FREE Sci-Fi!

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Hi everyone!

I’m really excited to announce a new publication available for FREE right now:

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Indra knows adjusting to life in a new town can take time but after a month she still hasn’t settled in. The gaps in her memory and her husband’s tendency to run mysterious errands at night don’t help matters. When she believes he is being unfaithful she follows him, never expecting to find an unimaginable confrontation and a stranger who knows her better than she knows herself.

While I was working on other projects this Sci-Fi short story barged in and demanded to be written down. Being an obedient penmonkey, I complied. As is my usual, there’s a lot of action, unexpected twists, and a wily heroine with a dry sense of humor. It was a lot of fun to write and I hope you’ll enjoy it:)

Grab your FREE copy on Amazon, Smashwords, Kobo, and Barnes & Noble.

Have a great weekend and happy reading!

Roll Credits

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Recently I came to the ending of a couple of books that I’d been SO looking forward to. One was the final book in a trilogy and the other was a standalone sequel. There I was, boppin’ along happily, enjoying the story and the writing (well, more for that standalone sequel than the trilogy finale, but that’s unrelated). There’s a big confrontation in both. The heroes are backed into a corner. DEATH is on the line! I’m thinking, “Woah, how are they going to get out of it all?? This is going to be great!!” while at the same time a frightened part of me is praying the authors won’t go for some cliche deus ex machina cop-out to haul the protags assess out of the fire.

I get to the plot’s crescendo AND…

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Yeah, both went with the saw-it-coming-a-mile-away, take-the-easy-road, one-fell-swoop solution to ALL the problems ending.

*sobs*

I shambled around the house afterward feeling gloomy. My husband asked if something happened at work or if I argued with my mother, to which I replied, “No, it’s worse. I have book blues.” His face got really still like he was trying very hard not to roll his eyes or make that wry smirk of his that says, “Reeeeally?” I guess since he’s a social worker this sort of mood crasher seems a tad exaggerated given the things he sees everyday. Hm, he has a point, but STILL!

Has this ever happened to anyone else? When the end of a book you’ve been dying to read just completely disappoints? I’ll admit I’m a bit of an odd duck–I know, you’re shocked, right?–when it comes to endings. I can absolutely accept an unhappy ending as long as it makes sense and isn’t just trying to be avant guarde about it (Don’t get me going on The Departed’s stupid ending).

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I can also be good with happy endings, as long as there isn’t too much shiny-shiny-the world is at peace-everybody lives-no one had to sacrifice squat. AND, most importantly, as long as the ending included characters fighting their own way out of trouble and not simply delivered from it by some other “all powerful” force rushing in from the sidelines to resolve the problem and defeat the “Big Bad”.

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These two books I mentioned were traditionally published which really leaves me scratching my head as to how these lazy-written endings (because when you get down to brass tacks, that’s what they were) got through the author’s team of editors, critiquers, and beta readers. Granted, these are very big authors so maybe the publishing house didn’t bother with much polish time because they knew they were going to make a ton of money no matter what. That irks me, particularly since they now own my money too and didn’t fulfill their end of the bargain.

When I finished the review draft of my first novel, I sent it out to trusted beta readers before I contracted an editor. Being a novice author, I admit there was some deus ex machina toward the end. Yeah, my betas all jabbed fingers at it and said, “Nuh-uh. Make the characters we’ve been rooting for take the spotlight.” I took their advice and rewrote the entire ending (yes, the whole thing, several chapters worth) and I’m so grateful for their feedback because it was 100% better. In fact, my editor only had minor notes for it.

The point is, I realize it’s easy to fall into the cheap fix to a story’s problem, but that should never make it out of the draft stage. The authors of the books I referenced are not novices but big names. Maybe it’s naive to hope that despite their fame they will still strive for their best rather than “good enough to sell”. Yes, it’s a business but at the heart of it, it’s art. To me, art deserves our best every time.

Has anyone else had the “book blues”? Ever get to the end of a read you were excited about only to see it unravel?

The King’s Man (Welsh Blades Book 1)

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Title & Author: The King’s Man (Welsh Blades Book One), Elizabeth Kingston

Genre & Publication Date: Historical Romance, June 20, 2015

Book Description: “Ranulf Ombrier’s fame throughout 13th century England for his skill at swordplay is rivaled only by his notoriety as King Edward I’s favorite killer. Ranulf’s actions have gained him lands, title, and a lasting reputation as a hired butcher. But after years of doing his king’s bidding, he begins to fear for his mortal soul and follows his conscience away from Edward, all the way to the wilds of Wales.

