Friday, April 27, 2012

Unacceptable Risk by Jeanette Grey

Title: Unacceptable Risk
Author: Jeanette Grey
Genre: Science Fiction Romance/Cyberpunk
Publisher: Samhain Publishing
Available: $3.50 at Samhain Publishing
Rating: 5 stars
Rater: Pippa

Plot Summary:
She may learn to live for love…if vengeance doesn’t kill her first.

Plix spends her lonely, gritty life trying to solve the mysteries her father left behind. Armed with a variety of cybernetic enhancements and a talent for getting into places she shouldn’t be, she searches for clues to his murder—and who’s responsible for poisoning her city.

Waking up on a street corner with her brain wiring fried to a crisp, she figures she must have gotten close this time. There’s only one man she trusts to pull her back from the brink: a tuner who can retrieve the evidence hidden deep in the recesses of her mind. A man she dares not let too close to her heart.

When Edison downloads a secret SynDate schematic from Plix’s burnt-out circuitry, he knows with dreadful finality that nothing—not even the fiery kiss he’s been holding back for years—will stop her from pursuing her quest past the point of insanity.

All he can do, as he helps her plan her final mission, is ease her pain, watch her back…and hope one of them doesn’t pay with their lives.

Product Warnings
Contains a heroine intent on kicking ass and taking names, a high-tech dystopia, cybernetic body modifications, and emotionally charged, sensual romance. 

The Good:
This is a sad but sweet story, with a dark, gritty edge, that made my heart ache for the two central characters. Plix isn't the usual kick-ass heroine - she's quietly but irrepressibly determined, tolerating huge amounts of pain and grief to fulfil a goal, denying herself anything remotely like a normal life. Edison is geeky but strong, and while Plix's blind stubborness drives him to despair, he still does his best to help her even as it carves out his heart every time. Their struggle to repress their obvious feelings for one another had me in tears.

The Bad:
I struggled to find anything to criticise. There is a slight element of repetition in Plix's two forays for information that made me wonder if the opening was a flashback and now I was seeing the events in real time, but the fact that she gained something new told me it wasn't.

In Sum:
This book absolutely tore my heart out. None of the technology is overdone if that's something you struggle with in reading scifi, and yet it's comprehensive and believeable. There's an equal balance between the romance and the science fiction elements. Loved it and want more.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Romance Stories by Christina T. Crooks

Title: Romance Stories - An Interactive Fiction Collection
Author: Christina T. Crooks
Genre/Subgenre: Romance/Gamebook
Word count: Approx. 50 pages
Publication Date: 10/2011
Publisher: Self (October 2011)
Available: $1.49 at Amazon
Format available: .mobi or .epub
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewer: Elle Hill

According to the author, “Be the star of six fun and twisted little romance stories. Explore the playfulness, action, and sudden mortal danger of these adventures with built-in hyperlinks where you choose the direction the stories take. Thirty-five possible endings, but only a few will be a happily ever after. Can you find them?”

The good:
I read this gamebook on an otherwise-miserable airplane trip. It made me giggle several times, particularly as I tried to get inside the author’s head and figure out which choices would lead me to the promised happily-ever-afters with the story’s Hunky Guy™. Of course, this said, I felt it was my choice to explore every single option, which meant I alternately died tragically, lived a life of ennui, and found my soul mate, all in one very short story.

These amusing and well-written stories vary from post-apocalyptic science fiction to uncomfortably realistic romance. The one thing they all have in common is a shero written in the second person (“you” are the lead character). Every few pages – sometimes every few paragraphs or even sentences – the reader faces the option of how to respond to certain circumstance. This very fast-paced book defies readers’ attentions to stray.

The “bad”:
In a world saturated by reality TV and omnipresent, slick visual media imagery, we’ve become a culture of citizens with tiny attention spans and a lust for ever-new stimulations. This gamebook fits perfectly into this perceptual noise. It works beautifully as a text of its kind – as I said, it is quite well-written – but in terms of stories, the scenes are too short and too frequently interrupted to provide any kind of compelling, relatable narrative.

In sum:
Reading this book, I kept thinking this method of narrative delivery is perfect for folks with ADD; it is choppy, fragmented, and relies on clichés to provide structure and storyline. In short, if you’re looking for symbolism and multi-dimensional characters, read Jane Eyre; for a well-written, light-hearted distraction from the annoyances of flying or watching your kid’s Little League game, this gamebook may well be your next best friend.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

A Hint of Frost by Hailey Edwards

Title: A Hint of Frost
Author: Hailey Edwards
Genre: Fantasy
Publisher: Samhain Publishing (April 17, 2012)
Available: $3.85 at Samhain Publishing
Rating: 4 stars
Rater: Elle Hill

For a novel with such a chill throughout, the author’s lush writing provides an especially warm and welcome counterpoint. I found myself lulled by her rhythmic use of sentences, some long and textured and other short and sparse. Readers who enjoy minimalist writing with few descriptors would do better looking elsewhere for a fantasy fix; Edwards is a devout sensualist.

