The Enchanted Swans by Christy Nicholas


The Enchanted Swans by Christy Nicholas
Publisher: Tirgearr Publshing
Genre: Historical, Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Length: Full Length (135 pages)
Rating: 3.5 stars
Reviewed by Orchid

In pre-Celtic Ireland, Fionnuala was a fae princess, born to a life of luxury. She knew her duty and loved her family. She missed her mother, who died in childbirth when Fionnuala was but ten years old. Still, she had hopes and dreams of love and a full life.

All her dreams were stolen from her, ripped away in a torrent of envy and magic.

Now she must care for her three brothers while learning to live under an evil curse. Will she find a way to break the spell, or would they remain swans, tethered to three places for nine hundred years?

A fantasy story which reminded me of The Six Swans of Grimms Fairy Tales. Set in Ireland many years ago around 460 BC and gradually wending its way to 450 AD, this is the tale of a princess and her three brothers who are turned into swans by their wicked stepmother. They all belong to the Faerie people who are gradually moving to the world below as humans take over the surface of the world.

This story was rather bland. There were no highlights to get the reader excited, no battles, nothing. Any events which could have grabbed the reader were told rather than shown. For instance the stepmother’s changing the children to swans could have been an exciting event. Instead they went to sleep and woke up as swans – lost opportunity here. There were too many explanations and not enough depth to the story. Also punctuation and tense need to be looked at.

I thought the actual premise of the story was good, though, and the historical parts of the story were very interesting.  If you like stories with a pretty princess and three handsome princes, a dash of magic, and history of many centuries, this may be a book for you.

D is for Dinosaur by Rhonda Parrish


D is for Dinosaur by Rhonda Parrish (editor)
Publisher: Poise and Pen Publishing
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Horror, Contemporary, Historical
Length: Full Length (373 pages)
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

For the fourth installment of Rhonda Parrish’s Alphabet Anthologies, contributors were challenged to write about dinosaurs. The resulting twenty-six stories contain widely different interpretations of the dinosaur theme and span the spectrum from literal to metaphoric.

Within these stories — set in alternative histories, far-flung futures and times just around the corner — dinosaurs whimper and waste away or roar and rage. People can be dinosaurs, as can ideas, fictions and flesh. Knitted dinosaurs share space with ghostly, genetically engineered and even narcotic ones.

Teenagers must embrace their inner dinosaurs in order to find peace and belonging, a dying woman duels a God in a far future city that echoes aspects of our past, an abused wife accompanies her husband on a hunt for an ancient power and finds more than she could ever have imagined and a girl with wonderful magical powers stumbles across the bones of a giant long-dead lizard. And so much more!

Everyone has a hidden side to themselves. Only time will tell if those unexplored parts of anyone’s personality, past, or future will be revealed.

In “B,” Brontë was a teenage girl who was bullied by classmates during the day and who had vivid dreams of being a raptor at night. When she decided to confront the meanest bully, these two worlds collided in unexpected ways. What I enjoyed the most about this tale was how much time the narrator spent planning her revenge. It made me eager to see what would happen next, and it also fit Brontë’s stubborn personality perfectly.

Once again, Ms. Parrish compiled a collection that I didn’t want to stop reading. Every single one of them had something that appealed to me, and there were very few missteps. “K” was one of the few stories that could have used more development. It was about two men named Gunnar and Brynjar who had recently survived a shipwreck and were trying to figure out how they might live on a deserted island. When one of them spotted another ship on the horizon, they had to decide if they’d rather signal for help or rough it alone. While I really enjoyed the premise, the ending was abrupt. I would have preferred to see more time spent on their dilemma before the twist was revealed. There was still so much material to explore before they made their choice.

“H” followed an ancient race that was capable of living both on land and in the sea. When their existence on one was threatened, they’d switch to fins or legs and live in the other one for a few millenia. This was one of my favourite selections because of how beautiful Ms. Engelhardt’s writing style was. She knew exactly how to capture a single moment and share it with her audience using every single sense a human is capable of perceiving. I didn’t want her storytelling to end, and I would love to read a sequel to this if she ever decides to write one.

I’d wholeheartedly recommend D is for Dinosaur to anyone who is a fan of any part of the modern science fiction or fantasy genres. There is something here for everyone!

Strange Medicine by Mike Russell


Strange Medicine by Mike Russell
Publisher: StrangeBooks Indiepress
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (144 pages)
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

We recommend the following prescription: Strange Medicine – weird and wonderful stories for all that ails you. Strange Medicine is a fantastic collection of extraordinary tales of transformation by UK weird-fiction author Mike Russell. If you love the strange, surreal and unusual or if you are just looking for something different, Strange Medicine is for you.

