Review: Pets in Space Sampler by S.E. Smith, Anna Hackett, Tiffany Roberts, Veronica Scott, Pauline Baird Jones, Donna McDonald, Cassandra Chandler and Alexis Glynn Latner

Review: Pets in Space Sampler by S.E. Smith, Anna Hackett, Tiffany Roberts, Veronica Scott, Pauline Baird Jones, Donna McDonald, Cassandra Chandler and Alexis Glynn LatnerPets in Space 4 Sampler by Alexis Glynn Latner, Anna Hackett, Cassandra Chandler, Donna McDonald, Pauline Baird Jones, S.E. Smith, Tiffany Roberts, Veronica Scott
Format: ebook
Source: publisher
Formats available: ebook
Genres: science fiction romance
Series: Pets in Space
Published by Cats, Dogs & Other Worldly Creatures Books on May 4th 2019
Publisher's Website
Goodreads

Pets in Space® 4 Sampler: Stories & Art
from some of today’s best known and award winning Science Fiction Romance authors!

NEW & EXCLUSIVE short stories from
* S.E. Smith, Lords of Kassis series
* Anna Hackett, Galactic Gladiators: House of Rone
* Tiffany Roberts, The Kraken series
* Veronica Scott, Star Cruise series
* Pauline Baird Jones, Project Enterprise series
* Donna McDonald, My Crazy Alien Romance series
* Cassandra Chandler, The Department of Homeworld Security series, and
* Alexis Glynn Latner

Not enough? Check out the preview chapters of their upcoming Pets in Space 4 stories from:
Laurie A. Green, Regine Abel, JC Hay, E. D. Walker, and Kyndra Hatch! Finish off this fabulous Sampler with gorgeous alien artwork from Tiffany Roberts.

My Review:

When I received multiple invitations to grab this FREE sampler this weekend, I just couldn’t resist. I’ve loved every single one of the Pets in Space series, so I was certainly up for a teaser for the next one.

Don’t let the words “sampler” or “teaser” fool you. There are plenty of complete stories in this collection. But those complete stories are also teasers or prequels for stories that will be in the next Pets in Space collection (Pets in Space 4) and are also introductions to worlds that these authors have already created and have appeared in previous Pets in Space collections.

And there are some outright teaser chapters. I’m certainly officially teased all the way around!

This was a collection where I enjoyed all the stories, although often, as was intended, I found myself wanting more. Of course that more is going to be provided in Pets in Space 4.

My favorite prequel in this anthology was Anna Hackett’s House of Rone: Beginnings. While the House of Rone series is a new series for the author, it is a spinoff from her terrific Galactic Gladiators series. Readers of the series have met Magnus and Jax before, but not like this. Magnus has dropped a few sparse hints of what his life was like before Kor Magna, and Beginnings is that story in full. It’s a great place to get into the world of the Galactic Gladiators without having to have read any of the previously published books.

I also enjoyed Pauline Baird Jones’ Code Blue. It takes place in her Project Enterprise series, and while I’ve read the first book or two in the series, I’m not as familiar with it as I’d like to be. But the love I have for this story without having much background means that it can be joyously read by anyone else who hasn’t read the series.

What makes this so much fun is that it is one of those classic stories of family lore, as the protagonists, Doc and Hel, are telling their children, yet again, the story of how the family pet Piggy Love, first came into their lives – and sort of saved them. By grunting like the little piggy that he is. The story is light and fun and Piggy Love is absolutely adorable – which is way more than can be said about the vulture-people he helps them overcome.

But the story I absolutely loved in this bunch was The Magic Mountains by Alexis Glynn Latner. It’s the longest story in the book, at novelette (very short novel) length. And while it is set in the same future history as stories in the previous anthologies, I don’t remember those and this story stands on its own.

The Magic Mountains is, on the one hand, a story about a visit to an interstellar amusement park that goes very, very wrong. It also kind of a “wolf with red roses” story, in that the heroine finds herself attracted to her extremely dangerous partner in this wild adventure. That she’s an academic who is able to give in to the wild side in herself is part of what makes this one so delicious. And unlike the usual symbolism of the wolf with red roses, this one feels like it has the chance of a happy ending – because the wolf treats her as an equal and not as either a victim or as potential prey.

Escape Rating B+: For any reader who loves SFR, or anyone who is looking for an introduction to the genre, and especially anyone who loves the Pets in Space collections and feels like October (and Pets in Space 4) is a long, long time from now, this sampler is a real treat. And it’s FREE! Right HERE!

I’m certainly teased, and I’ll be back for the complete collection, in all of its reading glory in October!

Review: The View from Alameda Island by Robyn Carr + Giveaway

Review: The View from Alameda Island by Robyn Carr + GiveawayThe View from Alameda Island by Robyn Carr
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, large print, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, women's fiction
Pages: 320
Published by Mira on April 30, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

#1 New York Times bestselling author Robyn Carr delivers a poignant and powerful story about how one woman’s best intentions lead to the worst of situations and how the power of love helps her to heal and ultimately triumph.

From the outside looking in, Lauren Delaney has a life to envy—a successful career, a solid marriage to a prominent surgeon and two beautiful daughters who are off to good colleges. But on her twenty-fourth wedding anniversary Lauren makes a decision that will change everything.

Lauren won’t pretend things are perfect anymore. She defies the controlling husband who has privately mistreated her throughout their marriage and files for divorce. And as she starts her new life, she meets a kindred spirit—a man who is also struggling with the decision to end his unhappy marriage.

But Lauren’s husband wants his “perfect” life back and his actions are shocking. Facing an uncertain future, Lauren discovers an inner strength she didn’t know she had as she fights for the love and happiness she deserves.

My Review:

This is a story about finally taking your life into your own hands and making a new beginning. And it’s also a story about karma being a beautiful brass-balled bitch.

Lauren Delaney is 24 years into a marriage that looks perfect on the outside – but is completely rotten on the inside. She knows that she’s let herself be a victim, and she’s pretty damned ashamed of that.

At the same time, she’s also aware that her husband is a controlling douchebag, and that she’s stayed because he threatened to cut their daughters off without a penny – or at least without enough pennies to pay for college.

