Gathering of Souls by D.F. Holland

HOUSE
Gathering of Souls by D.F. Holland
In the Tales from the Beaumont House story collection
Publisher: Self-published
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Horror, Paranormal, Historical
Length: Short Story (17 pages)
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

An interior decorator buys an antique painting with a heartbreaking, supernatural history that will turn her world upside down – as well as anyone else who takes possession of it.

Sometimes old objects carry terrifying secrets with them.

The premise caught my attention immediately. What I appreciated the most about it is that it left a great deal of information to the imagination while still letting readers know that we’re in for something deliciously scary. This was my first encounter with D.F. Holland’s work. Based on how much I enjoyed getting a few hints about the plot still be surprised by a few twists, I will be keeping my eye out for what this author comes up with next.

There was a good deal of telling instead of showing in the plot. This was especially noticeable when it came to Holly’s reactions to the painting as it began to give her glimpses of its awful past. It wasn’t easy for me as a reader to empathize with her responses to all of the weird things happening around her because they were written in such a detached manner. Had Holly been able to show her anxiety and fear more clearly, this tale would have very easily earned a much higher rating.

A chilling ending is essential for this kind of tale. While I came up with a good idea of how this one would end before Holly figured out what was happening, I was spooked by some of the grim details that were revealed along the way. They worked well with what I’d figured out about the characters and the atmosphere of the plot. This story definitely belongs in the horror genre!

Gathering of Souls is a smart choice for anyone who likes truly creepy paranormal books.

The Duke’s Disaster by Grace Burrowes

DUKES
The Duke’s Disaster by Grace Burrowes
Publisher: Sourcebooks Casablanca
Genre: Historical
Length: Full Length (384 pgs)
Heat Level: Spicy
Rating: 5 stars
Reviewed by Bluet

Noah Winters, Earl of Anselm, spent months sorting and courting the year’s crop of debutantes in search of an ideal bride. When the sweet, biddable young thing he selected accepts another’s proposal, Noah decides to court her companion instead.

Thea Collins, though, is anything but biddable. She has learned the hard way that men are not to be trusted, especially the handsome ones. When she reluctantly accepts, Noah rushes Thea to the altar before she can reveal her deepest secret. Can she finally move on from her past, or will it come back to haunt her?

Noah Winters, the Duke of Anselm, needs a wife. It’s time to fulfill his ducal duty and produce the required heir. Being the sensible gentleman that he is, he prepares a list of candidates, then culls the list down to one, and proceeds to court her.

After a few weeks, Noah learns that his potential bride is about to become engaged to a mere baron. Rather than being heartbroken, Noah is just annoyed at the time he’s wasted. Her companion, Araminthea (Thea) Collins should fill the bill nicely. She’s an earl’s daughter, sensible, attractive, and surely will jump at the chance to be a duchess. NOT!

Thea is content with her life as a paid companion. While she must give serious consideration to the duke’s proposal, she can’t see any great advantage in accepting. That is, until the duke agrees to let Thea’s younger sister live with them, and be launched into society. This proves too much of an inducement, so Thea accepts. But, still, there is something she needs to tell Noah before the marriage, a secret that he has to know. Fate seems to be plotting against her, and Thea can’t find an opportunity to talk to Noah alone. Before she knows it, she is married, and she’s facing her new husband on their wedding night. The circumstances that Thea wanted Noah to know about before the wedding are now revealed, and Noah feels betrayed. He makes the decision that they will have to wait for any sexual intimacy, and he will decide whether to put Thea aside or stay married.

I felt for Thea, as we learn later that she was truly a victim. She’s a kind person, who took her job seriously and didn’t bemoan her fate. I do think she should have insisted on finding a moment alone with Noah before their marriage, but can’t we all relate to putting off an uncomfortable situation? After the marriage, she did her best to be the kind of duchess Noah needed, while she waited to see what her fate would be. Noah describes himself as not a nice person, but I have to disagree. While he did make a few cutting remarks at first, he came around to treating Thea as his wife, giving her every courtesy. Soon, the two are growing closer, and coming to like each other very much. They begin touching each other, even sleeping together, but not sexually. Before the issue of the marriage is resolved, it turns out that Noah has a secret of his own, something major that he should have told Thea before the wedding. As Thea steps up, and takes this in stride, my admiration for her only grew.

