Spirit of the Crow by M. Carolyn Steele


Spirit of the Crow by M. Carolyn Steele
Publisher: The Wild Rose Press
Genre: Action/Adventure, Historical
Length: Full Length (338 pgs)
Rating: 5 stars
Reviewed by Aloe

In 1836 John McGregor, a Scottish and Seminole half breed, kills a white man in Florida. The crime is worse when the man turns out to be an Army sergeant. Self-defense is no excuse. McGregor is angry––angry with God, the Maker and Taker of Breath, angry with the red man as well as the white. Among the Indians, this rage earns him the name, One-Who-Gives-No-Chance.

The hardened outcast hides among hundreds of Creek Indians being forcibly removed to Indian Territory. No-Chance ignores the human misery until a scream awakens a hidden memory. He risks exposure of his secret and intercedes for an injured woman in labor. The birth of the infant begins the redemption of John McGregor as he seeks to escape past demons and, despite the hardships, make a place for himself in Indian Territory.

John McGregor is half Scotch and half Seminole Indian. He looks mostly Indian but his blue eyes give him away. He got in a fight with a white man in Florida and killed him. It was self-defense but he’s a half breed and the white man was an Army sergeant. They’re after him. He joins Indians that are being taken to a different reservation and keeps his head down.

This book is factually accurate and covers a very painful time in the history of the US. The Indians were driven from the land they grew up in. They were promised goods and meat by the Army but it never came to be. Ms. Steele bases her story on the Indians themselves and while it’s a sad tale, it’s told well and makes you think of all their suffering.

Things start to go wrong when he notices a young pregnant woman who can barely walk. He tries to give her aid but when she falls, the soldiers are ready to whip her to get her to move again. He stops that and it takes the Indian Scout to save him from trouble. They leave the woman behind and assign John (No Chance) to get her up with the group later. Her husband remains behind also. The woman goes into labor, the men have no idea what to do, and while the baby lives, the mother dies. They bury her and join the Indians again.

Despite all the hardships and loss of hope, No Chance doesn’t give up. Trying to hide among the Indians is not so easy to do. They won’t give him away but they won’t stop the soldiers either.

The story reads well and keeps your interest. As you get into the spirit of the Indians, you can relate to their fear of the white man. No Chance has visits from his dead father. He needs his guidance. It’s all believable as you read it. No Chance ends up with a chance at the end of the book.

If you’re familiar with Indian history, this is a visit to the past with memorable characters. If you’re not, this story will be enlightening. Give it a try; it’s an excellent read.

Married for His Convenience by Eleanor Webster


Married for His Convenience by Eleanor Webster
Publisher: Harlequin
Genre: Historical
Length: Full Length (288 pgs)
Heat: Sweet
Rated: 4 stars
Reviewed by Snapdragon

A plain countess…

Tainted by illegitimacy, plain Sarah Martin has no illusions of a grand marriage. So when the Earl of Langford makes her a proposal that will take her one step closer to finding her half sister, she can’t refuse!

Sebastian’s dreams of romance died with his late wife’s affair, so now he needs a convenient wife to act as governess for his silent daughter. Yet Sarah continues to surprise and challenge him, and soon Sebastian can’t deny the joy his new bride could bring to his life—and into his bed!

France, in the time when the guillotine ruled…the reality seems a harsh world for the nobility, and for Earls like Sebastien Hastings. He’s caught in a terrible, but secret, predicament.

Sarah Martin’s life is more a matter of dreams and hopes than reality. She dreams of London, of fashion and, as she says herself, she is not ‘of hysterical disposition.’ She acts on what she believes, which can cause her to plop into the most unlikely of places. The earl finds himself telling her that he finds her peculiar…which seems to delight this odd gal! He certainly needs some help…and she certainly needs direction…but marriage?

Married for His Convenience (which seems like it should be entirely predictable, given the title) is entirely unpredictable and a delight to read, besides.

Clever conversations and unpredictable situations make this novel a bit of a standout and fun to read. The characters keep us reading: the earl is unexpectedly compassionate, and Miss Martin’s take on life is quite unexpected in every way. In fact her life and actions are not always entirely believable, but this is a small matter in what is largely a great read.

Descriptions, especially of the English countryside, are just-right; never overdone or intrusive: “His mount stopped at its summit and he found himself looking into a picturesque valley, interrupted by a silver stream threading through its base…” One can almost see the valley.

