Cranberry Blood by Elizabeth Morgan

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Cranberry Blood by Elizabeth Morgan
Blood Series-Book One
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Contemporary, Paranormal
Length: Full Length (184 pgs)
Heat Level: Sensual
Rating: 3.5 stars
Reviewed by Poinsettia

Killing Vampires? Easy.
Tracking someone? Simple.
Helping, and protecting a Vampire slayer . . . . Bloody hard work!

Thirteen years ago, Brendan Daniels made a deal with a psychic. In exchange for information on the whereabouts of a Rogue Werewolf, he promised to help and protect Sofia’s granddaughter. Unfortunately, he had no idea what he was letting himself, or his Pack, in for.

Nothing about Heather is simple, from her weird dietary needs to her life’s mission. The girl can handle herself, but the promise to protect her soon becomes a need, and one he can’t fully understand.

Vampire Slayer.
Born Infected.
Addicted to blood . . . but not by choice.

Heather Ryan is the current Slayer in a long family line. Like all before her, she has spent her life searching for her ancestor, Marko Pavel, the Vampire her family has sworn to kill. If that isn’t complicated enough, she is also a born “Infected”, and to keep her from becoming insane or giving in to her darker side, she is on a very strict diet.

Now that her Grandmother Sofia has passed, it is up to Heather to take the family legacy into her own hands. Or at least, it would have been…if her Grandmother hadn’t sent a Werewolf to help her.

What is the irritating Brendan supposed to help her with? Sofia never told either of them. Luckily, it doesn’t take long for Heather and Brendan to find out that the Vampires have big plans, and that the Leeches have waited a long time for them both.

Can a vampire slayer and a werewolf ever get along?

Heather and Ryan know almost nothing about each other. Their only connection is Sofia, and since they both trust Sofia, they grudgingly accept the fact they’ll be working together temporarily. Neither of them is exactly happy about the arrangement. As I read, I was definitely intrigued by their situation. What event in Heather’s future could be so horrible that Sofia had to set a plan in place so many years in advance? It doesn’t take long for Heather and Brendan to get into serious trouble. Once Heather learns the vampires’ terrifying agenda, she’ll sacrifice anything to stop them. This book does contain some graphic violence. Readers sensitive to this content are forewarned.

Heather and Ryan are certainly a reluctant team. I completely understand their hesitance to trust each other at first. After all, they are strangers thrust together for a purpose they know nothing about. Both are very strong personalities, so they are bound to clash. At first, I found their bickering and arguing entertaining. However, I must admit that it got old after a while. Heather and Brendan help each other out of some horrifying situations. Each time I would think they had finally reached a point in their relationship where they will stop fighting and each time I was disappointed. I found this a bit frustrating because by the end of the book, it was clear that they did care about each other. Also, a romantic moment between them caught me completely off guard. While I could tell that they were slowly beginning to trust each other, I never sensed any real chemistry between them. To me, their bond seemed to be one of friendship rather than romance. Consequently, the romantic moment between them felt forced.

Despite this issue, I must say that Cranberry Blood is a well paced book full of danger and action. Ms. Morgan has clearly put a lot of time and thought into the world she has created. I found her version of werewolves and vampires interesting, and each twist in the tale kept me reading.

Overall, Cranberry Blood is a good book. The plot is a real nail-biter sure to keep readers on the edge of their seats. I recommend this book to anyone who enjoys a fast paced paranormal filled with action.

Cursed by Chemistry by Kacey Mark

Cursed by Chemistry by Kacey Mark
Publisher: The Wild Rose Press
Genre: Paranormal, Contemporary
Length: Full Length (260 pages)
Other: M/F
Rating: 4.5 stars
Reviewed by Honeysuckle

With her wedding date set and her fiancé eager to rehearse their wedding night, Shauna Tamson is on a search and destroy mission. All she’s ever wanted is to be a wife and mother. All she’s got is a scorching-hot gift that leaves potential lovers a little on the crispy side. And then there’s that rapidly depleting reproductive issue. She’s desperate for a cure, and there’s only one man who can fix her. But facing that stone wall of sex appeal would give a whole new meaning to explosive chemistry.