Gwenllian of Ruardean, Welsh daughter of a powerful Marcher lord, has every reason to leave Ranulf for dead when one of her men nearly kills him. As a girl she was married by proxy to a man Ranulf murdered, only to become a widow before she ever met her groom. In the years since, she has shunned the life of a lady, instead studying warfare and combat at her mother’s behest. But she has also studied healing and this, with her sense of duty to knightly virtues, leads her to tend to Ranulf’s wounds.

Saving her enemy’s life comes with consequences, and Gwenllian and Ranulf are soon caught up in dangerous intrigue. Forced together by political machinations, they discover a kinship of spirit and a surprising, intense desire. But even hard-won love cannot thrive when loyalties are divided and the winds of rebellion sweep the land.”

First Line: Wales 1280: When he first woke, he thought he must be roasting in the fires of Hell.

My Take: Every once in a while I pick up a book in historical fiction rather than speculative. I’ve only ever done one review of this genre on the blog. It’s a little odd since I’m a big Masterpiece Theater fan and just loved Downton Abbey (For anyone in withdrawal since the show ended, there’s another awesome series called Larkrise To Candleford that was made some time back. Equally amazing). My point is, it takes an especially good book to push me off my usual reading habit of imaginary worlds and space exploration. The King’s Man is one of those.

Initially I just grabbed the sample chapter, intrigued by the blurb. Pretty much after the first paragraph I knew my life was about to come to a standstill:

When he first woke, he thought he must be roasting in the fires of Hell. Later he would know if was a raging fever that burned him, and she would tell him it was delirium that caused insensate visions. These were practical and unromantic explanations that were true enough. But earthly truths would never be as real as hellfire, and angels, and the moment he put the tattered remains of his soul into her hands.

I mean, yeah. I didn’t stand a chance. The writing throughout the whole thing is just exquisite. I kept running into whole sections where I’d be like, “Oh wow. Hang on, I’ve got to reread that a few more times just for the love of words.” Yet, it never became heavy handed, the writing deliberately holding off on those more epic phrases until just the right moment. Then, while you’re curled around your Kindle, when you’re utterly rapt with the scene at hand, it releases that poetic style. Let me tell you, it hangs on to your thoughts well after you’re done reading it, like sillage from an open perfume bottle.

The plot itself is also solid. This is set during the reign of the ruthless King Edward I, otherwise known as Longshanks (some of you might remember his portrayal best from Braveheart). On the one side you have Ranulf, the King’s assassin, on the other you have Gwenllian, a Welsh noblewoman of a people long at odds with the King Edward’s rule. With murmurs of rebellion in the air, it sets a series of events in motion that neither one of them ever anticipated. Awesome historical and monarchical intrigue set against a very personal story of two people who find they are both enemies and allies at the same time.

The Magical: Loved Gwenllian! Such a great character with confidence and leadership ability, strong and steadfast, but also grappling with self-doubt and a wish for belonging. I also really loved Ranulf though. He’s as strong as Gwenllian, a strategic mind and cunning, but dealing with terrible self-loathing—adrift, never feeling at home in his home. Their trust grew slowly and in such a beautiful and believable way.

The Mundane: …I can’t think of anything, people! *sits down and checks pulse*

Summary of Thoughts: An amazing tale set in medieval Wales with three-dimensional characters, including the supporting cast. I enjoyed this one so much! Gwenllian and Ranulf felt like real people. They loved but they also argued, they made mistakes, they said stupid things and regretted them–just like a non-fictional relationship! I think that’s what I liked most. Currently it’s $4.99 for the Kindle on Amazon. I definitely recommend it (in case the gushing didn’t tip you off). Cool historical stuff, sword fights, a haunted past, and two people trying to learn what it means to love someone.

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Curious what others thought? Check out Amazon’s reviews here

Want to know more about this author’s work? Explore her website here

Sci-Fi Movie Review: Coherence

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With “Guardians of the Galaxy 2” out in theaters right now earning wheelbarrows full of cash for its producers this movie review about a low-budget Sci-Fi film that 99 out of 100 people have likely never heard of might strike you as odd…BUT IT WAS AMAZING! Thus, I feel duty bound to spread the word.

