Friday, February 28, 2014

Fortune's Pawn (Paradox #1) by Rachel Bach

Deviana Morris is an armored combat mercenary obsessed with becoming the best in her home planet Paradox. To her, that means becoming part of the elite Devastator unit guarding the Sainted Paradoxian king. To achieve her goal, Devi takes a short cut by signing a one year contract as security in The Glorious Fool, a beat-up space ship rumored to be cursed where security officers rarely finish contracts because they die on the job.

Devi quickly finds out that this is true as the ship is attacked by either pirates or aliens almost everywhere they go. But what really intrigues her is the secrecy surrounding the ship's crew, particularly Captain Caldwell, his daughter Ren, and Rupert, the drool-worthy cook. Who are they, really? Devi's goes on a solo fact-finding mission to find out, but as she fights aliens, including the dangerous and dreaded xith'cal, ends up injured several times and later bitten, she begins to find some astonishing answers that place her bright future in jeopardy and her life in mortal danger from unexpected enemies.

Fortune's Pawn, by Rachel Bach is the first installment in her Paradox military science fiction series. I'm not going to lie, I had a few problems with a few "science" details that did not make sense to me throughout this story. Yet, I couldn't help but devour the book in one sitting, and my issues with those details didn't stop me from running to preorder the second book, Honor's Knight. Why is that?

Well, Fortune's Pawn is a fun space adventure. Fun with a capital "F." The pacing is fantastic with excellent action that's almost non-stop, it has an ongoing romance that I'm enjoying, there are great aliens with a few gruesome scenes to spice things up, and the overall mystery is so good that by the end my curiosity to find out what was really going on was killing me!

The other reason is the cast of crazy characters, in particular Deviana Morris. Devi is one of those strong, cocky, heroines with lots of swagger fueled by self-confidence and ambition, who displays her sensuality openly. Mind you, she's not a great detective, Devi's too obsessed with blood-lust, her expensive armor which she named Lady Gray, guns Sasha and Mia, and blade Phoebe, to really concentrate on the details. Somehow, though, she keeps it together long enough to find the facts. Devi is also a cold, fearless warrior, but she's not heartless. Actually, Devi is a piece of work! I loved her!

Rachel Bach's world is full of mystery. Earth has collapsed, but before that happened, humans colonized quite a few planets, and we know that at some point Terrans were at war with Paradox and their colonized planets. Also inhabiting this world are the feared and detested xith'cal, a lizard-like alien species, and the mysterious lelgis, beautiful transparent squid-like creatures made up mostly of a substance called plasmex.

Whatever Captain Caldswell, Ren, and Rupert are doing is dangerous work involving these different species and governments. That much we know. But, what are they doing? And why? Who are the mysterious humanoid alien-like beings that keep attacking the Fool, and are stronger than even Devi's armor. And, what are those little transparent bugs Devi keeps seeing all over the ship? There are many questions, some answered and others left to be answered in future installments.

This is not heavy military science-fiction filled with strategy as its central theme. This is a light, fun, space-opera (or space romp) with an excellent central character. Additionally, there's an intriguing and subtle political undercurrent to it, and the excellent mystery and great action adventure takes center stage. In Fortune's Pawn, there are a few revelations that wet the reader's appetite about the mystery and there is a satisfying conclusion. But, my goodness, it also leaves the reader gasping and wanting more. This series promises to be pure, unadulterated fun, (hey, it has a romance!) and I'm not going to miss it! I know it is just going to get better. :)

Category: Science Fiction/Action-Adventure
Series: Paradox Series
Publisher/Release date: Orbit/November 5, 2013
Grade: B

Visit Rachel Bach here.

Fortune's Pawn, Book #1
Honor's Knight, Book #2 - Released February 25, 2014
Heaven's Queen, Book #3 - Releasing April 22, 2014

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Mini-Impressions: Annihilation (Southern Reach Trilogy #1) by Jeff VanderMeer

Area X has been cut off from the rest of the continent for decades. Nature has reclaimed the last vestiges of human civilization. The first expedition returned with reports of a pristine, Edenic landscape; all the members of the second expedition committed suicide; the third expedition died in a hail of gunfire as its members turned on one another; the members of the eleventh expedition returned as shadows of their former selves, and within months of their return, all had died of aggressive cancer.

This is the twelfth expedition.

Their group is made up of four women: an anthropologist; a surveyor; a psychologist, the de facto leader; and our narrator, a biologist. Their mission is to map the terrain and collect specimens; to record all their observations, scientific and otherwise, of their surroundings and of one another; and, above all, to avoid being contaminated by Area X itself.