Cursed for an ancestor’s mistake, magical Apothecary, Adrian Sands has been living a solitary life to avoid extending the curse to another generation. Well, there was that one temptation. But he’d ended up saving his mall-frolicking princess from date rape by casting a potion that left her with a chemical chastity belt. Turns out, it was a blessing in disguise. It deterred her most dangerous predator. Him. Now his hottest infatuation is back, more alluring than ever, and demanding a cure that could damn them both.

Either way, Shauna’s biological clock isn’t the only thing set to go off.

Chemistry was never this sexy in college!

He’s her only hope and she’s his one regret. Could the curse that binds them also be the cure that saves them? Love is more powerful than even they realize.

My favorite kinds of stories are those that start off with a little (or a lot) of sexual tension. I want to be just as breathless as the heroine is when she sees the hero and I want him knocked a little off balance when he sees her. This is that kind of story.

It wasn’t all intensity and drama, though. There was a nice sprinkling of humor throughout that kept it from being all dark and broody. The secondary characters had a lot to do with that. The Oracles’ personality is laid out straight (pardon the pun) upfront and I had my suspicions about Shauna’s roommate, Kimmy. And the Squid, there was something about him that made my eyes squint.

Fated mates is usually something I read in shifter stories. No shifters here but I still had to love the idea that these two had been together even before they were technically together. Childhood friends first, star-crossed lovers redefined, these two were on a collision course with destiny and that explosion was guaranteed to be epic.

This one is a wild ride with some interesting if not totally unexpected turns. A fast paced story that had me on tenterhooks for how it would be resolved. I had no doubt it would all work out for an HEA but getting there would not be painless for either Adrian or Shauna.

This was an fantastically crafted story. I ate up the pages and went looking for information on possible future stories. If it happens, it would be an auto-buy for this reader.

By Invitation Only by Allie Quinn

By Invitation Only by Allie Quinn
Publisher: Loose ID
Genre: Contemporary
Length: Short Story (111 pages)
Other: M/F, mild BDSM, voyeurism, exhibitionism
Rating: 3.5 stars
Reviewed by Honeysuckle

When Alex accepts an invitation to the Midnight Castle sex club, she is promised pure pleasure. A mysterious, masked lover by the name of Raven makes good on that promise, showing her she belongs in the world of kinky sex with ropes and blindfolds. Night after night, he introduces her to more pleasure. Not only does he make her come with his wonderful hands, he manages to reach in and grasp her heart. He teaches her she can let go of her inhibitions and let her desires guide her.

By day a lost puppy dog with a stutter, James works digging up information for Alex at her law firm. At night, he’s Raven, and he’s terrified Alex will reject him when she learns his true identity. When a threat from Alex’s past comes knocking at her door, James has to reveal his true identity in order to save the woman who holds his heart.

He invited her for a night of pleasure but if he had his way it would be the first night of forever.

A mask provides not only an opportunity to become someone else but it’s a shot of courage to take a chance at someone who might otherwise seem unattainable.

Alexandria is a lawyer. In the courtroom, she’s in charge and takes on a lot of stress to see that justice is served. Outside the courtroom, she wants to let go. Really let go. The coveted invitation to Midnight Castle from an admirer couldn’t have come at a better time. There were several things that I picked up on right away that made this scenario a little more realistic. First off, she had some history with a “kinky” sex partner so, she wasn’t accepting the invite with no clue as to what she wanted or expected. Secondly, she didn’t just sign the contract without asking a question or two. With her being a lawyer, that wouldn’t have been true to character.

The story moves back and forth in the first person POV. It wasn’t quite as smooth a transition at times as it could have been but it wasn’t a show stopper, either. The premise was interesting enough that I really wanted to see if they had more than sexual chemistry after the masks came off.

There wasn’t any doubt that they fit well together in the club and since I knew going in exactly who “Raven” was it was also oddly sweet, if kinky sex in a sex club can be called sweet. It was also hot. The author does a really nice job of putting this reader right into the room and up close to all the action going on, lots and lots of interesting action.

While the sex is good, I was happy to notice that there was more to this short story. More to the characters. Alex has a history that’s brought up, most often in her own comparison with her present, but it was James’ back story and scars that rounded this story out to a satisfying conclusion. They both sought peace with their pasts and ultimately found that and more.

