A Julia Review: Ardulum: first Don by J.S. Fields

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Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

Ardulum. The planet that vanishes. The planet that sleeps.

Neek makes a living piloting the dilapidated tramp transport, Mercy’s Pledge, and smuggling questionable goods across systems blessed with peace and prosperity. She gets by—but only just. In her dreams, she is still haunted by thoughts of Ardulum, the traveling planet that, long ago, visited her homeworld. The Ardulans brought with them agriculture, art, interstellar technology…and then disappeared without a trace, leaving Neek’s people to worship them as gods.

Neek does not believe—and has paid dearly for it with an exile from her home for her heretical views.

Yet, when the crew stumbles into an armed confrontation between the sheriffs of the Charted Systems and an unknown species, fate deals Neek an unexpected hand in the form of a slave girl—a child whose ability to telepathically manipulate cellulose is reminiscent of that of an Ardulan god. Forced to reconcile her beliefs, Neek chooses to protect her, but is the child the key to her salvation, or will she lead them all to their deaths?

Ardulum: First Don by J. S. Fields is the first entry in the “Ardulum”-series. Though I must say that I’m in general not a big reader of sci-fi, the plot for this caught my interest and in the end found myself rather enjoying this novel.

It is not difficult to see that quite a lot of work and thought went into world building here. The book features a wide diversity of different alien races all with their own very unique customs and habits, a well-thought-out system of political structures and quite creative but in the context of the story plausible technologies.

The characters and their plights easily grab your attention right away as well. For one there is Neek who is the only exile from her home planet in the entire galaxy. Torn between the wish to see her family again and the rejection of her government’s policies, her internal struggle becomes even worse when she comes face to face with living proof that there might be some truth to those myths she has been fighting against after all. Still, you get the feeling that despite her conflicts, she still holds on to a certain kindness and compassion that motivates her to protect an innocent child despite the ramifications for her own position and believes.

And then there is Emn, a slave girl who has been put through a lot of pain and trauma. I was rather intrigued by following events from her point of view and how she sees the world around her. The bond that forms between Neek and Emn feels very natural and real in my opinion. I especially loved their telepathic communications which at first consisted mainly of mental images before including words as well. Characters’ relationships in general were portrayed in a rather organic, relatable way. I also liked Neek’s interactions with others like her captain or her uncle.

The author really took the job of presenting different species on their own terms very seriously. For example, she uses unique pronouns when talking from the perspective of a certain species. Though it took some getting used to in the beginning, it soon wasn’t a problem anymore and it served to give the character a more distinct voice.

I would definitely recommend this series to fans of sci-fi and just anyone who enjoys a good read filled with issues of race and religion, political confrontations and some well-developed characters. If you are only looking for some hot and fast f/f-action though, this might not be for you. It takes quite a bit for the romance to pick up but what you get instead is well-worth it in my eyes.

The cover art by Natasha Snow is very beautiful. I especially like the colour composition and how the woman harmonizes lovely with the planets and stars.

Sales Links:  NineStar Press | Amazon

Book Details:

ebook, 248 pages

Published February 27, 2017

by NineStar Press

ISBN: 978-1-945952-64-7

Edition Language: English

A Julia Review: Painting Class ( Chiaroscuro #1) by Suzanne Clay

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Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Ainsley’s first gallery showing is way out of her comfort zone. After teaching high school art for over a decade, she can’t think of anywhere else she’d rather be than the classroom, and especially not in front of a crowd of strangers ogling her paintings.

Salvation comes in the form of an insightful young woman who coaxes Ainsley to open up about her inspiration, her drive, and her sexuality. Sparks fly before Ainsley realizes that the young woman is her former student, Noma, freshly graduated from college. As Ainsley fights to reconcile her memories of Noma with the woman she’s become, they fall into a playful game of dominance and submission that will change their relationship forever.

Painting Class by Suzanne Clay is the first, short introduction to former teacher/student-couple Ainsley and Noma and (possibly) the start of their future relationship. It almost reads itself like the first couple of chapters of a novel. And I am intrigued to read more.

Ainsley is an art teacher as well as an artist who amongst other styles focuses on bodypainting. It was good to read about a character who has so clearly found her passion in life despite still being nervous about presenting her art pieces to the public. Noma on the other hand appears at first glance to be very sure of herself and her ambitions (especially those concerning her former teacher). I liked how the two of them started getting to know each other again, after Noma had been Ainsley’s favourite student a few years back.   

Despite their roles as former teacher and student, it seems very much like Noma is the one who is much less nervous and totally in control – at first, that is. I really enjoyed the dynamic between those two and how they both seem to engage in a bit of a power struggle with Ainsley clearly gaining the upper hand later on (and not at all to Noma’s displeasure). The author did a lovely job at highlighting how the tables can turn once the setting is moved from a public to a private one and Ainsley finds herself more confident and at ease when practicing her art.

The body-painting-turned-sexual scene between those two is rather explicit and involves light elements of d/s. It is quite endearing (and hot) how these two discover each other’s experiences and preferences in that regard. And the painting aspect adds an additional layer of sensuality to it.