Not everything can be explained away easily.

In “Seventy-Two Bricks,” Geoffrey and Tiffany discovered that they’ve both been playing the same game with mysterious objects that randomly appear and disappear as they go through their normal daily routines. When Geoffrey failed to win one of his rounds, Tiffany came up with a plan to help both of them succeed the next time they were invited to play. The most interesting thing about these games to me was how seriously the characters took them. I was fascinated by their stubborn insistence that every single clue needed to be solved, especially since they knew so little about why the game started or what the purpose of it was.

Some of these stories would have benefited from more detailed explanations about what was happening in them. While I definitely do enjoy reading things that expect readers to come up with our own theories about what they might mean, I really struggled to understand some of the selections in this anthology because their narrators spent so little time showing me what was happening. “Mime” was one of the biggest examples of this. The main character in it was a mime who sneaked into a park that strictly forbade mimes from using it. As curious as I was to discover why a park would make such a bizarre rule, I had trouble following the protagonist’s moves as people began to notice she had broken it. Some of her actions didn’t make sense at all because there wasn’t enough backstory given about when and how it became a negative thing to be a mime.

The most interesting thing about “Brain” to me was that it began with a college professor named Eddie who was undergoing some medical testing for charity purposes. I was perplexed by how something as ordinary as as a CT scan could veer off into completely unexpected territory. The more I read about what happened to Eddie after his test results were interpreted, the more I wanted to know about what was really going on with him. The twist in the final scene only made me like this tale than I already did.

Anyone who appreciates the peculiar side of life should give Strange Medicine a try.

The Crow by Leslie W P Garland


The Crow by Leslie W P Garland
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Horror, Paranormal, Historical
Length: Short Story (71 pages)
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

The Crow: A sad, poignant story of misunderstanding, bitterness and blame.
“Vanity of vanities, saith the preacher; all is vanity.”

This story, which centres on our almost desperate desire to leave something to mark our lives upon this earth, is told as a history recounted by Dave, of the time when he, as a child, was taken by his mother to a hospice where he met a dying and embittered old Irish priest known as Mad Father Patrick, who told him about the school days and subsequent rise of a local councillor, Reginald Monday, and of his (Monday’s) involvement in the construction of a dam which flooded a valley. Father Patrick’s increasingly mad tale is told with a blend of biblical quotations, philosophical musings and wild fantasy, but how does it end and just why is he so bitter?

The difference between a hero and a villain isn’t always as clear cut as it might seem.

Small town politics can be extremely complicated. One of my favorite parts of this tale was how much effort the characters put into explaining why certain issues were so sensitive for the people who lived in the community where this all took place. It actually made me wonder for a moment if this was based on real events because of how true to life some of the scenes were. They genuinely felt like the kinds of grudges and quiet but stubborn conflicts that I’ve seen played out over many years in other rural places.

There were some pacing issues in the beginning. The narrator spent the first third of the story introducing everyone and explaining how they all knew each other. While I liked having so many details, it didn’t leave quite enough room for all of the exciting things that happened once Dave started to dig deeply into his conversation with Father Patrick. I would have liked to have more time to sort through the conflicting theories about Reginald’s life after they were revealed.

Once the introductions were finished and the pace picked up, though, I couldn’t wait to find out what happened next. Reginald’s involvement with the dam lead to a tragedy that the community talked about for many years afterwards. I was haunted by the various theories about what happened that day and whether or not he should have been blamed for the outcome. While I can’t say much else about this part of the plot without giving away spoilers, it was thought-provoking and it did help to ease my earlier frustration with not knowing what was going on.

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

The Crow should be read by anyone who is in the mood for a slow-burning book that pays off nicely in the end.

Death Benefits by Sharon Saracino


Death Benefits by Sharon Saracino
Max Logan Series Book 1
Publisher: The Wild Rose Press, Inc
Genre: Contemporary, Paranormal, Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Length: Full Length (205 pages)
Heat Level: Sweet
Rating: 5 stars
Reviewed by Orchid

Max Logan’s insecurities have consumed her to the point she has allowed them to skew her perceptions of people and circumstances. She has grown progressively more bitter, sarcastic, and solitary since her divorce and feels as though she has spent a lifetime getting the short end of the stick through no fault of her own; still she trudges on.

Things can always get better, right? Of course, it’s hard to cultivate optimism when she finds herself dead, the victim of a D.I.E (Death in Error) caused by an overeager Grim Reaper in Training. She brokers a deal to be sent back to Earth as a temporary substitute for the Superintendent of Spiritual Impediment.