Something else that had me curious was to see if James would intentionally reveal himself or accidentally give himself away at the office. There were so many possibilities and directions that the author could have taken it. I won’t say which scenario is correct but the way it works out didn’t disappoint.

Ms. Quinn packed a lot of story into this novella. Almost too much it seemed at times but it was still overall truly enjoyable. I will definitely be searching out other books by this author and readers who enjoy some intrigue and a healthy dose of heat, should give this one a try as well.

May by Alicia Stone

May by Alicia Stone
Publisher: Rogue Phoenix Press
Genre: Contemporary
Length: Short Story (73 pgs)
Heat Level: Spicy
Rating: 3 stars
Reviewed by Fern

Marielle, single, restless and thirty-something is looking for a man. Can love compete with Fate? The problem is the man she desperately wants and needs is not interested in her. He was once, but ten years ago she threw away their chance of happiness. Together again, Marielle and Peter discover how they have both changed and how much they have in common. Their attraction for each other is intensified, but can their love be rekindled? Can they risk everything for love? Affairs of the heart prove to be no match for the darker powers of Fate as Marielle’s very survival hangs in the balance.

Marielle is taking a rare day off work. Giving herself a treat, she goes to London to visit a gallery and enjoy herself. While waiting for coffee she bumped into Peter – her ex from university and the man with whom she’d left her much younger, more innocent self’s heart. Can they really pick up where they so bitterly left off? Could they both get a second chance?

This is an interesting, sweet style of story. While I was a little surprised at how quickly Peter and Marielle became intimate once more, the author did an excellent job of reminding me, the reader, that Peter and Marielle were far from strangers. I found the lovemaking scenes tasteful and spicy. I think they were detailed enough to make a reader blush but not explicit enough to be a turn off. Most of the story revolved around Peter and Marielle as they try to find common ground after parting as young adults on bad terms. A part of me found much of the plot clichéd – their unwillingness to communicate and the repercussions of their time together – but I have to admit it added a good amount of conflict and tension between them. While I might have wished Peter and Marielle particularly had acted more maturely, it was interesting watching them take the usual “two steps forward one step back” that a rocky, difficult relationship so often shows.

This is a lovely, emotional story I feel will resonate with many readers. Marielle and Peter love each other deeply but have a number of obstacles to overcome first. While there are miscommunications and difficulties, these tensions only serve to make their happiness even more joyful. While sensually spicy I think the love scenes are tastefully and carefully written to still appeal to most readers and can be thoroughly enjoyed. A heart-warming story I can see myself reading again.

The Convenient Cowboy by Heidi Hormel

The Convenient Cowboy by Heidi Hormel
Publisher: Harlequin
Genre: Contemporary
Length: Full Length (159 pgs)
Heat Level: Spicy
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Xeranthemum

What a cowgirl’s gotta do…

A wedding of convenience isn’t exactly cowgirl Olympia James’s dream—she wants the rodeo, not a husband. But marrying Arizona lawyer Spencer MacCormack will make a lot of other dreams come true. Spence needs a stable home to win custody of his little boy, and with Spence’s help, Olympia can send her sister to school.

But while the marriage is supposed to be just on paper, their chemistry is volatile…and the night they spent together weeks ago leads to a surprise: Olympia is pregnant. Soon the ranch is home to a baby, Spence’s sweet cowboy son, and feelings Olympia and Spence can’t deny. This fake relationship is quickly getting all too real. Maybe it’s more than just business…

The joy of romance, the twists and turns of fate, and laughter at the most unexpected of times are all found in this really fun story by Ms. Hormel. The Convenient Cowboy is the kind of novel to read when you are looking for a plot with heart and characters that can make you smile. I certainly found myself laughing out loud during many parts of this book.

First, this is a character driven romance told from both Spence and Olympia’s point of view. I liked having both their sides revealed because a reader gets a better understanding of how challenging this romance is going to be. Spence wants his son full time and has come up with the perfect plan to get custody; Olympia needs to provide for her younger sister’s education, so both Spence and Olympia join forces in an arranged marriage to achieve their goals. There’s just one problem, the condom broke. And, true to life, the best-laid plans of mice and men oft go awry, so too with the main characters. I adored how Ms. Hormel shared with me her characters’ dreams, hopes and fears and how they came about realizing that everything they truly wanted in life was right in front of them. It’s the getting there that makes this book worth reading. It’s classic romance.

