Touched by an Alien by Gini Koch

Look at the cover! I love it. This cover plus this title = WIN.  I don’t think another title has caught the attention of the people around me as much as this one, but it’s unabashed in advertising what the book is about, which is a tongue-in-cheek action story about men-in-black and alien parasites.

The Premise: Walking back to her car in Pueblo Caliente, Arizona after a long day of jury duty, Katherine Katt witnesses an unbelievable event. She watches as a man who was raging at his wife after a traffic accident, suddenly change into a terrifying monster. People are screaming and running, except Kitty, who immediately springs into action to kill him. Shortly thereafter, she’s surrounded by good-looking Men-in-Black-Armani, who want Kitty to join their organization. It doesn’t take long for Kitty to figure out what’s going on, using her smarts to read between the lines and figure out what this organization really is (and what it has been doing wrong). In the meantime, handsome agent Jeff Martini makes it clear he’s pursuing her, but it’s hate-at-first sight (or is it?) from his cousin Christopher.

Read an excerpt of Touched by an Alien here.

My Thoughts: I think that the cover and the title for this book are perfect. They both convey the outlandish premise, the action, and the romance to be found inside. I’m really pleased that they are an ideal match for the story.  It feels good to have expectations because of a cover, and then for the story to deliver on them.

I think that many people would compare this to the Men In Black movies because of the similarities in the humor, aliens, and action, but I’d call it “Men in Black from the point of view of the woman who saves everybody”.  It’s a refreshingly original story despite the this inevitable comparison however. Kitty’s voice is unique in this genre – very fresh and irreverent without becoming irritatingly so. It has a light urban fantasy feel because of this voice, and I would say that Touched by an Alien is to science fiction as Lisa Shearin’s Raine Benares series (complete with hunky men everywhere).

From the get-go this book doesn’t take itself seriously. The world building shows the reader glimpses of ideas from comic books and movies, pop culture and history, but it’s a chaotic mix which isn’t really hard science.  It’s enjoyable if you just take the idea of alien parasites flying through space, attracted to people with volatile emotions, and the Alpha Centurians who have come to Earth to help defend it at face value.  Think about it too much and you’ll probably find holes. I think for the most part I was able to just read and enjoy what I read.

Kitty is likable in that she’s a heroine who thinks very well on her feet and doesn’t let people tell her she can’t do something. She goes for things without fear which had me cheering for her from the very beginning. When she first took the information from the Men-in-Black and figured out things they weren’t telling her, I was impressed. Her conversations where she explains her brilliant deductions along with the many question and answer sessions she shares with other characters is a way to convey information to the reader. It becomes an integral part of her personality, but when she kept doing this throughout the book, it felt like a technique that wore a bit thin for me, but I didn’t see anyone else comment on this, so perhaps it’s a personal preference. It also made things I found obvious but which Kitty hadn’t realized yet really glaring. At 389 pages, this book is a bit longer than the usual 300 or so, and there’s a lot of information and explanation of the aliens along with the breakneck action as Kitty and her agency fight the manifestations of Superbeings out to destroy them.

Kitty’s smarts didn’t come out of thin air – so when her mom and dad show up in the picture, it’s funny to see them make the same deductions that Kitty does. And then there’s of course the people of the secret agency.  Jeff and Christopher are the two who have the biggest parts of the plot, as the leaders of their particular divisions and in their complicated relationships with each other and with Kitty. I found a lot of the characters at the agency likable – most of them are nice and brave and smart, but since this is mostly a lighthearted story, the good guys are good, and the bad guys are very evil.

The romance in this book is mostly straightforward (there’s a bump along the way), and runs as a secondary story parallel to the main action. There are sex scenes that surprised me (in both timing and execution)!

Overall: This is a story that’s fun and flippant without crossing into campy or annoying. I’d recommend if you enjoy light science fiction, romance, and quick-thinking heroines with a irreverent voice. If you enjoy Lisa Shearin’s Raine Benares series I think you would like this one too, as both books have a heroine with a fresh, first person point of view, in a genre that usually doesn’t have that. I had a good time reading this, and plan to get the next book: Alien Tango (which has another awesome cover!) when it comes out in December.

Buy: Amazon | Powells | The Book Depository

Other reviews:
Katiebabs – B+
Tempting Persephone – loved it

Gini Koch interview @ Tempting Persephone (and Giveaway!! Ends May 28th)
Gini Koch’s website

Inside Out by Maria V. Snyder

Inside Out (Harlequin Teen)
Maria V. Snyder

I got a copy of this book for review from the publisher, HarlequinTeen, through NetGalley.