He’s also certain that because he’s been the breadwinner as a successful and (self-) important surgeon that everything will go his way in any divorce. He knows how to turn on the charm when he needs to suck up – not that Lauren has had that charm directed at her in nearly two decades. But that over-inflated sense of his own self-importance has led him to completely ignore the fact that California is a community property state. Just because he’s done his level best to convince Lauren that she’s stupid doesn’t mean that she actually is.

Her departure is arranged. And secret. Her daughters are grown or nearly so, and it’s time to start living her own life without fear of abuse.

But no plan survives contact with the enemy – and neither does Lauren’s.

The family takes sides, with Lauren, her sister and her older daughter on one side – and her husband and younger daughter on the other. Along with a whole lot of friends that Lauren never realized she had.

She just has to survive long enough to see it all through.

Taking another chance at romantic love is absolutely nowhere on her horizon. After the way her marriage descended into an abyss, and the emotional cost of keeping up appearances long enough to get her daughters launched, she just isn’t ready to trust another man with any part of her slightly battered self.

At least not until she meets someone who has run the same gauntlet she has – someone who helps her see that the light at the end of the long, dark tunnel isn’t always an oncoming train.

Escape Rating B+: This was a hard books for me personally. In the end, a terrific one, but difficult at the beginning. My own first marriage went down on the same rocks that Lauren’s did. Not to the same degree by any means (and no kids for him to hold hostage), but the paths were surprisingly similar. It was painful and cathartic to read the story of someone else who came out the other side.

I also enjoyed that this is a story of a second chance at life and love for two people who are not 20somethings anymore. I always enjoy romances where the protagonists are a bit seasoned (and a bit closer to my own age!)

The story sits on the border between contemporary romances and women’s (or relationship) fiction. Because as much as the second half of the story focuses on Lauren’s initially stumbling steps towards a new relationship, a great deal of the narrative focuses on Lauren getting out of the old one, the bigger stumbling blocks to reaching that goal, and her relationships with the other women in her life.

Particularly her relationships with her daughters, her sister, and the women she thought were keeping her at arm’s length. After she leaves the jerk, she discovers that she was the one holding everyone else away, because it was easier to keep her secret in isolation than to lie with every second breath.

The way that her daughters react is painful but also feels all-too-real. The older one remembers more of the abuse than Lauren herself was willing to acknowledge. She’s thrilled that her mom is finally breaking away. But the real part is the way that the older girl was always aware that her younger sister was her dad’s favorite so she and her mother are more closely bonded.

The younger girl believes everything her daddy says, and is convinced her mother is having a midlife crisis and will come to her senses at any moment. It’s only when she is faced with incontrovertible evidence that she is finally able to let go of her own selfishness enough to realize that her mother has been telling the truth all along.

The romance that Lauren finds develops slowly and reluctantly. She’s been damaged, and her new friend has been hurt in the same way. They both lived with abusive spouses, both managed and cajoled and tolerated the abuse for the sake of their children, and both were finally able to let go once the children were nearly grown.

That both of their separated spouses tried to take the law into their own hands provided the tension in the story. This was a case, or rather two cases, where Chekhov’s Ex (the creepy stalkerish ex-relationship that looms over the entire plot like Chekhov’s Gun) took itself down off the shelf and hit the story with both barrels.