Like any good romance writer, Edwards puts the romance front and center and spins everything in the world around its primacy. That said, her story is smart and realistic, introducing characters and situations that she clearly intends to develop further over the course of several books. In this one, Lourdes, the main character, finds her parents poisoned and herself thrust into the role of leading her people during a time of war. Her first act as “maven”? Marrying herself to a clan that will protect hers.

The novel moves forward and derives its narrative tension from the defection/abduction of Lourdes’ sister, Pascale, and Lourdes’ determination to bring her home safely. She and her new consort embark on a journey to distant lands, all the while learning more about one another, a plague spreading across the lands, and the scope of their feelings for one another.

Even without the world-building Edwards does in this book, the story and characters are compelling; it’s comfortingly familiar, as romance novels should be, while introducing enough twists to keep the readers intrigued. Edwards’ strength, however, lies in her world-building. Edwards’ Araneae Nation features several clans, each of which specializes, not only occupationally but physiologically, in producing certain goods or services. The clans are separate but interdependent, each important but hierarchically situated. For examples, Lourdes’ clan, the Araneidae, weave silks and make clothing, while Rhys, her “partisan,” belongs to the cannibalistic warrior clan known as the Mimetidae. This interdependent clan arrangement might fall into a Hunger Games-esque patterns were it not for the very real physiological and cultural differences characterizing clan members. For example, depending on their clan heritage, characters in Edwards’ world may spin silk from their very own bodies or use their bites to inject venom into their prey. Edwards notes in her acknowledgements she researched various Native American tribes for inspiration, and it is most apparent in her choices of names, skills, and relationships among her clansfolk. As a sociologist, I found myself intrigued and impressed by the various traditions (thread-binding, for example) that Edwards constructed as growing organically from the structure of clan relationships.

My concerns with the book are somewhat small since overall, I found myself quite delighted. Edwards’ prose is effusive and her characters bold and vibrant. I was somewhat disappointed when she lapsed into the occasional modern American idioms and clichés. Of course, English is likely her first language, as it is mine, but clichés, colloquialisms, and idioms are verbal shortcuts and should be avoided in most literature; in fantasy realms, they become even more awkwardly visible. Words like “potshots,” “look a gift animal in the mouth,” and so on pulled me from the richness of the words and the story they built. They’re small concerns overall, but I found myself annoyed several times to have my attention yanked from the lushness of her prose.

My rating: Four out of five stars. This is a smartly written novel in the best tradition of romances that also includes enough fantasy staples and uniqueness to keep just about any reader spellbound.


(Note from Lauri: Yes; two of our reviewers read and reviewed this book - and both obviously loved it!)

Refugees on Urloon by Melisse Aires

Title: Refugees on Urloon
Author: Melisse Aires
Genre: Science Fiction Romance
Publisher: Lyrical Press Inc
Available: $3.99 at Lyrical Press Inc
Rating: 4 stars
Rater: Pippa

Plot Summary:

Two weary refugees, two moons and a life-changing fertility festival. Watch out for a whole lot of sensuality.

Under normal circumstances, Svana, non-military maintenance crew, and Captain Liam Ringel, a highly respected military instructor, would never have crossed paths. A sudden anomaly, however, thrusts them into deep space where they are rescued by the inhabitants of an exotic and isolated waterworld, Urloon. 

With no rescue forthcoming, the refugees can choose between adapting to the sea or farming the land. Svana is saddened when her budding friendship with Liam changes due to their different choices. However, when they are invited to an alien fertility festival, the Moonfest, they are given the opportunity to create a memory that will impact and intertwine both their futures. 

WARNING: Alien fertility festival, aurora lights, dancing alien beasts, body paints and hot pheromones. M/F Sensual.

The Good:
The story doesn't waste any time throwing you into the action and there are several threads running through it to keep up the tension. It made a nice change to read a romance story where the couple are an older generation than a lot of those I've read lately, and the uncertainty between them throughout the story despite - or perhaps because of - their experiences in life made their relationship poignant. The idea of alien pheremones invoking a fertility festival and of humans adapted for aquatic life hooked me from the start. The adaptation process is especially intriguing. For 37K words, there's a lot packed into this story.

