Static by L.A. Witt (audiobook) – Narrated by Michael Ferraiuolo

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

After two years together, Alex has been dreading the inevitable moment when Damon learns the truth: Alex is a shifter, part of a small percentage of the population able to switch genders at will. Thanks to a forced implant, though, Alex is suddenly static – unable to shift – and male. Overnight, he’s out to a world that neither understands nor tolerates shifters…and to his heterosexual boyfriend.

Damon is stunned to discover his girlfriend is a shifter and scared to death of the dangers the implant poses to Alex’s health. He refuses to abandon Alex, but what about their relationship? Damon is straight, and with the implant both costly and dangerous to remove, Alex is stuck as a man.

Stripped of half his identity and facing serious physical and social ramifications, Alex needs Damon more than ever, but he doesn’t see how they can get through this.

Especially if he’s static forever.

Rating: Narration: A; Content: A-

I think it’s safe to say that the premise of L.A. Witt’s Static is one of the most original I’ve come across. It’s set in a world very like our own with one major difference – shifters are known to exist, but instead of being able to assume animal shapes, these shifters are able to change gender at will. Some are straight, some are not; some are happy to spend their lives as one gender, some gravitate towards one but do shift sometimes, and others – like Alex in this story – are non-binary which, in Alex’s case, means spending roughly half the time as male and half as female. But while the existence of shifters isn’t a secret, many of them choose to keep their ability under wraps due to the overwhelmingly negative perceptions of them by the “static” public, and the amount of prejudice they encounter.

Damon and his girlfriend have been in a relationship for a couple of years now, and although it’s not been without its ups and downs (Alex can be very moody and sometimes drinks heavily) they love each other and Damon would like them to get married – although Alex keeps dodging the issue. When she doesn’t answer his calls one morning, Damon is immediately worried about her; she went to visit her parents the night before, and he knows she finds those visits incredibly difficult – so he heads over to her house to check on her, and is astonished when a young man opens the door.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

To See the Sun by Kelly Jensen (audiobook) – Narrated by TJ Clark

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

Survival is hard enough in the outer colonies – what chance does love have?

Life can be harsh and lonely in the outer colonies, but miner-turned-farmer Abraham Bauer is living his dream, cultivating crops that will one day turn the unforgiving world of Alkirak into paradise. He wants more, though. A companion – someone quiet like him. Someone to share his days, his bed, and his heart.

Gael Sonnen has never seen the sky, let alone the sun. He’s spent his whole life locked in the undercity beneath Zhemosen, running from one desperate situation to another. For a chance to get out, he’ll do just about anything – even travel to the far end of the galaxy as a mail-order husband. But no plan of Gael’s has ever gone smoothly, and his new start on Alkirak is no exception. Things go wrong from the moment he steps off the shuttle.

Although Gael arrives with unexpected complications, Abraham is prepared to make their relationship work – until Gael’s past catches up with them, threatening Abraham’s livelihood, the freedom Gael gave everything for, and the love neither man ever hoped to find.

Rating: Narration: B+; Content: B+

I’ve become a big fan of Kelly Jensen’s over the past few months and was delighted to be able to snap up a copy of To See the Sun for review. By one of those odd flukes, I read the book a few weeks ago, before I had any idea it was coming out in audio, but that didn’t stop me from wanting to enjoy it again.

The story takes place at some unspecified time in the future when the human race and civilisation has finally moved beyond Earth and has spread through distant galaxies. At the edge of one of those galaxies is the garden planet Zhemosen, a reputed paradise of blue skies, bright sunshine and lush greenery… if you can afford it. The rich enjoy life in the fresh, open air, while those less fortunate live in the undercity, a place where “water tastes like sweat”, the air is bitter, and the streets are dark and dangerous. It’s here that Gael Sonnen just about manages to eke out an existence, but when he fails to carry out an assassination ordered by the powerful family he works for (and is practically enslaved to) he has no alternative but to run – and run as far as possible. But with no money, it looks as though his only option will be to sign up for a long indenture which he’ll likely never get out of – until a friend suggests an alternative. There are plenty of people living in the outer colonies at the far-flung edges of the galaxy who are looking for companions, be it for friends or lovers, and there are companies who specialise in arranging companion contracts. If Gael were to sign up with one of them, his youth and good-looks will surely garner him plenty of replies, and as many of the contracts are initially for only a year, it will at least buy him some breathing space.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

End Transmission (Galactic Cold War #3) by Robyn Bachar

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Maria Watson defied her family to join the Mombasa as Chief Engineer, finding her place among a ragtag fleet of pirates and privateers. Their latest mission left her with a price on her head and a scar on her heart. When a surprise attack separates her from her ship, stranding her in hostile space with a stolen Soviet weapon, she’ll do whatever it takes to uncover that weapon’s secrets—even sacrifice herself.

Broken by the war, Combat Medic Tomas Nyota spent years drowning his sorrows in the bottom of a bottle. Sober, he found a new purpose as the Mombasa’s Chief Medical Officer. His job is to keep the crew alive, even the brilliant but contrary Chief Engineer with whom he’s constantly at odds.

Trapped together in a stolen ship, running from both the Alliance and the Soviets, they must work together to survive. But when the weapon’s horrific purpose is uncovered, their quest becomes a race against time. They must expose the truth and destroy the weapon—before it’s too late.

Rating: C

I enjoyed Relaunch Mission, the first book in Robyn Bachar’s Galactic Cold War series, set in a future in which the Cold War never ended and which follows the adventures of the members of the crew of the privateer ship Mombasa.  I somehow missed the second book, Contingency Plan, but decided to pick up this third instalment anyway;  although I would probably have benefited from reading the previous book, the author includes enough information about what happened there for me not to have felt too lost.

Because this is the third in a series with an overarching plotline, there will be spoilers for the earlier books in this review.

When End Transmission opens, we find Mombasa’s chief engineer Maria Watson and ship’s surgeon (and the captain’s brother) Tomas Nyota at a small lab at an ex-mining facility attempting to analyse the tiny Project Compliance prototype they managed to get hold of at the end of book two, a mind control device developed by the Soviets that they plan to implant (secretly) among the population.   The task is proving frustratingly difficult; there’s to be no way to open it up and it’s resistant to scans – and as it’s the only one they have, they can’t do anything that might risk destroying it.  While Tomas and Maria are arguing about different approaches, alarms start blaring out and on contacting the Mombasa are told to get back fast – there’s a fleet of ships from the Soviet Navy about to arrive.  Before Maria and Tomas can make a move, there’s an explosion at the facility that sees Tomas injured by falling debris and cuts off their route to the Mombasa.  Their only option now is to escape aboard the Tiger Shark, a small ship (formerly property of the Soviets) docked at the opposite end at the base.

Having patched Tomas up as well as she can, the pair make their way to the ship and have to fight their way through enemy ships and a minefield in an edge-of-the-seat sequence that sees them finally get away by the skin of their teeth, but not without damage to the ship.  The Tiger Shark needs repairs and for that, they need to find a safe port where they can get what they need and lie-low while Maria fixes the ship as best she can.  On the run from the Soviets and the Alliance – which has labelled the Mombasa crew as wanted terrorists – Maria and Tomas have only each other to depend on as they race against time to find out more about Project Compliance and make their way to their rendezvous with the Mombasa.

End Transmission is fast-paced and action packed, and as I’ve said before, has the feel of a TV show with its fast edits and non-stop action. There’s no doubt the author knows how to keep things moving and how to write an action sequence, but the trouble is here that there’s just too much going on.  I lost count of the times Maria and Tomas were shot at, blown up, beat up, drugged and had to get themselves out of really tight corners in the first half of the novel alone – and in practically every case, they were saved thanks to Maria’s trusty tablet, Tabby, who, it seemed, was programmed to do everything from analyse a toxin and prepare and administer an antidote to setting off explosions, car alarms and connecting with pretty much any security, navigation, communication, power and other computer network imaginable.  Tabby really is a deus ex machina, a device that can do practically anything when our heroes are backed into a corner or need important information.

Reading through our review of Contingency Plan, I note the same issues with the romance as I had in the first book – and I’m going to say the same thing about this one, which is that the romance is very much secondary to the plot and is sadly underdeveloped. Maria and Tomas spend the first two thirds of the story getting on each other’s nerves, and although there’s an undercurrent of attraction between them, it’s fairly slight.  Then when they finally get back to the Mombassa, they go from ‘you’re hot but you annoy the crap outta me’ to ‘let’s have sex and get it out of our systems’.  It’s a common trope to be sure, but not generally one I like all that much, because of course it never works and I often feel it’s just a way for authors to shoe-horn in some sex scenes their characters aren’t otherwise ready for; they haven’t really built a relationship and can’t (for some reason) say, ‘hey, I like you so let’s shag’ so there has to be all this ‘I want you but can’t admit it, so let’s shag and then I can walk away’ nonsense.

While there’s an attempt at character development at a deeper level, we’re told rather than shown what makes these two tick.  Maria comes from a very traditional background and her family thinks she should be getting married and having babies rather than working as an engineer, and Tomas suffers PTSD as a result of horrific wartime experiences and is a recovering addict who screwed up his marriage and still battles his saviour complex.  Once they’ve both admitted these hang-ups to each other, they agree to try to do better – or ‘reprogram’ their behaviours as Tomas suggests wryly – but it’s all quite superficial and actually, the vibe they give off is more that of affectionately  exasperated siblings than a couple who are romantically involved.

End Transmission ties up the overarching plot of the series – the search for the mind-control weapon and its destruction – neatly, and delivers a quick (if not especially believable) HEA for Tomas and Maria.  It’s a fast, easy read, and I liked the worldbuilding and political background to the story but I never got caught up in it or became invested in the characters.  The lack of depth I mentioned in my review of Relaunch Mission was more of an issue for me here,  I suspect because the characters were pushed from one perilous situation to another so quickly that I didn’t have time to take in what had just happened before the next thing went wrong.  I was also annoyed by the frequent use of Tabby the get-out-of-jail-free tablet and had to raise an eyebrow near the end, when a character is critically injured one minute, and able to run, shoot a gun and then man a weapons system aboard ship the next.

If you’ve been following the series and want to know how it all works out then you may want to pick up End Transmission for the sake of completeness, but I can’t really recommend it otherwise.

Purple Haze (Aliens in New York #2) by Kelly Jensen

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Six months have passed since Dillon and Lang crashed into each other on a crowded street in New York City, changing the course of their lives. Now they’re living together as a couple, happy, in love, but not quite ready to say the words out loud.

Dillon is about to embark on a new adventure—opening a private art school housed in the brownstone left to him by his father. Lang… Lang is becoming ever more aware of the futility of his mission: being caretaker to his clan’s future when his clan might not survive the war with an opposing faction.

When a flashbulb outside a nightclub on New Year’s Eve temporarily blinds Dillon, the course of their lives is set to change again. Dillon’s perception of how the world works is going to be forever altered, and Lang will have to decide between his mission and the man who has come to mean more to him than he ever thought possible.

It will be up to both of them to chart a new direction, one that holds the balance between being human and alien. A course that might require sacrifices neither of them is willing to make.

Rating: B+

Purple Haze, book two in Kelly Jensen’s Aliens in New York series picks up around six months after the events of Uncommon Ground, and sees Dillon Lee and his billionaire (alien) lover happily living together though still working to accept the huge changes that have occurred in both their lives.  Because this is a direct sequel that refers to events and features recurring characters from the previous book – which it would be helpful to read first – there will be spoilers for Uncommon Ground in this review.

Six months ago, Dillon Lee would have laughed at the idea that aliens existed – despite the huge amount of ‘evidence’ amassed by his late grandfather, a conspiracy theorist of the first order.  He’d have laughed even harder – probably – had anyone told him he’d fall in love with an alien, and that not only was his grandfather an alien,  he wasn’t his grandfather at all, but his father – and that Dillon himself is half alien as a result.  But that was then – and this is now; and Dillon has come to accept the truth. His father was Wren – one of the five clans from the planet Jord – and Steilang Skovgaard, the man Dillon loves with all his heart, is from the same planet, sent to Earth twenty-five years earlier, along with several other scouts (who have since died) in order to help build a sanctuary for the members of his clan.

As we learned in the previous book, Lang hadn’t heard anything from his clan for over seven years, and towards the end of it, he had to face the fact that they may never be coming to Earth at all.  So many years of devotion and loneliness, and he realised that the mission he was literally bred for may have been a futile one, but with Dillon in his life now, he hasn’t found it as difficult to accept that and adapt to his changing circumstances as it might otherwise have been.  For Dillon, too, life has taken unexpected directions; in addition to finding out the truth of his heritage, he’s putting down roots – with Lang, yes, but also by setting up an art school in the city in the property left him by his father, and is looking forward to its opening in a few week’s time. 

Purple Haze opens on New Year’s Eve, with Dillon and Lang out dancing at a club.  It’s not really Lang’s thing – he’s never been comfortable in crowds – but it makes Dillon happy, he likes seeing Dillon happy… so he’s happy, too.  The trouble with being a reclusive billionaire who keeps himself very private however, is that when it becomes known he’s out on the town with someone, the paparazzi pounces. He and Dillon have trouble leaving the club and have to dive back inside to find another exit – but not before the camera flashes going off in their faces render Dillon temporarily unable to see.

Fortunately, this condition doesn’t last long, but in its wake, leaves Dillon with unpredictable, crashing headaches – and he gradually notices other changes, too, changes that are going to have serious repercussions on his life with Lang and may possibly part them forever.

Whereas the plot in Uncommon Ground focused mostly on building the relationship between Dillon and Lang, and on Dillon’s gradual discovery of the truth about his father’s origins, Purple Haze raises the stakes considerably for our heroes as it becomes clear that some latent ability in Dillon has been awakened – and it’s unusual enough for the Jord Elders to want to know more about it.

Kelly Jensen has once again achieved an excellent balance between the various elements – romance, suspense and sci-fi – of her story, and does a great job of defining the alien society of Jord and contrasting it with that on Earth through Lang’s gradual realisation that his thought processes have become more human than Jord. All his life, he’s been dedicated to serving his clan; subservient to the ruling Wren, never questioning the rightness of his mission, he’s been focused on fulfilling his obligations, but after twenty five years among humans, he can no longer accept that picture or his role as somehow ‘less’ than.  The intensity of his love for Dillon and his despair at the thought he might lose him forever spurs Lang to rebel against his inbred sense of duty and everything he has ever known about himself and his people in order to fight for the man he loves.

The connection Ms. Jensen has created between Dillon and Lang is practically palpable, and the way they just fit together in spite of their differences, is simply lovely.  Among the small supporting cast, Dillon’s mum and grandmother are nicely rounded characters who offer a little light relief, and his relationship with them is really well written. This is also true of the relationship between Lang and the other major secondary character, Upero – the Artificial Intelligence on his ship.  Like Lang, Upero has evolved somewhat during their time on earth and he’s become the sort of ‘starchy old-retainer’ type character who chides their charge while secretly being fond of them (if it’s possible for an AI to be fond) and even manages a side of snark from time to time.

The pacing is excellent, with a gradual sense of foreboding hovering in the background in the first half of the story as the tension and suspense gradually ramp up to provide a genuine element of doubt as to the final outcome, and there are some truly emotional moments, ones I admit brought a lump to my throat. But one of the things I enjoyed most was the message that came through loud and clear, about the power of human emotions and most importantly, that love and faith in those we love really can conquer all.

Purple Haze is a thoroughly entertaining read that combines an exciting plot with an emotionally satisfying romance, in which the author has once again packed a lot of plot and character development into a relatively small page-count.  I really hope this isn’t the last we’ve seen of Dillon and Lang or Aliens in New York.

Uncommon Ground (Aliens in New York #1) by Kelly Jensen

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Dillon Lee’s grandfather was a conspiracy theorist. Every summer he’d take Dillon on a tour of New York City while entertaining him with tales of aliens. Fifteen years later, after a phone call from a lawyer, Dillon is carrying his grandfather’s ashes from landmark to landmark, paying a sort of tribute, and trying to figure out what to do with his unexpected legacy. When someone tries to steal the ashes, a guy Dillon has barely met leaps to the rescue, saving the urn and the day.

Steilang Skovgaard is a reclusive billionaire—and not human. He’s been living in Manhattan for over twenty years, working on a long-term plan to establish a safe haven for his people. For seven years, his reports have gone unanswered, however, and he is the only surviving member of his interstellar team. The connection he forms with Dillon soon after meeting him is something he’s missed, something he craves.

But after someone keeps trying to steal the ashes, it looks as though Dillon’s grandfather was involved in more than theories—and might not have been exactly who everyone thought he was. Steilang doesn’t know how close he can get to the truth without revealing himself, and Dillon is running out of people to trust. Can these two work out what’s going on before the thieves set their sights higher?

Rating: A-

Kelly Jensen’s Uncommon Ground is book one in her Aliens in New York duology, a story that combines mystery, science fiction and a bit of action with a tender and poignant romance between two people who don’t really fit anywhere – until they find each other.

Dillon Lee has always felt like an outsider.  He’s gay, he feels disconnected from his Korean heritage and his unusual looks have always marked him as a bit odd.  He doesn’t let any of that get him down though, and embraces his “oddness”; he dyes his hair purple and has facial piercings, which always get him a few funny looks wherever he goes – but that’s who he is and stuff anyone who has a problem with it.  He’s returned to New York City for the first time in fifteen years following the death of his conspiracy-theorist grandfather – with whom he used to spend his summers when he was a kid, but hasn’t seen since he was fifteen – to meet with lawyers about his grandfather’s will, but also to take his ashes on a sentimental journey around the city’s landmarks to say goodbye.  Dillon has stopped in at a coffee shop after an unsuccessful attempt to visit the top of the Empire State Building, when he notices a very well-dressed, attractive man staring at him from the queue.  At first Dillon thinks it’s the usual – someone eyeing him because he’s weird-looking – but then realises it’s not that at all when the guy takes a seat behind him and seems about to start a conversation.  But before they can exchange more than a few words, someone moves between them, grabs Dillon’s backpack (containing the urn and ashes) and runs off with it – and Dillon immediately gives chase.

When Steilang Skovgaard  – Lang – sees the guy with the purple hair sitting in the coffee shop he has to remind himself to stop staring.  But he can’t help it.  The lanky build, the large, wide-set eyes and distinctive facial features… he’s  gorgeous and there’s something about the colour of his hair that reminds Lang unaccountably of home.   When Dillon rushes off after his stolen backpack, Lang goes too and eventually manages to cut off the thief and retrieve the bag, injuring himself quite badly in the process.  Given he’s not human (not a spoiler – it’s in the synopsis) Lang doesn’t want to go to a hospital, so despite the injuries he’s sustained – which should start healing soon courtesy of the repair cells in his body – he sneaks away from the scene, only for Dillon to catch up with him. He insists on taking Lang up to his apartment – the one his grandfather left him – to help him to clean up a bit before making his way home.  In a lot of pain (his repair cells aren’t working as quickly as they should), Lang takes Dillon up on his offer.  And gets another shock when he gets a good look at the urn he saved and sees it engraved with a symbol he recognises as belonging to the Wren, one of the three clans from his home planet of Jord.  Clearly, Dillon’s eccentric grandfather wasn’t what or who Dillon believed him to be – but how can Lang find out the truth without revealing exactly who and what he is?

I thoroughly enjoyed this story, which focuses strongly on the romance between Dillon and Lang while skilfully combining it with the mystery surrounding Dillon’s grandfather and the alien/sci-fi elements. These are fairly light, but are nonetheless expertly constructed, giving readers a feel for Lang’s home planet, details of his mission on Earth and about how his society works without large info-dumps or interrupting the flow of the story.  As I said about the author’s To See the Sun, which I read recently, we may be reading about an alien civilisation, but the things Lang’s people are facing all sound very familiar, from unfair hierarchical structures to interplanetary strife and environmental crises.

The instantaneous mutual attraction that sparks between Dillon and Lang progresses quickly, but when they tumble into bed at their next meeting, it’s very clear that they care for each other and they both know there’s something more going on than just sex.  I loved watching them get to know each other and realise they’ve found something special in one another.  Dillon is like a burst of light into Lang’s life – he’s good-humoured and cheerful and not afraid to be who he is, and while he may have always felt like an outsider, to Lang, he’s beautiful, utterly charming and completely irresistible;  Lang’s complete and unconditional acceptance of him is simply lovely.  Lang has spent twenty-five years on Earth in order to find a sanctuary for his clan, has amassed a fortune and built a hugely successful technology company, but he’s a shy, loveable dork with a fetish for kitchen gadgets (!) and The author subtly underpins the way Lang has adapted and begun to assimilate and adore so much about his adopted home.  When we meet one of his people, the contrast between them really highlights the fact that he’s come a long way from the duty-bound, singly-focussed individual typical of his clan he was when he first arrived.  Like Dillon, he’s lonely – the moment when he discovers just how truly alone he is is quite heart-breaking – but together they fit, their relationship growing stronger and deeper as the story develops.

The mystery surrounding Dillon’s grandfather is very well done, and there’s a suitably dramatic, high-stakes finale that really shows what Dillon and Lang have come to mean to one another.  Uncommon Ground is a little gem of a book; the author squeezes some large concepts – loneliness, love, loss, identity – into a small page-count, but does it so skilfully that nothing feels out of place.  The novel can be read as a standalone – it ends with a solid HFN – but the story is continued in the soon-to-be-released sequel, Purple Haze, and I’m really looking forward to spending some more time with Dillon, Lang and the world Ms. Jensen has created.

TBR Challenge: To See the Sun by Kelly Jensen

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Survival is hard enough in the outer colonies — what chance does love have?

Life can be harsh and lonely in the outer colonies, but miner-turned-farmer Abraham Bauer is living his dream, cultivating crops that will one day turn the unforgiving world of Alkirak into paradise. He wants more, though. A companion — someone quiet like him. Someone to share his days, his bed, and his heart.

Gael Sonnen has never seen the sky, let alone the sun. He’s spent his whole life locked in the undercity beneath Zhemosen, running from one desperate situation to another. For a chance to get out, he’ll do just about anything — even travel to the far end of the galaxy as a mail-order husband. But no plan of Gael’s has ever gone smoothly, and his new start on Alkirak is no exception. Things go wrong from the moment he steps off the shuttle.

Although Gael arrives with unexpected complications, Abraham is prepared to make their relationship work—until Gael’s past catches up with them, threatening Abraham’s livelihood, the freedom Gael gave everything for, and the love neither man ever hoped to find.

Rating: B+

The last few times the “Something Different” prompt has come up in the TBR Challenge, I’ve found myself picking up a Science Fiction romance.  I don’t know why I don’t read many of them – I like the genre in TV and film – and I’ve enjoyed the few I’ve read, so this prompt is always a good opportunity to read another one!  I chose Kelly Jensen’s To See the Sun for a couple of reasons; firstly, I really enjoyed her recent This Time Forever series, a trilogy of novels in which a group of men in their late forties finally find their happy ever afters and was keen to read something else of hers, and secondly, my fellow reviewer Maria Rose put the book in her Best of 2018 list, so that was a strong recommendation. Plus, it’s a variation on the mail-order-bride trope, and I haven’t read many of those, so that also worked for this particular prompt.

To See the Sun is set on the remote colony of Alkirak, a terraformed planet on which humans carve out their homes from the rock in the crevasses which provide shelter from the largely inhospitable surface. Ex-miner Abraham Bauer is stretched pretty thin keeping everything going on his small farm, but least he’s working for something that’s his rather than risking his neck day in, day out in the mines.  It’s also a lonely life, and Bram longs to find someone to share his life and maybe even build a family with, but that seems almost impossible.  Finding someone to have sex with isn’t difficult, but Bram wants more than that, he wants connection and affection, maybe even love – and that’s much harder to come by.  When he hears about companies that arrange things called companion contracts, he doesn’t hold out much hope – after all, there are millions of people just like him out there, and who on earth would want to come and spend their life on a remote outpost with an unstable atmosphere for what little Bram has to offer? – but he signs up anyway… and on logging on to the site one evening is captivated by the video of a beautiful young man whose shy, considered manner and obvious sweetness strike a chord deep within Bram that is more than simple lust.  He dares to hope that he might just have found what he’s been searching for.

Gael Sonnen ekes out an existence on Zhemozen, a beautiful planet at the opposite end of the galaxy that’s a paradise – if you’ve got money.  But Gael and the millions like him who are poor, live hand-to-mouth in the crowded, squalid undercity, a place with “dark streets, bitter air, and water that tasted like sweat.”  When he falls foul of a powerful criminal family, Gael’s only option is to run – and the farther away the better.  With no money, it seems his only option will be life as an indentured servant, until a friend suggests another possibility.  Good-looking as he is, Gael will have no trouble getting a companion contract somewhere far away from Zhemosen;  and a year’s contract as companion – or more – to a lonely farmer at the other end of the galaxy seems as good a way to escape as any.

Bram and Gael are decent, likeable characters, ordinary men who just want to make a quiet life with  someone with the same wants, needs and outlook.  Bram is in his late forties and used to being alone, which has probably made him a bit set in his ways;  while Gael is younger (twenty-nine) and has had a tough life, didn’t know either of his parents, and struggled to bring up his younger brother, who was neuroatypical and for whose death Gael blames himself.  He’s a good man and is determined that Bram won’t regret his decision to make the contract – although an unexpected event may have scuppered Gael’s chances before he can even get settled.

But he wants very much to help Bram and not to take advantage of his generosity. Gael is a natural caretaker, and I loved the small ways he starts to make a place for himself in Bram’s life, whether it’s cooking a meal, helping on the farm or just sitting quietly, listening to Bram talk or watching a video with him at the end of the day.  Their relationship is incredibly touching and really well developed as they learn about each other, work alongside one another and start to fall in love.

There are a few dramatic events along the way to keep things moving, (although the last act ‘black moment’ kind of comes out of nowhere and is resolved very quickly), but ultimately, this is a character driven, sweet story about things we can all identify with; wanting to make a personal connection with someone, or escape a hopeless situation, or make a family and being prepared to fight hard to keep it.

Ms. Jensen’s worldbuilding is superb.  She incorporates details about Alkirak and Zhemosen seamlessly into the narrative in such a way as to enable the reader to build clear pictures in the mind’s eye – of the dark, underground city on Zhemosen and of the austere, hostile surface of Alkirak, the acid mists, violent storms, and most of all, the dangerous but beautiful sun that so fascinates Gael and makes the clouds glow and colours the sky and the horizon.  The dangers of daily life in such a place are brilliantly contrasted with everyday things like eating a meal or watching TV, and the slow-burn romance between Bram and Gael is beautifully done.

To See the Sun may be set on a distant planet at some unspecified time in the future, but at its heart, it’s a story about two lonely people finding something in each other they’ve been missing and yearning for.  It’s sweet and gorgeously romantic and I enjoyed every bit of it.

In the Wreckage (Metahuman Files #1) by Hailey Turner (audiobook) – Narrated by Greg Boudreaux

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

A Marine with honor.

After surviving a horrific chemical attack that turned him into a metahuman, Captain Jamie Callahan got a second lease on life. For three years he’s been working for the Metahuman Defense Force and leading Alpha Team – all against the wishes of his family. The job requires his full dedication, so it’s no surprise Jamie doesn’t have time for a relationship. An enticing one-night stand with a gorgeous stranger is all it takes to show Jamie exactly what he’s been missing. When a mission to take down a terrorist cell brings that same stranger back into his world, Jamie’s life gets complicated.

A soldier with secrets.

Staff Sergeant Kyle Brannigan was only looking to relieve some stress after a long mission. He didn’t know the hot guy he picked up at a bar was the leader of the MDF’s top field team. When Kyle and his partner get seconded to Alpha Team to help fight a terrorist threat, he has to balance his desire for Jamie against his duty to keep his secrets safe. That gets harder and harder to do amidst regulations both are tempted to break.

Two men trying to survive.

Giving into passion could cost both their careers. Abiding by the rules will only result in heartache. An attack on MDF headquarters brings with it a choice Jamie and Kyle can’t escape – duty, or love?

Rating: Narration – A+ : Content – B

I know what you’re thinking. “Huh? A military-themed, dystopian sci-fi novel about humans with superpowers set 250 years in the future? That’s not Caz’s normal cup of tea is it?” Well… no. And yes. I like sci-fi in movies and on TV, although I don’t read (or listen to) much of it; but I picked up In the Wreckage mostly because I’m on a narrator glom – and because I’m on a bit of a m/m military romance/romantic suspense kick, so this sounded like a good fit.

Set around 250 years in the future, In the Wreckage is the first book in the Metahuman Files, and plunges listeners straight in to the thick of things, introducing the central characters and the concept of metahumans in the course of an action-packed battle scene. In this version of the future, a deadly chemical agent called Splice – which kills 95% of the people it infects – has led to the creation of a small number of metahumans (the other 5%), changing their DNA and giving them enhanced powers. When recon marine captain Jamie Callahan was exposed to it three years earlier, almost his entire unit was wiped out, leaving him one of only five survivors; and now he leads the Alpha Team of the MDF (Metahuman Defense Force), the deadliest, most badass (and most efficient) team on the force. The powers exhibited by metahumans are diverse; telepathy, telekinesis, pyrokinesis, precognition and teleportation to name just a few, but they’re random and it’s impossible to tell what powers someone will have until after infection. Jamie – whose enhanced power is incredible physical strength and endurance – chose to continue to serve after he became a metahuman, in spite of the disapproval of his wealthy and influential family. His father is a powerful senator with presidential ambitions who wants Jamie to quit the MDF and be part of his campaign, but Jamie isn’t interested. He is dedicated to serving his country and his team is his family – and he’s not going to abandon them.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.