That the shots rebounded on their shooters made for a deliciously cathartic ending. Karma really is a beautiful bitch.

~~~~~~ GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~

I’m giving away a copy of The View from Alameda Island to one lucky US commenter on this tour!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Review: Pirate’s Pleasure by Lisa Kessler

Review: Pirate’s Pleasure by Lisa KesslerPirate's Pleasure by Lisa Kessler
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: paranormal romance
Series: Sentinels of Savannah #3
Pages: 295
on April 22, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

John Smyth has survived mutinous pirate crews, wars, and the passage of centuries by keeping his life as he did his ships, organized and well stocked. But when his crew is tasked with stealing Pandora's Box for the government, it opens a door to destruction, and her name is Harmony Andrews.

A risk-taking investment broker by day, and a thief by night, Harmony is a member of the underground Digi Robins crew. Stealing relics to sell on the dark web, they donate the money to people without insurance who need life-saving medical treatments.

What she doesn't realize is the box she just stole is the very one her boss is looking for––the boss who just happens to be an immortal pirate. And as their adventure heads into the danger zone, she doesn't know what's more dangerous: the risk to her life or the risk to her heart.

My Review:

One of the things about human beings is that we all require purpose. That purpose might be a career or a cause, or it might just be the hard work of keeping your family housed and fed and clothed and working to give your kids a better life than you had.

One of the problems of being immortal, or nearly so, is that the world changes and you mostly don’t. That the world passes you by while you stay frozen in it. And that it’s hard to find a purpose when you have already amassed all the wealth you could possibly need and when you have to stay out of the public eye in case someone figures out that you don’t age. And that it’s heartbreaking to have a family to provide for when you know up front that you’ll watch them all, including your children, grandchildren and great or even great great grandchildren grow up, grow old and die while you remain young and are forced to keep your distance.

The problems of immortality catch up with both the pirate John Smyth of the Sea Dog and the FBI Agent David Bale who leads Department 13 – the agency that deals with the paranormal and supernatural.

John Smyth was the Sea Dog’s boatswain back in those long ago days when they roamed the seas in search of booty and bounty. His job was to take care of the ship’s stores and hand out the pirates’ shares of the prize money. And he’s still doing it, over two centuries later.

But now he also does that same job for others who look at the success of his investment brokerage, Privateer, and put some of their own hard-earned money into his care. The rituals of his life keep him sane, but they aren’t really living.

The events of Magnolia Mystic and Pirate’s Passion, when someone stole the Holy Grail that gave the pirates of the old Sea Dog their immortality woke up the sleeping buccaneer in his soul. In the quest to get the relic back from the Serpent Society that stole it, John Smyth’s wild spirit woke up out of a long sleep – and it won’t go back.

Enter Harmony Andrews. Not exactly. Harmony is one of his top brokers at Privateer. She’s so good that he’s thinking of promoting her. But Harmony also has a secret wild side. She’s one of the Digi Robins, an underground hacker collective that robs from the rich and gives to people who need expensive medical care. Once upon a time, the Digi Robins saved her brother. Now she pays that gift forward by hacking and stealing to save others.

But someone has stolen Pandora’s Box. The very real, and very dangerous, box that contains all the world’s ills. Department 13 has contracted with the crew of the Sea Dog to steal it back.

From Harmony and the Digi Robins.

Escape Rating B+: If the Holy Grail is real, and it is in this series, there’s no reason why Pandora’s Box couldn’t be real too. As well as a whole lot of other dangerous artifacts that need to be locked up in the bowels of Warehouse 13 or Area 51 (or Area 52) or someplace else extremely secure. And deeply, permanently secret.

Pirate’s Pleasure is all about putting one of those extremely dangerous “genies” into that seemingly secure bottle – although we discover that Department 13’s warehouse isn’t quite as secure as everyone thought. Their method of transferring material into it certainly is not – as the Digi Robins exploit to kick off the story.

There are multiple things going on in this entry in the series, and all of them fascinating.

At the top, we have the very messy quest to get Pandora’s Box into safe (and secure) hands. But that quest sets off a worm-eating-its-tail loop of betrayals, counter betrayals, intended betrayals and feared (and preempted) betrayals. No one seems to be telling anyone much of the truth in this one.

When Harmony reveals her participation in the Digi Robins to John, in hopes of getting him onside their goals, it also sets off a chain reaction between them. No one has ever played him before – not in over two centuries. He’s intrigued. More than that, Harmony’s wild side speaks to his own – he’s just not sure he can (or should) trust her.

And she’s afraid to trust him. Or anyone. A situation that nearly leads to disaster. All of them.

Because Harmony has already been betrayed, and not by John Smyth. There’s a darkness at the heart of the Digi Robins, one that has reached out and compromised both her group and Department 13.

It may make Agent Bale just a bit more human and less unfeeling Agent Automaton. If he survives the experience. If any of them survive his experience.

There’s a whole lot to unpack in Pirate’s Pleasure – and there’s a whole lot of pleasure in reading all about it!

Review: Old Baggage by Lissa Evans

Review: Old Baggage by Lissa EvansOld Baggage by Lissa Evans
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction
Pages: 320
Published by Harper Perennial on April 16, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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The author of the acclaimed Crooked Heart returns with a comic, charming, and surprisingly timely portrait of a once pioneering suffragette trying to find her new passion in post-WWI era London.

1928. Riffling through a cupboard, Matilda Simpkin comes across a small wooden club—an old possession that she hasn’t seen for more than a decade. Immediately, memories come flooding back to Mattie—memories of a thrilling past, which only further serve to remind her of her chafingly uneventful present. During the Women's Suffrage Campaign, she was a militant who was jailed five times and never missed an opportunity to return to the fray. Now in middle age, the closest she gets to the excitement of her old life is the occasional lecture on the legacy of the militant movement.

After running into an old suffragette comrade who has committed herself to the wave of Fascism, Mattie realizes there is a new cause she needs to fight for and turns her focus to a new generation of women. Thus the Amazons are formed, a group created to give girls a place to not only exercise their bodies but their minds, and ignite in young women a much-needed interest in the world around them. But when a new girl joins the group, sending Mattie’s past crashing into her present, every principle Mattie has ever stood for is threatened.

Old Baggage is a funny and bittersweet portrait of a woman who has never given up the fight and the young women who are just discovering it.

My Review:

I’ve just realized that the title of this book is a bit of a pun. The main character, Mattie Simpkin, is referred to as an “old baggage”, meaning a cantankerous old woman. But the point of this story is that she is also carrying a lot of “old baggage”, as in emotional baggage. And that the old baggage actually isn’t carrying her old baggage terribly well, leading to the crisis point in the story.

Mattie is also fond of sprinkling her speech with quotations from authors, historians and philosophers. There’s one that’s used in the book, and is extremely appropriate to the story, even if there seems to be some debate on who originated it.

