The Man in the Cellar by Palle Rosenkrantz

The Man in the Cellar by Palle Rosenkrantz
Publisher: Kazabo Publishing
Genre: Mystery/Suspense/Thriller, Romance, Paranormal, Historical
Rating: 5 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Holger Nielsen just wanted a quiet London vacation when he rented 48 Cranbourne Grove. But the rental agent forgot to mention he’d be sharing his new home with a very hungry cat and . . . the man in the cellar.

When Holger Nielsen stumbles on a murder, the obvious thing to do is report it to the authorities and get on with his life. But as the crime unravels, it isn’t clear whether it’s worse to be an accessory to murder or an accessory to justice. Scrupulously authentic, The Man in the Cellar is an insider’s tour of turn-of-the-century London and Denmark. But beware. Scandinavia hasn’t always been IKEA and Legos.

Introspection is required for this tale, and it will be richly rewarded.

I enjoyed the challenge of attempting to solve the murder alongside Holger’s efforts to do the same. The author did not make this an easy task, and there were plenty of clues along the way that were either not necessarily what they seemed to be at first glance or could be interpreted differently depending on how the reader wanted to understand them. As someone who has read quite a few books from this genre, I appreciated the mental challenge of it all. This was something that required paying close attention and using one’s deduction skills. That’s exactly the sort of mystery I love to read.

The character development was strong for the protagonists and supporting characters alike. This is not an easy task to accomplish by any means, but it makes for such a rewarding experience when it happens. Many of the people described in this tale were middle-aged or senior citizens, and it was interesting to see how the various generations communicated with each other as there were certain differences in what they considered appropriate behavior along the way. Not only that, but each individual had quirks or habits that made his or her reactions to specific scenes unique. Holger, for example, seemed to be a little wary of cats and eager to send them back to humans who knew what to do with such unpredictable little creatures as quickly as possible when I first met him. Learning about how everyone’s minds worked only made me more eager to keep reading.

This is one of those cases where a slower pacing works beautifully. There is definitely something to be said for getting to know the characters, clues, and settings well before moving on to the next scene. Including letters between characters, all of whom had their own special writing styles, was a smart way to encourage readers to pause and think about what they were reading and how much of it was new information versus a confirmation of things the characters may have already figured out.

The Man in the Cellar was an excellent example of the best the mystery genre has to offer.

Raven’s Song by Angela Knight

Raven’s Song by Angela Knight
Publisher: Changeling Press
Genre: Contemporary, Erotic Romance, Paranormal
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Fern

Raven Garland is a rock star with a voice that is literally magical. She’s also got a serious problem: she’s being stalked by her ex. Ewan Bradley’s magical abilities and powerful father make him a deadly threat, forcing her to hire a seductive bodyguard with powers of his own. Nate Carter can use his Primo magic to increase his physical strength to superhuman levels — and he needs every bit of that power to keep Raven alive. Besides her nasty ex, there’s the lethal costar with anger issues and a mystical link to a bulletproof tiger.

To make matters worse, Nate is slowly falling in love with his client. The passion seems mutual, but Raven’s love affairs have a notoriously short shelf life. For all his strength, Nate doesn’t think he can take becoming her latest fling. Raven wants her handsome bodyguard as far more than a temporary lover, but how can she convince him to trust her when he knows her magical voice can make him believe whatever she wants? Nate knows in real life, the good guy doesn’t always get the girl.

Raven Garland has a voice that is literally magical. Her only problem is she’s being stalked by her ex who is a powerful talent. And with a lethal co-start and other assorted problems on her plate Raven knows she can’t handle it all on her own. So Raven has hired a magical bodyguard – Nate Carter – and he will need every ounce of his superhuman skills to keep her safe. But Nate isn’t sure there’s anything he can do to protect his heart around the seductive rock star.

I found this to be an interesting paranormal story set in a creative magical alternate reality. While I haven’t previously read any of this authors books set in this world, I found it fairly easy to understand the various magical powers and follow along with the story-telling. Personally, I found I didn’t need to read anything else previously written in this universe – I thought the author did a good job of explaining everything – but I could understand if some readers needed a moment to follow along.

