it from there. At the very end you get a short two-page teaser from the next novel that tells you nothing except they are still together.

From the beginning, this feels very similar to C.J. Cherryh’s, very awesome, Morgaine stories: same strong female lead who can make gates to other worlds, same haunted past, same hunky sidekick who loves her, same friends and foes on planets she visits, same attempting to fix things she did wrong in the past.

You do get a “Happy For Now,” but for all the reasons listed above, I didn’t love this and I probably won’t read the sequel.

Kissed (Kim Knox)

Review by The Book Pushers

Every princess should be kissed. And by a man who knows what he’s doing. Beatricia had been enjoying just that with Farris Turner when she was caught.But running only drives her into the arms of a stranger. A man who wants to offer her one night together, to offer her the experience her life and duties in the city of Sun-Airor—a place set out of space and time—have denied her.It’ll be her only chance before she’s forced to enter a loveless marriage…but who exactly is her stranger? And what will kissing him reveal? (*Blurb from Goodreads*)

review-kissedOh kissing… First kisses, passionate kisses, angry kisses. I’m a fan of all kinds of kisses, so a book about a princess who was interrupted during her first kiss and ended up on the run pushed all my buttons.

Bea has lived a sheltered life because of her bloodline and responsibility to her people. The only thing she’s ever really wanted with a passion enough to risk turning her back on her duty is Farris. After being caught mid lip-lock by her mother, Bea risks everything by running. When she is at a different New Year’s party and finds a man who reminds her so much of Farris, she takes yet another risk by allowing him to proposition her. But as their night together heats up, Bea realizes there is more to her mystery stranger than she originally thought.

I really liked the set up of this book, but my biggest complaint is that there wasn’t enough time to really establish the world. I loved the concept of Bea’s power, and her people who live their lives hidden from the rest of the world. However, I never really felt like I understood exactly why they did, or why Bea felt she was forced the hide, or what exactly her duty as princess was. I needed a little bit more in the backstory in order to truly appreciate the intricacies of why Bea felt like she had to run, and why she felt like she couldn’t be with Farris.

That being said, I did really like the story, despite the fact that I felt a little lost in places. I loved the way that Bea was so attracted to her stranger, because of the way he reminded her of her one true love. I liked that she even came out and told him so. I thought it was real and sweet and a little bitchy at the same time. I liked the way she really struggled with her duty to her people, especially because she seemed to really want to live a normal life, have a normal relationship. Although she was a bit of a mystery to me at times, I liked her overall character and spirit.

I also really liked Bea’s stranger. He was strong and sexy and oh-so willing to corrupt little innocent Bea. His character had a wonderful twist at the end, and I really enjoyed the way it played out. I thought it was a neat, fun, sweet, and sexy way to bring the story all together.

All in all, I really enjoyed this book, despite the fact that I desperately needed more. I would have liked to see Knox expand more with the backstory and world-building, especially since it was such a vital part of who Bea was as a character. But, as always, Knox writes a wonderfully sexy and fun story.

I give Kissed a C.

Lace & Lead (MA Grant)

Review by Marlene Harris

My heart keeps wanting to say Firefly, although when I break the story down, it isn’t a logical reaction. Pierce Taggart sure as hell isn’t an avatar for Mal Reynolds, and Emmaline Gregson has nothing in common with Inara Serra, although it turns out she has quite an affinity for Kaylee.

But this has the feel that Firefly did, a futuristic western, even if that future is rather undefined in Lace & Lead. And Pierce Taggart is also an ex-military man, as Reynolds was. Except that Taggart’s cause wasn’t lost in the fight, only his sister.

review-lace&leadIn this future, the mostly good army is fighting against aliens who are not human and seem to think we might be dinner. I don’t know about you, but that feels like way more than a difference of opinion that can be smoothed over with a little negotiation. I like my parts attached.

I said “mostly good” because some of Taggart’s former comrades-in-arms are as susceptible to human forms of corruption as the criminally-minded in our world. Just because they fight the good fight some of the time, doesn’t mean some people are always good.

One of the reasons that Lace & Lead feels like a western is because the story starts on a very western-seeming ranch. Admittedly a ranch with some very high-tech security gadgets, but still a ranch. Also, our heroine is not just wearing a corset, but wearing gowns (gowns!) that require a corset to fit properly. Retro-fashion at its finest.

All of Emmaline Gregson’s references to her life before the story begins are to a life where women, or at least “blue-blooded women” are not supposed to have any agency. Her future was supposed to have involved a move from her father’s dubious care to her husband’s, with her being a sheltered child-woman never allowed to make any decisions for herself along the way.

The attack on the ranch that begins the story shoves her life off-course and changes everything. Lucky for her, it also breaks her father’s contract with Pierce Taggart. Because Taggart is something unusual, an honorable soldier-of-fortune.

When Emmaline’s father sends a rival band of mercs to kill his crew in order to prevent them from collecting their pay, it does pretty much invalidate their contract, freeing him to take a much more honorable contract from Emmaline.

Because Emmaline wants Taggart to protect her from her disgusting father and the man he was planning to sell her to. Yes, I said sell. In order to pay off a very large debt, “dear old dad” is planning to sell his gently-reared, blue-blooded and virgin daughter to a known flesh peddler.

Attempting to stiff his hired guns by turning them into stiffs is by far the least of his sins, but it is where the story gets mighty interesting.

Taggart thinks Arthur Gregson is an arrogant prick. He thinks all blue-bloods are useless except as a source of jobs for his team. Until Emmaline.

Because while he’s busy rescuing her, she’s equally busy transforming herself from the worthless prissy bitch she never wanted to be into something else entirely.

It’s not just that she’s beautiful in dingy cargo pants as she crawls under old engines and learns to rebuild discarded military transport—it’s that she’s finally found a life that suits her right down to the ground.

If only the men chasing both of them will let her keep it. And Taggart.

Escape Rating B+: There’s a lot of story packed into a relatively short novella, and it packs a surprising amount of emotional punch.

Lace & Lead feels space western, and it hints at it effectively without a lot of detailed worldbuilding. Not that I wouldn’t have enjoyed a bit more worldbuilding. There’s a piece missing about how extremely different life is between the high and low classes. It always is different, but Emmaline’s total lack of agency to the point where she wasn’t permitted to pick her own clothing seemed beyond extreme, especially compared to Taggart’s sister’s life in the military.

The rich are always different from you and me, but on this world, how did they get this far that way?

Emmaline is an active participant in her own rescue. She may need Taggart and his men to break her out, but she was planning to find a way of escape from before the story starts. Also, the suspense subplot of why the chase continues to pursue her involves an earlier incident where Emma very much took matters into her own hands.

She’s not the shrinking violet her society expected her to be. It’s important in the story that Taggart doesn’t just fall for her, however reluctantly, but that he also provides her with a way to do meaningful work for the first time in her life. She needs that purpose as much as she turns out to need him.

Because she needs to become his equal or they don’t have a chance. Not to save their lives, and not to make a future.

Luminous: The Phoenix Institute (Corinna Lawson)

Review by Marlene Harris

Okay, I’ll admit it, the name of the town in this book made me crack a smile every time. This entry in The Phoenix Institute series takes place in “Charlton City”. I never knew my husband’s family had a whole town named after them, even a fictional one.

I know, I’m digressing. Again.

review-luminousAlthough Luminous is a novella in The Phoenix Institute series, the Institute (or its characters) doesn’t appear until the very end of the story. This one is about the kind of person the Institute wants to help, and how she’s coped without their help until now.

It also shows that there are more “gifted” people in the world than just the few that the Institute has found, and that there are more evil mad scientists fooling around outside their expertise (and mental stability) than just the ones employed by Richard Lansing before his timely demise.

In some ways, Luminous reminds me more of BATMAN than the X-MEN, who seem to be the inspiration for the Institute. In Luminous, we have a mysterious crime fighter a la Batman, teaming up with a righteous cop in a corrupt city, a la Commissioner Gordon and Gotham.

The difference is that in Luminous, our mysterious crime fighter has lost the ability to “take off her mask” and her relationship with the cop is way more than just a crime fighting partnership.

Our heroine only knows herself as “Noir”. Years of being the victim of sadistic experimentation by a truly mad scientist have left her with no memory of her life before she was kidnapped, and a bad case of “Invisible Woman” syndrome.

Noir is completely invisible, even to herself. That invisibility is what allowed her to escape from her tormentor, but she can’t remember, or find a way, to turn it off. When she needs to be seen, she dresses in black from head to foot, including a mask and gloves, so that there is something there for people to react to.

Not that she lets people see her to have a reaction very often.

But Noir has a goal; to find and stop the doctor whose diabolical experiments caused Noir so much pain. She also needs to stop the monster that her tormentor has created out of the man who used to be that same doctor’s brother.

The kidnapping, bank robbing, murdering spree has just got to stop. Noir has lots of information on Doctor Jill and her Monster Brother Jack, but no way to put it in the right hands—until she watches Police Lieutenant Aloysius James take charge at the scene of the monster’s latest rampage.

While it can be said that Noir is trying to be a hero, she also needs a hero. She needs someone she can trust, someone who will both believe in her and believe her, and someone who can accept her as she is, invisibility and all.

Al James is the one uncorrupt cop in a very corrupt city. Because he isn’t on the take, he’s always alone—none of the other cops think they can trust a man who isn’t as morally bankrupt as they are. Yes, there is an irony in that. The untrustworthy are only capable of trusting those equally untrustworthy.

But in his isolation, Al is willing to trust a woman he can’t see over a bunch of his fellow cops who he sees all too clearly. He may not be able to see Noir’s face, but he can tell from her actions that she is on the side of right.

Too many of his supposed brothers in blue are all too ready to take a payoff to either turn a blind eye to the evil in Charlton City, or to turn Al in to the forces of evil for cold, hard cash.

Noir is the only person who can save him from the crap he’s stepped in to—and Al is the only person willing to save Noir from her life on the invisible run. But first, they have to take down evil. Together.

Escape Rating B+: Luminous reads like a combination of Batman (with a gender twist) and Frankenstein. Doctor Jill certainly qualifies as the evil scientist who creates a monster (or two monsters, counting her crazy self).

In the mad scientist vein of SF (and SFR) we’re never quite sure in this book whether Noir’s power of invisibility is an accidental side-effect of Doctor Jill’s experiments, or whether it is something that was latent in her all along. One of the scary things for Noir is that she doesn’t know either.