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Here’s the summary:

On the night of an astronomical anomaly, eight friends at a dinner party experience a troubling chain of reality bending events. Part cerebral sci-fi and part relationship drama, COHERENCE is a tightly focused, intimately shot film whose tension intensely ratchets up as its numerous complex mysteries unfold.

I’m not sure how I feel about putting the words “tension intensely” next to each other, but intense is definitely an apt description for this film. You’ll recognize its small cast of actors but might not be sure from where. The guy who played “Xander” from Buffy the Vampire Slayer and another woman who was a frequent side character on the TV series “Highlander” are the only ones I really knew. It doesn’t matter though. All of them did a fantastic job.

As the summary said, the movie starts out with a dinner party at a friend’s house. There’s some relationship drama going on as someone thought it would be a great idea to invite over the ex-girlfriend of the main character’s boyfriend. Naturally the ex sashays in fashionably late wearing a slinky red dress. So they get you on the protagonist’s side pretty quickly because, ugh, you just want to smack her and the dopey eyes she makes at the other girl’s boyfriend. Reminds me of this little hussy named Jasmine who had a thing for my husband (then boyfriend) and sat on his lap while I was right there in the room. We were even holding hands at the time. Since this was in Holland I pondered introducing her to the way Americans handle a situation like that. My guy took care of it though, setting her promptly off of him and telling her to get lost. Ah, satisfaction–Um, but let’s get back to the movie review:

The night of the dinner party coincides with a comet passing the Earth. It’s affecting phone signals and internet. Then the lights go out in the entire neighborhood…except for one house two blocks down. They decide to head over there and find out what’s going on/maybe use their phone, but what they find only leads to more questions and an out-of-this-world scenario of mind-bending Sci-Fi awesomeness that keeps your jaw dropping all the way through to the end. Incredibly memorable and amazingly done. Just goes to show that you don’t need millions and millions of dollars to make something spectacular.

Here’s the preview. It doesn’t do the film justice and makes it seem like a big Maury-Povich-style shouting match and semi-horror but that’s not how it was. I think they had to go for that feeling to drive interest because they can’t tell you too much without giving things away. Trust me, this one had a lot of thought put into it. I still plan to see the big Sci-Fi blockbuster but I’m so happy I found this gem.

 

Fallen Empire Series

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Title & Author: Fallen Empire series books 2-8: Honor’s Flight, Starseers, Relic of Sorrows, Cleon Moon, Arkadian Skies, Perilous Hunt, End Game, Lindsay Buroker

Genre & Publication Date: Science-Fiction, May – November 2016

Book Description: (From Book Two: Honor’s Flight) “After spending four years fighting for the Alliance, fighter pilot Alisa Marchenko only wants one thing: to reunite with her young daughter. But this involves a journey to her former home world, which has become the last imperial stronghold. Since the imperials have a lot of reasons to loathe members of the Alliance right now, just getting down to the planet will be a challenge, and it doesn’t help that her passengers are stirring up trouble of their own…

Even if Alisa is able to land, she may find that more questions await her than answers, and that her late husband kept a startling secret from her, one that could change her life forever.”

First Line: (From Honor’s Flight) Alisa Marchenko, Captain of the Star Nomad, the only Nebula Rambler 880 in the galaxy that hadn’t been scrapped decades earlier, fiddled with the flight stick as the planet Perun grew larger on the view screen.

My Take: These books were provided to me by the author for review.

A while back I reviewed the first book of this series, Star Nomad, which became part of an 8 book series with a spin-off novella on the side and another spin-off series called “Sky Full of Stars”. First, let us pause for a moment and recognize the word count powerhouse that is Lindsay Buroker. Between May and November of 2016 she published eight FULL novels. *blinks* Now that is just impressive. I assume she has to replace her keyboard often because of scorch marks. Wow.

Now, if you’ve read my review of the first book, you’ll know I was kind of lukewarm about it. I love Buroker’s writing style, her humor, her quirky characters, and in this case, her “universe building” but book one just didn’t grab my Sci-Fi heart as much as I’d hoped. Still, I thought I’d give it more time to do so and I continued the series. My attention definitely held throughout each book and I was interested to know how things would end but…I have to admit that I remained rather meh feeling about the main thrust of the story. Okay, okay, this sounds really contradictory–to feel ‘so-so’ about a series while at the same time reading the whole thing. I agree, it is. How to put this into words…Let’s try this: As I tapped the final page on the last book I didn’t lean back in post-book languor thinking, “That.Was.Awesome.” It didn’t hang around in my thoughts. I didn’t flip through previous books to reread favorite passages just to experience it again. I didn’t bemoan the fact that it was over.

