Review: Spare The Rod by Marie Sexton, The Heretic Doms Club 3

SpareTheRod
Cover art by Garrett Leigh of Black Jazz Design

 

I would rate this 4 stars.

This is the third book in the series and by now, I feel like they need to be read in order for the full emotional experience because much of the information about each of the doms is layered into each book, weaving a greater whole. This book focuses on Gray, who is way more interesting than I’ve seen previously, yet less time is spent with him. The majority of it feels like this is Avery’s story as a spoiled, ungrateful, selfish brat; his character development is forced as he is finally having to be responsible for himself, beholden to Gray instead of his parents. Even with what he’s seen as a veteran and working as a beat cop, Gray still has things to learn too–the age gap doesn’t seem all that large when gauged by emotional maturity. When his trying moments come, they are devastating. As they traverse the issue of trust between a masochist and a sadist, they learn the hardest parts are sharing more of themselves than just their bodies.

This series is so rich in main characters, it doesn’t need much from its secondary characters. Information about Charlie has been building in each book and he will get his story soon. As the advice giver, peace maker, and heart of the group, his character is frequently the bridge that connects everyone. Avery’s friend Derik is a good mirror for Avery–the more he grows and changes from the way he was, the more he sees how shallow, vain, and cruel his life used to be. The author did set up situations that I felt deepened the friendships of all the men, and yes, that includes more shared sex scenes. The sex between Gray and Avery at the beginning and the sex at the end are completely different with the added intimacy gained on their journey.

Large parts of this are a huge indictment against social media and against people who don’t educate themselves so they are well rounded citizens. While it is couched in terms of Avery’s character development, and Gray’s upbringing, there are times when the pointed social commentary subsumed the narrative. I support the positive message, about building the world you want to have, even as I think the way the story all fell into place was too pat. That made this relationship less realistic to me than the ones in the previous books. I enjoyed Avery and Grey moving through their story together, I just felt like it wasn’t Avery who was meant to be learning the life lessons, but the reader and that made their love story take an occasional backseat to the larger themes.

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**The ebook is only on sale at Amazon at the time of this post. Amazon also is the only place the paperback is for sale, but book one and two are sold at Barnes and Noble as well as Book Depository, so you could check those later.

Review: Terms Of Service by Marie Sexton, The Heretic Doms Club 2

TermsOfService
Cover Art by Garrett Leigh of Black Jazz Design

I would rate this 4.5 stars.

Even though this is the second book in a series written in linear time, I feel like you could read this first and go back to learn more about Warren and Taylor’s story from book one. For maximum emotional impact, I feel they are best read in order. River is grieving over the break-up of his marriage and floundering through his days when he meets Phil in a professional confrontation at the hospital. River is naturally submissive and is drawn to Phil’s personality even though he doesn’t understand why, doesn’t really understand what he wants or needs. His husband works at the same hospital with his new boyfriend, but River hasn’t signed the divorce papers yet. Phil is set in his ways, his rigid control only serviced through one night stands or rentboys, yet he responds to River in a way that makes him want to try for a casual arrangement. As they work through the change from an arrangement to a real relationship, these two lonely men find they have more in common than they would have believed. Both men are lucky to have the support of Phil’s friends, in every regard and there is certainly sharing, so if you have to have a couple that has no sexual contact with others, this is not the series for you. The sex scenes are hot and explicit, but the confidence, care, and camaraderie throughout the book is even more appealing. I felt much more attached to the other characters in this series, as little details about Gray and Charlie are sprinkled throughout, than in the first book.

The first part of this book was a little difficult to get into because I felt Phil’s distance through the writing; the pay-off comes at the end when Phil is finally overtly emotionally engaged, rather than his usual suppression. Strangely, it’s the second half of the book that is easier to navigate as everything gets more complex professionally and personally for all the characters. When people have a personal epiphany, they can choose to ignore it and explain it away, or they can fall into the change it encourages. This requires taking a personal inventory. Both of them need to slough off the expectations of others, in different ways. Phil is dealing with his upbringing and ghosts of past expectations, while River is trying to find himself again after stuffing himself away to be what his husband wanted.

