Sunblood by Maria Mora

SUN
Sunblood by Maria Mora
Publisher: Less Than Three Press
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Length: Short Story (95 pages)
Heat Level: Sweet, M/M
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Caleb, sub-citizen 45201, is a psychic slave in the massive biodome known as the City — the only civilized community left on his wasted planet. He can’t remember his life before he was taken to the City and experimented on by scientists trying to control his unusual gift. Despite having no rights, Caleb knows his life isn’t all that bad. His Keeper, Daniel, secretly allows him to play in the minds of the City’s inhabitants. Caleb likes Daniel — probably more than he should — and once in a while the cafeteria has some delicious cookies. Caleb’s small freedoms don’t seem like all that much until even those are threatened. When Caleb is targeted by those who fear his powers, he discovers exactly how much he has to lose.

There’s a big difference between surviving from one day to the next and truly living. If only Caleb could remember what that difference was.

I was completely fascinated by Caleb’s powers. What they were and how he used them weren’t revealed right away, so it was interesting to slowly piece together the facts about this part of his life as the plot progressed. Ms. Mora struck a smart balance between giving me enough information to know what was going on in a particular scene and keeping other details quiet until they, too, needed to be revealed.

It would have been really helpful to have more world building in this story. The society that Caleb and Daniel live in sounded incredibly complex, so I was surprised by how little time was spent explaining how it all worked. To be more specific, there appeared to be a strong mismatch between the level of technology that the City relied on for its survival and the types of resources that were still available on what was otherwise a severely damaged, depleted planet.

Fear can prod people into doing things they’d never otherwise consider. Some of the best scenes explore how this works and why all of us are susceptible to it. One of the reasons why I enjoy this genre so much is that it’s so well-suited to bringing up these kinds of topics in a reader’s mind without ever literally asking us what we think of that idea. There’s definitely something to be said for approaching certain themes in this manner, and this book did a good job at it.

Sunblood caught my attention. It’s something I’d recommend to anyone who enjoys science fiction set in the distant future.

Nine Lives of Adam Blake by Ryan Gladney

NINE
Nine Lives of Adam Blake by Ryan Gladney
Publisher: Self-published
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Contemporary, Historical
Length: Full Length (218 pages)
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Adam Blake knows what fate awaits him after death. He has died before, and will die again, and always it’s the same. For Adam, there is no heaven, no hell, no reincarnation, or cold, final sleep. When he dies, his life flashes before his eyes; it rushes backward—nothing skipped or overlooked—until it stops, suddenly, at age twelve, one week after he had mysteriously disappeared in the woods behind his childhood home. Then, he wakes up.

Adam is cursed—or blessed—to relive the same life again and again, from this moment onward, regardless of how he lives, who he becomes, or what ultimately causes next his demise. He is free to right past wrongs, avoid past mistakes, pursue any interest and chase any dream. But the longer Adam lives, the less anything matters but answers. He must know: Why is he stuck in this loop? What is its cause? How will it end? And what awaits him on the other side of death when it finally does?

Every choice we make has consequences. Not every consequence can be predicted ahead of time.

Adam’s character development was really well done. The first chapter revealed the most important parts of his personality without giving away any spoilers. Seeing how his subsequent lives and deaths changed this character was rewarding. All of the decisions he made as a result of them were completely logical given what had already been revealed about him, but there was still plenty of room left for him to grow as a person.

I often found it difficult to tell which lifetime Adam was currently experiencing due to how the plot was formatted. Some scenes flashed back to earlier points in one life and then abruptly moved forward to one version of the present day again. It would have been really helpful to have more context clues about which reincarnations these section involved as all of his lifetimes involved completely different scenarios.

The ending caught me by surprise. It wasn’t what I was expecting to happen, but it did make sense given what happened in the main character’s earlier existences. The beginning of this book didn’t include many of the things I would generally expect to find in a contemporary science fiction novel, so it was also interesting to see how the author developed his idea and played around with this genre in the conclusion. Overall, I was pretty pleased with how everything came together.

Nine Lives of Adam Blake was one of the most inventive science fiction stories I’ve read recently. Give it a try if you’re in the mood for something unique!