Can a girl who can’t recognize her own problems rectify the issues of the living impaired? Or will she discover that concentrating on their issues gives her a new perspective on her own?

What do you do when you slip in the shower and wake up dead? This is what happened to Max Logan. She wakes up in the foyer of the afterlife – which looks like a dirty bus depot – and finds her life has been cut short by accident. What to do? Bargain for another chance at life.

This book is hilarious. Max feels extremely sorry for herself, divorced, unemployed and living above the garage of her father and stepmother and now she’s dead through no fault of her own. Her ex interferes with her second chance at life and her outlook changes to consider others, rather than herself. She has to temp for the supervisor of the afterlife and her challenges come thick and fast. She doesn’t even have time to get over her accident.

Max is a very innovative heroine and the book is definitely one that can’t be put down until it’s been read from beginning to end. I was chuckling all the way through. This makes it sound as if there’s no mystery or conflict in the story, but there’s plenty on each page.

To sum up the book has reflection, confusion and lots of humor with a very likeable heroine.

Shattering Glass by Conner Coyne


Shattering Glass by Conner Coyne
Publisher: Gothic Funk Press
Genre: Contemporary, Paranormal, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Suspense/Mystery
Length: Full Length (328 pgs)
Heat Level: Sensual
Rating: 4.5 stars
Reviewed by Stargazer

Just when the whole world has written off the city of Arkaic, Michigan, billionaire A. Olan puts up funds for a new university in an abandoned psychiatric hospital. There, strange engines turn human memories into electrical power. Join students Samo, Monty, Ezzie, and Dunya as they study, work, flirt, explore, and battle powers of ancient evil. Will they survive their first year of college?

Get ready for a mind-bending adventure!

Shattering Glass by Conner Coyne is one of the most unique reads that a person can read and still grasp the underlying story. The primary focus of the story is four students from various walks of life who begin their first undergraduate years at Arkaic University in the struggling town of Arkaic Michigan. The university is essentially a previously decommissioned asylum, which leads to some unique and fascinating descriptions of architecture that still haunt the school.

The author takes the point of view of the various students and a couple of secondary characters to tell the tale in depth. Fascinating and strange events begin even on the first day of registration and the students will often shrug off or accept these strange events. At first, I was almost put off by the blatant strangeness, but recalling my own undergraduate years, I can see how perception is often held to be determined by the person doing the viewing.

The lives and interactions of Samo (ironically whose name changes after his roommate decides that Samo is more relevant), Ezzie, Monty and Dunya are fun and adventurous-nearly as strange and unique as their own names. Their reactions to things that happen, their perseverance and the constant strange events lead to a fascinating take of the college world and college experiences. The dialogue is structured and strong and the descriptions of strange events makes the reader feel deeply entwined within the story itself.

I must admit, that midway through the story I felt lost and I struggled to find the core root of what was happening, and I feel that this was actually an intentional twist with the way the author interacts with the readers to pull them deeper into the plot. Almost like making it through mid-term the story then picks up in believability and straps the reader back in for another roller coaster ride.

As the story moves along, the reader grasps what is in essence, one of the most colorful and unique stories written, with events that seems so strange and complex, that they could never happen. Upon finishing the book, the author explains the rational for the layout, the various events and the inspiration for the story itself. Suddenly, the events and experiences that the four students have do not seem so obscure. Then, when one takes into consideration previous academic and undergraduate years-the entire story base seems nearly plausible.

If you want to take a break from everyday life and re-experience the first year jubilation, confusion and near insanity that a freshman at a four year university experiences, this is the book to bring those feelings to life!

Dragons of the Ice by C.L. Kraemer


Dragons of the Ice by C.L. Kraemer
Publisher: Rogue Phoenix Press
Genre: Contemporary, Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Length: Full Length (190 pages)
Heat Level: Sweet
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Orchid

Unexpected dragon shiftings have increased since the conference in China. More deaths being covered up inexplicably sends Lee Svensson to Japan to investigate from the Swedish Embassy. Why is it World Watch, Inc., a marketing company, is always on site when a shifter dies? Lee is charged to find out. When the husband of his wife’s best friend discovers an account he is managing, World Watch, Inc., is manipulating oil companies by buying up all available stocks, the two realize their paths are the same. Now that their wives have announced the impending births of dragonlings, it is imperative the men solve this riddle. An American dragoness shifter and former full blood warrior dragon will prove courage comes in all sizes.

Shape shifting dragon investigators try to determine why some dragons are shape shifting without intent. The bodies are hustled away but where and who is doing the hustling?