The Premise: Trella is a scrub, a worker who cleans pipes and air ducts in the world of Inside. She’s a loner and has been nicknamed The Queen of the Pipes because of her habit of hiding and sleeping in them. She hates the scrubs and her job, and her only friend is Cog, one of her care mates. Cog’s a dreamer and popular with the scrubs. He believes in Gateway, a way out of Inside, and one day introduces Trella to a prophet who claims he can prove it’s existence. Broken Man, the prophet, once lived among the Uppers, the group that lives above the scrubs, and he claims he hid some disks above his sleeping quarters before he was captured by the Population Control Police (aka the Pop Cops). He asks Trella to try to get the disks but when she’s almost caught, it unleashes a series of events that changes Inside forever.

Read an excerpt of Ch 1-3 of Inside Out

My Thoughts: I *loved* Snyder’s first book Poison Study, but after that one I didn’t find myself as in love with the rest of the series and I didn’t really have high expectations of Inside Out. I was wrong. I started it late at night thinking I’d read a couple of pages and then go to bed, but before I knew it I was 60 pages in and not wanting to go to sleep. Eventually there were some lulls for me in the reading but for the most part I found the book an easy read.

I think it hits a few things that I personally like in my books:

  • A strong female protagonist with a great voice – I’m glad I liked the main character because it’s from her first person POV. At first Trella is a cynical loner who thinks she knows everything, but as the book continues she becomes more positive. She’s smart, she’s resourceful, and she’s also growing and learning that her preconceptions need to be questioned. I loved seeing how she changed from when we first meet her when Inside Out begins and when the book ended. I think it helps that I never disliked Trella even when she was negative. She had some bad experiences when she was young and she closed herself from others and she built a wall around herself. I couldn’t blame her for it.
  • Strong relationships – I liked how Cog’s personality was the complete opposite of Trella’s, but he still supported her and was a positive force in her life. I loved Cog. I think we should all have one in our lives – the friend who is open and genuinely LIKES people. I liked how he accepted Trella no matter what.
  • Great world building – At first I wasn’t sure what to make of Inside, but once I decided to imagine something like the City of Ember, I imagined the world as a maze of white corridors and rooms, lots of people wearing colored-coded jumpsuits and endless pipes and ducts. And it’s an integral part of the story. I already like science fiction so I warmed to the world quickly.
  • A little bit of romance – it’s not a big focus and the romantic interest has a small role, but it was a nice counterpart to all of Trella’s stress to have one person, Riley, a boy who is an Upper, who had her relaxing her constant guard.

When I look at some of the other blogger’s reviews of this book I was initially surprised to find negative reviews. The problem it seems is that the world building can feel too confusing and Trella can come off as unlikeable. I am more surprised that people didn’t like Trella than I am about the world building. I will agree that the dimensions of Inside plus imagining a three dimensional blueprint of it can get tedious at times. There is some awkwardness in describing Inside as a tic-tac-toe board in 3D, and then labeling each square, and I skimmed over the explanation of weeks and centiweeks, workdays of 10 hours on, and 10 hours off. I am still iffy on Trella’s age in our system.. I think it’s 17 years old. But Trella never really felt unlikeable to me. Anyway, it just illustrates how you never know what will make or break a book for people!

The ending to this book has a bit of a surprise to it, but in a good way I think. The book slowly adds up to the end, and I had my suspicions for a while but I still liked the way Snyder presented it. I felt that the book ended quite nicely and I am not sure what the author can come up with for the next book Outside In. I hope it’s something good because she set the bar high for me with Inside Out.

Overall: This went above my expectations and I really enjoyed this young adult science fiction story. I felt satisfied by the way things ended – it got a rare happy sigh from me. I recommend it highly, but I think you have to be a reader who likes imperfect protagonists and has patience for confusing world building.

Bonus – Check out the Inside Out website
(there’s a quiz to see what you’d be assigned to in Inside. I got ” INVALID: You are too confounding to place. Inside has no use for anomalies. Report directly to the Chomper.”  *CRY*!?)

Buy: Amazon | Powells

Other reviews (mix of disliked and really liked)
Book Love Affair (7 out of 10)
Genre Reviews – 4 pints of blood (out of 5)
Reading with Tequila (5 shots out of 5)
Lurv a la Mode – 4 out of 5 scoops
The Last Blog in the Universe – a negative review
Tez Says – found the concept befuddling
Presenting Lenore – 5 zombie chickens (out of 5)

Book Trailer:

Rebels and Lovers by Linnea Sinclair

Rebels and Lovers
Linnea Sinclair

Linnea Sinclair was kind enough to send me an eARC of her newest book in the Dock Five Universe, Rebels and Lovers.

