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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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: Love Is All: Volume 2 edited by Xio Axelrod

LoveIsAllVol2
Copyright © 2019 by Xio Axelrod LLC

I would rate this whole collection 3.75 stars.

This is a charity anthology, so I tend to think of the stories as a thank you for donating money. All anthologies are a mixed bag and people will like different stories than I do, but here are a few of my favorites from this collection. There is a variety of combinations (M/M, F/F, M/M/F, M/F) with bisexual, trans, and ace represented. They are all contemporary except for the one historical, paranormal romance. The foreword by Roan Parrish is quite eloquent.

R.L. Merrill, Pinups and Puppies (F/F, 4 stars)

This is told from the first person POV of Marianne, who is struggling with grief and reintegration after her retirement from the Air Force. She owns a vintage plane and volunteers to transport dogs to help shelters who find them homes. That’s how she meets Dinah, who co-owns the shelter. They both seem to have great support systems filled with family and friends. With great chemistry, their lives and interests slot nicely together, making them a cute couple.

Susan Scott Shelley, Sugar Crush (Bliss Bakery Series) (M/M, 4.5 stars)

Jack, a horror novelist, gets to know a baker named Gabriel when he joins a softball team to help his friend Shane. This has an opposites attract trope with great sexual tension and friends as extended family. This is about fitting into someone’s life and making room for them to fit into yours–giving each other a safe space and carving out shared time, while still having their own interests. Also, not letting fear or the past get in the way of the future.

Xio Axelrod When Frankie Meets Johnny (M/M, 4.25 stars)

DJ meets contractor/teacher in this hurt/comfort tale with an age gap. This story is what you make it. I highly recommend listening to all the songs that he plays for a hell of a good time. If an artist is mentioned, but not a song, pick one that has a title that fits the scene. I would have rated this higher, but I couldn’t tell if this was Johnny’s first time with a man or he was demisexual? There is certainly a misunderstanding I think could have been handled better, but the story is charming.

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Review: Ruff Trouble by Sharon Maria Bidwell

Rating: 4 stars out of 5

This is a new to me author. These stories were published previously, I believe separately, so this is a complete trilogy. The first story is Hounding The Beat. Chantelle and her police colleague Bobby, are supernaturals or supes. They keep it secret that they are romantic partners so they won’t be transferred away from each other at work. As canine shifters, they can smell the emotions of others. Sam, Bobby’s former human police partner, was injured in the line of duty and is now desk bound. It’s Chantelle who wants them to “make up” as she realizes Sam is in love with Bobby and she has caused the distance between them. Neither Sam, nor Bobby, knows the other is bisexual. Chantelle encourages their relationship, and once Bobby is honest with himself about Sam, he and Chantelle set out to seduce Sam together. Sam is moody, has low self esteem, and is disbelieving of them wanting to share what they have with him. Trusting Sam with their secret will change all their lives.

I liked all three of these characters, helped by having all three points of view. It does move from care to love quite quickly, but it’s always clear that while Chantelle and Sam are attracted to each other, Bobby is the glue that holds them together, the one they both love best. This is erotic romance, so there is one sex scene after another. Since Bobby is the Alpha canine shifter, there is some knotting involved but all the sex is while they are all in human form.

Mistletoe and Wine is the second story. In order to resolve having three police officers involved with each other in the same precinct, Sam and Chantelle have quit and opened a bar/restuarant together. They have moved away from London to a place better suited to their canine impulses to run in the woods. Bobby is now a country cop. Here the sex gets more intimate. This includes all possible combinations (m/f, m/f/m, m/m/f, m/m) as they work to be a triad and pack. There is quite a bit of violence in this due to a criminal with a grudge.

Paws for Thought is the third story. When they go back to London for a ceremony to honor their old Sarge, Chantelle gets kidnapped. This is also somewhat violent as Sam and Bobby try to find her before something happens to her, and before the police do. Decisions made in the last story and during Chantelle’s captivity prompt changes in their future. I’m trying not to spoil what plot there actually is; I think fans of Kate Douglas’s Wolf Tales series should like this, although this has a bit more depth. The scenes are steamy hot and the care and comfort is clear. The connection between the characters is forged through consent, compromise, and agreement. Although the three plots are simple and obvious, each one serves to move the romantic relationship further along. For erotic romance, I would recommend this. I would say it might be best to read them one story at a time, with breaks, so you can enjoy all the sexy scenes without them getting to be too much.

Cover Design: Written Ink Designs with the image(s) used under a Standard Royalty-Free License. I am assuming the couple is Sam and Chantelle, with the wolf as Bobby in the foreground. I would guess this is meant to represent the first story, as Sam is in uniform, and leaves the police force by the end. I have to say, this cover is a little more sweet than the carnal nature displayed repeatedly in this book.

