Amber Prelude by Kevin B. Henry

AMBER
Amber Prelude by Kevin B. Henry
Publisher: Burst Books
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Historical
Length: Short Story (73 pages)
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

When it’s sunny with a chance of time travel, where would you go if the world was at your feet and an assassin was on your trail?

Most people are constrained by time. Mitchell isn’t one of them. He can do anything he wants to do without any worry about running out of it.

What I appreciated the most about the main character was that he made intelligent decisions. They weren’t always decisions that I would have made in those particular situations, but I completely understood why Mitchell thought they were good ones. His thought processes were always logical. That is something that I really appreciate in a story!

The plot jumped among so many different times and places that I lost count of them all. In certain scenes it was confusing to keep track of when and where Mitchell was now because it all shifted so often and so rapidly. While I really liked seeing how this storytelling technique revealed certain facets of his character, it would have been easier to keep up with his latest setting if the narrator had been able to spend a little more time transitioning between them.

Imagine standing on the brink of a historical event and watching it unfold. I’ve often wished I had the ability to do that. The descriptions of what it felt like for Mitchell to experience things that happened long before he was born mesmerized me almost as much as the narrator’s explanation of how people like him can potentially affect the course of history. These passages were by far my favourite ones in this book.

Amber Prelude kept me on my toes. I’d recommend it to anyone who enjoys time travel tales.

Coup De Grace by Misa Buckley

GRACE
Coup De Grace by Misa Buckley
Publisher: Champagne Books
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (35 pages)
Heat Level: Sensual
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Rescued from the evil clutches of Hammel, Grace gathers the mutated ex-residents and goes to war, determined to strike a finishing blow against the evil company.

How would you go about saving the world?

The pacing was so strong and steady that I read this whole thing in one sitting. I simply couldn’t wait to find out what happened next, especially after once I’d figured out what was really at stake for the characters. Every moment was full of meaning. There weren’t any points when I was eager to move on to the next scene because all of them were so important.

The cast of characters was a little too large for something this size. While I liked all of the characters as individuals, there were times when it was a little confusing to keep track of what everyone was doing because of the short, fast-paced nature of this tale. It would have been helpful to know more about a smaller number of people.

One of the things I enjoyed the most about the plot was how the science fiction elements were included. They didn’t show up right away, so I briefly wondered how and when they would arrive. I was pleased by what Ms. Buckley did with them, though, and was fascinated by her explanation of how everything worked. It’s hard to discuss this without giving away spoilers, but it was well done.

While this story is part of a series, it can be read as a standalone work. I had no trouble figuring out what was going on even though I’ve only read some of the earlier episodes so far.

Coup De Grace is a good choice for anyone in the mood for something that moves along quickly.

Victoria and the Alien Doctor by Jessica Coulter Smith

ALIEN
Victoria and the Alien Doctor by Jessica Coulter Smith
Intergalactic Brides 2
Publisher: Changeling Press, LLC
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Length: Short Story (84 pgs)
Other: M/F
Rating: 3.5 stars
Reviewed by Xeranthemum

Doctor. Hero. Alien.

Time is running out. Victoria Mathers has tried everything. Her daughter has a rare cancer that hasn’t responded to any of the treatments human medicine has to offer. If she can’t convince the sexy alien doctor to help her, she knows she’ll watch her child die. Victoria will do anything to save her daughter, even if it means bonding with an alien for the rest of her life.

Per Earth’s rules, Xonos isn’t allowed to treat humans, unless they’re one of the new human-alien pairs. However, looking at the small human child who is obviously suffering tears at his heart. It’s been his life’s work to save people, and he isn’t sure he can stand by and watch an innocent child die when he might be able to help.

What starts as a simple arrangement quickly turns into something more as Xonos and Victoria grow closer. It isn’t long before she realizes that she yearns for his touch and she wants so much more from him than he may be willing to give. Love was never mentioned when they struck their bargain, but now she’ll settle for nothing less.

This is a melt-your-heart kind of story because the impetus for the plot is a mother’s passionate pursuit of trying to find a cure for her little girl. The author invested a lot of time into showing a reader just how precious and special the heroine’s daughter, Evie, is. It presented the perfect platform for two total strangers coming together to form a family. The depth of emotions between mother and child was well documented and well written.

That being the case, it’s not a huge surprise that the alien doctor, Xonos sees that past the pain of a desperate woman and instead realizes that the person he has before him is a woman of strength, courage and who possesses a deep capacity for love. But, can she love an alien? That is the question.

