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
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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: The Captive Shifter by Veronica Scott

Review: The Captive Shifter by Veronica ScottThe Captive Shifter (Magic of Claddare #1) by Veronica Scott
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: ebook
Genres: fantasy romance
Series: Magic of Claddare #1
Pages: 250
Published by Veronica Scott on March 24th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazon
Goodreads

Concealing her own considerable magical powers, Caitlyn enters the service of the northern Witch Queen masquerading as a simple healer. Under order from her goddess, she’s searching for a magical gem stolen long ago from her own people, believed to be hidden in the massive castle. The task is daunting but Caitlyn is sure she can locate the gem and escape, bringing the prize back to the temple where it belongs. Until she meets the captive shifter and her loyalties become dangerously divided.

In payment for her past services to his people, Kyler the leopard shifter has entered into a life of servitude far from his forest home, allowing the Witch Queen to tap his magic to power her ever darker spells. Factions at Court are threatening to turn the Queen to the Shadow. Her increasing demands for magic will cut short his nearly immortal lifespan. Kyler’s resigned to his fate until the day he crosses paths with the new arrival, whose secrets and magic entice and attract both man and leopard. Has he met his mate at last?

The Queen will never willingly release him from captivity. Caitlyn’s goddess refuses to grant her any delay in accomplishing her own task. Can they locate the magical gem, fight the Shadow and win free of the Witch Queen to earn the right to be together?

My Review:

There is something very, very rotten in the state of Azrimar, but that isn’t what Caitlyn has come to the capital to deal with. Not that all roads and all missions don’t eventually lead that way – but that isn’t how they start.

Instead, Caitlyn has arrived at court just in the nick of time for the annual testing of potential sorceresses, only to discover that her preparation missed the key points of the ritual. It is crucial to her mission that she find a place at court – even if that mission is not what it appears to be.

She succeeds, just barely, but only by earning the enmity of the Crown Princess Bradana, and the intense curiosity of the Witch-Queen’s pet shifter, Kyler. Caitlyn knows she’s going to spend the rest of her time at court dealing with those two very opposite interests, just not in the way that she originally expected.

Because both Bradana and Kyler are much more than they appear. But then, so is Caitlyn.

That Caitlyn is some kind of spy on some type of secret mission is obvious from the beginning, but we don’t learn who, how, or why until we get a bit into the story.

This is a fantasy romance, so Caitlyn’s world is not our own, and not even in our past or future. As this world is set up, Caitlyn is from a kingdom to the south, and is a priestess of the nature goddess on a special mission. Because something is rotten in the central kingdom of Azrimar and apparently has been for quite some time.

Long ago, a relic was stolen from the goddess, and she needs it back. Caitlyn has one year to infiltrate the palace and find the missing article. And that’s more than long enough to figure out just how much has gone wrong, and for Caitlyn to fall in love.

Unfortunately for both of them, Caitlyn falls for Kyler, a leopard shifter who has been oath-bound to the Witch Queen for 10 years. He knows that the Queen has been gravitating towards the dark side of the force, but he also knows that he’s dying. Whatever is going wrong, it isn’t going to be his problem fairly soon.

Until Caitlyn comes along and shakes him out of the depths of his depression. Kyler can help Caitlyn find the relic. Caitlyn can beseech the gods on his behalf. And it will take both of them to even take a stab at all that has gone wrong.

Caitlyn, Kyler, the Witch Queen and her kingdom have all come to a crossroad. The choices they make will have dire consequences, not just for themselves, or even for the kingdom, but for their entire world.

They must choose wisely – or all will be lost in the conflagration to come.

Escape Rating C+: This is a mixed feelings review. There were some things about this story I liked a lot, and some that drove me a bit batty.

I liked both Caitlyn and Kyler quite a bit. Caitlyn is very focused. She has a mission to carry out with a very strict time limit, but she still finds time to make friends and to care for and about people. She’s involved with her world, even for the short time she will be in the kingdom, and her actions always trend towards good. At the same time, Caitlyn is in service to a nature goddess, attempting to conceal herself, her power and her mission in a place that seems to be the antithesis of anything natural. It’s no surprise that she befriends Kyler, as he is the only nature-oriented being in the palace.

Kyler’s situation is tragic from the outset, and only becomes more so as we learn more about it. His captivity began honorably, but as time has gone on the Witch Queen has broken all of her oaths and agreements about it. And he is not free to leave – she has bound him with her magic. He has freedom of thought and some free will, but he literally cannot leave the palace, nor can he refuse the Queen’s use of his magic. Caitlyn’s friendship is his one light in a very dark place, and yet he is afraid to spend too much time with her or show her too much favor. While the Queen needs him alive for his magical power, punishing anyone close to him has become a sport for her and especially for her sister Bradana.