“It is never too late to be what you might have been.” And so it proves for Mattie Simpkin.

At first, this seemed to be a simple story about someone whose glory days were long behind them – and that same person’s inability to cope with that fact. But it’s not nearly that simple.

As the story begins, it’s 1928. Mattie is in her late 50s, and while she may not think of herself as old, it’s clear that others around her do. (I found this poignant and ironic at the same time as I’m older than Mattie but don’t see myself that way at all. It’s true that “old” starts at least 15 years past one’s own age)

Once upon a time, Mattie was one of the celebrated (and frequently derided) suffragists that marched, agitated and were jailed to goad the powers-that-were to grant women in Britain the right to vote. (It wasn’t any better in the U.S.)

The right was granted, under rather stringent conditions, in 1918 in the exhausted aftermath of World War I. At which point the movement towards women’s equality collapsed. (If this sounds familiar, let’s just say the pattern repeats).

But Mattie has never given up the fight, and ten years later she is still on the lecture circuit, attempting to enlist a new generation of women into the cause. She’s failing, and her lectures are increasingly poorly attended.

The situation changes when an old frenemy comes back into her life, and Mattie is galvanized into bringing young girls of her present some of the same educational and recreational experiences that formed her character. The problem is that her frenemy is plumping for the nascent Nazi party.

And Mattie’s need to prove herself to someone who has never had any intention but to bring her down and keep her there has no end of bad consequences. For Mattie, for her best friend Florrie, and especially for the girls and young women they have taken under their wings.

Escape Rating B+: At first, it didn’t seem like a whole lot happened in this book. Looking back on it, not a whole lot does – at least not in the sense of groundbreaking or earthshaking adventure. But there is plenty of drama underneath the quiet surface.

Initially, Mattie seems like somewhat of a comic figure. She’s an old battle axe who doesn’t seem to recognize that it’s time to put the axe up on the wall. While her mannerisms can be amusing, and her stubbornness is plenty infuriating to her friends and neighbors, she’s also right. Those two things don’t cancel each other out.

The cause was not won, only placated a bit. The fight was not over. Women were not equal. (They still aren’t) But Mattie’s methods don’t do her any favors, and she alienates as many people as she convinces. Probably alienates more people than she convinces.

The quiet drama in the story is the way that Mattie gets led astray, not so much from her cause as from her bedrock straightforward way of going about it.

Because while Mattie may be an old baggage, there are also a couple of nasty pieces of baggage who are deliberately, or not so deliberately, undermining her efforts. And her sense of self is what suffers along the way.

It’s when she finally comes back to herself that she is finally offered that opportunity to be what she might have been. And it’s her redemption that she takes it.

In the end, Old Baggage was nothing like I expected. But it was a charming read every step of the way.

Review: Winds of Marque by Bennett R. Coles

Review: Winds of Marque by Bennett R. ColesWinds of Marque: Blackwood Virtue by Bennett R. Coles
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: science fiction, space opera
Series: Blackwood & Virtue #1
Pages: 368
Published by Harper Voyager on April 16, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

"Bennett R. Coles ranks among my go-to list in SF. Entertaining and intelligent storytelling and terrific characters. In Winds of Marque, Coles may well have invented a whole new subgenre that has me scrambling for a description--Steam Space?  Whatever you call it, a blast to read. Here's hoping that many more adventures are in the offing for Blackwood and company."  Steven Erikson, New York Times bestselling author

The first novel in an exciting science fiction series—Master and Commander in space—a swashbuckling space adventure in which a crew of misfit individuals in the king’s navy are sent to dismantle a dangerous ring of pirate raiders.

In a dense star cluster, the solar winds blow fiercely. The star sailing ship HMSS Daring is running at full sheet with a letter of marque allowing them to capture enemy vessels involved in illegal trading. Sailing under a false flag to protect the ship and its mission, Daring’s crew must gather intelligence that will lead them to the pirates’ base.

Posing as traders, Daring’s dashing second-in-command Liam Blackwood and brilliant quartermaster Amelia Virtue infiltrate shady civilian merchant networks, believing one will lead them to their quarry.

But their mission is threatened from within their own ranks when Daring’s enigmatic captain makes a series of questionable choices, and rumblings of discontent start bubbling up from below decks, putting the crew on edge and destroying morale. On top of it all, Liam and Amelia must grapple with their growing feelings for each other.

Facing danger from unexpected quarters that could steer the expedition off course, Blackwood and Virtue must identify the real enemy threat and discover the truth about their commander—and their mission—before Daring falls prey to the very pirates she’s meant to be tracking.

My Review:

The blurbs and the reviews for this book say the same two things fairly consistently. One, that it’s a whole lot of fun. Two, that it’s Aubrey and Maturin (Master and Commander) in space.

The first thing is definitely true. Winds of Marque is a whole lot of fun. I’m a bit less sure about the second thing – and I’m saying that as someone who read the entire Aubrey and Maturin series.

What makes this so much fun is that it is a romp of swashbuckling derring-do, but set in space in the distant future – on a Navy ship under letters of marque (government-licensed piracy) with a mission to find the real pirates and wipe them out before humans end up in a war with the insect-like Sectoids.

Our plucky heroes are Subcommander Liam Blackwood and Petty Officer Amelia Virtue. Fraternizing between the ranks is about to become the least of their problems.

Blackwood, second-son of the nobility and Executive Office (XO) of the HMSS Daring, has a reputation for coddling, chivying and generally outmaneuvering dunderheaded noble Captains so that they manage not to kill their entire crews in acts of noble idiocy. He’s unfortunately good at his job – because it’s bad for his career. Someone has to take the blame for the untouchable nobles’ disasters, and it’s generally their frustrated XO.

Virtue is the newly promoted quartermaster of the Daring. She’s relatively young, hyper-competent, and has the combined duty of making sure the Daring is fully supplied without resorting to Naval stores while instructing Blackwood in just how different the life of a commoner ranking sailor is from that of even a second-born noble son.

It’s probably going to be the making of him, if they survive the mess they are currently in.

Because nothing about their mission is exactly what it seems. Not the inexperienced but not unintelligent Captain Lady Sophia Riverton, not the pirates and certainly not the Sectoids.

That there’s a noble fop on board who is just dead certain that he can do everything better than his Naval superiors but social inferiors is nearly the deadly icing on a very explosive cake.

And it’s a blast from beginning to end.

Escape Rating B+: I had a great time while I was reading this. The verve and drive of the narrative really sweeps the reader along. But, I’m not sure how well it holds up upon further reflection. Not that I won’t pick up the next book in the series when it comes out. I did have a great time.

Part of the problem for this reader may be in all those comparisons to the Aubrey and Maturin series. Which was marvelous and excellent and terrific and if you enjoy naval stories or Napoleonic war stories is highly recommended. The audio is particularly good.

One issue, at least so far, is that Blackwood is not analogous to Aubrey (neither is Riverton) and there is no Maturin, at least so far. And that one aspect of the story, the Napoleonic wars in space, has been done before by David Weber in the Honor Harrington series. (It’s also been done in fantasy in the Temeraire series by Naomi Novik!)

