Guest Review: PsyTek by Melanie Yaun

Guest Review: PsyTek by Melanie YaunPsyTek by Melanie Yaun
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: dystopian, science fiction
Pages: 348
Published by Amazon Digital Services on March 29, 2020
AmazonBook Depository

The year is 2547, and over the past 200 years, PsyTek Industries has managed to rid the world of disease, hunger, violence, and even death. Limbs can be regrown, cancer removed in a quick trip to the clinic, even aging can be reversed through a simple, and free, cellular regeneration process.

Soon-to-be employee, 24-year-old Kay LeBlanc, is a sarcastic interface designer who also happens to occasionally hear voices. Tyler Warren, head of PsyTek’s Division 5, just took a personal interest in her after an impressive presentation. The problem is, from the moment he, and PsyTek, comes into her life, she finds her world haunted by visions of darkness filled with the sound of screams.

The opportunity is once-in-a-lifetime, though, and she can’t pass it up. From the moment she starts her new life, however, she learns there’s a lot more to her world than anyone had ever thought. Every perfect world has a cost, and as she learns what that cost is, who, and more importantly what, she is, becomes clear.

Note from Amy: In the interest of full disclosure, I know the author of this work; she and I are coworkers on my day job, and I am a Patreon supporter. When she (understandably, rather excitedly) told the company’s online chat that she had published this work, I immediately bought a copy on Amazon, and told her I’d give it a fair shake here. That was more than a week ago as I write this, and she’s still squealing happily.

Guest Review by Amy: In a future where the company that runs pretty much everything has solved all the big problems, software developer Kay LeBlanc has been given the chance of a lifetime. She has written an interface that interacts with PsyTek’s built-in hardware that most people now wear, and when she shows up for a demo, the CTO of PsyTek Industries, Tyler Warren, is unexpectedly sitting at the head of the table. He’s impressed with her work — so much so, that he pretty much offers her a job on the spot.

All is not well at PsyTek HQ, and Kay rapidly finds herself in over her head. The headaches and visions that have troubled her for years are stronger and more frequent, and her boss and his colleague, the head of PsyTek’s medical division, are both interested. What she learns about herself, and about PsyTek, will change… well, pretty much everything.

Escape Rating: A: The Corporate Dystopia is a well-trodden plot, from books like Ready Player One and Divergent, to films like The Running Man (itself based on a book of the same name by Stephen King), and even Pixar’s Wall-E. But Melanie Yaun’s PsyTek Industries, unlike Wall-E‘s Buy-N-Large, went after the serious problems of suffering in the modern world, particularly poverty and illness. If high-tech could solve the problem, then PsyTek solved it. In the opening scene of the book, Kay is having lunch with her elderly mother, who is going in for cancer treatment the next day, a treatment that, by lunchtime, will make her “as good as new.”

As the child of two cancer victims, this hook appealed to me, and kept me reading through the first couple of chapters. After that, the pace sped up dramatically, as Kay finds herself on a whirlwind tour of PsyTek HQ, led by her new boss himself. Her flashes of visions hit her during her lunch break, knocking her unconscious, and the head of the medical division takes an interest. Kay learns that she is not like everyone else, in an important way–she has psychic power. She is, as they call it, an EV, an evolutionary variant. And suddenly many people are interested in her, from the rebel Luddites of the Res Novae, to PsyTek’s own skunk works, the mysterious “Division Six.”

There was a lot to like about this work, for fans of dystopian sci-fi. You’ve got an interesting setting in “New Chicago” and the PsyTek HQ, and a cast of characters who are appealing and three-dimensional. In the early going, Kay seems a little shrill to me, but it seems quite normal: she’s stressed out by the unusual situation she finds herself in, and she just wants to go hide and do what she does well, write code. That being mine (and the author’s) day job, it’s a feeling I understand all too well, and Kay’s presentation is true to the introverted developer type.

For rather a lot of the book, it was unclear who the villain was — or if, in fact, there really was one. When Kay figures out the puzzle she’s been cast into all along, and finally acts, along comes someone whose loyalties have been unclear for most of the book, to show her parts of the puzzle she still doesn’t know about, leaving us a lovely hook for the second book in the series.