I really enjoyed this short story because it touched my emotions and made me feel. Granted, Xonos was almost too perfect in what he was willing to do and what he did do for the two new females in his life. Every obstacle was steamrolled over and in a way, the hero came off as an alien knight in shining armor – the conquering hero who doesn’t use a sword but a stethoscope and science to save the day. Once I realized that, I just relaxed and allowed myself to be entertained by a book that embodies the best of romance. The focus is on the people – their trials, their sacrifices, their hopes and dreams and the hope of a better tomorrow. It all works.

My favorite part is when Victoria sort of had to teach Xonos how to do a few things. I found that really sexy and a turn-on. She might have started off blushing but ended up screaming with delight. More than once. For a change, I was really happy when the hero and heroine burnt up the sheets. It wasn’t all thrusting lust, but fireworks of love.

Victoria and the Alien Doctor was incredibly romantic. It’s a story that makes a reader feel good. If you are having a rough day and need a break from stress and the frenetic demands of life, then this is a sweet book to take a short break with. I’m happy I read it.

The Long Journey Home by Cassandra Pierce

*LONG
The Long Journey Home by Cassandra Pierce
Publisher: Less Than Three Press
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Historical
Length: Short Story (49 pages)
Heat Level: Sweet
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

For eighteen years, Wren has lived isolation with his guardians, Grum and Krulch, in the heart of a deep, peaceful forest. His life is tranquil except for the doubts that torment him: why does he look so different from his parents, and how did two male ogres manage to birth a small, pale creature like Wren?

Everything changes when he accidentally wanders too far from home and comes upon an entire village of people who look like him. One in particular, a scribe’s apprentice named Valerus, is simply the most beautiful being Wren has ever seen.

His elation soon turns to fear when the people of the village tell Wren he is one of their own and must remain with them—abandoning the ogres who raised him. Though he would love to stay with Valerus and build a new life, he doesn’t want to do it at the expense of the life that made him. But if he wants to enjoy a promising future, he’ll have to find a way to unravel his mysterious past.

Every child grows up eventually. As the adopted child of ogres, Wren is no exception to this rule. His transition has simply been little more complicated than most.

It took me a while to figure Wren out, but once I did I grew to like him quite a bit. He’s not the kind of character who reveals everything right away. What he did share with the audience in the first few paragraphs was consistent with his personality overall. It gave me a glimpse of what kind of person he was, and I enjoyed getting to know him even better as I learned more about him.

This short story contained a few different plot holes. I had assumed that they’d be explained by the final scene, so it was distracting not to have any answers for them. The questions they raised about the characters and setting were intriguing. I would have been able to give this book a much higher rating if the narrator had shared some kind of explanation for what was going on in those scenes.

The food descriptions in this tale weren’t like anything I’ve ever heard of before. Imagine cheerfully sipping a cup of mudroot tea! I grinned when I read that section because I was so curious to know what it would be like to try it. Including these kinds of details made it really easy for me to fantasize about visiting an Ogre’s house because it involved so many different senses: sight, smell, and taste. This was a good decision on the author’s part.

I’d recommend The Long Journey Home to anyone who likes the fantasy genre.

Final Solstice by David Sakmyster

FINAL
Final Solstice by David Sakmyster
Publisher: WordFire Press
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Suspense/Mystery
Length: Full Length (298 Pages)
Rating: 5 Stars
Reviewed by Cyclamen

Climate change is man-made, but caused by just a powerful few known as Druids.

When successful meteorologist Mason Griers is recruited to consult for a mysterious environmental firm, it’s the perfect chance to put his lifetime obsession with violent weather to practical use. Solstice Inc. promises a new technology that can accurately predict, and possibly control, catastrophic weather events around the world. Too late however, Mason learns that Solstice is made up of high ranking and powerful Druids, and he’s become an unwitting tool in the firm’s dark plot that could remake the world on a scale not seen since the last great extinction.

Mason Grier is flattered when he is recruited by Solstice Synergistic, Inc. After all, he is only a weatherman for a San Diego television station. He accepts the job right away when Solstice’s medical advances cure his daughter’s deafness. He doesn’t really think things through or examine the company at all. He just gets caught up in the moment. However, all too soon he begins to discover that Solstice has the power to change weather, making catastrophic storms at the wave of their Druid staffs. In addition, they have an agenda to stop global warming in ways that will cause mass extinctions. As Avery Solomon, the head of Solstice says to those Druids who want a more peaceful change, “You speak of balance, and I tell you, I am merely righting the balance, restoring power to where it belongs. Not with man and his technology and his medical miracles and his immunizations and ecological re-engineering. That is what has usurped the balance.”