Lukewarm.

The author says this is like her tremendously popular “The Emperor’s Edge” series but set in space (by the way, if you haven’t, GO READ THAT SERIES. Book One is FREE). I could see hints at the ways she tried to replicate that feeling but it felt like a lesser version of it. The main character, Alisa, is trying to reunite with her daughter after waking up in a medical ward to find out the war was over and her home, systems away from where her craft went down, had been destroyed. Her daughter survived. Her husband didn’t. One would think she’d let nothing come between her and getting to her daughter. Yet, it felt like this was just the setup for the adventures rather than the incredible emotional upheaval it would actually be. She was continually distracted from her mission to find her daughter by other things going on. Sort of, “Well, okay, I’ll take care of this issue with these people and then be back on my way.” She didn’t have the soul searing neeeeed that a mother ought to have to get to her child. I think this is where it went awry for me. How could she let her focus slide to anything else? Impossible. It affected my enjoyment of things because I constantly thought, “How is xyz more important to you right now???”

The Magical: This is a complex universe and the series visits plenty of different systems and planets. The history is really well thought out and the characters all have unique voices.

The Mundane: I really, really admire the author for her dedication to the craft and her utterly amazing ability to get an entire series out within seven months. However, I also think there was some plot stretching going on and I’m not entirely convinced it actually needed to be eight books.

Summary of Thoughts: Now, there are hoards of people who disagree with my opinion on this so please check out the Amazon link below to see reviews for more input–Honestly, people loved this so much I’m a little afraid they’ll be picketing my house if they read this review. It’s possible I’m the odd duck (and not for the first time in my life). So I’m giving this series a three star rating with the added note that Sci-Fi fans should give it a try for themselves. In fact, book one is only $0.99 (also on Kindle Unlimited) so why not, right?

Interestingly, I began the spin off series “A Sky Full of Stars” and am really liking that one. A coming-of-age in space? Yes, please! But that’s for another review;)

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Many thanks to author Lindsay Buroker for providing copies of the books to review!

Curious what others thought? Check out Amazon’s reviews here

Want to know more about the author and her work? Explore her website here

Earth Day Book Giveaway

Happy Earth Day, fellow humans!

This weekend only pick up a FREE copy of Syzygy: Transient Phenomena, the first book in J. K. Ullrich’s action-packed Sci-Fi/Cli-Fi series. I’ve read every installment and it’s seriously awesome! Find more of my gushing in the complete book review here. Or just pick up your copy on Amazon right now!

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Ash was never supposed to visit Earth. After a genetic engineering catastrophe wiped out civilization, the survivors—inhabitants of a lunar mining colony—planned to rebuild on Mars. That was before a group of rebels seceded to the dark side of the moon, taking critical materials with them. Now conscripted teenagers scavenge the ruined third planet for species to use in terraforming. At fifteen, Ash is the best diver in a generation. But when tragedy strikes, he vows to end his colony’s dependence on its old homeworld at any cost.

Skye has never set foot on Earth. It’s not even visible from the moon’s far side, although the exiles’ mystic leader promises they will return home someday. Skye has discovered something that could realize this long-awaited dream, but she’s an outcast among outcasts, and no one will listen to her plan. To save her people, she might have to betray them.

Worlds collide when Ash and Skye meet, blurring the boundaries between enemies and allies, deception and truth. Their choices could preserve a future for humanity…or finally drive it to extinction.

Fans of contemporary science fiction classics like Orson Scott Card’s “Ender’s Game” and Margaret Atwood’s “Oryx and Crake” will enjoy “Transient Phenomena”, the first installment of the “Syzygy” novella series.

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Read Ullrich’s thoughtful post about Earth Day and learn more about her work at her website here

Have a great weekend everyone and don’t forget to hug a tree or roll around in the grass today! This old planet could use a little love.