Some readers might find it a bit of a bobble near the end, when Kay suddenly snaps. All this stress and tension has been building up and building up, as she’s learned more and more about the dark recesses of Division Six, and as she’s learning more about herself and her abilities. The anger and stress finally hit the “enough!” point, and off she goes, kicking butts and taking names. That transition felt slightly abrupt to me, and other readers may find that they agree with me. In a reread of that section, it’s not as bad as all that, but on the first read, it startled me. It’s the only thing I can really find to criticize about this work, really, and I wouldn’t call it in any way a “flaw” in an otherwise brilliantly-executed story.

From a mechanics standpoint, the book is well put-together, with rich characters, no gaping holes in the plot, and a crisp, snarky, first-person writing style free from distracting editing errors. Melanie Yaun has put together an exciting, interesting freshman work, and I’m excitedly looking forward to the next tale in the series.

Review: Celta Cats by Robin D. Owens

Review: Celta Cats by Robin D. OwensCelta Cats Formats available: paperback, ebook
Series: Celta's Heartmates
Pages: 144
on December 11th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

Smart Cats know what they want. And on the world of Celta, they are very smart. They can be Familiar Animal companions, bonded with a person.
These stories are seen from the cat’s very own eyes, and are six never before published Cat Stories, including the first Top Cat of Celta, Peaches; as well as a trio of stories about that favorite Fam, Zanth.
Peaches Arrives on Celta, Plenty of problems for Peaches to fix: challenges to his status; people lying about Peaches’ human companion and Peaches himself; Grandma’s acting mean...and there’s that very real concern that the Ship just might not land safely, fear he must overcome…
Zanth Gets His Boy, Zanth’s meeting with a noble boy running from evil people changes both their lives in ways he couldn’t imagine
Pinky Becomes A Fam, Pinky is a smart enough cat to know that there is a difference from being a regular cat and a Familiar Companion Cat, and bonding better with his boy. He’s determined to make the leap from cat to Fam, but didn’t realize exactly what that meant…
Zanth Claims Treasure, Yes, the southern estate smells great, even better smelling is the glass orb full of magic that he finds, and will fight to keep…
Baccat Chooses His Person, Life on the streets in the winter isn’t what Baccat deserves, and he’s determined to find a good person to take care of him. After all, he has so much to offer…but does he really deserve what he gets?
Zanth Saves The Day, A FamCat on a beach just can’t sleep with all that odd hatching and squeaking going on. Zanth finds new friends and defends them against bullies…

My Review:

I’m still looking for comfort reading. When I heard the FamCats of Celta meowing my name, I decided to answer.

This is likely to be what a blogging friend refers to as a “short and sweet” review. This is not a big book, the stories do not have big messages, but they are a whole lot of fun, particularly if you like the Celta’s Heartmates series. The stories in Celta Cats illustrate bits of backstory or side story of events that are referred to in the main series, but are told from the point of view of the FamCats, the Familiar Companion animals of Celta who happen to be cats.

It seems that any animal can become a Fam, if they have enough Flair (psi power) and enough intelligence. Fams are intelligent at what we would think of as a human level, but do not think human thoughts. They understand human speech and thought, but as the stories illustrate, they do not change their essential nature. The FamCats, in particular, are always very cat. Particularly in the “dogs have owners, cats have staff” sense. FamCats expect rewards for their service, and are not remotely shy about demanding those rewards. It’s part of what makes them so much fun.

Although this collection features FamCats, in the main series we meet many other animals who have become Fams, including foxes, dogs, birds, and even housefluffs, which seem like a less predatory version of the dustbunnies in Jayne Castle’s Harmony series.

Heart Mate by Robin D. Owens new cover

Several of the stories in this collection feature Xanth, the FamCat who owns and protects Rand T’Ash, the hero of the first book in the series, Heart Mate. From Xanth’s perspective, he is the dominant partner. Rand’s perspective may be otherwise. But one of the most interesting stories in the collection is the first meeting between Xanth and Rand, told from Xanth’s perspective. At that point, Rand was a scared and very young man, who had just watched evil men burn out his family home, killing his parents and siblings., while Xanth was a full-grown and battle-toughened street cat. Those same men are hunting Rand, and it is Xanth’s knowledge of Druida City’s back alleys that keeps them both alive until Rand matures enough to come into his full power and exact his revenge.

