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Posted: 15 June, 2015 at 8:11 am   /   by   /   comments (0)

Reviews on this page:

Lisabet Sarai: Rajasthani Moon

Diane Saxon: Short Circuit Time

PJ Schnyder: Fighting Kat

Veronica Scott: Mission to Mahjundar — Hostage to the Stars — Star Cruise: Outbreak

Sharon Shinn: Archangel

Linnea Sinclair: An Accidental Goddess

R Lee Smith: Cottonwood

SE Smith: Challenging Saber

Aurora Springer: Grand Master’s Pawn — The Lady is Blue/Dragons of Vkani

Jessica E Subject: Alien AdmirerAlien AdorationAn Alien to Love

Mel Teshco: Yours to Uncover

Greta van der Rol: A Matter of Trust

Jennifer Foehner Wells: Fluency

Christina Westcott: A Hero for the Empire

Dani Worth: Catalyst

Jael Wye: Game of the Red King — Ice Red

Leslie Young: Sky’s End

A Hero for the Empire: The Dragon’s Bidding #1 (Christina Westcott)

Review by The Book Pushers

Commander Kimber FitzWarren is running on borrowed time. The cybernetic augmentations that give her superhuman strength and speed have also shortened her life. The success of her next mission is imperative, not only to save her Empire, but because this operation could be her last.

review-aherofortheempireShe and a cabal of other idealistic officers are plotting to topple the corrupt Imperial government. The key to placing missing military legend Arianne Ransahov on the throne lies with the one man who can find her, mercenary Wolf Youngblood.

Having just survived an Imperial assassination attempt, Wolf is understandably on edge when Fitz shows up in his bedroom at 0-dark-30. Except she isn’t there to kill him, but to plead for his help. Help he’s reluctant to give—until another assassin pushes the issue.

Pursued by Imperial forces, left with no one to depend on but each other, a bond begins to form that even their secrets can’t destroy. But before they can explore what’s left of their future, they have to survive the mission.

Warning: Space is no place to go it alone. We recommend taking along a telepathic cat, an immortal mercenary, and a cybernetically augmented Imperial SpecOps agent. You never know what kind of trouble you’ll run into… [Blurb from Goodreads]

I was really excited when I read this blurb because it talked about a strong female lead, who happened to have cyber augmentations, a mercenary, another strong female, space, and the title contained the word dragon. While I ended up finding A Hero for the Empire both interesting and intriguing it didn’t quite live up to my hopes for a couple of reasons but I really want to know what is going to happen next.

Kimber is dedicated to the Empire. It took her out of the streets and gave her the tools to live a successful life. Sure her augmentations also came with a reduced life expectancy but it was better than scrabbling for a living and dying way too young. Sadly during her time as a SpecOps agent she realized loyalty to the Empire wasn’t necessarily the same thing as loyalty to the Emperor and sometimes a regime change was needed. She was tough, smart, adaptable but a bit too dependent on her augmentations and had a sense of physical superiority over those she deemed unaugmented. I really liked that aspect because it meant she wasn’t the perfect person but one who could and did make mistakes.

Wolf had a lot of secrets and was not pleased with his recent visitors. One attempted but failed to kill him and the other was trying to drag him back into the mess he left far too many years ago. Then he realized the assassins weren’t going to leave him alone despite his mercenary group remaining neutral. Wolf’s secrets made him too much of a potential enemy for the Emperor to continue to ignore his presence, especially once he decided to expand his control. Wolf was very good at what he did but also suffered from overconfidence due to the effects of his particular augmentations.

I mostly enjoyed Kimber and Wolf’s interaction but they spent a large part of the story trying to leave each other behind in “safety” or arguing over who was in charge. When they were working together they could accomplish a lot but they weren’t as productive as either should have been. Sadly I wasn’t as fond of Kimber’s ship as I wanted given how it seemed partially sentient. I had the impression the ship was fully capable of free thought and action but only exercised them to thwart Wolf regardless of the potential consequences. And those consequences certainly happened. I did love the flawed, dedicated and so loveable telepathic cat. I think the cat really helped Kimber and Wolf learn to trust each other and his insistence on never leaving anyone behind was also a good lesson for them.

Westcott packed a lot of activity into her world almost too much at times. It seemed like both Kimber and Wolf’s organizations suffered from a traitor because assassins and Imperial fleets showed up to various locations when they should have been elsewhere. Then there was everything Kimber discovered after reaching the last known location of the missing military hero. I am not going to mention the specifics because they are spoilers but it seemed a bit much and I didn’t always understand or see the motivation or reason for some of the events.

The last main reason why A Hero for the Empire didn’t work as nicely for me as I wanted is I kept comparing it to another set of stories I really enjoyed. This was just similar enough for me to keep mentally comparing and different enough (thankfully) for things to not add up. However, I was unable to completely separate them and I found this execution lacking but not to the extent that I was ever tempted to stop reading or start skimming.

Overall, this was a slightly rough introduction to a rather complex universe with some interesting rather flawed characters. A Hero for the Empire ends with things on the crux of change and the knowledge this particular change won’t be easy. I am rather curious to find out how things will go for the Empire. I also want to watch Kimber and Wolf work through Kimber’s new position and her potentially new lease on life. I am hoping the next installment is a bit smoother and evenly paced.

I give A Hero for the Empire a B-/C+.

A Matter of Trust (Greta van der Rol)

Review by Jo Jones

review-amatteroftrustThis is a short 94 page novella that totally worked for me and here is why.

Lets start with back-story, something that is often difficult to develop in a novella. For our two main characters, that back-story is fleshed out in just a few paragraphs. Those paragraphs highlight the intelligence of both and the interest they have in common. There is no romance at first, just real liking between the two. From that start it was easy to see how their attraction could grow and develop.

There is also enough world building to support the story.

This is a character-driven story. Amira is a widow and also a princess. Admiral Ul-Mellor is one of the few of his people who come out into the world. Amira is no shrinking violet. When she finds herself in difficulty, she immediately goes into action to save herself. Admiral Ul-Mellor is the less-than-attractive hero. Not because of his actions, but because of his physical appearance. I won’t tell you how he looks but I will say I would find him very scary. His actions do not match his appearance and, when it becomes apparent that Amira could use help, he does not hesitate.

There was little new in the actual plot. Amira is about to be forced into an unwanted marriage with a less-than-attractive character. The characters and their actions are what set this apart from similar stories.

A Matter of Trust is a well-written action filled story with great characters and a believable romance. In addition it is a fun story to read. I do hope that Amira and Ul-Mellor will show up in future stories. I would love a series featuring the two.

Alien Admirer (Jessica E Subject)

Review by Marlene Harris

review-alienadmirerAlien Admirer takes a light touch with the science fiction aspects of this science fiction romance, but the author shows a deft hand with the down-to-earth problems involved in a widow with young children not just thinking about dating, but falling in love with the younger man next door.

The story is sweet, sexy and realistic about how it handles the issues of a woman who more than young enough to move on with her life after the death of her husband more than a year previously, but who has kids that she has to put first in everything she does.

And her best-buddy is her next-door-neighbor, a man eight years her junior that her kids absolutely adore and who not only takes great care of them, but clearly loves them for themselves.

The only problem is that Adam is still living over his parents’ garage; and until recently, he hasn’t exactly acted like he was looking to settle down. So it’s not at all surprising that Sera is skeptical about what seems like Adam’s sudden interest in settling down with her.

Her erotic dreams about him don’t factor into her decision making. He’s gorgeous and she’s still among the living. She’s human, but she’s not stupid. It just doesn’t make sense to her that Adam is really interested in her.

What she doesn’t know is that Adam isn’t strictly human. And that now that he knows that Sera is his mate, she really is the only woman for him. For the rest of his life. Whether she accepts him or not.

Escape Rating B+: I enjoyed this story a lot. Enough that I went to Amazon and bought the first book in the series, Alien Next Door, because I want to read Adam’s parents’ story.

One of the tropes that seems to be difficult to get right is the older woman/younger man romance. There are issues that have to be dealt with, but too often the problems are glossed over or the concept is played for laughs. In this case, the author treated Sera’s concerns about the age difference seriously, and made sure that they were addressed rather than dismissed.

The children were not just plot devices either, they were real people, surprisingly so for a very short novella. And it was cute that they helped Adam arrange things for the lovely happily ever after.

If you like your science fiction romance light on the SF and emphasis on the R, get your own (copy of) Alien Admirer.

Alien Adoration (Jessica E Subject)

Review by Marlene Harris

I read Alien Adoration after I read the second book in the Alien Next Door series, Alien Admirer. That means I already knew most of what was going to happen in Alien Adoration. More relevant for the purpose of this review, I bought Alien Adoration because I enjoyed Alien Admirer so much, and I was hoping that the first book in the series would be as much fun as the second, while filling in a few more details.

Which means, unfortunately, that I didn’t adore Alien Adoration as much as I admired Alien Admirer. This first book in the series was definitely cute and sweet, but didn’t seem quite as polished as the second book.

review-alienadoration(And I’m aware that someone should take my punning license away, but the temptation was irresistible.)

As with Alien Admirer, in Alien Adoration we have our alien hero and our “original recipe human” heroine.

But while in book 2, the heroine’s story had the most depth, in book one we have Luke, an alien from outer space who played with one too many buttons on the control panel of his parents’ spaceship as it passed by Earth.

Luke stranded himself here as a boy, seeming to be about eight years old. He appeared in the middle of the night in an unprepossing small town, and is observed by a little girl staring out the window. She lets herself out of the house, and meets her first, and last, alien. She never forgets the night, but can’t remember his name.

Rachel grows up, and sometimes wonders if that night was a dream. She dreams it over and over as the years go by.

She still lives in the same small town, a place that seems to be the divorce capitol of the universe. Or at least Earth. Marriages don’t last (her parents’ marriage certainly didn’t) and relationships have an incredibly short shelf life.