Finally, they come together as husband and wife. Their amazing chemistry draws them closer together, not only in the bedroom, but in all facets of their life. As it looks like their happy ever after is assured, the past intrudes, and it hits close to home. Noah and Thea are going to have to be strong and remain united in facing new threats and past demons. Grace Burrowes excels in her character development, and her ability to turn the ordinary into something intimate and special. Sharing a cup of tea, or a meal becomes so much more. One scene in particular had the tears flowing. This book is warm, touching, emotional, sexy, and had me staying up reading into the wee hours. Most highly recommended

A Game of Greed and Deception by John Matthews

GREED
A Game of Greed and Deception by John Matthews
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Suspense/Mystery, Contemporary
Length: Full Length (186 pgs)
Rating: 3.5 stars
Reviewed by Orchid

She is young and beautiful, and recently married to a very wealthy middle-aged man who considers her to be the ultimate woman for him and holds her out as a model for his beloved 10-year-old daughter. They travel to a mountain hideaway to celebrate their first year together as a family when things begin to unravel. Her husband goes missing after a treacherous car accident, and the wife and daughter seem trapped and isolated, and stalked from both inside and outside the cabin.

What ensues is the story of a woman driven by her soulless greed and self entitlement, and a man who is wronged and apparently out to get revenge. This deadly game of cat and mouse will keep you on the edge of your seat. The macabre scenes include deadly traps and medieval torture devices, hidden doors, secret rooms, and an underground labyrinth of torture chambers. Add in the legend of a hoard of pure gold bars, and it becomes clear that someone has a much bigger plan in mind and will let nothing get in their way. But who? This is the story of a plot so devious that it is set up to fool the State police investigation. But can it fool you? Keep guessing until the final scene as to what is really going on and let your intuition guide you.

Greed is the main theme of this novel with violence and confusion to help it along its way.

From the first it is obvious the wife has married for money and to get everything she plans a murder. I read on eager to see if she succeeded in her aim, or her tricks were discovered before she could kill her husband.

Tammy, Stephen and Maria, Stephen’s ten year-old daughter, travel to a remote cabin in snow covered mountains where the husband disappears leaving Tammy to pretend she’s frantic with worry. She also has to convince Maria her only worry is Stephen has become lost in the snowstorm. Strange happenings convince her that Stephen is still alive and trying to frighten her, while Maria tries to discover where her father is.

The concept of this story is excellent, and intriguing for suspense and mystery buffs. Unfortunately my eagerness to read the book faded as the story jolted from one point of view to another creating confusion and interrupting the flow to a point where II therefore found it difficult to get involved in the storyline.

Gore, suspense and mystery are all present in this book, and with a polish it would be a very good book.

Becoming Alpha by Aileen Erin

ALPHA
Becoming Alpha by Aileen Erin
Publisher: Ink Monster, LLC
Genre: Action/Adventure, Contemporary, Paranormal
Length: Full Length (276 pgs)
Heat Level: Sweet
Rating: 5 stars
Reviewed by Xeranthemum

Tessa McCaide has a unique talent for getting into trouble. Then again, it isn’t easy for a girl with visions to ignore what she sees. Luckily Tessa and her family are leaving California and moving halfway across the country, giving her the perfect opportunity to leave her reputation as “Freaky Tessa” behind.

But Tessa doesn’t realize that kissing the wrong guy in her new Texas town could land her in far more trouble than she ever imagined. Like being forced to attend St. Ailbe’s Academy, a secret boarding school for werewolves.

Even if the wrong guy did accidentally turn her into one of “them” and doom her to attending the weirdest high school ever, Tessa can’t help her growing attraction to the mysterious Dastien Laurent.

