Book Review: Roark by Jacqueline Rhoades

The place and time

United States of America, on Earth, in the near future. The area is called Sector Three.

The suspension of disbelief

Earth gets invaded by Not-Very-Near-Human aliens. Chaos and destruction ensue. Other Near-Human aliens (if I trust the cover art and description they are about as different as most early Star Trek aliens are from human) show up to fight them and are trying to live on earth with the humans. Most of the tech we know has been shut down or doesn’t work, but the aliens are higher tech than we are.

The quick summary

Mira, an ex-teacher, meets Roark, the new alien commander of the city, and they quite like each other and begin a courtship. Meanwhile Mira’s teenage brother is running with the wrong crowd and she’s caring for and supporting orphans she doesn’t have any legal rights to while someone is out there orphan-napping. Roark has problems of his own: he’s inherited a basket case of a command with lack of supplies and manpower, insubordinate officers, possible embezzlement, the list goes on. They are both carrying time-bomb secrets. How do they get together and stay together? I’ll let you read.

My squees

Our protagonist Mira. She’s everything I’d want in a BFF or big sister. She reminds me of several of my favorite teachers who if faced with danger would have protected us (the students) at any cost to themselves. She has vulnerabilities and flaws that resonated with me. Her missteps make sense. I like how she admits she is attracted to alpha males but that has not worked out well for her, so she tries prudence. Once she’s committed to you in whatever context, she has your back. She will fight for you, she will stand by you, and I cheered her on throughout the novel.

The other characters are well-drawn. At first I was a little worried by the preponderance of male aliens, but then we meet the delightful Dr. Ahnyis who I also want to be my friend. There’s also grumpy Sargeant Mohawk who is introduced as an antagonistic but everyone grows to count on, confusing Dr. Mason Mason, and earnest Petrark. I wanted to bash Mira’s brother’s head in, but I also wanted to do that to my younger brother when he was a teenager. Roark is a sincere fellow who can be quite overbearing but shuts up when Mira’s not done talking. He’s upset when he has reason to be but is willing to hear all the evidence on something before charging off and doing something reckless. As proven in a memorable game of Cards Against Humanity, active listening will always get you laid.

The romantic relationship proceeds in a realistic, relatable fashion. Roark figures out what he wants rather quickly, but his feelings deepen over time so it doesn’t just seem like infatuation. Mira approaches it more slowly and with caution: she’s intrigued, then attracted, then begins to care. She has concerns about the poor girl getting with the rich commander who wants to give her things and can control her fate, as it often creates power issues and friction, just like in resource-skewed relationships in our present. Her worries ring true, and she has to have some encouragement to get involved with Roark. Once they figure out that they both care, love follows quickly. No Great Misunderstandings. The love (and sex) scenes flowed with the rest of the story and paced it well.

My grumbles

There are some editing mistakes that kicked me out of the book and broke my reading trance. There’s a stray sentence fragment, one misspelled word that jumped out at me because it was during a moment of tension, and two paragraphs that had sentences that didn’t seem to follow each other. There is also the confusing part where Ahnyis tells Mira the friendly aliens are all dudes and Mira doesn’t say ‘uh but you identify as female’ like I did. This was explained later to Mira, but at the time I furrowed my brow. There’s also a remark in which Roark references his father having knowledge that I thought he didn’t due to the conversation before and after. Nothing that would change anything around it, but I grumble about getting jarred out of the story with a ‘wait what’.

The friendly aliens (the Godan) apart from slight anatomical differences don’t seem very alien and they catch on to human slang rather quickly. I wasn’t sure how believable I found that, and am still undecided. The middle of the book was tight and cohesive, but the end felt a little less together, more meandering with scenes that felt shortened. I would have liked scenes or some more time with the supporting cast to highlight how they’d changed and developed, as I had grown to care about them.

Read if you

  • like women who give as good as they get and can take a stand
  • sympathize with the plight of the oldest sister who has to be the rock of the family
  • are into Viking or Viking-type men
  • enjoy a large huggable cast of supporting characters

Skip if you

  • don’t want to read about aliens or conversely, only want Real Weirdie aliens with tentacles
  • hate reading about troublesome teenagers and why would sympathetic characters like them
  • avoid books with any swear words (there are military men under stress, and shellshocked humans under stress, guess what happens?)
  • think that there is excessive discrimination against moderate Hive Bug aliens already and cannot support perpetuation of this extreme prejudice

Final thoughts and disclosure

I won this book in a raffle, but it was on my to read/buy list anyway. I volunteered to do a review because I want to promote the interests of SFR and indie authors. I’ve never read Ms. Rhoades before, and this is her first entry into SFR with the Women of Earth series. I’ll reread this one on a rainy afternoon this winter sipping hot chocolate…or perhaps sooner. I enjoyed myself, I enjoyed the characters (Roark has won runner-up in an SFR poll), and I’m buying the next book when it comes out.