Escape Rating A-: For adult readers, Celta Cats is a book for fans. The joy in the stories is filling in missing pieces of Celtan history, and especially viewing that history through the eyes of the Fams, who are so often the best part, or at least the funniest part, of many of the stories.

As a short story collection, Celta Cats is being marketed as a children’s book. I have my doubts about that. It’s true that there is no “adult” content per se. These stories are not romances, while the regular books of the Celta’s Heartmates series most definitely are. But what makes these stories special is their connection to Celta. The Xanth stories are particularly fun because they connect to Xanth (and Rand) as we already know them. Whether young readers will find them interesting without knowing anything about the background of Celta is something I’m just not sure about.

But for those of us who love the series, and can’t wait until next year for our next visit to Celta, these stories are utterly charming.

Reviewer’s Note: I read Celta Cats in the wake of Ursula K. LeGuin’s death. If you like the Celta Cats, you will love her Catwings series, which begins with, of course, Catwings. The Catwings stories, are, not surprisingly considering the title, about a family of winged cats. The wings seem to be a mutation, as the stories are set in the contemporary world and everyone, both cats and humans, are aware that the Catwings family needs to be protected from people who will want to study them. The stories are marvelous, the illustrations are lovely, and just like Celta Cats, the stories will be enjoyed by adults who love any intersection between cats and either science fiction or fantasy.

Guest Review: Tender Wings of Desire by Harland Sanders

Guest Review: Tender Wings of Desire by Harland SandersTender Wings of Desire Format: ebook
Formats available: ebook
Pages: 96
Published by Amazon Digital Services on May 2, 2017
Amazon
Goodreads

When Lady Madeline Parker runs away from Parker Manor and a loveless betrothal, she finally feels like she is in control of her life. But what happens when she realizes she can’t control how she feels? When she finds herself swept into the arms of Harland, a handsome sailor with a mysterious past, Madeline realizes she must choose between a life of order and a man of passion. Can love overcome lies? What happens in the embrace of destiny, on the Tender Wings of Desire?

When this book was released last week, I was in a fowl, er, foul mood. I couldn’t pinpoint eggs-actly why that was so, I’d just been in a funk for a few weeks. This book brought up nuggets of inspiration that I really didn’t know I had waiting in the wings. So, let’s get right to it.

Guest Review by Amy:

To be fair to this work, we really need to spend some time on this cover image; like most historical romances, the cover art has little-to-nothing to do with the actual content of the book, and here we have an extreme case: Harland Sanders (1890-1980), in his later white-haired years, yet still obviously muscular, carrying a woman wearing “mom jeans” circa 1980s…on the cover of a Regency novel, circa 1811-1820. The art itself was so amusing when it popped up on my Kindle that I had to show my husband, who also laughed himself into a fit. The masterstroke, for both of us, was having her holding a piece of chicken (in her right hand). Let’s not forget the white linen suit with the sleeves cut off–showing off those breathtakingly muscular arms on the…er…handsome Colonel.

Fortunately, perhaps, for us all, the content of the book just doesn’t give us that image of Sanders. What it does deliver is a sharp lampooning of Every. Regency. Ever. Written. I was telling my best friend about this book the morning after reading it, and I likened it to The Rocky Horror Picture Show: campy on its own, but crammed full of inside jokes and jabs at the thing it is lampooning, just as RHPS is full of jabs at the classic cinema. If you don’t understand those jabs, it’s hilarious, but if you do, it’s even funnier.

Lady Madeline Parker is old enough to marry–though, as the book points out, we modern people would not think so. She considers herself a bit of an ugly duckling, of course, though she and her younger sister Victoria both have “the same pale, dewy skin, the same bright green eyes and heart-shaped faces.” Madeline’s hair is dark brown and in unruly curls, while Victoria has long, blonde hair. Madeline’s other problem is that she’s really not interested in marrying, certainly not merely for position, as her parents are working to arrange. If she’s to marry, she wants it to be for love, and only then after she’s had a while to roam about and see the world.