The Dock Five Universe series so far:
1. Gabriel’s Ghost (reviewed here: https://i2.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/livejournal_com.gif, with addendum here:https://i2.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/livejournal_com.gif)
2. Shades of Dark (reviewed here:https://i2.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/livejournal_com.gif)
3. Hope’s Folly (reviewed here:https://i2.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/livejournal_com.gifhttps://i0.wp.com/i58.photobucket.com/albums/g254/jayamei2/wordpress.jpg)
4. Rebels and Lovers

******* Warning: VERY MILD SPOILER about Philip Guthrie FOR THE FIRST TWO BOOKS (although I think this book can be read without reading them) ******

The Premise: In Hope’s Folly, the focus was on Admiral Philip Guthrie, a commander of rebel forces of the Alliance. Now the focus on one of his brothers: Devin. Devin Guthrie is the youngest Guthrie brother, and the quiet, numbers crunching, computer guru. He’s had a crush on Makaiden Griggs for years, but she was married and in his family’s employ as a captain of one of their many private ships. And in the aftermath of his brother’s defection from the Empire, Devin is being pushed to marry someone the family approves of. When Devin’s nephew Trip, heir to the Guthrie empire goes missing, Devin takes action to find him and in the process Devin and Makaiden cross paths once more.

My Thoughts: This is a book that stands enough on it’s own that I think you will be OK reading it without reading the first three books. Past characters make very small cameos or are talked about while they are off-screen, but aren’t the vital to the story. I think that Sinclair does enough explaining in the first few chapters that a reader will have the basics – that the Guthries are a wealthy family with lots of holdings and with a second son who has rebelled against the current regime. Although that does color Devin’s current situation, the focus is squarely on Devin and his problems, and since he’s a character who hasn’t really shown up till now, you don’t need to have read past books.

The book is action packed as Makaiden, Devin, and Barthol, a long time Guthrie employee with an Imp-Sec background protect Trip and try to discover who is behind the security breaches on the Guthrie properties and the murder of Trip’s bodyguard. The world building in this book is what I expect from Sinclair now – it’s seamless. She makes it look easy and believable. The action too is well paced.  It’s a game of chase as Devin and friends stay ahead of whoever is following them, while trying to learn as much as possible why the bad guys are so interested in Trip. I had my guess who was behind their problems but I was perplexed as to why until the end. The surprising accomplice was also something I suspected but I saw in the review I’m linking below that it was unexpected to others.

In Rebels and Lovers we get a closer view of the Guthrie family than we ever had before. Details about the family dynamics and holdings come to light. I didn’t know that the patriarch, J.M. had such power over his children, or what roles each of his sons had in the family company. It was interesting to find out what Guthries had similar traits and how they got along with each other.

Since I have a soft spot for geeks, I liked Devin’s character. He’s not comfortable in social situations, but he’s good at his job as a senior analyst at his firm. His geekiness does not mean he’s weak or incapable. The only big problem he has is knowing how to tell Makaiden that she means something to him.

Devin thinks that Makaiden is married and in love with her husband Kiler. When Kiler was fired from the Guthrie employ, she left with him.  Meanwhile Makaiden believes that her low beginnings would repel Devin an the rest of his family. This is where all the romantic conflict stems. I understood Devin’s point of view, but I got a little tired of Makaiden being so easy to jump to conclusions before talking to Devin about her fears. I’m not sure if this is very healthy. She often spends time assuming how Devin will feel and acts based on these assumptions. I was expecting the two of them to resolve this issue by the time the book ended so I was surprised they never really do. Maybe their talk happened off the page, or suddenly became a non issue after they survive near death in the climax. The ending threw me a little because it felt rushed after the rest of the book. It was a summarized version of things tidily and quickly wrapped up and I wanted more than what I got.

This book comes out March 23

Overall: It felt like classic Linnea Sinclair so it was what I expected and wanted to read. A straightforward science fiction romance, with the emphasis on a relationship amid action packed space opera. No frills added. Despite wishing the ending wasn’t so abrupt, I enjoyed this one.

Buy: Amazon | Powells

Cover comment: Whoever did the cover for this book did try to get models that looked like the characters. Devin has glasses and Makaiden has short blond hair. Not too bad..

Other reviews:
Jace Scribbles (conversational review) – 4 to 4.5 out of 5 (I found myself agreeing more than disagreeing with this review)

Book trailer:

War of the Soulites by Natasha Bennett

The author offered me an ecopy of this novella length story (about 176 pages in my ereader) to review last month.

The Premise: Captain Renolds Osiris is a first time captain after 15 years at a desk job, his second in command, Marcus Collingway, was a resistance fighter responsible for the deaths of thousands, his security chief Telsia is another cold-blooded killer, and the rest of his crew is mostly inexperienced. To top all that off, their ship, the Vigilant may be newly overhauled, but it has a gruesome past. It’s the site where the previous crew went mad and killed each other. Only one survivor made it. And that’s just the beginning because on their maiden voyage, barely a day in space, they’re attacked by an alien race called the Soulites.