Final Solstice is a very timely and engaging story. I found it especially powerful as I suffer through a very dry hot summer. Mason is obviously in over his head and it isn’t immediately obvious why Solomon has picked him or what he is supposed to do. I found Mason to be likeable and maybe a bit naïve and out of his element. However, he cares deeply for his family and he is a quick learner, especially when he is helped by the Druids who oppose Solomon.

Fantasy and mystery fans alike will enjoy this novel. It is filled with information about both weather and global warming, and the plot is well-grounded in facts. The mysteries abound and Mason has to work hard to become a force in his own right, rather than just Solomon’s puppet. Can he change the path that Solomon has set? Can he do it before the Earth is destroyed? Time is not on Mason’s side. This is a novel that isn’t easily set aside or forgotten.

Zombie Rapture by Stuart R. West

SOMBIE
Zombie Rapture by Stuart R. West
Publisher: MuseItUp Publishing
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Horror, Contemporary
Length: Full Length (266 pages)
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Life is good for Hunter Wright. He’s just about to graduate from high school and he’s found true love. Just in time to lose her. Because the Rapture’s begun and those in his path, living and dead, stand in his way of finding her. And it’s not the Rapture the faithful have been expecting either. Someone failed to tell the dead they’re not in Heaven.

The world is ending. What will replace it has yet to be determined.

One of the things I like the most about zombies is how relentless they are. Other monsters can be outrun or outsmarted, but there’s almost nothing in the world that can stop these creatures. Mr. West’s version of them was particularly creepy because of how much time he took to describe the way their minds work. Those passages were really well done. I’ve read a lot of zombie fiction over the years. This was by far the scariest example of them that I’ve come across so far!

I would have liked to see more character development in this book, especially when it came to Hunter. He made decisions during the course of the plot that I didn’t always understand. What I did manage to figure out about his personality was fascinating, but there simply wasn’t enough information about it for me to form an accurate mental image of what it would be like to be in the same room as him or how the Rapture changed his personality.

The dialogue was short and efficient. Given the dangerous predicament they’d found themselves in, it made sense to me that Hunter and his friends wouldn’t be particularly interested in drawn-out discussions. I appreciated the fact that they showed their awareness of what was going on in part by choosing to stay quiet as much as they possibly could. It was a realistic response to their circumstances, and I liked that.

Zombie Rapture is a good choice for anyone in the mood for a fresh twist on this genre.

The Omega Chronicles by Artemis Milchon

DRAGON
The Omega Chronicles by Artemis Milchon
The Last Dragon – Book One
Publisher: Avalerion Books Inc
Genre: Action/Adventure, Contemporary, Paranormal, Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Length: Full Length (234 pages)
Heat Level: Hot
Rating: Best Book
Reviewed by Orchid

Sally has never felt truly wanted. Not by family, friends, or the few men who ever took notice of her. But a single night out changes her life forever. She is abducted from a bar into a world she could never have imagined, and there she meets Drake, a gorgeous stranger with a mysterious past. As she falls ever further under his spell, she must confront every insecurity she’s ever had about herself. But Drake has much more to conquer than just Sally’s fears. An ancient enemy has followed him, one that threatens all of the Omega Lords, and he discovers that Sally not only holds the key to his heart, but to the very survival of the Clans.

As a relentless foe works to end the Omega for all time, Drake has to convince Sally that she is worthy of the love he feels for her; she in turn must accept what she once thought was impossible. The fates of all the Clans are in their hands. Failure means certain death. With a world in the balance, can one woman find the strength to believe?

Dragons, water beings, shadow movers plus their enemies all blend together to make this a really great book.

A shy, quiet woman dominated by her siblings is kidnapped and taken to Sanctuary, the home of beings from another dimension. Drake makes her his but Sally’s quiet unassuming ways bring the outcasts close together in a way they have never experienced before.

Meanwhile an enemy is on their doorstep, waiting to pounce at the slightest opening. The outcasts unite to protect Sally, from herself, from them and from her family. Sally meanwhile is having the time of her life. She’s never felt this free and able to do what she wants instead of following orders, but at the back of her mind she knows it won’t last.

I would have thought this book was good just because it had dragons in it, but once I started reading it I couldn’t put it down, and the best thing is it’s book one of a series. All the characters have their own special personalities and abilities and despite the fact it’s a fantasy, they seem so real!

Hot love scenes combine with humour, understanding and the need to keep sane, all these combine to make an outstanding book which has punch, intrigue and love.