Come On Home Children by Victoria Randall

COME
Come On Home Children by Victoria Randall
Book Two of Children in Hiding
Publisher: Self-published
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Length: Full Length (261 Pages)
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Cyclamen

In the future, when an unlicensed pregnancy is a felony, Willa’s daughter Katy has been abducted by the ruthless Bureau of Population Management. Unless Willa can rescue her she faces a life of stigma, toil, and despair. With the help of some unlikely allies, Willa devises an audacious scheme to free Katy, but it will only work if she can find the courage to reinvent herself.

When no one is what they seem, the truth can be a dangerous luxury. Come on Home, Children is a dystopian thriller that tests whether love can outwit bureaucratic greed, and whether Willa can tread a treacherous path between reality and illusion.

Willa escapes from the Renton Children’s Center when she is sixteen years old. Four years later she has a young daughter and she is attending college with a fake ID, trying to earn her degree in nursing. She never would have survived it weren’t for her friend Adele, an older woman who allowed Willa and her daughter Katy to live with her in the underground labyrinth beneath the Pike Place Market. But when the Bureau of Population Management arrives on Adele’s doorstep, the fake birth certificate for Katy doesn’t work and Katy is dragged off to the Renton Children’s Home as an illegal child, just as Willa had been twenty years earlier.

Willa is a heartwarming character, determined to make a life for her and her small daughter. She works hard and is a very loving mother. When Katy is taken from her, she is determined to get her back. Thankfully, she has friends, new and old, poor and wealthy, who band together to help her. But will all the help be enough? In the end, it is Willa who has to become someone new, to put on a different front, to legitimize herself so that she can rescue Katy.

I liked Willa and found her to be very believable. I also liked her friend Jake Reed, a double amputee from the war in Afghanistan thirty years ago, who watches over and protects Willa. The plot is well crafted and the pacing is good. The suspense builds throughout and it isn’t until the very end that things are resolved. I enjoyed the descriptions of Seattle, similar to today’s city, and yet definitely changed. The setting definitely enhanced the plot.

This is the second novel in a series, but it works just fine as a standalone. I have not read the first novel in the series, but I was instantly hooked by this story and did not feel as if I’d missed anything.

Readers of dystopian science fiction are sure to enjoy this exciting, heartfelt story.

Clockwork Heart by Jeffery Martin Botzenhart

HEART
Clockwork Heart by Jeffery Martin Botzenhart
Publisher: Luminosity Publishing
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Paranormal, Historical
Length: Short Story (60 pages)
Heat Level: Spicy
Rating: 4.5 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Until the end of time…and then beyond…

Would it be a crime against nature to help those in need by the use of unusual and possibly illegal medical procedures? Victoria begs her father, a brilliant physician, to commit such a crime for the man who she has forever fallen in love with. Trevor was critically injured by enemy artillery while fighting on the Western Front. Victoria hopes that through the restoration of his damaged body, their love will flourish once he is well again.

Unforeseeable revelations and unimaginable confrontations create havoc for the lovers. Will Victoria and Trevor find a place where their love will last for eternity…or has time run out?

Medicine has its limits, but sometimes a great doctor can push past them.

This story blended romance and science fiction together seamlessly. It took a little while for the latter to show up due to other subplots that needed to be explored first, but it was well worth the wait. One of the things I enjoy about steampunk is how flexible it can be about borrowing intriguing concepts from other subgenres of science fiction, and there was definitely quite a bit of that going on here.

There was one scene in the middle of this tale that I would have liked to see addressed again in the climax. A character in it mentions something that I also wondered about as a reader. While this issue was discussed a little bit, I think it would have made more sense for it to come up again naturally later on. This is a minor criticism, but I would have easily bumped the rating up to five stars had it been mentioned at least one more time in the plot. I was otherwise thrilled with how everything was woven together.

The biggest reason why I chose such a high rating for this book was due to what happened in the last few pages. This section tied together all of the themes of the plot beautifully. I was especially moved by the imagery in the final scene, and I couldn’t have imagined a better way to end it. It was an excellent introduction to Mr. Botzenhart’s work. I’m excited to see what he’ll come up with next!

Clockwork Heart was fantastic. I’d heartily recommend it to fans of science fiction and romance alike.

