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review 2018-12-26 02:03
Machine Metal Magic (Mind + Machine #1)
Machine Metal Magic (Mind + Machine #1) - Hanna Dare

I saw this described as Firefly-inspired sci-fi, and while I don't normally read sci-fi, I'm a huge Firefly fan so I had to give this one a try. There is certainly a strong Firefly influence, with a good dose of Skynet from Terminator. Basically, in a dystopic future, the machines have turned against humanity, pushing humans off Earth and out into the universe, where we've made a survival/living for ourselves in a system with moons we can populate and hide from the machines, here called the Singularity.

 

Some factions exist among the survivors wanting to take humans back to the pre-Industrial age. Other people have genetically altered themselves to be able to talk to computers. How that's a genetic ability, I don't know, but *hand wave sci-fi mumbo jumbo*. There's a big clash between these two groups. 

 

It's in this future that we find the crew of the Serenity...er, I mean, the Wayward Prince. I think this was a little too much like Firefly, but without the character building of the "side" characters that I would have expected. We know their names, what they do on the ship (kind of) and maybe one personality thing about them, but other than that, I really only got a clear picture of the captain, Sebastian Garcia and of Mags, the Mal and Zoe of the crew. 

 

As for the MCs, we've got Rylan, the newest member of the crew and his kind-of-but-not-really hostage Jaime Bashir, who joins the crew on a temporary basis. Jaime's a "wizard" and can talk to computers directly. Rylan has some secrets, and that's really all I can say about that. Oh, and he has an artificial arm with computer components and he's not that keen on the idea of someone being around who can manipulate his arm besides him. While their first encounter wasn't ideal, they quickly become allies and friends.

 

This was a lot of fun, and the world building was more or less handled well, not too info-dumpy but sprinkled throughout as needed. Once the action starts, it doesn't really stop, but it doesn't really get going until the last quarter of the book when we find out more about what Rylan's actually up to. The characters are all lovable, as much as we know about them - but then I'm basing that mostly on Firefly as, again, we didn't get to spend a lot of time with many of them.

 

And that's the main issue I had here. As much fun as this was, it really needed to be longer, to take some more time than it does between the action to show us who all these multiple characters are and why we should care about them. But this is the first in a series, and as an intro, it does a decent job of setting the board. Hopefully, we'll see more character development for everyone in future books.

 

The editing is mostly good, but there are missing words throughout, pretty critical ones too. 

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review 2018-12-18 20:59
Bundled Up (Portland Heat #1-3)
Bundled Up (Portland Heat) - Annabeth Albert

This was disappointing. I really liked Albert's #gaymers series and was hoping this would be more of the same, but alas it was not. This contains the first three novellas of the Portland Heat series, and each one is just not up to snuff. They're rather superficial, actually, with each couple falling into lust with each other and that eventually leads to love after lots and lot and lots of redundant sex scenes. Usually, I'll at least skim the sex scenes if they're spread out enough, but there were too many even for that and I just started skipped them all. What was left was pretty standard fare, but with MCs that were terrible at communication. At least it took them longer than the standard 30 days to say the ILUs and move in together, a timeline that's painfully common in romance these days, so there's that. All stories are 1st-person POV with only one MC getting the POV per story, and all their voices sounded the same.

 

Served Hot - 2 stars

 

Robby has his own coffee cart in the business district and has the hots for one of the white-collars who comes to his cart every day. David is a finance director despite being rather young for the position, and he's on the nerdy side. David's getting over a relationship that ended when his lover died, and Robby is the insecure pushy needy emo-dude that he gets stuck with. Yeah, I wasn't feeling this couple at all.

 

Baked Fresh - 3 stars

 

Vic is a baker whose addiction to food - and his male relatives' young deaths from heart disease - led him to getting a laparoscopic band surgically placed around his stomach. Robin is a trust-fund baby who's a recovering drug addict and volunteers at a homeless shelter to atone for his past misdeeds while high. He also has a series of sexual hangups that of course can be cured only by lots and lots of sex. *sigh* Counseling is a thing, you know? I did not at all like Vic calling Robin "boy" during sex - brain bleach please! - or the mildly quasi-D/s dynamic their sexual relationship had, but I did like the relationship outside the bedroom, especially once they started talking to and supporting each other. These two actually did the most talking and connecting of these three couples. I could believe they'd actually have a future together.

 

Delivered Fast - 2.5 stars

 

Oh, it was fast all right. Lance, a younger cousin of Vic, is going to college to be a physical therapist and working part-time making deliveries for bakery where Vic works. Chris - whose name isn't mentioned until more than halfway through the book - co-owns a coffee shop with his ex. Chris is really old, y'all. He's mid-30s! *gasp* and so of course the age gap becomes an issue, and Chris is an immature dweeb about it. Lance is just barely given any depth, most of it in the last half of the novella. I skimmed a lot of the set-up with this one, because I was bored with the "guy-sees-guy, guys-boink-a-lot-of-times, and eventually start acting like a couple" formula. The blurb promises clever double entendres - I don't think the blurb writer knows what those are. And how do you not hear someone riding up on a motorcycle? That scene made no sense. Well, a lot of scenes don't make much sense in this series so far, but that one took the cake. I also wasn't feeling this couple, though this one ended stronger than it started.