The Bad:
I felt the stories of the two main groups of antagonists in this was slightly underplayed overall. I feel the Wilders especially should have been a little more significant in their threat earlier in the story.

In Sum:
This is a sweet and sensual romance, skillfully woven into a human society adapted to an alien world. Easy to read and compelling.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Machine by Jennifer Pelland

Title: Machine

Author: Jennifer Pelland
Genre: Science Fiction (Romance/Erotica)
Publisher: Apex Publications
Rating: 4 stars
Rater: Pippa

Plot Summary:
Celia's body is not her own, but even her conscious mind can barely tell the difference. Living on the cutting edge of biomechanical science was supposed to allow her to lead a normal life in a near-perfect copy of her physical self while awaiting a cure for a rare and deadly genetic disorder.

But a bioandroid isn't a real person. Not according to the protesters outside Celia's house, her coworkers, or even her wife. Not according to her own evolving view of herself. As she begins to strip away the human affectations and inhibitions programmed into her new body, the chasm between the warm pains of flesh-and-blood life and the chilly comfort of the machine begins to deepen. Love, passion, reality, and memory war within Celia's body until she must decide whether to betray old friends or new ones in the choice between human and machine.

The good:
I was really hooked by an excerpt I saw from the opening of this. I loved the concept of it, the whole idea of if you put your mind and memories into another body, is it still you? There were lovely touches of technology and a good use of psychology. It questions the whole idea of identity, of soul and self, of sexual identity, and how much influence our body has on our mental state. A stark reflection of current society where so many people attempt to conform to the advertised 'ideal', often resorting to extreme surgery or damaging cosmetic procedures to achieve it.

The bad:
About halfway through the story, I felt it began to drag a bit. It didn't seem to be going anywhere particularly fast, and I wasn't really feeling the emotional impact that Celia was going through as I felt I should have. Her confusion came across well but the tension was just lacking for me.

In sum:
This was more of a thought-provoking story than an adventure. It was different and well-written but slightly missed the mark for me. The romance played a very small part overall (I know it isn't listed as a romance, but there is a romantic element in it with Celia grieving over her wife's divorce), and the erotica elements were probably too few for fans of the genre. While I'd read another title by this author, I'm not sure I'd recommend it to my sfr loving friends.

Please note - Critique de Book DOES NOT accept requests to review erotic romance or erotica. This is a book that I bought, read and reviewed for my own satisfaction, and not representative of the genres generally accepted by the review site.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

A Hint of Frost : Araneae Nation, Book 1 by Hailey Edwards

Title: A Hint of Frost: Araneae Nation, Book 1
Author: Hailey Edwards
Genre: Fantasy
Publisher: Samhain Publishing
Available: $5.50 from 17th April 2012 Samhain Publishing
Rating: 4.5 stars
Rater: Pippa

Plot Summary:
Hope dangles by a silken thread.

Araneae Nation, Book 1

When the head of the Araneidae clan is found poisoned in her nest, her eldest daughter, Lourdes, becomes their clan’s new maven. If her clan is to survive, she has but one choice: she must marry before her nest is seized. All she needs is a warrior fierce enough to protect her city and safeguard her clansmen. Such a male is Rhys the Cold.

Born the youngest son of an impoverished maven, the only things Rhys has to his name are his sword and his mercenary reputation. His clan is starving, but their fondness for the flesh of fellow Araneaeans makes them unwelcome dinner guests. Torn between loyalty to his clan and fascination with his future bride, Rhys’s first taste of Lourdes threatens to melt the cold encasing his heart.

Amid the chaos of battle, Lourdes’s sister disappears and is feared captured. Lourdes and Rhys pursue their enemies into the southlands, where they discover an odd plague ravaging southern clans as it travels north, to Erania. Determined to survive, Lourdes will discover whether she’s worth her silk or if she’s spun the thread by which her clan will hang.

Product Warnings
This book contains one mercenary hero with a biting fetish, one determined heroine who gets nibbled, and an answer to the age-old question, “What does dragon taste like?” Matricide and sibling rivalry are available upon request. The house special is revenge, best served cold.

The Good:
This is a beautiful fantasy with a sweet and sensual romance woven through it. A great deal of attention has been put into the world-building, and the other-wordly nature of the 'human' inhabitants is compelling - something a touch out of the ordinary. The characters have depth, and the story left me hooked into reading the other books of the series whilst still feeling this one was complete in itself.