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Sincerely, not

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A while back an acquaintance of mine (sort of a devolved friendship with someone I don’t really talk to or hang out with anymore) began emailing, FB messaging, and calling me to reach back out to her about “something”. Seriously, if she were a family member I’d have thought someone died with her dogged pursuit to contact me. My husband, ever talented in the art of reading people, told me, “Yeah, she probably wants to sell you something.”. I thought, naaaaah, you wouldn’t contact someone out of the blue like this for such a self-serving reason. Right? That’s just awkward and ugly.

Well, you can probably guess where this is going. When I spoke with her it was a weird, stilted conversation wherein she talked in this artificially bright voice, dropping questions about details in my life she likely gleaned from social media in an effort to convince me she actually gives a damn about it. I wondered if she thought I was so starved for acknowledgement that I wouldn’t see through this.

“I heard you published a book! That’s awesome!”

She was so impressed she didn’t know the title, that it happened over a year ago, and that I’d published several other works.

“How’s everything going with your husband?”

I guess our cancer scare didn’t come up on her wall when she did a quick review before the conversation.

“It’s been WAY too long since we last got together!”

Yup, the last time was when she came unannounced to my house right in the midst of getting my toddlers down for a nap. The sole reason for the stop was to collect baby clothes my daughter no longer used which I didn’t have ready to go at all. She insisted on waiting and then sat in my living room while I ran around collecting them. She left immediately afterward. No calls followed.

Finally, she’s gets to her pitch. She’s thinking of starting a home business selling products for women for a vendor company but has to watch an orientation video about it beforehand and wouldn’t it be fun to do it with a group of us?? Then afterward we can have a girls night, squeeee! As if I couldn’t spot the recruiting scam from a mile away. Honestly, the fact that she thought I’d see this as a sincere attempt to get together just royally insulted my intelligence.

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The sad thing is it’s not like this sort of behavior–using a friendship for purely personal and mercurial advancement–is unprecedented. I’ve seen it before with invites to Mary Kay or some type of Tupperware party. And there are plenty of people who don’t mind it, I’m sure, and even have fun at these things but I wonder if it too easily falls into the situation I just went through–A hamfisted attempt to act like you care about someone in order to get them to sign up/spend money. Are people really so eager to trade in their integrity? We all know that’s done in politics but it hurts to think friendships are treated this way. Am I being idealistic here?

Indie authors are sometimes accused of doing this as well when marketing their books. I’ve seen it–authors following bloggers and then blasting them with spotlight requests on all their social media platforms, unfollowing them just as quickly if they don’t get what they want. It’s a hit-and-run with no interest in actual interaction with said blogger, as if they are just a means to an end, as if their site is run by a book promoting vending machine rather than a living person doing their best. It’s gross. And short-sighted.

Not that I’m claiming that all or even most Indies are this way. Most Indies I’ve gotten to know are wonderful people who comprehend networking as a long-term relationship thing. They promote each other. They comment on each other’s posts. They correspond. They reply to tweets and retweet one another. Okay, yes, the original move to reach out to another Indie or a blogger might be from personal interest, but the investment in the relationship is what makes it sincere. These friendships are what make this whole self-publishing/writer’s-life thing fun, especially if you’re still trying to get your name out there. I mean, let’s face it, this gig can dole out the punches. You need some pals in your corner.

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Needless to say, the concept of sincerity has been on my mind since the yucky fake-friend invite thing. Obviously I didn’t go. I wish I could tell you guys that I told her off in such terms as to make her feel small and ridiculous for being such a disingenuous phony. The truth is it just made me kinda sad and I couldn’t summon the will to do it. Odd really, since I have no trouble with articulation when I see a need to stand up for someone else. Then I come shouldering in, snarling protectively. We can’t be all things at all times I suppose.

Anyway, that’s what I want to leave you with–heavy and potentially cliche as it is for a Monday–the thought that we need more sincerity in this life. Because the truth is when we’re open and genuine with each other the world is simply a brighter place to live in.

The Nightfall Chronicles

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Title & Author: The Nightfall Chronicles (Court of Nightfall – Book One, House of Ravens – Book Two, Night of Nyx – Book 2.5), Karpov Kinrade

Genre & Publication Date: Court of Nightfall – December 14, 2014, House of Ravens – March 31, 2015, Night of Nyx – October 1, 2015, YA Fantasy/Sci-Fi/Dystopian

Book Description: From Book One: “You think you know what is right and what is wrong? Then tell me if this man should die. He is my enemy. He is to be my end.