They arrive expecting the unexpected, and Area X delivers—they discover a massive topographic anomaly and life forms that surpass understanding—but it’s the surprises that came across the border with them, and the secrets the expedition members are keeping from one another, that change everything.
Science fiction? The "new weird"? Speculative fiction horror twisted into the "new weird"? Whatever the label, Jeff VanderMeer hit the spot with this book. The first book in the Southern Reach Trilogy, Annihilation is a great example of a Lovecratian-based, fungi infected (or is it colonized?) piece. With its distant, disconnected narration, heavy atmosphere, tense horror-filled moments, and excellent prose, it is one of the most memorable books I've read this year so far. Yet, the story is not finished. . . this is just the beginning of what promises to be a fantastic trip (read) when fully realized since obviously the overall story arc has a long way to go. Annihilation leaves the reader, at least it left me, haunted as the progression of events occurring in Area X affect the unnamed biologist and her three companions. Highly recommended.

Annihilation (Southern Reach #1)
Authority (Southern Reach #2) Releasing May 6, 2014
Acceptance (Southern Reach #3) Releasing September, 2014

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Red Caps: New Fairy Tales for Out of the Ordinary Readers by Steve Berman

Do you know what I love about Steve Berman's young adult stories? His characters always come across as young adults, neither too young nor too old. And, whether his short stories are strictly contemporary, speculative fiction or fairy tales, the core of the queer themes have weight and meaning, and there's always a sense of fun to be found in them -- creepy, adventurous, romantic, weird, fun. Their endings vary from the happy to the memorable, to the twisty weird, but as a whole they usually have a positive message.

That's what you will find in Red Caps: New Fairy Tales for Out of the Ordinary Readers. Thirteen stories where today's queer youth face contemporary issues, except that in most of them there's a sprinkle of magic, a dose of the unexplained, encounters with ghosts and/or mythological beings, loads of imagination, a bit of horror here and there, and plenty of atmosphere to reel the reader in. Add fifty original illustrations contributed by thirteen different artists and you have a stand out collection that any young adult (or lover of LGBT YA literature) would be proud to own.

All of Berman's stories have something to offer. For example, "The Harvestbuck" has an ambiguous ending, yet it is one of the most atmospheric, hair-raising yarns in this collection. "Three on a Match," on the other hand becomes riveting due to the plot's evolution and ending. "Worse than Alligators" is a horror piece that begins with a fun, relaxed atmosphere that evolves into a nightmare. And "Gomorrahs of the Deep, a Musical Coming Someday to Off-Broadway" is Berman's musical! Yes, he wrote a musical about Melville and Moby Dick that is both creative and amusing.

"Texting in Bed" from Cruel Movember
Illustration by Plunderpuss*
There are also two fantasy fairy tales, for girls, "Thimbleriggery and Fledlings" the wizard's daughter finds freedom through self-confidence and is infused with magic. And in "Steeped in Debt to the Chimney-pots," a quasi-Victorian piece, an ex-chimney boy steals from the fairy folk and falls for one of them. I was swept away into the world of this fairy tale, and loved the illustrations that fit this piece to perfection.

With one exception, all the stories in this collection have been previously published in anthologies and/or magazines. The only original piece, "A Calenture of the Jungle" begins with two young Jewish girls, one with too much imagination and the other with none, falling into a sort of frantic attraction fueled by role play, and evolves into an adventure with a twisty role-reversal, ending in a feverish dream-like madness where the narrator's imagination overtakes reality.

I do have particular favorites, one of them is "Cruel Movember," the only strictly contemporary young adult piece included. In this great piece boyfriends Beau and Easton learn the importance of communication in a relationship and how to lend support and understanding during rough times when during the month of November, Easton participates in the Movember mustache-wearing charity, causing havoc in school and embarrassing Beau.

From Bittersweet
Illustration by Kimball Davis**
In "Persimmon, Teeth and Boys," another favorite, Cecil, a nerdy black high school kid who has dealt with labels throughout high school, seeks help from a twisted tooth sprite and gains clarity about those labels and awareness about the attraction he feels for bright, brave, out and proud Bergen. "Bittersweet," another contemporary young adult piece with just a hint of magic, highlights relationships and confidence-building through two boys dealing with health problems as one goes into surgery and both suffer from fear and doubts.