What I really like about this series is the sexual freedom the characters experience as they each do what is best for themselves, as they struggle to not be embarrassed or ashamed of what they individually need as it clashes with what society says relationships “should” be like–or even what other people in a BDSM lifestyle think. They are “heretics” for a reason. It’s also a good reminder that sometimes people need to let go of their own rules, that what served you in your twenties, might not be what serves you in your forties. I found this journey of self realization for both men very satisfying. Although my own bias is for Warren and Taylor, I enjoyed seeing River and Phil create the life they want. I am excited for Gray’s story next and hope to learn more about Charlie in book four.

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**Currently the ebook is only available from Amazon.

Review: The Stark Divide by J. Scott Coatsworth, Liminal Sky 1

The Stark Divide
Cover Art © 2017 Aaron Anderson. aaronbydesign55@gmail.com

I would rate this 4.75 stars.

First off, this was a really well done science fiction novel. I think if you buy into the ideas of: AI becoming a sentient autonomous being, bio mechanical technology becoming something that a human (or potentially AI) could be born with, and the idea of terraforming within a starship, then there is everything to enjoy and delight in within this book. The story carried me along and I went willingly. This book takes place over a thirty year span of time, skipping over the surface of three time periods. One of the reasons I think it is successful is because it was clever about contained world-building with a small cast for greater emotional impact. Each character is rounded out through flashbacks, memories, dialogue and actions enough so that the reader gets a sense of person. Because the joys and tragedies are shared, I became invested in each person and their wellbeing. Each location is described enough for the reader to picture it, without it being overwhelming or an info dump.

During the first third of the book, the focus is on Colin, Jackson, and Ana, on a ship called the Dressler. This sets the stage for everything that is to come after. Colin is a hardworking, compassionate, competent captain who responds well to emergencies and tries to do his best for his crew. Jackson is the ship’s engineer who is tested in ways he never imagined. Ana is the expert in ship genetics. It is she who created three seed ships to try and save humanity. In this way, they operate as the human heart, soul, and mind of the book. Saving Lex, the Dressler ship-mind, and allowing it to eat the asteroid Ariadne thus begins the creation of mankind’s first interstellar ship is their legacy.

Ten years later, the second third of the book focuses on the new world-ship Ariadne, that is called Forever. Colin is now Director, Ana is on board after being released from prison, and Jackson is somewhere else entirely. Colin has ensured a diverse and inclusive settlement. The second and third seed worlds are underway, but the reader is left wondering about them. Jackson’s son Aaron becomes the focus of this part of the story with his friends, Devon and Keera. The dangers of political and corporate espionage, and religious fantatical saboteurs are all getting worse as the wars on Earth continue to destroy the planet. Lex is also a danger as a mind grown without parents. Can anyone trust the world-mind? Who taught it right from wrong? This issue is addressed in a unique way.

The third part of this story finally shows what Earth has become and highlights Eddie and Davian as they become refugees trying to reach Transfer Station and Forever. Colin is now retired, married to Trip, and has a berry farm, but is being called up to help with the refugees. Aaron is the new Director. There is now a generation of kids raised in space, who have never been on Earth. Aaron’s daughter Andy has also grown up in the virtual reality of the world-mind. Some fear her power and very few people know the AIs have become their own autonomous personalities that think and feel.

For me, the book shines in all the micro worlds: the ships, the settled part of Forever, the part still terraforming, the virtual reality of Lex’s mind, the space station, the cave on Earth, the desperate flight of a small two man ship…the author has created great texture interweaving all of these parts together to make a complex whole. The book is psychologically interesting, philosophically challenging, biologically and technologically fascinating with enough details to picture the surroundings, without overwhelming the reader. This has the perfect amount of world-building for me. Even with all that, the human element is never forgotten; the characters are engaging and written about in a way that made me care about what happens to them. Although sad, it’s realistic that some will want power and control. Being in the mind of someone like that is difficult, but I am pleased that the author added those viewpoints. While there are relationships of all varieties here, be aware this is science fiction rather than romance and all sex is fade to black. Many times, in answer to the vast majority of books being caucasian heteronormative, an author’s response is to make everyone in their book be queer, or people of color, or some underrepresented group. In this case, the author chose to make everyone diverse, represented, and not just equal, but equitable as much as possible. For me, the book ends on both a sad and hopeful note and the future of humanity is in the stars.