Intriguing yet heartfelt, Married for His Convenience is also quirky and fun. Do put it right on top of your reading list.

Arjun’s Pup by H. C. Brown


Arjun’s Pups by H. C. Brown
Publisher: Luminosity Publishing
Genre: Contemporary, Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Length: Short Story (82 pgs)
Other: M/M, Ménage, BDSM, Toys, Anal Play, M/M/M
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Mistletoe

Big Brother is watching every kinky move they make.

After Deon’s Artificial Intelligence module breaks down, Arjun must travel back to the future to collect the alloy he needs for the repair.

To gain access to a probe due to land on Amun 2 in the next few days, he must volunteer as a Dom in an experiment in multiple partner male-on-male sex run by the Klebs.

Arjun discovers the Klebs are using the “experiment” as an excuse to run a live feed BDSM porno channel around their world and gives them a performance they will never forget.

I was excited to see a second book in the STARMEN series from H. C. Brown. In Arjun’s Pups, the series continues with Arjun having to travel through time and space in order to save his good friend Deon, who’s in the first story. I quickly found myself immersed in Arjun’s story. He goes to a place that is using humans as cattle in their so called sexual experiments. The humans do not know and Arjun must make a choice to help them or let them remain unaware and hurting. As Arjun goes about his mission he meets two men that pull at him more than any others ever have and he cannot let them go. Will Arjun find a balance and be able to stop the aliens from experimenting on the humans and save Deon?

Arjun’s story moves along quickly and brings together three good men. Each character is strong on his own and when the three men work together there is no stopping them. Mason and Rhy are good matches for Arjun, both men add something different and special to their relationship. Rhy and Mason must also figure out just where they fit in with Arjun. Will they make the choice for love or go their separate ways? I enjoyed watching the three men find their way to a happy ending.

Their story is a nice mix of emotion and adventure. The author brings their world to life nicely. This was a nice peek at how these three men come to be together and I hope that we get to see more from them and this world in the future.

The Wicked Heir: The Spare Heirs by Elizabeth Michels


The Wicked Heir: The Spare Heirs by Elizabeth Michels
Publisher: Sourcebooks
Genre: Historical
Length: Full Length (457 pages)
Heat Level: Spicy
Rating: 4.5 stars
Reviewed by Camellia

When the love of Lady Isabelle Fairlyn’s life is betrothed to her twin sister, Isabelle vows to find a suitable replacement before the end of the season. He must be a talented dancer, have a keen fashion sense, and be perfectly dashing in every way.

Fallon St. James is the farthest thing from perfectly anything. As head of the secretive Spare Heirs Society, he must stick to the shadows…even as Isabelle’s friendship pulls him reluctantly into the light. But when Isabelle gets involved with the one man who could destroy Spares, Fallon must decide between protecting his life’s work―or risking everything to save the woman whose warm smile leaves him breathless.

Isabelle Fairlyn, so naïve and yet so eager to have a marriage founded on love, makes one want to reach out and steer her away from faulty judgments she makes about men. Her maturing as she learns the outside appearance does not really show the true nature of a man makes for page-turning reading. Her innate joy and innocence come alive on the pages.

Fallon St. James, all business as he works tirelessly to save the Spare Heirs Society, sees her as a mystical beauty, innocent, a wood nymph who makes him smile; something he rarely does. How the two of them become friends is a delight to read. How they become more than friends is even better.

How Elizabeth Michels weaves in back story and the villain Reginald Gapling is masterful. Gapling’s elusiveness and threat create an edginess to the plot and a sense of unease for the well-being of Isabelle. In her naiveté, she finds him charming.

Elizabeth Michels uses all the usual trappings of early nineteenth century life in England, but with twists and unique main characters. The spare heirs, so often the misfits, become guardians of the seamier side of London while making a living in a society that often leaves spare heirs in limbo with no trade and no inheritance..

The Wicked Heir, extremely well crafted, is captivating and powerful with an elaborate plotline and intriguing characters, plus the innocence and joy for life woven into it all makes it extra special.

Falling Star Valentine by E. D. Parr


Falling Star Valentine by E. D. Parr
Publisher: Evernight Publishing
Genre: Contemporary, Paranormal
Length: Short Story (48 pgs)
Other: M/M, Anal Play
Rating: 3.5 stars
Reviewed by Fern

Fashion photographer Dale Walker takes a train to his hometown, relocating there after nursing a broken heart for six months in another city. His train makes an unscheduled stop to take on a mysterious passenger.