I love dragon stories and this was no exception, although there were several disappointments in the story. Several times some of the main characters mentioned they would “talk about it later” but never did. Also when something happened which showed dangerous intent, it seemed to take forever for any action to take place. A discovery by a servant who wanted to warn others of the danger, goes no further. Why not?

Other than the above inconsistencies, the concept of the story was great showing that even in the dragon hierarchy there is misconception, deception and the intention to harm others of their kind. Loved the little babies coming into the world and causing immediate chaos to their parents. The aftermath was a bit insipid, but on the whole this story was reasonably good.

The Mermaid and the Murders by Rachel Graves


The Mermaid and the Murders by Rachel Graves
The Monster Beach Series
Publisher: The Wild Rose Press
Genre: Contemporary, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Paranormal
Length: Full Length (275 pgs)
Heat Level: Spicy
Rating: 3.5 stars
Reviewed by Poinsettia

Teenage mermaid Danika DelMar loves high school more than anything in the ocean. She fights with her mother about joining their pod, but she fights her hormones even more. No matter what her body says, she’s not ready to kill someone with sex. Things get harder when Danika falls for a new boy at school. He claims to be a sea creature like she is, but she isn’t sure she can trust him or herself.

When a dead body shows up at Danika’s reef she risks giving away her secret to make sure the police find the victim. It doesn’t stop the bodies from coming. Soon she’s lost her friend and the first boy she ever loved. Danika is sure a sea creature is involved, and she’s the only one who can help. As her friends become targets, Danika races to find the killer.

Is the ocean safe for anyone?

Danika leads a difficult life. While she loves high school and learning, she’s terrified that others will discover that she’s a mermaid. Danika is part of the popular crowd at school, but her relationship with her friends is confusing and dysfunctional at best. Danika thinks that remaining part of the crowd is the best way to hide her secret, but she is clearly miserable. I felt that she would have been better off finding friends she could actually trust. However, I will say that by the end of the story, I saw many positive changes in Danika’s relationship with her friends.

Danika should feel at home in the ocean, but she doesn’t quite fit in there either. She’s been resistant to learning about life as a mermaid for as long as she can remember. Her pod’s casual disregard for human life frightens Danika even as her hormones and curiosity drive her to learn more about the mermaid way of life. When the bodies of a few humans and a mermaid appear in the ocean next to her reef, Danika knows she has to find the culprit before she becomes the next victim.

Danika’s relationship with Sam is definitely a bright spot in this mystery. The attraction between them is apparent from the start, and I could tell they would be a cute couple. However, I think they fall in love and move into a serious physical relationship too quickly. Also, Sam tells Danika that he is a salt golem almost immediately after meeting her. I’m not sure why he chose to reveal his secret so soon and would have liked some insight into his thought process. Could he somehow sense that Danika was different too, or was he just tired of hiding?

One of the things that drew me to this book was that it was about mermaids. I know a little bit about them, but not much, so my curiosity was piqued. I found the beginning of the story a little frustrating because very little is explained about mermaid life and how things work. In fact, Danika doesn’t seem to know much either, which I find a bit unrealistic. I know that Danika relishes her life on land, but I would think that for her own survival she’d want to know more about what she is.

Overall, I liked The Mermaid and the Murders. I enjoyed learning about mermaids and the mystery surrounding the murders was wrapped up in a satisfying way. I recommend this tale to anyone looking for a romance filled with unique creatures.

How to Tame a Beast in Seven Days by Kerrelyn Sparks


How to Tame a Beast in Seven Days by Kerrelyn Sparks
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Genre: Action/Adventure, Paranormal, Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Length: Full Length (297 pgs)
Heat Level: Spicy
Rating: 5 Stars
Reviewed by Xeranthemum

Luciana grew up on the Isle of Moon, hidden away because of her magical powers. But when her father arrives, he offers her a choice: remain on the island or return with him and marry the Beast of Benwick in order to save their legacy—and her father’s life.

Lord Leofric, the Beast of Benwick, has not been touched since he was a child. Born with the power to harness lightning, he is a danger to everyone he touches. When he meets his betrothed, he expects a loveless, lonely marriage…until he discovers she’s vastly more powerful than he realized. But is she strong enough to withstand his touch?

If they can survive, their love will alter the future of the kingdom. But will their extraordinary powers cost them everything?

Talk about a meaty piece of world building! Ms. Sparks has embarked on a new series and if it means to go on as it’s started, then this should be an adventure that fans are going to gobble up. There’s mystical prophecy, power plays, subterfuge, shape changers, ghosts, secrets and noble deeds. There’s an intricate plot of intrigue and deception and the heroine, Luciana is the focal point. She was innocent and ignorant of so many things about the world outside the Isle of Moon where she’s lived all her life. She’s known nothing else except her sisters. One clandestine visit from a surprise visitor leads the heroine onto a path she never imagined, and for readers, the adventure begins.

