Hearts Akilter
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Pages: 83
Goes Well With: Space rations and a shot of whiskey (though you might want to stick with coffee if you’re going back to work after lunch)

Anyone who’s read her share of chick lit can tell you that romance can happen anywhere: on vacation, at the local coffee shop, at work...or, as in author Catherine E. McLean’s short sci-fi romance Hearts Akilter, on a space station during a bomb crisis.

When technician Marlee’s good friend, Henry, comes to her in a panic, convinced that he’s having a heart attack, she’s skeptical. After all, he’s a robot; he doesn’t have a heart. But his fears persuade her to investigate, and when she opens him up, she discovers that someone has placed a bomb inside him. Marlee has no experience with bombs, and she doesn’t want anyone to know that she’s found it, so she’s forced to go to bomb expert Deacon Black for help. But it soon becomes clear that Deacon is the target of an assassin—someone who obviously doesn’t want him dismantling bombs—and he and Marlee must work together to keep the space station (and themselves) safe.

Hearts Akilter combines light science-fiction with a touch of romance for an easy-going and imaginative short read. Even if you typically shy away from science-fiction, you’ll be able to follow the story—because it’s far more accessible than most. While McLean does invent a few outer space creatures and futuristic slang words, she doesn’t spend too much time focusing on the mechanical details of the space station’s gadgets. Instead, she focuses on the light mystery and suspense, as Marlee and Deacon race to dismantle the bomb and stop the bomber.

As is often the case with short novels, though, none of the aspects of the story are really strong. The story never feels fully developed, and the conclusion seems a bit too simple. In fact, it takes just a matter of minutes for Marlee to make an educated guess about the bomber’s identity. At the same time, while it’s refreshing to see a romance that doesn’t force an instant connection between the main characters, it takes so long for Deacon and Marlee to acknowledge their feelings that their budding romance ends up feeling rather awkward and unconvincing in the end.

Still, despite the story’s shortcomings, the outer space setting and the likable characters (especially loyal but anxious Henry) make Hearts Akilter a fun sci-fi twist on the same old romance. So if you’re in the mood for a different kind of chick lit, you might want to add this one to your lunch break reading list.

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