For a long time, Valentine Steel has hoped to meet a man who will love him. When he sees Dale on the train, he’s overjoyed to find a vacant seat beside him.

Dale’s immediate attraction to Valentine has him on edge. He doesn’t want another broken heart, and yet Valentine is so magnetic that Dale’s frozen heart begins to thaw.

Valentine sets out to charm and capture Dale in his sparkling aura. He can’t let the chance to have Dale’s love slip away.

After a nasty break up, Dale is alone for Valentine’s day and has had enough. Determined to quit his moping and refusing to spend the lover’s holiday pining for his ex, Dale decides to leave the city. On the train, he meets a handsome stranger, Valentine Steel. Can these two men be exactly what the other needs?

This is an interesting short story to my mind. I was a little confused until right at the end about the mystery surrounding Valentine – his back-story is where the paranormal element comes into the plotline. Despite the fact most of the plot remains mysterious until the end of the story, I found it refreshingly unique – Valentine’s character and his “quest”. My confusion didn’t hurt my enjoyment of the story, though I would have liked to have understood the subtleties a little earlier on so I could enjoy the growing relationship between Dale and Valentine.

I felt the characters were well written. Dale is a fairly typical man and hero, unlucky in love and wanting to find his soul mate. Valentine, despite some of the mystery surrounding him was also interesting and I enjoyed reading about him trying to woo Dale and fall in love with each other. While there is plenty of steamy sex I didn’t find any aspect of the M/M relationship too envelope pushing. Readers who like a bit of spice with their romance should find this a fun and sexy read.

With a different plotline and two very interesting characters I found this to be a great read. While I would have liked the paranormal aspect of the plot to be a little less mysterious this is a fun and deliciously short read that has plenty of spice and romance.

The Bat by Leslie W P Garland


The Bat by Leslie W P Garland
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Suspense/Mystery, Horror, Paranormal, Historical
Length: Short Story (83 pages)
Rating: 5 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

With “fake news” hitting the headlines, I thought it would be nice to look at “truth” and muse on questions such as “what actually is true?” and “what is Truth?” using a fantasy story as a foil for same.

In this coming-of-age story Thomas recounts the events of a term at school when his class returned to a new beautiful class teacher, a donation of stuffed animals and birds by an eccentric benefactor which he and his friends subsequently discovered weren’t quite as dead as they looked, an exorcism in which a bell-jar which had contained a bat shattered, and then things, which up until then had been strange, turned to being sinister and frightening.

In an attempt to understand what was going on, Thomas found himself reading up on Black Magic, Satanism, the early Christian Church, and the worship of evil, but instead of assisting his understanding this made him more confused than ever. Even a conversation with his local priest failed to resolve the problems he found himself wrestling with. What was true? What was the Truth? And of course, where was the bat?

An adult fantasy story for those who like to think about what they are reading.

The difference between good and evil isn’t always as easy to figure out as one might think.

One of the many reasons why I’m such a huge fan of Mr. Garland’s work is that it requires some effort from the reader in order to be understood. He’s the sort of writer who will give his audience a few important clues and then expect them to come to their own conclusions about what happened based on how they chose to interpret those clues. This was the perfect kind of storyline for this writing style because of how slippery people’s memories can be. Two people can remember the same moment in time in completely different ways depending on what their minds were paying attention to back then.

The character development was handled beautifully, too. At times I forgot that the narrator was remembering things that happened to him and his community decades ago because of how caught up I was in what young Thomas was experiencing and how much those events affected the way he saw the world. While I don’t know if the author would ever be interested in write a sequel about this specific character in this series, I’d sure like to read it if he does.

There was nothing gory about the horror in this tale, but that didn’t make any less frightening. I appreciated the way the fear sneaked up on me as I was reading. It wasn’t something I noticed at first, but I was pretty scared by the final scene. There is definitely something to be said for being scared by the threat of something terrible happening almost as much as I was by what actually occurred. Anticipation was one of the narrator’s biggest weapons, and he used it well.

The final reason why I gave this book a perfect score is that it wrestled with so many intriguing questions about faith, morality, grief, and what it means to be a good person without spoon-feeding any answers to the audience. I deeply enjoy philosophical discussions about these kinds of topics, and Mr. Garland gave me a lot of food for thought. I will be thinking about the various points his characters made for a long time.

This is part of the “The Red Grouse” series, but it can be read on its own or out of order.

The Bat chilled me to my core. It’s a must-read for anyone who loves though-provoking and intelligent stories.

Scandalous Ever After by Theresa Romain


Scandalous Ever After by Theresa Romain
Publisher: Sourcebooks
Genre: Historical
Length: Full Length (326 pages)
Heat Level: Spicy
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Camellia

Does love really heal all wounds?

After being widowed by a steeplechase accident in Ireland, Lady Kate Whelan abandons the turf. But once her mourning is complete, her late husband’s debts drive her to seek help in Newmarket amidst the whirl of a race meet. There she encounters antiquities expert Evan Rhys, her late husband’s roguish friend―whom she hasn’t seen since the day of his lordship’s mysterious death.

Now that fate has reunited them, Evan seizes the chance to win over the woman he’s always loved. But once back within the old stone walls of Whelan House, long-held secrets come to light that shake up everything Kate thought she knew about her marriage. Now she wonders who she can trust with her heart―and Evan must decide between love and a truth that will separate him from all his heart desires.

Friends who long to be lovers, but fear crossing the line, Kate and Evan tiptoe around their feelings, but crave each other’s company.

The death of Kate’s husband, who was Evan’s best friend, leaves each of them with a heavy load; hers is a load of debts left by her unfaithful husband and Evan’s is a load of guilt. How they work through the conflicts makes attention-keeping reading.

When Nora and Declan, Kate’s children, enter the picture, with their views about life before and after their father’s death, the story gains depth. Their actions and words show so much about how children see, the often complicated, ways that adults handle things.

Kate and Evan are in the company of both their families as they find their way. The contrast in their families’ life styles and the way they see themselves reveals much about how Kate and Evan came to be the way they are – interesting reading. It is easy to see how the world has been gray to Evan most of his life.

The secondary characters, like Janet Ahearn and Mary O’Dowd, along with the back stories and how they figure into the things Kate and Evan must sort out dovetail together in intriguing ways. They even fit in with some of the underhanded ways of the antagonist, Finnian Driscoll.

I particularly enjoyed the dialogue with the nuance, humor, and understatement. The author has an amazing way of writing so the reader feels as if she is right there in the experience with the characters.

Abbey’s Tale by Katherine McDermott


Abbey’s Tale by Katherine McDermott
Publisher: The Wild Rose Press
Genre: Historical
Length: Full Length (202 pgs)
Heat Level: Sweet
Rating: 5 stars
Reviewed by Mistflower

An immigrant from Ireland, Jeremy McKetcheon took the place of a wealthy New Englander drafted into the Union Army during the Civil War. Jeremy, terribly scarred by a shell that set fire to his tent, is now a reclusive lighthouse keeper on an island off the coast of Maine. He is haunted by flashbacks of the war, and never expects to find love, understanding, or acceptance.

Beautiful but blind from birth, Abigail Morrison sees the world through the intricate carvings her father brings back from Lighthouse Island when he takes supplies there. She wonders about the artistic carver and why he hides from the world. But when the opportunity arises for her to visit the island, she and her father are tossed overboard in a raging storm. Having seen their distress from the lighthouse, Jeremy attempts a rescue in the frigid waters, and all their lives are changed forever.

Abbey’s Tale was a sweet, endearing love story between Jeremy and Abbey. Jeremy, whose face was scarred while fighting in the Civil War, and Abbey who was born blind, were given a chance at love. While together they learned about inner beauty. They both helped each other to overcome their insecurities. Jeremy felt his face was repulsive and would rather be a recluse. Abbey worried no one would fall in love with a blind woman because they’d think she was a burden. From the moment Jeremy and Abbey met their lives changed for the better. If you add an amazing dog named Bailey, meddling relatives, crashing ships, and a criminal who threatens, robs and lies, then you have a recipe for a 5 star book. Oh! Let’s not forget Jeremy’s Irish accent, it was completely irresistible.

In a world that is full of judgmental people it was nice to read how Jeremy and Abbey showed the community what true love is. The plot thread with the criminal added an interesting twist with a bit of suspense throughout the story. I’d like to point out the plot thread when Abbey’s aunt and uncle meddled in Jeremy and Abbey’s relationship. It was well intended meddling and as a parent I understood, but I understood how Abbey felt as a child. As a wife I understood how Jeremy felt. I was all emotionally mixed up but then realized that is what family is about. It all worked out for the good. It’s a perfect example and lesson of why the young should respect and listen to their elders.