I was really impressed that this erotic romance had a solid and complicated plot. I enjoyed the fact that Raven and Nate didn’t simply give in to their feelings for each other immediately and jump into bed. I also appreciated this wasn’t a case of insta-lust, the two of them having worked together for a while before when the book starts. And while sure, there’s plenty of steamy sex and chemistry between the two main characters, I didn’t feel this detracted at all from the plot or the layers to the story itself. I thought the author did a really good job of balancing this book focusing equally on the growing romance, chemistry and plot. While I did feel the pace of the story was a little slow in sections overall, I thought the whole book moved along at a good clip and I definitely feel this should retain most readers attention throughout.

Readers looking for a different, interesting and magical world style of paranormal story should find this book really fits the bill. While there are other books set in this world this can easily be picked up by itself and this is an author, I’d certainly be happy to read more from. Recommended.

Midnight Ruin by Katee Robert

Midnight Ruin by Katee Robert
Publisher: Sourcebooks Casablanca
Genre: Erotic Romance, LGBTQ, Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Dicentra

Eurydice Dimitriou has always been the innocent sister, but she’s finally ready to step out of the long shadow cast by her powerful family…and the ex who shattered her heart. Perhaps rough hands on soft skin are exactly what she needs to forget her heartbreak once and for all?

Charon Ariti has been Hades’s right-hand man for years. He’s given everything to the lower city, but now he’s ready to take something for himself. He’s only too happy to give Eurydice a special kind of education…but is her heart really free enough to be claimed?

Orpheus Makos will do whatever it takes to make things right. Once the golden boy of the upper city, he’s now a shadow of his former self. He’ll do anything to get Eurydice back…even if it means she’s not coming into his arms alone. Three hearts. Three futures. Countless ways to get it wrong.

But with enemies slipping through Olympus’s faltering barrier to lay siege on the lower city, a trio of broken hearts will be the least of these would-be lovers’ worries…

Katee Robert’s next book in the Dark Olympus series, Midnight Ruin, was just as good as the previous installments. Focusing on Charon, Eurydice, and Orpheus in another very loose reimagining of the original Greek myths, the book takes place in the lower city (a.k.a. Hades’ domain) with the violence in Olympus coming to a fever pitch.

If you’ve been following along with the series, you’ll know that there are major forces at work trying to destabilize the city (and likely prepare it to be invaded). There is a major reveal in this book regarding who those forces are led by, and they make a major move to challenge the power players in the city (a.k.a. the Thirteen). I’m super excited to see where that goes, and how the eventual climax of the conflict plays out. The worldbuilding of each book in the series has been building off of each other; while the plots of each book are constructed such that one could theoretically read them out of order, I do recommend reading in order for the best experience (especially with the events that have been building since the third book in the series).

I really loved the growth and dynamics between our three main characters. Eurydice, unlike Helen/Ares, has been underestimated and babied her entire life. After Orpheus initially broke her heart with his actions, Charon was the one to help her put the pieces back together. However, neither Eurydice nor Orpheus were ready to give the other up as there were a lot of unresolved feelings there. It ends up becoming a polyamorous triangle where both men are in love with her (and eventually grow to love each other). As a reader, it was really enjoyable to see. And of course, as a reminder for those who may not have read a Katee Robert book before, I do want to warn you that the spiciness rating is very high and there are multiple explicit and intimate lovemaking scenes scattered throughout the book.

Overall, this was another excellent read that’s left me excited for more. After how this book ended, I can’t wait to read Ariadne and the Minotaur’s story in Dark Restraint when it comes out later this year. Audiobook narrators Alex Moorcock and Zara Hampton-Brown did an excellent job once again bringing multiple perspectives to life with the performances. If you love polyamorous love triangles (like the previous one in the series in Wicked Beauty) or any romance influenced by Greek mythology, you’ll enjoy this book.

CONTENT WARNINGS: Violence, Murder, Blood, Guns, Pregnancy (not the heroine/main character), Abortion (not the heroine/main character)

Because of You by Fiona Brands

Because of You by Fiona Brands
Publisher: FriesenPress
Genre: Young Adult (14 – 18 y.o.), Sci-Fi/Fantasy, LGBTQ, Romance, Contemporary
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Liv and her best friends Travis and April have just started their last year of high school and things have gotten complicated—Liv has feelings for Travis, April is getting into trouble already, and Travis has a new girlfriend. But then Liv’s mom reveals a long-buried secret about Liv’s father, who took his own life when Liv was only two, and her life is turned totally upside down.