I previously read and loved the following three stories and that still holds. I still believe "All Smiles" is a fantastic young adult speculative fiction piece with a hint of horror, great action and a wonderful ending. "Most Likely," a contemporary romance-based story with a speculative fiction flavor is memorable for the great sibling relationship and sweet ending.

And, the collection ends with the magnificently spun "Only Lost Boys are Found." Beautifully illustrated by Brian Britigan, this is a rescue adventure that takes the reader through a winding world of closets, where kids may hide or find a door to freedom while encountering pirates, ninjas, remorseful siblings, friends or boyfriends, and where reality and fantasy are seamlessly woven into my very favorite short story by Steve Berman. Recommended.

Category: LGBT Young Adult Speculative Fiction
Series: None
Publisher/Release Date: Lethe Press/February 14, 2014
Source: eARC from Publisher/Purchased print book
Grade: B+

Visit Lethe Press here.

Illustrations posted with permission from the publisher. © 2014 Lethe Press, Plunderpuss*  © 2014 Lethe Press, Kimball Davis**

Saturday, February 15, 2014

January 2014: Recap + Update

In January I reviewed and completed the 2014 Sci-Fi Experience, closed the year, and mostly reviewed books read during December 2013. So, January was a very busy month for me, at least blogging-wise, and my reading wasn't too bad either.

Total books read: 15
Contemporary: 3
Historical Romance: 1
Urban Fantasy: 1
Fantasy: 1
Science Fiction: 2

Favorite Books from books graded:
Ancillary Justice (Imperial Radch #1) by Ann Leckie: A
Now and Forever by Logan Belle: A

Clean Sweep (Inn Keeper Chronicles #1) by Ilona Andrews: B+
Foolish Hearts: New Gay Fiction ed. by Timothy J. Lambert & R.D. Cochrane: B+
Fortune's Pawn (Paradox #1) by Rachel Bach: B
One White Rose (The Clayborne Brides #2) by Julie Garwood: B
Can't Buy Me Love by Molly O'Keefe: B-
My Heartache Cowboy (The Cowboys #2) by Z.A. Maxfield: B-
Spook Squad (PsyCop #7) by Jordan Castillo Price: C
Exit Strategy (Nadia Strafford #1) by Kelley Armstrong: C
Behind the Curtain by Amy Lane: C-
Love Me Back to Life by M.L. Rhodes: D

Upcoming Reviews:
Red Caps: New Fairy Tales for Out of the Ordinary Reader by Steve Berman
Scruffians: Stories of Better Sodomites by Hal Duncan

Written in Read: A Novel of the Others by Anne Bishop


If you read my blog, you may have read in a previous post that my husband was hospitalized on February 2nd. He came home this past week and is recuperating and doing better every day! Thanks to all of you who called, emailed and left comments. Your support is sincerely appreciated! [De todo corazón. . .]  I've been home with him playing "nurse," unable to spare time for blogging or reading. Things, however, are slowing down at home and hopefully by next week I'll be able to catch up with reviews and reading. :)

I hope you are all having a fantastic weekend. Keep dry & warm… enjoy the snow!

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Upcoming Releases: Contemporary Romance, Erotica & Suspense

I love contemporaries -- romance, erotic and suspense. Following I've highlighted a few upcoming releases I'm looking forward to reading in the near future.

MEGAN HART: Every Part of You Serial

Every Part of You: Tempts Me, Part #1 -- Released February 4, 2014 by St. Martin Griffin
She likes to watch. He likes to keep hidden. Total opposites on a collision course to a relationship neither can deny.

Simone Kahan's been watching Elliott Anderson through her office window for months. He likes to bring women back to his office for late-night trysts, and Simone enjoys her voyeurism until one night, Elliott appears to go too far with his date. The other woman might not be into spanking, but Simone is, and when she meets Elliott in the elevator later that night, she makes sure he’s intrigued enough by her to ask her to go with him to the party he no longer has a date for.

Thrown together by circumstances he’d never have imagined, Elliott isn’t sure what to think about Simone. She’s nothing like the women he normally dates, but something about her draws him in until he can’t stop himself from wanting her…until their goodnight kiss becomes something harder. Harsher. Simone responds to his rough hands as no woman ever has, and Elliott’s not ready to pursue what he’s always told himself is wrong.
A contemporary erotic serial with subsequent episodes released as follows:
Every Part of You: Resists Me #2 - Releasing February 18, 2014
Every Part of You: Taunts Me #3 - Releasing March 4, 2014
Every Part of You: Denies Me #4 - Releasing March 18, 2014
Every Part of You: Takes Me #5 - Releasing April 1, 2014


Her Kind of Trouble: Back to You -- Releasing March 18, 2014 (Print ed.) April 1, 2014 (Kindle ed.) by Harlequin Superromance
It takes one to know one

The moment Vivian Walker spies Seth Anderson she knows they're a match made in hedonistic pleasure. And everything that happens between them proves her right. Even better, they both agree their one night together is all they'll share.