I quite enjoyed reading Painting Class though I was surprised by its length. Since the author intends to continue the story of Ainsley and Noma, it’s not really a self-contained short story. And it is also too short for a novella or novel. But then again, the quality and potential are definitely there and I am looking forward to learning where Ainsley and Noma will go from here.

The cover art by Natasha Snow is very beautiful and a great combination of colours and tones. I like how the glitter mixes well with the darker, more ominous body paint.

Sales Links:  NineStar Press | Amazon

Book Details:

ebook, 34 pages

Published June 5, 2017

by NineStar Press

ISBN: 978-1-947139-18-3

Edition Language: English

A Julia Review: Iudicium by​ T.C Orton

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Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

After being incarcerated at a prison that leans over the edge of the world, Fayt must do whatever it takes to escape (or simply survive) the horrors that await him. You will take control of Fayt and guide him on his path, but be careful, for not everyone posing as an ally will lead you down the road to freedom.

Note: This is an interactive story, and it is important that you keep a record of your choices close by.

Fayt is in your hands…

Iudicium by T. C. Orton is an interactive Fantasy story. After certain chapters the reader is given a choice of what the main character wants to do next and depending on their choice they turn to a different page to continue following one of several branching narratives. I have been a long-time fan of interactive storytelling and its capabilities, so naturally I was very excited to give this book a try.

First of all, I applaud the author for his decision to write a gritty fantasy story with quite a bit of sexual content in the form of an interactive novel – something you certainly don’t see every day. The writing style also had me hooked right away: atmosphere-building but at the same time concise and straight to the point, just the right qualities for an interactive story like this. The narrative branches off into three different routes with each route having two endings. It takes about a couple of hours to finish one route.

In the classic choose-your-own-adventure-books the main character is usually an anonymous “you” without further background information, which typically makes it easier for the reader to imagine themselves as said character. Here on the other hand we are given an already fleshed-out character with his own unique name and past. The entire story is also told from his point of view in first person. Due to these changes I might not have been able to really picture myself as actually being Fayt but it felt rather like I was guiding him along and trying to help him get out of the terrifying situation he has gotten himself into. It was a very interesting experience and I did feel genuinely sorry for Fayt.

The “goal” of the story, if you can call it that, is to help Fayt escape (or at least survive) the horrendous prison Iudicium. Along the way he comes into contact with a few key figures in this endeavour – who are you going to place your trust in? The lore and world are interesting to learn about too, though they maybe could have been fleshed out in a bit more detail for my taste.

A fair warning: The story contains various scenes of violence, subjugation, sexual abuse and rape. But the possibility of consensual romantic love does exist as well.

To sum it all up, I really enjoyed reading through all of the different endings and my only complaint really is that I wished it would have been longer and offered even more branches of narrative and possible endings. I certainly hope that this won’t be the last interactive tale by this author and that it will inspire more authors to give interactive storytelling a try.

The gruesome cover art by the author himself is quite horrific (in a good way). It definitely fits the content very nicely.

Buy Links: Amazon US | Amazon UK

Book Details:

ebook, 228 pages

Published May 30, 2017

Self-Published

ASIN: B072PZ47DK

Edition Language: English

A Julia Review: Addict (The Cassie Tam Files #1) by Matt Doyle

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Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

New Hopeland was built to be the centre of the technological age, but like everywhere else, it has its dark side. Assassins, drug dealers and crooked businessmen form a vital part of the city’s make-up, and sometimes, the police are in too deep themselves to be effective. But hey, there are always other options …

For P.I. Cassie Tam, business has been slow. So, when she’s hired to investigate the death of a local VR addict named Eddie Redwood, she thinks it’ll be easy money. All she has to do is prove to the deceased’s sister Lori that the local P.D. were right to call it an accidental overdose. The more she digs though, the more things don’t seem to sit right, and soon, Cassie finds herself knee deep in a murder investigation. But that’s just the start of her problems.

When the case forces Cassie to make contact with her drug dealing ex-girlfriend, Charlie Goldman, she’s left with a whole lot of long buried personal issues to deal with. Then there’s her client. Lori Redwood is a Tech Shifter, someone who uses a metal exoskeleton to roleplay as an animal. Cassie isn’t one to judge, but the Tech Shifting community has always left her a bit nervous. That wouldn’t be a problem if Lori wasn’t fast becoming the first person that she’s been genuinely attracted to since splitting with Charlie. Oh, and then there’s the small matter of the police wanting her to back off the case.

Easy money, huh? Yeah, right.

Addict by Matt Doyle is going to be the first volume in a series about P.I. Cassie Tam and the cases she will find herself confronted with. I was especially curious to see how the author would handle the mixing between Sci-Fi and Fantasy elements. As it turns out, I was not going to be disappointed.