I don’t know if other readers will feel like I did in the first few chapters so I’ll share it just in case. At first, the conflict of Olympia’s internal struggles seem large enough to overshadow the book and I was so afraid that they were going to poison the romance and turn it into a whiny cliché. Let me assure readers that it gets so much better. Once Ms. Hormel gets the setup out of the way, and the players in place, the pace, interest, and entertainment picks up and never stops. The romance between two stubborn people with assumptions and expectations is not without its emotional drama, but once Spence’s young son comes on stage, a reader will get to enjoy a bit of madcap hilarity, like the scene with Petunia. I belly laughed at that part. The reason why I got the biggest kick out of that and other sections of the book, like when Spence kept getting bit by the horse, was because of the power of the words the author used to paint the action for me. It was effective, well done and the results are pure entertainment. It was apparent that this author knows how to craft laughter in literature.

The Convenient Cowboy is engaging, endearing and is simply a fun romance. When I find stories like this, it reminds me of the reason why I read romances in the first place. When people think happiness isn’t in the cards for them and they find it accidentally, it’s extra special and it reinforces that dreams really can come true; fact can mimic fiction. This was a great read and I easily recommend it.

The Biker’s Dom by Sean Michael

The Biker’s Dom by Sean Michael
Publisher: Pride Publishing
Genre: Contemporary
Length: Short Story (77 pgs)
Other: M/M, Anal Play
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Fern

Trig isn’t looking for something special when he comes to the Gay Riders’ Carnival this year, but it just might have come looking for him.

It’s Trig’s fourth year at the Gay Riders’ Carnival and this year he’s not sure if he’s looking for more than a few nights of camping, checking out the booths and listening to the music. He’s been dumped a lot in the last year and is looking more to lick his wounds and just relax.

It’s the first time at the Carnival for Tarzan and he doesn’t know exactly what to expect. When he lays eyes on Trig, though, he knows what he wants. Trig claims he’s not a bottom, but he’s tripping all of Tarzan’s instincts.

Can these two men find a middle ground, or will their attraction last only as long as the Carnival itself?

This was Trig’s fourth year at the “Gay Riders” carnival. He was pleased to be meeting friends there, but Trig couldn’t help but feel slightly down. He’d gone through a number of sub’s in the last year and it was starting to wear on Trig. When he met Tarzan, Trig’s breath was stolen away by the chemistry between them. They only had four days together, but Trig couldn’t help himself. And four days was more than enough to turn both their worlds upside down.

This is a steamy hot read. I loved Trig and Tarzan coming together. Both strong, bold men. Trig doesn’t bottom – but at each turn Tarzan gave him room and options, and Trig just couldn’t seem to help himself. I love a hot story of what happens when two alpha men come together and the intensity in this story was enough to set the pages on fire. While the backdrop of the Bikers carnival is there, the real story revolves completely around Trig and Tarzan – and their growing relationship.

The carnival itself – as well as Trig’s friends, Whip and Nicky – make this book technically a sequel to “The Biker’s Pup”, but I feel this book can easily be read on its own. The small amount of backstory needed is clearly and briefly included very well into the story and I’d have happily read this story without the previous one.

A steamy hot, explicit and delicious story – I can strongly recommend this tale for fans of Sean Michael and M/M readers who enjoy complicated characters and smoking hot erotic romance. I loved it.

The Empty Rooftop by Lily MacPherson

The Empty Rooftop by Lily MacPherson
Publisher: Less Than Three Press
Genre: Suspense/Mystery, Contemporary
Length: Full Length (157 pages)
Heat Level: Sensual
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Anya Jameson, FBI agent turned consultant, is working the most challenging case of her burgeoning career: a series of brutal murders in Cayce, North Carolina. The only thing linking the victims is that they all came from some of society’s most vulnerable groups of people and all were in search of new beginnings.

