Review: Embrace the Romance: Pets in Space 2

Review: Embrace the Romance: Pets in Space 2Embrace the Romance: Pets in Space 2 by S.E. Smith, Carol Van Natta, Jessica E. Subject, Alexis Glynn Latner, M.K. Eidem, Susan Grant, Michelle Howard, Cara Bristol, Veronica Scott, Pauline Baird Jones, Laurie A. Green, Sabine Priestley
Format: eARC
Source: publisher
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: science fiction romance
Pages: 826
on October 10th 2017
Publisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

The pets are back! Embrace the Romance: Pets in Space 2, featuring twelve of today’s leading Science Fiction Romance authors brings you a dozen original stories written just for you! Join in the fun, from the Dragon Lords of Valdier to a trip aboard award-winning author, Veronica Scott’s Nebula Zephyr to journeying back to Luda where Grim is King, for stories that will take you out of this world! Join New York Times, USA TODAY, and Award-winning authors S.E. Smith, M.K. Eidem, Susan Grant, Michelle Howard, Cara Bristol, Veronica Scott, Pauline Baird Jones, Laurie A. Green, Sabine Priestley, Jessica E. Subject, Carol Van Natta, and Alexis Glynn Latner as they share stories and help out Hero-Dogs.org, a charity that supports our veterans!

10% of the first month’s profits go to Hero-Dogs.org. Hero Dogs raises and trains service dogs and places them free of charge with US Veterans to improve quality of life and restore independence.

My Review:

I loved the first Pets in Space collection, as well as all the pets collected therein, so I was happy to sign up for Pets in Space 2. And I’m glad I did.

This is a collection to savor, and possibly also one to plan on reading over a long trip. This book is huge. Why? Because this is not a collection of short stories, it’s a collection of novellas. Novellas are longer, meatier and just have room for more story all the way around. So if you like SFR in general or stories where animals help the humans get their romantic act together, this one is a winner from beginning to end.

I have to confess that I haven’t read them all, yet. I want to have time to get into each story, and possibly see how many books in each author’s series I need to add to my towering TBR pile.

That being said, I really enjoyed the stories I did read. But because this is my “best beloved” genre, SFR, I have a few quibbles.

I read the first two stories, Pearl’s Dragon by SE Smith and A Grim Pet by MK Eidem straight out of the gate, before I realized I had to pace myself a bit. I liked both of them, but Pearl’s Dragon spoke to me a bit more. It was fantastic to see a “woman of a certain age” as the romantic lead. That doesn’t happen nearly often enough, even though in science fiction it is easy to posit more than enough medical advances to make it not merely plausible, but very, very possible. And it’s fun to see someone I can really identify with as the heroine!

But both of these stories are in worlds that I am not familiar with, and that are several stories into their worldbuilding. As much as I enjoyed them, I always had the feeling that there was a whole bunch that I was missing because I hadn’t read the previous stories. Which look like a treat. As soon as I get a round tuit, I’ll be back to visit these worlds again.

I went hunting for a cat story, because, cats. I love cat stories, and cat’s stories, and that’s why I have two of my own. And I loved Rescued by the Cyborg by Cara Bristol, even though I have not read the series that it comes from, either. Little Mittzi added just the right touch of comfort and whimsy to a story that definitely had its dark and gritty moments. And Mittzi even saved the day!

Then I went looking for the stories in universes that was already familiar with, and explored two of those, Veronica Scott’s Star Cruise: Songbird and Pauline Baird Jones’ Time Trap.

Time Trap was a bit shorter than the rest, and just didn’t have quite enough time to deal with what feels like some very complex worldbuilding under the surface. And that’s ironic considering that this is a time travel story. I liked Briggs and Madison, but because I didn’t have a lot of background for them I found myself short-cutting what I did have and grafting it into universes I’m more familiar with. Something kept saying Stargate to me, but I’m not sure if that mental leap was remotely correct. Still, great characters, but the worldbuilding had clearly happened elsewhere. Sir Rupert, on my third hand, was an absolute hoot. Pun completely intended.

Of the stories that I read, I think that Star Cruise: Songbird was the best of the marvelous bunch. It probably helped that I have read several books in the Star Cruise series, and was relatively familiar with the worldbuilding. This story felt the most complete, in the sense that we had a chance to really see the relationship develop from its shaky start to its life-altering conclusion. The bond between Grant and his raptor was nicely done, and Karissa’s problems, while they were difficult, showed that she was dealing with her life and just needed a bit of help – not that Grant needed to rescue her at every turn. I also loved that they found a way to be together that melded both their worlds. A great story with a well deserved and interesting HEA.

Escape Rating A-: There are mostly hits in this collection, and plenty of temptation not just to immerse yourself in this book, but to go back and do a deep dive into every one of these authors’ worlds. I loved the first book, and this is a fitting continuation. I hope that there will be a Pets in Space 3 to look forward to next year, because this collection has become an annual treat.