Al and Noir are both messed up people, and their fairly heavy baggage draws them together. Al needs both a case where he can really make a difference and to let someone or something into his life besides work. Noir needs someone she can trust with her secret, someone she can be herself around, even if that self is invisible. Under her invisibility, she’s still a woman who needs contact with other people.

Both Al and Noir are wearing masks in one sense or another. Noir’s disguise is literal, she can’t be seen. Al hides his love for the city he serves (or at least its people) under sarcasm and cynicism, just as he hides what Noir discovers is a totally find body under rumpled and even slightly oversize clothes.

Noir is able to be herself with Al, even if the only self she knows is the one she has constructed in the few months since she escaped the experimental lab. Al needs to re-discover a self that is not just a workaholic cop, but actually has a real life.

Al’s road is surprisingly rockier than Noir, in spite of, or perhaps because of, his ability to remember his whole life.

Solving the case turns out to be easy—for certain bloody and beat up cases of easy. Solving the possibilities of a real future relationship turns out to be a lot more difficult, but we don’t discover those details until Ghosts of Christmas Past.

The Phoenix Institute turns up at the end, as Al discovers both Noir’s identity before her kidnapping, and that the Phoenix Institute wants to help people like her. The future involvement of the Institute, and particularly psychic Beth Nakamora, provides the plot-excuse for Beth to be unavailable in the next Phoenix Institute story, Phoenix Legacy. The case in that story would have been much too easy to solve with Beth’s telepathy on tap.

But Noir and Al’s story is a terrific superhero-type romance/adventure all on its own.

Natural Attraction (Catherine Haustein)

Review by Psyche Skinner

My book reviews often devote a lot of space to what I see as the flaws, limitations, and other dubious qualities of a book, but that will not happen on this occasion. I adored NATURAL ATTRACTION by Catherine Hastein from beginning to end. I read it with an enthusiasm rarely felt in my life since early puberty when sci fi, romance and western novels were an escape from what I then saw as an unbearable dull small town existence.

Sneakpeek-cover-naturalattractionIn essence NATURAL ATTRACTION is the story of Clementine, a mid-Victorian era woman in America who wishes to pursue a career as a natural scientist and discover new species of rodents on the Western frontier. In order to do this, she takes a potion developed by the chemist-slash-alchemist in her small town and is assisted by her wise woman/grandmother in completing the disguise as a man in order to join a mining expedition as their gentlemen scientist.

The semi-gender swapping potion McGuffin is the only arguably science fiction element in the book, and you know what? I don’t even care. Haustein takes the gender-swapping historical that is so often implausible and trite, and ends up reinforcing the very gender roles she begins by challenging. She comes up with something that’s sometimes absurd, utterly fresh, and includes discovering that femininity does in fact have its advantages. Which is largely the same thing but…. Good. Look at me, reduced to saying: “This is a good book. You should totally read it.” How the jaded have fallen.

To give some context I have to disclose that I have an existing significant interest in the Victorian era, ethology/natural history, the history and sociology of gender, and even in the gender swap trope in sci fi and/or romance (THE SEX GATES, THE BRAZEN MIRROR etc). So if someone was to custom write a romance for me, it would probably look a lot like NATURAL ATTRACTION, which plays with all these notions in a way that is both cheeky and erudite.

The romance between Clementine and Wesley is central to the plot and the heroine’s journey without ever robbing Clementine of her sense of self-determination even when she is as confused as hell about her feelings, and perplexed by almost everything that happens during her madcap and occasionally tragic adventures. Wesley in some ways has almost over-blown alpha male qualities and yet never actually fits within this trope (which is just as well as I am at best indifferent about the ubiquitous romance alpha male). Perhaps at first this is mostly because he thinks Clementine is a man, but later because he comes to respect her as a woman and as scientist and (imagine that!) as a person. Whom he loves.

If MOBY DICK and PLAYING THE JACK had a love child that was educated at Harvard and had a side gig as a stand-up comedian in a steampunk-hipster bar it might be a little bit like NATURAL ATTRACTION. But other than that I quite give up on trying to describe this book; you are just going to have to read it yourself.

On a Cyborg Planet (Anna Hackett)

Review by Marlene Harris

On a Cyborg Planet is a direct follow up to the Phoenix Adventures story On a Rogue Planet. And while it isn’t necessary to read the entire Phoenix Adventures series in order to enjoy On a Cyborg Planet (although why wouldn’t you, the series is awesome) it probably helps continuity a LOT to read On a Rogue Planet first.

In Rogue Planet, Malin Phoenix and Xander Saros find an ancient Earth artifact and save Xander’s planet, Centax, from hostile invaders. It’s a fun story and a terrific human/cyborg romance.

review-onacyborgplanetBut while Xander is out saving their world, his brother Axton Saros, the planetary leader of Centax, is being tortured for his security codes and secrets – which he does not give up, and Xander is finally able to send his best operative in to rescue his brother.

That operative is Commander Xenia Alexander of Centax Security. Xenia, like Xander in Rogue Planet, is a cyborg. Everyone knows that the implants that enhance the abilities of CenSecs (Centax Security members) inhibit the emotions of the CenSecs. The best CenSecs, like Xander and Xenia, are not supposed to be able to feel. Their implants supposedly filter out all emotion.

Most of the people on Centax seem to have some implants, but not even close to the degree that CenSecs do.

In Rogue Planet, Xander discovers that whatever he was told, or believed, about the lack of emotional capacity on the part of CenSecs was all a bunch of horsepucky. Because Xander very definitely loves Malin. Of course, he practically turned himself inside out trying to either not believe it was happening or fix it.

By the point of this story, Malin and Xander are definitely living their happily every after on Centax. And it seems like Xander wants to make sure that his brother Axton finds the same happiness, no matter who it might be with.

Whether or not he knows that his brother is infatuated with his second-in-command or not, Xander definitely fixes them up. He assigns Xenia to Axton as his assistant and bodyguard, figuring that constant contact will break down the reserve on both their parts. Especially since Xander has always known that Xenia’s emotions were not suppressed. Xenia just learned to be a damn good actress.

Axton is hunting for one of the artifacts that were stolen while their planet was occupied by the disgustingly evil Rahl. Xenia is there to prevent him from setting off any remaining Rahl booby-traps, or at least to make sure he survives any he finds.

Neither of them has a clue that the traps were ingeniously designed to catch both of them. Or that Xenia’s awakened emotions are the only thing that can save her. But only if she loves Axton enough.

Escape Rating A-: This is a short novella, and it can afford to be. The worldbuilding has already been done in On a Cyborg Planet (Centax being the cyborg planet). All of the characters are introduced in the previous book.

The cyborgs remind me an awful lot of Data. They’ve been told that they are not supposed to feel, so they think they are broken when they do. Data was also told he didn’t have emotions, so he continued to believe that he needed an “emotion chip” to allow him to have feelings, even though his behavior shows that he has plenty of emotions all along. He just doesn’t know how to express them.

So we know all along that Xander feels quite a lot for his brother Axton, no matter how much he pretends that it is respect for their planetary leader and not simply love for the brother he likes and respects. Likewise, Xander knows that Xenia’s emotions have not been dampened. Even more important, he likes and respects her as a fellow officer. He also feels loyalty, which is yet another emotion.

Xenia rescued Axton at the lowest point in his life – saw him at his absolute worst. Even more important, she comforted him because she could tell he needed it. Those moments where she protected him from the world and gave him the strength to go forward have created a bond between the two of them. A bond that Axton wants to act on, and that Xenia fears will be her undoing.

It is beautiful to watch as that supposedly forbidden bond saves them both.

And the thought of a “First Lady” who can and will totally kick the ass of anyone who steps out of line is fantastic. I suspect it’s a talent that a lot of First Ladies would like to have.

Peripheral People (Reesa Herbert & Michelle Moore)

Review by Norm Zeeman

From the very beginning, I couldn’t put this down. There is an introduction at the beginning and it gives some background on the characters and plot so you can just jump right into the story. Talented Imperial Enforcement Coalition Inspectors Westley Tavera, a psychic Reader and all around pain-in-the-ass, and his partner/Ground/Anchor, Gavin Hale, are joined by decorated veterans with an equally incredible solve rate, Corwin Menivie and his partner Nika Santivan, in a case involving a serial killer who kills using mental torture and leaves no DNA or physical evidence at the scene. I don’t much like Corwin or Westley in the first chapter when they meet – Corwin is too grouchy and West is too carefree, but they are professionals so I hope they work it out.

Review-PeripheralPeopleSpending time together on a spaceship traveling to assigned cases means that the partners become close, and Gavin and Nika are the first to pair off. West’s off-the-charts ability causes some hilarity on the readers’ part as West tries to stay out of Gavin’s head during bouts of “sexual healing” with Nika. West and Gavin have a running joke about their “Rules” on West staying out of his partner’s head and there are a lot of them, but they help break the tension of a bad Read, so it’s fun. Gavin and Nika’s relationship makes West realize that he is more alone than ever and he tries to reach out to Corwin. Corwin’s mental shield is impenetrable and West needs to learn how he constantly maintains that tight of a shield, after a disastrous Read of one of the murdered victims leaves him overwhelmed and vulnerable. Corwin’s shield covers some major insecurities and secrets of his own that he doesn’t want to share with anyone and West has to make him understand that he won’t give any of Corwin’s secrets away.

Character development is nicely-paced and follows the plot – as the action ramps up, we learn more about the characters. West comes across as over-the-top-gay, but I can’t tell if the author means it as a manifestation of his talent or of his personality and it makes him harder to relate to in the beginning. Many personal revelations inadvertently happen when a psychic of such great strength is around and the author does a credible job of putting it out there so you get it – but it doesn’t overpower the story. Much of the characters’ history and personality are revealed in conversations in the galley while enjoying Tavera’s cooking. I really liked the way trust was built between the characters although West does get on my nerves when he constantly tries to deflect everyone’s concern by using stupid humor. On page 180, when West stomps off in a huff, Corwin thinks, “The quiet retreat of West’s footsteps seemed more like ellipses than a full stop, and he hated indefinite punctuation.” I loved what that said about how Corwin reacts to sharing an intimate memory from his past. Nika is a strong female who is funny, cute and good at both her job and at acting as Corwin’s conscience, but she feels the least developed as the story revolves around West and Corwin learning to work and live together in a very small spaceship.

Some alien species are mentioned as supporting characters, but there is very little detail on their differences from humans and I would have loved to hear more about them. The storyline and the characters grew on me and a second read-through reminded me that some tiny bits of common police procedure were left out, possibly because of space constraints and possibly because of author ignorance and it would have made the story that much tighter if they had been included. Corwin makes a big deal out of their arrest record being based on not using psychics, but you see so little actual police work, that it feels more obvious that it wasn’t there. At over 400 pages I was ready for the reveal and it was a good one and not at all what I expected from the heavy foreshadowing.

