A Free Dreamer Review: Song of Song by L.J. LaBarthe


Rating: 3 stars out of 5

Song of SongIt is the year 2275, and though some consider Earth a paradise, for most people on the planet or her outer-world colonies, it’s anything but.

Dex is a Boxie—a genetically engineered human created for the sole purpose of caring for wealthy bio-humans. His best and only friend is an AI cat named Manx, a secret Dex keeps from all around him. While he knows little about his sexuality, he’s attracted to Song.

Song designs ships that traverse deep space and has created the first fully sentient vessel called Fa’a. When he hears of a plot to capture Fa’a for nefarious purposes, Song flees Earth with a small band of misfits. Meanwhile, Dex’s fear of losing Manx drives him to take the cat and escape on a transport.

Song and Dex are brought together by chance. Just as their relationship blossoms from cautious and shy to romantic and erotic, new dangers threaten to destroy not only their love but also Fa’a, their friends, Manx, and all they care about.

I seem to have a thing for space operas lately, even though I usually prefer my sci fi to be set on Earth, without aliens… Anyway, I couldn’t resist the promise of an AI cat. I love cats and the idea of AIs fascinates me.

Sadly, “Song of Song” wasn’t quite as awesome as other books of the genre I’ve read recently. The idea behind the plot was good, but it lost me somewhere along the way.

There were a few things that didn’t make any sense to me. I’m almost tempted to call them plot holes. The leaders of large countries sign a treaty without reading the small print first? That seems horribly unrealistic to me. Another thing that bothered me was the fact that Boxies weren’t allowed to have relationships of any sort (romantic or not) with other people and yet they’re allowed to go to brothels. That seemed rather odd to me.

The idea of a fully sentient spaceship was interesting, but I’m not sure I quite understood how that was supposed to work. My technical understanding is rather lacking, though, so it might just have been me.

And honestly, I would probably find the thought of being inside a fully sentient rather creepy. Fa’a is depicted as omniscient to whatever is going on inside of her. I would probably be too embarrassed to ever undress. So I had a hard time relating to the MCs’ awe of her.

The romance part happened way too fast for my personal liking. Dex was essentially already in love with Song before he even met him. And for Song it was insta-love, even though he had other things to worry about when they first met.

The same goes for the sex. Dex felt like a very innocent character to me. And yet they stumble into bed asap and have amazing, mind blowing sex.

Manx was probably the best part of the story for me. I love pets with a real personality in my stories and an AI cat is the epitome of that. I want an AI cat too. Just so you know.

The troubles were resolved way too easily for my liking. Everything just fell into place easily and what seemed like insurmountable issues before, suddenly turned out to be a simple formality.

Overall, “Song of Song” was just an okay read for me. The concept was promising but the story itself fell a little short. Not a must read, but nice enough.

Cover: The cover by Anne Cain shows Song and Dex. In my mind’s eye, Dex looked a lot younger than he does on the cover. Other than that, I like it. Manx looks really cute.

Sales Links:   Dreamspinner Press |  Amazon

Book details:

ebook, 270 pages
Published January 18th 2016 by Dreamspinner Press
ISBN 1623807174 (ISBN13: 9781623807177)
Edition LanguageEnglish

A MelanieM Review: Mythica by L.J. LaBarthe


Rating:  4.25 stars out of 5

MythicalgishHalf selkie Caiden is unhappy that as a Mythica he is unable to serve his country as his father had done.  In fact all Mythicas are banned from service because they might not be able to handle the stress, changing forms in combat.  While Caiden agrees intellectually with that assessment, emotionally he’s frustrated and taking his discontent out on those around him.  Its even affected his viewpoint of the  sy’lph, an alien race that arrived on Earth seeking sanctuary and a home after their galaxy was destroyed in a war.

But when a minotaur goes wild at the government offices of the Bridging Lives agency (a sort of  Social Security other being checkpoint and social agency), Caiden jumps in to stop the minotaur and his world changes forever.   First he is rescued by Gray, a sy’lph who is the local liason between humans, mythica and the sy’lph.  Gray is gorgeous and Caiden is overwhelmingly attracted to a being he has resolutely disliked.  Secondly, the minotaur had been poisoned.

Soon all the mythicas are under attack.  And Gray and Caiden take their first steps towards understanding and a relationship just when everything starts to fall apart around them, putting themselves and Caiden’s family in danger.

Mythica by L.J. LaBarthe is a book that defies categorization, something that surely thrills its author.  How to describe a beautifully written story that encapsulates human mythological creatures come to life, along with an alien race fleeing galactic genocide and bringing inhuman technology with them.  Then throw in a interspecies romance, racial purity rights terrorists, and much, much more and you have Mythica – scify, supernatural, paranormal, action, suspense, mystery romance!  I would expect nothing less from L. J. LaBarthe.

From the opening lines, the author pulls you into the joy of Caiden’s life as a half selkie!  He is frolicking in the ocean waters near home which is Broome in Western Australia:

Dolphins swam up to join him, and he grabbed the dorsal fin of the nearest one, laughing when he surfaced and breathed in air again. The dolphin dragged him along through the water at a rapid rate, making him whoop with delight, a sound echoed by the raucous cries of the seagulls hovering overhead. Schools of fish swam below him, sometimes their silvery bodies brushed against his toes, and Caiden loved that too, the feeling of being so free, so connected to all the elements—water, air, light, earth. The dolphin that pulled him along through the water brought him close to shore, and Caiden felt the soggy roughness of sand beneath his feet. He let go of the dorsal fin, calling a thank you and goodbye to the dolphins as they swam on.