Now, years later, Seth remains one of Vivian's favorite memories. Surely the sizzling chemistry has faded, though, right? Apparently not. Because when she sees him again he's still sinfully attractive. More than that, she actually likes the man he is. When Seth suddenly becomes a full-time dad to a newborn, Vivian falls hard. Despite the changes, however, she knows Seth will never settle down. And he will definitely never commit to one woman. So she needs to strengthen her defenses before she gets into real trouble!


The Collector -- Releasing April 14, 2014 by Putnam Adult
When professional house-sitter Lila Emerson witnesses a murder/suicide from her current apartment-sitting job, life as she knows it takes a dramatic turn. Suddenly, the woman with no permanent ties finds herself almost wishing for one. . . .
Artist Ashton Archer knows his brother isn’t capable of violence—against himself or others. He recruits Lila, the only eyewitness, to help him uncover what happened. Ash longs to paint her as intensely as he hungers to touch her. But their investigation draws them into a rarified circle where priceless antiques are bought, sold, gambled away, and stolen, where what you possess is who you are, and where what you desire becomes a deadly obsession. . . .

KATE ANGELL: Barefoot Williams Series

No Sunshine When She's Gone -- Releasing April 29, 2014 by Kensington Books
Life's a Beach

Though his family owns the charming beachside town of Barefoot William, Aidan Cates is as down-to-earth as the locals. He's also practical to a fault and doesn't believe some psychic on the boardwalk can predict his future.

Jillie Mac is as free as an ocean breeze, so when the hot stranger and his date mistake her for a fortune teller, she's ready to have some fun. But one devastating secret told, one mistaken identity revealed, and numerous long summer nights later, it's Jillie and Aidan who discover that sometimes love comes with a simple twist of fate.


It Happened One Wedding -- Releasing May 6, 2014 by Penguin Group USA

After a humiliating end to her engagement, investment banker Sidney Sinclair is done with commitment-phobic men. But when her sister winds up engaged after a whirlwind courtship, Sidney is thrown into close contact with exactly the kind of sexy playboy she wants to avoid—the gorgeous best man. She’s stuck with him, for better or worse, until her sister walks down the aisle, but that doesn’t mean she has to give in to his smooth advances, no matter how tempting they are…


Special agent Vaughn Roberts always gets his man on the job and his woman in bed. So Sidney’s refusal to fall for his charms only makes him more determined to win over the cool and confident redhead. Only what starts out as a battle of wills ends up as a serious play for her heart. Because the one woman who refuses to be caught may be the only one Vaughn can’t live without…

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Minis: Ilona Andrews, Jordan Castillo Price, Amy Lane

CLEAN SWEEP (Innkeeper Chronicles #1) by Ilona Andrews
(Self-published, December 20, 2013)

On the outside, Dina Demille is the epitome of normal. She runs a quaint Victorian Bed and Breakfast in a small Texas town, owns a Shih Tzu named Beast, and is a perfect neighbor, whose biggest problem should be what to serve her guests for breakfast. But Dina is...different: Her broom is a deadly weapon; her Inn is magic and thinks for itself. Meant to be a lodging for otherworldly visitors, the only permanent guest is a retired Galactic aristocrat who can’t leave the grounds because she’s responsible for the deaths of millions and someone might shoot her on sight. Under the circumstances, "normal" is a bit of a stretch for Dina.

And now, something with wicked claws and deepwater teeth has begun to hunt at night....Feeling responsible for her neighbors, Dina decides to get involved. Before long, she has to juggle dealing with the annoyingly attractive, ex-military, new neighbor, Sean Evans—an alpha-strain werewolf—and the equally arresting cosmic vampire soldier, Arland, while trying to keep her inn and its guests safe. But the enemy she’s facing is unlike anything she’s ever encountered before. It’s smart, vicious, and lethal, and putting herself between this creature and her neighbors might just cost her everything.
Clean Sweep is a great combination of urban fantasy and science fiction. I love the world-building with a magic Inn, a powerful Innkeeper, a fresh look at shifter werewolves and vampires, and some pretty strange rules. The action is almost non-stop with Dina as the fabulous central character, werewolf Sean Evans playing the perfect romantic interest, and cosmic vampire soldier Arland coming in to give him some competition in the last third of the book.