When vampires attack St. Alibe’s and her visions pinpoint an enemy in their midst, Tessa realizes that boy drama and her newfound canine tendencies might just be the least of her problems.

Team Jacob, move on over. There’s a better werewolf in town, Dastien, and he’s an alpha with a capital A. Tessa is the heroine who makes a lot of sense and I enjoyed watching her come to grips with the new crazy that has become her life.

The best thing I liked about Tessa is her personality. She’s always been an outsider because of her gifts and she’s been shunned, bullied and ignored. There’s a saying, “that which doesn’t kills us, makes us stronger” and it’s appropriate for Tessa. I totally understood her character. When a kid has to deal with bullies, and survives, there can be a strength that is born, a maturity that is beyond their chronological age because they survived adversity. They end up being able to handle the trash that life throws at them much better than their peers who have had it easy or were the “popular” crowd. When things don’t go their way, prima donnas lose their cool but survivors, like Tessa, shine and can handle crisis much better. That’s how I saw the heroine. Her tough life prepared her for not only the wild adversity and craziness of the world she was thrust into, but in the middle of all that insane change, she found her stride, friends and her first boyfriend. Good things can and do happen, but for Tessa, well, there’s a huge price to pay. She’s not the only one who pays it either.

For the first book in the series, it does a wonderful job of setting the stage, introducing the main characters and antagonists and the emotional hoops Tessa is going to face. The story is told in first person point of view which usually bugs me. Not this time. It’s perfect for the story and the author never slipped once. I loved the author’s voice, Tessa’s attitude, and the descriptions throughout the story were spot on. Once the heroine got bit and all the weird stuff started happening – the revelations, the action, the twists and turns she has to navigate as she is introduced to a new school and new classmates, the snide and jealous girls and the snarky comments – I could not stop reading. It was like a compulsion; I had to turn the pages, keep reading, find out what happens next, and what happened after that. It’s a very busy, action filled book mixed with realistic dialogue, secrets, intrigue and tension from the simmering violence. And through it all, I liked Tessa’s character more and more.

Dastien, he’s a different matter. I liked him and the author’s description of him was yummy. But he sure came across as a waffle – he couldn’t make up his mind. Thank goodness the author had him explaining why he was that way. The reason made me like him all the more. I liked when he growled and when he calmed Tessa down. He has a lot of wonderful characteristics that appealed to me.

As for kissing, well, there certainly was some and it briefly got a bit steamy–they are wolves after all. But that was as far as it went. I’d call it sweet, but with a hint of hot sauce.

The small core group of friends that Tessa gathers around her throughout the course of the story were awesome and a great supporting cast I liked them all. As for the bad guys, if I wasn’t supposed to like them, the author made sure I didn’t – but there is a twist at the end. Another reason why I liked Tessa so much.

Becoming Alpha is awesome. It’s way better than the book with the sparkly vampire guy and this heroine is spunky, extremely likable and has a good head on her shoulders. What’s even better, this is a series with a couple more books already out and a brand new one coming out later this year. I’m going to be budgeting to buy all of them. And, if they all are written as good as this one? Wow, am I going to be in for a treat. I can’t wait!!!

The Cowboy’s Little Surprise by Barbara White Daille

SURPRISE
The Cowboy’s Little Surprise by Barbara White Daille
Publisher: Harlequin
Genre: Contemporary
Length: Full Length (218 pages)
Heat Level: Sweet
Rating: 3.5 stars
Reviewed by Camellia

THE LONG WAY HOME

A guy like Cole Slater is hard to forget. Tina Sanchez should know—for years since high school she’s tried to bury the pain of Cole’s cruel betrayal. But it’s impossible to ignore the man she sees reflected in her young son’s eyes now that Cole is back in her life—and about to meet the child he never knew he had.