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J. Scott Coatsworth’s Website

 

 

 

Review: Space Train by David Bridger

Rating: 4.75 stars out of 5

The blurb says this is like Firefly meets Wagon Train and that is accurate. This is the best world-building I have read in a long time that wasn’t contained in a bubble: meaning the reader isn’t just given enough to advance the plot at that moment, and that not just one location was looked at in detail. Almost everywhere they went was looked at in enough detail, showing urban and rural areas, to get a sense of place except planet Main. The only thing shown about Main is the murder and betrayal games the elite play. As they are the bad guys in this scenario it may seem strange, but don’t we already know what they look like? They have a ruling Primary class that is white, homogeneous, and hereditary. Their economy is about to collaspe and they are running out of resources in the planet system they control.

There are so many different types of ships and flying described, as is landing and docking, ship engineering and design, and navigational systems too. Then there are all the planets, cities and aliens–although all humanoid. This is an author who delights in giving the reader different cultures and landscapes. These planet systems are linked by travel through wormholes for trade and exploration. In fact, it’s almost as if the story is just a reason to go on a journey from one place to another. That’s alright, because it’s vastly entertaining and fun to picture it all. The plot is the age old tale of greed, corruption, racism, control of labour, the mismanagement of resources and imperialism. So, the plot is nothing that shocking, just very complex.

This has a huge cast that the reader learns about through their actions, words, and thoughts gleaned by the Clear, a blue skinned race of telepathic beings, some of which are monks. I couldn’t help but think of the Delvian of Farscape. At first, I was excited because everyone is represented here: different colors, different sexualities, different classes, different abilities, even accents and other languages are explained. There m/f, m/m, and f/f pairings, even a trans character. However, the main relationships where intimacy is shown are all m/f. If the author can explore the tentative start of two relationships, and the reestablishment of romance in a marriage, he can certainly describe the reunion of the only m/m couple after they have been separated eight years. (This book is non-explicit, with no on page sex.) All of these situations are cleverly used to get the reader emotionally attached to the human element, which I appreciated. It would be easy to get lost in the politics and scenery otherwise.

The main characters tying everything together are the Russell family. Being people of color, they have no love of the racist elite of planet Main. They are all still mourning the loss of loved ones in the previous war due to the rulers of Main, who made them a target of the Binaries. They own the Wagon Train and each of them (Tom, Rain, Ellen, and Mark) has a hand in everything that happens. Tom, Captain of the Mary Mackin, a huge ship that carries families and their smaller ships, and supplies to a new homeworld, has the largest role in this book. The best thing about Tom is his lack of hyper-masculinity. He isn’t embarrassed about feeling fear, or that people know it. He still does what he needs to in spite of it. He takes his responsibilities seriously, and cares for his people. Tom is still traumatized by Saxe’s torture of him during the war, and the death of everyone on his ship. Saxe is relentless like The Operative from Firefly, and could easily become Kylo Ren from Star Wars in future books, killing his father and taking over everything. For now though, The Ten of Main send Saxe to find out where Tom takes his passengers–he also wants his own revenge for Tom’s previous escape. The reader won’t learn too much about Mark in this book, and his husband Richard is also underutilized. Yet, the strong female characters of Ellen and Rain are a pleasure to read. I hope they get their own books. There are a plethora of strong women characters here, whether businesswomen, settlers, mothers, crew, monks, or spies. I also enjoyed that the most intelligent beings, with the best technology are not human, are not even mammalian.

I loved reading about the planets: Red, Willerby, Clear, and Anza. I liked the religions versus spirituality explorations of all the different people and places. I liked how even tiny details are throw in, like the concern of black hair care with such dry spacecraft air. I liked them building houses and the sense of community. I felt a sense of joy, a celebration of science, art, love, and life…all being overshadowed by the war that is coming, the war that is already here. This has an end, and yet there is still a the threat coming from planet Main and Saxe isn’t going away. This was so good. Could a follow up novel be as good? I don’t know, but want to find out, soon.

The cover design is by Roe Horvat. It has a space feel, and communicates danger, but not the intricate nature of this novel.

Sales Link:  Amazon | Beaten Track Publishing |

Book Details: Kindle Edition

318 pages

Published August 29th 2019 by Beaten Track Publishing

ASINB 07WNDCBGD

via A Chaos Moondrawn Review: Space Train by David Bridger — Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words

Review: Arctic Wild by Annabeth Albert, Frozen Hearts 2

Arctic Wild Cover
Cover made by Carina Press

I would rate this 4.25 stars.

