Tour’s Books Blog

February 14, 2010

Recent Releases from Samhain – Short Reviews

Well, obviously, I’ve been buying a fair number of Samhain ebooks.  I just seem to find more to read there than I do from the other small press outlets.  One is from December, but the other two here were released in the last few weeks.  Two are full length novels, one short novella, but all were good in their own way.

  • Title: Happy Snak
  • Author: Nicole Kimberling
  • Type:  Futuristic
  • Genre: Alien Romance
  • Sub-genre:  Unique
  • My Grade: B- (3.8*)
  • Rating: PG-13
  • Length and price: Full Novel – about 90,000 words;  ebook $5.50
  • Where Available: Publisher’s website
  • FTC Disclosure: Purchased ebook from publisher site

This was a unique read and, given the publisher, utterly unexpected.  While it is, technically, a romance, it is even more really good science fiction.  The downside is, the appeal of this story is likely limited given the readers attracted to Samhain.

Gaia Jones is an ordinary divorced, blue collar, entrepreneur.  She came to the A-Ki space station orbiting Mars to open her very own snack bar, Happy Snak.  Her dreams are modest and center on creating her very own little business where people can happily enjoy “happy” food.  It’s only a small place and she lives in a tiny room behind the snack bar on a lower level of the station where the blue collar workers go.  She has no grand ambitions – but even her modest dreams are disrupted one night an awful smell in the food court sends her looking for a broken chemical line and she finds an obviously suffering Kishocha.  And not just any Kishocha, but Kenjan, Consort of the Divine Oziru, Ruler of A-Ki Station begging for help as she dies.  Gaia grabs her and drags her to the safety of the the little booth, and gives her water.  In the process, the acid emitted by the dying Kishocha burns her hands.

While in the hospital awaiting her new hands, Gaia is visited by Oziru, the beloved of Kenjan.  Unexpectedly, she finds out her promise to Kenjan extends beyond death.  She will be the guardian of the shrine holding Kenjan’s ‘ghost’.  Well outside her comfort zone, but not willing to pass up an opportunity, Gaia barters for a bigger and better Happy Snak.  Gaia finds herself moving among people well above her social sphere and she feels burdened by obligations to the colony which is dependent on the good will of Oziru.  Reluctantly, Gaia is drawn into becoming first real link between the Kishocha and the humans hoping to learn of their technology.

Assuming she’ll be guardian of a ‘ghost’ in the human understanding of the word, she’s shocked to find Kenjan anything but ‘dead’.  At the ceremony opening the shrine, Gaia saves Kenjan’s nearest servant, Wave Walker, from joining her in ‘death’ and finds herself with a new and utterly unexpected ’employee’.  She also finds herself the confidant of Kenjan, who was consort and a heretic in Kishocha eyes, and who still desperately loves and misses Oziru.

The story unfolds on several levels as Gaia grows beyond her comfortable little worldview and becomes the conduit for information between the Kishocha and the humans, the her growing friendship with Wave Walker and the ‘ghost’ of Kenjan.  The real romance here is that of Kenjan and Oziru with two secondary stories, of Wave Walker and a shrine guard, Sharkey, and Gaia and a stuffy diplomat, Fitzgerald. There is a happily ever after here for our lovers separated by death thanks to Gaia.

Happy Snak is clever, original, well executed and enjoyable.  The writing gets a bit bogged down in Gaia’s thinking at points, which can get tedious at times, but Gaia, Wave Walker, Kenjan and to a lesser extent Oziru and Sheigata all have distinctive personalities and are interesting characters.  Wave Walker is just delightful and I laughed out loud more than once.  Gaia grows and changes as a person, but remains fundamentally what she always was, an entrepreneur with a good heart and modest aspirations. The odd hermaphrodite Kishocha do take on certain male/female characteristics and once free of the highly restrictive Kishocha rules, they become more independent in both thought and behavior.  The ‘romance’ between Oziru and Kenjan is touching and something of a metaphor for larger cultural issues among the Kishocha of change (heresy) verses tradition (religion) and the difficulties of accepting change. This utterly unexpected book reminds me a bit of the more action packed Man Kzin Wars by Larry Niven.