Reminded of unresolved trauma, Liv’s mom starts drinking heavily and Liv is haunted by the thought that her parents could have had good lives if they had never met. When Liv visits the antique shop of Travis’s grandpa, she discovers a grandfather clock they suspect can transport people back in time. As Liv’s life becomes increasingly chaotic, she’s forced to decide: will she travel back in time to stop her parents’ complicated relationship, or will she endure an uncertain future?

Whether platonic or romantic, love makes everything in life better.

I adored the close-knit friendships between Liv, Travis, and April. All three of them were kind and generous people who looked out for each other. Their banter made me smile, and I enjoyed seeing how they navigated their final year of school together as all three tried to figure out what the future might hold for them.

The pacing felt slow at times to me, especially in the first half of this novel. Based on the reference to time travel in the blurb, I was surprised to see so many chapters go by without a single mention of anything related to speculative fiction at all even though I later came to understand why the author made this choice. Some of the subplots also soaked up a lot of time in the beginning for reasons that I did not understand until much later or, in some cases, at all. The writing itself was nice, I simply felt that it could have been tightened up in the beginning so the characters could move on to the main conflict faster.

Most of the science fiction I read is harder and more definitive than this, so it was refreshing to see how lightly it was sprinkled into this tale. There were hints of it sprinkled here and there, but the majority of the scenes only contained moments that could happen in real life. This could be a good introduction to science fiction for readers who don’t generally read it because of that.

Because of You was heartwarming.

A Long Time Dead by J M Dalgliesh

A Long Time Dead by J M Dalgliesh
Publisher: Hamilton Press
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery/Suspense/Thriller
Rating: 3 stars
Reviewed by Fern

You can’t stay dead forever…
A group of high school students gather on the Isle of Skye’s remote Coral Beach for a hedonistic night of partying to celebrate the passing of their final exams. The new millennium is on the horizon and the future beckons, promising new hope and a fresh wind of optimism. In the coming days, many will leave the island for work or to study on the mainland, whereas others will remain on Skye and forge a more traditional path much as their families have done for centuries before them.

That is… all but one…

D.I. Duncan McAdam is dispatched home to the Misty Isle. A body has been found buried in a remote location on the Waternish peninsula. Well preserved in the peat, Isla Matheson – missing for the better part of two decades – is revealed to a shocked island community. A teenage runaway is dead… and no one is talking…

Joining a small team of detectives, Duncan is tasked with revisiting those who knew Isla, those who cared for her… and those with the potential to kill her… In a remote community well used to settling scores among themselves, will they trust one of their own when he asks questions or will they persevere with the façade of ignorance?

When the body of a teenage girl – one who was thought for many years to have simply run away – is found buried in a remote location on the Isle of Skye, DI Duncan McAdam is dispatched from Glasgow to help the police team uncover answers. Originally from the Isle of Skye, McAdam is expected to help ease things with the locals and to keep his head down. But in the remote community there are more than a few secrets being kept by the locals, and some of them are deadly.

I’ve greatly enjoyed other series written by this author and so was interested to pick up this book – the first in a new series. I found the location of upper Scotland to be very atmospheric and the characters to already appear layered and intriguing. There is clearly a lot of baggage and history with McAdam and his family – some of which was resolved in this book but some of which has obviously been left for more exploration in the coming few books. There also appears to be a lot going on with two of McAdam’s closest childhood friends and I expect that to unfold also in the coming few books.

The plot of this book was interesting and complex. While I did guess some of it accurately and around the middle of the story, some of the twists were things I hadn’t seem coming and I was pleasantly surprised. I thought this plot was a good combination of cliché and fresh outlook and while the pace was at times a little slow – for the first book in a police procedural story I felt it moved along well.

Readers who enjoy British style police procedural stories should find this an excellent book. As the first in the series there isn’t any baggage or hidden factors linking back to previous titles and there was enough “big picture” character arc clearly left for me to be eager to pick up the second book in the series.