Setting is not so important here as the story revolves around the relationships of the four main characters and their attempts to solve the crimes. Much of the action takes place in the galley (kitchen) of a starship, police headquarters or in West’s head as he chases psychic leads and the visuals are striking and disturbing in their nightmarish intensity.

It’s not often that book design is exceptional, so when I notice it, it deserves a mention. Chapters and sections breaks are separated by the same cool three-sided design that is on the cover and it gives a little pizzazz to the breaks. I found one or two grammar errors and one spelling error and that is less than what you find in a bestseller, so kudos to the editing team. Psychic killers and their hunters are also well-represented by Kay Hooper’s extensive “Haven” series (if you need more of these), and I was intrigued to see how the romance would work here between such jaded police-persons in this more scifi-oriented story. There is some m/m sex, but it is not in-your-face and as a tool for growing the relationship, it works. This is not a HEA or even a HFN, but it is heading towards a ‘we can make this work’ so it still fits in the romance category and I would happily revisit these characters if they showed up in a sequel – hint, hint!

Phoenix Inheritance (Corinna Lawson)

Review by Marlene Harris

review-phoenixinheritanceBack in Issue 5 of Sci-Fi Romance Quarterly I reviewed Corrina Lawson’s entire Phoenix Institute series to date. Because I can’t leave a job unfinished (and we love you for it, M! –Ed), and because I wanted to read the rest of the story, I’m back with a review of the final book in the series, Phoenix Inheritance.

When last we left our heroes…no that’s not quite right.

Daz Montoya has been part of the main sequence of The Phoenix Institute (Phoenix Rising, Phoenix Legacy, Ghost Phoenix) from the very beginning. But Daz doesn’t have any superpowers of his own. Daz was hired by the late and completely unlamented Lansing to both babysit firestarting telekinetic Alex and help Alex become the leader of a paramilitary team.

When Alex finally rebels against his psychopathic foster father in Phoenix Rising, Daz follows the kid he has trained, and leaves Lansing in their burning dust. As Alex has taken over the Institute, Daz has continued to lead the team.

But in Ghost Phoenix, Daz discovered just how difficult and deadly it can be to be the human pinball in a contest between two supers—and Daz has the hand-shaped burn scar to prove it.

Daz is used to being the biggest and baddest thing out there, and he’s having a damn hard time figuring out how to “level up” in a world where he is just a vulnerable human and his opponents can read his mind, control his body, or set him on fire with a thought. And when they heal in an instant, and he definitely doesn’t.

Daz has another big adjustment to make. While he was still a Navy SEAL, he very unofficially participated in the rescue of a downed plane filled with medical supplies and personnel headed for a refugee aid station. As part of this off-the-books search and rescue mission, he met Renee Black and her beautiful SAR dogs Thor and Loki.

The affair between Renee and Daz burned hot, and produced a child. But Daz couldn’t make the right words come out of his mouth to tell Renee he loved her, and Renee has Charlie without him. Even though Daz continues to meet his obligations where Renee and Charlie are concerned, he’s not the 24/7 parent that Renee is forced to be.

Daz is a part of Charlie’s life, but 2 weekends a month are not enough for him to absorb, or even accept, that his eight-year-old’s autism is real and that keeping Charlie mostly on track is wearing Renee down. No one can be on watch 24/7 and not reach burnout.

Until a freak snowstorm and a feral cat conspire to get Daz back in Renee and Charlie’s lives long enough for a whole bunch of home truths to finally sink into his skull. It takes a whole host of crises to finally get Daz to accept Charlie exactly for who he is, and for him to figure out that in order for him to have a place in Renee’s life, he has to accept her as a full partner, and not someone he holds at arm’s reach.

And that Batman still has a place in the Justice League, even though he doesn’t have any superpowers of his own.

Escape Rating B: As much as I enjoyed Phoenix Inheritance, it felt like a story in the middle, and it leaves a lot of loose ends dangling regarding the Institute that I hope get picked up, and wrapped up, in a later book that does not currently seem to be on the drawing board.

The story between Renee and Daz also has a feeling of being “in the middle” because so much of their story, the mission where they met, is told in flashbacks that interrupt the story in the present. I found those flashbacks informative but a bit jarring. I was invested in the story in the present and felt like I was getting enough information about how they started that I didn’t need to see all the details—I was much more interested in how they were going to resolve their current problems.

Which are, admittedly, huge.

The biggest thing is that Daz keeps treating Renee as someone he needs to protect, instead of as someone who is right in there with him. He hasn’t let her into his life. And this is crucial, because Charlie says that animals talk to him telepathically, not that he uses that term. Renee believes Charlie is imagining what he wants to hear because he has a very powerful and inventive imagination. She doesn’t know that telepathy is real, but Daz does and doesn’t share that information.

Charlie’s potential telepathy puts him in danger from the same forces that are targeting the Phoenix Institute, and Daz doesn’t do a proper threat assessment because he just doesn’t want to admit that his son is autistic.

Of course, there is evil afoot, and that evil is after Charlie, just as they are after everyone connected with the Phoenix Institute. I feel so sorry for the poor cat that they use as both bait and trap, and I’m glad that Odin finds a much better home with Charlie—who really does understand him.

The issues that remained from Ghost Phoenix, that Rasputin and his gang of extra-fanatic crazies are after Alex and anyone connected with the Institute, are not resolved at the end of Phoenix Inheritance. While they managed to neutralize his local representative, that presence also made it apparent that there are plenty of tentacles left on this particular monster.

So the story ends with everyone currently safe, but with the sure and certain knowledge that evil is still out there and still has them in its sights. So even though the romance between Daz and Renee has reached a lovely Happy For Now, a happy ever after seems far outside everyone’s control.

I hope we find out how they neutralize Rasputin one of these days. This series deserves a fitting and final wrap.

Phoenix Legacy: The Phoenix Institute #2 (Corinna Lawson)

Review by Marlene Harris

Phoenix Legacy is the direct sequel to Phoenix Rising, unlike Luminous which told a side story in this same fantastic universe.

The impact that Luminous has on Phoenix Rising is that it provides the excuse for telepath Beth Nakamora to be out of town and unavailable during the events of this book. IMHO the mystery would have been way too easy to solve if Beth had been around to read everyone’s occasionally tiny mind. She’s not, so it takes some more good old-fashioned talking for the good guys to all get on the same page and deliver the bad guys their just desserts.

review-phoenixlegacyPhoenix Legacy is a story about all the chickens coming home to roost. Including, in one very important part of the story, with eggs (or egg). Everyone’s past, including the past of the Phoenix Institute itself, come back to bite everyone’s ass one more time.

The skeletons in everyone’s closet all come out to dance, and it makes for one wild ride.

Alec Farley has been investigating the many and varied programs and businesses owned/sponsored by his late and unlamented foster father, Richard Lansing, as owner/creator/perpetrator of The Resource. Alec created the Phoenix Institute out of the ashes of The Resource when he inherited it from Lansing.

There are a lot of rocks to turn over, and way too many nasty things crawling out from under those rocks. Now that Beth Nakamora and Alec are lovers, Beth’s foster father, the ex-CIA agent Philip Drake, is unhappy that Alec is trying to clean up the existing structure instead of scrapping it and starting over. Or running away.

Drake knows that Lansing did a lot of dirty dealing, and dismantling his old organization puts Beth in danger. However, the rock that Alec turns over in this story brings way more trouble and danger to Drake than Beth. And it turns out to be a good thing.

Lansing, among other nefarious dealings, was the co-owner of a genetics lab that was researching the possible creation of a psychic healer who could heal others and not just him- or her-self. Lansing and Drake were/are both self-healers.

In order to create this super-healer, Lansing gave the genetics lab (Orion) three sperm samples, his own, Drake’s, and Alec Farley’s. The kind of guy Lansing was, neither Drake nor Alec were informed or consented.

And, it turns out, neither was the woman who was artificially inseminated with that sperm. Not that she didn’t know where the sperm came from, but that she was kidnapped and medically raped, and then abandoned back at her home with a gap in her memory.

Lansing, having been a complete bastard, picked Drake’s childhood friend to kidnap and impregnate. Of course the baby is Drake’s. There would have been no fun for Lansing in tormenting a woman he didn’t know, the whole point of choosing Delilah Sefton was to hurt and possibly control Drake.

But Lansing is dead, and his partners are still after the baby, for what appear to be megalomaniacal reasons of their own.

Philip Drake, dead certain that he is not worthy of the love of the woman he used to call Lily, can’t help himself from protecting her and their unborn child—whether Lily can ever forgive him for all the pain he’s caused her in the past, or not.

It’s going to take a LOT of forgiveness to fix his earliest and greatest mess.

Escape Rating A: Of all the stories in this series so far (I’m up to #3.5) Phoenix Legacy was the most fun, at least for me.

Drake is one of those tortured, wounded souls that just cries out for healing and a happy ending, no matter how difficult achieving that HEA is going to be, or how little he thinks he deserves it. Also, Drake has been an enigma through the first two books in the series. His backstory was twisty and convoluted and sad, and I’m glad that we got to find out what makes him tick. As much as a man like him ever reveals such intimate details about himself.

Delilah Sefton, formerly known as Lily, is the first person we’ve met who knew Drake when he was very young. The events that pushed them toward an intense childhood friendship, and its brutal aftermath, were a critical part of Drake’s character formation. From her story, we find out what we need to about him.

At the same time, Delilah’s medical rape and the dangerous pursuit that follows in its aftermath make for an adrenaline fueled suspense story. The people pursuing her see her as a lab experiment, and not as a woman who was raped and is going to have a child. But then, they see her son as a guinea pig and not as a real person.

Delilah’s ability to get one of the surviving scientists to pull his obsessive focus away from his work to see the harm he did was awesome. But the surviving backers of the experiment have a hidden world-domination agenda that is even scarier than Lansing’s delusions. They are willing to do anything to imprison Delilah and take her baby when he’s born, for reasons that only half make sense to Drake.

When all is revealed, it makes for a jaw-dropping conclusion. Which doesn’t take one iota of evil away from the insanity they cause.

The romance that develops, or partially redevelops, between Delilah and Drake is meltingly hot, and even more fantastic for the way that this very scary badass manages to fall in love, be intensely protective, and still come off as dangerous and scary to everyone but the one woman who finally reaches what is left of his soul.