Especially the “relationships” that the hottie next door seems to have. Gorgeous women come home with him in the early evening, and leave screaming in the middle of the night.

It’s too bad for Rachel that she can’t help thinking about her neighbor, and that there don’t seem to be any decent men in town. The local church ladies feel so sorry for her, they fix her up with one “nephew” or “cousin” after another. Too bad they all turn out to be scumbags.

She has no clue that the hot neighbor with the revolving front door is the grown-up version of the little alien boy. Or that he’s come to her small town to find her.

Escape Rating B-: There’s a sweetness to the romance between Luke and Rachel that lets the reader overlook some of the fluffy shortcuts in the storytelling while reading, but this one just isn’t quite up to Alien Admirer.

We never do know what makes Rachel’s small town of Hanton such a rotten place for people to build lasting relationships. It doesn’t just seem to be Rachel’s perception, the place really is that bad. But why? Is it something in the water? Is everyone in a high-risk profession? Alien influence?

Luke comes to Hanton with the express purpose of finding Rachel. If she’s the woman he wants so badly, why is the skank parade passing through his front door? Especially with her right next door and having a ringside seat for the show? Some part of this combination didn’t work for me.

Particularly when added with Rachel’s own unfortunate dating history. She has kissed more than a few of the town frogs. A lot of the guys in Hanton are real jerks. When they confirm they’re jerks, Rachel dumps them. But Luke’s behavior looks awfully jerk-like, and rightfully makes her wary.

Although I do wonder if the so-called “church ladies” don’t have something to do with the high divorce rate. They seem to have a corner on the destructively evil gossip market. Maybe they’re witches?

An Accidental Goddess (Linnea Sinclair)

Review by The Book Pushers

Raheiran Special Forces captain Gillaine Davré has just woken up in some unknown space way station, wondering where the last three hundred years have gone. The last thing she remembers is her ship being attacked. Now it seems that while she was time-traveling, she was ordained a goddess…. Gillaine’s only hope of survival rests with dangerously seductive Admiral Mack Makarian, who suspects her of being a smuggler—or worse. But he can’t begin to imagine the full extent of it. For Gillaine is now Lady Kiasidira, holy icon to countless believers, including Mack—a man who inspires feelings in her that are far from saintly…feelings she knows are mutual. But when their flirtation is interrupted by a treacherous enemy from the past, Gillaine’s secret—and secret desires—could destroy them both…

With Has’s Sci-Fi Romance feature last month, I realized that it’s been awhile since I’ve read my all time favorite sci-fi romance. I adore almost everything Sinclair has written, but for some reason this book just resonated with me.

review-anaccidentalgoddessGillie wakes up in a hospital room, no idea how she got there or where she even was for that matter. When she realizes that she is 300 years in the future, and has been made into a goddess, Gillie is more than freaked and a little unsure about how to proceed.

Although Gillie wants nothing more than to keep a low profile, an imminent attack by her world’s enemy forces her to show her hand, and possibly ruin a religion that was hundreds of years in the making.

Mack has prayed to the Lady his whole life. When he meets Gillie, he is convinced she is a smuggler and keeps an eye on her. But that extra eye he is keeping on her turns into so much more, and the attraction between them can’t be denied. But when the truth about Gillie is revealed, Mack is torn between his love for the woman, and his devotion to his goddess.

I can’t even begin to tell you how much love I have for this book. I think it’s because of the internal conflict that Gillie has to go through with the realization that she has been made into a goddess. The struggle she has with just being normal, or “just Gillie” as she calls herself. She has always been somewhat revered by the Khalaran people, and finding out that they made her into a goddess was just too much for her to deal with. That internal struggle she had with herself, if she should come clean and ruin their entire religion was such a strong and potent theme throughout the book, I just loved it.

Sinclair is probably the best when it comes to science fiction romance, in my opinion. I love the fact that her Sci-Fi aspects are so strong. Everything is so well thought out, so developed, and explained so well that I always find myself in awe. I love the other worlds that she creates, how she mixes in the perfect blend of romance and science fiction aspects. I’m not a huge fan of really hard-core sci-fi, with long explanations of the science, and I think Sinclair has the right mix of actual science and fantasy.

The romance in this book was a little slow to develop, and was never really on stable ground. Gillie is constantly worried about revealing herself to Mack, and always has to be on guard. With the help of her AI ship, Gillie has to remain vigilant that she doesn’t spoil hundreds of years worth of religion. Once it becomes obvious that Mack and Gillie can no longer control the connection between them, there are a few good days where they are both genuinely happy. Until Gillie has to reveal her secret and Mack is stuck wondering how to balance the woman he fell in love with, and the goddess he has always followed.

I think that aspect of their romance engaged me the most. Knowing the struggle that Mack had to undertake to work out the differences between Gillie the woman, and Gillie the legend. Knowing that she is his “goddess” doesn’t make it easy for Mack to see her as a woman, and watching that struggle makes their romance all the sweeter.

All in all this is my all time favorite sci-fi romance book, even after a few re-reads. I love the romance between Mack and Gillie. The internal struggles that Gillie has to go through in regard to revealing her true self, and the conflict Mack has in reconciling the truth about Gillie’s past makes this book that much more special. Add in the threat of invasion and doom, and this is the best science fiction romance book I’ve read to date.

I give An Accidental Goddess an A+

An Alien to Love (Jessica E Subject)

Review by RK Shiraishi


  • Celestial Seduction
  • Satin Sheets in Space
  • Another Night, Another Planet
  • His Alien Virgin
  • Her Alien Hero

AN ALIEN TO LOVE is a box set of five 1Night Stand 1Night Stand-in which applicants are matched with potential mates through a mysterious benefactor known only as ‘Madame Eve’. Jessica E. Subject’s stories focus on alien and human love matches.

Review-AnAlienToLoveThese are short, fun, sexy novellas.

CELESTIAL SEDUCTION is the story of Frey, now exiled from a world that doesn’t allow emotion and true love. He searches for a woman from Earth, knowing he can never return home. Carrie is a divorcee-burned by love and not sure it’s actually possible. When Madame Eve from 1Night Stand fixes them up they have to come to terms with their feelings and hesitations about love. He wants to feel; she’s afraid to. It a good story to start with and capably done.

SATIN SHEETS IN SPACE: Danyka is a successful, professional woman used to her height intimidating most men. She meets up via Madame Eve with Galan, the tall, handsome stranger of her dreams. And he is an alien. And he has a twin Volan. This is a sexy, high heat level menage romance, perfect for an escapist read.

ANOTHER NIGHT, ANOTHER PLANET: This was my personal favorite of the set. Ava works as a cleaning lady, but saves up money for 1Night Stand with hopes of a release from a future that’s not looking to bright. Nate, or Natazekiel, is a human hiding his part Claustrian heritage-a race that is chased and exterminated. He is also the man who broke Ava’s heart though not by intention. It’s a cute story with characters to cheer for an lots of neat little details of a futuristic society.

HIS ALIEN VIRGIN: This is a story linked to SATIN SHEETS IN SPACE. The sister of the two twins, Skylar, is escaping a forced marriage to an alien and heading for earth to find her true mate. Skylar is a tough heroine- a in the horrible situation of being sold to the highest bidder as a wife on a planet called Rebed. She uses 1Night Stand for her first sexual encounter in the hopes that she will find happiness like her brothers. Daran is an alien undercover stuck on earth. They share a past- and Skylar is suspicious of him. I like reading about a character who fights for her freedom.

HER ALIEN HERO: Melinda is a romance writer attending a convention. Her own love life does not match those of her novels. Cooper Tate is an alien who learned to live under cover on Earth. (There are crossover characters from CELESTIAL SEDUCTION) Melinda and Cooper have met before when they were younger and their set up via 1Night Stand is likely a twist of fate.There are a few jokes and nods to popular romance novels that readers of the genre will appreciate. It’s a fitting, fun conclusion to the set.

Archangel (Sharon Shinn)

Review by Jo Jones

In the last issue I reviewed a novella by Eve Langlais. With Eve you know you will get fun dialog, lust, explicit sex and finally love. This issue I am reviewing a book by Sharon Shinn that goes in the opposite direction. With Shinn you get very good dialog, great characters, and a lot of action with a touch of romance simmering in the background. Lust and explicit sex are not on the menu. In fact, while you know there is sex in Shinn’s books it is “behind the door” and you are not invited in. Sounds boring? Not for me, it wasn’t. Follow me to take a peek at the world of Samaria where Archangel by Sharon Shinn takes place.

Review-ArchangelSamaria is a world populated by angels, mystics, and mortals, all ruled and protected by Jovah. Jovah is a god. Or is he? This is where Shinn walks that very fine line between fantasy and science fiction.

Jovah brought his people to Samaria and divided them into angels, mortals and oracles. Only the oracles can talk to Jovah and pass on his wishes. One wish has not changed since he left them. Once a year, the people must sing the Gloria to Jovah lead by the Archangel and the angelica, his mortal bride. If it is not done on the annointed day, Jovah will send down fire to destroy a mountain. If not done in the next three days, he will destroy a city and, if not done in another three days after that, he will destroy the world. Gabriel has been chosen by Jovah to be the new Archangel and, in six months’ time, he will lead the singing of the Gloria. Unfortunately, Gabriel is just getting around to searching for the woman Jovah has chosen to be the Archangel’s bride.

That sets the tone for the story. Rachel may be the bride chosen by Samaria’s god, but she isn’t as easy to find as Gabriel had hoped. When he finally does locate her, she is not happy to find that she has no choice in the matter. The stage is set for a story filled with tension and an underlying romance.

Rachel is very strong character and does not allow Gabriel to rule her. She sets the rules and the first one is a marriage in name only. Gabriel is very confident, some would say arrogant, and is sure he is always right. He keeps giving orders to Rachel. The two of them really clash.

