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Monday, April 16, 2012

The Pandora Stone by William Greenleaf

The Pandora Stone by William Greenleaf
Publisher: Mundania Press
Genre: Action/Adventure, Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Length: Full Length (221 pgs)
Rating: 3.5 stars
Reviewed by Aloe

Arlo Triplethorn doesn't match the holo-vid image of a contract courier. Short, scrawny, and unremarkable in every way, he suffers from recurring nightmares about his one disastrous encounter with the cobra. The bloodiest war in human history was fought with the cobra, an alien race prone to senseless aggression and unrestrained violence. Although the cost was devastating, the cobra were eventually exterminated. Or so Arlo believes.

Everything changes for Arlo when he is hired by the International Space Exploration Agency to acquire a mysterious alien artifact and deliver it to their headquarters on Sierra. The artifact is a fist-sized crystal found buried on a Fringe world. It's clearly of alien origin, and it gives Arlo a bad case of the jitters when he first gazes into its amber depths. A strange thought comes unbidden to his mind: There's something alive in there...

Things go downhill fast when Arlo discovers that a ruthless underground organization known as Isterbrandt also wants the crystal. Pursued by both Isterbrandt and corrupt ISEA officials, Arlo escapes to Earth with the crystal. There, in the ruins of a sprawling city once known as Los Angeles, Arlo learns the truth about the crystal from a small band of mutated humans who are the only remaining inhabitants of Earth. Now he knows why the two most powerful organizations in humanspace are chasing him. But the worst is yet to come, and it steps straight out of Arlo's nightmares. Not all the cobra were exterminated, after all. One of them has been living among the crumbled ruins of the city, waiting patiently for the return of the amber crystal

Now that it's back, the cobra's patience has morphed into the single-minded goal of acquiring the crystal at any cost.

Only Arlo Triplethorn stands in its way.

A plague has decimated Earth’s population and mutated the survivors. The population that could has evacuated Earth and moved to other planets. But that wasn’t the end of trouble on planet Earth and or for the outlying worlds.

Mr. Greenleaf has created an interesting concept about what we might see in the future. Fighting overgrown cobras that could walk caught my attention right off. His hero is a man who's only doing a courier job and has no idea how much trouble this one job was going to be. He was on his way out to go on vacation and has no desire to do the job, much less try to save the planets.

The plot is a bit convoluted and it took me a while to understand how all the characters fit together, but it was easy to see there was more than one party who wanted that stone and they were willing to kill for it. The various races and political factions got a bit confusing, but once you got a sense of who the traitors were and how the young man and woman with stone were trying to escape them, it began to fall into place.

Excessive greed and a wish for power dominates the ones coming after the stone. They are really evil folks and you don’t shed a tear over their deaths. One minor character disappeared part way through the story, but I think we may see her again in the coming books. The author gives you good reason to wave goodbye to the bad boys as they die.

There's an ironic twist at the end that I really liked. It also sets up the lead-in to the next book in this series. This part of the tale is done, but there’s more to come. It held my interest throughout the book and fascinated me enough I’d like to read the next book. Why not give this one a try and see how Mr. Greenleaf tempts you into reading further, too?

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Kicking Ashe by Pauline Baird Jones

Kicking Ashe by Pauline Baird Jones
Publisher: L an L Dreamspell
Genre: Action/Adventure, Contemporary, Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Length: Full Length (214 pages)
Heat Level: Sweet
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Orchid

With hearts and lives on the line, a kiss may be all they have time for...
Time has dumped Ashe on a dying planet and she needs to figure out why before she ceases to exist. Or gets vivisected by some Keltinarian scientists. Or worse.

Vidor Shan might help—since someone somewhere is trying to hose him, too—if she can convince him to trust her. Probably shouldn’t have told him that only someone he trusts can betray him. Also wouldn’t mind if he kissed her on the mouth.

Vid would love to kiss the girl, but his brother is lost, he’s got hostile aliens on his tail, and the stench of betrayal all around him. Can he trust the woman who told him to trust no one?

Then a time quake hurls them to a nasty somewhere and some when...

Ashe is a time traveler, an agent of the Time Service. To help her is Lurch, a nanite who lives in her head. Their actions start a time tsunami which dumps them on a planet in another time stream. Cut off from their support they must figure out what's wrong with this time, and why a man they know is also in the same time zone - but he believes he belongs there.

I enjoyed reading this book although I would have liked to see more romantic interaction between the two main characters a little earlier. Ashe is a quirky young woman who has a continuous dialogue going on inside her head; when Lurch is silent, she talks to herself. The man she knows from before is Shan, but he doesn't remember her - maybe because their meeting is still in his future. Ashe is instantly attracted to him which confuses her. In the other time she believes he has had a fling with "great, great - not so great" grandma who is also a previous host of Lurch.

Aggressive robots, a traitor in Shan's family, and Ashe's inability to access her full resources: all these things make for a fast moving book with mystery and adventure. I liked the mixture of science fiction and time travel, along with the adventure and underlying mystery of who was out to get Shan and what had happened to his brother.

Ms Jones has created strong characters who interact well with each other with the added internal conversation between Lurch and Ashe. For most of the book Shan is not aware of Lurch, but he does wonder why Ashe occasionally gets a faraway look in her eyes. The minor characters add richness to the story while unexpected mechanical beings make their presence felt.

Whether you prefer straight science fiction or like yours with a dash of romance, this is a very enjoyable read.