Chaysing Destiny by Jalpa Williby

 

DESTINY
Chaysing Destiny by Jalpa Williby
Chaysing Trilogy Book 3
Publisher: Outskirts Press
Genre: Contemporary, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Suspense/Mystery
Length: Full Length (342 pgs)
Heat Level: Spicy
Rating: 5 Stars
Reviewed by Sorrel

Will you find your destiny? Or will destiny find you? Lesson One: Follow your instincts. Lesson Two: Trust no one. Lesson Three: Don’t hesitate. Truth is nothing but lies. Light is overshadowed by darkness. Hope is replaced by despair. Innocence is lost. Only anger and bitterness remain. Don’t miss this final installment as destiny’s path is ultimately unraveled in Chaysing Destiny.

A twist that readers will love to hate and but ultimately love!

First of all, I would very much recommend readers to start this series from the first book, Chaysing Dreams. Yes, the first book may not be what you expect but patience pays off. In this case, the second and the third books are very good in every way. I completely devoured them.

The third starts two years after where the second book ends. A lot has happened but to explain it here would spoil the second book’s ending. It’s exciting and shouldn’t be missed.

Tess is in a place in her life where she has to strengthen her resolve and herself for the protection of those she loves. She has great motivation for becoming stronger and more independent.

More than a year later she goes on a mission. A whirlwind of a mission that would give more questions than answers. There’s so much action, so much that happens in this final chapter of the trilogy but it brings the story to satisfying end.

For a lot of readers, this book would probably only be classified as a Contemporary Romance and Mystery. However, in my opinion there is a little bit of Sci-fi in it.

Chaysing Destiny is full of twists and turns and mystery that any reader with a love for the genre will be glad to read.

The Southern Belle’s Guide to Witchcraft by Loribelle Hunt

BELLE
The Southern Belle’s Guide to Witchcraft by Loribelle Hunt
Publisher: Etopia Press
Genre: Contemporary, Paranormal, Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Length: Full Length (348 pgs)
Heat Level: Spicy
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Thistledown

Scarlet Burke isn’t an ordinary witch. She’s a Guardian, charged with protecting humanity from things that go bump in the night. And bite. Did she mention the biting? As if that isn’t enough she’s raising two teenage daughters to follow in her footsteps, juggling her crazy family, and avoiding the attentions of an amorous werewolf, Jake Mills, the chief police.
Jake has been chasing her for years. At times he’s bossy and possessive, but he’s just as often charming and teasing. And he’s definitely easy on the eyes. She has no idea what to do about him. He’s refusing to stay in the friend zone she’s placed him in for years. As he works his way more firmly into her life, her ability to resist him weakens.

To add insult to injury there’s a new evil in town and it’s gunning for her. But identifying the killer is even harder than finding him. As he begins killing off members of her family, Scarlet is in the fight of her life. When her daughters become the final targets of an ancient dark ritual she is forced to make an impossible choice. Fight evil with evil? Or hope that combing the powers of the witches and demons in town will be enough to defeat him? Failure is not an option.

When an unknown evil stalks Scarlet’s hometown can she find the source before it’s too late?

Scarlet is a Guardian. A witch in a small town in Alabama, she takes no crap from anyone and that includes the very sexy sheriff, Jake. Unlucky in love and trying to keep up with two teenage daughters as well as rid the town of all manner of paranormal pests, Scarlet has her hands full.

When her ex-husband is found dead in a ritualistic style killing and an unknown evil is discovered lurking in the primeval forest nearby, Scarlet and her family have a huge undertaking ahead. With strangers arriving in town and more supernatural hijinks unfolding, she will have her hands full. Jake (prepare for shifter crack) is content to let her investigate her own way but when things get out of hand, he’s ready to let a bit of fur fly.

The characters in this book are sassy and full of Southern charm. Her daughters are just delightful and I would never, ever want to cross Scarlet’s mama. No way. Romantic tension rose with every page and when Scarlet and Jake hit the sheets it was an inferno. I did get the feeling this was more urban fantasy than straight out romance but the sparks were sure nice when they flew. Spicy but sweet, this story is sure to please readers who love Kim Harrison and Charlaine Harris.