This is the second book in this series, but can be read as a standalone without any issues. Rueben’s best friend Craig, the spouse of a colleague at his law firm, has talked him into finally taking a vacation for his 48th birthday. Unfortunately, his friends cancel, leaving him alone with his guide. This trip wasn’t his idea and he doesn’t want to be in Alaska. It takes time for the scenery and companionship to grow on him. After Rueben unplugs from his phone and laptop, he is grudgingly starting to have a good time, and flirt with his guide. Tobias may be a smooth talker, but he has hidden depths behind his charming personality and quick smile. He also digs out his ethics and doesn’t sleep with his client when he has the chance. By the time the plane crash happens, I was already hooked on both these characters. Tobias is devastated his injuries might keep him from helping his sisters and his dad. He has little choice but to accept help from Reuben while he recuperates. The crash mades Rueben question his future and what he wants out of it. He vows to spend more time with his 14 year old daughter Amelia. What could go wrong with renting a house for the summer for all three of them?

For a relationship guy like Rueben, who likes to care for people, to agree to a summer fling is rare. For a hookup guy like Tobias to be friends with, and basically live with someone he’s having sex with, is equally unusual. I liked watching them both learn more about themselves. It’s not the age gap coming into play so much as the fact that this is Tobias’s first real relationship; he is not used to dealing with sharing his feelings or burdens. It’s also the first time he has prioritized something he wants for himself. Tobias’s father is such a large influence on him and his thought processes, that it takes him time to navigate through his inner conflict. Rueben hasn’t had the best luck at relationships, learning to put his job first because it gave him most of his sense of self worth. He has to work through breaking old habits–relearning to prioritize his daughter over his job, his life over his work.

This had all of the great writing, depth, and hot love scenes I would expect from this author. This book had an expansion of characters without making them flat or sacrificing any of the love story for the main characters. I thought the interactions with their respective family members all rang authentic. As a long novel, this really takes its time to immerse the reader in details about the activities, scenery, and characters. I found the plane crash to be realistically described while actually adding to the character development, rather than only as an excuse to trap the MCs together. This has some great tropes: opposites attract, fish out of water, age gap, slow burn, hurt/comfort and second chances. I would recommend reading both of these and look forward to the third one.

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Review: Conviction (A New World #2) by M.D. Neu

 

Rating: 4.25 stars out of 5

This is book two in a series and really should be read in order. Mi’ko has made his son Mi’cin’ one of his aides and assigns him the task of helping Todd acclimate to the home they have made for him on the main ship. Not everyone is pleased by Todd being there, either amongst the Nentraee or the humans. Once Todd realizes the enormity of the actual task he has been given, it’s too late. He is now firmly between Nentraee politics and Earth politics. There are people who will do anything to control the world as they see fit, regardless of what the rest of its citizens want. Knowing who to trust is crucial moving forward with the plan for the new settlement. Old friends and old enemies no longer seem to matter as people switch alliances based on those who support the Nentraee being on Earth, and those who don’t. Terrorists come out of the woodwork based on fear and hate.

I liked how other countries were being included in both trade and cultural events. The Nentraee, with the Speakers House, ranking members of the House of the People, and any prominent civilians spread out across the globe in order to quell jealousies and charges of favoritism towards the United States that having Todd aboard created. It’s fun to see the different ships and see Todd’s reactions. The cultural exchanges here make the book more accessible with the focus on education and integration. No longer are the Nentraee going to hold themselves apart and let their enemies control the narrative, making it easier for people to fear and hate them. Humans learn about the holidays of the different clans while the Nentraee learn about Earth holidays. Todd plans a Thanksgiving dinner with his family, Mi’ko’s family, Dan, and people from his old job at CRiNE. With Mi’cin’ asking uncomfortable questions in an effort to understand humans and their traditions, tensions run high. These are the first steps and there will be many awkward encounters as the Nentraee start to visit Earth and humans are allowed to start visiting the ships.

Another reason this book is much more emotionally accessible than the first book is the reader gets to know Todd better as he talks to his dead husband Jerry to help him get through tough situations. He is obviously still working out his grief and feeling lonely. Todd uses Dan and Brad as sounding blocks and touchstones to remember his humanity while he is under stress and living in an alien environment. He also grows close to Mi’cin. Watching Todd and Mi’cin date is sweet and oddly funny. I still feel this is a science fiction book rather than a romance because that is a small part and not the main point or focus. The many points of view help round out the plot; I like getting the insights. I also like the juxtaposition of the female dominated culture vs. our male dominated culture.