While profoundly not for everyone, Happy Snak was a really good read and I’d recommend it to anyone who enjoys real science fiction.  Is it it worth the price?  You bet it was!  Thanks to Samhain for publishing such a complete departure from the usual romance.  I’ll read more from this author.

******************************************************************

  • Title: Little Red and the Wolf
  • Author: Alison Page
  • Type:  Paranormal Romance
  • Genre:  Werewolf and ‘Red’ Hood; wounded hearts find fated love
  • Sub-genre:  A touch of Grimm meets modern steam
  • My Grade: B- (3.6*)
  • Rating: NC-17 to X
  • Length and price: Full Novel – about 75,000 words;  ebook $5.50
  • Where Available: Publisher’s website
  • FTC Disclosure: Purchased ebook from publisher site

Well, retelling fairy tales is usually annoying and shallow and something I avoid, but in the case of Little Red and the Wolf it was worth the time.  Like Nichole Kimberling, Alison Page is a new-to-me author that impressed.  Not as original as Happy Snak, I found Little Red and the Wolf a entertaining read.

Mazie ‘Little Red’ Hood was left an orphan when a car accident on a country road caused by a wolf kills the wolf, her mother and her father.  She is raised by her paternal grandmother in a small cottage in the woods.  All her young life her grandmother warned her to stay on the path and not go to certain areas of the woods.  It’s 21 years later and Mazie is trying to keep her bakery running and pay for her grandmother’s care in a nursing home.  She still blames the wolf for her parents death.

All Mazie ever wanted was to own a bakery.  From the time she was a little girl she baked.  Now her dream is meeting the painful reality of cash flow.   It’s been 2 years and she finally making money.  With just 2 employees, she keeps her overhead to a minimum, but there’s the business loan, her apartment rent, the nursing home, the taxes on Grannie’s cottage and acreage, and all her other bills.  Visiting Grannie is a blessing and a curse, Grannie has ‘spells’ where she thinks her son, Mazie’s father, is still alive and visits her.  And she worries about her ‘silver wolf’.  She keeps telling Mazie she promised the wolf he could always roam her land.  That promise is threatened by the twin issues of strained finances and an unscrupulous businessman, Anthony Chadwick, who will do anything to get the cottage and land for his building project just to spite Gray Lupo, a rival in more ways than one.

Gray Lupo is still mourning the loss of his wife Donna that night 21 years ago when Mazie’s father hit and killed her while she ran in wolf form.  But there’s a strong helping of guilt there as well.  Donna was running from him.  She’d had an affair with a human.  Though they were married and Donna converted Gray to a werewolf so he could be Alpha, they were never really mates.  He’s never had an interest in anyone special – until now.  Gray saved Mazie that night, releasing her from the seat belt that was slowly choking her.  He delivered her to her grandmother and the old human woman and the werewolf formed a bond based on mutual loss.  He’s spent all these years blaming Grannie’s son, Mazie’s father, for driving too fast on a private road that he permitted them to use and killing is wife.

Even though Gray has avoided any contact with Mazie all these years, she sees her as she comes to visit her grandmother as he’s leaving.  He wolf scents her and his interest is undeniable.  The problem with a possible strip mall in the backyard of the pack mansion  thanks to Anthony Chadwick has Gray involving himself with Mazie and once around her, she’s like catnip to a starved cat.  Mazie feels the same pull to Gray, but she has a business to run and she needs to stop whoever it is trying to trick Grannie into selling her land.  She has no time for some rich guy’s games.

From this point you have a fairly standard plot line.  Well written and with a good sense of the nature of the werewolf and its behavior.  The way the pack reacts to Mazie and how they handle Gray’s unwillingness to fully claim is mate makes for some interesting reading.  Still, the story was predictable and none of the secondary characters were more than 2 dimensional.  It’s well enough written to be enjoyable, with some decent hot sex thrown in.  There is a brief scene of  F/F touching, but it thankfully stopped.  The whole ‘blame game’ plot device wore thin.

Is Little Red and the Wolf worth the price? Yes, providing it’s your kind of read.  It was a bit marginal for me because I’m just not a fan of melodrama.  I wouldn’t spend the price of a trade paperback for this one, but again, it might just be your cup of tea.