The only two issues I had with the book were head hopping and the feeling I had missed a first book in a series somewhere. It was a bit confusing in several points in the book but I was too busy trying to find out what was going to happen to be too concerned about it in the end. Overall, I enjoyed the read and look forward to trying other books in this author’s repertoire. The politics were interesting and the hunt for the supernatural baddy was fun. I can’t resist an author who loves to create smart aleck characters and write about sexy werewolves.

Vampires, elves, witches and shifters, oh my…

Cross Keys by Ally Shields

KEYS
Cross Keys by Ally Shields
An Elvenrude Novel
Publisher: Etopia Press
Genre: Contemporary, Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Length: Full Length (445 pgs)
Heat Level: Sensual
Rating: 3.5 stars
Reviewed by Poinsettia

Conspiracy, murder, and magic…and the death of all they hold dear.

When the first wanderer—a common elf who isn’t authorized to use the portal—is spotted on the streets of New Orleans, the king assigns Kameo Ryndel to assist in the elf’s capture. But before she can intervene, humans with guns shoot the wanderer and steal his body. When Seth Lormarc, an Elite elf from a rival guild, appears at the scene, Kam suspects he is involved.

Seth Lormarc is in New Orleans to find out who was behind the portal breach, and his best lead is the intriguing Kam Ryndel. When he stakes out her apartment and finds her sneaking out in the middle of the night, dressed in black and leaping to the top of the nearest building, he knows there’s something unique about the beautiful elf. That kind of feat requires magic. Ancient magic.

As their paths cross during their investigations, they develop an irresistible attraction, although there’s little time for romance. The portal breach is tied to an illegal smuggling operation that has come to the attention of the human CIA. But the stakes are raised when Kam and Seth discover a band of conspirators and a rebellion deep in Elvenrude that promises nothing except destruction of their world.

Kam is prepared to do anything to protect Elvenrude, but can she protect her own heart?

Kam has all the traits of a likable heroine. She is smart, strong, caring, and loyal. Her devotion to Elvenrude is absolute and she’s willing to break a few rules in order to protect her home and the people she loves. However, I found it interesting that she is not willing to take the same risks in regard to her heart. Even though her attraction to Seth is clear to everyone around them, Kam stubbornly refuses to acknowledge her own feelings. I did appreciate Seth and Kam’s antagonistic banter, but at a certain point, I just wanted her to be honest about her feelings.

Whether Kam wants to admit it or not, Seth is a good match for her. He’s every bit as smart and strong as she is, and he’s willing to let her have the freedom she craves regarding her career. I must give Seth credit for his patience with Kam. He never pressures her, but he wasn’t shy about letting her know how he felt. I found his direct manner refreshing, and it was easy to hope that he and Kam would find a way to be together.

Elvenrude sounds like a beautiful place secluded from the noise and pollution of the human world. I could clearly picture the tree houses and the natural beauty of the land. I found the elves obsession with human gadgets amusing. Things like coffee, bikes, and electronics are commonplace in the human world, but are novelties for the elves. It was interesting to watch the elves try to maintain a balance between their world and the human world and see what they deemed acceptable and what they thought had the potential to corrupt.

I do think the ending was a little odd. After so much build up concerning who was behind the portal disturbances, I think the reveal of the mastermind was rushed and a bit anticlimactic. I also wanted more explanation concerning this character’s motivations. Despite this issue, I still found it satisfying to see the villain brought to justice.

Overall, I think Cross Keys is a good book. Kam and Seth make a good team, and I enjoyed watching them work together to solve the mystery. I recommend Cross Keys to anyone who likes fantasy with a modern twist.

Jabberwocky: A Novella by Theodore Singer

NOVELLE
Jabberwocky: A Novella by Theodore Singer
Publisher: Self-published
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Historical
Length: Short Story (78 pages)
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Inspired by the Lewis Carroll poem Jabberwocky, this novella follows young Astreus through a series of strange landscapes on his quest to find and slay the Jabberwock. But the quest may not be as he thinks.

Embracing an old family tradition can be an incredibly meaningful experience. All Astreus has to do now is figure out the best way to use it.

Astreus was a well-developed, likeable main character. His contemplative, curious personality wasn’t at all what I was expecting out of someone who decides to hunt down an ancient beast, but it fit the tone of the plot incredibly well. I was also impressed by how he expressed his intelligence. He struck a smart balance between accepting his strengths without bragging about them and acknowledging his own weaknesses.