Excerpt of War of the Soulites

My Thoughts: The author has created a cast of gray characters – they aren’t always doing the right things, people don’t like each other, they believe things about one another that may be untrue, but somehow they have to learn to work together. There is no one main character that is the focus. The third person narration shifts between members the Vigilante crew, particularly the senior crew. The story draws you in by making you curious about the characters and their individual mysterious pasts, and about what they are fighting. As the story goes on, it’s revealed that some people know more than they say they do, and discoveries are slowly revealed like layers of an onion. What are the Soulites? Why did they attack Earth? How much did NAVA, the ruling organization of Earth, know about them? One answer seems to bring about five more questions.

There’s a very high paced plot to this story as the crew is knocked from one disaster to another in rapid succession. I like a high paced story, but in War of the Soulites, this is where I had a problem. Disaster seems to be the only thing that moves the plot forward. There is almost no downtime and the narration jumps from scene to scene, cutting away at the very height of the action to another scene. After a while I started to get mentally exhausted by all the cliffhangers, and I found myself needing breaks. It was difficult not to get disconnected from the story not only because of the jumping around but because it became hard to believe that so many disasters could befall this group.

The story ends in a good place but without a resolution to the problem with the Soulites, which leaves things open for the second book in the trilogy.

Overall: Despite the horrible cover, the story isn’t bad. It has an interesting plot and characters. Unfortunately I couldn’t keep up with the forced continuous action, which brought down the story’s overall appeal.

Buy here

Links:
War of the Soulites book trailer.

Airhead by Meg Cabot

Airhead
Meg Cabot

I received this book for the Book Blogger Holiday swap from Marireads.

The Premise: Teenager Emerson Watts has always been a little bit of a outsider. A smart girl who likes to play video games and isn’t interested in fashion or girly things, she mocks the popular kids and despairs that her sister wants to be a cheerleader. Then one day, Em suffers a fatal freak accident. Well, almost fatal. In order to save her, her brain is transplanted into the body of supermodel Nikki Howard.

Read an excerpt of Chapter 1

My Thoughts: We’re introduced to Em in her old life, arguing with her younger sister, feeling resentful of the way the popular girls are treated just because they are pretty (even when they spout superficial things), and crushing on her best friend Christopher, a fellow geek. Then disaster strikes, and Em wakes up in a hospital and learns she’s in someone else’s body. Of course, despite her new celebrity status, this is not a dream for Em. Officially she’s dead -only her immediate family, and the Stark Corporation, Nikki’s main employer, knows that Em is still alive.  She has to learn how to be a model, figure out the complexity that is Nikki’s lovelife, and hide the fact that she’s not Nikki.  Turns out that being a teen-aged supermodel is not as simple as you’d think.

Surrounding Em/Nikki are several secondary characters. At first they are what you’d expect – Nikki’s bubbly best friend, the rich boys who follow her around, the annoying kid sister, the quiet geek, but as the book progresses, you see that they are more than that. Lulu is the best example of this. She starts off as a perky ditz, but you discover that she really IS Nikki’s friend and has Nikki’s back. She listens and gives her own special brand of advice, and it may not be what you’d expect, but she’s very sweet nonetheless. She surprised me. Similarly, Nikki’s on-again, off-again boyfriend Brandon at first seems like the typical playboy, but there are hints about Brandon’s relationship with his father, the head of Stark Enterprises, which suggest that his life isn’t that golden. And Christopher, who is on the page very little, has one of the most interesting characters because whenever he does (or doesn’t) speak, his body language conveys volumes more.

This is the first book in a series, and there looks to be a lot of set up for the next books. The story really feels like a beginning and I didn’t feel as satisfied closing this book as I have with other Cabot stories. There seems to be more going on with this brain transfer than it would initially seem. Stark Enterprise is painted as doing some shady things – from doing this to Em and making her family sign confidentiality agreements and contracts, to spying on it’s employees.  Meanwhile, there are a gaggle of boys pursuing Nikki/Em (who discovers that in Nikki’s body, she gets addle-brained no matter who is kissing her), and Em still harbors her crush on Christopher. And that’s not even counting Em having to learn how to be a model and go to high school at the same time. There should be plenty of fodder there for an interesting series. I particularly like how Meg Cabot seems aware of the current celebrity news and fashion, and it’s reflected in this story. I found myself wondering what real life teen idols Cabot had in mind while she created some of these characters.

Also: The model in this cover looks a lot like Kate Bosworth, doesn’t she?

Overall: Well, this is Meg Cabot, so the story is a light bit of fun. Cabot has a way of writing that’s warm and entertaining and has the right voice for a young adult novel, but this one spends so much time setting up the premise for the series so I feel like I got just the beginning of a story. it made me feel unsatisfied, but maybe reading the next book will fix it.