On a crowded New York street Anya stumbles into up and coming race car driver Tommi, who unexpectedly coaxes Anya out of years of solitude. But love and murder are not a good combination, and the investigation—or the killer—may tear the new lovers apart before they get the chance to build something together.

How would you catch a serial killer who knows how to cover his tracks?

I enjoyed seeing how much information the author was able to pack into the dialogue. Several of the hints about what was going on with the case were shared through conversations various characters had with one another. This fit in well with the fast pace of the storyline overall as it didn’t leave a great deal of time for mulling over what could be happening. There were so many other conflicts going on simultaneously that I completely understood why these sections were laid out this way.

Anya and Tommi were written so similarly that I had trouble telling them apart based on their personalities and speech patterns. While I definitely like it when two characters who are interested in each other share a lot in common, both women were alike in so many different ways that I wondered what they saw in each other. It would have been really helpful to have some examples of the ways in which they were different and how those differences could be complementary for this couple.

The string of grisly murders that the main character was trying to solve intrigued me. There weren’t a large number of clues about who the murderer was, but the ones that were provided were really juicy ones. I especially appreciated the fact that Anya was so skilled at picking out the ones she did. It was fascinating to see how she pieced certain ones together that I probably would have never thought to connect in that way. This part of the plot was nicely done.

Give The Empty Rooftop a try if you’re in the mood for a mystery that includes some romance.

Seduction in Session by Shayla Black and Lexi Blake

Seduction in Session by Shayla Black and Lexi Blake
The Perfect Gentlemen Book 2
Publisher: Berkley
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery/Suspense
Length: Full Length (400 pages)
Heat Level: Hot
Rating: 4.5 Stars
Reviewed by Honeysuckle

Privileged, wealthy, and wild: they are the Perfect Gentlemen of Creighton Academy. But the threat of a scandal has one of them employing his most deceptive—and seductive—talents…

Recruited into the CIA at a young age, Connor Sparks knows how dirty the world can be. Only when he’s with his friends can he find some peace. So when an anonymous journalist threatens one of the Perfect Gentlemen, Connor vows to take down the person behind the computer, by whatever means necessary—even if it means posing as his target’s bodyguard.

Publishing a tabloid revealing Washington’s most subversive scandals has earned Lara Anderson the ire of the political scene—and a slew of death threats. To keep herself from ending up a headline, Lara hires a bodyguard, a man as handsome as he is lethal.

When the bullets start to fly, Lara is surprised to find herself in Connor’s arms. But as they begin to unravel a mystery that just might bring down the White House, Lara is devastated when she discovers Connor’s true identity—and finds herself at the mercy of forces who will stop at nothing to advance their deadly agenda.

Trust. It’s so hard to win and just about the easiest thing to lose. Unless you naturally believe in the innate goodness in all people and then you simply want to make the world a better place. But how do you get the attention of those who have the power to affect the needed changes? You create a tabloid blog and start naming names.

This is the second book in The Perfect Gentlemen series. The mystery that began in Scandal Never Sleeps continues into Seduction in Session. There’s a complete story that starts and finishes within these 400 pages but I can’t imagine not wanting to understand where it began so, I’d suggest reading Scandal first.

Connor Sparks left an indelible mark on this reader at the end of book one and I needed to see him redeemed. Lexi Blake loves a tortured hero and Connor fits the bill nicely. His background story sprinkled in throughout this book and the little taste of his youth at the beginning all meld together to make him someone I wanted to see happy. But could this hard core, kill ’em if I can’t use ’em, never let them see you vulnerable, Agency man find happiness, more importantly peace, with a tree-hugging vegan? I had my doubts but I should know better by know.

Lara Armstrong wants to save the world one tree full of squirrels and one tasty cow at a time. She doesn’t find them tasty but Connor sure does and so does her fugly (Connor’s word) dog. I liked Lincoln, he may be a shivering mess but he brought some necessary comedic relief to what could have been a really dark story otherwise. I liked Lara, too and she does end up being exactly what Connor needed. He gravitated to her light and didn’t even realize it at first.

The book flows smoothly and easily sets up the next in the series, Big Easy Temptation. This mystery just keeps taking on new layers and new players. I started trying to make guesses but there’s no way to know the direction it’ll ultimately take. So many paths!