There were a few small pacing issues. At times the narrative lingered a little too long on the strange, wonderful places Astreus discovered during his search for the Jabberwocky. The descriptions of these settings were fascinating, but including so many details about them did occasionally slow down the plot at inopportune times. This is a minor criticism of an otherwise amazing story, though.

With that being said, the world-building in this tale was incredibly strong and complex. It stayed true to the types of people, places, and monsters I’d expect from a fantasy novel set in the past, but it also included a few fun surprises. As eager as I was to move forward and discover what happened to the Jabberwocky, I really enjoyed seeing the protagonist explore the far north. This could have easily been expanded into a full-length book.

Jabberwocky: A Novella is a must-read for anyone who loves the original Lewis Carroll poem about this creature.

March Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Mystery/Suspense Book of the Month Poll Winner ~ Doctor Sleep by Stephen King

DLEEP
Doctor Sleep by Stephen King
Publisher: Gallery Books, Scribner
Genre: Contemporary, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Horror, Paranormal
Length: Full Length (531 pgs)
Rating: 5 stars
Reviewed by Nymphaea

Voted BoM by LASR Readers 2013 copy

Stephen King returns to the characters and territory of one of his most popular novels ever, The Shining, in this instantly riveting novel about the now middle-aged Dan Torrance (the boy protagonist of The Shining) and the very special twelve-year-old girl he must save from a tribe of murderous paranormals.

On highways across America, a tribe of people called The True Knot travel in search of sustenance. They look harmless—mostly old, lots of polyester, and married to their RVs. But as Dan Torrance knows, and spunky twelve-year-old Abra Stone learns, The True Knot are quasi-immortal, living off the “steam” that children with the “shining” produce when they are slowly tortured to death.

Haunted by the inhabitants of the Overlook Hotel where he spent one horrific childhood year, Dan has been drifting for decades, desperate to shed his father’s legacy of despair, alcoholism, and violence. Finally, he settles in a New Hampshire town, an AA community that sustains him, and a job at a nursing home where his remnant “shining” power provides the crucial final comfort to the dying. Aided by a prescient cat, he becomes “Doctor Sleep.”

Then Dan meets the evanescent Abra Stone, and it is her spectacular gift, the brightest shining ever seen, that reignites Dan’s own demons and summons him to a battle for Abra’s soul and survival. This is an epic war between good and evil, a gory, glorious story that will thrill the millions of devoted readers of The Shining and satisfy anyone new to the territory of this icon in the King canon.

READ THE FULL REVIEW HERE!

High and Mighty by S.S. Skye

 

HIGH
High and Mighty by S.S. Skye
Publisher: Less Than Three Press
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Historical
Length: Short Story (69 pages)
Heat Level: Sweet, F/F
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Lynley has been stuck in a tower for over a month, and each day is worse than the one before. She doesn’t know why she’s there, or who’s responsible for it, but the very moment her feet touch the ground there is going to be hell to pay.

This genre would be much smaller and less well known if it wasn’t so full of damsels in distress. The question is, what happens to damsels who don’t see any possible way that they’ll ever be rescued?

Lynley’s self-sufficiency impressed me. There’s only so many ways to pass the time while being trapped in a tower that offers no chance of escape, but she seemed to have figured out all of the possibilities on her own. Seeing how she reacted to such an unusual situation made me an instant fan of hers. She was by far the most interesting character in the entire plot.

The plot spent a great deal of time jumping from one character’s perspective to another. While I enjoyed listening in on their private thoughts, including so many narrators made it hard for me to get to know any of them particularly well. It would have been helpful to limit this number to only one or two speakers given that this is a short story instead of something full-length.

I read the whole thing in one sitting. The strong pacing made it impossible for me to put it away until I’d learned why Lynley had been locked in the tower and who put her there. Figuring out the answers to these questions was a lot of fun, especially since the plot didn’t give away any hints about it in the beginning. In this case, that was a smart decision.

High and Mighty gave a modern twist to one of my favorite fairy tales. I’d recommend it to anyone who likes these kinds of retellings.