If that were the only issue in the book, it would be relatively short, but it is not. Shinn writes very complex and interwoven plots. Rachel is in danger because someone does not want her to sing at the Gloria. There are people who no longer believe in Jovah or his powers and are out to prove he does not exist. Rachel has good reason to dislike and distrust angels. Gabriel is afraid Rachel will refuse to sing the Gloria and, likewise, shows his own distrust toward her.

Woven around all of this is the world building for Archangel. There are hints about Jovah scattered through out the book. Only oracles can talk to him. They talk to him through a screen with language only they know. He brought them to this land but returned to the sky after they were settled. He can hear their prayers and answer them with gifts from the sky. One oracle found a way to Jovah and, when he returned, his story was so odd that they locked him up for the rest of his life.

So is Jovah a god or is he an artificial intelligence inside a space ship? Read the book for yourself and decide if it is Fantasy or Science Fiction. While you are deciding, you will also be treated to an interesting romance filled with fascinating characters.

Archangel is the first book in the Samaria series. Each book is a romance and each gives further hints of the world of Samaria and Jovah.

Catalyst (Dani Worth)

Review by The Bookpushers

(Publisher: Samhain / Publish Date: Out now / Reviewer: E )

Review-CatalystHow I got this book: From the author

A woman seeking answers, a younger man seeking love, and an older man seeking revenge must work together to achieve all of their goals…

The Kithran Regenesis, Book 3

Vala Gorun’s family was off Kithra when the explosions happened and although she’s back on her home planet helping with the rebuild, something she saw all those years ago still haunts her. So she hires a Tracker to find the human man she’d once loved—one she thinks betrayed her in the worst possible way.

In order to stop the search into his past, Jackson Canfield sends space pirates to kidnap the Tracker. He can’t afford to be found. Not now, when his revenge is almost complete. Unfortunately, instead of the Tracker, the pirates grab Vala and a young Gwinarian man instead.

Trapped on a pirate vessel with Bastian Sithbrun, a ridiculously attractive but younger man, Vala fights her attraction. But something about the twenty-year-old gets to her… But when the pirates leave them the unwilling guests of the very man she’d driven crazy with her teen crush all those years ago, Vala learns Jacks has been in hiding, working to right a horrible wrong.

Now the three of them must work together to reveal the truth behind Kithra’s destruction—if they can control the explosive passion that erupts between them long enough to complete their task.

Product Warnings

A tattooed, broken-hearted heroine discovers M/M/F love is crazy hot when not fighting giant alien lizards or worrying about age differences. And when the senses are narrowed to touch alone behind a massive waterfall? It’s scorching! (Blurb from the author’s website)

I have been a fan of Dani Worth since I stumbled upon the first of her Kithran Regenesis series, Kithra, shortly after its release. I really enjoyed the story along with all of the questions left unanswered, the fate of the planet’s citizens, and how those who survived the disaster were going to handle the longer-term aftermath. As a result I eagerly picked up book two when it was released and let out a cheer when I found out that there was going to be a Book Three. Not surprisingly, I leaped at the chance to read and review Catalyst. Sometimes eagerly awaited books don’t manage to live up to my mental hype but this one certainly delivered. The Kithran Regenesis is one of those series where each succeeding book builds on information released in its predecessors. I think it is possible to start with this one because some of the back-story is nicely interwoven but I recommend starting from the beginning. As a result there will be a few spoilers from previous books but I will try to keep them to a minimum.

When Vala was 17 going on 18 she had her first serious crush on Jacks, a human visiting Kithra. Jacks viewed Vala as too young for him, so he tried everything he could think of to dissuade her feelings to include having a make-out session with his boyfriend in public. Gwinarians, the variant of human that lived on Kithra, mature at a much younger age than humans and their society did not have any taboos against multi-partner relationships so Vala was perfectly willing to join in. After Jacks caught Vala following him one night he tried once more to tell her that he was too old for her in what ended up being the last conversation they had before the explosions which rendered Kithra uninhabitable and killed most of the Gwinarians. Vala caught a glimpse of Jacks once more after that fateful conversation and based on what she saw, she eventually hired a Tracker to find him. Vala had her suspicions about him because that sighting was extremely circumstantial to the explosions. Jacks found out about the Tracker and hired some people to get the Tracker out of the way, only they grabbed Vala and a young man, Bastian, who had a crush on her. Vala and Bastian found themselves dropped on what appeared to be a deserted planet, not entirely hospitable towards Gwinarians, but during their search for shelter they ended up meeting Jacks.

I found that Worth used a rather interesting technique with this story. Vala had a huge crush on Jacks but he rebuffed her due to her age. Years later Bastian had a huge crush on Vala and she was trying to rebuff him. That situation gave Vala some small sympathy towards Jacks and how he must have felt which I think added depth to her character. She started off a very headstrong immature young woman. It became evident that over the years she had matured into a character worth following. Even though Vala had grown up when she encountered Jacks again she still had to struggle with the combination of years of mixed emotions ranging from love to hatred, to attraction to reluctant sympathy to anger. Watching her go through those swings just brought home how really complicated people and their emotions are.

Bastian, while younger than Vala, showed that he possessed a depth of maturity that she did not have during her crush on Jacks. He was persistent but he also made himself helpful instead of just mooning and skulking after Vala, which I certainly appreciated. He was also old enough to know his own mind and to subtly push his suit. Bastian almost seemed to provide the bridge and sometimes the buffer between Vala and Jacks. I think without his presence it would have been even more difficult to resolve the complicated past that tied Vala and Jacks together.

Jacks… I didn’t get as much of a feel for as I did the other two characters. I understood and admired his reluctance at the beginning of the book because Vala was rather immature. I also understood, after he told his story of the events, why he chose to hide out. I think I wanted both Vala and Bastian to learn more about Jacks because even during their encounters I felt he was still slightly remote.

Worth certainly had me speculating about all sorts of things as she threw in twists and turns. I wanted to know if and how Jacks, Vala, and Bastian would act on their mutual attraction and what the results would be. I wanted to know who was really behind the explosions and why. I wanted to know why Jacks was hiding out and why he tried to get the Tracker intercepted. I wanted to know if and how Vala’s friends would manage to find her. Luckily enough for me Worth answered most of my questions but in doing so she raised a few more. Overall I enjoyed watching Jacks, Vala, and Bastian interact together. I am looking forward to seeing what happens next as the quest for answers continues.

I give Catalyst a B+

Challenging Saber (The Alliance #4) by SE Smith

Review by Normalene Zeeman

Sometimes it takes losing the one thing closest to a warrior’s heart to wake the beast that lives inside him…

Saber, a wounded Trivator, believes he is no longer a fit warrior, much less strong enough to claim a mate. Scarred, he does everything in his power to push away the delicate human female he has fallen in love with. He knows that she deserves a warrior who can protect her, not one that will need her constant help.

Taylor Sampson may be human, but that doesn’t make her weak. She and her two older sisters survived living on Earth for four years after their world went crazy. She is all grown up now and has her eye on the one stubborn Trivator that captured her heart seven years before.

Taylor has one last requirement in order to complete her schooling. Once she finishes, she plans to show Saber that he is the man she wants, but when the planet she is on erupts into a civil war, she is trapped behind enemy lines. When Saber discovers that Taylor has been left behind, the warrior inside him refuses to think of her as collateral damage in a savage battle for power.

Journey to a lawless, alien world and discover what happens when the beast awakens inside a damaged Trivator warrior when the woman he loves is threatened. (Blurb from Goodreads)

I don’t think I missed much by not reading the first three books, but some of the characters have a lot of intertwined history that gets recapped very quickly in perfectly placed snippets of information. This is a damsel in distress story with some twists and turns that make it a little more interesting. Our cast of main characters is not large, three Trivators: Hunter, Dagger and Saber and three human sisters: Jesse, Jordan and Taylor. This is Saber and Taylor’s story as they find they are meant to be together yet it is also a continuation of the bigger story arc that started in the first book.

Review-ChallengingSaberWhat we know about the Trivators is they came to Earth from an Alliance of star systems about four years ago to accomplish a first contact, event, but human resistance was extreme and civilizations crumbled in the conflict. All the Trivators in this story have single names, Sword, Edge, Razor, Thunder and they are big, humanoid, hunky – think of a whole planet of men just like Dolph Lundgren in He-Man – um yummy! And most important there is nothing more important than their honor, but closely following that is the safety and protection of their destined mates.

Taylor and Saber both have big problems to overcome, one is the age difference; Taylor is very young when they first meet and Saber is honor-bound to not take advantage of her until she is 21. The second is when Saber returns from a mission wounded in both body and spirit, he feels Taylor should find a whole warrior to be her own. But deep in his heart, he knows Taylor must be his although he fights it as hard as he can – the big lunk!

Taylor is rejected after their first night together and leaves on a mission saying she won’t be back unless Saber puts yellow ribbons around a tree in the front yard. When civil war breaks out on the planet Taylor is on, Hunter, Dagger and the still recovering Saber jet off to rescue her. What they find is seriously more complex than they had thought. There are alliances of bad guys, some guy who can see the future, hidden rebel bases and secret hi-tech gadgets – Love that part but it was way too short.

This was a very quick read. The words just flow past with no sudden stops or starts. Even the chapter changes are smooth and don’t drop you out of the story. Characterization is great with each person being unique and quirky in their own way. The family dynamics feel real between the sisters and the Trivators. The aliens are just alien enough to be cool, but not so alien that you can’t figure out their motives. The passion between Saber and Taylor is both grounded in need and elevated in its spiritual commitment and the sex is really hot, not too much and not too little.

Smith has written over 30 stories, so I would expect this level of quality writing and plotting and I was not disappointed. On the whole, I really liked it and would read all the rest just to see more of the characters. The ending left me satisfied, but was as close to a cliff hanger ending as you can get without going overboard.

There is a lovely short blurb at the very end:

To be continued: Destin’s Hold
The fight to save Earth has just begun.