That there wasn’t much left to reach, and that Delilah manages it without giving up her agency or her core self, says awesome things about her character. This story is a winner.

Phoenix Rising: The Phoenix Institute #1 (Corinna Lawson)

Review by Marlene Harris

Phoenix Rising is a fairly popular title. I mean that literally, there are a slew of books with the title “Phoenix Rising”. The first time I thought I was reading this book, I discovered after I finished that I had read the wrong book titled Phoenix Rising. (It was still good. And also steampunk, so somewhat germane).

I digress.

review-phoenixrisingThe Phoenix Rising by Corrina Lawson is a “making of the superhero” book, especially if you parse that word as “super” and “hero”. Alec Farley was born a powerful telekinetic with the ability to control fire. He doesn’t just start fires, he can also stop them and direct them. It is an extension of his TK, he just makes the molecules move faster and faster, until they burn.

At the beginning of the story, while Alec may be super, he isn’t a hero. It’s not that he’s a villain (there is one in the story) but that he isn’t in control of his own life enough to be a hero for anyone else.

There is an element of Pinocchio becoming a real boy (a real man, Alec is 23). Alec is being manipulated and controlled by his foster father Richard Lansing, who is very definitely the villain of the piece.

Alec just thinks of Lansing as someone who plays mind games, without realizing that a big part of those mind games is controlling Alec’s entire life and convincing him that it is for his own good. Lansing has a contract with the CIA to investigate powers like Alec’s, and quite a few government military contracts to use Alec and his team of excellent ex-military soldiers to fight terrorism and criminals that need Alec’s special gift. Alec doesn’t realize that his team are also his minders.

Until Beth Nakamora enters his life. Beth is a counselor for troubled teens, particularly those with anger-management issues. The difference with Alec is that if he loses control of his temper, he also loses control of his fire. The CIA is worried that Alec is on the road to causing more collateral damage than any of his ops cause actual damage.

But Beth has a secret. Beth has several secrets, but her biggest secret is that Beth also has a gift—she is a telepath. However, her power is suppressed as a result of an extreme childhood trauma. Her other secret? Her foster father is a CIA agent who manipulated his contacts to get Beth assigned to work with Alec, because he knows Richard Lansing is keeping Alec a virtual prisoner, even if Alec doesn’t know enough about real life to figure that out.

Putting Beth together with Alec turns out to be explosive, in more ways than one. They have off-the-charts sexual chemistry, something that neither of them is quite prepared to deal with. Alec has some experience of sex, but none of real relationships. And Beth is too scared of revealing her secrets to have let many people into her life.

Their chemistry is explosive in another way—something about Beth’s telepathy amps up Alec’s power, and vice versa.

But the real explosion is the dismantling of all the secrets surrounding Alec’s life and his manipulation by Lansing. As Alec starts to see, not just what he’s been missing, but what an adult life is supposed to be, Lansing turns up the screws on Alec, Beth, and Beth’s mysterious foster father, Philip Drake.

Lansing is playing for ultimate power at any cost, and he won’t let anyone stand in his way—not even his sons.

Escape Rating A-: Phoenix Rising reminded me quite a lot of the X-Men movies. Phoenix Rising would be roughly equivalent to the story of the start of Professor Xavier’s Academy, but with Xavier as a firestarter instead of a telepath. There’s definitely that sense of the creation of the Phoenix Institute out of the ashes of “The Resource” in order for Alec to have the opportunity to give people like him a better start than he had.

Also the universes have a similarity in that so far, the gifted are born and not made in laboratories. There is some genetic engineering going on, but even that starts with at least one, or possibly two, parents with gifts. Also one of the gifted is 200 years old, born in a time when the genetic engineering necessary to produce a “super” from not much would have been pure fiction.

As an origin story for the Institute and Alec, it works very well.

One of the fascinating subplots is the relationship between fathers and their children, and how that can go both wrong and right, whether the children are born to the one who parents them, or whether that responsibility is taken on voluntarily.

In this particular circle of life, we have four people with gifts; Richard Lansing, Philip Drake, Alec Farley and Beth Nakamora. Lansing is a self-healer, and he’s over 200 years old and has gone nutso. He’s convinced that he is a superior being, and that superior beings should rule the world, under his direction, of course. He also has a large dose of Victorian era “white man’s burden” imperial racism just to make him even more intolerant (and intolerable).

Philip Drake is Lansing’s biological son, but Lansing rejected him because his mother was part Native American. It wasn’t until after Drake reached adulthood that Lansing discovered Drake had inherited his gift for self-healing. But they couldn’t come to terms because Lansing couldn’t get past his racism.

On the other hand, Lansing adopted Alec Farley and raised the firestarter as his son. He was a distant, manipulative and emotionally abusive father, but he actually did his best. It just wasn’t very good in the nurturing sense. Lansing raised Alec to be a living weapon, and it is a testament to Alec’s innate good nature that Lansing failed.

There’s a third hand in this one. Beth Nakamura is Drake’s foster daughter. He rescued her from a lab when she was 8, and he’s watched over her ever since. Now that Beth is 23, their relationship has changed a bit, but it is obvious in every scene they have together that they love each other and would do anything for each other. Even though Drake is not Beth’s biological father, he is her real father in a way that Lansing never was to him or Alec. Drake learned from Lansing, as well as from an abusive step-father, what not to do. So he did the opposite and raised a marvelous woman who is definitely her own person.

Phoenix Rising also lays the groundwork for the worldbuilding in this series, and it does an excellent job while still telling a heart-pounding adventure with a sweet, sexy romance.

Prosperity (Alexis Hall)

Review by RK Shiraishi

Prosperity is a steampunk, fantastical, romance, adventure story. It’s got inventive steampunk knick-knacks all over the place. And it’s all done in a stylized dialect that takes some getting used to, but which you really start to like once you’re into it. It’s different, thrilling, entertaining, and stretches the mind. I love the words. I love the pacing. I love the total immersion into something very, very different.

review-prosperityThat being said, it’s so stylistic that it almost takes over the story; at least for someone expecting a more standard romance novel.

The main voice we follow is that of Dil, short for Picadilly, a sort of low-level thief and card shark who crosses the high level wrong sort of guy and ends up on an aethership, Shadowless, that floats above a city. Dil is taken there after his run-in with a ruthless crime boss, Milord, who is sometimes friend/possibly foe. The aethership passengers include Ruben, an intellectual priest and Miss Grey, good at shooting and fighting, though her character lacked some of the depth of the others. Perhaps, there just wasn’t much to do with her in this particular plot.

The pilot of the aethership is Byron Kae, a genderfluid/dual gender character referred to as “they” with some sort of symbiotic relationship with the Shadowless. I love Byron Kae. They are awesome. I really, really want a Byron Kae story. The scenes between Byron Kae and Dil are some of the best—witty, interesting, with an erotic subtext.

But that’s not the romance of the book—this time around, the great romance is between Ruben and Milord, almost two opposites with a deep passion for each other. And Dil, who also falls for Ruben. But mainly we see the great romance played out in front of him—a third person view of the romantic plotline. Believe it or not, it works. There is definitely a fantastical element: monsters and very, cool steampunk zombie.

As a romance, if you’re looking for something traditional, this may not be it. However, I found it engrossing.

Some explicit sex. Some violence and profanity.

Ritual of Proof (Dara Joy)

Review by RK Shiraishi

Dara Joy’s Ritual of Proof was a good read, a good time, and a solid romance. The novel is set in a far future society on a distant world of human descendants. Women rule in a council of She-Lords; and men’s lives are relegated to the private sphere reflecting a gender reversal of Regency mores.

review-ritualofproofOur heroine, Marquelle Tamryn Green is the powerful aristocrat, beautiful, and a confirmed bachelorette. Jorlan Reynard is the grandson of a wealthy aristocratic family slowly losing their money and position. In this world, men of the wealthy are married or “fastened” taking on the women’s name. As such he can be protected. He is expected to be a virgin and a handsome man can fetch a dowry, like a “bed price”. It is an insular, socially stratified of competing She-Lords and She-Counts in the civilized cities. There are references to more untamed territories with fewer social strictures.

There is also a groups of men know as Sensitives—said to have empathic abilities and be excellent lovers. Another class are Santorinis—said to be part of a specialized genetically enhanced breed.

There is plenty of SF tech and SF xenobiology in this SF Romance. Though the social mores featured a world of low day to day tech, (transportation is based on alien beasts called klee and kloo, reminiscent of horse-back riding) there is plenty of alien floral and fauna on Forus; science and medicine; and use of reproductive technologies (women can have a pregnancy come to term at a rapid rate and can control their fertility).

This novel can be seen as a parody of Regency novels with a gender flip, but what makes it work is that is it not quite that simple. Dara Joy spends a lot of time creating a unique world. One of the really intriguing themes in the novel that Joy does not shy away from is the concept of “virginity” and sexual purity. Men like Jorlan, to fetch a good bed price, are expected to be virgins—thus the “Ritual of Proof” they must undergo to prove they are not sullied. In other hands, this might come across as farce, but Joy makes it convincing, keeps Jorlan sympathetic, and gives a sharp look at the way in which women were often condemned for not remaining “pure” or for enjoying sex while the same standard was not given to men. It is flipped in this world—Jorlan is expected to be innocent of sexually while Green is allowed to openly have a kept “pleasurer” that she provides for in another quarter.

Character development is Joy’s specialty. Both Green and Jorlan are likable characters with foibles—Green can be admired for her power and independence, though she can be condescending in her attitudes towards men. Jorlan is clearly a man fighting the system, who wants more than just to stay at home and be protected. He also hides other secrets that set him apart from the others. The secondary characters are also well-drawn: Green’s household staff, Jorlan’s grand dame grandmother, and Green’s arch-enemy Claudine D’ Anbere.

This is definitely a romance. Dara Joy makes sure that we see Green and Jorlan’s marriage—forced at the beginning—grow into true love. The ending tends to shy away from this book’s overall rather radical approach to gender relations. I won’t give away too much—it does have the good old fashioned Happily Ever After. I wanted something just a bit more radical; a bit more of a fanciful critique of M/F gender norms.

Still, I came away feeling like I had a good time reading it and that’s what counts.

It is out of print so I ordered a paperback copy from a used bookstore online. It was definitely worth the time and effort. Apparently a pdf version is available for sale from the author’s site.