Ms. Sparks was meticulous about setting the stage for not just this book, but for all the novels to come. She did it in such a way that captured my interest and kept it. Secondary characters are slowly introduced and each one propelled the plot forward, contributed to the conflict or assisted in the eventual blossoming romance between Luciana and Leo. I enjoyed watching them fall in love; not the easiest thing to do amidst such mistrust and evil portents dogging their steps. Thank goodness for Leo’s stalwart friends, friends like Brody. I really liked him and he provided comic relief every now and again. But Brody isn’t a jester – he’s brave, courageous and loyal and has a lot of hero potential.

There’s a very clever evil dude that made quite an impression. He’s diabolical, wily and I bet he’s going to be a reoccurring pain in the neck for future heroes and heroines in the series. He’s unlike any villain I’ve seen so kudos to Ms. Sparks for introducing a convincing adversary.

What makes Leo such a fascinating hero is his…talent. It’s a very scary and powerful ability that has the power to kill everyone. That kind of puts a kink into any romantic plans he has or would ever have. How in the world did the author come up with such a surprising and effective work-around I can’t even begin to imagine. But it works, it’s amazing and it made perfect sense within the world that Ms. Sparks has created.

There is suspense, drama, action and even some humor. Of course, when Leo and Luciana finally stumble upon a way to love each other physically, the romance zooms off the charts into the stratosphere of pure satisfaction. Those scenes simultaneously made me smile (lightening rod) and swoon (romance and joy). They were SO good together!

There is absolutely no doubt that How to Tame a Beast in Seven Days is going to knock readers’ socks off. It has that wonderful storytelling voice that Ms. Sparks is known for, plus characters that are engaging, well rounded and vivid. I am an ecstatically happy reader and I’m looking forward to going wherever the author is going to take me next.

Passing Shadows by Anna Butler


Passing Shadows by Anna Butler
Publisher: Glass Hat Press
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Length: Short Story (75 pgs)
Heat Level: Sensual
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Stargazer

Li Liang has found a berth to suit her: chief pilot and first officer of the all-female crew of an old space freighter, the Sappho. Then one ordinary, unremarkable morning, Liang retunes the Sappho’s communications systems just in time to catch the breathless, terrible accounts from Mars of the total destruction of Earth.

Earth’s a cinder. The unknown alien race that destroyed it has left Mars, too, in flames and is ravening outward from the solar system, devouring every human colony on the way.

Liang’s one of the few survivors, racing ahead of the Devourers, rescuing as many frightened, shocked people as she can. Will Liang and the pitiful remnants of humanity find a new haven, somewhere to start again? Or will she, too, echo the dreadful last message coming out of their dead home?

They’re coming. Oh God, they’re coming.

What happens when everything you know is obliterated?

Passing Shadows is a dark take on humanity’s future. Set in the distant future, Li Liang is the chief pilot and first officer of an older space freighter. Enjoying life and the exploration (or more transport of cargo through space) is what Liang focuses on. Then one day, a transmission from the Mars colony details the destruction of Earth. The final transmission from Mars is now that the unknown faceless destroyer is coming directly to Mars next. Events simply spiral from there, without even knowing who is destroying humanity, the crew of the Sappho begin working to transport those living in colonies near their position to safety.

Passing Shadows does more than set the stage and leave the reader hanging. Anna Butler brings the reader into the life of Li Liang. The reader experiences firsthand how the destruction of humanity’s home world pushes emotions to the brink. Crew members work in order to ignore thoughts and memories. The crew buries themselves in working to save what is left of humanity but never truly know what is lurking out there.

Anna Butler uses the fear of the unknown to draw the reader more deeply into the dark abyss of fear. Never knowing where the enemy is or who the enemy is becomes paramount to the tension. One close encounter leave Liang questioning the lives of those left behind and the reader is left to question just how far away the other ship was.

Passing Shadows is a psychological take on the survival after the destruction of Earth. The toll of setting up another home planet and the fear that tomorrow it may all be gone again. Anna Butler does a fantastic job at closing the story. Where some readers may yearn for more, the true questions of humanity are firmly answered.

The writing style was strong, although from time to time it was hard to tell just how long time had passed. Editing was crisp and dialogue was engaging. There were parts where the story read similar to a diary and some readers may get lost in the jump back to current time from the reminiscing of Liang.

In all, this was a fantastic story that looked at the side of humanity after a faceless enemy destroys what we have identified as home. I highly recommend picking up a copy of Passing Shadows if you want a glimpse inside the darker side of humanity’s future!