Readers who want a healthy dose of intrigue with their redeeming romance should run, don’t walk, to the nearest retailer and get in on this series. The heroines are the right mixture of tough but tender and the men are the perfect combination of protective and push-over (not that they’ll ever admit that but, the women know). Bottom line, well worth the read and another fantastic series from these brilliant story tellers.

The Naughty List by multiple authors

The Naughty List by multiple authors
Publisher: Red Moon Romance
Genre: Action/Adventure, Contemporary, Holiday, Paranormal
Length: Full Length (201 pgs)
Other: BDSM, M/F, Fetish
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Thistledown

Six holiday romances, from sexy to sweet, prove that love is better on the Naughty List.

A Christmas Maggie by Tiffany Reisz
All Daniel wanted for Christmas was to spoil his new girlfriend, Anya, make love under the tree, and ignore all his old heartaches. But the ghosts of Christmas past aren’t so easily forgotten especially when Maggie, his late wife, shows up to remind him why the past should stay in the past and why his Christmases-future could be the best of his life if he can finally let himself live and love in this Christmas present. (A Christmas Maggie is the final story in the Daniel trio [from the Original Sinners series] beginning with The Gift and followed by Daniel Part Two.)

Christmassy by Alexa Piper
When taotien Valerion and witchling Cora get together sparks fly. But on the way to visit Cora’s family for Christmas, they encounter a supernatural predator that will not only test their individual powers and abilities, but also their connection to one another.

My Midnight Cowboy by Pumpkin Spice
If chocolate is the way to a man’s heart, then pastry chef Lucy Baker has the recipe for success. But will her culinary skills melt the most hard-hearted bachelor in Wyoming? A chance encounter on a New Year’s Eve flight leaves two strangers to discover unbound pleasure and a hunger for sexual discovery.

In the Doghouse by Elizabeth Black
Nicky and Angela had just begun to add a little kink to their lives when, caught up in the influence of his dudebros he forgot their anniversary and broke Angela’s heart. Angela wants Nicky’s strong arms around her again, but first she wants him to fight for her. Can one night, a paddle and some restraints bridge the gap between them?

Winter’s Daughter by Doug Blakeslee
A child of the Fae—bound to winter and a promise given to her chosen mate. She must claim him before time runs out and all she loves in the world falls to ruin. A child of mortals—forgotten and discarded by the world, then torn from the most amazing woman he’s ever met. Trapped in the sort of fae-tale that rarely ends in happily ever after, are they strong enough to defy the odds and find love?

Stealing Time by Wendy Sparrow
As Father Time’s son, Zeit must sacrifice a mortal’s lifetime to the Fates each New Year’s Eve. Last year—inexplicably, really—he made an 11:59 substitution. The Fates are pissed and they’re after his mortal Hannah. With the year ending, he ought to figure out why he’d saved her—and why he keeps doing it. Following an unlucky year, Hannah needs a week’s holiday in a lodge to unwind. What she gets is near-death experiences and a sexy immortal who can’t avoid kissing her, but might have to kill her. After all, even Zeit can’t hold back time indefinitely.

This naughty list has something to please every reader.

Anthologies are sometimes a tough read when you have to consider each story, good or bad, into your overall rating for the collection.

Okay. So every writer has a voice and every voice will not be for everyone. That said, I found some of the stories in this anthology more polished than others. In A Christmas Maggie, Tiffany Reisz tells a tale very much to the tune of A Christmas Carol where a Dom learns to appreciate the sub in his life. The ghost of his now deceased wife shows him things that he isn’t prepared for but it is an awakening. The sexy scenes in this one curled my toes in typical Tiffany Reisz style and I couldn’t get enough. Awesome story with a couple of tear jerking moments.

Christmassy was harder to read. I felt like I couldn’t connect with any of the characters and was quickly annoyed by the feeling I had missed something. Like in the middle of a series when you just don’t know what the heck is going on. I stopped reading mid-way when I couldn’t find anything to keep me in the story.