Review: Pets in Space by S.E. Smith and more

Review: Pets in Space by S.E. Smith and morePets in Space by S.E. Smith, Susan Grant, Cara Bristol, Veronica Scott, Pauline Baird Jones, Laurie A. Green, Alexis Glynn Latner, Lea Kirk, Carysa Locke
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: ebook
Genres: science fiction romance
Pages: 500
on October 11th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

Even an alien needs a pet…Join the adventure as nine pet loving sci-fi romance authors take you out of this world and pull you into their action-packed stories filled with suspense, laughter, and romance. The alien pets have an agenda that will capture the hearts of those they touch. Follow along as they work side by side to help stop a genetically-engineered creature from destroying the Earth to finding a lost dragon; life is never the same after their pets decide to get involved. Can the animals win the day or will the stars shine just a little less brightly?New York Times, USA TODAY, Award Winning, and Bestselling authors have nine original, never-released stories that will capture your imagination and help a worthy charity. Come join us as we take you on nine amazing adventures that will change the way you look at your pet!
10% of profits from the first month go to Hero-Dogs.org. Hero Dogs raises and trains service dogs and places them free of charge with US Veterans to improve quality of life and restore independence.

My Review:

If you enjoy science fiction romance, with or without the addition of adorable animals (and other creatures), Pets in Space is a marvelous collection.

It’s also a marvelously big collection. With one notable exception, the stories here are all novellas and novelettes. They are as big and as expansive as science fiction and science fiction romance themselves. And the stories run the gamut from alien invasions to spaceship stowaways, and everything in between.

I’ll confess right now that I didn’t manage to read the entire collection. I’m saving a few for nights when I need a little pick-me-up of a story to take me away from life, the real universe and the 2016 Presidential Election. But the ones I did read I absolutely loved. And while I also confess that I went looking for the cat stories first, everything I read was wonderful.

My two favorite stories in the collection are A Mate for Matrix by S.E. Smith and Spike by Alexis Glynn Latner.

A Mate for Matrix had me laughing out loud at lots of points. It begins as a story of partnership. Matrix Roma and his partner K-Nine are members of the Zion military’s elite Cyborg Protection Unit. While the mostly human Matrix has been enhanced a bit, his partner K-Nine has been enhanced a lot from his biological origin as a Wolf/Canine hybrid. K-Nine has lots of enhanced sensors, a reinforced frame, and enough intelligence to speak and use all kinds of tools. Which doesn’t stop K-Nine from chasing a squirrel on their mission to hunt down the genetically engineered Crawler – an intelligent hybrid that plans to colonize and consume Earth.

K-Nine’s squirrel chase ends the way all too many such chases do, bouncing off the grill of a speeding truck. But unlike most terrestrial canines, the cyborg K-Nine survives and finds himself in the care of a vet tech with a lot of love to give to three tiny kittens, the great big K-Nine, and maybe even K-Nine’s reluctant human partner.

But when Matrix first finds his missing companion, he makes all sorts of mistaken assumptions about K-Nine’s current situation. The point where Matrix identified the three tiny kittens as explosive charges had me rolling on the floor. Because kittens ARE explosive charges – at least until they get hit by a nap attack!

The love story is fast but sweet, especially since Matrix falls for Jana, and K-Nine falls for the little furballs that Jana has adopted. In the end K-Nine gets everything he wanted. This is a terrific story and I’m looking forward to finding more by this author.

My other favorite story in the book is Spike by Alexis Glynn Latner, the only true short story in the collection. I wasn’t sure I’d have time to fit this one in, but I’m so glad I did.

This one is just plain adorkable. I think it would also be a terrific story to introduce lovers of young adult and new adult romance to SFR. This is a spaceship based story, set on a ship that escaped a dying earth and is now looking for a home. The hero is a young engineer with a bent for miniaturized robotics. His pets in this story are the cluster of tiny robots that he has lovingly built with his own hands. His “kaleidoscope of flutterbys” can do scanning, sampling, analysis and exploration independently. They are adorable but also very effective. When the ship’s captain discovers that sabotage is wrecking the new ships that are being built, she puts Ten Jaxdown and his tiny robots to work to find the saboteurs, with the help of Stasia Steed and her even more unusual pet – a telfer – a collection of intelligent sparks. In the process of getting her telfer to work with his flutterbys, Ten and Stasia save the mission and find each other.

And it’s lovely.

There is one other cat story in this collection, Star Cruise: Stowaway, set in the universe that Veronica Scott has created aboard the Nebula Dream and her crew of military veterans turned cruise ship operators. It was lovely to revisit that world in the company of Monty and Midorri. There are several other dog stories, and even one with a Komodo Dragon! While the animals in each story do provide more than a bit of comic belief, they also adore their humans and help get whatever job needs doing done.

Escape Rating A-: If you enjoy romances that include an animal companion, or if you just love SFR, this collection is a sweet and spaceworthy treat!