He is the one I love.

I have spent my life in shades of grey. I have died and returned to a world of color. I have fought an Angel and lived. I have kissed the Prince of Ravens. I have faced the Lord of Night and made him kneel. I was accepted into the Four Orders, and I created the fifth. I freed the Shadow of Rome. I sat upon the Twilight Throne.

The man asks for my surrender. He asks for peace. He is too late. The girl he knew is gone, and death is in her place. I am Nightfall, and this is my story. You think you know it?

Think again.”

First Line: (From Book One) Some say my story began when my parents were murdered. It did not.

My Take: It’s clear why this series is such a bestseller. Lots of action, a likable protagonist, awesome worldbuilding, interesting side characters, twisty plot, and of course, the supernatural. Looks like Amazon doesn’t have it categorized as Young Adult but it definitely reads like one, particularly with an eighteen year-old MC and a story told in first-person, present tense. (On a side note, is there a rule somewhere that says all YA needs to be first-person, present tense? Honestly I’m dying for a nice third-person, past tense. Lately when I open a book and see an “I” in the first paragraph it feels like I’m on my tenth consecutive day of eating chicken. Sweet Jesus, I would kill for a nice smoked salmon smothered in third-person pronouns.)

As per the usual for a series reviews, most of this will be related to book one with non-spoiler comments about the series as a whole.

Following a short intro preface, the story starts off with Scarlett Night (nice name btw) as a child. Normally this irks me as I’m impatient to get to the “grown-up” version since I know that’s where the story really gets going, but the early chapters of this childhood were really engaging and important to the plot. This is because the MC has such a compelling voice, but partly too because we get some great worldbuilding revealed and an incident that impacts much of what happens later in her life. Plus, it’s nice when a character has a best friend from childhood (Jax) and you actually get to see some of their time together as kids. That really grounded me in their relationship for later chapters.

In this world, there had been a war between mankind and the nephilim (For those who don’t know, nephilim refers to the offspring of the sons of God who mingled with the daughters of man – half angel folk, in other words). The nephilim were defeated but humans known as Zeniths began to appear. These are people who have powers and are considered the scum of society if they test “positive” for that DNA. This here adds our dystopian element and paves the way for some terrible acts committed by the government against this group.

So, adult Scarlett has been color blind all her life. This is disability that I just haven’t seen in fiction before so I really liked seeing the representation and how the authors worked in description without color. Definitely well done on that point. As you read in the first line, Scarlett finds out there’s a lot more going on that her parents never told you about but she only begins to find out about it when they’re murdered in front of her. She nearly dies herself and then wakes up…”changed”. Turns out the nephilim aren’t as eradicated as we thought.

Now, I feel it my responsibility to point out the following as far as the nephilim because they aren’t what you’d expect. It’s a small spoiler though so continue at your own risk.

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As the story went along and I learned more about the nephilim of this world there came a point when I had to stop, close my eyes, and say quietly, “These are not nephilim. They are winged vampires.” Which, I gotta say, I felt a touch misled. Call them winged vampires if you must but not nephilim. Once I reordered my brain I was able to let it go and continue on though. The winged vampires are not like regular vampires so they are distinct, for which I was thankful, but I wonder if some felt misled on that score.

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Aside from a couple of minor things, this series definitely grabs your attention and holds on to it. Good, strong, courageous protag facing immense challenges as she tries to juggle two very different versions of herself and her life. Awesome side characters you can’t help but love and be intrigued by. In a word: Riveting.

The Magical: Really enjoyed Scarlet’s personality. She had that nice mix of strength without annoying snark, empathy without being wishy-washy, and self-sacrifice without being a door mat. She’s a girl I really enjoyed reading about, despite the first-person present-tense;)

The Mundane: Over the course of the series we meet three different guys who fall in love with Scarlett and who she has feelings for as well (sometimes not right away but the seed of attraction is hinted at.) Love triangles bug me a bit in any genre but when the men start lining up it just gets to me. Now I will say that when Scarlett is with someone her thoughts are not straying towards the others. She’s loyal and because of this, it wasn’t a problem.