Buy: Amazon | Powells

Other reviews:
xicanti – 4 out of 5 stars
Liv’s book reviews – “I would highly recommend it”
Ms. Bookish – B+

The Hidden Worlds by Kristin Landon

The Hidden Worlds
Kristin Landon

This is a book that keeps popping up as a recommendation on Amazon, based on what I seem to search for there. I finally bought it after a long time with it languishing in my wishlist.

The Premise: Linnea Kiaho is a young woman who lives in a fishing village in the world of Santandru, where people are rough and poor, believe deeply in their religion, and elk out livings in a hostile environment. When the village’s fishing boat is destroyed Linnea is an unmarried woman trying to keep her sister and her sister’s kids together.  No one is hiring in the nearby town and in desperation for money, Linnea uses a family secret passed down from her mother to try to get money from the Pilot Masters. The Pilot Masters are the leaders of the system of planets – the only people with the genetic ability to pilot ships between worlds. Their offer is that of work for Linnea as a servant on Nexus, which Linnea accepts despite the shunning she receives from everyone (Nexus is considered decadent and sinful). Linnea hopes that she can convince the Pilot Masters to renew their trade contract with Santandru, which is the only means that her people can continue to survive. There Linnea is indentured under the Pilot Iain sen Paolo, who is embroiled in his own troubles and doesn’t want her. Unfortunately, the secret Linnea holds entangles their lives and puts targets on them both. This is the first book in a completed trilogy.

Excerpt of Chapter 1

My Thoughts: I loved how this book started. The contrast between technology and the lives of the poor fishing village was striking. I was sucked into the setting of a poor planet that depends on trade with other worlds so that they can get parts for their fishing ships, and the problems when “the brain” of the ship stops functioning.  Despite the presence of high technology, these people are too poor to really afford it. Not everyone knows how to read, women are expected to marry young, and Linnea is considered strange for not being unmarried (she’s nineteen).  I also liked the idea of Nexus, the home world of the Pilot Masters as seen through the eyes of this backwater planet.  It’s rich and decadent, but Nexus doesn’t have the same beliefs or culture that they do, so it is Evil, even though no one that Linnea knows on Santandru has ever been there.

When Linnea finally gets to Nexus, it is a huge change. The people are mostly men, because only men can be pilots, and they only want boy babies. Woman are only allowed there when they have a contract, and births are very strictly regulated. Only people of the Line, who have been vetted by the Council, are allowed to have children. In the meantime, the men are very open about relationships with other men, and casual sex is the norm.  In their eyes, Linnea is an ignorant country girl. It was interesting to see the culture clash.

I really enjoyed the book up to when Linnea meets Iain and gets adjusted to his home. Until that point I was reading this book non-stop, and then I had to put it down to go to sleep for work the next day. The next time I picked up the book, the focus had changed and I found myself less engrossed. Rather than centering on Linnea and Iain and they’re getting to know each other, the book begins to focus on other problems – Iain’s political rivals, his uncle and his cousin, and on Iain’s father. Linnea suddenly becomes a tool in their power struggle and Iain’s relationships with the other men becomes more important in the story, and the stubborn woman becomes a submissive servant. By the time we get back to focusing on Linnea, it is further along in the story. Despite the danger for Iain and Linnea, the things Iain’s father refuses to hide from him, and the sadistic manipulations of Iain’s cousin,  I was disconnected from the story on Nexus.

The romance in this book was understated. The relationship grows because they only have each other to turn to, and it’s not an easy path for either of them. There are a few things for them to overcome, like abuse and their different backgrounds, but the basis for the relationship is put down in this book. I think it will be interesting to see where it goes in the rest of the trilogy.

A note on the cover: I like the cover – the colors and the couple suggest that it’s a science fiction romance, but the guns are misleading and my idea of Linnea and Iain from reading the book is really different from the cover models.

Overall: A promising new science fiction romance series. Very good world building and writing. I liked this book, but found the second half less strong than the first.  It sets things up for an interesting series which I plan to continue reading.

Buy: Amazon | Powells

Reviews and links:
Patricia’s Vampire Notes
Calico_reaction’s review – she liked this one

Kristin Landon Interview at Galaxy Express
Heather Massey guest blogs at SF Signal
Catch a Rising Star: Kristin Landon (at Galaxy Express)

Dancer of the Sixth by Michelle Shirey Crean

In 2006 I forwarded myself a message board posting about science fiction/fantasy books with strong relationships, and then I promptly forgot about it. A month ago I was searching for something in my email and this old list showed up. There where a few books I’d already read and loved on there (Wen Spencer’s Tinker, Shards of Honor by Lois Mcmaster Bujold, Finders Keepers by Linnea Sinclair) so I spent some time eying the list and  Dancer of the Sixth caught my eye.  The cover with a pilot and her flighter jet interested me. After some googling it and finding positive reviews (and 15 5-star reviews on Amazon), I decided to order a used copy of the out of print book.