Returning home to New Mexico, Cole is determined to put his playboy reputation to rest. Especially now that he knows there’s a little boy looking up to him. And seeing Tina again reignites all the feelings Cole ran from as a teen. Despite his fear that he can’t be the man Tina deserves, he’s determined to try. For his son’s sake—and his own.

Teenage actions and decisions follow fiddle-footed cowboy Cole Slater and homebody Tina Sanchez into adulthood.

Cole returns to Cowboy Creek in New Mexico, a place he’d run from. The back story of why he ran and why he was, as he put it, “such a jackass” in his teens certainly helps the reader see why Tina is skittish when it comes to trusting Cole.

Tina’s back story that connects her with her Abuela and Jedediah Garland, the owner of the Hitching Post Hotel, reaches right into and squeezes the reader’s heart. Tina’s self-esteem is fragile and she guards it well. The very presence of Cole, the love of her life, tries her resolve to the limit.

One of the best parts of the story is little Robbie and the way he sees the world. How he influences the actions of adults is delightful.

The secondary characters like Tina’s cousins Andi and Jane; Cole’s sister Layne and her little son Scott add facets to the story that augment the concept of coping and overcoming heartbreaks. Also, Tina’s Abuela and Jedediah, even though getting on in years, still guard secrets well and manipulate with expert skill, yet with a love that is undeniable.

The Cowboy’s Little Surprise entertains while it makes a strong statement about not letting the past control the future. Redemption and happiness can be realized.

Barbara White Daille’s smooth writing style eases the reader away from the mundane, then into the lives of the characters and a quagmire of emotions.

Bite at First Sight by Brooklyn Ann

BITE
Bite at First Sight by Brooklyn Ann
Publisher: Sourcebooks Casablanca
Genre: Historical, Paranormal
Length: Full Length (366 pgs)
Heat Level: Spicy
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Xeranthemum

When Rafael Villar, Lord Vampire of London, stumbles upon a woman in the cemetery, he believes he’s found a vampire hunter—not the beautiful, intelligent stranger she proves to be.

Cassandra Burton is enthralled by the scarred, disfigured vampire who took her prisoner. The aspiring physician was robbing graves to pursue her studies—and he might turn out to be her greatest subject yet. So they form a bargain: one kiss for every experiment. As their passion grows and Rafe begins to heal, only one question remains: can Cassandra see the man beyond the monster?

I’ve been waiting for Rafe’s story and I was not disappointed. This book was fun!

I liked Cassandra immensely. I enjoyed her determination, spunk and sass. I got a kick out of her refusal to be cowed and her fascination about vampires, once she’s accepted that they’re real, and everything else that may or may not come along from the knowing. If anything thwarted her, she didn’t let it block her for long. Her uniqueness is what drew me but her personality kept me. I can see why she drove Rafe, the hero, nuts.

In the previous books, Rafe was very gruff, standoffish, opinionated and a man of few words. I wasn’t sure how in the world Ms. Ann was going to present him as a believable hero, but she did it. He never let his disability slow him down but it did affect his emotions and how he approached things in his life, like his romantic entanglements. The author garnered sympathy and interest from me for her hero and it all worked out.

I think the only thing that rang a sour note in the book was Rafe’s cluelessness about the villain. It’s mentioned he was suspicious, but he was So observant and sneaky and effective in the preceding book. His strength of character seemed a bit diluted in this one. Then again, he wasn’t in love, or fighting falling in love, in the other story either. Perhaps that explains it?

This is the third book in the series and as is true for the second, it’s true for Bite at First Sight – this is a standalone read. It’s easy to enjoy even if this tale is being read out of sequence. The author kept the story focused on Rafe and Cassandra, so a reader shouldn’t get lost. Some references are made to other characters from past books but they don’t play any significant roles except token appearances after all is said and done. However, there is a very believable and solid hook presented in this novel that truly has me wondering. I’m thinking they’ll be a good match based on their first meeting but how is the author going to navigate the emotional landmines laid down in this book for the next? I can’t wait to find out.