Silver Strife (JA Kenney)

Review by Toni Adams

Writing a book is one of the most challenging projects anyone can undertake. It takes great discipline and practice to work on a piece. May I repeat that, great discipline and practice to create a piece. The next major need: EDITING. With so many authors peddling their novels through self-publishing, the sheer amount of works out there is daunting. One thing that almost every single self-publishing author shares is that editing is nonexistent or at bare minimum. This is what hurts the science-fiction romance genre most of it all and makes it one of the least prestigious genres out there.

review-silverstrifeSilver Strife will bear the burden of this critique. It is written by JA Kenney and published through Bottom Drawer Publications. Bottom Drawer Publications seems to act more as a publicity agency than publishing. According to their FAQ, once they approve and accept manuscripts from authors, the work is then promoted to various outlets and sold through online retailers. It is this reviewer’s understanding that Bottom Drawer does not provide feedback or editors.

The synopsis of the novel was interesting enough for me to choose to review it but was so full of random tidbits that I had my misgivings. The heroine seems to be Quiksilver, an immortal warrior of pure energy who takes mortal form to influence history. (How…?) Quiksilver is reincarnated on earth as a human named Lini. (Why reincarnate? If you’re pure energy, why even take mortal form? What are the limitations and advantages of being pure energy? Do you follow Newtonian laws?)

The antagonist of the story is a zealous group called the Purists and they just want to wipe out mortal life. (Why? It is so easy for the villain to just destroy life but most have a valid reason. Is there a hatred aspect to this? Or are the purists fulfilling the role of being just an evil faceless entity?) This synopsis makes my head and heart ache. There is more to the synopsis but this already presents too many problems. For a lover of science-fiction, this just reads as a juvenile make-believe fantasy with no solid foundation.

The synopsis may be absurd but if the reader is still willing to give it a chance, than it is the first paragraph that will make or break the deal. I gave it five paragraphs before I gave up. The story may have improved, since it seems that there are some contented readers on the Goodreads website. I have long since stopped judging a book’s potential because of Goodreads however. For a seasoned reader of science-fiction and romance, Silver Strife dropped the ball on grabbing my attention. For the pure reason that the editing was terrible.

The novel starts off with a creature flying through the skies. The creature “senses” something coming and is suddenly attacked. Then it dies and I suppose the next chapter is about the reincarnation phase. Why was the creature flying? Was it escaping? Was there a destination? Did the creature then not obtain their goal? Were these attackers the Purists? If this creature was Quiksilver, then was this her immortal energy form? If she could sense these attackers then why not deflect away? She couldn’t attack? Was she wounded? What is going on?!

Too many questions with no answers didn’t spur any interest in continuing the story. For a science-fiction romance story that had already introduced a bunch of confusing elements in the synopsis, the prologue just prolonged the confusion. In addition, there were too many run-on sentences that offered no depth to the story. It all read like a second draft. The answers to these questions may been explained later in the book, but if the reader does not care by the first paragraph, then it means nothing.

Silver Strife has been one of hundreds that I’ve discarded after the first paragraph. It was not a book that met my caliber of enjoyment. Instead of drawing me into the story, I questioned every single part of that first paragraph. If a reader has to switch gear into editing, then there is no chance for enjoyment in escapism.

In order for the science-fiction romance genre to grow, it needs to improve on editing. It needs to improve on its story content. Also, it needs to take into consideration which audience is being targeted. If the goal is just to present a sexual scene with random space elements thrown around it, there is a readership for that. If the goal is reach a broader audience, then there needs to be a goal to create a legitimate story with elements of romance and actual science-fiction elements that work as a cohesive unit within the context of the novel. Just as in fantasy, world-building is essential, in addition to editing. Easier said than done, even easier to critique.

This critique is not written out malicious sentiment or disdain. This is an earnest recommendation for authors everywhere in the science-fiction romance genre to pause, edit, and really work on your craft. It will pay off when you have legions of rabid fans (like myself) who will follow your progress.

Editor’s note: As was pointed out to us, this book is not self-published. It is, however, badly edited.

Slip Point (Karalynn Lee)

Review by The Book Pushers

From childhood, Shay had one dream—to join the Space Corps with her best friend and sweetheart, Jayce. When the Space Corps reveals that the father she thought was dead is actually an infamous pirate and rejects her application, the dream dies and she leaves the planet without saying a word to Jayce.

review-slippointTen years later, Shay is a pirate herself. She captains her own ship and has earned a reputation as one of the slipperiest pilots around. That’s why she’s recruited for a dangerous secret government mission. But the cargo she’s assigned to smuggle turns out to be a woman with a government bodyguard—Jayce.

Jayce never thought he’d see Shay again, and when the mission forces them together on her ship, he isn’t sure he can forgive her for deserting him; but their desire for each other is stronger than ever. Jayce knows he wants to be with Shay, but how can he trust a woman who’s both a pirate and the girl who broke his heart? (Blurb from Goodreads)

I love me some science-fiction romance, and this Lee novella was a great space opera romance!

Shay has wanted nothing more than to get off world and join the Space Corps, but when she realizes that her father is not who she thought he was, she is denied entry into the Corps and her life takes a turn she never expected. Now a pirate under her father, she is approached to take a job from the government that is peril to their survival. Shay is hesitant, but takes the job anyway. When she realizes part of her cargo is her old flame Jayce, things heat up.

Jayce never got the chance to even say good-bye to Shay, so when she ends up as being the Pirate leading his latest mission, Jayce takes the chance to rekindle their friendship. But when things with the mission take an unexpected turn, Jayce may have to choose between Shay and the job.

I really enjoyed this short novella. It was a great mix of space opera style science fiction with heart warming romance. I loved that the story started with Jayce and Shay as kids, meeting and sharing a love of space and flying. From there we get a glimpse of them as young adults—in love and hoping to embark on their future on the Corps together. It set up the story line beautifully and gave the reader a chance to feel as if they knew who the Jayce and Shay were, their history and their love before the meat and potatoes of the story started.

I absolutely LOVED both Jayce and Shay. They were such great characters, and I really did feel like I got such a great understanding of them both. One of the things I liked most about Shay was that despite the fact she was a pirate with her father, she also had her morals and values. I love that she really stayed true to herself, that she didn’t become corrupt and jaded after having to lose her dream and become a pirate. Even through the entire novella, I thought that Lee did an excellent job keeping the characters true and consistent and enjoyable to read.

The romance between Jayce and Shay was very well done as well. It was painfully obvious they were both still head-over-heels in love with each other, despite their years apart. Their time together was sweet and at times very sexy, but they also took their time building trust, a friendship and them commitment. There was plenty of sexual tension and build-up as they danced around the adults they grew into. I really enjoy second chance romance stories, especially when they are done as well as this.

The action plot was great as well. I really liked the overall story line with their mission and how it all ended up panning out in the end. The story-line moved at a quick pace, while still being informative and detailed.

All in all I was extremely happy with my first Lee read. The romance was great, the characters were easy to relate to and the action kept the story moving along at a quick pace. Although it’s a shorter novella, the story didn’t feel rushed at all. I will be checking out more from this author in the future!

I give Slip Point an A

Starcrossed Bride (print edition) (Meg Leader)

Review by Cyd Athens

(This book is published by ImaJinn Books. February, 2014. 296 pp.)

Review-StarcrossedBrideConnall Storm, a two-named bastard disowned by his father and therefore unable “to trace his ancestry back to the Founding Ship”, is an ambitious man with aspirations of becoming powerful and influential. To that end, he marries the Savant-trained and three-named orphan, Arkana Crystal Song. She agrees to what she expects to be a short and loveless marriage because her own ambitions include discovering what her parents were investigating when they died and continuing their research. Interpersonal compatibility in their relationship takes a back seat to more pragmatic matters. Because of her Savant training, Arkana has information Connall needs; he, on the other hand, has—or will have if their expedition is successful—the financial wherewithal to set her up to achieve her own goals. In short, their merger is nothing more than a business arrangement.

It’s annoyingly clear from the beginning of their relationship—their wedding—that they are ill-suited. Arkana is book smart, but not at all worldly, while Connall is an arrogant but wealthy man who has strong opinions about a woman’s place. When his mistress, Lucina, shows up at the wedding, and takes Connall aside to discuss her expectations of him—that he will use Arkana to get what he wants, refuse to confirm his marriage to Arkana, then marry Lucina—Arkana starts a food fight, which evolves into a brawl, in the process of defending her husband’s honor.

In several places, we encounter one of my least favorite literary constructs, variations of the “long moment.” A moment was a medieval unit of time which, on average, corresponded to ninety seconds. That’s about a minute and a half. So when we have a character doing this, “For long moments while he held his breath, not daring to move or make a sound…” it begs a lot of questions. Most people can’t go without breathing for that long, and the plural, moments, suggests that he didn’t breathe for several minutes. Likewise, in other places where we see the “long moment,” it doesn’t jibe with the actions being described.

The pace here is slow, presumably to approximate and support the length of time it takes Connall, Arkana, and Jotan the Glorious, a cook/ minstrel who was the sole survivor of the tragedy that killed Arkana’s parents, to travel into the mountains on pack beasts. In the field, Jotan is a horrible cook, a singer of bawdy compositions, and is portrayed as comic relief. He is also, however, a gift from Lucina which suggests he is there to spy on the couple for her.

The trip into the mountains is cyclical. Connall, Arkana, and Jotan get to some new place, Arkana uses one of her Savant skills, and chaos ensues—in one instance because Arkana wins a lot of money in a “pok’r” game, something she’s studied but never actually played. Eventually, and not unexpectedly since this is a romance novel, Connall and Arkana become sexually involved with one another, which, of course, becomes love even though they’re no more compatible at that point than they were at the beginning of the story. Also not unexpectedly, Arkana gets pregnant. What is unexpected, and adds a layer of conflict to the romance, is how the pregnancy changes the relationship between Connall and Arkana.

All of these events occur on the dual-mooned world, Last Hope, humanity’s home “for more than a century” after humans destroyed not only Earth, but also Mars and Regulus V. The Founding Ship crash-landed, and humans have not yet redeveloped the technology to be able to leave the planet. So they’re stuck there—something the non-humanoid natives have decided, after observing the humans since their arrival, just won’t work because the humans are unable to join the planetary LifeLink and are therefore dangerous. The natives decide that the humans must be subjected to “Removal” a euphemism for “killed off.” This sets up the science fiction conflict. How can Connall and Arkana—barely able to hold together their own fragile romance—convince these powerful beings not to exterminate humanity?

The omnipotent narrator point of view works well here. That the author is careful to paint the original inhabitants as the natives, and the humans as the aliens, is a refreshing change. The sex scenes are well-described without ever becoming overly graphic. By the end of the tale, all the major plot threads have been resolved. The ending is open enough to leave room for at least one more story about this world. This is an easy read for a day where one wants little more than the warmth of a fire, a refreshing beverage, and a decent book.