The Premise: Dancer is a member of the Sixth service, which is a secret arm of military intelligence who have no connections to their past lives – they’re dead as far as everyone else knows, and they run missions to ensure the safety of the galaxy. Dancer was presumed killed during the Lioth massacre by the Karranganthians, a violent race who were routed but still wait to catch their enemies unaware. One day during a patrol Dancer is surprised by a Gypsy flyer that lost control and had to make an emergency landing. And stepping out of the flyer is a disoriented exact replica of Dancer. A replica who uses the name Dancer had in her old life. The solution to this mystery is for Dancer to take her twin’s place in the Fourth Service Squadron (a aerial maneuver team which performs for the public).

My Thoughts: This is told in the third person with Dancer as the clear focus. It covers what Dancer and the sixth services’ response is to the twin, which is for Dancer to take her place and find out what’s going on, but that particular part of the book isn’t that long. What takes up much of it is a long flashback which covers how Dancer got into the Sixth Service in the first place — when she was found almost dead after the Lioth Massacre. We learn that Dancer barely made it and her healing took a long time. The writer takes the opportunity during her convalescence to for Dancer to recount her past (there are lost loves who Dancer cannot stop grieving over).  Then, once Dancer is well enough to move out of her medical confinement, we learn as she does about the Auryx, the dark haired people with minor telepathic ability who the Sixth Service is composed of. One of those men is the Commander, Michael, who is Dancer’s immediate supervisor and her unvoiced crush.

Dancer is one of those irrepressible heroines who won’t stop fighting even when her back is against the wall and all is lost. In some ways she’s a bit of a Mary Sue. She’s a pretty redhead ace pilot with an upbeat character and a dark past that is gradually revealed. She charms everyone with her charisma, and everyone is a little bit in love with her. Meanwhile she cannot seem to stop her interest in every man she meets in the story. The eying of someone’s fine figure or Dancer’s talk of being in love got a little trying, and it was often inappropriate (the suggestion of a sexual relationship with someone under the Sixth Service suspicion, the familiar touching of her supervisor). She’s supposed to have not taken a lover since she joined the Sixth service, but you wouldn’t know it by her casualness in discussing relationships. As the reader, I think we’re to hope that Dancer had moved on from her past and that she’d focus on the man who was in her present, but it is confusing how strong her feelings are for Makellen Darke, the Auryx man who sat with her through her recovery, and then disappeared as if he never was. The competition is smoothed over by the twist ending, but the many loves crowding Dancer’s life not to mention Michael’s position as her superior, makes the romance not as strong as I think it could have been.

The writing was good, especially the parts about flying, but I found it odd at times. Maybe it was the use of the word “child” by Michael and the Auryx for everyone else non-Auryx, maybe it was the inappropriateness I covered already. Maybe it was the old-fashioned aspect to the writing – a formal tone that overlaid everything. It was something I got used to but it sometimes made the book drag, and I found myself unable to read it without breaks.

There are some interesting ideas here and it’s a good first book, and it’s too bad there doesn’t seem to be any more books by Crean. It does feel that this could have been the start to a series because the end leaves us with the implication that that is not all to be expected from the Karranganthians.  However, the relationship and the story of this book does have a conclusion, although there may be some reading between the lines you have to do.

Overall: Not a bad book (I liked the ideas and the world building), and although it’s slow at times, it was an nice read for a science fiction fan. The relationships are a big part of the story, yet I think romance could have been better. I would have read the second book if there was one.

Buy: Amazon | Powells

Other Reviews:
Romantic sf – a mix of opinions there
pick locker – “I’m veering between recommending the book, to not recommending it.” (I found this blogger because of their review for this book!)

Cordelia’s Honor (Part 1: Shards of Honor) by Lois McMaster Bujold

I’d never read any of Lois McMaster Bujold’s work before but was told that this is a science fiction author I’d probably like. Cordelia’s Honor is an omnibus with Shards of Honor and Barrayar in it. They were published in the late 80’s and are the prequels to Bujold’s longer Miles Vorkosigan series.

The Premise: Cordelia Naismith is on a survey mission on a previously unexplored planet when suddenly she and her companion realize that their base camp is on fire. They rush back to see their survey ship flying off without them and one of the other members of their team dead. Cordelia realizes they’ve been ambushed by the Barrayarans, but not all of the enemy race is in accordance. She’s stumbled into a mutiny in the ranks and soon is a well-treated hostage in the hands of Captain Aral Vorkosigan who has a stash of supplies hidden some distance away.