Summary of Thoughts: Books one and two are Scarlett’s story. Book 2.5 is more of a novella with another character and depicts his point of view during the events of book two. As this is one of those super intriguing side characters, I definitely enjoyed hearing his inner thoughts and views of what went on. Book three is actually from another character’s perspective which I haven’t read yet but plan to. All are available exclusively on Amazon (and Kindle Unlimited). I highly recommend these first installments. Imaginative and engaging, they’re full of action and intrigue. You won’t be disappointed.

 

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Curious what others thought? Check out Amazon’s reviews here

Want to more about the authors and their work? Explore their website here

Tale as old as time

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Last week I went with my eight year old niece to see the uber hyped live action remake of Beauty and the Beast.

My opinion? Definitely recommended.

First: It’s clear this movie was made by people who loved the original Disney cartoon. If they read this I would tell them thank you so much for not taking annoying liberties with the story to make it into something new. They understood that nobody wanted new, they wanted a live action version of the original. This they absolutely delivered. In fact, have a look at the trailer alongside the 1991 version:

Awesome, right?? Made with love, I tell you.

Now, they did adjust a few things since we’re dealing with actors and not drawn characters (although, obviously there was CGI) but the changes were great. Wow, were there some serious wigs going on in this thing. They were so over the top — wink wink at French history — that you couldn’t help but enjoy it. At least I couldn’t.

Second: The makers chose their cast well. I loved Emma Watson as Belle, but hands down Luke Evans as Gaston and Josh Gad as LeFou stole the show for me. You could just tell they enjoyed the hell out of their roles. Considering Luke Evans played the noble and courageous Bard in The Hobbit, it impressed me how he easily switched into the petty and gorgeous Gaston for this one. Well, maybe the gorgeous part wasn’t all that hard for him because, damn.

Third: I worried that Beast wouldn’t have the compelling look as he did in the Disney version, those features of his that could be ferocious at one moment and tender the next, but this too was well done. He looked perfect. Now, the human version at the end played by Downton Abbey’s Dan Stevens put me off totally. He just didn’t…do it for me. Something didn’t quite fit there and he seemed wrong next to Belle. Could be because he does better with the brooding frown than the expression of transcendent joy required at the end. I wonder if they chose him because he was so well known from Downton Abbey but I feel like an unknown might’ve worked better.

So, in all, it was a lot of fun. There were a couple of plot parts that were a bit thin but still it was well executed. The Disney version will forever be the true version for me, of course, but live-action or not, Belle is one of those special characters that grabbed my heart as a little girl. As an adult her song, “There Must Be Something More Than This Provincial Life” takes on a new meaning to me.

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Haha, sorry, had to share that one.

But seriously, these days it seems like the message to girls is that instead of being true to themselves, they should worry about their appearance and whether the good-looking boy thinks they’re worthy of attention. I’m not saying there’s something wrong with a girl wanting to look nice, so long as she’s doing it for herself and her own power, that she doesn’t change who she is on the inside in order to fit who someone else is. Because there’s plenty of examples of that, like the movies that show being true to yourself requires a total makeover, complete with sassy hair flipping, high heels, and a thigh high split in their dress (*cough* Elsa *cough* Sandy Olsson *cough*).

Belle contradicts this model. She refuses to be pinned down by the expectations of society that say a woman’s job is to find a man, that she can’t take care of herself and shouldn’t participate in things that require thought and action. Belle wants more for herself, even if that means people think her strange and mock her. It’s a lonely path but a brave one that we can’t help but admire her for.

This is a story that warns of the emptiness of vanity and selfishness, a romance based on the beauty within, on kindred spirits and mutual understanding.

Tale as old as time? I really hope so.

Hell Squad

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Title & Author: Hell Squad series (Books #1 – #4, Marcus, Cruz, Gabe, Reed), Anna Hackett

Genre & Publication Date: Sci-Fi Romance, April 19, 2015

Book Description: *From Book One: Marcus* “In the aftermath of a deadly alien invasion, a band of survivors fights on…

In a world gone to hell, Elle Milton–once the darling of the Sydney social scene–has carved a role for herself as the communications officer for the toughest commando team fighting for humanity’s survival–Hell Squad. It’s her chance to make a difference and make up for horrible past mistakes…despite the fact that its battle-hardened commander never wanted her on his team.

When Hell Squad is tasked with destroying a strategic alien facility, Elle knows they need her skills in the field. But first she must go head to head with Marcus Steele and convince him she won’t be a liability.