Synthetic Dreams (Kim Knox)

A classic review by The Book Pushers

Publisher: Carina Press
Publish Date: Out now
How I got this book: From the Publisher via Netgalley

Vynessa Somerton was just a girl when she learned about true evil. An encounter with the tyrannical Corporation scarred her body and exiled her to the crime-ridden S-District. Now an adult, Vyn creates glamours, worn by those who visit a virtual playground to live synthetic dreams. She’s tried to stay unnoticed by the Corporation, but her latest invention has brought their agents to her door.
Paul Cross works for the Corporation, but he’s been plotting their downfall since they took his brother and replaced him with an imposter. Paul has a plan to get his brother back, but he’s going to need Vyn and her invention to carry it out.
Vyn agrees to help Paul, but their alliance shatters the barriers she’s put up to protect herself, tempting her to give in to desire. Just as Vyn starts to trust Paul and believe he wants her, scars and all, the Corporation prepares for its final move. Can Vyn trust Paul completely, or has he been using her all along? (Blurb from Carina Press)

Review-SyntheticDreamsI never know quite what I am going to get with a Kim Knox title, and I mean this in a good way. I will look at the title, read the blurb and how I think Ms Knox is going to take me there is never how it really goes which I love. If a book is too predictable for me along the journey then I find myself losing interest. I have never lost interest in an of Ms Knox’s books so when I saw that she had a new release coming out from Carina Press I had to request it for review. Once again Ms Knox took me on an exciting journey.

The world that Vyn lives in is controlled by hungry mega-conglomerates that ruled the planet. Britain in this particular world is ruled for the Corporation, which has a very exclusive complex virtual system where your access to different areas is directly related to how important you are to the Corporation. Of course in those different areas there are different “amusements” available all of which contribute to how much the Corporation controls you. If you are part of the Corporation you are one of the haves, the elite. You live in secluded expansive mansions with bodyguards and everything that money can buy. As one of the elite you also have to be free of physical defects to include scarring from any physical accident because you have money to buy all the skill a doctor has. The Corporation controls everything to include randomly grabbing and replacing people with replacements that look like/sound like the original but aren’t. If you happen to visibly notice or mention the switch you put yourself at risk for being replaced. No one knows what happens to the original but they are never seen again.

Obviously not everyone can be part of the Corporation. S-district is one of the places that the non-elite live. It is pretty bad but could be worse. Vyn used to be part of the elite but after an encounter with some sadistic upper level members of the Corporation she was left with a network of silver scars all over her body. Despite her family’s money the doctors were unable to remove them so she has become an outcast. Living in S-district Vyn tries to stay out of sight while making a living providing cosmetic enhancements otherwise known as glamour to people’s mental avatars. Part of the Corporations rules about playing in their virtual world is that they have to appear as themselves with only the addition of legal glamour. Legal glamour is tagged so anyone who looks can see that they have altered their physical appearance. Vyn develops and refines illegal glamour while working on the holy grail of virtual programmers. She is trying to perfect what is known as simulacrum which would allow a person to seamlessly appear as someone else to the virtual mind of the Corporation. Anyone who could achieve that could set their conditions for the rest of their life.

Vyn is testing her attempt at a simulacrum when she first encounters Paul Cross. The two of them both had reasons not to trust each other and while Paul knows more about Vyn then she thinks neither of them is prepared to face what the Corporation has in store for them. As I mentioned earlier how Ms Knox never takes the journey I am expecting with her work. She threw several twists into this one some of which made me glad I don’t live in a fully wired world. One of the things I enjoyed is how Paul and Vyn traded being the person who had to take charge to ensure that they were able to escape the grip of the Corporation. Overall the world-building, the twists, and how Vyn grew were what carried this book for me.

I give Synthetic Dreams a B.

The Key (Pauline Baird Jones)

Review by Marlene Harris

The difficult thing about reviewing for Science Fiction Romance Quarterly isn’t the book I’m assigned—it’s the commitment to review one “classic” work of SFR. The definition of “classic” is thankfully loose—the book just has to be older than the current quarter.

review-thekeySince I chose Core Punch by Pauline Baird Jones for my current book, my decision was made for me, sorta/kinda. Core Punch is a spin-off of not one but two of Jones’ series: Project Enterprise andThe Big Uneasy. Much as I love the sound of The Big Uneasy (yes, it’s New Orleans) it doesn’t quite seem like SFR.

The Key is very much SFR. And here we are.

The crew of Project Enterprise, which in this story is a group of ships, and not just one intrepid explorer, has definitely gone where no Terran has gone before. Unfortunately, they’ve ended up in a galaxy under extreme contention between two empires, the Gadi and the Dusan. The non-aligned Terrans, and their flagship Doolittle, choose sides pretty quickly when the Dusan start a shooting war without provocation.

If the Doolittle isn’t named after Lieutenant Colonel James “Jimmy” Doolittle, U.S. Army Air Forces, the leader of the famous “Doolittle Raid” over Tokyo during World War II, I’ll eat my rocketship. Or yours, just find me one.

The Key to the story, and to the intergalactic hi-jinks that ensue, is Captain Sara Donovan, a hot shot Air Force pilot who joined to explore new worlds meet new people, and kill them. Mostly Sara just wants to fly fast and far. The mission of Project Enterprise to another galaxy is about as far as it gets.

Except that she may have come right back to where she belongs. Sara bears an incredibly strong resemblance to a legendary woman of the Garradians, and all the planetary powers that be are much too certain that Sara is the key to a vast treasure-trove, because the legendary Miri must have given that key to her.

And Sara, who has always been firmly convinced that she is not beautiful, is utterly certain that all this alien interest in her is a result of who she resembles, not who she is.

So the chase is on. Sara just wants to fly. The rulers of both the Gadi and the Dusan want her to be their queen. Or their chief prostitute. Or their slave. Opinions vary, but both Sara and her commanding officers are sure that whatever fate the locals have in store for Sara, it isn’t for her good. Or anything she would ever want. What she thinks she wants is Kiernan Fyn, the alien she found on a deserted planet. After the Dusan crashed her ship. And it turns out, his ship. They might be made for each other, if he can manage to spill all the secrets that chain him to his old life.

And if Sara is willing to embrace her destiny.

Escape Rating A-: The Key is a huge, sprawling space opera of a book, so be prepared to wallow in the pleasure of exploring this universe for a good long time. Emphasis on both “good” and “long”.

I’m annoyed at the “long” because I want to dive into the rest of the series (Girl Gone Nova is next) right this minute—and I’m booked up until late October at the earliest. DAMN!

Sara is a terrific heroine, not just because she seriously kicks ass, but because all of her actions, even the ones she isn’t conscious of, have incredibly good reasons behind them. I also loved that while she does fall “gooey in love” with Fyn, it doesn’t remove her brains, her reason or her agency. This is Sara’s story, and she’s not in it looking for Prince Charming. She’s in it to take care of herself and do the best job she can for her country.

Finding Prince Charming, or even Hot Alien sometimes Charming, is a bonus.

Speaking of Sara’s country, she really is a U.S. Air Force Captain. This series is set in a slightly alternate version of our world (well, back home it is) and does not seem to be very far removed (if at all) from our current timeframe. It’s as if the U.S. Government has a “black” project to solve Faster-Than-Light (FTL) travel right now, and it worked. Sara and her team’s pop culture references are very contemporary, which was fun and provided lots of perspective, but seems slightly off, unless that “black” project exists after all.

It feels like she should be just a bit further into our future than she is, or that our past should be different than it was.

While I like Fyn, a lot, he does fill the role of alpha male with big secret more than he stands out as an individual. He fills that role very well, but this is Sara’s show. It felt like I’ve met his type on Star Trek a million times—not that that is a bad thing.

What shone for me was Sara’s relationship with her commanders and crewmates. While she has deliberately suppressed much of what makes her “extra-special” in order to blend in, the depth of her commitment to her ship and to the crew that serves her feels right. She calls herself a fighter-puke and she presents herself as such. (Think Starbuck on BSG but with a bit more respect for the rules). She sees the crew and the Air Force as family, and it’s mutual.

If you like your space opera with romance, The Key is a fantastic way to get your fix. The way that Sara and Fyn meet is reminiscent of Cordelia and Aral in Shards of Honor. The role that Sara both fulfills and subverts reads a bit like Gillaine Davre in Linnea Sinclair’s Accidental Goddess. Those are terrific “fairy godmothers” for any SFR.

Through Uncharted Space (Anna Hackett)

Review by Marlene Harris

review-throughunchartedspaceI’ve enjoyed every single book in Hackett’s Phoenix Adventures series, from the very beginning At Star’s End to this latest book in the series.

And one of these days I fully expect to discover that the contemporary treasure hunting family in her new Treasure Hunter Security series are the direct ancestors of the Phoenix brothers – both sets of them.

The Phoenix Adventures are set in a gritty far-future post-diaspora galaxy. The mother planet, Earth, is still a nuclear wreck, explored all too dangerously in Return to Dark Earth (reviewed at Reading Reality).

Humans have even interbred, or genetically engineered, some interesting hybrids, like Nissa Phoenix (nee Sanders), Captain of the Phoenix convoy flagship and wife to her former nemesis, Justyn Phoenix (see Beyond Galaxy’s Edge, also reviewed at Reading Reality, for the details on that story.

In this latest entry in the series, Through Uncharted Space, Dare Phoenix and his brothers Justyn and Rynan are indeed traveling through uncharted space, leading a convoy to far-distant worlds, taking their passengers into the unsettled black where there is opportunity for a better life for many, and a chance of adventure for others.

For this branch of the Phoenix family, it’s a living.

But when Dare discovers that one of their passengers is much, much more than she initially appeared to be, the whole family gets bit by the treasure hunting bug yet again. And Dare finds that the troublesome package the Dakota Jones represents is everything that he’s been searching for – whether they find the treasure she seeks or not.

As Dare and Dakota at first resist but eventually succumb to the chemistry between them, the convoy detours into a search for a long-lost Earth treasure ship – and the waterworld it crashed on.

In order to get the treasure all that Dare and Dakota have to do is find a planet that no one believes exists, while dodging a horde of determined assassins who will let nothing get in the way of getting to the treasure first – and killing anyone who gets in their way. And Dakota Jones is first on their hit list.

Escape Rating A-: I picked this up because I was looking for a book that would carry me away to its world for a few blissful hours – and Anna Hackett’s books always do.

This is a long-running series, and I enjoy it every single time. Which doesn’t mean that there are not easily discernable patterns to the stories. Just like Eos Rai in the first book, At Star’s End, Dakota is hiding who she is and what she really wants in order to reach a goal that she fears the Phoenixes will steal from her. All the while hiding from someone much more nefarious in pursuit.

And both women have roughly the same goal, to find the location of a lost Earth transport ship carrying massive amounts of pre-diaspora Earth treasure. Eos, who has a brief cameo in Through Uncharted Space, found the Mona Lisa and countless Terran art treasures. Dakota is searching for the Atocha Treasure, which may be the treasure from the Spanish treasure galleon the Nuestra Senora de Atocha. If it isn’t this actual treasure, the prize in Through Uncharted Space was almost certainly inspired by it.

One of the fascinating things about this series is the way that the stories link together, without absolutely requiring the reader to start at the very beginning (although it’s all awesome, so why wouldn’t you?)

In this case, the assassins hunting Dakota are in the employ of Nissa Phoenix’ brother, who is the leader of a deadly cult. We’ve run into him and his gang before, and we undoubtedly will again.

But the story here, as always, is the search for the treasure and the unexpected romance between Dakota and Dare. That romance is not unexpected on the part of the reader, but it certainly is on the part of the participants.

Both of these people have a whole lot of dark buried in their pasts. They both come from histories of extreme poverty and hellish abuse, and they both escaped. But neither believes themselves either capable of or worthy of being loved, and neither trusts outsiders at all. They have a tremendous amount to overcome, and nothing that happens in this story makes it easy.

But it is so satisfying when they make it.

Trouble in Mind (Donna S. Frelick)

A joint review with Marlene Harris and Norm Zeeman

Marlene: I read and reviewed the first book in this series, Unchained Memory last year on Reading Reality and Weirde reviewed it in an earlier issue of SFRQ. I think I liked the first book more than Weirde did, but as always, your warp speed may vary.

I was certainly looking forward to seeing where the author took her exploration of alien abductions, both from the perspective of humans who remember the trauma, the aliens who exploit those humans, and the good guys who want to shut the whole thing down.

For those who love the X-Files, there are certainly elements of that kind of “truth is out there” mystery. Both that there really are aliens doing unspeakable things to us, and that our government is both covering up that fact and committing some unspeakable acts of its own.

The truth is out there, and it doesn’t want to be found.

Norm: As ex-Army Intelligence, I can’t comment, but you can picture me very quietly and unobtrusively shaking my head. I can neither confirm nor deny!

Review-TroubleInMindMarlene: The story in Trouble in Mind takes place several months after Unchained Memory, and uses the characters from the first story to hook us into the second. Asia Clarke is one of the few humans who is immune to both the alien and human mind-wipe process. (Retcon doesn’t work on everyone). Her husband is the psychiatrist who allowed her to access her hidden memories. Their adopted son, like Asia, is a survivor of the aliens’ experiments. His parents just don’t know exactly what experiments Jack was subject to.

As this story begins, Asia and Jack are kidnapped. None of the witnesses are mind-wiped, this action occurs in plain sight in broad daylight. The cops bring in FBI detective Alana Matheson to work the kidnapping. The presumption is that the husband is the real target, that he pissed off some bad people who are holding his wife and son as collateral damage. They are sure that if they dig deep enough into his past, they will find just where and how he’s “dirty.”

Norm: The TBI is the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation. I learned that from all of Jefferson Bass’s Body Farm mysteries, which I love. When our heroine, Alana, meets our hero, Gabriel, the passage is sensual and visceral with imagery for all the senses. It’s a lovely change to hear how competent both of them are first then learn later on that they are both smokin’ hot.

Marlene: Just as Norm picked up some of her background information for this book from The Body Farm series instead of having it included in the book we were actually reading, I got some of mine from Tony Hillerman’s Navajo Mysteries, for parts of the story that come later.

Ethan calls in Sam and Rayna, Asia’s interstellar rescuers from Unchained Memory. And they, in turn, bring in Gabriel Cruz, an interstellar recovery agent. While none of them are sure exactly who kidnapped Asia, they are certain that it wasn’t Ethan, and that it was connected to her time in alien custody. They also assume that Asia is the target, and that Jack just wouldn’t let his mother go.

Norm: I think I missed quite a lot by not reading the first one. I didn’t feel an immediate connection with the characters, although Gabriel’s hotness came through loud and clear. Descriptive passages are tight with excellent word usage to get the world building exactly right. You can feel the savage wind, see the neon sand, smell the fetid garbage and hear the noisy bar. The train comes up from underground like “a sand dragon breeching.” I love the imagery it presents and it feels vividly alien. The fight scenes on pages 23-5 are well-plotted and incredibly visual in scope with not too much violence and gore but you still get a good feel for Gabriel’s expertise in defense.

Marlene: Sam, Rayna and Ethan are about half right. The people who took Asia and Jack were just after Asia. But there are intergalactic forces right on their tails, chasing after Jack. At first, it doesn’t matter who is after whom, as long as Gabriel can track down Asia and Jack and retrieve them from their kidnappers.

Until it all goes pear-shaped. Gabriel falls for the cop, and his brothers come chasing after Jack, and him. And the fate of the universe turns out to be held in Jack’s small hands.

Norm: The mental conversations that go on are well-defined, although even the humans seem to pick it up very quickly. Alana spends an inordinate amount of time in the middle of the story freaking out about Gabriel being in her head and that makes her seem a little less professional and more like a “girl”. I get that she’s FBI and familiar with dead bodies and gruesome crime scenes, but get over it and move on. It felt like this was a plot device to make Gabriel want to take care of her and I didn’t buy it.

Marlene’s Escape Rating B-: I struggled with the first half of this book. There is a lot going on, and it didn’t feel clearly explained. And I say this in spite of having read the previous book. We don’t get enough time with any of the various factions to really understand who is after whom and for what purpose.

Norm: I struggled with the middle and felt it was too long and too wandering with little to no forward movement and I SO got tired of all the arguing.

Marlene: Amen on the arguing. It went on way too long and got far too overwrought for people who are supposed to be so professional and sensible. Or something like that. But I also wanted to Alana to just…Deal. With. It.

Some of that is still true at the end, but the action in the second half is fast and furious enough that it carries the reader past some of the less-explained bits.

The story begins with Ethan, Alana and Gabriel as our points of view. The story they follow is pretty clear. Asia and Jack have been taken, Ethan wants them back, and because he knows more than he can possibly tell the cops, he brings Sam and Rayna in. The cops are rightfully suspicious of any of Ethan’s friends, and of Ethan. That the husband is responsible may not be true in this particular case, but it is the way to bet.

While Alana and Gabriel are still marking territory as far as who gets to do and see what in Alana’s investigation, we see two other points of view. A high-level government official on the planet that relies on human slave labor is planning a coup, and his assistant is secretly spying on him for the resistance.

And Gabriel’s half-brothers, who appear to be evil personified, are dragged into the case by that government official to track down Jack. Which means we have no clue about who grabbed Asia.

There is also a lot of unexplained and unrelieved evil going on. It’s not that Gabriel’s half-brothers are the scum of the galaxy, although they are, it’s that they inherited their scum of the galaxy gig from their shared father, and that they seem to revel in it. The older one at least comes off as evil for evil’s sake.

We also don’t see quite enough of the governance of that mining planet to get fully invested in that plot twist either. While the official is evil for aggrandizement sake, we don’t get quite enough there, either.

Norm: I especially liked those parts on the alien planet with the Rescue spy, Ardis and her greedy, evil overlord and loved how even aliens can be led around by their reproductive parts – some of those parts made me laugh out loud. I wish there had been more of this integrated into the story as without her part, evil would still have overcome the galaxy.

Marlene: I agree. I also liked Ardis and her part of the story, but there just wasn’t enough of it to really integrate it into the whole. Maybe Ardis needs her own story?

And we follow along with Asia and Jack as their kidnappers take them across the country, still with no idea who went after them. Because it wasn’t either Gabriel’s brothers or the Mining Planet official.

Norm: I also would have liked a little more explanation of who all the competing parties and how they fit into the story, if it was moved a little closer to the beginning. I hate going into a new story confused, and staying that way for longer than 50 pages is painful.

Marlene: All of the above setup felt like both too much and not enough for this reader. There wasn’t enough background for the various interstellar factions, but they were all unrelievedly grim. And brutally evil. Asia and Jack are in a deep well of loss and depression, because they are in the middle of being kidnapped and are certain of their upcoming death or enslavement. It felt like too many bits of awful stuff without hope or light or in some cases, much explanation or backstory. Gabriel and Alana are at the beginning of several long and nasty fights, because they need each other (and want each other) but are hedged about by too many dangerous and necessary secrets.

In other words, the first third or so was darker and grimmer than I like.

It all comes together in a place and a way that is surprising and interesting but again, not very well explained. When Asia, Jack, the kidnappers, the intergalactic scum and Gabriel and Alana all meet up for one final pitched battle, they are in the middle of Navajo country, and get help from the spirit world in ways that are difficult to follow, but ultimately result in changes for the better.

I think I understood more of what was going on at that point from my earlier readings of Tony Hillerman’s books than anything that was explained in the story. The last battle was epic, but the mythology and legends that set it up aren’t all in this text.

Norm: I liked the battle and got much of the imagery and mythology from the same Hillerman experience. I appreciated the aside where Ardis and the maguffin part on the alien planet save the day from another POV. I like it when all the loose ends are tied up.

Marlene: And on that other hand, part of the story is the triumph of not just good over evil, but also of love over hate. Not just Jack’s love for his adopted parents, but also the love that Gabriel and Alana find with each other.

Norm: I loved the HEA for Gabriel and Alana but they really had to work for it, and I hope that we get Trevyn’s story next.

Marlene: And I’m with you on that last point. It does look like we’re heading for Trevyn’s story next, and that’s an excellent thing. Hopefully a thing that comes with more explanation of the interstellar political situation.

Unchained Memory: Interstellar Rescue #1 (Donna S. Frelick)

Review by Weirde

review-unchainedmemoryIn the world of sci-fi books, alien abductions are an evergreen theme. We could say they are almost the beginning of the genre in all its forms, and the potential of a story about a normal life and a normal human who suddenly is swept away from his or her roots, maybe toward an alien love and an happy-ever-after, has always had an irresistible appeal to the reader. I, for example, love this type of book, and Unchained Memory is an example of this category. That’s why I chose to read it, little knowing that I was in for a big surprise!