My Thoughts: I hadn’t realized that Bujold’s work had romantic elements although I was familiar with her name. This book reminded me a little of Linnea Sinclair’s Finder’s Keepers, because the two books feature a hero and heroine meet while stranded on a planet together and work as a team to survive. I like that situation — throwing two different people together and seeing what happens 🙂 . In this book, Naismith quickly realizes who Vorkosigan is — also known as The Butcher of Komarr, who is reviled amongst the galaxy, and her academically-inclined world of Beta Colony, so of course, her initial reaction is not favorable, but as they warm to each other she finds out the real story behind his name and a romance soon blossoms. But their time alone together is interrupted by military skirmishes between their two planets as the Barrayarans make a bid for another planet’s resources.

What I liked about this book was that the couple was a little bit older and neither Cordelia or Vorkosigan expected to find someone at that point in their lives. They had both been burned in some way by past relationships and had become accustomed to the idea of being alone for the rest of their lives when they happened to stumble on each other. I thought that their experiences and age meant the protagonists had a dignified air in their declarations and they were both aware of who they were and what others would think of their union. Cordelia is particularly practical about it, but at the same time, the depth of their feelings is not small and I really wanted them to have a happy ending.

I liked Cordelia’s character. She has a calmness in the face of calamity that I enjoyed reading. It’s Vorkosigan who first points it in the book, and afterwards I had to agree. Sometimes she surprised me with her quick thinking, and there is plenty of action going on in this book where she has to use it. Vorkosigan is likeable too but is less a focus. My impression is of an honorable military leader and member of the ruling class who is good at what he does and isn’t always popular with the politicians in his homeland.

There was plenty of quiet moments between the hero and heroine, but then there are also military skirmishes, space flights, chases and escapes. It is full of action and moves forward without me feeling either bored or too flooded by action; there was an excellent balance which made the plot engrossing.  There is also some interesting ideas about politics and war and some grey areas like how perception may be skewed by expectations and prior beliefs, then compounded by limited knowledge of the truth. The science fiction aspects are also there in terms of medical advances, transportation, weapons and transportation, but it doesn’t either overwhelm the reader. It’s part of the setting and used in daily life, and as in our lives, some places are more technologically advanced than others.

Overall: Recommended for SFR fans. If all Bujold’s books are like this, I think I’ve found another SFR author to glom onto. There’s a perfect balance between action and character development that I like, and I plan to make my way through the rest of this omnibus and then onto the Miles Vorkosigan saga.

Buy: Amazon | Powells

Other reviews:
Jo Walton @ Tor.com (positive. She has a series of posts on this saga)
Guest review at Smart Bitches, Trashy Books (B)
Guest review at Dear Author (A)

Links:
Interview with Lois McMaster Bujold about writing the Vorkosigan Saga @ Tor.com
Danger Gal Friday: Captain Cordelia Naismith @ Lisa Paitz Spindler’s blog
First sale story at Dear Author

Doubleblind by Ann Aguirre

I’ve been dying to read Doubleblind since, oh last year when I finished Wanderlust. So when I was lucky enough to get a early copy of the book (it comes out Sept 29th), it vaulted past everything else on my TBR (past some other books I’ve really wanted to read) and I started reading that night.

Doubleblind is the third book in the Sirantha Jax series:
Book 1: Grimspace (review: LJ | wordpress)
Book 2: Wanderlust (review: LJ | wordpress)

The Premise: Sirantha Jax is finally on Ithiss-Tor, feeling way over her head as an ambassador for the Conglomerate. The Conglomerate needs her to bring the bug-like aliens, the Ithtorians to their side because they need an ally against increased attacks by the Morgut (a species of violent, frenzied eaters that see everyone as food). The Ithtorians are the only species the Morgut have ever respected. A “jumper” and former party-girl, Jax doesn’t feel in her element as someone responsible for such an important task, and March, who has always been at her side isn’t himself to help her.

Excerpt of Chapter 1

My Thoughts: I would have finished this much faster if it weren’t for those pesky things like parents coming to visit, going to work, eating, sleeping, blah blah. All I wanted to do was read this book. I love space opera and science fiction romance. This is one of my favorite series. I think I’ve been anticipating it so much that by the time I got it I was getting lightheaded with giddiness and enthusiasm and I had a feeling that perhaps I was talking too much about it. You know that feeling where – internally you’re saying to yourself, why are you still talking, you idiot, now they know you’re crazy and Ann Aguirre will run away from you?! Yes, that was me on twitter this week. Ahem. So instead of doing what I briefly considered (just writing “SQUEE” in big, bold, underlined letters as a review), I’m going to try to be rational.

The thing is, it is so hard to stay quiet while reading this book, because there’s these elements you just want to talk to *someone* about. For me it was character development and the twists in the plot. I think Ann Aguirre has an evil streak. First of all, she wrote Wanderlust and ended it the way she did (if you read Wanderlust, you know what I mean). What she puts her characters through has me looking around desperately for someone so I can discuss what I just read.