Fillion by Sean Michael

Fillion by Sean Michael
Publisher: Self-published
Genre: Contemporary, Erotic Romance, LGBTQ, Holiday
Rating: 3 stars
Reviewed by Fern

Could the gift of a massage be exactly what Fillion needs to make this holiday his merriest ever?

Fillion Berry is a profitable bookshop owner, but his personal life is less successful. His Daddy left him on New Year’s last year and he’s been floundering. When his friend Chrissy discovers how bad things are getting, he enlists the help of his Daddy, Jerusalem, and together they cook up a plan to bring some holiday joy into Fillion’s life.

Spa owner Rome Aparny holds an auction every year to raise money for charity. When the highest bidder of a full-body massage gifts the item to Fillion with the note “for a lonely boy in need’, Rome thinks he knows exactly what that means and he arrives at Fillion’s store with his massage table, his oils, and the willingness to get to know Fillion better.

Could a little holiday magic turn Christian and Jerusalem’s matchmaking into a success? Find out in this Daddy Boys story.

Fillion owns a successful and prosperous bookshop, but his private life is quite the mess. After his Daddy and long-term partner left him on New Years the previous year, Fillion has struggled to recover from the loss. Fillion’s good friend, Christian, is blissfully happy with his own Daddy and relationship and when Fillion confides that he’s seriously unhappy and lonely, Christian is determined he and his Daddy should help. They purchase a private massage as a Christmas present for Fillion and quietly let the masseuse – Rome – know that he’s a boy looking for a Daddy, something that piques Rome’s interest immediately. Can this be a Christmas neither man will forget?

I found this to be a lovely and sweet short story. It’s part of a much larger series by multiple authors called “A Daddy for Christmas” but I thoroughly enjoyed this story, and I haven’t read any of the others in the series. I found it still stood by itself very well. I really felt a connection to Fillion’s character. Owning a prosperous bookshop means for the most part he’s really got his head screwed on straight and I really liked that. I also was pleased that Rome had noticed Fillion at previous gatherings, but just assumed he was in a relationship with someone. That previous connection helped the situation feel a little less like insta-love and while in a story this short they obviously moved very quickly I did find it still worked well for me.

Readers should be aware that this short story doesn’t have a complicated plot or a long, slow drop into the relationship. The two men recognize what they want from each other and while they do ease into the intimacy it’s exceedingly fast and there isn’t a whole lot of other plot revolving around them. For such a short story I can understand and even enjoy this – but I can certainly understand some readers might want a bit more complexity and plot to their stories.

Fun and sexy, this would be a good introduction to some readers on the Daddy/boy lifestyle and also a good quick taste for this particular author and their style/tone of writing.

If We Were Stars by Eule Grey

If We Were Stars by Eule Grey
Publisher: NineStar Press
Genre: Young Adult (14 – 18 y.o.), Sci-Fi/Fantasy, LGBTQ, Romance
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

The final countdown begins in three hours.

Blimey. The last thing Kurt wants is to wear a space helmet, and, no, they didn’t plan on saving the world either—Not before their eighteenth birthday anyway. Who’d have thought friending a lonely alien would lead to the Cape Canaveral launch pad.

Best friends since they were ten years old, Kurt O’Hara and Beast Harris tackle the typical teenage challenges together: pronouns, AWOL bodies, not to mention snogging. A long-distance relationship with an alien named Iuvenis is the least of their troubles.

Kurt loves programming, people-pleasing, and yellow dresses. Most of all, Kurt loves Beast.

Beast adores elephants, protest marches, and Kurt. Rules?—Nah. Humanity’s way down on Beast’s list of to-dos.

Beast and Kurt, Kurt and Beast. The end. Exactly how their love turns into a scene from Red Dwarf is anyone’s guess. Spaceships? NASA at the doorstep? No biggie. As long as they’re together, Kurt and Beast can survive anything.

Except, apparently, lift-off. Because nobody considered sensory issues, did they? Nope. NASA never made adjustments for neurodivergent astronauts. Unbelievable.

Will science be enough to blast Kurt and Beast—unlikely superheroes—into space to save the planet? Or will it take something much more extraordinary?

Neurodivergence is a gift.