I loved the ongoing humorous dialog and hilarious moments that happen between Dina and Sean, and the way the two learn how to work with each other. There is some great chemistry there between them that I hope will be further explored in future installments. But they are all fighting a dangerous monster on the loose, and there is enough action and gruesome scenes to satisfy urban fantasy fans. My favorite scenes, however, have to be when the Inn uses its magic through Dina and when her Shih Tzu dog, Beast, shows his true nature. Clean Sweep is a different, fresh read from the Ilona Andrews writing team. I know this story was developed at their website and the next installment is on the works, but I won't read it until it is done. I hope they hurry because I can't wait! Grade: B+

SPOOK SQUAD (Psy/Cop #7) by Jordan Castillo Price
(JCP Books, August 30, 2013)

Everyone enjoys peace and tranquility, and Victor Bayne is no exception. He goes to great lengths to maintain a harmonious home with his partner, Jacob. Although the cannery is huge, it’s grown difficult to avoid the elephant in the room…the elephant with the letters FPMP scrawled on its hide.

Once Jacob surrendered his PsyCop badge, he infiltrated the Federal Psychic Monitoring Program. In his typical restrained fashion, he hasn’t been sharing much about what he actually does behind its vigilantly guarded doors. And true to form, Vic hasn’t asked. In fact, he would prefer not to think about the FPMP at all, since he’s owed Director Dreyfuss an exorcism since their private flight to PsyTrain.

While Vic has successfully avoided FPMP entanglement for several months, now his debt has finally come due.
A transitional book in this excellent urban fantasy series, Spook Squad is about changes, closing old threads from previous installments and opening new ones to be addressed in the future. The story is absorbing enough, but there are too many pieces of the puzzle left dangling to make this more than a bridge read. Additionally, favorite recurring characters disappointingly act a bit out of character. Vic, Jake, Crash, and their little crew of close friends spend little time together, so missing and sorely missed are those tight emotional ties between favorite characters. Still, this is a favorite urban fantasy series and I look forward to the next installment. Grade: C+

(Dreamspinner Press, January 6, 2014)

Dawson Barnes recognizes his world is very small and very charmed. Running his community college theater like a petty god, he and his best friend, Benji know they'll succeed as stage techs after graduation. His father adores him, Benji would die for him, and Dawson never doubted the safety net of his family, even when life hit him below the belt.

But nothing prepared him for falling on Jared Emory's head.

Aloof dance superstar Jared is a sweet, vulnerable man and Dawson's life suits him like a fitted ballet slipper. They forge a long-distance romance from their love of the theater and the magic of Denny's. At first it's perfect: Dawson gets periodic visits and nookie from a gorgeous man who “gets” him—and Jared gets respite from the ultra-competitive world of dancing that almost consumed him.

That is until Jared shows up sick and desperate and Dawson finally sees the distance between them concealed painful things Jared kept inside. If he doesn’t grow up—and fast—his "superstar" might not survive his own weaknesses. That would be a shame, because the real, fragile Jared that Dawson sees behind the curtain is the person he can see spending his life with.
I'm a bit perplexed. I don't know what happened because from the beginning I loved the premise for Behind the Curtain, the characters -- Dawson, Jared, and Dawson's best friend Benji -- and how the story was evolving,. Unfortunately about half-way through this book I became tired of Dawson, Benji and the rest of their friends as they went about the daily grind, or whatever, which seemed to be explained in minute detail. I began skimming this book (something I rarely do), and finished it only because I skimmed. This is not a good thing. To me that's a sign that I'm either bored or just not interested. Anyway, by the time I reached the meaty part involving Jared, all the emotional punch was gone. It's a good story that grabbed my attention and engaged me in the beginning, it just did not keep me there. Grade: C-


PERSONAL NOTE: This past week I almost lost my husband to a pulmonary embolism and other complications. He is still hospitalized, but out of danger and under observation. He's the type of man who makes lemonade out of lemons and his fantastic outlook and incredible disposition got him, and me, through it all. Second chances. Sometimes we get them and we must make the best, tastiest, lemonade ever!! I'm finally home getting ready to do just that thanks to a fantastic team of surgeons and nurses who worked tirelessly day and night to give us that opportunity.

John wants me to read or do something to begin the process of getting things back to "normal." There you have it hon, I posted something. . . :)