I enjoyed it when Cassandra and Rafe finally do get to explore the physical sides of their natures. It was especially entertaining when the heroine figured out what the fuss was all about. Her enthusiasm is delightful and very much appreciated by the hero.

Of course, there is suspense and drama injected into the romance by a very twisted, jealous and unprincipled vampire. Just when I thought the villain was going to get away with his plot, the author pleased me with her course of action. I’m glad everything turned out okay for the doctors. The scenes were tremendously well written and kept me on the edge of my seat.

Bite at First Sight is a great addition to the series and is a story easy to recommend to other paranormal romance fans. This novel is fun, addictive and wickedly entertaining. I couldn’t ask for a better happy ever after for Cassandra and Rafe – it was perfect for their characters and positions in life – or unlife. Ms. Ann certainly has a fan in me.

Lillian on Life by Alison Jean Lester

 

LIFE
Lillian on Life by Alison Jean Lester
Publisher: John Murray
Genre: Mainstream Women’s Fiction
Length: Full Length (218 pages)
Heat Level: Sensual
Rating: 3.5 stars
Reviewed by Camellia

This is the story of Lillian, a single woman reflecting on her choices and imagining her future. Born in the Midwest in the 1930s; Lillian lives, loves, and works in Europe in the fifties and early sixties; she settles in New York and pursues the great love of her life in the sixties and seventies. Now it’s the early nineties, and she’s taking stock. Throughout her life, walking the unpaved road between traditional and modern choices for women, Lillian grapples with parental disappointment and societal expectations, wins and loses in love, and develops her own brand of wisdom. Lillian on Life lifts the skin off the beautiful, stylish product of an era to reveal the confused, hot-blooded woman underneath.

Lillian’s life was not the ordinary for a woman in the last half of the twentieth century and into the twenty-first century. Her observations, inner feelings, outer actions, indiscretions, and hard-won wisdom make compelling reading.

Lillian On Life is thought-provoking and best when read in short segments, with time between to think about what Lillian learned, and how she handled it in respect to what she wanted and what was expected of her. As a single woman making her way in the world from Missouri to Paris, London, and New York, she struggles with self-esteem issues, unresolved parental issues, and relationship issues.

She learns early that “male pride” is like an electric fence—not to be touched. Each man she has a relationship with reinforces this belief. As spinsterhood sets in, she makes peace with her place in the life of the man she is seeing—whether he is married or single.

Alison Jean Lester’s seemingly simple, understated writing style immerses the reader’s senses into the monotony of life, the glamour of life, the characters’ personal secrets, and the emotions or lack of emotions in relationships that may linger but never last.

The tangled webs woven in Lillian’s life and how she either lives with them or moves on reveals much about humanity and the defense mechanisms used to survive and find peace with decisions made, whether good or bad.

A memorable bit of wisdom offered in the book is: Speak for yourself. Don’t let anyone else speak for you, because they only see what you DO, not what you WANT TO DO.

Lillian On Life is unusual story and gives the reader pause for thought on how his or her own life is playing out.

High and Mighty by S.S. Skye

 

HIGH
High and Mighty by S.S. Skye
Publisher: Less Than Three Press
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Historical
Length: Short Story (69 pages)
Heat Level: Sweet, F/F
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Lynley has been stuck in a tower for over a month, and each day is worse than the one before. She doesn’t know why she’s there, or who’s responsible for it, but the very moment her feet touch the ground there is going to be hell to pay.

This genre would be much smaller and less well known if it wasn’t so full of damsels in distress. The question is, what happens to damsels who don’t see any possible way that they’ll ever be rescued?

Lynley’s self-sufficiency impressed me. There’s only so many ways to pass the time while being trapped in a tower that offers no chance of escape, but she seemed to have figured out all of the possibilities on her own. Seeing how she reacted to such an unusual situation made me an instant fan of hers. She was by far the most interesting character in the entire plot.