Review: The Champion of Baresh by Susan Grant + Giveaway

The Champion of Barésh (Star World Frontier #1) by Susan Grant
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: science fiction romance
Series: Star World Frontier #1
Pages: 348
Published by Susan Grant on May 27th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

RITA-winner Susan Grant is back with an all-new, stand-alone tale of two improbable lovers, their daring secret, and the gamble destined to alter the course of their worlds forever.
A desperate woman in need of a miracle—A bad-boy prince in need of redemption
She was playing with fire...
Jemm Aves battles to keep her dreams alive on a dead-end world. Working for the mines by day, she’s a successful bajha player at night, disguised as a male to be allowed to compete in the colony’s dangerous underworld where club owners will go to extremes to retain the best players. Every win puts her one small step closer to her goal: saving enough to escape Barésh with her family. When a nobleman from one of the galaxy’s elite families recruits her to be a star player for his team, it's because he doesn't know her secret. Her ruse proves to be her most perilous game yet when it puts both their lives—and her heart—at risk.
Prince Charming he was not...
Prince Klark is eager to reverse his reputation as the black sheep of the Vedla clan, a family as famous for its wealth and power as it is for being a bastion of male-dominated tradition. If his bajha team can win the galactic title, it would go a long way toward restoring the family honor that his misdeeds tarnished. He travels to Barésh to track down an amateur who’s risen to the top of the seedy world of street bajha, offering the commoner a chance of a lifetime: a way off that reeking space rock for good. But his new player comes with a scandalous secret that turns his plans and his beliefs upside down. He sets out to win a very different prize—his champion’s reluctant heart.

My Review:

Because I kept conflating this story with the excellent Empress Game by Rhonda Mason, I was kind of expecting that the stakes in The Champion of Baresh would be slightly bigger than they are. And then they actually are, but not quite in the way I thought. And that’s always a good thing. I also kept wondering if this story linked at all to Grant’s Star series. It turns out that it does, but it is not necessary to have read, or to remember in my case, the details of the earlier series to enjoy The Champion of Baresh.

Baresh is a dead-end world, and Jemm Aves has a dead end job – but then all the jobs on Baresh are pretty much dead end, if not downright deadly. Not deadly as in dangerous per se, but deadly as in the working conditions are so totally awful that the job will kill you one way or another if you live long enough, and if you quit the poverty will kill you even quicker.

Think about all the diseases that miners have been proven to get on this planet, and then multiply that by an entire manufactured world that is completely dependent on mining a deadly and necessary ore. That’s Baresh.

And Jemm Aves wants off.

But the only chance she has for getting herself and her family – mother, brother, niece – is to pick up her dad’s old sens-sword and compete in barroom bajha. And the only way to make her way into the bajha circuit, even on a backwater world like Baresh – is to pretend to be a man. Or at least a boy.

The more she wins, the more that the local gangleaders want to tie her down to an exclusive contract. The better she does, the more she earns – and the more dangerous it gets.

Until she’s presented with a once-in-a-lifetime chance to play in the professional leagues. But that’s only possible if she can keep her secret – or find someone else to keep it with her.

Escape Rating B+: In the end, The Champion of Baresh is a love story about breaking down barriers.

The initial barrier that needs to be broken is the custom that says that women can’t play bajha. Think of bajha as a real-life version of the arena fighting video games, with a few changes. Matches are fought blindfolded, and all contestants use the same weapon, a sens-sword that administers a shock rather than a slice. Although there are professional teams, matches are fought one on one. But it’s the combined score of the whole team that leads to the championship.

Of course, the barroom circuit on Baresh is a LOT less formal. There’s only two individuals, and a whole lot of crowd noise. When Jemm, fighting as Sea Kestrel, steps into the ring, she’s the best that Baresh has ever seen. She’s living proof that women can play bajha, and play it well. But she has to compete as a man. Not just because of the social conventions, but because it is way safer for her and her brother/manager if no one knows who she really is.

star princess by susan grantPrince Klark Vedla has a whole lot of barriers to jump over, many of them all by himself. He has to convince himself that this street rat is capable of making the jump to the big leagues, a difficult feat all by itself. Then he has to decide to become complicit in Jemm’s secret, defying not just social convention but his own moral code. He wants to win the Championship for his family to erase the stigma of his own intemperate actions in The Star Princess.

And then Jemm and Klark have to bridge the barrier between street rat and prince-not-so-charming. Two people who have never fallen in love fall for each other, each believing that it can’t possibly work. It takes a wise and somewhat scary old man to get Klark’s head out of his ass on that score.

But as much fun as the romance is in this book, the fun is in breaking down the wall that prevents women from playing bajha. When Jemm’s secret is finally revealed, after a series of stunning victories, the powers-that-be in the sport try to bury everything under the rug, and attempt to keep Klark and his team silent with vague but menacing threats.

Watching Jemm and Klark set their entire sporting world on its ear, by proving that women not only can play bajha, but that they want to play bajha, and that encouraging them to play bajha is good for the sport. In the end the score is Neanderthals 0 and Opening Doors to Opportunity a very satisfying 1.

 

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