Author site:

Other resources: Goodreads / Amazon / Barnes and NobleKobo



Book Review: Star Cruise – Marooned by Veronica Scott

The place and time

Deep space and on the jungle resort type planet Dantaralon. I imagine it’s in the far future in our timeline, but it could be an alternate universe.

The suspension of disbelief

Interstellar travel exists! Humans and other races are in space, and some aliens are at war with humans.

Quick summary

Meg Antille is working on a cruise ship, and Simon “Red” Thomsill, recently retired soldier, has gotten a job aboard it to get to know her better. During a stopover on a nature preserve planet, things go ill. The ranger station is deserted, the big dangerous wild animals aren’t being kept away as they should, and then the ships take off without their passengers. Simon, Meg, and the other passengers get pursued through the jungle by pirates and have to find a way to get off-planet safely. During the journey, Meg and Red develop a mutual respect to go with their mutual attraction.

My squees

Meg and Red are reasonable likable people, and the obstacles to their involvement aren’t contrived. The planet comes alive with vivid infills of flora and fauna. Some of the bad guys get what’s coming to them. An early scene where Meg rescues the party from the baddies is a breath of fresh air.

There’s a cool subplot about some secret research on the planet that I wanted to know more about. It ties in with the fast-paced escape sequence at the end, but it begs for its own story. I also enjoyed learning a bit more about the universe with its alien races and the political situation surrounding the characters, so I’ll explore the rest of the universe with Scott’s other Sectors books.

My grumbles

For the first half of the book I’ve no idea what Red finds so compelling about Meg. It seemed rather radical of him to change his career so blatantly to cozy up to a lady who he saw once and has never given him the slightest encouragement. He doesn’t seem impulsive, so it felt at odds with his character. I learned more later, but sprinkling that information in might have sold me more on his joining the cruise crew.

The secondary characters feel somewhat shallow, especially Peter. I can’t remember anything about him other than his job and who he’s married to.

Read if you

  • Like Man vs. Nature conflict
  • Want to spend an afternoon on a jungle adventure
  • Love multi-talented soldiers with cool tattoos

Skip if you

  • Dislike named characters dying during a story
  • Often have nightmares about giant poisonous snakes
  • Think people should stop vilifying bug aliens already and cannot support this defamation of their compound eyes

I received a copy of this book in a raffle, but review it unsolicited. It’s a short read for a dollar. I like the bones of the story and think it could have gotten a little more flesh, or it could use a sequel where we get to know more than was hinted at about our protagonists’ backgrounds.

Author website:

Other resources: Goodreads / Amazon / Barnes and Noble / iBooks / Kobo

Consumptive habits and creation

Like many people, I look at a lot of websites and consume a great deal of content. On a typical day, I visit most of the following:

  • ESPN and ESPN FC (soccer) for headlines about baseball, soccer, tennis, and Olympic sports. Most days this doesn’t take too much time unless something like the Women’s World Cup is going on. Then I read every single article, even ones about Thailand games. I don’t know who any of those Thai ladies are but I find them inspiring.
  • The Replacement Level Yankees Weblog, for sabermetric data and Yankees talk. Did you know that baseball has numbers that are statistically significant and that Nate Silver started his projections with baseball? I am terrible at ProbStat myself but love to see the science and methodology behind all these projections.
  • RPGamer for news on upcoming and current role-playing video games.
  • Shopping websites for clothing sales. This can take two minutes or longer if I’m being picky about new socks or pajamas.
  • The New York Times, which I’ve subscribed to for years and is still my major news curator. I’m told this makes me old-fashioned.
  • SPL Overdrive, the Seattle Public Library’s ebook-lending engine. How close am I to items I have on hold? What’s new this week?
  • Facebook if my brother, a community I follow, or a few close friends have posted something.
  • My feedbin. This is the biggest time suck of all. I have a ton of clothing blogs, Cliff Mass’s weather blog, many writers’ blogs on their books and on writing, and some blogs of personal friends.

That’s just the web content I consume. Add some video games, a ton of music, and plenty of books, and I feel like a giant ravening maw that I shove stuff into. So many wonderful things, so little time and energy, especially because I work full time as a computer programmer. The desire to consume wars with the desire to create. If I am not making things up, just consuming them, I am unsatisfied. I can make web applications, I can write words, I can try to write music, I can work on creating roleplaying games. Which one I do is a daily question. I’m on a writing fiction kick right now, with a little bit of roleplaying games.

Tan Tan Bo Puking, by Takashi Murakami

Tan Tan Bo, by Takashi Murakami (2001) is one way I try to explain my creative urge and process.