Where it is similar to the Aubrey and Maturin series is in its detailed descriptions of the working of the ship. That the Daring is a ship powered by “solar sails” makes that resemblance more pronounced, but also a bit out of place. I’m not sure whether it’s that we’ve become so used to FTL (Faster Than Light) ships being sleek and powered internally that solar sails feel less possible (not that FTL drives in general are possible at the present) or that the whole “sailing” aspect feels like an artificial way for the author to insert sailing jargon and terminology that would not otherwise be present.

One aspect of the story, although not the primary aspect, is the developing romance between Blackwood and Virtue. As much as I like both characters, there doesn’t feel like there’s enough there to sell the romance. While it does take a reasonable amount of time for them to fall in love, because the story is told from Blackwood’s perspective we don’t see enough of Virtue’s thought processes to “feel” their romance. It’s a not nearly enough significant glances and conversations about ship’s business that fall into bed – or rather office floor at a crisis point.

Although this is a navy that has given up on anti-fraternization regulations, these are people from two different worlds that don’t mix. If they are going to be together, there need to be a whole lot more conversations about how that’s going to work. Because what Virtue tells Blackwood is correct – as a noble he can do anything at all to her, up to and possibly including murder but certainly including rape and assault – and he will never be punished because he’s a member of the aristocracy and she’s a commoner. That power imbalance is going to require one hell of a reckoning at some point.

The book this reminds me of the most is The Guns Above by Robyn Bennis. That book incorporates its equivalent ship jargon much more smoothly. Transferring the terminology of sailing vessels to an airship that sails the air felt smoother even if the war they are flying in is just as deadly. That story also includes a noble fop, but that one manages to get better – if not less foppish – as the adventure goes along.

The situation that the Daring finds herself in is a well-worn and well-loved trope. The ship of misfit naval personnel go rogue with official sanction but no official backing to do a job that desperately needs to be done – but that no one in the official navy wants to be caught dirtying their hands to actually get done. If they complete their mission someone else will get the glory, but if they fail the survivors will take all the blame.

And it’s so much fun that none of them can resist signing up for another mission. Readers won’t be resisting either!

Review: If This Goes On edited by Cat Rambo

Review: If This Goes On edited by Cat RamboIf This Goes On by Cat Rambo, E. Lily Yu, Aimee Ogden, Rachel Chimits, Cyd Athens, Scott Edelman, Jack Lothian, Gregory Jeffers, Conor Powers-Smith, Priya Sridhar, Andy Duncan, Lynette Mejía, Hal Y. Zhang, Nick Mamatas, Steven Barnes, Kitty-Lydia Dye, Tiffany E. Wilson, Nisi Shawl, Kathy Schilbach, Zandra Renwick, Chris Kluwe, Sarah Pinsker, Calie Voorhis, Marie Vibbert, James Wood, Jamie Lackey, Paul Crenshaw, Langley Hyde, Judy Helfrich, Beth Dawkins, Sylvia Spruck Wrigley
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: anthologies, dystopian, post apocalyptic, science fiction, short stories
Pages: 304
Published by Parvus Press LLC on March 5, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

A bold new anthology born of rage and sorrow and hope. 30 writers look at what today's politics and policies will do to shape our world a generation from now. Some of today's most visionary writers of science fiction project us forward to the world of the future; a world shaped by nationalism, isolationism, and a growing divide between the haves and have nots. This anthology sits at the intersection of politics, speculative fiction, and American identity. The choices we make today, the policies of our governments and the values that we, as people, embrace are going to shape our world for decades to come. Or break it. Edited by Cat Rambo, the current President of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, the stories of If This Goes On invite you to worlds very like this one-- but just a little different.

Table of contents:Green Glass: A Love Story by E. Lily YuTwelve Histories Scrawled in the Sky by Aimee OgdenDead Wings by Rachel ChimitsWelcome to Gray by Cyd AthensThe Stranded Time Traveler Embraces the Inevitable by Scott EdelmanGood Pupils by Jack LothianAll the Good Dogs Have Been Eaten by Gregory JeffersThe Sinking Tide by Conor Powers-SmithMustard Seeds and the Elephant’s Foot by Priya SridharMr. Percy’s Shortcut by Andy DuncanA Gardener’s Guide to the Apocalypse by Lynette MejíaBut for Grace by Hal Y. ZhangHurrah! Another Year, Surely This One Will Be Better Than The Last; The Inexorable March of Progress Will Lead Us All to Happiness by Nick MamatasThe Last Adventure of Jack Laff: The Dayveil Gambit by Steven BarnesThree Data Units by Kitty-Lydia DyeOne Shot by Tiffany E. WilsonKing Harvest (Will Surely Come) by Nisi ShawlCounting the Days by Kathy SchilbachMaking Happy by Zandra RenwickThe Machine by Chris KluweThat Our Flag Was Still There by Sarah PinskerThe Editor’s Eyes by Calie VoorhisFree WiFi by Marie VibbertDiscobolos by James WoodFine by Jamie LackeyBulletproof Tattoos by Paul CrenshawCall and Answer by Langley HydeA Pocketful of Dolphins by Judy HelfrichTasting Bleach and Decay in the City of Dust by Beth DawkinsThe Choices You Make by Sylvia Spruck Wrigley

My Review:

I picked this up around the same time I received Cory Doctorow’s Radicalized to review for Library Journal. Just from the descriptions, it seemed that these two books either springboarded off the same event, were in dialog with each other, or both. (This is also a giant hint that if this book interests you that one will too!)

They’re not exactly in dialog with each other, but they certainly arose out of the same event – the 2016 election. Both are wrapped around the question about what the state of the US – and by extension the world – will be in the future if the hateful politics and policies that were given voice and force by the election of 45 continue into the future relatively unchecked.

That premise is explicit in If This Goes On, and implicit in Radicalized, but it is definitely there in both books.

They are very different collections, however. Radicalized consists of four novellas by a single author, where If This Goes On is a collection in the broader sense, of relatively short stories by 30+ authors around the single theme.

A theme that the collection is screaming about – loudly and with metaphorical expletives. As far as the authors and editor are concerned (and this reader) the policies of those elected in that mess are undoing much of the good that the US has done and are making both the country and the world into a worse place than it was.

None of the writers want the situation to continue – and have done science fiction’s usual excellent job of extending the present out into the possible, even plausible, end point of the contemporary mess in order to show just how awful things can be.

In the hopes that we will band together and do something about it before it is too late.

Escape Rating B+: My feels are all over the place on this one.

First, because it bothered the hell out of me and presumably will other people, the title of the collection sounds familiar because it is. If This Goes On— is the title of a novella by Robert A. Heinlein, a novella which would itself feel at home in this collection.

Whether the title of the collection is in homage or not, there is still plenty of resonance between the two.

This is not a collection to be read late at night, particularly with only the light of one’s screen to push back the darkness. Because there’s plenty of darkness in these stories. While some of them border on horror in the traditional sense, most of the stories give the reader the sense that they are looking at something horrible. And I was appropriately – and shudderingly – horrified.