Some of the most memorable scenes were the ones that explored how autism affected Kurt and Beast’s lives in both positive and negative ways. It was interesting to read along as Kurt described their childhoods and how they struck a balance between finding ways to fit in when necessary while also remaining true to themselves. This is something everyone needs to learn how to do, of course, but it can be more challenging for people who stick out from the crowd and don’t always have an intuitive understanding of which rules to follow and which ones can be broken.

I struggled with the transition to a new narrator at the end of this book. Kurt was someone I enjoyed getting to know better, and their replacement didn’t have much time to become well-rounded due to how quickly they were introduced before the storyline began to wrap up. It was also disappointing to lose touch with Kurt just as they were about to meet the aliens and arguably have the biggest adventure of their lives, especially since earlier scenes had hinted that something tragic was about to occur.

The romantic subplot was nicely written. It fit into the themes of this tale seamlessly and made me hope that both of the characters involved in it would live happily ever after as they truly seemed like a great match for one another. This was a good example of how to include romance in a science fiction adventure in ways that enhanced both the science fiction and the adventurous elements of the plot.

If We Were Stars was a creative take on what it might be like to meet aliens.

Echo Key Haven by Katie Prescott

Echo Key Haven by Katie Prescott
Dolphin Cove: Book 1
Publisher: Scott Street & Second Publishing
Genre: Women’s Fiction, Contemporary
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Chamomile

A heartbroken widow. A husband’s secret legacy.

Olivia and her friends must solve the mystery of what her husband didn’t tell her before he died.

Olivia Crawford had every intention of selling the old Barker place when she returned to Echo Key to see the falling-down old mansion her late husband bought. It was supposed to be where they would spend their sunset years together, fulfilling his dream of becoming an innkeeper. Instead, it’s a reminder of the nightmare that stole her beloved, leaving her alone.

Well, not alone. She has her best friend, Jen, and her dear aunt, Coretta, with whom they spent so many summers in Echo Key as children.

No one is more surprised than Olivia when Jen, whose own heart is hurting after a nasty divorce, convinces her to fix it up and run the inn together. It’s a crazy plan, and Olivia doesn’t do crazy. Her partner in life was the dreamer.

Olivia just hopes that keeping his dream alive will be the best way for her to live without him. And maybe find new happiness in the Florida haven that is Echo Key.

When tragedy strikes Olivia must make some difficult decisions. When the time comes will she be able to make the right choice?

This was an entertaining read, and I found the characters in this one to be amusing. Gus, Deke, and Coretta we’re especially fun to read about! I enjoyed the concept of a large mansion being renovated into a bed and breakfast and found the descriptions of the rooms to be humorous as the ladies walked through the house.

There was also a bit of mystery to the house itself, which was touched in in this one but seemed to be part of the larger overall plot of the series. There was also a bit of mystery on a smaller scale where the growing crime in the neighborhood was causing some conical conversations from some of the senior ladies in Echo Key. I enjoyed Coretta’s relationship with Olivia, as well as Olivia’s friendship with Jen. They made for an interesting dynamic and kept the story interesting.

Overall, the story was a bit slower and not quite as deep as I normally read but was fun as a quick weekend or vacation read. Even though it starts a bit slow, it does offer a good beginning to what is likely to be an enjoyable series.

Identity by Nora Roberts

Identity by Nora Roberts
Publisher: Paitkus
Genre: Contemporary, Romance, Mystery/Suspense/Thriller
Rating: 3 stars
Reviewed by Fern

Former Army brat Morgan Albright has finally planted roots in a friendly neighborhood near Baltimore. Her friend and roommate Nina helps her make the mortgage payments, as does Morgan’s job as a bartender. But after she and Nina host their first dinner party—attended by Luke, the flirtatious IT guy who’d been chatting her up at the bar—her carefully built world is shattered. The back door glass is broken, cash and jewelry are missing, her car is gone, and Nina lies dead on the floor.

Soon, a horrific truth emerges: It was Morgan who let the monster in. “Luke” is actually a cold-hearted con artist named Gavin who targets a particular type of woman, steals her assets and identity, and then commits his ultimate goal: murder.