Trying to work out where Nentraee people will build their nation is problematic and gets solved in an unexpected way due to security issues and violence. I’ll look forward to how they plan their settlement and continued integration with Earth culture. There is a bit of a plot twist with the Nentraee looking backward and forward at the same time as they worry about losing themselves and their traditions as they accommodate Earth for ease of trade and relations. I am surprised not more was done with the cádo. They are like intelligent medium sized talking dogs and considered good judges of character who pick their own providers. This seems a great way for them to help find humans to trust and work with that isn’t being utilized. There is a major plot point that is a little over the top. While it gives Todd the chance to step up, again, proving the faith Mi’ko has placed in him, it also makes Todd less “everyman” and slides into action hero territory. I would also say that although the focus is Todd, the reader is given so many other points of view that I would like to see those expanded. The end leaves the reader with the sense that the danger is not over so I’ll look forward to the next book.

The cover artist is Natasha Snow. This complements the cover of book one and has that space meets terran feel.

Sales Links:  NineStar Press | Amazon

Book Details: ebook
Published March 25th 2019 by NineStar Press
ISBN 139781950412358
Edition Language English
Series: A New World

via A Chaos Moondrawn Review: Conviction (A New World #2) by M.D. Neu — Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words

Review: Empire Of Light by Alex Harrow, Voyance 1

 

EmpireOfLightCover
Cover Art by Natasha Snow

I would rate this 4.5 stars.

Damien is a guy trying to survive by making the hard choices. He’s loyal and will do anything for the family that’s been cobbled together in this dystopian future, especially his lover Aris, which puts him right between a rock and a hard place. He’s working as an assassin for the Watch, the police force of the Empire of Consolidated Nations, run by Commander Faelle Valyr. The story is set in Helos, previously New York before the Wars of 2090. Everyone is corrupt. When Damien gets sent to take out a corporate guy named Mael Taerien, he’s caught and blackmailed into killing Valyr instead. Taerien’s henchman Raeyn sticks close to his side to make sure he cooperates. As the action intensifies, battle lines are drawn but they are fluid and everyone has to adjust to the ever changing landscape.

This is a gritty story with an almost frantic pace. Damien is like a mountain goat, stubborn yet quickly adapting to all terrains. It’s not like he has any choice. The poor guy is in one fight after another (beaten, choked, kicked, stabbed, and shot). Darien tries to play whichever side will help save Aris, himself, and their friends. Aris has his own plans and his own lovers. He’s between his own rocks and hard places. The thing is Damien and Aris are both broken and the pieces don’t quite match together. That doesn’t change anything that is going to happen as everyone runs head first into their future. Damien doesn’t ignore things as well as he thinks he does, so the reader understands he sees what he wants to about the people he loves. He also forgets that everyone he loves is not like him. I’m of two minds about the secondary characters not being that fleshed out: that’s a huge missed opportunity for emotional connection to the story, and thank goodness or I’d be a blubbering mess.

As Damien gets closer to Raeyn, I wasn’t sure who to root for, or against. In many ways Raeyn is a better match for Damien, but there are some major obstacles and their relationship has it’s own dysfunction. About halfway through this story my mind was partially blown, because a good author foreshadows. At about three quarters of the way in, my mind was fully blown. The only way this story works at all is because the reader only has Damien’s POV. There is no way at all to describe this plot without spoilers. It’s an impossible task and I don’t want to do that. Just trust that there is a plot twist around every corner in this complicated web of lies and conspiracies. Yes, some seem improbable but that’s half the fun. This is action packed from beginning to end and could have benefited from some more quiet moments. They are there, but they are usually gut wrenching in their mental dysfunction, so they are not restful for the reader. They are necessary to understand the psychology of the characters. I also think the unrelenting pace is to stop the reader from looking at holes in the plot, or to try and work out what will happen. But after going through this journey, the end is too optimistic for all the brutal world building that has taken place. Even though this has an ending, I was left floundering around wondering what now, but that might just be that I kept moving after the ride stopped. I’m going to say I enjoyed the ride.

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