Marcus Steele is a warrior through and through. He fights to protect the innocent and give the human race a chance to survive. And that includes the beautiful, gutsy Elle who twists him up inside with a single look. The last thing he wants is to take her into a warzone, but soon they are thrown together battling both the alien invaders and their overwhelming attraction. And Marcus will learn just how much he’ll sacrifice to keep her safe.”

First Line: Her team was under attack.

My Take: Oooookay, I read four books of this eleven book (soon to be 12 book) series. Usually when I review a series I read everything that’s out but *rubs eyes* I had to stop. I’ve read so much sex with this set that I’m starting to feel like that episode on Friends when Joey and Chandler somehow got free porn on the TV and never turned it off until they noticed it began to warp their minds. So, yeah, in my ongoing exploration of the Sci-Fi Romance genre I read four books in this highly popular series–which I didn’t realize were crammed full of erotic situations. I now understand that I should’ve figured this out by the book covers alone.

But I’m rambling and not reviewing so let’s get it on–I mean, get on it–I mean, get–you know what I mean.

Warning up front: I dig into the XXX rated stuff included in the series so if that bothers you, please skip this review.

The plot, outside of the intertwining, hit on the good Sci-Fi expectations for a post-apocalyptic alien invasion, followed by an alien occupation. A group of military and civilians are hunkered in a defensible mountain military base that the aliens haven’t found. They send out teams to rescue additional civilians, as well as gathering intelligence on where to strike back. They’re trying to figure what brought on the invasion and what exactly these aliens want from Earth, especially when they start noticing that the aliens are abducting human beings. Each book moves the story along and they discover more and more about what’s really going on.

That part of the books is really interesting. If only there was more plot and less bouncing on bed springs, I’d probably have read more of the books but I’m afraid the sex (which wasn’t all that great–we’ll get to that) occupies most of the page space. We’re talking three scenes or more in each book, scenes that take up more time than the actual story itself, especially since these books aren’t very long. To be fair, I will say that the author does really well playing up the longing and tension between the two meant-to-be characters prior to the heaving and panting. I like that their emotions are involved and they actually fall in love. Call me traditional, but I like it when the characters that get together actually have feelings for one another.

The characters are likeable enough as well but the men have a bit too much of the Alpha male for my taste. A little brooding goes a long way. The author offsets this a bit by having the women MC’s be intelligent and capable, but still they fall in love with the possessive, bullish male military archetype. Layers needed there.

The Sex

All right, I can’t review this series without actually commenting on the wham-bam that went on. As frequent and explicit as things got, those scenes were really…bland. Oh, there was plenty of heat and fervor, but I noticed a lack of description in the subtler things–the stuff that makes it lush and vibrant. Does that make sense? I mean the small intimacies like the scratch of an unshaven cheek or drawing lazy patterns on warm skin or tracing fingers over broad shoulders or even (possibly entering TMI territory) the feel of a man’s weight against you. In other words, the acts were there but vividness of the experience wasn’t. It was also repetitive as hell. Every encounter was essentially the same across the books to the point that I started to wonder if all these guys read the same playbook when it came to moves. For books that are pretty much centered on those scenes, it could’ve used more imagination. In particular there was one move that ALL of them did that read really awkward. I mean, how can he slip his hand there right when he’s slamming–Okay, breaking it off here because that’s definitely TMI territory.

The Magical: I liked the alien invasion plot and the missions they went on. Lots of action and adventure on that front.

The Mundane: Could definitely do with less coupling action but something tells me that people are buying these books for that purpose.

Summary of Thoughts: The first book, Marcus, is FREE on Amazon if you’re curious about the series. I think book one was the best of the bunch because the author was busy with worldbuilding more than in the other books. Simple, straight-forward prose, these stories are good for a quick (and dirty) read. Although without much substance and easily forgettable, they’ll entertain you but don’t expect to be moved. They’re kind of like the literary equivalent of chewing bazooka gum–the flavor is gone pretty quick but it’s good enough if you’ve got nothing better.

I’m giving what I read of the series three stars on the whole for the decent Sci-Fi plot and because I know a lot of my dislike is personal preference. Those who enjoy reads centered on the erotic side will likely enjoy it.

3 Star Rating

Curious what others thought? Check out Amazon’s reviews here

Want to know more about the author and her work? Explore her website here