The palace intrigue is nasty and the methods of it feel a bit too predictable. And the characters of evil are a bit too much of evil for evil’s sake, which doesn’t work well as motivation. Or rather, that’s Bradana’s character, the Witch Queen’s motives are entirely too clear. She’s her sister’s pawn, and has let herself be manipulated into the darkness. In spite of her being queen, there just doesn’t turn out to be a lot of there, there. She’s an empty shell. To say that Brandana is evil because she was made that way (and she quite literally was) doesn’t give us much insight into the evil that made her. Hopefully we’ll get more of that in later books in the series.

I don’t expect to like the villains, although occasionally one does, but I need to understand them. And I didn’t here. On my other hand, there’s a tendency in fantasy for the West to represent good and the East to represent evil. The Lord of the Rings isn’t the only story where this happens, and it plays to some very old stereotypes, right along with white hats and black hats. In this series it looks like the West is where evil has its kingdoms, and the center and East are where the good, or at least neutral, kingdoms are. It’s always nice to see stereotypes turned on their heads a bit.

I end where I began, with mixed feelings. I liked the heroine and hero a lot, but found the plot to be on the predictable side and the villains a bit cookie-cutter. And while there were hints at interesting worldbuilding, it felt like too many of the details were left on the cutting-room floor. Hopefully things will be become clearer in later books in the series.

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
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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: Hostage to the Stars by Veronica Scott

Review: Hostage to the Stars by Veronica ScottHostage to the Stars by Veronica Scott
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: science fiction romance
Series: Sectors SF #7
Pages: 164
Published by Jean D Walker on June 20th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
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He rescued her from space pirates ... but can he keep them both safe from the far greater evil stalking a deserted planet? Space travel without Kidnap & Ransom insurance? Not a good idea. University instructor and researcher Sara Bridges can't afford it, so when pirates board her cruise liner, she's taken captive along with the mistress of a wealthy man, and brought to a deserted planet. When a military extraction team sent to rescue the mistress refuses to take Sara too, she's left to the mercies of a retired Special Forces soldier, along as consultant. Reluctantly reactivated and coerced into signing up for the rescue operation to the planet Farduccir where he once was deployed, Sgt. Johnny Danver just wants to get the job done. But when the team leader leaves one captured woman behind, he breaks away to rescue her himself. As Johnny and Sara traverse the barren landscape, heading for an abandoned base where they hope to call Sectors Command for help, they find villages destroyed by battle and stripped of all inhabitants. A lone survivor tells a horrific tale of the Sectors' alien enemy, the Mawreg, returning after being pushed out ... Searching for evidence to give the military, Johnny is captured. He regains consciousness in a Mawreg cage-with Sara next to him. Death is preferable to what the aliens will do to them... And even if they do escape their captors, can they alert the military in time to prevent another invasion of the Sectors?

My Review:

star cruise outbreak by veronica scottI picked up Hostage to the Stars because I just finished book 5 in the Sectors SF series, Star Cruise: Outbreak and I liked it so much I wanted to continue with this world. I had a bit of a book hangover and wasn’t quite ready to leave this place yet. And since I was admittedly looking for a short book, I skipped over book 6 in the series, Lady of the Star Wind, although I’m enjoying the series enough that I’ll probably go back to it at some point. But the books in this series don’t seem to directly follow one another. It’s the same universe, but different places, different crises and different people.

Just as Star Cruise: Outbreak is closest in spirit to the first book in the series, Wreck of the Nebula Dream, Hostage to the Stars echoes back to the third book, Mission to Mahjundar, reviewed previously over at Sci-Fi Romance Quarterly.

But I’ll confess that I haven’t read Mission to Mahjundar, and that lack did not influence my enjoyment of Hostage to the Stars. While the hero of Hostage to the Stars was a secondary character in Mission, it’s been quite a few years and it wasn’t his story. The story in Mission belongs to Johnny’s cousin Mike. And that’s where this story begins.

Special Forces needs to reactivate somebody with knowledge of the planet Farduccir, and they aren’t very picky about who, or what condition they reactivate them in. It’s been 15 years since either Mike or Johnny was on the hellhole called Farduccir, and neither of them wants to go back. More importantly, after the events in Mission, Mike is now married and is wife is pregnant. It’s his cousin Johnny’s professional assessment that Mike has lost the edge necessary to survive in Special Ops, and that while Mike has commitments keeping him home, Johnny is expendable. He volunteers to take his cousin’s place, knowing full well that the mission has more chances of going FUBAR than not.