The plot spent a great deal of time jumping from one character’s perspective to another. While I enjoyed listening in on their private thoughts, including so many narrators made it hard for me to get to know any of them particularly well. It would have been helpful to limit this number to only one or two speakers given that this is a short story instead of something full-length.

I read the whole thing in one sitting. The strong pacing made it impossible for me to put it away until I’d learned why Lynley had been locked in the tower and who put her there. Figuring out the answers to these questions was a lot of fun, especially since the plot didn’t give away any hints about it in the beginning. In this case, that was a smart decision.

High and Mighty gave a modern twist to one of my favorite fairy tales. I’d recommend it to anyone who likes these kinds of retellings.

Rocky Point Road by Joseph Allen

 

ROAD
Rocky Point Road by Joseph Allen
Publisher: Rogue Phoenix Press
Genre: Suspense/Mystery, Contemporary
Length: Full Length (158 pages)
Heat Level: Sweet
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

When his ex-wife drowns in a hot tub in California, Denis Rosa sets out to bury her and sell the house. He confronts her philandering history and her fixation on young chicano boys, and is the victim of a vicious attempted murder without ever knowing why. The house on the cliffside on Rocky Point Road holds a ghost, a hidden treasure of some kind, and decades of memories for the Rosa family. When Detective Sue Mason is assigned to the case, her son and his soon-to-be husband and two dogs move into the house with Denis to protect him from further attacks. Is it drug-related? The wife was alcoholic and smoked grass, but nothing hard. Denis confronts his ghosts as he finds himself attracted to Sue. The key to the plot is found when Denis slides off the edge of the cliff.

Every death leaves behind unanswered questions and unfinished work, but some deaths have more of these than do others.

Denis’ character development was strong. His strengths and weaknesses were woven seamlessly into the plot. Seeing how they affected everything that was going on was interesting. I really enjoy stories that are so sensitive to how the main character reacts to what is happening to him or her. It makes reading them even more enjoyable than it might have been otherwise.

I would have liked to see more time spent developing the other characters in this book as well. While I wouldn’t expect everyone to be as three-dimensional as the protagonist, I did have some trouble figuring out their personalities. Their speaking styles tended to blend in together with one another. This was especially noticeable with Detective Sue Mason given how much time Denis spent going over the case with her. The background information I was given about her wasn’t quite enough for me to form a mental image of what she was like.

The question of what really happened to Denis’ wife wasn’t at all easy to answer. Many of the clues he uncovered could have been interpreted in more than one way, and some of them needed serious thought before I could interpret them at all. I appreciated needing to spend so much time on it as I have a strong preference for mysteries that require the reader to pay close attention to small details in order to solve it. One definitely needs to do that for this story.

Rocky Point Road is a good choice for anyone in the mood for a challenge.

Twink by HC Brown

TWINK
Twink by HC Brown
Publisher: Luminosity Publishing
Genre: Contemporary
Length: Short Story (29 pgs)
Other: M/M, Spanking, Anal Sex, Flogging, BDSM
Rating: 3.5 stars
Reviewed by Nymphaea

Raoul is the untouchable sub, the temptation few Doms get to taste. His pretty boy twink appearance and arrogance draws rock star Alec like a moth to the flame.

Master Alec loves a challenge and is determined to lure the haughty model into his dungeon and drive him to subspace.

For a few pages, this book really packs a punch!

I’d never read an HC Brown book up until I read Twink. I wish I hadn’t waited so long. Talk about a lot in a little space… This book delivered. The writing was sharp and I couldn’t put it down. Granted, the read took me less than an hour, but it was worth the time.

The characters are complex and have their secrets. I liked being able to peel them back little by little through the story. When they finally come together…there are sparks. Holy rock star, Batman. Alec, the gay rocker and dom, is just plain hot. He’s everything one might want in a dom. Then there’s Raoul. As much as he seemed like he might be irritating, he was my favorite character. Charming and sweet, while just a little shy, Raoul was just what Alec needed.

If you want scorch-the-reader hot, then this might be the book for you.