For her groom-to-be’s part, he’s quite a dashing gent: Reginald Lewis, the Duke of Sainsbury. He’s not terribly older than Madeline, which she’s grateful for, but he just doesn’t move her. Little sister Victoria claims he “looks like a fairy-tale prince,” of course, but Madeline isn’t impressed. He’s nice enough, and not ugly, but nothing about him grabs her attention or her interest. “He looks like a vanilla biscuit,” she asserts privately to her sister. Her older brother, Oxford student Winston, is the only person who really gets her, it seems.

Ugly Duckling Who Isn’t, Girl Wants To Break The Pattern, Arranged Marriage, Troublesome Younger Sibling, Wise Older Brother…the only Regency trope we’re missing is the dashing rake who actually does win her affections, at this point.

Madeline must, of course, run away. On the night before her wedding. So, she does. She and her horse, cleverly named Persephone, spend one uncomfortable night in a forest, then one night in a run-down inn, and end up by the sea. Please take note: when you live on an island, all directions will lead you to the sea sooner or later.

She finds a small fishing town. She rides into town, bold as brass, hitches her horse outside a tavern, and strolls in, asking for a job. The head barkeep is, as she surely must be, a non-local; a redheaded, dark-eyed Irish lass named “Caoimhe”. Please don’t ask me how to pronounce it, for I haven’t a clue. But ponder the worldly-wise Caoimhe a moment – how many Irish redheads do you know with dark eyes? Yeah, me either. When asked, she tells Madeline where she wound up: the village is named Mistle-Thrush-by-the-Sea. I kid you not.

The tavern itself, The Admiral’s Arms, is described two different ways in the course of about a page and a half. Madeline enters “a dim place, lit only by the occasional lantern or two, with wooden tables and a fireplace that was currently bare,” but a couple of hours later, as she is learning her job, she’s enjoying a spectacular view, which the tavern exploited “for all it was worth by installing giant windows that showed a view of the harbor and the sea beyond.” This and other glaring continuity errors are peppered throughout, and they just add to the fun.

On her first night there, Madeline must of course meet…Harland Sanders. The most handsome man she’d ever seen, naturally. He was “tall, dressed like a sailor,” with light and fair hair, “framing his head in airy curls, and the eyes that stared back and her were almost the exact color of the sea.” Oh, please! This younger avatar of the famously-curmudgeonish Sanders is, of course, Not Who He Appears To Be (yet another great trope). I won’t spoil it by giving you the ending, but serious readers of Regencies could write the rest of this tale easily. At only 96 pages, this tale moves fast, and the utterly-predictable denouement comes at you like a runaway locomotive.

I didn’t expect to enjoy this. YUM Brands, the owner of KFC, is releasing this novella as a marketing gimmick, not even as a serious work. There are a number of breathtaking flaws, like the continuity errors I pointed out, the needless wealth of outdated adjectives, and the tired old tropes–but were these errors deliberate? When I look at the piece as a whole, I can’t help but wonder. Will it win a “Pullet-zer” prize? Not a chance. But it was cheep…er, cheap – you’ll shell out at most a dollar for this ebook – and to me, it was a fun, silly read, and a mood-booster that I just didn’t see coming. Don’t take it too seriously; it’s way too campy for that. But if campy is your thing – Tender Wings of Desire might be a sleeper hit for you. Chick lit? Absolutely. But worth crossing the road for, in my opinion.

Escape Rating: Extra Crispy

Editor’s Note: When this book showed up on my Facebook feed I was too chicken to read it, so Amy graciously leapt into the breach. Or bucket. I’m very glad she did. I expected the hilarious yet thoughtful review, but had no idea it would also snap her out of a reading slump. And I’m so grateful that Amy was willing to go where no wings have flown before, so that the rest of us don’t have to. I am also grateful that the rating for this one was NOT spicy, because my mind still won’t go there.

For anyone dying of curiosity, this is a real book, and KFC, admittedly with tongue firmly in cheek, released it for a real reason – Mothers’ Day is one of their busiest days of the year. There seem to be nearly 400,000 families who think that the easiest way to give a hard working mother (and they are all hard-working) a night off is to pick up a bucket of chicken from KFC. And I bet there will be even more this year, as people who can’t believe this is a real thing go to KFC to discover if this is a real thing. Which it is, this weekend, free with every $20 Fill-Up Meal. Or for 99 cents at Amazon.

Me, I’m still back at OMG I’m too chicken to read this. Thanks Amy!