LaBarthe conveys the lightness of being and the spontaneity of Caiden’s selkie behavior in the waters.  And just as quickly, the author is able to ground Caiden in his human half, complete with his discontent and unhappiness at leaving the watery haven behind as he reluctantly arrives at the Bridging Lives agency.   LaBarthe has created with her “mythicas” a fascinating new group of beings (albeit from an ancient beginnings).  The mythicas are

“Mythica were the descendants of all mythological creatures of antiquity—the pixies, fairies, selkies, minotaurs, dragons, and more—who lived and worked alongside humans.”

Caiden himself is half mythica, his father human and his mother a selkie, a human/mythica pairing not uncommon in this story. The author is quick to give Caiden a  painful past made bearable by a supportive, loving family, only some of which are mythicas.  Broome is pictured as normally as is possible when mythicas and aliens such as the sy’lph casually walk about its facilities and streets.  There is an authenticity to each scene that is wonderful considering who and what is appearing throughout each description and event.

Also marvelously imagined are the sy’lph.  Alien beings of mallable metal (think mercury) whose real shape and body is confined within a synthetic humanoid shell.  Just seeing their true shape/body is enough to blind any human.  Their back story and natural history is as complex and captivating as everything else that LaBarthe has created here.  But while all the outside elements are fantasical in nature, inside there exists a lovely romance between two beings/people trying to learn about each other and work their way towards something more lasting and real.

Interspersed throughout the myriad of plot threads is the threat to Caiden, his family and all mythicas.  It isn’t long before the villain of the pieces appears  and the uncertainty and dread that comes with this nasty little storyline

is yet one more element that will keep the reader engaged and deeply involved in Mythica until the ending.  Which I was sorry to see arrive.

Mythica has such a wide appeal and such a ingenious universe, that I hope to see LaBarthe revisit it again in another story.  Both the mythicas and the sy’lph deserve to have their stories told.  But while we are waiting for that to happen, pick up Mythica and see why I recommend it so highly.  Never has such a concoction of genres been so appealing.

Cover by Mumson Designs is lovely, and captures the joy of Caiden perfectly.

Sales Links:      Bottom Drawer Publications   All Romance (ARe)          Amazon          Buy it here

Book Details:

Kindle Edition, 217 pages
Published September 18th 2014 by Bottom Drawer Publications
edition languageEnglish


A MelanieM Review: The Body on the Beach (Under the Southern Cross) by L.J. LaBarthe


Rating: 4 stars out of 5

The Body on the beachIt’s 1920 in Adelaide, the only free colony in Australia.  When  a body on the beach is found to be marked up with Chinese symbols, it only makes sense for the local constable to call upon William “Billy” Liang for advice and help with the investigation.  Billy Liang, prominent member of both cultures in Adelaide,  has often worked as a liaison between the various emigrant societies in Adelaide and the white establishment.

With his lover and business manager, Tom Williams,  at his side (and with the support of Billy’s wife), Billy and Tom must investigate a crime that looks to implicate the local Chinese community in the murder.  Billy and Tom deal with illegal opium dens, fantan games and gambling, racism, and being shot at throughout the investigation. And while Billy’s family accepts the love he and Tom share, Australia’s laws against sodomy and homosexuality pose a constant danger.    It’s a delicate balance that Billy and Tom maintain, one that this murder and the ripples it sets in motion threaten to destroy.

The Body on the Beach, part of the Under the Southern Cross Anthology, is a perfect little window into a time and societal framework of 1920 Adelaide, Australia.  L.J. LaBarthe recreates gallimaufry of cultures that is Adelaide, a situation that hasn’t changed much today.  Within the limits of the town, there exists the Chinese, the Greeks, the Russians, and more nationalities that have flooded into the region and are now coexisting, however uneasily, with the white population.  I  especially loved the intimate look at the Chinese community from the viewpoint of Billy Liang.  The character of William “Billy” Liang is a compelling one.  He acts as the bridge between all the “foreigners” and the local establishment by way of his success as a businessman and his status within the Chinese insular community.   And he does so successfully because he lives in both worlds in his private life.  He is married to an intelligent, understanding wife who accepts his love and relationship with Tom. Indeed, they have created for themselves their own insulated world where their servants are supportive of their unique relationship dynamics, including the fact that he and Tom live in one section of the huge house and his wife in another.

Some readers might balk at this arrangement, but as its laid out here by L.J. LaBarthe, it not only works but we enjoy the camaraderie and ease in which they all deal with each other.  I enjoyed Billy’s wife for her grace and intelligence as much as I did Tom, a terrific balancing act indeed.

While the plot has Tom and Billy investigating a complex murder, it was all the descriptions of the various sides to Adelaide and its people that I really enjoyed.  I felt as though I was there, walking the streets and beaches with Billy and Tom.   There is the realistic aspect of racism that has to be dealt with along with the need to keep their sexuality and true nature of their relationship hidden.  And within all of that complicated framework, a murderer needs to be caught and brought to justice.

When an author brings me takes me back to the past and makes it feel alive once more, as LaBarthe does here, then I feel that I have taken a marvelous journey, one I was unwilling to see end.  The Body on the Beach is just such a story.  If you are unfamiliar with L. J. LaBarthe, this is a wonderful place to start!

Cover Artist Anne Cain.  How I love this cover!  Everything, from the design to the characters, pull you in as does this story.

Sales Links:  Dreamspinner Press           All Romance (ARe)           Amazon           Buy it Here

Book Details:

Published March 13th 2013 by Dreamspinner Press (first published March 12th 2013)
edition languageEnglish
seriesUnder the Southern Cross