Review of Overload Flux

Teaser first (from Goodreads) 
The Central Galactic Concordance has been stable for two centuries, but trouble is brewing. A pandemic is affecting hundreds of civilized planets, and someone is stealing the vaccine…

Brilliant investigator Luka Foxe’s hidden mental talent is out of control, making him barely able to function in the aftermath of violence, and the body count is rising. The convoluted trail leads to a corrupt pharma industry and the possibility of an illegal, planet-sized laboratory. In the face of increasing threats, he must rely on an enigmatic, lethal woman he just met, but she has deep secrets of her own.

Mairwen Morganthur hides extraordinary skills under the guise of a dull night-shift guard. The last thing she wants is to provide personal security for a hot-shot investigator, or to be plunged into a murky case involving sabotage, treachery, and the military covert operations division that would love to discover she’s still alive.

Two more lives in a rising death count won’t bother their enemies one bit. Their only hope for survival lies in revealing their dark secrets and learning to trust one another.

My words second:
3 stars of 5
First off, I do recommend this–I only put my impressions into blog form if I can recommend with enthusiasm–but I’m only saying it may appeal to  other readers and fans of space opera, clean romance and traditional-style science fiction, not that it will or should appeal. Me, I never warmed to it enough to lose myself, and I won’t lie about that.

You gotta remember though, that I have a cold, hard, analyst’s heart. That means I have the objectivity and reading experience to say Overload Flux is good even if I didn’t like it.** Mileage varies, that’s my baseline. This book has some great ideas in it, but they aren’t ones that move me. It also contains elements which I dislike and other people love. So. Here are the deets:

First, I wasn’t sold on the future. Overload Flux is space opera, not hard scifi. It offers lots of interesting scientific extrapolation and an incredibly complex future society, but…I couldn’t ignore the parts that didn’t fit. A lot of things struck me as anachronistic or made me think, “but if they can do X, why don’t they use it for Y as well?” The epic scope of this universe means these points may be addressed in later books, but they stand out like high-radiation spots of nope in this one. To me.

Second,  the romance. The culture is presented as sex-positive, with consensual sex between adults socially acceptable for both sexes. The attraction between the protagonists was very well portrayed. The excuses to not consummate the relationship? Not so well. (Not enough time, not enough privacy, badly-timed interruptions–the situations didn’t generate true dramatic tension, nor were they played for comedy.)  I love a good romance, but I like a plausible one much better. If the pair has an overwhelming bond and a deep need to connect, FFS, they would fuck. If  they don’t have that psychic “love conquers all” connection, I needed to be shown a lot more specific, personal reasons they fall in love and a better reason to abstain than ‘first time together needs to be perfect’ issue.

Last, wordiness. Very much a personal complaint (and a fault I share.)  Every important action or point of dialogue came sandwiched between long descriptions of where, exactly, everyone was standing, what expressions they were wearing, and how they were moving, with a side order of what they were thinking before and after speaking or acting. As that sentence demonstrates, more can be less.  Some of the scenes were spectacular, some of the action quite intense, but I undoubtedly missed nuances within long paragraphs that felt redundant.

So. This is a sweeping scifi world-build designed on a grand scale, with psychic powers and swashbuckling space war as trimmings. Intense, chaste slow-build romantic relationship, evil villains and conspiracies, action payoff, and excellent set up for the next installment. Which I will be reading.

Because I did like it, and I think the story is just going to get better and better.


** Recall I’m the one who can’t get past chapter 3 of book 1 in the Wheel of Time, but I chew through George R. R. Martin like cotton candy. Robert Sawyer’s SF  leaves me unmoved, but give me C. J. Cherryh all day long. Nothing is universally loved.

Review of Taming Shadows

Taming Shadows (Revelations #1)Taming Shadows by Fiona Skye
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars.

Paranormal fantasy is the breakfast cereal of my reading menu: a default choice, a guaranteed, all-nutrients-included basic entertainment value. It feeds the hungry imagination even when there’s nothing outstanding to make it memorable.