What the FBI tells Morgan is beyond chilling. Nina wasn’t his type. Morgan is. Nina was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. And Morgan’s nightmare is just beginning. Soon she has no choice but to flee to her mother’s home in Vermont. While she struggles to build something new, she meets another man, Miles Jameson. He isn’t flashy or flirtatious, and his family business has deep roots in town. But Gavin is still out there hunting new victims, and he hasn’t forgotten the one who got away.

After growing up as an army brat – never having roots to put down – Morgan Albright is thrilled when she finally purchases her first home. Working two jobs and sharing the house with her best friend, Morgan is determined to finally have what she’s never experienced – a secure, permanent home. Only one night her entire world collapses and in the devastation afterwards everything is taken from her. Can Morgan rebuild her life once more?

I really enjoyed this stand alone novel, finding it everything that I love about a Nora Roberts story. I am very hit and miss with Roberts’ work – some of her books I love and others just really miss the mark for me. I was really pleased this one was wonderful to my mind. I felt a good connection to Morgan and her characters, finding her modern and relatable but also a good blend of strength and vulnerability. I also heartily sympathized with her having to start over again from scratch after her identity was stolen so brutally.

I found this very much to be a romantic suspense style of story. While the plot moved along at what I thought was a good clip it was quite different to usual action based books or more straight mystery/suspense styles of books. There was a lot of character growth and focus on Morgan’s character and her journey. There was also a really nice – and far slower pace – between the building attraction between Morgan and Miles. I found the slower pace here realistic – Morgan was deeply grieving and suffering when she arrived in Vermont and there was no way I’d find her falling in lust or letting her guard down at all believable. This slower pace also helped sell the book to me as more of a romantic suspense – rather than a straight romance or erotic book. There was plenty of mystery and suspense related to the murderer and I know Roberts is a legend at this balance and making these kinds of books sing.

I find it hard to believe many readers won’t have read anything of Roberts’ in the past – but if you’re that elusive one in a million then this would definitely be one of her better books to give a first try to. I found the pace and characters to be gripping and the plotline to be modern but not over-sold and having been told in a million other similar books. A good story and one I know I will likely reread again in the future.

Broken Hearts by Robert L J Borg

Broken Hearts by Robert L J Borg
Publisher: Luminosity Publishing LLC
Genre: Romance, Paranormal, Contemporary, Historical
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Is a cemetery the perfect setting for love to be found? Maybe. When Damian meets Elspeth at one, he’s certain she is his long-awaited soulmate. . ., but he’s been wrong before!

Damian Marshall had always believed himself to be a bit of a ladies’ man. He loved nothing more than dating women and enjoying their company, always hoping he would meet the love of his life. However, it never seemed to be. His love affairs would be short-lived, and two which seemed successful ended in divorce, where every time the broken hearts were always his own.

Just when he thinks there is no more hope in finding that perfect woman, he meets Elspeth, in the most unlikely of locations: a cemetery.

It is she who approaches him and strikes up a conversation. She coaxes out his life story, and he is willing to recount it all. By the end of it, they find themselves drawn to each other. Has Damian finally met his true soul mate or is it just wishful thinking? Only time will tell.

Relationships aren’t easy for everyone.

Some of the most interesting scenes to me were the ones that explored how society changed over the decades. For example, earlier in Damian’s life it was quite difficult for him to let people know that plans had changed if an accident or weather event prevented him from making it to the meeting point on time. This slowly became less common as cell phones made it possible for him to call others directly in an emergency instead of finding a pay phone and leaving messages at places he thought they might also try to check in at. It’s no wonder to me that cell phones and the Internet were such revolutionary tools, and I enjoyed finding all of the other examples of progress as well.

I struggled with the large cast of characters in this book. Women entered and exited Damian’s life so regularly that I often couldn’t remember who was who. While I’m pretty sure this was done to illustrate his personality and character defects, it also made the storyline hard to follow at times because of how many different people were involved and how little time they each had to make an impression on me. This was the only thing holding me back from choosing a higher rating, and I hope to read more from Mr. Borg soon.

The romance was unique and kept my interest levels high. I’ve never seen anything quite like it in the romance genre before, so let me tip my cap to the author for coming up with something fresh. While I did figure out the twist in it early on, it was still a great deal of fun to see how Damian reacted to it once he also knew what was happening.

Broken Hearts was a breath of fresh air.