The Bad:
Some of the word choices and phrasing made me stumble on occassion. I think it's a style thing though.

In Sum:
I liked this book. I liked how the central female's character developed, and felt her male partner was a good match but their relationship still stirred plenty of sparks and uncertainty at the start.

Even Villains Fall In Love by Liana Brooks

Title: Even Villains Fall in Love
Author: Liana Brooks
Genre: Science Fiction Romance/Superhero/Romance
Publisher: Breathless Press
Available: $2.99 Breathless Press (also available at Amazon $3.09)
Rating: 5 stars
Rater: Pippa

Plot Summary:
A super villain at the top of his game must choose between the world he wants and the woman he loves.
If you believe the rumors you know that Doctor Charm, the wickedly sexy super villain, retired in shame seven years ago after his last fight with the super hero Zephyr Girl. The fact that the charming Evan Smith—father of four and husband of the too-beautiful-to-be-real Tabitha—bears a resemblance to the defeated Doctor is pure coincidence. And, please, ignore the minions.
Everything is perfect in the Smith household, until Tabitha announces her return to work as a super hero. Evan was hoping to keep her distracted until after he rigged the 2012 presidential election, but—genius that he is—Evan has a backup plan. In his basement lab, Evan has a machine whose sole purpose is keeping Tabitha hungry for him.
But children and labs don’t mix. The machine is broken, and Tabitha storms out, claiming she no longer knows him. World domination takes a back seat to meeting his daughters’ demands to get Mommy back right now. This time his genius isn’t going to be enough—he’s going to need both his evil alter-ego, and the blooming super abilities of his children to save his wife. But even his most charming self might not be enough to save their marriage.

The Good:
I LOVED this book! I've been waiting on it since I read the blurb back in January, and it didn't disappoint. The premise of a supervillain marrying the superhero really intrigued me, even if his methods for maintaining his perfect marriage seems morally questionable. What else would you really expect from the villain? So, the idea was novel and the blurb compelling. The story is very well written. Each chapter starts with a little snippet of internal though by the main character, each of which gives you a bit more insight into his mind and helps you empathize with him. Normally that kind of break up in a story can irritate me by pulling me out, but not in this case. The romance is sweet and sexy without the need for graphic bedroom scenes. The classical elements of the villain are all here - minions, dastardly plans and diabolical machines - but at the centre of it is a man who loves his wife and family enough to give up the world for them. There were great touches of humour too, as much as lines to tug on your heartstrings.

The Bad:
A sudden shift in location and identities left me a little confused in the middle of the book and it took me a few pages to get back up to speed. However, I felt this was probably in keeping with Evan's own confusion over the turmoil that had taken over his life.

In Sum:
It made me laugh, it made me cry, and I defy anyone not to go 'awww' by the end of the book. You'll be in no doubt about who is the real villain of the piece. Thoroughly enjoyable and a new twist on the old 'good vs. evil' in the greatest comic book tradition - but all grown up.

Buy this book. There is no alternative. :)

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

A Satan Carol by Alan S. Kessler

Title: A Satan Carol
Author: Alan S. Kessler
Genre: Horror
Publisher: Wild Child Publishing (December 26, 2011)
Available: $5.99 at Barnes and Noble
Rating: 4.5 stars
Rater: Lauri

Plot Summary
This book tells the story of several characters and their individual lives, and tragedies -- all of whom come together in the end. This is true horror – religious horror – with a plot that encompasses exactly what a horror plot should. Here, the devil is out to steal the world.

The good:
The stories of each character are well thought out, and blend well with the others. Each character has a voice, and is appropriately developed. 

The horror is at times quite chilling. This is not a book for kids.

The bad:
The writing is generally quite good, but it stumbles in some places. I felt the narrator shift from inside the story to an outside view at times, and it pulled me out of the story. 

The story itself is told from a very religious POV regardless of character. This is both good and bad, I suppose. I found it too sticky and thick to bear at times, and even a bit ridiculous once or twice, but this story does provide an inside view of several religiously-obsessed persons, which I found myself marveling at. 

In sum:
I read this book, then read several reviews of it because I wanted to know if others left this story wondering whether it was satire or not. One other reviewer did, but the rest seem to have taken the story quite seriously. 

The truth is that I don’t know whether it’s satire or not. I will say that the religious aspects at times reflect a mindset that I would expect to find in the furthest fringes, and at others seems to echo a more moderate perspective. That – the psychological wonderment – was part of the draw of this book for me. It’s crazy. Plain and simple.

If you like horror, and especially if you have a fascination with religious zealotry, this is definitely a book you need to read.

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