Cottonwood (R. Lee Smith)

Review by RK Shiraishi

Aliens have arrived on earth. They are herded into compounds until they can integrate into the larger society. Some humans want to be a part of this grand heroic effort to understand the aliens commonly called “bugs”.

This is the premise of R. Lee Smith’s SFR Cottonwood. This is solidly SF-with aliens and the social commentary that the golden age of SF strove for.

review-cottonwoodThe story centers on Sarah, who proudly declares that she is “untrained and uneducated” and applies for a job with the International Bureau of Immigration (IBI) Human Resources Department as a social worker for the Cottonwood camp facility. Sarah remembers when the aliens first arrived with the same childlike romanticism in believing that she can be a part of intergalactic understanding. The job is not quite what she expected. The long hours. The threats. The aliens who make it clear they do not want a social worker in their lives.

Then she meets Sanford. And Son.

That was the name given to the alien and his son, and it was intentionally mocking. They are from a complex, highly advanced society with a language humans have little ability to speak, despite their attempts. So, the humans decide that if they can’t understand something, it must be lesser. The IBI has no respect for the alien visitors—they only want their technologies. The living conditions at the camps are horrifying. This is definitely a novel heavy on themes: prejudice, oppression, fear of the unknown. At times it can seem almost heavy-handed, yet it primarily works because the focus remains on the heroine Sarah and her growing relationship with Sanford.

The romance subplot keeps the social issue themes from overwhelming the book. It, of course, hinges on whether or not you can truly believe in the romantic relationship between Sarah and Sanford. R. Lee Smith creates aliens that are truly alien, with a completely different physiology. So you have to believe that this human woman can have a romantic relationship with an insectoid man.

I felt that the relationship worked, believe it or not. I think it was largely because R. Lee Smith writes an epic length novel and gives the emotional side of the relationship enough time to develop. At the beginning, Sanford doesn’t trust Sarah anymore than he trusts any human given the cruelty with which the aliens are treated. His goal is to protect his son, and return and repair the ship enough to leave Earth or send a signal for someone to come and rescue them. He is a man conflicted. In one sense he is filled with deep anger and wants to act as violently as he has been treated. Yet, from the beginning, it is obvious that Sanford has compassion and decency making him a true hero. He is a caring father to his son; he is courteous to Sarah—though he believes her to be foolishly idealistic—and he doesn’t fall into the violent patterns of behavior that those around him do. Regardless of his circumstances, this is a man determined to hang on to his dignity.

This is not a novel for the faint of heart. Much of the novel concerns Sarah’s idealism and innocence running against the machinations of Damek van Meyer (head of the camps) and his sadistic assistant Piotr. There is rape, sexual assault, and torture.

The parallels to apartheid are obvious, perhaps, too obvious. And the book can be criticized for falling into the pattern of having aliens as stand-ins for people of color while having few people of color in any obvious way. There is also the “movie style” epilogue ending in which R. Lee Smith gives us brief glimpses of other camps and the human-alien relationships. It’s not terrible, but for me it seemed to undercut the pace of the novel.

I did enjoy this novel. R. Lee Smith has a unique voice. She does not write for the faint of heart. It you want an SFR that is epic, rich, suspenseful, and a deep read I recommend Cottonwood.

Fighting Kat: The Triton Experiment #2 (PJ Schnyder)

Review by The Book Pushers

Intergalactic mercenary Kat Darah has been ordered to keep her shape-shifting ability a secret from everyone but those closest to her, for her own safety. She’s learned how to control the feral rage…for the most part. But when Lieutenant Rygard’s military unit goes missing, she’ll use every skill she has to find her man.

Lt. Christopher Rygard has witnessed his girl shift, and he still wants her. After Kat rescues him from alien clutches, he’d like nothing more than to wrap her in his arms again, but his first duty is to his men. And half of them have been shipped off-planet to be sold as slaves.

Kat and Rygard will need to form a new team to go deep undercover, posing as gladiators and learning to fight together in order to survive. In the arena, it’s all about who is the strongest predator… [This blurb came from the author’s website]

review-fightingkatI remember seeing the release of the first book in this series Hunting Kat but for some obviously foolish reason I failed to pick it up. When the list of this quarter’s releases came out and I saw Fighting Kat, I made sure to examine the blurb. I thought it looked very fascinating so I requested it. When I finished reading, the first thing I did was tweet the author to find out if she was going to write more in this series. Thankfully she is planning on more full-length novels. The second thing I did was go out and buy the first installment. As I proved, it is possible to read and enjoy Fighting Kat without reading Hunting Kat but I recommend you start at the beginning because you will understand the role of a few supporting individuals and how Kat’s relationship with Lt Rygard started.

This review will include some spoilers from Hunting Kat.

Kat was the subject of forced genetic manipulation via a virus. She was transformed from a military cadet to a jaguar shape-shifter who found some sense of home and stability as a mercenary. Her fellow mercenaries had an idea of what she could do but also made a concerted effort to encourage her human side. It was during one of those efforts she met Rygard. Those events are detailed in Hunting Kat. I found Kat a lot of fun to read. Her character was extremely complex which made me think she risked so much more than what most of the other characters realized when she volunteered to take part in a rescue mission. She was fiercely protective of those she cared about or who she felt were part of her captain’s territory but at the same time she was also extremely private. Just like she only let a few individuals see her softer shy side, she didn’t like exposing her cat with its associated instincts unless necessary.

I knew I was in for a treat when the opening scene showed her acting territorial over the medical bay that doubled as her room. The recipient of that show was her full human mercenary and ship’s Captain, Dev, who knew exactly how to calm her down and reinforce his position as her alpha. His calm steadiness and protective nature had become a staple in Kat’s life and she needed that stability as events unfolded.

Rygard was more of an enigma to me because I had not read the first installment. His character growth wasn’t the focus of this story so he appeared less complicated than Kat. However, he had some unexpected depths that appeared as he saw more than a glimpse of Kat in her shifted form fighting for survival. As a result, I didn’t find the story characterization uneven.

Rygard and his team of men were running reconnaissance on a planet suspected of serving as waypoint for slavers. The planet seemed to have forest type creatures but no human presence other than some encampments suspected to support the slavers. Rygard’s unit hired Kat’s Captain to bring additional military reinforcements to expand the original mission. Included in the military reinforcements were an enhanced K9 team, Tracer and Max, and a prisoner, Bharguest, who wasn’t exactly as he seemed. As Kat’s ship approached the planet they received a message and some surveillance footage detailing the attack, overrun, and capture of Rygard and his team. By the time Kat is able to discover where Rygard was being held, half of his team was already shipped off planet.

I had a basic idea of the main players by this point in the story but it was during their attempt to rescue the remainder of Rygard’s men their essence really came through. In the arena and waiting cages the team of five, Kat, Rygard, Tracer, Max, and Bharguest, had to learn to fight together, not kill each other between fights, and survive Bharguest’s mind games with their inner-selves intact. I loved the tension between the five of them and how it showed who they really were or could be. I also understood Kat’s very real fears about letting her cat loose and Rygard’s reaction but she had to take risks for them to survive.

I found Fighting Kat a complex story. The relationships Kat previously had with her shipmates and the new ones she developed as the story progressed all had an impact on who she was. I thought Rygard’s belief in Kat and his ability to see all of her as attractive person was another element in Kat’s drive to retain her humanity. I also liked how she had to learn some harsh lessons from Bharquest without adopting his mindset. His input was crucial but it wasn’t altruistic. The trust Tracer and Max had in Kat as well as their honed teamwork taught Kat some valuable lessons.

Fighting Kat was a very entertaining read filled with fascinating characters. I am looking forward to seeing what happens in the next installment because developments at the end of Fighting Kat have left me curious. I am also curious about the other characters and who will return as well as Kat’s future developments. Schnyder provided space travel, romance, danger, shapeshifting, secrets, a varied cast of characters, and adventure. I am glad I picked this up and I can’t want to see what else is coming.

I give Fighting Kat a B+

Fluency (Jennifer Foehner Wells)

Review by Weirde

The book I want to talk about today is Fluency, by Jennifer Foehner Wells, a new and fresh voice in the sci-fi genre. It’s time a good new author appeared on the sci-fi scene. Many have tried, but many have also failed. Some became lost in too many technicalities and details, others were able to create great characters but with poor world-building. Finally, we have someone with a good plot, a good idea, solid world-building and good characters. Hallelujah.

review-fluencyThe story narrated in this book has a simple background. Back in the 1960s, NASA discovered an alien ship lurking in our asteroid belt. They kept the Target under intense surveillance for decades, letting the public believe they were exploring the solar system, while they worked feverishly to refine the technology needed to reach it. The ship itself remained silent, drifting, during all this time. Finally, after years of research, in the year 2014 they were ready to approach it, so assembled a squad to send on this mission, with the purpose of exploring the mysterious starship.

Dr. Jane Holloway, a university professor and geek, is one of the members of this squad. She has a great gift for languages, those nearly extinct and modern, and she can learn any dialect with the outmost speed, just like Hoshi Sato of Star Trek’s ENTERPRISE series. But she is no astronaut, or military officer, so the physical aspect of the mission scares her. The one thing that made her decide to accept this mission, even if she didn’t say so and would never admit it, is the presence of another scientist in the squad: Alan, an engineer, good looking, easygoing, someone who is able to make a serious person like her laugh. He is attracted to her, just as she is to him, but the nature of their mission, and their own private issues, hold them back from declaring themselves.

When the squad finally reaches the ship, the story becomes similar to the start of ALIEN or PROMETHEUS. All is mystery and danger. The ship appears deserted, but there is something watching them and adapting to their physiology…and there are many traps…what is happening? Jane begins hearing a voice in her head, guiding her, instructing her in the way of the ship. With its help, she can save her companions, but they believe that an alien is brainwashing her and distrust her advice. Only Alan supports her. A virus that can trigger violence in the infected aggravates the situation, and only the mysterious voice can help Jane. But help will come at a price. A great price and, in the end, we will discover that from the very beginning of the mission nothing was as it seemed to be. We learn that even good aliens can toy with humans, if they have a mission to accomplish.

In this book, ALIENS meets STAR TREK, but also introduces something completely new. There is mystery, a love interest, adventure, fighting, a virus, aliens, alien slugs, and mutant alien slugs! It’s a fun book that I recommend to everybody but especially to sci-fi lovers. Finally a novel that can transport the reader to a realistic sci-fi adventure, worthy of a film adaptation. The only defect is the fact that it is the first book of a series, so the end is a huge cliffhanger. And the next book will be released only in 2015.

Game of the Red King (Jael Wye)

Review by Marlene Harris

Game of the Red King is the short but slightly epic conclusion to the author’s Once Upon a Red World series. The series begins with Ice Red (previously reviewed on SFRQ and also at Reading Reality) and continues with Ladder to the Red Star (also reviewed at Reading Reality).

The setting is a future solar system, where Earth is overburdened and under-funded, and the future of humanity looks like it will happen on the advanced tech Mars colonies. Earth is dying, slowly but probably inevitably, and Mars is in the ascendant.

Review-GameOfTheRedKingEarth has exploited all of her resources, where Mars and the asteroids are still untapped. Earth is also extremely polluted and at the bottom of deep gravity well, where Mars scientists have developed gene therapy to keep them from dying of radiation poisoning, and incidentally cure every disease from the common cold to old age.

The colonists may not be immortal, but they can be pretty sure of seeing their second century, and possibly even their third, if they keep up their “Correction” treatments. “Correction” has the added benefit of functioning as a Fountain of Youth, keeping their appearance in their late 20s to early 30s, no matter how many extra decades they’ve experienced.

In the first two books of this series we met Max Ross and his incredible daughters, Bianca and Devi. Max is the genius behind the Earth Space Elevator, but is possibly the worst father in the universe. In Ice Red, Bianca is nearly murdered by her stepmother’s goons, and in Ladder to the Red Star, Devi is nearly murdered by her dad’s psychopathic ex-partner.

Dad is not very good at picking business associates. He’s been much too busy looking for new projects to conquer. His daughters seem to love him anyway.

So it is fitting in Game of the Red King that all of his past mistakes come back to haunt him, possibly to the point of death. It’s about time that he is threatened directly, after all the times his associates have tried using his daughters to reach his heart or his wallet. It’s been a good thing that his daughters have rescued themselves, because Max Ross’ possession of a functioning heart is certainly questionable.

When Devi brings herself to her dad’s attention, he had no idea that she existed. And now that he does know, it’s time for him to settle things with her mother, possibly his first and biggest mistake.

At the time Devi was conceived, Max was too busy courting partners for his proposed space elevator to recognize that Devi’s mother Sita was the best thing that had ever, or possibly would ever, happen to him. And he threw her away on the altar of his ambition. Now he’s angry that she hid his daughter from him for over 30 years, and she’s still angry that he doesn’t see that his own actions precipitated the break.

But even after 30 years, the fire between them is still burning. So is all the anger. And so is Sita’s fear that Max will love her and leave her again, without seeming to even look back.

Instead, the last vestige of one of Max’s ill-considered partnerships rises up from the past to finally put Max in the same life-threatening danger that nearly took both of his daughters. And it’s up to Max to use his genius to find a way back to the life he left behind, and the heart he never recovered.

Escape Rating B: Game of the Red King is very short, about half the length of the two previous books. A lot of the worldbuilding has already been done. However, this means that it is necessary to read the other two books in the series before embarking on Game.

I’ll also say that because it has been a while since I read the first two books, it took some definitely memory searching to figure out how this whole scenario fit together. I enjoyed the first two books when I read them, but they are a bit like cotton candy—they tasted good at the time but the flavor didn’t linger.

In the first two books, there was definitely a fairy tale theme going on, as the author attempted, with some success, to recast traditional fairy tales into a high-tech Martian setting. This was particularly apparent in Ice Red, but less so in Ladder to the Red Star. I didn’t see that theme in Game of the Red King, but maybe it’s there and I missed it.

I still really like both Bianca and Devi. While Max was a neglectful father, he also didn’t hamper Bianca, and Sita did a good job with Devi. Both young women are intelligent, and are not shy about inserting themselves where needed and making sure shit gets done. If they are fairy tale princesses, they owe way more to Princess Leia than Cinderella.

But the main story in Game of the Red King is Max and Sita. It feels like she did the right thing 30 years ago by leaving Max. He was a selfish and self-centered (also incommunicative) ass, and he deserved what happened. Of course, his response was to retreat even further into his engineering and let other people (very, very unscrupulous people) handle the business aspects of his very lucrative business.

In every story, Max’s tunnel vision has come back to bite someone. First it was Bianca, and then it was Devi. It feels good that this time the person who gets threatened with death and dismemberment is Max himself, because it really is all his fault.

That he gets himself out with a whole lot of MacGyver and some timely help from Sita made a satisfying solution to his dilemma. Unsatisfyingly, however, is that his problems are caused by a villain who has tipped way too far over into bwahaha evil. And also into sheer nutjob territory.

All in all, though, a fitting conclusion to the series.

Grand Master’s Pawn (Aurora Springer)

Review by Rachel Cotterill

Review-GrandMastersPawnViolet puts herself forward to be a pawn to one of the twelve Grand Masters, mysterious and anonymous beings who rule the galaxy from afar. If she’s chosen, she’ll have the chance to travel, undertaking missions for her Master, and she hopes to have the opportunity to learn more about the Grand Masters and their politics. Violet is a good student, but there’s one complication — she’s hiding psychic powers that mean she shouldn’t be eligible for the job. Suppressing her abilities has been a longstanding part of her life, though, and the selection interview is just one more hurdle.

I liked Violet, but I found her motivations a bit mixed up in the early pages: at times she seemed ambitious, sometimes she was driven by curiosity about the Grand Masters, sometimes by altruism towards her friends or just the possibility of an adventure. Which may be a fairly realistic representation of the shifting focus of the average mind, but in a book, as you’re trying to get to know the main character, it’s quite distracting. I struggled to get a sense of her primary motivation.

I didn’t manage to get into this book, despite several attempts. At least ten times, I picked it up and read a few pages, hoping to find something that gripped me. I read through Violet’s selection, meeting her fellow pawns, and the beginning of her first mission. I sadly didn’t get as far as the romantic element, and Violet’s Master remained a distant enigmatic figure — although I was intrigued by the set up, it wasn’t enough to keep me reading. Unfortunately, this one just wasn’t for me.

Hostage to the Stars (Veronica Scott)

Review by Marlene Harris

I picked up Hostage to the Stars because I just finished book 5 in the Sectors SF series, Star Cruise: Outbreak (also reviewed in this issue of SFRQ) and I liked it so much I wanted to continue with this world. I had a bit of a book hangover and wasn’t quite ready to leave this place yet.

And since I was admittedly looking for a short book, I skipped over book 6 in the series, Lady of the Star Wind, although I’m enjoying the series enough that I’ll probably go back to it at some point. But the books in this series don’t seem to directly follow one another. It’s the same universe, but different places, different crises and different people.

Just as Star Cruise: Outbreak is closest in spirit to the first book in the series, Wreck of the Nebula Dream, Hostage to the Stars echoes back to the third book, Mission to Mahjundar, reviewed previously in SFRQ .

But I’ll confess that I haven’t read Mission to Mahjundar, and that lack did not influence my enjoyment of Hostage to the Stars. While the hero of Hostage to the Stars was a secondary character in Mission, it’s been quite a few years and it wasn’t his story. The story in Mission belongs to Johnny’s cousin Mike. And that’s where this story begins.

Review-HostageToTheStarsSpecial Forces needs to reactivate somebody with knowledge of the planet Farduccir, and they aren’t very picky about who, or what condition they reactivate them in. It’s been 15 years since either Mike or Johnny was on the hellhole called Farduccir, and neither of them wants to go back. More importantly, after the events in Mission, Mike is now married and is wife is pregnant. It’s his cousin Johnny’s professional assessment that Mike has lost the edge necessary to survive in Special Ops, and that while Mike has commitments keeping him home, Johnny is expendable. He volunteers to take his cousin’s place, knowing full well that the mission has more chances of going FUBAR than not.

Especially when he finds out that the whole purpose of the mission is to rescue an up and coming planetary governor’s mistress from space pirates. And no, she is not our heroine, just someone caught in a lot of messy crossfire.

That Farduccir is now infested with space pirates is bad enough. That space piracy has become such a common business model, completely with pirates accepting insurance certificates for ransom to be collected later, shows there’s something rotten somewhere. This whole situation is a clusterf**k of epic proportions.

But while the extraction team gets the mistress away with no problem, on her way out the lady reveals that she was not the only human female in the compound. The guards have been torturing the young woman who was kidnapped with her. Said young woman, Sara Bridges, did not have any K&R (Kidnap and Rescue) insurance, so the pirates decided to get their money’s worth out of her by other means.

The extraction team doesn’t care about Sara, but Johnny can’t stand to leave anyone behind – even someone he hasn’t met yet. Until he either rescues Sara or determines that she’s beyond reach, he’ll stay and find her.

Sara is not only still alive, but still has enough spirit to be Johnny’s partner in a race to find out what really happened on Farduccir, and what is still happening. All the while heading towards a barely possible escape.

It’s a race against time and deadly hunters, gathering vital intelligence that must be transmitted to Johnny’s old bosses at any cost. It is not the place to fall in love. But only love can save them.

Escape Rating B+: Hostage to the Stars is wonderfully improbable, and it’s a wild ride from beginning to end. Also from the first page to the last. I couldn’t put it down.

Johnny is every Sergeant in any military that has ever been. He knows the job he is supposed to do, and he goes in and does it. In Special Forces, he’s not used to following strict orders or a chain of command. He’s there to get the job done.

Lucky for Sera.

One of the fun things in the story is the way that the Service can reactivate both Johnny and Mike pretty much on a whim. And they do. One of the phrases that gets used in the story is the concept of “gravity” as applied to political power. The provincial governor has a lot of it, and can use it to put pressure on anyone, even Special Forces. At the same time, Special Forces is only willing to send a retired operative, not a currently serving soldier. And they do everything in a big hurry, because Mike has “gravity” on their home planet, and if he has a chance to bring it to bear he can get himself and Johnny out of this fix.

He needs it when he has to ride to Johnny’s rescue.

But before that we have Johnny and Sara, running across a desolate planet, trying to figure out what happened to all the people that were there 15 years ago, and trying to stay a half-step ahead of their pursuers.

It’s fascinating that the Special Forces have standing orders not to remain in contact with anyone they rescue. In the highly charged scenario of a hostage rescue, it’s not surprising that the hostage would bond with her rescuer, or even vice versa.

In this case, even though things proceed at a fairly rapid pace, it feels right. And it does take them several days, as well as a brief stop in relative safety, to finally act on their feelings. These are two people who both have a bunch of scars and a whole lot of PTSD, and who discover that they make each other strong in the broken places.

In addition to being terrific SFR, Hostage to the Stars would be a good story to introduce military romance/romantic suspense readers to the genre. While the interplanetary war and space service do add to the story, it’s also a well-done take on the hostage-falls-for-her-rescuer brand of romantic suspense.

I’m looking forward to going back and picking up the stories I’ve missed, and exploring this universe further.

Ice Red (Jael Wye)

Review by The Book Pushers (In an instance of synchronicity, the team at TBP was reading this book just as we were offering it for review. As a result, this review first appears at The Book Pushers website.)

***Possible trigger warning: this story contains a singular rape-themed scene where the female villain drugs and tortures the hero***
Ice Red, the first book in the Once Upon a Red World series, is a SciFi Romance loosely following a Snow White construct. The story takes place on Mars, some 300-plus years into the future. A Mars elevator and orbiting space station have been developed to enable more efficient travel from the planet’s surface to awaiting spaceships. Bianca’s father, the creator of the Mars space elevator, is about to embark a spaceship bound for Earth so he can help the Earther’s complete their elevator project according to his specs. This leaves Bianca’s step-mother, Victoria, in charge and forces Bianca in a position of having to prove her worth. Bianca is sent to the surface of Mars to complete the merger of a mine that Victoria wants to acquire for StarLine, only the owner, Cesare, isn’t interested in selling. He has secrets to protect in the mine and people’s lives on the line and isn’t about to let his mine fall into StarLine’s hands.

review-iceredI had a difficult time settling into this story. The narrative switched locations and POVs which affected the pace and made the pieces of the story slow to come together. Just as I was beginning to follow a character, the narrative would switch over to someone else in a different location. This made it hard for me to connect to the characters in the beginning and to really get a sense of where I was within the setting. The pace evened out as the story developed and the main characters came on scene together, but the approach used to introduce the story elements and the characters felt a bit choppy to me.

I found the story concept intriguing and enjoyed imagining life on Mars and the slow evolutionary process of making Mars habitable. I could tell a lot of thought went into the worldbuilding with descriptions of the various types of functional clothing, the different habsuites and locales, the rugged terrain, and various modes of transportation. Wye also took into account how Mars would affect the subsequent generations who were born there. As a result, native Martians took on their own unique characteristics. She also included social elements to the story rooted in the colonization and history of Mars and the impact that had on the current times. The writing style had an ease and overall smooth flow with a good balance between descriptive writing and keeping the action within the individual scenes moving forward. However, when it came to the characters and their feelings and motivations, I felt the narrative skewed a bit into Telling which detracted from my experience of the characters on the whole. I couldn’t help but see echoes of Firefly in the dialogue with the inclusion of Chinese phrases into the everyday English vernacular in addition to some cowboy/outback references. Although, here, the setting stayed primarily futuristic and didn’t have that full-out Western vibe.

While many of the SciFi elements worked for me, the romance aspect did not. The romance began with insta-lust attraction that both Bianca and Cesare tried to deny. Bianca tried to maintain her “Ice Princess” composure while Cesare kept everything fast and loose. They didn’t engage in meaningful conversations at an intimate level as each stayed focused on their respective goals. As a result, I didn’t feel connected to a growing personal relationship. They would slake their physical attraction and then go back to being distrustful of the other. What intimacy transpired, happened only within the inner dialogue of the respective character but it was never shared. All the romantic angst could have been resolved with a single, simple conversation, but neither one of them had the courage to be vulnerable and honest. Bianca seemed to purposefully avoid actual intimacy so as not to appear “clingy or needy” as if that made her strong. But it had the opposite affect on me. It takes courage to be vulnerable. You can be honest about your feelings, stand up for what you want and still walk away if you’re offered less than you need. That’s strength. Meanwhile, Cesare wouldn’t know intimacy if it smacked him in the face. So, in the end, the romantic tension felt contrived and the characters didn’t establish a romantic foundation that transcended physical attraction. I think I would have preferred that these two took their time in establishing a romance rather than forcing something into the confines of this story’s short timeline. Additionally, something about the language used to describe the sex scenes didn’t resonate with me: “his rod,” “her hot tab,” and mining terminology puns such as “his jack” or “jacking” and “[wanting] to drill you.” Maybe if I’d bought into their relationship and felt grounded to the characters I would have minded the language less. I’m not sure. But whatever the reason, it pulled me out of the scene every time.

This story had great potential for a truly evil villainess. Initially, Victoria’s character intrigued me with her blend of warped power trip, political maneuvering, hidden agendas, narcissism and just downright evilness. However, she didn’t maintain this interesting dynamic as she devolved into a rather two-dimensional sadistic megalomaniac with no agenda other than to grab power for power’s sake. By the end of the story she felt more caricature than character. I really, really did not like the end scenes between Victoria and Cesare. I don’t like rape-themed scenes. I especially don’t like it when drugs are used to cause the victim to respond against their will. And I really don’t like it when the villain uses it to torment whoever it is they are holding captive. Victoria drugged and tortured Cesare and taunted him about raping him, but was ultimately thwarted from completing the physical act of rape. However, it was uncomfortable and I didn’t like reading about it. I’ve come across this scenario a number of times in different books and I don’t understand its appeal as a plot device. By this time in the story, I had already lost interest in Victoria’s character and this scene confirmed why. I really couldn’t see the point of it all except as shock value. It did nothing to further Victoria’s storyline other than to highlight she had no real agenda—at least not one with any lasting impact on the series.

This story incorporated some vague references to an Aurora Project run by scientists working on rather questionable experiments. I suspect this group may be featured as the series progresses, however I couldn’t help but wonder if this story would have been stronger if the Aurora Project had featured more prominently. It might have given more depth to Victoria’s character and given her a purpose beyond her megalomaniacal personality. I did, however, find the “ghost” scene odd. It seemed so randomly placed. Up to this point, the narrative hadn’t provided any hint or connection to the “ghost” and then after that snippet scene, never referred to it again. It felt like an unanchored scene set adrift within the narrative. I think I know how the “ghost” might have tied into the conclusion of this story, but since it was never brought up, I can’t be sure. Which makes me wonder why it was there at all?

There were areas where this story worked for me, and others that left me wanting. Issues with the romance aside, Bianca was a capable, intelligent heroine who stayed focused on her goals and stepped up to the challenges in front of her. Even though she often wanted Cesare to come to her rescue, that didn’t stop her from taking action on her own. Cesare grew on me as I learned more about him. His character went deeper than first glances would show and it turned out he had an altruistic heart even if he had difficulty showing it. There was some stereotyping of villains in this story and an overall lack of depth to their characters. The worldbuilding was well done and once the main characters came together, the pace of the story began to smooth out a bit as the action ramped up. A solid foundation to the romance as well as more depth given to the primary villain would have made for a stronger story overall.

I give Ice Red a C+.

Mission to Mahjundar (Veronica Scott)

Review by Jo Jones

review-missiontomahjundarMission to Mahjundar started with great promise and, for me, ended with great disappointment. The promise was the first meeting between Mike and Shalira. Both were part of a crowd when a bomb went off and Mike kept Shalira from being trampled. Mike has already been identified as an off-worlder and we immediately find out that Shalira is blind. A quick meeting and some back-story later Mike and his sergeant are asked (or made) to accompany Shalira to meet her groom. That was the promise. Great start to the story and plenty of time for a relationship to develop.

The disappointment started soon after the journey began. Here was a really interesting strong female character that knows she is in danger. Instead of slowly building up to a relationship we get almost instant love and a lot of danger. The book became an action thriller. The characters went from one impossible-to-live-through situation to another and the focus of the book was on escaping each. By the third one, everything was so contrived that I wanted to throw my hands up in despair. Really!! The blind princess needed to see so she was no longer blind. They had a way off of the roof where they were trapped and waited to take it.

I also felt there was never enough world building or back-story for both the world Mike came from and the world Shalira lived in. Scott did a good job creating interesting and strong characters. What they needed was time to build a relationship. Instead they became the main characters in an action thriller.

This was so close to being a really good Science Fiction Romance. Instead it is just OK as the romance got lost in the action.

Rajasthani Moon (Lisabet Sarai)

Review by Toni Adams

I want to preface this review with a simple statement so everyone is clear on where I stand: I admire the author’s prose but most of the subject was definitely not in my realm of comfort.

If I were to attach the word “bondage” or “BDSM” to a novel, it could be taken mainly in three ways. One is complete excitement for those who are into this experience. Second would be mild curiousity. Third would be indifference.

I fall into the indifference category. I have read many books with these words tagged on and they barely passed to elicit any excitement at all. This novel will charge you up. Whether it’s charging your sensual drive or breaking point, you cannot read this through without an emotional attachment of some kind.

review-rajasthanimoonIf you consider being set up with fuzzy handcuffs as bondage, this novel will definitely rock your core and toss it over the wall.

It contains flogging, double penetration, female-to-female interaction, robotic-operated bondage, whipping, and dildos to name a few. If you’re searching the internet for these terms, then I will pause here so you can gain your breath back.

This was intense. This was such an intense read, I actually had to stop to take a breather. Sarai writes so well that you actually feel like you’re there. And what’s going on during those scenes can either make or break your sexual boundaries.

The whole novel almost reads like an elaborately produced pornography feature film. There is a pattern of exposition, sex scene, exposition, sex scene, repeat, and then hastily wrapped up end scene. I can easily see this on a feature film for Vivid entertainment or any major pornography film studio. If the entire novel was intentionally set up in this order, then I give my nod of gratitude. You can always skim through if you can’t stomach the graphic nature of the sexual scenes.

Our story involves a Cecily Harrowsmith. Cecily is a top notch spy (as we are told very repeatedly) with a mission from the Queen of England. The mission is to travel “secretly” to Rajasthan to figure out why they refuse to pay their taxes and how they are surviving without viridium, an energy rich mineral that England monopolizes. So insteand of flying discreetly (due to her fear of flying), our top notch spy travels in a carriage through the desert. We begin with her using a crab-like contraption to give herself some self-pleasure. While on a mission.

This was the first of many pauses when I kept reading the novel. She is a spy. On a mission. So she masturbates. Granted, I was amused and curious about this contraption. Must be a very convenient contraption but I also wondered about how one maintains its cleanliness. I also understand it must have been a long and boring journey through the desert. It’s just, well, you’re a spy,on duty, traveling through an unknown land. Shouldn’t you be focusing your attentions on studying the culture of where you’re going? Maybe practice your “secret identity”? I doubt focusing on your self pleasure would keep your senses honed to danger around you.

Oh, no. A highwayman just arrived. Who could have seen that coming?

The eye rolls are definitely spinning. I couldn’t help but laugh at this part. It was a very comical and embarassing situation. As the story progresses, I also just can’t help but wonder about Cecily’s ability as a spy. So many oppurtunities to fight, use her so-called master skills, and outsmart her captors, went to waste. Instead, there is some sort of flimsy excuse about it not being the right moment. Or even more frustrating, when she develops feelings out of nowhere for them. Seriously, nowhere. Her captors put her through intense and testing sexual acts. Acts that would elicit more emotions of embarrassment and vows of revenge. Yet, she has deep, romantic feelings. I refuse to see this as a romance. I honestly do.

Especially after the werewolf penetration scene. Yes, I honestly wrote that. That was when I was flung out of the story and had to stop. I was shocked. This is not the type of subject matter I prefer to read. I know a lot of readers enjoy this genre and the freedom it enables with its lack of sexual boundaries (or I should say, the more use of sexual bounding). It’s not mine and does not give me any sense of joy. I view the sexual scenes as acts in a pornography movie than any act of mutual love or understanding.

I do not partake in the BDSM community but I understand the core of its philosophy. I respect that BDSM is about trust. Trust that you can be open and free to one another without judgment or unwished harm. I feel this novel disobeys that core philosophy. Most of the sexual acts are initiated by the captors through cruel tactics with no regard to the wishes of the women. Even though there is one chapter that hints at the chagrin of one of the male characters, he remarks that both the men would have stopped if there was any indication that the women did not enjoy it. Oh I disagree completely. There were clear and repeated dialogues where Cecily voiced her discontent. The other woman partaking in these acts, Sarita, does not give any voice to her situation. However, based on Cecily’s perspective, it seems that Sarita does not enjoy the acts either.

Therefore, I view this novel as not of the BDSM category but pure unbounded fantasy. This is pure captor/kidnap fantasy. The novel is not meant to be valued for its story content but for its abilty to give you racy, steamy, gritty sexual scenes. The kind of scenes where you know it’s socially wrong and contemptible but it’s there. And you can’t help but read through and envision it. Sarai had written those scense so well, that you can smell the oil that is lathered upon the women. You can hear the snap of the leather. The sounds of slithering robotic manacles would give you shivers.

My major compaint is the lack of any substantial science fiction element in this novel. I am not counting the robotic arms or the dirigible. The viridium that “powers” the tecnology in England is a mineral. Or something that is described like a mineral. The “science fiction” elements were technology modifed for sexual needs or as tools. They were more of a filler. This novel is more of a fantasy with the thinnest wisps of science fiction.

Another small tidbit that annoyed me: if the captors enjoyed the smooth skin, why would they mar it with the flogging? Was the rajah just paying attention to Sarita now? I would have expected her smooth skin to be crisscrossed with scars if he had bestowed attention to her before. The men were whipping those women enough to draw blood. I suppose there was some sort of magical cream that could heal and vanish scars. I honestly hope so.

So you ask, why? Why did you review this book? I initally chose to book because it sounded different. Once I started reading, I quickly realized this was not the kind of adventure I usually pick. I kept reading though. Despite my jaw dropping open, my mouth going dry, and increasing awareness that I should not read this in public, I still kept reading. Sarai is a very talented writer. The type of writer that will grab a hold of your hand firmly (or apparently with nifty robot manacles) and coast you through the story. No matter how much you squirm, squawk, or squeal, you’re there and you’re experiencing it. As an erotica it is high on sex, low on story, so if you’re aiming for an unapologetic and proud presentation of carnal adventures, have a go at this.

Short Circuit Time (Diane Saxon)

Review by Toni Adams

How many of us had embarrassing attempts at showing our love when we were teenagers? Heck, who still has problems just with flirting? Side note: poking the abdominal side of your love interest is not flirting. It’s just a means of hiding your own blush.

Of course we all grow and learn something from those experiences. We learn to read others, analyze ourselves, grow stronger, and move on. There will still be those lingering doubts and gut wrenching regret. The dreaded chant of “if only…if only…” will begin.

review-shortcircuittimeShort Circuit Time grants the heroine a rare second chance. Zaphira is the daughter of a brillant scientist. In her teens, Zaphira had an unrelenting crush on his aide, Aiden. The large age gap kept Aiden frantically pushing her away even practically throwing her when she gave him a kiss. That was a long time ago before a horrible biological warfare in the form of a fever came. Now she has grown to be a young woman in her late twenties. Her brillant father has passed her away, so did her childhood crush Aiden, and so has most of the world. Zaphira is the last remaining survivor of the fever that struck down the humans.

She did survive and lives her days along with a pack of dogs. Until something strange has brewed up from the streem. An android that claims to know her. Even more astonishing, it’s Aiden.

Short Circuit Time is one of the few works I’ve read where the title sums up my overall feelings for it. It was too short! Way too short! There were some great parts in here (like really, steamy, great parts), great set up but it just speeds on through until the story comes into an abrupt unsatisfactory end. Not unsatisfactory like “thank goodness it’s over” more like “that’s it?!?!/ I want more!”. Which is great for the author since it garners interest but horribly frustrating for the reader.

There are so many questions I have for this novel. A lot of information was mentioned but not explored. How does the mechanics of the fever work since it was genetically based? Did something recognzie a part of the genome and change it? There seemed to be an plot convience influence from”World War Z” movie going on.

There’s a lot of gaps in explanation. Especially when it comes to the ending. It’s just too abrupt.Also,it’s kind of weird knowing that her father used time travel to bring her man so she can re-populate the earth. That can been seen as selfish, sweet, or weird. If that was my father doing this, it would be weird. Unless he brought me Chris Hemsworth. Then I will look the other way. Admiteedly he did do this by sending her who she wanted, Aiden. Yet Aiden is much,much older. So he sent his adult aide through time to re-populate the world with his daugheter who is much younger if they were sharing the same time line in this story. Still weird. Weird, weird, weird.

That kind of weirdness can be almost forgetten when there Zaphira proves to Aiden she is no longer a child. That was seriously a cool moment when she just flips over the wolf without even hestitating or whimpering. Bravo! Bravo! This unleahses Aiden’s vulnerabilty in his feelings for Zaphira and it is absolutely genuine.

What makes me smile in a goofy way over this short story is when he’s reattaching his skin parts.Aiden had emerged from the magical time traveling river in just his metallic android form. There is a loose explanation of traveling through time can burn through layers. Whatever this reason this gives a great scene of attaching lumps of skin that will grow on him. Like a android version of the chia pet. It is downright silly when it gets to his manly adventure parts. Not to be read in a public place or you may start snorting up the french fries. It’s pretty rare to see a genuine humorous moment in a science fiction novel.

For all of it’s great moments, the ending is eye-roll and big sigh worthy. It came off as too “happy ending” and did not fit in well with the story. Nor did it give a point to the whole story other than to reunite Aiden and Zaphira to knock boots. The explanation that the father sent Aiden to use Zaphira to repopulate the world due to immunity (once again, ew factor for me since it was the father’s plan). If so, then no, this plan sucks. The genetic pool would be completely narrow and not benefit saving mankind at all. How am I suppose to feel happy for these two to gain their second chance when most of the world perished? Sad to say but this would be a better set up as a tragic love story. Where Aiden visits Zaphira to extract her blood so that he can go back to a time where a vaccine or some some sort of preventable means can be made. The tragedy would be that time would have been altered and how would that bode well for the two? One idea that would have been preferred over the original ending. A lot of liberties can be taken with science fiction since multiple unknown variables are being played with. Let’s just not forget the variables that we do know from our science education. Or at least create a reason why that would be faulty in the story. Or just add more to the story. Seriously, add more to this story!

Overall, it’s a great introduction to the author. The story was unique enough that created a need for more. Humor, genuine scenes, and characters are great starts. As for the smexy scenes? Well done indeed. Once again, I want more.

Star Cruise: Outbreak (Veronica Scott)

Review by Marlene Harris

Four years ago, I reviewed Wreck of the Nebula Dream over at Reading Reality. And I loved it. The story is an action-adventure/science fiction romance re-telling of the wreck of the Titanic, released for the 100th anniversary of that real-life disaster.

The disaster on the Nebula Dream was every bit as crazed as the sinking of the Titanic – but only fictional lives were lost in the making of this story.

The author Veronica Scott has continued her exploration into the universe she created for Nebula Dream in her Sectors SF series. Book 3 in the series, Mission to Mahjundar was previously reviewed at SFRQ.

I haven’t read any of the books between Nebula Dream and Star Cruise: Outbreak. I don’t think it matters. I enjoyed Star Cruise Outbreak so much that I immediately purchased the previous and the next books in the series. (My review of book 7, Hostage to the Stars, appears earlier in this issue). It did help that I had read Wreck of the Nebula Dream before Outbreak. It’s not that the characters continue, but as both Nebula Dream and Outbreak are set on cruise ships, the disaster and the resulting changes in regulations, have some effect on Outbreak. But not, I think, enough to keep people from jumping right into the series at this point.

On the other hand, Wreck of the Nebula Dream was just plain good. So if you love SFR, why wouldn’t you read it?

Review-StarCruiseOutbreakBack to Star Cruise: Outbreak…the title does give a bit away. There’s obviously going to be an outbreak of something or something on this cruise. And it’s something all right.

Our heroine is Dr. Emily Shane, decorated war veteran, PTSD sufferer, and reluctant temporary Chief Medical Officer on the Nebula Zephyr. Her dad, also a doctor, pretty much diagnoses that the cure for Emily’s PTSD is to take what should be a paid vacation as ship’s doctor on a luxury starliner. And then he strategically makes sure she can’t refuse the posting.

Dad was right, even if a bit high-handed about it, but not quite in the way he planned. Serving on this cruise is the best thing that the “Angel of Fantalar” can do to find a way to occupy her time and energy – and the ship desperately needs a well-trained medic who won’t fold under extreme pressure to figure out how to treat the epidemic that breaks out among the 3,000 passengers on board.

At first, she thinks it’s a norovirus – and yes, that they are still around feels right. But when the disease mutates into more and deadlier strains, it is up to Emily and her makeshift crew to figure out the problem before it is too late. If the Nebula Zephyr becomes a plague ship, the captain will have to fly it into a sun to eradicate the disease. Along with everyone on board, including Emily and the man she has come to love.

Escape Rating B+: If you’ve ever read Stardoc by S.L. Viehl, there’s a resemblance if you squint a bit. In both cases, it’s the doctor who saves the day, not any of the more traditional warrior-type heroes (or even heroines). This is a story where smart wins out over brawn. And also over a few cases of idiocy.

Let’s just say that a few of the secondary/tertiary characters are not just eligible for the Darwin Award, they actually manage to receive it!

But Star Cruise: Outbreak is Emily’s story from beginning to end. She’s a marvelous character to follow. While we don’t see the military action that resulted in her unwanted monicker, the Angel of Fantalar, we do see what she did to earn it – through the eyes of Security Chief Jake Dilon, one of the Special Forces veterans who is still alive because of her heroism on that deadly beach.

Jake has had plenty of fantasies about the woman who kept him alive, but none of them live up to the reality of meeting his “angel”. She saved his life, and now he returns the favor. Among the crew of mostly military veterans, he introduces Emily to people who understand what she went through and just how difficult the recovery is. He gives her space in which to find herself again, and to eventually, slowly, carefully, fall in love.

When the outbreak occurs, it becomes instantly clear that not only does Emily need the Nebula Zephyr but it needs her. The previous (and missing) CMO just didn’t have the skill or the discipline to handle what hits them.

One of the unanswered questions in the entire story is the fate of that missing doctor. It was necessary for the story that he BE missing, but not ever learning his fate is a gaping hole. Chekhov’s gun was on the mantlepiece, but no one picked it up and fired it. Which niggles at this reader more than a bit.

The process of dealing with the outbreak is gripping from beginning to end. Because this series uses different characters and scenarios in each book, it wasn’t necessary that everyone survive – and that wouldn’t have been realistic. So the tension is always high.

There are a lot of little stories within the big story that stand out – people who do their utmost to help solve the outbreak, people who fall victim, and people who survive. It’s their stories that make the tale so fascinating, even though the eventual solution was just a bit deus ex machina.

If you like SFR, if you loved the Stardoc series, or if the episodes of Star Trek Next Gen where Dr. Beverly Crusher saved the day are your favorites, you’ll love Star Cruise: Outbreak.

Sky’s End (Leslie Young)

Review by Jo Jones

review-skysendSky’s End, Book One in the Cassiel Winters Series, is combination of Space Opera and Science Fiction Romance. It is also Lesley Young’s first book and she has produced an interesting story line.

The world Cassiel lives in comes to life pretty fast. It is a military academy in space and resembles the military academies of today. The danger in this world comes to life as Cassiel’s gift is revealed.

The plot has quite a few twists and turns. On the surface it is simple. Find the weapon and find Cassiel’s brother. Every action is a result of those two facts but look for the weapon to be a surprise and Cassiel’s brother is not where you expect.

The world, the plot, and the action kept me reading. I like the alien race that was created for this world. For me the one weakness in the story was the character development. Cassiel starts out unsure of herself, grows as the story progresses but still come across as very young. She spends so much time looking at hot male bodies it is hard to see her as anything more that a hormone obsessed teen (even though she is 21). King and Or’ic (the alien) are presented as the two love interests for Cassiel but the connection between them seemed weak. The one male I liked best (Hathaway the science geek) turned out to play a really minor role.

This is the first book in the series so even though it is SFR do not look for a HEA for Cassiel.

The Lady is Blue/Dragons of Vkani (Aurora Springer)

Review by Normalene Zeeman

review-dragonsofvkaniWhen scaled, humanoid refugees come to live on Eden, secret Terran agent, Dr. Lucy Stannis is tasked to learn as much about them as possible through the “blue” alien, Sa Kamaris. When, through various shared experiences, they fall in love, you know it might be a rocky relationship.

There is much more to the first book than that, as it nicely sets up the world and the alien color hierarchy. Many of the main characters experience stellar growth, but you really do need to read the first one to fully appreciate the second one. I did love the twist at the end of book one, but I’m not going to tell you what it is.

Dragons of Vkani starts about two years after the end of The Lady Is Blue. Lucy and Veedak have an 18-month old boy and some of the other characters also have inter-species relationships. When Lucy’s brother, a Trader on a traveling ship, lets her know he has made contact with Veedak’s sister—still on their home planet, Vkani—a decision is made to attempt her rescue and that of others who might like to relocate to Eden. Of course this does not go smoothly, but we learn about Veedak’s planet, some history of their race and his family and much about the conflict that caused them to leave the planet in the first place.

Once the team gets to the planet Vkani, the action gets more intense; although there is very little gore, violence abounds. There is not so much character development of existing characters here, but we do meet many new characters who fit nicely into the plotline and set us up for volume three. There is not much world building for Eden as it is an Earth-like planet, but I would have liked to know more about the history of how they got there and why Earth was not more involved in the story; the history of Vkani and how it developed was spectacular and I hope to learn more about is as the series progresses. I liked the world and the characters and will wait to see how it plays out in the next story.

Yours to Uncover: ES Siren #1 (Mel Teshco)

Review by The Book Pushers

Is she willing to sacrifice everything to keep her secret and her lover safe?

review-yourstouncoverIt’s the year 2202. Earth is grossly overpopulated and seriously polluted. Rita Songworth has spent half her twenty-two years trying to escape the dying planet. It’s taken the last five of those years to realize making it in the hard-ass infantry is her only way out, via space transporter Earth Ship Siren.

But the journey to Unity, the new colony, isn’t easy. Rita has to resist an attraction to hard, brutish prisoner, Tristan MacFallan, whose masterful hands create more than the beautiful art he’s been assigned to make. His forbidden touch affects her profoundly and he sees things in her no man ever has before. But obeying Zane, her ex-lover and malicious lieutenant, who is appointed to keeping the prisoners under guard, comes at a high price. Is she willing to sacrifice everything to keep her secret and her lover safe? [Blurb from Goodreads]

**Potential triggers: Physical/Sexual abuse towards women**

I am a sucker for ships traversing beyond the known universe to find a new place for humans, so when I read the blurb I was pretty excited. Unlike other stories I have read, this ship purposefully carried prisoners, not just people with either the money, precious perishable skills, good genes, or the known ability to reproduce. Granted the prisoners were supposed to provide hard labor and were viewed as disposable, but they had the opportunity for a new start if they survived their sentences.

I really wanted to like this story but unfortunately several elements didn’t work for me, one of which was the length. At less than a hundred pages, the complexity of the setting—backstories of the main characters and their conflicts—seemed delivered more through telling instead of showing, which left me doubting the emotional arcs, connections between characters, and their motivations.

Rita was in the hard-ass infantry and should have had some inner strength to survive so I didn’t understand why she initially became involved with Zane and how, given his treatment of her, she could easily trust someone else intimately. I also didn’t understand how Zane could have so much power, not just shipboard but in forming the complement of people transported on the ES Siren. Tristan was also a contradiction, convicted as a dangerous felon and therefore subject to additional restrictions, but given extra benefits to preserve his talent as a gifted artist until he crossed Zane.

I was glad to see Rita finally start to stand up for herself and what she wanted, but it was also evident Zane did not have any limits to what he would do when thwarted. Zane was also able to influence or scare others into doing what he wanted in his place. Since Rita made her move publicly, I really had the sense this story was left unfinished because, given Zane’s characterization so far, I couldn’t see him leaving Rita and Tristan alone.

Yours to Uncover had a lot of promise and possibility but sadly I was never able to completely buy into the characters, their motivation, emotional connections, and the intricacies of this shared world. I also had a severe issue regarding the lack of consequence for Zane and his actions. It made me think much less of those he worked for and really concerned for the success of the colony.

I give Yours to Uncover a D.

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