In Unchained Memory, author Donna S. Frelick takes a basilar theme like alien abduction but turns it around beyond recognition. The reader is not sure there’s been an alien abduction till the middle of the book, and even then it’s not a certainty. We have a woman, Asia, who has lost three hours of her life. She can’t remember what happened to her during that time. The only thing she knows it’s that something must have happened. And then there are the dreams…. She can’t sleep, but she can’t properly remember her nightmares. The meeting with Ethan Roberts, a psychiatrist who treats people who believe to have been abducted by the aliens, will be the turning point of her life. She doesn’t believe that aliens were the cause of her lost time, she has no preconceptions, only a great void and the fear of being crazy.

Ethan will be able to make her remember her dreams finally, and the situation that emerges will be a surprise for both of them because (*spoiler*) it seems that, for months, she was actually a labor slave on an alien planet.

As you can see, this mystery about memory loss, and the clear intent of the author to not speak clearly about aliens till the middle of the book is similar to the approach of the TV series, The X-Files, about aliens. This is a method I call “says, but at the same time doesn’t say”. In the series, we were never sure about Scully’s abduction. While it was clear that the only possible explanation for what happened to her was an alien abduction, we were never given incontrovertible proof of that. The same is with Asia in Unchained Memory. We are never sure, till the end, about the involvement of aliens and even then they are not so central to the story. We don’t even know what they look like. There is just vague talk about “gray men”.

I think it was very effective keeping the reader in the dark like this. It created a certain charm about the story. However, there is a problem. If you keep her (the reader) too much in the dark, she can lose interest and, I’m sorry to say, in this case, the waiting to shed clear light on the aliens was too long.

When I read a sci-fi, I want aliens. Stop. Not a long psychological journey. 🙂

Also, the relationship bothered me. Asia and Ethan are hot for each other from the first time they see each other, without any apparent cause. She is beautiful, he is handsome, and they want to have sex. It doesn’t work for me. A woman with a past like that of Asia, who not only lost three hours of her life, but also her three children in a terrible fire, and who lives in a constant state of guilt, can’t just decide to immediately trust someone like Ethan. It’s not plausible. And, to me, the love story between them seemed both out-of-place and forced. There was too much sensuality without much depth, is how it seemed to me.

Instead of writing pages about their sex life and their mutual attraction, I would have loved more pages about the dreams of Asia, her life as a slave, and so on. If I were a woman who finally, after years in the dark, now has a clear enough idea of what happened to her, I would want to explore my memories every waking moment, to discover more and more. Not play the doctor with my doctor!

The aliens, the alien world, the slavery, the alliance, and the humans that rescued the slaves, are themes that I would have like to have read more about. Unfortunately, they only occupy a secondary place in this book, so much so that I don’t even know if Unchained Memory can be considered sci-fi.

Book Two of this series, Trouble in Mind, is due out in Fall, 2015. And I hope that, this time, the author—now that the alien abductions are a fact, like human slaves on other planets—will tell us more about them, and build a more interesting world for the reader to explore.

Wars of the Heart (Inari Gray)

Review by The Book Pushers

Publisher: Freya’s Bower
Publish Date: Out Now
How I got this book: eARC from author
Reviewed by: MinnChica
Original Review Date: 03/23/12

Someone has been tampering with Earth’s Ozone Shield, and judging from the malfunction locations, Intergalactic Diplomat Katherine Morgan is convinced it’s more than a mere technical glitch. Worried for the health and safety of her people, she petitions the Peace Keeping Intergalactic Council to conduct a full investigation and offer any kind of assistance Earth might need in the event of an ambush. Unfortunately, the only assistance they can offer is in the mercy of the impetuous King of Salatiel, a man whose heart Katherine stomped on more than ten years ago.

The terms of the arrangement? Force an alliance, get Ja-el Lamar to yield at the threat of losing his kingdom. She didn’t take into account how treacherous it would be, faced with everything she thought she no longer cared about, everything she left behind.

Meanwhile, Ja-el has an agenda of his own. He hates the Peace Keeping Intergalactic Council and everything it stands for. He’s never trusted those in power there and he certainly won’t start now. Especially not when they’re sending Katherine Morgan in his direction. A woman he vowed to never see again. Whom they all know has the power to destroy him. (Blurb from Goodreads)

When I got the request to read this book, it sounded like the kind of sci-fi romance books that are right up my alley, and after a somewhat slow start, I found myself really enjoying this book.

Katherine has wanted to be an ambassador her entire life, she studied for it, lived for it and breathes it every day. When threats against earth become more and more dangerous, Katherine pleads for the council for assistance. Unfortunately for her, the only person in place to help her is Ja-el, her one true love from her school days, and the man she left behind so many years ago.

Review-WarsOfTheHeartJa-el never got over Katherine leaving. He blames the Council for taking her away, getting his father killed and countless other crimes. The last thing he wants to do is be at their beck and call, spread his own planet’s resources thin by helping earth. but when Katherine shows up on his world, begging for his help, Ja-el might find it difficult to say no to her, with his heart and his power.

Once this book got over the initial slow start, it really hooked me in and kept me interested. I loved all the different politics that came into play, especially within the Council and outside of the council. There always seemed to be at least one or two players looking to stab someone in the back to get to their end game. I’ve always loved when my sci-fi romance books are filled to the brink with spies and lies and intrigue.

I was a little worried that Ja-el wouldn’t be able to come to terms with his feelings, especially since it seemed as if he was trying so hard to deny his past with Katherine. At the same time, I was glad to see that Ja-el didn’t roll over and beg Katherine to come back to him. They both danced around each other and their history, especially given how painful it was for them. I thought that the slow build up they went through to get back together was really well done. It didn’t feel rushed, and yet it didn’t feel like it was dragged out either. They both had a chance to deal with the issues of their shared history and come to a point where they chose to be together. I liked it!

I was hoping that this book would have a little more action than it did. While the end was packed with adrenaline pumping moments, the entire first half of the book is a lot of background and world-building and tension between Ja-el and Katherine. While that is all good, I was expecting to come into a story that pulled me in instantly, and instead I had to wait awhile for it.

All in all I thought that Gray had a good debut novel in this story. The world building was fun and interesting, the overall story line was wonderfully done as well – with all the twists and turns within the Council. I think a little more action in the beginning would have helped moved the story along faster, but I ended up really enjoying the story overall.

I give Wars of the Heart a C+

Yours to Command: ES Siren #2 (Shona Husk)

Review by The Book Pushers

He would do anything to protect her, if only she’d let him.

Corporal Sienna Jade wasn’t given a choice about joining the mission to Unity. Seen as a troublemaker after reporting an assault by a senior officer, the army wanted her gone. Sienna resents the army for assigning her to Earth Ship Siren, and suspects the fleet’s Unity mission will fail. But others would do anything to escape Earth…

review-yourstocommandAlex Tariel knew his only chance to get a place on ES Siren was as a prisoner, so he stole water rations. As a former construction foreman, his skills make him a valuable prisoner on board, but still a prisoner unable to control his own life. Instead of keeping his head down, he gets involved in the fights set up for gambling privilege tokens, the only currency aboard ship among the prisoners.

Getting patched up by Corporal Jade might be the best thing that’s happened to Alex on the trip so far, but becoming her ship husband puts him between her and the lieutenant who tried to kill her for kicks on Earth. While Sienna tries to keep control of her feelings for Alex, Alex would do anything to protect her, if only she’d let him.

As ES Siren faces its first crisis, a little trust and love goes a long way. [Blurb from Goodreads]

Yours to Command is the second in the shared world of ES Siren following the romantic entanglements of certain individuals on-board the Siren as it travels to set up a new colony away from overly crowded Earth. Like Yours to Uncover, the central relationship involves a member of the military, a prisoner, and the bullying lieutenant Zane. I requested this story at the same time I requested Yours to Uncover because I thought the blurb looked intriguing. Unfortunately, while I thought the characterization was a bit more complete in this installment and I thought the romance more developed, I still had some issues.

Sienna, after reporting an assault by a superior officer, found herself labeled as a troublemaker and shipped off to the new colony. Even more unfortunately, one of the superior officers on-board happened to be the same individual she reported and he retaliated in several different ways. One way was by assigning her permanently as a med tech for the male prisoners, which kept her mostly isolated away from anyone, except prisoners she treated and her roommate who covered the opposite shift. Despite this, Sienna made a point to study in hopes of getting approved for specialized training and a transfer away from Zane.

In addition to tormenting women who refused his advances, Zane had initiated semi-sanctioned regular fighting bouts. They were a way for prisoners to earn credits, which could buy certain luxuries, allow others to release some bloodlust or aggression, and gamble. I have been in situations where sanctioned “boxing smokers” or “grudge matches” occurred and they did relieve tension BUT they didn’t involve prisoners and everyone had to volunteer to participate. In this story the fighters were all prisoners and not all of were fighting of their own free will. Zane also proved later in the story that he was willing to use the fighters as additional retaliatory tools.

Unlike the hero in the first installment, Alex became a prisoner and therefore part of the Siren’s complement by his own free will. He judged the price of being a prisoner worth the chance to live and build something away from the overcrowded and polluted Earth. He was also gambling on his technical skills and knowledge to gain a position as a valuable worker and therefore a better life than a skill-less worker. However, he came to Zane’s attention and was forced to participate in the fights, jeopardizing his goals and almost losing his life.

I enjoyed the slow building trust and romance between Jade and Alex. The shift in power dynamic provided by Alex’s prisoner-with-restraints status allowed Jade to regain her sense of confidence, control, and sexuality which were damaged by Zane’s assault. Watching their encounters transition from Jade controlling every aspect to slowly giving Alex her trust and the freedom to become both an equal participant and sometimes take the lead was rewarding. I was glad to see them decide to take a chance and become “legal” partners, providing both a measure of protection.

While I liked the romance, I had a bigger issue with the world. I really did not like how one evil person could have such a long-lasting negative impact on so many lives in a hierarchical structure and not have limits placed on his influence after the next rung up was made aware of his tendencies. This was the same structure who had forms/documentation in place to ensure any sanctioned relationship was entered willingly by the participants but kept Zane in control over his chosen targets. Given his pattern of behavior through the first two installments, without evidence of any sort of disciplinary action, I kept waiting for him to retaliate against those who had apparently escaped his clutches. While I like the idea of this overall shared world, for me personally the “condoned” abuses towards those in positions of less power has severely marred my enjoyment of the ES Siren and its journey.

I give Yours to Command a C.

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