Especially when he finds out that the whole purpose of the mission is to rescue an up and coming planetary governor’s mistress from space pirates. And no, she is not our heroine, just someone caught in a lot of messy crossfire.

That Farduccir is now infested with space pirates is bad enough. That space piracy has become such a common business model, completely with pirates accepting insurance certificates for ransom to be collected later, shows there’s something rotten somewhere. This whole situation is a clusterf**k of epic proportions.

But while the extraction team gets the mistress away with no problem, on her way out the lady reveals that she was not the only human female in the compound. The guards have been torturing the young woman who was kidnapped with her. Said young woman, Sara Bridges, did not have any K&R (Kidnap and Rescue) insurance, so the pirates decided to get their money’s worth out of her by other means.

The extraction team doesn’t care about Sara, but Johnny can’t stand to leave anyone behind – even someone he hasn’t met yet. Until he either rescues Sara or determines that she’s beyond reach, he’ll stay and find her.

Sara is not only still alive, but still has enough spirit to be Johnny’s partner in a race to find out what really happened on Farduccir, and what is still happening. All the while heading towards a barely possible escape.

It’s a race against time and deadly hunters, gathering vital intelligence that must be transmitted to Johnny’s old bosses at any cost. It is not the place to fall in love. But only love can save them.

Escape Rating B+: Hostage to the Stars is wonderfully improbable, and it’s a wild ride from beginning to end. Also from the first page to the last. I couldn’t put it down.

Johnny is every Sergeant in any military that has ever been. He knows the job he is supposed to do, and he goes in and does it. In Special Forces, he’s not used to following strict orders or a chain of command. He’s there to get the job done.

Lucky for Sera.

One of the fun things in the story is the way that the Service can reactivate both Johnny and Mike pretty much on a whim. And they do. One of the phrases that gets used in the story is the concept of “gravity” as applied to political power. The provincial governor has a lot of it, and can use it to put pressure on anyone, even Special Forces. At the same time, Special Forces is only willing to send a retired operative, not a currently serving soldier. And they do everything in a big hurry, because Mike has “gravity” on their home planet, and if he has a chance to bring it to bear he can get himself and Johnny out of this fix.

He needs it when he has to ride to Johnny’s rescue.

But before that we have Johnny and Sara, running across a desolate planet, trying to figure out what happened to all the people that were there 15 years ago, and trying to stay a half-step ahead of their pursuers.

It’s fascinating that the Special Forces have standing orders not to remain in contact with anyone they rescue. In the highly charged scenario of a hostage rescue, it’s not surprising that the hostage would bond with her rescuer, or even vice versa.

In this case, even though things proceed at a fairly rapid pace, it feels right. And it does take them several days, as well as a brief stop in relative safety, to finally act on their feelings. These are two people who both have a bunch of scars and a whole lot of PTSD, and who discover that they make each other strong in the broken places.

In addition to being terrific SFR, Hostage to the Stars would be a good story to introduce military romance/romantic suspense readers to the genre. While the interplanetary war and space service do add to the story, it’s also a well-done take on the hostage-falls-for-her-rescuer brand of romantic suspense.

I’m looking forward to going back and picking up the stories I’ve missed, and exploring this universe further.

SFRQ-button-vsmallOriginally published at Sci-Fi Romance Quarterly

Review: Star Cruise: Outbreak by Veronica Scott

Review: Star Cruise: Outbreak by Veronica ScottStar Cruise: Outbreak: (A Sectors SF Romance) by Veronica Scott
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: science fiction romance
Series: Sectors SF #5
Pages: 240
Published by Jean D Walker on May 2nd 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

She saved countless soldiers in the wars ... but does she have the weapons to fight an outbreak? Dr. Emily Shane, veteran of the Sector Wars, is known as "The Angel of Fantalar" for her bravery under fire as a medic. However, the doctor has her own war wounds-severe PTSD and guilt over those she failed to save. Persuaded to fill a seemingly frivolous berth as ship's doctor on the huge and luxurious interstellar cruise liner Nebula Zephyr, she finds the job brings unexpected perks-a luxe beach deck with water imported from Tahumaroa II, and Security Officer Jake Dilon, a fellow veteran who heats her up like a tropical sun. However, Emily soon learns she and Jake didn't leave all peril behind in the war. A mysterious ailment aboard the Zephyr begins to claim victim after victim ... and they must race against time and space to find the cause and a cure! Trapped on a ship no spaceport will allow to dock, their efforts are complicated by a temperamental princess and a terrorist-one who won't hesitate to take down any being in the way of his target. If anyone's left when the disease is through with them...