Tales From the Outer Lands by Shira Glassman

OUTER
Tales From the Outer Lands by Shira Glassman
Publisher: Prizm Books/Torquere Press
Genre: Action/Adventure, Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Length: Short Story (54 pgs)
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Aloe

Rivka in Port Saltspray: Trapped in a seedy port town because an innkeeper is holding her shapeshifting dragon-horse hostage until she can pay all the charges he invented, nomadic warrior Rivka finally has a chance at some decent money when a wealthy but weak man hires her to rescue his fiancée. But she has to think on her feet when she learns there may be more at stake.

Aviva and the Aliens: On the night before the royal Passover seder, Aviva has to outsmart the aliens who abducted her to cook for them because they had grown sick of their spaceship’s food replicators. Will she get home before Queen Shulamit wakes up and panics from her absence?

How about a couple of tales from out of this world? The first is about a woman warrior with a dragon; the second is about a very good cook that gets herself and her whole kitchen transported to a space ship. Neither story is boring!

Short stories are fun to read because the author has to get his/her storyline across with a minimal number of words and also needs to make them interesting enough to garner your attention. Ms. Glassman does a very good job with that. She also has a good imagination and can make your eyes stick to the pages as you read. Her sense of humor is also apparent.

The first story is my favorite, partly because the woman is a warrior trained by a wizard and partly because she has a pet dragon that turns into a horse when it’s tired. (Sounds handy, doesn’t it?) She’s trying to make some money and enters a contest to earn the prize: a woman. The man who contracted with her says she’s his bride to be. It’s untrue…

The second story is the one that made me chuckle. If you aren’t Jewish or don’t have Jewish friends, the humor might escape you. The cook is getting ready for Passover when she’s transported onto a space ship. The aliens look strange but what they want is her cooking. They ask her to make a meal. She does; they love it. Now they are going to keep her. So she cooks again and gives them matzo to eat. The results could be expected…

Here you have two great stories that are fun to read and don’t take too long. You could even fit them in during coffee breaks if you read fast. Why not go back to work with a smile on your face?

MirrorWorld by Jeremy Robinson

WORLD
MirrorWorld by Jeremy Robinson
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Genre: Contemporary, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Suspense/Mystery, Action/Adventure
Length: Full Length (356 pgs)
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Ginger

Crazy has no memory and feels no fear. Dangerous and unpredictable, he’s locked away in SafeHaven, a psychiatric hospital, where he spends the long days watching Wheel of Fortune and wondering what the outside world smells like. When a mysterious visitor arives and offers him a way out Crazy doesn’t hesitate to accept.

But outside the hospital Crazy is faced with a world on the brink of nuclear annihilation, and find himself relocated to Neuro Inc., a secretive corporation with strange givernment ties. When he discovers evidence of human experimentation he escapes with a syringe, the contents of which are unknown to him but precious to Neuro. Cornered and with a complete disregard for the results, Crazy makes himself indispensable by injecting the substance into his leg.

As the substance enters his bloodstream, though, his eyes are opened to a world beyond human experience, where fear is a tool and the shadows hide the source of mankind’s nightmares. Struggling to understand his new abilities, Crazy allies himself with the company he fled and begins peeling back the layers of his past, the brewing war between worlds, how he can stop it—and what he did to start it.

With Crazy, Robinson, whose trademarked pacing and inventive plots have been highly praised by bestselling authors like Jonathan Maberry, Scott Sigler and James Rollins, treats readers to a wildly imaginative, frenetically paced thriller exploring the origins of fear.

The beginning of the book started with suspenseful snippets that made me want to continue reading on. The attention catching snippets that open the novel are later explained in the book. With such suspense, action and humor my attention was captured and I couldn’t wait to continue reading. I am not a true science fiction reader so I was happy to have picked a book that wasn’t too deep and serious.

The character, Crazy is introduced and along comes humor that I found amusing in the beginning of the book, but as the book progress it lost its humor and turned into that kind of serious read where you have to put your thinking cap on and pay close attention so that you won’t miss any of the unveiling of the mystery. The introduction of Crazy along with his amnesia opens the suspenseful question of what happened to him to cause him to loose his memory?

A visit to Crazy in the mental facility is just the start to the sequence of action. The author is very detailed in his description of action as it takes place in the book. With this being a science fiction that is a good trait to have. Giving descriptive details blow-by-blow in the beginning but as the book went on there was a lot of action scenes that became very tedious. Not a moment to rest from all the action. Often the story seemed to ramble and the plot seem stretched out, as to where it could have been resolved sooner. I got lost on what the main focus of the story was because so much was going on; the Dreads, the mirror world, wars, stolen memories, DNA, the book turned serious and the humor was a thing of the past.