This was a well written story that progressed nicely and held my interest from the beginning to the end. I’m glad I chose Abbey’s Tale to read by the pool on my weekend. It was a wonderful, heartwarming love story. There was so much more to this tale that you just have to read it for yourself.

It definitely was a quality read that I’d recommend to others, especially to a reading club because there are thought provoking discussion questions at the end. I could see this book being turned into a movie in the theaters with a young Mel Gibson playing the hero and Julia Roberts playing Abbey. I’d love to see the lighthouse scenery that Katherine McDermott described come to life. I do think this novel would make a beautiful historical romance movie. Abbey’s Tale is a must read!

Myth City by Anya Howard


Myth City: A Modern Retelling of The Pied Piper of Hamelin by Anya Howard
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (92 pages)
Other: M/F
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

A modern Dystopian retelling of The Pied Piper of Hamelin by Romance author Anya Howard.

After a nuclear battle, globalism has claimed power over every aspect of human life. A select group of survivors have been given refuge in the technological haven called the City. Here, every aspect of daily life is dictated by the laws of the governing Elders. One brave woman dares to risk the severest repercussions when an attractive stranger arrives from a place the Elders claim cannot possibly exist. When this man’s skills with a musical pipe are sought by the Elders, the dismal world they govern will be changed forever by the simple breaking of their word.

There’s more to life than following the rules.

The world building was handled well. I really enjoyed learning about the different roles that people could have in the City. It was such a strict society that I couldn’t stop wondering how folks managed to live in that kind of environment for a whole lifetime. The more I learned about it, the more curious I became about how it might change after Graham, the attractive stranger, came to visit. The odd way the City was set up became even more clear when I compared it to how Graham liked to live.

This story would have benefited from another round of editing. I noticed multiple typos in it, especially when it came to run-on sentences and the misuse of punctuation marks. There were also some sentences that didn’t make sense because they were either missing important words or had extra words added to them in ways that weren’t grammatically correct.

The chemistry between Apple and Graham was wonderful. I liked the fact that their relationship was given so much time to develop before anything sexual happened between them. It made a lot of sense due to the rigid culture Apple grew up in. By the time they decided to finally touch, I couldn’t wait to find out what would happen next or if they’d end up together for good.

Myth City: A Modern Retelling of The Pied Piper of Hamelin should be read by anyone who enjoys modern twists on classic fairy tales.

Hoedown Showdown by Misty Simon


Hoedown Showdown by Misty Simon
Publisher: Wild Rose Press
Genre: Action/Adventure, Contemporary, Suspense/Mystery
Length: Full Length (194 pgs)
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Aloe

With the Tasty Tomato Tournament just days away, the small town of Martha’s Point is all abuzz. This is the first year without a sure winner, and the competition is fierce to gain the judges’ approval, even before the tournament starts.

But when Ivy finds one of those judges dead in a shed across the street, things go from bad to worse. All she wanted was seven glorious, kid-free days of messing around with her husband. Instead, she’s going to be tracking down a killer, staying out of the way of a pickle-obsessed farmer, and dodging the new cop who seems out for her blood.

The Tasty Tomato Tournament is just a few days away and Ivy is very glad. Someone is destroying other contestant’s tomatoes and her husband has brought all his in the house in pots. He’s also brought in his gnomes. He says those make his tomatoes grow well. Maybe so, but they aren’t going to be in her house…

While she’s helping carry them back outside, her next door neighbor calls to her. She thinks she’s her husband and wants him to help her. When Ivy says he’s in the shower, she takes Ivy over to show her the problem. What she didn’t mention was that the problem was a dead body.

This is a cozy mystery that flows well, has plenty of action, romance between Ivy and her husband who are trying to vacation since their children are away for a week, cliques of town folk, tomato judges and more. The dead man was a tomato judge. It seems he got stung by wasps but there were no wasps around. He wasn’t all that stellar of a judge either. Then there’s the pickle man who’s handing out flyers and trying to get support for his festival.

With lots of suspects and bad behavior all around, you can’t guess who the killer is ahead of time. The rookie cop would like to blame in on Ivy and her husband. They spend a lot of time fending him off during their investigation. It makes for some amusing reading and a few laughs.

This was an overall good read and Ivy now has her own private investigator license. Life is going to get even more exciting in the future!