The story takes place in a not-too-distant-future-version of our world where technology has advanced to play an even more prominent role in people’s everyday lives. I very much appreciated the approach the author has taken to introduce the reader to his world: by show, not tell. For the most part we simply get to witness how the characters interact with the technology that surrounds them. Here and there the protagonist Cassie Tam, from whose perspective the story is told, will offer an explanation as to how and why certain technological as well societal developments have taken place. The world-building is pretty solid and one can see that the author put a lot of thought into creating a sensible connection between the past (in other words our current time period) and the present in which the novel takes place. It was interesting to discover the numerous and imaginative ways humans have attempted to improve their lifestyles through various gadgets and applications – some with rather questionable success.

I took a liking to Cassie from the beginning because of her direct, nonchalant attitude and demeanour. She is not some kind of newbie but has already a number of successful cases under her belt at this point and it shows. Therefore, she has confidence in her abilities and methods to get things done while on the other hand, there is the occasional blast from the past Cassie is forced to deal with.

Lori (or Ink as she is known in her animal form) is a Tech Shifter who can take on the shape of a panther. I found it very interesting to learn about this more recently emerged group of individuals that have formed their own kind of subculture at this point. The author did a good job in giving the reader some insight into their historical development, technological workings and position within current society. Lori herself is a woman of strong character and conviction who nonetheless needs a way from time to time to escape the harsh and corrupt reality that simmers beneath the surface of New Hopeland. She finds this kind of comfort by changing into her animal form and I appreciated how honestly she admits as much.

The two women play well off each other and the ever so playful, slightly cynical way the two interact with one another was fun to witness as well as the gradual development of their relationship amidst the dangerous events unfolding around them. 

The crime story itself is well-paced and not lacking in suspenseful moments as well as peculiar and interesting individuals that Cassie has to deal with in one way or another. Sometimes I might have liked even a bit more details on characters, their looks and living conditions. All in all, this novel represented an enjoyable read and solid start for a new series and I am looking forward to reading about Cassie’s next case.

The cover art by Natasha Snow is not mind-blowing but it still looks nice and since this volume is intended to be the first in a series focusing on Cassie Tam, it seems appropriate to display her on the cover itself. Nevertheless, I would have very much enjoyed seeing a drawing of Ink or another Tech Shifter.

Sales Links

NineStar Press | Amazon | Smashwords | Barnes & Noble | Kobo

aBook Details:

ebook, 149 pages

Published May 8, 2017

by NineStar Press

ISBN: 978-1-947139-03-9

Edition Language: English

A Julia Release Day Review: New Lease by B. G. Thomas

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Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Wade Porter spent his whole life in the shadow of a lover who doled out snippets of love and time as he saw fit—and who insisted that love stay deep in the closet. But now that man is gone, and Wade finds the oceanside cottage where they spent so many weekends together in the Florida Keys cold and empty. He has come one last time, not even sure he wants to keep living.

To his surprise, the house next door is occupied by another bereaved and lonely man. Kent Walker is an artist of romantic gay paintings who is open to the future—and determinedly interested in Wade. Kent wants to show Wade the beauty in being an openly gay man and the possibilities for a real relationship.

Maybe Kent can help Wade let go of the past and discover a better way to live—and love.

After finishing New Lease by B. G. Thomas, the first thought that came to mind was “short and sweet” – but after taking some time to reflect on what I had just read, I realized that there is so much more to it. The writing is fluid and to the point with no piece of information feeling superfluous or unnecessary. The location was well-chosen and I liked how the author used the environment to incite thoughts and memories within Wade, from whose point of view the story is told. After having lost the only lover he has ever known, he is struggling to find a way back into a regulated life. The author did a good job at leading us through his head and you really get a sense of how the character feels almost stranded (emphasized by his surroundings) because of his inability to let go of the past. I was also quite surprised to hear that Wade is already fifty-one years old. His shyness and inexperience, especially when it comes to relationships, led me to expect a much younger man.

Wade forms an apt contrast to the natural and dynamic Kent, whom I took an immediate liking to. It is especially encouraging to read how comfortable and self-confident he feels with his homosexuality – something that Wade is only slowly allowing himself to do. I admired Kent for his positive outlook on life and how he deals with his own sadness. I only wished you could have learned a bit more about his past life and relationships. Through Wade’s flashbacks and explanations, you also learn quite a bit about Gene, Wade’s former lover, whom I found to be a rather intriguing character as well. It almost makes me wish the author would write a sort of prequel to this story, in which the reader gets to experience Wade’s and Gene’s relationship first-hand.

Despite its length, the story addresses a variety of complex, personal issues: losing a loved one, facing an uncertain future and coming to terms with one’s own wishes and desires. It made me think and genuinely sympathize with the characters and their situation. After all is said and done, this story left a pleasantly hopeful taste in my mouth and I quite enjoyed reading it.

The cover art by Bree Archer may seem simple at first but fits the story quite well and takes on a different layer of meaning once you’ve read it.

Sales Links

Book Details:

ebook, 46 pages

Published April 12, 2017

by Dreamspinner Press

ISBN-13 978-1-63533-428-9

Edition Language: English