There is some humor in some of the stories, but it is primarily humor of the “gallows” persuasion. These futures are all bleak in one way or another. While the stories themselves are excellent, the overall tone is fairly dark.

Each story is followed by an editor’s note that tends to hit that dark tone over the head with a baseball bat. The stories generally speak for themselves so that repeated emphasis felt a bit like being bludgeoned with the point of the collection – over and over again. I was already metaphorically bleeding so this was a case where the beatings didn’t need to continue until morale improved because it wasn’t going to happen. But there’s something about the reference to that t-shirt saying that seems appropriate just the same – possibly because hearing the news these days does feel a bit like that proverbial beating.

As much as I agreed with the authors’ and the editor’s perspectives, I’ll admit to getting tired of having it beaten into my head over and over again. YMMV.

These stories stand on their own. Sometimes swaying in the wind from the apocalypse, but they do stand. And the collection is well worth reading. If you read nothing else from this collection, look for Mustard Seeds and the Elephant’s Foot by Priya Sridhar – it’s lovely.

As the saying goes, in reference to the collection as a whole, “Read ‘em and weep.”

Review: The Library of Lost and Found by Phaedra Patrick + Giveaway

Review: The Library of Lost and Found by Phaedra Patrick + GiveawayThe Library of Lost and Found by Phaedra Patrick
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, large print, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: women's fiction
Pages: 352
Published by Park Row on March 26, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

A librarian’s discovery of a mysterious book sparks the journey of a lifetime in the delightful new novel from the international bestselling author of
The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper

Librarian Martha Storm has always found it easier to connect with books than people—though not for lack of trying. She keeps careful lists of how to help others in her superhero-themed notebook. And yet, sometimes it feels like she’s invisible.

All of that changes when a book of fairy tales arrives on her doorstep. Inside, Martha finds a dedication written to her by her best friend—her grandmother Zelda—who died under mysterious circumstances years earlier. When Martha discovers a clue within the book that her grandmother may still be alive, she becomes determined to discover the truth. As she delves deeper into Zelda’s past, she unwittingly reveals a family secret that will change her life forever.

Filled with Phaedra Patrick’s signature charm and vivid characters, The Library of Lost and Found is a heartwarming and poignant tale of how one woman must take control of her destiny to write her own happy ending.

My Review:

What is lost and finally found at this library is the heart and spirit of volunteer library worker Martha Storm. The story of how she was “lost”, is told in flashbacks, but the story of what she found and how she found it is part of the present.

And it’s completely charming.

I found myself caught up in Martha’s initially self-restricted life and eventual flowering almost in spite of myself. To the point where I started and finished the book in a single day.

Not a lot happens in this story. There aren’t any great adventures or major events. Well, not exactly. Except that there are – mostly in the sense of a journey of the spirit, with signposts provided by the events of her life along the way.

Martha Storm volunteers at her local public library in tiny little Sandshift – a small town on the coast of England. She’s the person who does everything for everybody, always going above and beyond on every side, with no hope of compensation and nary a word of thanks.

She’s a woman who seems constitutionally incapable of saying “No” to anyone. And no one seems to appreciate her for it – not her boss, not her co-workers, not the villagers she helps and certainly not her sister. Not until she finally, suddenly, almost inexplicably manages to say that one word – and both her world and that world’s view of her, begins to shift.

So does she. And as Martha starts to find herself, she also finds what she lost long ago – her grandmother.

Escape Rating B+: This is a story about family secrets, their power to harm, and their power to destroy. And it’s about the freedom that comes with setting those secrets free.

In my own family, there was a secret. At my grandfather’s funeral my aunt revealed that my grandmother was not her mother – that my grandfather had been married before. It wasn’t a big secret – nor was it destructive in the way that the secrets in this story were. But it told me a vital piece of information that explained a great deal about my childhood – I was my grandmother’s only grandchild. She was already deceased, so it had no effect on my relationship with her – but it colored my memories of her differently.

The secrets that have been kept from Martha Storm all of her life, while they don’t change the past, definitely put it into a much different light. A light that illuminates so many events and relationships that defined her – and not always for her benefit.

When she was in her early teens, her parents told her that her charismatic, beloved grandmother Zelda was dead. They refused to let her go to the funeral, and she never found the grave.

When a local bookseller gives her a worn-out copy of a book, written by her grandmother, made up of stories that Martha wrote and told to her grandmother and stories that her grandmother wrote and told to her, she’s flabbergasted. When she reads the dedication at the front of the book, a dedication to her, written three years after her grandmother’s “death”, Martha’s world starts to unravel.

But what unravels are all the accretions and protections, all the shoulds and don’ts, all the negging that her uber-controlling father wrapped around Martha, her mother, and her sister. All the things that kept Martha from venturing out into the world, and letting the world venture into her.

All the things that would have challenged her father’s control of her. Like her grandmother.

In her search for her grandmother, Martha rediscovers herself and her childhood joy of the world around her.

She gets a second chance at life. At love. And with her beloved Zelda. The truth sets her free to be her best self.

And it makes an absolutely charming story.

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Review: Lonen’s Reign by Jeffe Kennedy

Review: Lonen’s Reign by Jeffe KennedyLonen's Reign (Sorcerous Moons #6) by Jeffe Kennedy
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: ebook
Genres: fantasy romance
Series: Sorcerous Moons #6
Pages: 160
Published by Brightlynx on March 20th 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

A Looming Threat
The sorceress Oria has finally come into her own—able to wield the power of her birthright and secure in the marriage she once believed would bring her only misery. But the past she escaped still chases her, and the certainty of war promises to destroy everything she’s fought to have.

An Impossible War
Once before Lonen led an army in a desperate attempt to stop the powerfully murderous sorcerers of Bára—and he nearly lost everything. Now he must return to the battlefield that took the lives of so many of his people. Only this time he has more to risk than ever.

The Final Conflict
With guile, determination—and unexpected allies—Oria and Lonen return to the place where it all began… and only hope that it won’t also be the end of them.

My Review:

This was a lovely wrap up to the series. Or, to put it another way that feels much more accurate, Lonen’s Reign provides the concluding chapters to this lovely fantasy romance.

That’s a hint, by the way. The Sorcerous Moons series reads way more like a single book split into chunks than it does a series of individual books. It only works if you read from the beginning. Every time I get a new “chapter” I find myself reading the synopses and my reviews of the previous books to catch myself up – even if it hasn’t been all that long since the previous book.

All the action in this book rests on what came before. Which is fitting for the concluding “chapter” of an epic (in scope if not in length) saga.