My Midnight Cowboy was stunning and I think my favorite story from the anthology. Pumpkin Spice is a new author for me-partly because of the name. It put me off a bit. But no more. I’m hooked. Her style was absolutely electrifying and I am going to get every book she has. The sensual nature of her sex scenes, the buildup of emotion. Holy wow. Fan girl swoon. Loved it and want more. I hope this book gets released as a series because it would rock the house.

In the Doghouse was an odd story with twerking snowmen and a suddenly dominant next door neighbor. I have to admit it left me a little disjointed. When Nicky stops paying attention to his girl, she retaliates-but it just doesn’t seem believable. Her reaction was odd and even with the cool Domme scenes I could not get into this story.

Winter’s Daughter was another strange plotbunny. This one centers around a boy and a girl in a ski lodge. The girl is apparently a fairy from another dimension who is battling her sisters for the right to be happy. In this case it involves a random guy at a ski lodge, a key card (mysteriously she had one) and a lot of extracurricular activities. Nothing seemed to fit here. Not the sudden key card from a woman from another dimension to the back and forth between the characters. There was sex but it left me wanting more.

Stealing Time was a great story. It grabbed my attention at the start and didn’t let go. The sexy tension between the reaper and the girl he is supposed to kill put me on pins and needles. Excellent holiday story that would do well as a longer novel or series of novellas. Great premise and I couldn’t help but want to know more about what happens to these wonderful characters.

Overall, the anthology was a 4/5 for me due to the mixed quality of the stories. Such strong presences by Reisz, Spice and Sparrow made it worth the read and will no doubt have me coming back for more from these authors.
If you want a fun holiday mix, give these stories a try.

Flowers in a Dumpster by Mark Allan Gunnells

Flowers in a Dumpster by Mark Allan Gunnells
Publisher: Crystal Lake Publishing
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Horror, Paranormal, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (144 pages)
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

The world is full of beauty and mystery. In these 17 tales, Gunnells will take you on a journey through landscapes of light and darkness, rapture and agony, hope and fear.

A post-apocalyptic landscape where it is safer to forget who you once were… An unusual support group comprised of cities dying of a common illness… A porn star that has opened himself up to demonic forces… Two men battling each other to the death who discover they have much in common… A woman whose masochistic tendencies may be her boyfriend’s ruin… A writer whose new friendship proves a danger to his marriage and his sanity.

Let Gunnells guide you through these landscapes where magnificence and decay co-exist side by side. Come pick a bouquet from these Flowers in a Dumpster.

There’s something lurking around the corner. Do you hear it?

I don’t normally suggest skipping ahead in anthologies, but I have to make an exception for “Land of Plenty.” What intrigued me the most about the main character, Isabella, was how emotionally connected she was to her grandfather. They both lived in a small, peaceful community where everyone’s needs are always met. There was a dark secret lurking behind their quiet success, though, that made me shudder. I deeply enjoyed the process of slowly peeling back the layers of their society. This could have easily been a full-length novel because of how richly detailed the world building was, although it honestly did work beautifully as a short story.

There were a handful of stories that I thought could have used a little more polishing. The fact that this happened only a couple of times in the entire collection is impressive, though. I simply had some trouble figuring out what a couple of the tales were trying to communicate to the audience. “The Support Group” was one such example of this. The plot about how different cities reacted to a terrible parasite that couldn’t be cured by any known methods. The use of metaphors to show what was going on was excellent. I cringed and laughed my way through a lot of them, but the plot twists were revealed so quickly and briefly that I struggled to understand what they meant. I’m still not entirely sure that my interpretation of the hints was accurate. It would have been really helpful to have a few more clues about what was going on here as the parts I did figure out were fascinating.

In “The Locked Tower,” a writer named Alec becomes obsessed with seeing what is hidden in the top of the tower in one of the buildings at his alma mater. The more the people who work there try to convince him to stop asking about it, the deeper his desire to see the tower for himself grows. What I enjoyed the most about this character’s quest was how much foreshadowing was used to hint at what was going on. Such an intelligent character needed a good reason to ignore all of the signals he was receiving about the contents of that tower. The foreshadowing only seemed to make his curiosity grow stronger which was an interesting thing to witness as well.

Flowers in a Dumpster was the best book I’ve read from Crystal Lake Publishing so far! I’d strongly recommend it to anyone who enjoys modern horror.