Dr. Kelly Allenby, Crazy’s aunt by marriage, fills in some of the blanks as to how Crazy’s memory has been erased, as well as what happened to Crazy’s family and how he ended up like he is. So the author did answer all of my questions.

Crazy’s lack of fear helped him excel in the military and in being a CIA agent. I’m not sure if it’s because the book is written in first person and there was only one main character going between worlds and doing the majority of the fighting but I lost interest in reading about Joseph (Crazy) going in and out of the Mirror World. Joseph was a little too perfect. He is ex-CIA, he was strong, smart, he had no fear, he was physically indestructible and he was the only person able to take on the Dreads.

This is absolutely a talented author with an imagination that not only is able to create worlds but also has the talent to write a story where he can take his readers along in his vision. This one didn’t really win me over to where I want to start adding sci-fi literature to my reading list but I wouldn’t discourage anyone that enjoys sci-fi action thrillers. This is one I’d strongly recommend for those that enjoy a book that has suspense, and that gives the reader a story that requires them to put the pieces of the puzzle together.

Dark Heir by Faith Hunter

HEIR
Dark Heir by Faith Hunter
Publisher: Roc
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Action/Adventure
Length: Full Length (363 pgs)
Rating: 3.5 stars
Reviewed by Cactus

Shapeshifting skinwalker Jane Yellowrock is the best in the business when it comes to slaying vampires. But her latest fanged foe may be above her pay grade…

For centuries, the extremely powerful and ruthless vampire witches of the European Council have wandered the Earth, controlling governments, fostering war, creating political conflict, and often leaving absolute destruction in their wake. One of the strongest of them is set to create some havoc in the city of New Orleans, and it’s definitely personal.

Jane is tasked with tracking him down. With the help of a tech wiz and an ex-Army ranger, her partners in Yellowrock Securities, she’ll have to put everything on the line, and hope it’s enough. Things are about to get real hard in the Big Easy.

Jane has finally met a vampire that might be tough to kill and her beast can’t help her. One of the original sons of darkness, the markers of the vampire race, has escaped vampire headquarters and is on the loose killing humans. Jane has been called in by both the human and vampire authorities to stop the rogue vampire, but she’ll need help from her business partners and friends to do it. As Jane’s powers have been growing, so has her own uneasiness with her place in life. She’s not entirely sure what she believes anymore and how it fits into the new world view. It’ll take all her effort and the combined help of her friends to take down this super powerful vampire, if that can even happen.

Dark Heir is the ninth book in the Jane Yellowrock series by Faith Hunter. I suppose any action based book could, theoretically, be read as a stand alone since the focus is always on the action scenes but I wouldn’t recommend it. The characters, especially the large supporting cast, and plot rely heavily on reader knowledge of past events and complicated relationships for the book to fully make sense. So readers should ensure they’ve read the main books in the series before picking up this one. Here the plot is incredibly similar to the previous books – bad guy on the loose and only Jane can stop them. The story has upped the power of the bad guy to correspond with Jane’s own increasing power and ability. Jane is pretty super powerful in this book and only an uber powerful vampire can really match her now. The focus is solidly on the detective work to figure out where the vampire could be and then the several fight scenes between Jane and co. and the bad guy.

In some ways this works since the writing strengths are definitely in the action of the plot. It helps move the story along when I found it somewhat boring at times. I got frustrated with Jane’s all powerful new presence and kind of hated how she could survive literally anything. Not to give spoilers but the fact that she survives the ending and –then- kills the bad guy is almost ludicrous. I feel as though the story focused nicely on Jane but left out the most interesting secondary characters – Leo, Beast – and as always I’m so tired of Jane assuming that everything is always her fault. That kind of guilt is wearying when it’s so clear it’s untrue and unproductive. It also shows incredible arrogance that she feels she controls all destiny, both past and present. I really wanted to tell her to get over herself repeatedly.

That said I like this series for the most part, although this was a more introspective book focusing almost exclusively on Jane and her internal whining in between fight scenes. I think the other books have been stronger with their inclusion of the other characters and a more dialogue based story. I think fans of the series will enjoy this addition as it’s a classic JY story in almost every way. It has some differences and fans can decide if they like them or not but I don’t see this as a permanent departure for the series, more like one that didn’t work as well for me. I’ll still be getting the next book and hoping that there’s more of the witty banter and secondary characters that make the story shine so well.