This is also the point where the story comes full circle. We began, in Lonen’s War, with then-Prince Lonen and his Destrye attacking the stronghold of their enemies, the Bara. Where Lonen discovers a disregarded Princess Oria imprisoned in her tower by her own weaknesses.

Oria finds herself the only functioning member of the Baran royal house, and brokers a peace treaty between her people and the Destrye – only to have that well-thought out and surprisingly well-working peace broken the moment her brother wakes up and forcibly takes the crown.

From that point forward, the story moves back and forth between Destrye and Bara, as Oria discovers the depths to which her own people have sunk – and the desperation that has forced Lonen’s people to rise and strike back.

Along the way, Oria discovers that all of the prohibitions, weaknesses and fears that have held her back are a tissue of lies and misdirections. And Oria and Lonen make a marriage of state and convenience that turns into so much more.

This is the point where the finally undisputed King of the Destrye, and his newly anointed Queen Oria risk everything they have on one final gamble against the heavily fortified and magically defended Bara – in the hopes of saving both their peoples.

All of their people. On both sides.

Escape Rating B+: I’m kind of reviewing the whole series at this concluding point. Because this book really doesn’t make much sense on its own, it feels necessary to look at the series as a whole.

At the same time, I have to say that Lonen’s Reign feels like a fitting conclusion to the saga begun in Lonen’s War – and it feels equally fitting that both the first and the last book are titled after him. He began the action at the outset, followed by Oria’s reaction in Oria’s Gambit, followed by two middle books, then Oria’s finally coming into her own power in Oria’s Enchantment and now we sit at the conclusion.

The two sides began at war, not that the Barans would have considered their actions warlike. Bara used to be a lush paradise, but the climate changed and their city turned into a desert. Instead of adapting, they used magic as well as engineering to steal water from the lands that surrounded them, making even more desert. Eventually they reached the lands of the distant Destrye, absolutely certain that their magical might gave them the right to strip those lands of their water and kill anyone who fought back.

Lonen brought the war home to them. And left with the prize and pride of Bara, Princess Oria. As they fell in love, it gave her strength of will, and the desperate determination to reach beyond everything that she had been taught. She had to in order to survive – and to be able to do the right thing.

Oria grounded Lonen, giving him the wisdom to become the king his people needed, in spite of the betrayals he suffered at home.

Their union, which does indeed become the love story for the ages as I said in my review of Lonen’s War, provides a path forward for both of their peoples, who have now become one.

In some ways, the story in Lonen’s Reign feels as if it is missing a few bits – almost all of the backstory is in their earlier books.

Because I really enjoy worldbuilding, it also felt as if Oria’s final revelations – the climate change, the resulting subjugation and despoiling of a wider and wider swath of territory, and, most of all, the way that magic as practiced in Bara became ossified in a way that almost literally set their people, and particularly the women, into stone that preserved the predatory status quo – got a bit of a short shrift. I’d love to know more about how it happened.

Maybe that’s another book sometime in the future.

Lonen’s Reign turned out to be a quick and mostly satisfying wrap-up to a fascinating fantasy romance series. I’m looking forward to both the author’s eventual return to the awesome Twelve Kingdoms series – because that is edging towards its final confrontation – and to her new fantasy romance series, beginning with The Orchid Throne later this year.

Review: Glory Road by Lauren K. Denton

Review: Glory Road by Lauren K. DentonGlory Road by Lauren K. Denton
Format: ebook
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: Southern fiction, women's fiction
Pages: 368
Published by Thomas Nelson on March 19, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Written in Lauren Denton's signature Southern style, Glory Road tells the story of three generations of women navigating the uncertain pathways of their hearts during a summer that promises to bring change--whether they're ready for it or not.

At thirty-eight, garden shop owner Jessie McBride thinks her chances for romance are years behind her and, after her failed marriage, she's fine with that. She lives contentedly with her fiery mother and her quiet, headstrong daughter. But the unexpected arrival of two men on Glory Road make her question if she's really happy with the status quo. Handsome, wealthy Sumner Tate asks her to arrange flowers for his daughter's wedding, and Jessie finds herself drawn to his continued attention. And Ben Bradley, her lingering what-could-have-been from high school days who's known her better than anyone and whom she hasn't seen in years, moves back to the red dirt road. Jessie finds her heart being pulled in directions she never expected.

Meanwhile, Jessie's fourteen-year-old daughter, Evan, is approaching the start of high school and trying to navigate a new world of identity and emotions--particularly as they relate to the cute new guy who's moved in just down the road. At the same time, Jessie's mother, Gus, increasingly finds herself forgetful and faces a potentially frightening future.

As all three women navigate the uncertain paths of their hearts and futures, one summer promises to bring change--whether they're ready for it or not.

My Review:

Good things come in threes, and so it proves in this lovely story of three generations of the McBride women. Take that as a hint that, in spite of Goodreads characterizing this as a romance, it’s really women’s fiction or relationship fiction. While romances do occur within the pages of this book, the backbone of the book is the relationship between the women and not the men who find their way into – or back into – their lives.

Also, in spite of the Amazon classification of Glory Road as both “Christian” and “Historical”, it isn’t either. This is a contemporary story set in a small (very small) Alabama town. And even though the book is published by noted Christian publisher Thomas Nelson, there’s nothing particularly religious or inspirational in the story, although the romantic aspects are downright squeaky clean.

I like a good romance. It doesn’t have to get to the bedroom to qualify as romance – and I like a well-written “fade to black” better than a risible risque scene. I didn’t notice that no one did anything more than kiss, and very little of that, until I finished and thought back on the story. So it works.

But what is it?

The McBride women all live on Glory Road just outside tiny Perry Alabama. They are all at crossroads in their lives. How those crossroads intersect, and how they walk along after, both together and separately, is what makes the story.

Gus McBride is nearly 70. She’s happy to have her daughter Jessie and granddaughter Evan back on Glory Road, but at the same time has become aware that proximity means that the secret she is trying to hide even from herself will be exposed sooner rather than later. Gus isn’t ready to deal with the Alzheimer’s disease that took both her mother and grandmother, and is now overtaking her.

Evan is about to enter 9th grade – she’s starting high school. It’s a new school and a whole lot of new opportunities. She’s growing up and starting to push boundaries. And she’s making new friends, including the older boy who has just moved into Perry with his dad. Evan has her first crush on Nick Bradley, not knowing just how history is both repeating – and not.

Jessie is the sandwich between her mother Gus and her daughter Evan. She has put behind her past with Evan’s wayward father, and has figured out why her marriage didn’t work. She spent her high school years pretending to be someone she wasn’t, and her ex fell in love with that pretense and not the person she really is.

The person Jessie really is isn’t that perky, blonde, highlighted cheerleader. She’s the quietly introspective woman who owns Twig, the local gardening shop. And she’s the person her best friend all those years ago, Ben Bradley, fell in love with.