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review 2018-12-15 20:59
Talk Sweetly to Me (Brothers Sinister #4.5)
Talk Sweetly to Me (The Brothers Sinister) (Volume 5) - Courtney Milan

The final story in the Brothers Sinister series centers on Stephen Shaughnessy, who has the barest of connections ever to the core three Brothers Sinister - he writes the "Actual Man" column for Free's newspaper, and Free is Oliver's half-sister. So really, no relation at all. Stephen's a carefree chap, but I didn't get the sense from the last book that he was an unrepentant lady's man. Oh, no, don't get me wrong. He doesn't pursue all those women he sleeps with. They pursue him. So it's okay. *rolls eyes* (Really, he’s a giant goober, lol.)

 

Here he's paired up with Rose Sweetly, who we've never met previously. She's staying with her pregnant sister, Patricia, who's doctor husband is off on tour with the British army. Rose also works with an astronomer as his computer - this being back when computers were people, mostly women, who did the mathematics for scientists. Rose is indeed sweet, dedicated to her job and astronomy and her sister - and keeping a proper public profile. Because you see, she's black, and that comes with a whole heap of issues when dealing with middle-class life in Victorian England.

 

There is some effort to detail what sorts of challenges Rose and her sister face, but this is just really too short to delve into them much. Most of it centered around her sister's pregnancy and the raging d-bag of a doctor she has to put up with.

 

Rose is insistent throughout nearly the whole novella to keep her attraction to Stephen under wraps because she knows how easily and quickly her reputation could be destroyed by mere association with Stephen. Most of her concern seems to be based on Stephen's reputation as a lady's man, with no consideration to her own social and racial issues. It almost seems as if Ms. Milan was unaware of the stereotype about WOC being overly promiscuous and wanton, that Rose would already be fighting against that stigma in her every interactions with men, much less one who is known to be a player. It felt a little superficial.

 

Anyway, Stephen's a fun guy and Rose is an earnest young woman. We spend more time with Rose's POV than with Stephen's, so it was hard sometimes to guess his reaction to things. I did love his attempts to flirt with bad math puns, and that he took the time to learn more about her interests. I especially liked that he didn't even hesitate to help her sister after Rose rejected him.

 

But...I don't know. This is sort of the same issue I had with A Kiss for Midwinter and I'm going to try to keep it from getting rambly.

There are many ways for a woman to be empowered and not all of them include having sex. Very few of them do actually. But here we are again with a woman giving up her principles and giving into hormones whereas the man doesn't have to compromise at all - the Sandra Dee effect, if you will. There's no reason that sex scene couldn't have been in an epilogue after they were married, you know? Not to mention that French letters were hardly equivalent to modern-day condoms but are treated in these stories as if they're fool-proof when really they're just better than nothing. And I'm not saying that Rose should have conducted herself in any specific way because of idiotic stereotypes, far from it, but given her characterization up to that point, coupled with her exhaustion and emotional vulnerability from being up all night with her laboring sister, did make this a little weird for me. It didn't feel intimate at all to me, but felt more like it's just what the story demanded, so it happened.

(spoiler show)

Okay, that got a little rambly, and I'm not sure it made much sense, but there you go.

 

So as I said, this needed to be longer to make me really buy this resolution and this pairing, cute as they were together.

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review 2018-12-10 05:51
Days Without End (Audiobook)
Days Without End - Sebastian Barry,Aidan A. Kelly

Narration: 5 stars

Story: 3.5 stars

Final rating: 4 stars

 

It was my week for strange stories. This isn't even a story in the traditional sense. This reads more like a rambling memoir but with language so intimate and lush that I could easily forget that I was only really getting broad brushstrokes for the bulk of the story. This is mostly a summation of a young man's life as he figures out some hard-won truths.

 

Told from the POV of Thomas McNulty, an Irish immigrant, as we follow him and his friend turned lover John Cole across America in the mid-1800s. Survivors of the famine, they come to America with nothing, practically starved to death, and start to figure out how to survive from one day to the next, whether that's playacting as girls in a stage show or joining the Army to fight in the Indian Wars and eventually the Civil War.

 

This book doesn't shy away from the harsh reality of this time period in American history, nor does it give us safely and comfortably progressive-minded MCs to filter that reality through. Thomas and John Cole might not be outright hateful of anyone but they don't stop to ask why they're being given the orders they're given nor do they spend much time if any contemplating the morality of the slaughter of the First Peoples. Not at first. As Thomas notes at one point, no soldier fully understands the war he fights in; he only knows his one part in it. 

 

I was most interested in Thomas's and John's non-Army days, while they were living together and eventually with their adopted daughter Winona, a Sioux orphan, but those parts were sparse safe harbors in between all the violence and war of those times. The ending, such as it was, is more open-ended than anything else. 

I would have preferred a reunion between Thomas, John and Winona instead of just Thomas looking forward to it.

(spoiler show)

 

The narration by Aiden Kelly was truly amazing. He captures Thomas's bewildered voice perfectly and truly makes this oddly mesmerizing story come to life. 

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review 2018-12-07 05:00
Guardian Spirits (Spirits #3) (Audiobook)
Guardian Spirits - Jordan L. Hawk

The final book in the Spirits trilogy is adequate. This hasn't been my favorite series by Ms. Hawk by a long shot. I never really felt the romance between Henry and Vincent, the ghost adventuring is pretty standard though she does bring a certain flair to it, and the narrator is listenable, but nothing to write home about.

 

The plot here was again predictable and I could see every twist and turn coming from a mile away. While it makes emotional sense that Vincent and Jo would make the incredibly stupid decisions they make, it still felt like all the characters were given a case of the dumb-dumbs in order for the plot to happen, which is why this got downgraded half a star.

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