First of all, you would think that by now, the third book, March and Jax’s relationship would be stable.  But Aguirre did something that was the equivalent of pressing the “reset” button, and it is delicious. Neither March or Jax are the same people they were at the start of this series. In fact, I’d say that what they’ve been through has pretty much reversed their roles, although their old selves are in there somewhere. The first half of the book had me hanging on to every word or gesture between the two of them. I kept saying “intense”, because that was the word to describe it (besides “AHHH!!”). It was kind of torture, yet I was happy. It was well worth going through the wringer in Wanderlust and here to come out the other side. There was one particular scene early in the book where March and Jax talk that had me completely involved and.. well I just don’t have the words.

Aguirre seems to excel at character growth. Since we’re on Vel’s home planet and diplomacy is the reason for being there, Vel has the biggest role besides Jax, who is the narrator. I was really interested in finding out more about Vel in Wanderlust so I was pleased with learning more about him through Jax.  The others were around less often (they weren’t needed for all the negotiations that Jax attended), but everyone in Jax’s circle is multi-faceted, and you catch a glimpse of inner depth in Jael, Dina, Hit, and Doc. If you’re familiar with Ann Aguirre, you know these aren’t always happy people either. Jax has a past full of scandal and self-preservation, and March is a psychic and soldier who had to do horrible things.

One of my favorite tropes is a stranger in a strange land or a culture-clash story, which we have here as Jax navigates the Ithtorians, some of who don’t consider humans very smart. They remember an earlier delegation which had disastrous results. There are many Ithtorians who would like Jax to fail in her talks, even enough to kill her. That’s why Vel is so important, explaining to Jax subtle gestures such as meaning to a bow. The story also covers what foods to eat, what markings on caripaces mean, and Ithtorian politics. I loved this. I also liked the description of the lush, tropical world the Ithtorians’ surrounded themselves in, which is nicely illustrated on the cover by Scott M. Fischer.

Overall: The best installment yet. If you read Wanderlust, you really *need* to read Doubleblind. And if you haven’t read this series and you like space opera/science fiction romance, I think you should pick it up. Every successive book is better than the last.

Buy: Amazon | B&N

Other review:
Genrereviews gave it 4 1/2 pints of blood (I thought this review was spot on).

Originally posted on janicu.vox.com

The Stars Down Under by Sandra McDonald

This is the second book in the trilogy (I think it’s a trilogy) by Sandra McDonald. Book 1, The Outback Stars I reviewed over here: LJ | wordpress . It’s got multicultural characters, military fiction, and indigenous Australian mythology all mixed up with space opera. I was pretty blown away by the first book – a lovely science fiction romance where the romance was slow moving, which is my type of thing. As soon as I saw that book 2 was in paperback in the store I bought it.

Also: I LOVE LOVE LOVE these covers. So pretty and convey that it is science fiction, and the portal in the pictures must represent an ouroboros. The artwork is by Donato Giancola.

*** There may be mild spoilers for book 1 from this point ***

The Premise: It’s soon after the events of The Outback Stars and our hero and heroine Jodenny Scott and Terry Myell are settling into their new jobs. Terry had decided to not volunteer for chef’s initiation, which means he’s getting flack for that at work. The both of them decided not to get involved with the Wondjina Transport System, but they’ve recently been approached by people asking for their help – the system stopped working and a team of six who were using it are now missing.

My Thoughts: The writing is much the same as the last book, which means I had no problems with the pacing and could read quickly for stretches of 100 pages at a time without feeling like it was a chore. What is different though is that Terry and Jodenny are apart for a lot of this book. They each have their own separate story arcs, which I didn’t really like because I love them together, but it did keep me reading, wanting their stories to intersect again. Unfortunately we don’t get to see them very happy because of forces beyond their control.

There’s also more focus on the Wondjina Transport System and Terry’s strange mystic connection with it. This was there in the first book as well, but this time the theme is expanded. At times the book got really out there, especially in the second half of the book.  I couldn’t tell if I was reading some out of body experience or something that was really happening.

There’s hints about the ending of this book right in the prologue. It made my heart drop and so the closer to the end of the book I got, the slower I read. I was just afraid to get there. In my mind what we have is a cliffhanger. I’m hoping things turn out okay for Jodenny and Terry in the conclusion of this series, and I kind of think they will, but in the meantime I’m thankful I read this book when book three is also out. I also have a warning: DO NOT read the blurb for book three because it pretty much spoils this book!!! You can read it AFTER reading this book, but don’t do it before.

Overall: Still loving this series, but this one goes some places I didn’t really like, so I really have to read book three, The Stars Blue Yonder now.

Buy: Amazon | B&N

Links: