Review: Studenstein

Reviewed by Jen

**WARNING: This review is intended for readers 18 and older. It contains coarse language and adult themes. If you think you may be offended, you might want to skip this one. **

After spending 15 minutes trying to find a tactful way to say this, I have given up. So I’m just going to come out with it: Reading about a woman screwing a guy in the ass with a strap-on dildo is not generally my cuppa tea. That being said, if it doesn’t bother you –or if it kind of floats your boat– “Studenstein” is actually a pretty entertaining novella.

Our heroine, Shani, is a reanimated corpse who was brought back to life to be a sex-slave.  She now works with others of her kind to free those still enslaved by the corporations who created them and programmed them for pleasure.  As the story begins, she is on a mission to rescue Royce, a sex-bot who doesn’t even realize he needs saving.  Once she spirits him away, she discovers that he experiences serious pain if he can’t have an orgasm every so often.  Unfortunately, he can’t feel his dick, so that really limits his options.

Shani is very wary of sex.  In fact, she hasn’t touched a man since she gained her freedom.  But she is willing to strap on the, er, strap-on… to give Royce the release he needs.  Frequently.  The end goal is to get him to her people, who can remove the devices that allowed his creators to control him.

The novella has pretty solid world building, especially considering its length.  Like I said, the female topping didn’t really push my hot buttons. But I did like the dynamic between Shani and Royce.  Shani is empathetic without being maudlin.  And despite some of the darker themes, there are definite moments of levity.  This was my favorite:

“She felt like a princess descending her throne. A zombie princess, getting ready to fuck a guy in the ass in the kingdom of a crappy motel room.”

That is pretty funny.

It turns out that this is actually the second installment in a series following the undead sex-bots. But this works easily as a stand-alone.  I’m kind of struggling to rate this one, but it was certainly fun to read.   4 stars.

*ARC provided by author for review

Click to purchase: Amazon
Studenstein
by Daisy Harris
Release Date: September 16, 2011
Publisher: Ellora’s Cave

Review: Survivors

Reviewed by Jen

This novella gives us a glimpse of life in the Box between the events of Aftertime and Rebirth.  It’s very short… less than 30 pages, but it manages to maintain the feel of the full length books.

The story begins with the arrival of a young boy and his grandmother to the Box.  The old woman is dying and the boy, Feo, has no one.  Cass and Smoke open their tent to him for the night, while Dor decides whether the child can stay.  At first Cass fantasizes a little that Feo will join her family with Smoke and little Ruthie.  But the boy latches on to one of the guards, making her realize that he needs things she can’t give him.

There’s not a lot to this, and you don’t need to read it for Rebirth to make sense.  Feo is present in that book, but the events of his arrival are given in clear enough language that you won’t miss anything. Still, I’m such a fan of this series, I wouldn’t skip any tidbit that Littlefield offers. 4 stars.

Survivors
by Sophie Littlefield
Release Date: July 1, 2011
Publisher: Luna Books

Review: Rebirth

Reviewed by Jen

It’s an exceptional author who can move you with the beauty of the emotions they evoke. It’s more obvious when it’s joy, hope or love that you’re talking about. But just as beautiful, in their own way, are the wrenching feelings Sophie Littlefield elicits in her dystopian Aftertime trilogy. In this second installment, we see grief, despair, and hopelessness. It’s heartbreaking, but you can’t look away. You don’t want to look away. You keep reading, refusing to relinquish the hope that after the darkness will come the dawn; after the misery, we’ll be rewarded with some kind of triumph.

Cass has created a makeshift home and family in the trading center known as the Box.  She has reunited with her daughter Ruthie and she has allowed herself to fall in love with Smoke. But the fragile happiness she has found is short-lived. When Smoke gets word that the Rebuilders have killed many of the refugees in the place where he once lived, he goes on a vengeance mission; one likely to lead to his death. And he doesn’t even say goodbye. Cass decides to leave the Box with its founder, Dor, as he goes in search of his daughter Sammi, who was taken by the raiding Rebuilders.

Cass is devastated by Smoke’s abandonment. She blames herself for allowing him access to her heart. She acts out, trying to harden herself. She makes reckless choices that you can see like a train wreck a mile away. And maybe that will alienate some readers. To me, it just made me see her as more broken. She is trying to rebuild the wall around herself that Smoke had penetrated, and somehow manages to drag Dor into her warped decisions in the process. The book follows Cass, Dor and Ruthie as they infiltrate the Rebuilder camp and learn more about the group’s nefarious plans.

I suppose from this review, you’d never know this book is about a post-apocalyptic world, overrun by zombies. That’s because, to me, that’s just a backdrop to watch the lives of these characters unfold. To watch Cass break and rebuild. To watch Ruthie heal and grow. To watch Dor unwittingly shed his cloak of solitude and allow Cass in. And, of course, to see the human condition when people are stripped of the trappings of modern life… from the screwed-up ideals of the Rebuilders to the bandits who accost unwary travelers… to the heartbroken mother who refuses to accept the fact that her son is dying. It’s absolutely mesmerizing. And hauntingly beautiful. Even more powerful than its predecessor.

5 stars.

*ARC Provided by NetGalley

Click to purchase: Amazon or The Book Depository
Rebirth
by Sophie Littlefield
Release Date: July 19, 2011
Publisher: Luna Books

Review: Cameo and the Highwayman

Reviewed by Jen

Cameo and the Highwayman picks up immediately following the events of Cameo the Assassin. And I wish I could say that things are looking up for our heroine, but the hits just keep on coming.  Cameo is on a mission to recapture her sister’s remains for her vampire master Haffef.  Opal and Kyrian are at her side.  But just one day after they arrive on the distant shores near the royal palace, Cameo encounters Edel, a vampire who also calls Haffef his master.

Edel thinks that he has escaped Haffef and forces Cameo to stay with him, as a companion.  To pacify her, he allows her a night with Opal.  Finally, the two of them have a chance to admit their growing feelings for one another and act on them. But their happiness is short-lived, as events rip Opal away from Cameo and she is prevented from coming to his aid.

This book seemed shorter than the one before it, more like a novella than a full-blown novel. And I was disappointed. Because I wanted more.  The tension, the action, the emotion… all kept building and building until it all exploded at the book’s conclusion.  I was surprised at the way things ended and frankly kind of pissed off that I couldn’t find out what happens next.  That’s right. We’ve got a cliffhanger here and it’s a doozy.  This sequel better than the original and you can be sure I intend to read Cameo and the Vampire when it comes out in the fall.  4 1/2 stars.

Cameo and the Highwayman
by Dawn McCullough-White
Release Date: January 11, 2011
Publisher: CreateSpace

Review: Cameo the Assassin

Reviewed by Jen

Cameo the Assassin is set in a past/alternative world that is both dark and bleak.   As the story begins, Cameo is clinging to life, after a brutal rape and attack.  But a vampire steps in and keeps her from succumbing. She survives, in a manner of speaking. She becomes the vampire’s thrall, half-living, half-undead.

Years later, she has become an assassin. In the course of a hit, her path crosses with two highwaymen who rob her carriage. She lets them escape, but tracks one down later to get her things back.   It’s those same highwaymen who become her next targets for assassination. She would have carried out that mission as well, if her boss hadn’t sent Gail with her as a partner.  She was a victim of Gail, herself, once. And the urge to kill him finally gets the better of her.  Now she is thrown together with Opal and Bel as they try to survive the next wave of assassins.

Opal confused me a little as a character. He is flamboyant and over the top. He wears lots of make-up and Cameo asks more than once if he and Bel are involved. Yet, he is also painted as a rake who charms the pants off of women and develops a thing for Cameo, himself.  I’m not entirely sure what to make of him, even now.  But I do know, that I found myself rooting for him and Cameo to reach out to each other throughout the course of the book.  So maybe all the make-up and purple brocade were just lagniappe.  Who knows?

Joining our strange trio is a teenage acolyte named Kyrian.  Cameo becomes his protector after his grandfather shows her a kindness.  There’s mystery surrounding the boy, not the least of which is why Cameo’s master can barely stand his presence.  And speaking of Cameo’s master… he is hardly a benevolent sire.  I’d kind of like to kill him myself.  Despite the fact that he saved Cameo from death, all those years ago, he doesn’t seem much better than the men who nearly killed her in the first place.

Overall, I did like the book. It features vampires and ghouls, but it didn’t feel like standard horror or Urban Fantasy fare.  Cameo isn’t your standard heroine, either.  Most supernatural heroines these days are snarky/sexy/tough/witty women who kick ass on the side of right. Cameo is haunted and broken and surprisingly sympathetic.  I get the impression that she kills because she doesn’t consider herself worthy of doing anything better.  The ragtag group that comes together in the book are likely the only friends she has ever had.  Which makes me ache for her to have just a little bit of happiness with them.

The ending of the book does wrap things up for the most part, but leaves several loose ends for the next installment, Cameo and the Highwayman.  4 stars.

*This book was provided by the author for review.

Click to purchase: Amazon
Cameo the Assassin
by Dawn McCullough-White
Release Date: July 16, 2009
Publisher: iUniverse

Review: Aftertime

Reviewed by Jen

Sophie Littlefield gives the Apocalypse a new twist with the world she has created in Aftertime.  The big event didn’t come with bombs or nuclear weapons. A biological agent destroyed most of the food supply on Earth, creating wide-spread famine.  In a last-ditch effort to feed the people, the government dispersed seeds for a special plant that would serve everyone’s nutritional needs.   Seeds for a second plant got mixed in… but it was flawed and turned anyone who ate it into zombies, called Beaters. As with traditional zombie mythology, they hunger for human flesh –and as they feed, they turn their victims into zombies too.

Cass was attacked, but unlike anyone else, she recovered.  When she came to her senses, she was miles away from the camp where she was living –and she was separated from her young daughter. The book follows her quest to reunite with little Ruthie.  On her way, she meets up with Smoke, who becomes a love interest of sorts.  There are two main roadblocks to a relationship. One, Cass’s fear that her saliva will infect him. And two, her warped past of promiscuity and addiction.

Littlefield’s world is stark and bleak.  It shows us a myriad of ways people could react to a cataclysmic event and few of them are pretty.  And if that doesn’t give you the heavy feel of a boulder on your chest, getting inside Cass’s head will certainly do it.  She is a woman filled equally with purpose and self-loathing.  It takes a long time to get to the bottom of the self-destructive nature of her old life, but when we get the answers, they are exactly what you’d expect.  What you might NOT expect, is her refusal to give up on Ruthie. And let me tell you, it’s a long and winding road to find her.

The story builds and builds to a huge crescendo, to end rather abruptly.  But I can forgive that, knowing the sequel, Rebirth, is coming this summer. I can only hope it will feature Cass & Smoke.  (His was a great character, and we barely scratched the surface.)

This was a really good book, which was constantly posing new questions as it answered old ones.  And it’s a great study of humanity’s greatest strengths and weaknesses all at once. 4 1/2 stars.

*ARC provided by NetGalley

Click to purchase: Amazon or The Book Depository
Aftertime
by Sophie Littlefield
Release Date: February 15, 2011
Publisher: Luna

Series Reading Order: Aftertime

This is the reading order for the Aftertime series by Sophie Littlefield:
*Denotes short story/novella

Review: Night Betrayed

Reviewed by Jen

Imagine living 78 years; surviving a near apocalypse; seeing your world fall prey to zombies; watching your twin age… all while remaining an attractive version of your 30 year-old self.  That’s what happened to Theo. He’s a computer genius, one of the leaders of the Resistance against those responsible for ravaging Earth. And while surrounded by friends, he’s still alone, isolated by what makes him different.