This book is a nice, full bowl of Chocolate Frosted Sugar Bombs. That is praise. I love CFSBs. I ate up Taming Shadows in an evening (what, don’t you eat cereal for dessert? I do.) Then I went right to Amazon for Silver Shackles that night, and gobbled it down the next day. I even rummaged around the bottom of the box, so to speak, wishing there was more.

Any paranormal that makes me sit up and say, “Oo!” is a pleasant surprise. Taming Shadows satisfied my appetite for story without leaving a stereotype aftertaste, and I especially liked the well-rounded characters and world-building that hinted at a lot of serious background research.

The story pours out with the ease of tipping the box. (Hey, I have an analogy here. I will use it up.)  A main character with tragedy in their past, touched by the supernatural, working with old allies and new friends, wrestling with personal as well as magical problems, facing some peril and personal issues at once…yeah. This book has all of that, along with some excellent original touches that kept me waiting to see what would happen next.

This is not to say it astonished me. All the paranormals I’ve read, from erotic romance to noir mystery or even portal crossovers, have so many elements in common that I accidentally take books home from the library twice, not realizing from the description & cover that I’ve read them already. This one stands out, but it doesn’t break away from the pack entirely. That’s part of what made it a comforable read.

This is not the book for someone looking for “something different, something totally original, something daring and a little outrageous.” It isn’t slices of salmon sautéed in garlic served with a pear vinagrette reduction and toasted almond slices. Nope. It’s a big tasty bowl of yummy, crunchy, could eat it every morning all week with no regrets tastiness.

Extra points for a remarkable lack of the usual indie-book rough spots in sentence structure, basic grammar & word choice. That was like getting a secret toy surprise in the box! Dig into the sample feature. If you like that, you’ll enjoy the whole thing.

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Review of Lady of Devices by Shelley Adina

Lady of Devices (Magnificent Devices, #1)Lady of Devices by Shelley Adina

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book is the perfect example of what I call a great cotton-candy read. Cotton candy is sweet, sticky and fun to consume, yet even while I’m enjoying it, I know it’s nothing but air and sugar that will rot my teeth. Bad cotton candy leaves me with a queasy sense of disappointment. Good cotton candy tastes so delicious I’m willing to accept a little brain rot as the price of indulgence.

This is excellent sugary fluff.

I’m picky about my steampunk. It shares some innate problematic issues with cyberpunk, another genre that inspires ambivalence in my heart. In both, style is more important than substance, science is often relegated to the status of stage dressing, and atmosphere is all. I prefer steampunk that snuggles up to paranormal or science fantasy elements. The inclusion of an obvious MacGuffin, whether it be called aether or outright magic, means I can more easily suspend my disbelief about the fun clockwork gadgetry.

Lady of Devices doesn’t do this, but I gave it a try anyway. It plays so fast and loose with basic physical science and engineering that if I’d paused for even a second during the read, I would’ve been laughing out loud at the factual inaccuracies. Ah, but I didn’t pause. The plucky heroine’s narrative voice, the capers and conspiracies, the delightfully-described action — all those things distracted me from the ridiculousness.

Other less than thrilling aspects: the story plays a bit fast and loose with cultural/historical presentation as well, with most characters falling too neatly into stereotypes for my taste, and villains with motives so simplified they approach melodrama standards. The characterization of Our Heroine’s attitude wavers between prissy and plucky at times; although she settles on the progressive side of the fence toward the end.

And there’s a love triangle. Sigh.

The romantic sub plot is a messy one, though, and neither match is made in heaven. The refusal to let that one element go the predictable direction is what made the book stick with me, and the other messy bits of this story are what really won me over. The world has a lot to offer, and nothing ended up quite where it seemed it was going all along.

That intrigued me enough to keep going with the second book, and I can say that unlike a lot of series, this one just gets better with each book so far.

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