Sales Links:  JMS Books LLC  | Amazon

Book Details: Kindle Edition, 248 pages

Published January 12th 2019 by JMS Books LLC
Author(s): Sharon Maria Bidwell
ASIN: B07M6M6BBR

via A Chaos Moondrawn Review: Ruff Trouble by Sharon Maria Bidwell — Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words

 

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Review: The Blueprint by S.E. Harmon, The Game 1

The Blueprint Cover
Cover Artist is Kanaxa

I would rate this 4.25 stars.

Kelly Cannon is having a very bad night. This book throws you in the deep end immediately. But sometimes you can’t ignore things anymore and Kelly is in love with his best friend, NFL player Britton “Blue” Montgomery. With Blue under so much pressure in his career, to have to worry about losing his best friend too is not helping. I can say I liked Kelly right away. I loved the use of humor. It took me longer to warm up to Blue, but then he does get less time on page at the beginning. After being in their heads, I can say these two deserve each other. The most difficult part of this book is being in Blue’s head, how does he not know?! Oh course, it’s obvious why. But, there comes a point when he can’t lie to himself anymore either. Turning a 17 year friendship into a relationship is not without its ups and downs.

This just feels natural. I love their interactions. Even during sex, they are themselves with humor and banter. Just when I thought they couldn’t be mature about things, they proved me wrong. The reminiscing about childhood events really works in this story as they both think about how much their relationship means to them. Kelly’s family adds so much to this story, I can’t imagine it without them but, it makes Blue’s family a glaring omission. I would have liked to see them too, even though his dad doesn’t sound pleasant. There is nothing about his brother. Still, they have made an impact on who Blue is and it would have added another layer.

There were small issues I had, like how accepting everyone is, which is less realistic than the rest of the book. There is also the timing of Kelly basically giving Blue an ultimatum–while I understood his feelings and why, the particular moment had me more sympathetic with Blue than Kelly. Maybe that’s on purpose though, and I just didn’t realize it. For anyone who likes friends to lovers, the nerd and the jock theme, and bisexual for you, as well as a coming out story, this is your book. Because there is a full range of emotions here, and it’s realistic without being overly dramatic, it doesn’t feel like a list of tropes.

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Review: Bitter Blood By Lyn Gala

Bitter Blood Cover
Cover by Lyn Gala with stock art by Dreamstime.

I kept having a deja vu feeling whilst reading this and when I checked, I had actually read an earlier version under a different title. This has been revised and re-edited. Lyn Gala is know for her M/M writing so this is a rare M/F for me.

The book has a logical, strong, no nonsense heroine. When Paige’s rookie partner shows up on her doorstep, bleeding and confused, having been kipnapped, she’s not sure what to do. Brady has no pulse, so calling their colleagues doesn’t sound like a good plan with dissection and rubber rooms in their respective foreseeable future. Before Brady was kidnapped, tortured, and killed, they had been working on a case to find victims of a serial rapist and killer who was targeting illegal immigrants. Suddenly, this small, quiet town is filled with vampires, demons, and hunters. Brady is not quite Brady anymore and Paige doesn’t know who to trust. When she runs into an ex-military hunter named Jim, she learns a little about vampires/demons, but Jim has his own agenda. He also drives a blue sedan, just like the one seen at several of the rape/murders and outside Brady’s apartment the night he got kidnapped.

In the end, Paige doesn’t trust what all the various men are telling her, she trusts herself. She trusts her own interactions with people and her own judgement about them. As the trauma of the events and the emotion spills over, Paige is more emotionally vulnerable and susceptible to Brady’s seduction. I love the horror elements in this and it wins hands down for the creepiest post-coital scene ever. I am also completely freaked out that the sex scenes are hot…with a possibly dead guy (Buffy and Angel aside). Also, the way to distract the demons is hilarious. There is actually a lot of action, described well. The author creates great tension in many scenes. I like that we struggle to figure everything out as they do. There are layers to their communities, not just the demons, but the demon hunters. There are different types of demons and vampires mentioned (pijavica, vrykolakas, jiangshi, blajiji, strigoi, vârcolac) so feel free to fall down the internet rabbit hole. Actually, one little criticism is these words seem used interchangeably sometimes and they shouldn’t be. Brady is quite clear he is a demon.

The plot twists near the end are great. I didn’t see them coming, yet I didn’t feel sideswiped or tricked. They seemed like natural progressions to the book and the only way out of the situations that had no other good way to end. I would have liked a little more information in the end about the demon Gavril, and where this might go. It did seem a strangely abrupt ending, but I would have no hesitation recommending this for a fun cross genre read.

I would rate this 4 stars.

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