But things change when he meets Selena. She is a strong and special woman, who doesn’t look her 50 years of age. But she is very aware that she is (or rather, appears to be) much older than Theo.  He is delivered to her, nearly dead from a gunshot wound. But instead of leading him to the other side, as she has done for so many, she manages to bring him back to life.  Selena can see death coming and guide souls to the beyond, but what most people don’t know is that she also feels she needs to save the souls of the zombies now roaming the land… even at great risk to herself.

I wasn’t sure how I’d feel about an older heroine. Frankly, it’s unusual enough to have a female lead that’s my age, much less one only a few years younger than my mom. But for Theo, it makes sense. He’s 78 for crying out loud.  And Selena is a great fit for him. Their sex scenes are steamy… and we manage to continue with the series arc detailing the planet’s “Change” and the orgins of the zombie gangas.

There are some upsetting parts of the book that I didn’t see coming…  namely, an unexpected death, which made me cry. And the rape of a female character, which was (thankfully) wasn’t too graphically detailed, but disturbing all the same.

A solid installment, one I enjoyed more than I expected. Check out the earlier books in the Envy Chronicles if you haven’t already.  4 stars.

*ARC Provided by NetGalley

Review: Abandon the Night

Reviewed by Jen

The post-apocalyptic drama of the Envy Chronicles continues in this third installment, featuring Quent & Zoe.  Quent is on a mission to find his father, who was one of the men responsible for the near-destruction of the Earth.  Quent and four other men are living 50 years in the future.  They had been trapped in some AZ caves in 2010 when the “Change” happened and spent five decades in stasis. When they emerged from the caves, they had not aged at all, but each of the men had developed a special ability. Quent’s skill is pyschometry,  the ability to be able to see the history of an object by touching it.

Zoe is on a mission of her own: to kill the bounty hunter responsible for the death of her family –and to take down as many zombies as possible while she does it. She’s lived a solitary existence for 10 years, but Quent brings her humanity back to life.  The pair teams up as their goals converge. And while the physical part of their relationship sparked from the beginning, the emotional connection was the payoff in this book.

While their romance progresses, we learn more about what led to the “Change.” And we get a better look some of the peripheral characters… here’s hoping for an Ian/Remy story in the future.  Overall, I enjoyed this one… maybe not quite as much as Simon’s story, but definitely worth the read.

4 stars.

Review: Embrace the Night Eternal

Reviewed by Jen

What a difference one book can make! After lukewarm feelings for Beyond the Night, I wasn’t sure I wanted to read this book… especially since the lead character, Simon, didn’t really spark much interest for me. But I’m really glad I did. Unlike the first installment in the Envy Chronicles, I felt real emotion for the characters –a connection I just didn’t have the first time around.

The concept for the series: the world is 50 years past a near-apocalypse. Many of the survivors are living in what was once Las Vegas, NV, which is now called N-V or Envy.  Creeping around at night are killer zombies called gangas… and pulling their strings are the nefarious Strangers, people who were once human, now made immortal by implanting special crystals in their bodies.  It is likely they were behind the “Change” that sent the Earth into near ruin.  Five men from 2010 now find themselves in this new world. They had gone exploring in an AZ cave and went into a kind of stasis for 50 years, awaking only 6 months before the events of the story. They had not aged, but instead came out stronger, each with a unique ability.

Simon was a crime lord’s bodyguard in his old life.  But he sees the Change as a chance to become a new man.  He is attracted to Sage, a quiet computer whiz and member of the Resistance, trying to bring down the Strangers. But he thinks she is in a relationship with another man, so he refuses to pursue his feelings. Sage is something of an outcast in Envy, because she comes from a settlement that’s like a breeding camp. She and Simon end up teaming up to infiltrate her old town to learn more about one of the leaders of the Strangers. While they’re there, it gets harder and harder to fight their growing attraction.

I really liked Simon. He’s one of those men with a dark past and hopelessness about the future –but deep down he is a really good guy, worthy of love.  I loved watching him fall in love with Sage and each time they get closer to acting on their feelings, the story gets hotter and hotter.  This was a huge improvement over the last book and I’m sorry to see it end.  Here’s hoping the next book will be as good!

4 1/2 stars.