*****************************************************************************

  • Title: Wicked Sexy
  • Author: R. G. Alexander
  • Type:  Paranormal Romance
  • Genre:  Harebrained scheme works better than expected; Pretend witch is a lot more
  • Sub-genre:  magic ménage
  • My Grade: C+ to B- (3.5*)
  • Rating: XXX
  • Length and price: Novella – about 30,000 words;  ebook $3.50
  • Where Available: Publisher’s website
  • FTC Disclosure: Purchased ebook from publisher site

Callie Turner has been best friends with Harrison ‘Harry’ Abbott since they were both girls.  Now Harry is coming of age and as a very powerful witch – called Magian – she needs to find mates.  Yup, TWO males that both ring her bell.  Only true mates are given the approval to bond.  Callie, an ordinary human, would secretly be thrilled with such an arrangement!  But Harry isn’t – and more importantly, Harry is concerned about a series of attacks on females attending the Triunes – parties thrown so eligible Magians can find their mates.  Harry is considered the ‘most eligible’ Magian Blue Blood female thanks to her great power, but she has no interest in getting two mates who try and tell her what to do, despite the happy relationship her mother mother Moria has with her mates.

Callie never had one loving parent, much less three, and she’s shocked that after all these years she’d never guessed the truth about Harry’s parents and ‘Uncle’ Jackson.  She’d know they were Magians for a long time and they’d provided a safe haven away from her unpleasant foster parents.  Now Callie was getting ready to graduate from the Police Academy.  She’d always had a gift of telling when people were lying, a sixth sense about things.  It served her and Harry well when they were younger.  Now Harry has a plan.  Cast a glamour around Callie making her appear to be Magian and get her into the last Triune of the season to see if she could spot the person responsible for the attacks.  Callie is all for it!  Even Jenner, the tiny Abbott housekeeper and a Magian in her own right, agrees and has taught Harry the necessary spells to draw out whatever spark of magic Callie might have within her.

No one reckoned with Harry’s two older brothers and how they’d react to Callie having the appearance of magic.  Callie has always had a massive crush on Tucker Abbott, something everyone knows, including Tucker, a Magian enforcer, and Tyghe, the brother seems to delight in tormenting Callie.  With the Abbott parents in France, and the encouragement of Jenner, Callie allows Harrison to cast the spell over her.  It works so much better than anyone expected.

While Callie has gotten along with Tucker and Lorrie, the oldest and youngest of Harry’s brothers, she and Tyghe have squabbled all the years they’ve known each other.  It never occurred to Callie that Tyghe was attracted to her and her obvious crush on Tucker annoyed him.  All Callie was sure of was the fact Tyghe lived to tease and torment her.

When Callie wakes after Harry and Jenna perform the spell to give her magic glamour things change drastically.  Callie has the ability to compel with her voice.  Not even she realizes it, or how powerful it is, until she and Tyghe catches her at the magical dress designer and starts kissing her and then so much more.  Her climax triggers a kind of power surge in her that shocks Tighe and when he goes to grab her again, she pushes him away with her voice, angering him.  The power baffles harry and she’s sure it isn’t a side effect of the spell.

The week before the Triune is suddenly filled with passionate encounters with Tyghe.  And it’s here the story went flat for me.  It developed speed and character about as well as a novella can to this point and the kind stalls into a sex fest and a comes close to losing sight of the plot all together – other than adding Tucker to mix.  Unfortunately, Tucker never gets much development at, just a hot ménage at the Triune and essentially a minor role.  Harry walks away at the Triune and all but disappears from the story.  The big finish with the crazy magical murderer was so-so and I was left with a lot of questions about what Tucker, why the senior Abbotts waited so long to tell Callie about her family and a bunch of other things.  I thought the ending felt rushed and incomplete, especially at the emotional level.  R. G. Alexander is good at her craft, but the limits of the novella often work against a well developed story.  Another 20-30 pages and this would have really worked for me.

Was Wicked Sexy worth the price ay $3.50?  I’d say yes it was.  Despite the short-comings at the end, the bulk of the novella was good and it was a hot read that was a cut above average.

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