My Review:

wreckofthenebuladream_coverFour years ago, I reviewed Wreck of the Nebula Dream here at Reading Reality. And I loved it. The story is an action-adventure/science fiction romance re-telling of the wreck of the Titanic, released for the 100th anniversary of that real-life disaster.

The disaster on the Nebula Dream was every bit as crazed as the sinking of the Titanic – but only fictional lives were lost in the making of this story.

The author Veronica Scott has continued her exploration into the universe she created for Nebula Dream in her Sectors SF series. Book 3 in the series, Mission to Mahjundar was reviewed by Jo Jones over at Sci-Fi Romance Quarterly back a bit closer to when it first came out.

I haven’t read any of the books between Nebula Dream and Star Cruise: Outbreak I don’t think it matters. I enjoyed Star Cruise: Outbreak so much that I immediately purchased the previous and the next books in the series. It did help that I had read Wreck of the Nebula Dream before Outbreak. It’s not that the characters continue, but as both Nebula Dream and Outbreak are set on cruise ships, the disaster and the resulting changes in regulations after Wreck, have some effect on Outbreak. But not, I think, enough to keep people from jumping right into the series at this point.

On the other hand, Wreck of the Nebula Dream was just plain good. So if you love SFR, why wouldn’t you read it?

Back to Star Cruise: Outbreak…the title does give a bit away. There’s obviously going to be an outbreak of something or something on this cruise. And it’s something all right.

Our heroine is Dr. Emily Shane, decorated war veteran, PTSD sufferer, and reluctant temporary Chief Medical Officer on the Nebula Zephyr. Her dad, also a doctor, pretty much diagnoses that the cure for Emily’s PTSD is to take what should be a paid vacation as ship’s doctor on a luxury starliner. And then he strategically makes sure she can’t refuse the posting.

Dad was right, even if a bit high-handed about it, but not quite in the way he planned. Serving on this cruise is the best thing that the “Angel of Fantalar” can do to find a way to occupy her time and energy – and the ship desperately needs a well-trained medic who won’t fold under extreme pressure to figure out how to treat the epidemic that breaks out among the 3,000 passengers on board.

At first, she thinks it’s a norovirus – and yes, that they are still around feels right. But when the disease mutates into more and deadlier strains, it is up to Emily and her makeshift crew to figure out the problem before it is too late. If the Nebula Zephyr becomes a plague ship, the captain will have to fly it into a sun to eradicate the disease.

Along with everyone on board, including Emily and the man she has come to love.

stardoc by sl viehlEscape Rating B+: If you’ve ever read Stardoc by S.L. Viehl, there’s a resemblance if you squint a bit. In both cases, it’s the doctor who saves the day, not any of the more traditional warrior-type heroes (or even heroines). This is a story where smart wins out over brawn. And also over a few cases of idiocy.

Let’s just say that a few of the secondary/tertiary characters are not just eligible for Darwin Awards, they actually manage to receive them!

But Star Cruise: Outbreak is Emily’s story from beginning to end. She’s a marvelous character to follow. While we don’t see the military action that resulted in her unwanted moniker, the Angel of Fantalar, we do see what she did to earn it – through the eyes of Security Chief Jake Dilon, one of the Special Forces veterans who is still alive because of her heroism on that deadly beach.

Jake has had plenty of fantasies about the woman who kept him alive, but none of them live up to the reality of meeting his “angel”. She saved his life, and now he returns the favor. Among the crew of mostly military veterans, he introduces Emily to people who understand what she went through and just how difficult the recovery is. He gives her space in which to find herself again, and to eventually, slowly, carefully, fall in love.

When the outbreak occurs, it becomes instantly clear that not only does Emily need the Nebula Zephyr but it needs her. The previous (and missing) CMO just didn’t have the skill or the discipline to handle what hits them.

One of the unanswered questions in the entire story is the fate of that missing doctor. It was necessary for the story that he BE missing, but not ever learning his fate is a gaping hole. Chekhov’s gun was on the mantlepiece, but no one picked it up and fired it. Which niggles at this reader more than a bit.

The process of dealing with the outbreak is gripping from beginning to end. Because this series uses different characters and scenarios in each book, it wasn’t necessary that everyone survive – and that wouldn’t have been realistic. So the tension is always high.

There are a lot of little stories within the big story that stand out – people who do their utmost to help solve the outbreak, people who fall victim, and people who survive. It’s their stories that make the tale so fascinating, even though the eventual solution was just a bit deus ex machina.

If you like SFR, if you loved the Stardoc series, or if the episodes of Star Trek Next Gen where Dr. Beverly Crusher saved the day are your favorites, you’ll love Star Cruise: Outbreak.

SFRQ-button-vsmallOriginally published at Sci-Fi Romance Quarterly