Ben has returned to Glory Road, and has brought his son Nick. A boy who would have been theirs if things had gone differently. There’s a chance they might this time. Or it might be too late. Or Jessie might make the same mistake all over again.

Escape Rating B+: This was, just like my reading of The Hideaway a couple of years ago, lovely. Not quite as unexpected this time around.

Three is a powerful number, and the three McBrides are powerful women, albeit in different ways. While their stories are individually interesting, the relationship between them powers the story as it switches perspectives from one to another but always making clear the depth of the bond between them.

Evan’s story is the easiest. She’s only 14, her entire life is still before her. This is the summer of her first real crush, her first serious testing of her mother’s boundaries, the deepening of her quest to discover the person she’s meant to be … and the escalating fear over her grandmother’s badly hidden illness.

Gus’ story is both tragic and uplifting, as she faces both the fear that has dogged her for her entire adult life – and the man who is willing to stand beside her in the dark days ahead. She both comes to terms with what the future will bring her, and reaches out to wring all the happiness possible from the days yet to come.

But the lion’s share of the story is Jessie’s. She is caught at multiple decision points, and the crises they bring to her life make her examine who she’s been, who she is, and who she wants to be. They also make her both appreciate her comfort zone and make her willing to step out of it.

She’s worried about her mother’s increasing forgetfulness. She’s also worried about her business, as a nearby “big box” store has opened and is stealing more than a few of her formerly faithful customers.

And her ancient laptop computer gives up its ghost in the middle of it all. Thanks to the aforementioned big box store, money for a replacement is absolutely nowhere in the budget. Then Ben comes back to town and offers to fix it.

Jessie’s relationship with Ben Bradley recalls the famous quote by John Greenleaf Whittier, the one that goes, “For all sad words of tongue and pen, the saddest are these, “It might have been.” Back in high school, Jessie and Ben were best friends. He was the only one besides her family who knew the real Jessie McBride. But their comfortable friendship ended when Ben confessed that he loved Jessie – and she didn’t respond. Instead, she let her popular friends pull her away from the man who loved her and the life that might have been.

A life that would probably have worked out better than her marriage to a man who wanted the perky, popular Jessie she pretended to be. A road not taken that Jessie has never stopped thinking about.

Now Ben is back in Perry, and they might have another chance to see what they might be. But Jessie is also involved with another flashy charmer like her ex – admittedly one who’s a bit more down to earth and sees the person Jessie is now a bit better. But someone who represents a life bigger and brighter than Perry, and a life she left behind.

With everything else going on in her life, the world outside of Perry seems mighty tempting for a brief while.

It’s pretty obvious to the reader who represents Jessie’s best future and happiest self. Watching her figure that out for herself is the charm of the story. And this reader was definitely charmed.

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Guest Review: Orb by Gary Tarulli

Guest Review: Orb by Gary TarulliOrb by Gary Tarulli
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: science fiction
Pages: 322
Published by Gary Tarulli on November 16, 2011
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleBook Depository
Goodreads

Three months outbound from Earth and the starship Desio approaches its planetary destination, her crew eager to commence a mission of scientific discovery. Kyle Lorenzo, however, has a personal reason for being on board--an inner conflict that will ultimately propel him to explore not only of the furthest reaches of an enigmatic ocean world but the nebulous recesses of his inner psyche.

During the long and isolating interstellar journey a physical relationship develops between Kyle and the ship's physician, Kelly Takara. That part is easy. Understanding the reasons for avoiding the emotional commitment desired by Kelly is harder. So, too, is trying to penetrate the mind of Larry Melhaus, the mission's brilliant and reclusive physicist - a failure to communicate made exponentially more troublesome when the scientist's disturbing behavior begins to threaten the crew.

While Kyle struggles to comprehend himself and Melhaus, the ship's crew, led by their strong-willed commander, Bruce Thompson, attempt to fathom a planet where none of the precepts of science seem to apply. A world where every preconceived notion of what constitutes life must be re-examined and challenged.

Two journeys: One inward, one outward.Culminating at the same destination.

Guest Review by Amy:

Interstellar exploration is hard, even if you have a wormhole to make the trip shorter. They only pick the best of the best, but the first crew that went to the planet labeled “231-P5” … had problems. The stress of the trip, being alone with only each other for months on end, the situation they found themselves in, no one’s entirely sure. This crew is carefully hand-picked: five scientists, one…wait, what? A writer? And a poodle?

Months out there in space, and our intrepid wordsmith has fallen for the ship’s doctor, one Kelly Takara, but Kyle Lorenzo is sort of afraid of commitment. Things are tense, and only get more so as the expedition’s physicist, Dr. Larry Melhaus, starts acting even more strange than usual.

Escape Rating: B+. The first chapter or two of this book didn’t quite grab me the first time I picked it up about a year ago. I chalked it up to the mood I was in at the time, and threw it back on my TBR heap for later consideration. When I decided to give it another whirl last week, I discovered that the problem with the book wasn’t me. Well, not exactly.

I’m reminded of the first time I watched 2001: A Space Odyssey. While visually stunning, there is an awful lot of the early part of the film that, to me as a then-very-young person, just didn’t serve the plot in a meaningful way. That’s the problem I had with the first couple of chapters of Orb. Author Gary Tarulli gets us deeply into the head of a literary-minded person, and it reminded me rather a lot of the existential maunderings I had to read in freshman lit classes in the late 1980s: slightly less-exciting than cold oatmeal with no butter.

Let me say right now that that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Existentialist fiction, if I may paint it with that deliberately-broad term, isn’t by definition bad, despite what I just said about my poor freshman lit teacher’s choices. I just didn’t expect it to come at me in a book labeled “Science Fiction.” And far be it from me to dish on a self-published author–as self-published first works go, this one isn’t bad, really–it just took me a while to catch on to what Tarulli was trying to give us. I’m a slow learner, sometimes.

When our crew arrives, early-ish in the book, at the water world that they are there to explore, the sci-fi story starts to emerge, and it’s a good one. The intelligence that populates the planet is so wildly different from ours that our crew struggles with first-contact matters in unexpected ways, and watching Dr. Melhaus’ slow-motion implosion gives us a nice dose of tension, if not quite a villain. Kyle’s internal dialogue over his relationship with Kelly Takara is fairly-understandable, and watching him progress into that relationship is a sweet counterpoint to the precarious situation the crew is in.

“Not quite a villain,” I just said–there’s really no villain, as such, in this story. Our cast of characters spends the whole book discovering a place and flavor of life that is incomprehensibly different from ours, and spends even more time discovering … themselves. This is a book that, if you can digest it, will make you think about things rather a lot. It did me. This book is not escapist fiction, not like lots of other reviews I’ve brought you here at Reading Reality; it’s a thinker’s book. Read it with that in mind, and I’m sure you’ll get something out of it, as I have.