I’ve been trying to devote about an hour on weekdays to creation. Weekends are variable, because sometimes I’m not in town or am doing tons of social things. I’m still working on balancing creation and consumption and subcategories of both. Left unchecked, I binge on one or the other and end up feeling empty or uninspired. Perhaps someday I can expand the hours I can create things in.

my TBR list just exploded

Since I discovered SFR I added The Galaxy Express and Smart Girls Love Scifi blogs. I read along, entered a contest, and randomness chose me to win free ebooks. I was going to buy many of these books anyway, but I think that the writers’ generosity should be…followed? Repaid? Anyway, those authors will get reviews for their newest books on this blog and on Amazon. It’s another great way for me to put pressure on myself! I love adding things to my To Do list!

Why review if it takes time and effort? I want to advance the interests of the SFR community. I love science fiction, I love romance, I read both, but I did not put the two together as something I could find until a few weeks ago. Reviews boost the signal so the books and authors can get more exposure and all of us can get (and write) more awesome stories. Also, reviewing will help me understand what does and doesn’t work for me in SFR, so I can learn what to look for when I want a curated list, and how to get more articulate about what I love. I was working on a cyberpunk romance story months ago, went on hiatus, and have picked up writing again, fueled by the inspiration the SFR community has given me.

I’ve been reviewing lingerie for years now, and I have a format I use: basic commentary, why I bought the article I did, the properties of its construction, how it fits and looks, and who would like it most. I haven’t reviewed books much before, so I’m reading up on review formats. Short summary, my critical and emotional reactions, and what else I found noteworthy. Many reviews end with a quantitative evaluation. I don’t like assigning numbers, stars, or letter grades, since they are far too easily influenced by when I last ate. Instead I’ll try for who I think would enjoy/dislike this book and reasons to read/skip it. All four should get a mention. A short version of the review will go on Amazon, since those are pretty widely read. This format is subject to change as I learn how to best contribute. It’s an eight book project. If I or others find the reviews useful, I’ll continue reviewing SFR books.

Reading scifi romance voraciously

The past winter I took a writing class for short stories, and I found it rewarding. I had not written fiction in fifteen years, and I was unsure whether I’d enjoy another solitary hobby.  The experience has been rewarding afterwards, albeit in fits and starts. I had a story I wanted to flesh out, and there are plenty of sticky points in the plot I have not tackled. I have another story I’m thinking of expanding beyond four hundred words. They’re both science fiction romance, or will be once I get more into them. The idea is to have fun and write something I can look at and say “yeah, that’s kind of cool”. My ambitions lie in finishing projects, the bigger the better. I have no deadline because I’m just doing this for me, but I try to set aside some time a few days a week to devote to books.

Part of my writing-time is actually reading-time. Plenty of authors encourage this, but it’s a no-brainer to me. I read what I love (and some other things for variety) so why wouldn’t I write what I love! My first exposure to science fiction romance must have been the first three books by Dara Joy and some Johanna Lindsey when I was a teenager. They were quite campy, and that was pretty representative of the genre at the time. I loved reading science fiction and romance, why not the two together? Fantasy romance was so much easier to find, and I had a higher chance of finding a story with Serious Stuff in it. There were exceptions that I stumbled upon and treasured: Gena Showalter’s Alien Huntress series hit the spot especially with Savor Me Slowly, in which our heroine is a killer cyborg, and Marcella Burnard’s Enemy Within left me wanting more than just one other novel in the series.

During and after my college years, Ellora’s Cave pioneered lots of electronic romance novels, and with the lower overhead cost of e-publishing (I assume), they could take more risks with niche genres. Of the authors there, Nathalie Gray wowed me the most with Demo Derby and the Femme Metal series. Publishing has by now changed so that books that traditional publishers would never have taken before can see the light via self-publishing or small e-press. I imagine that some of it may not be good, so I’ve been on the lookout for curation.

In March I took the Seattle Public Library’s recommendation of Fortune’s Pawn by Rachel Bach and devoured the book (and its sequels). Better than flourless chocolate cake. While it was a science fiction novel with romantic elements instead of having the romance as the central plot, I realized that this is what I want to read and if the library’s carrying it, what have I been missing? The answer was plenty. Great novels had been published when I wasn’t paying attention and I found myself with some more library books to read: Ann Aguirre’s Sirantha Jax series (I have read Grimspace and Wanderlust), and Linnea Sinclair’s everything (I adored Games of Command and am reading The Down Home Zombie Blues). Holy Lego Man, I’ve hit pay dirt!

As if that weren’t enough in my queue, the publishing world continues to change, and there are communities on the internet dedicated to science fiction romance, complete with reading lists and networking. Why didn’t I look at this before? I’m mystified by the oversight, but now the spread in front of me is overwhelming. I am trying to wrap my mind around the Science Fiction Romance Brigade and the Galaxy Express. A new world awaits me, and I hope it helps spur my own work on. Even if it doesn’t, I’ve got months of delight to come!