The Dark of the Moon by Samantha Allard

The Dark of the Moon by Samantha Allard
Publisher: Lycaon Press
Genre: Young Adult/Middle Grade, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (96 pages)
Age Recommendation: 16+
Heat Level: Sweet
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

A missing brother, werewolves at war, and she’s stuck in the middle. Rachel might not be your average girl, but even she has her limits.

Rachel Valentine isn’t your average girl.

Three years ago her brother disappeared, and Rachel went off the rails quite spectacularly. Now she is trapped in a nunnery because she accidently blew up half the science department at her old school. One night she sees her long-lost brother in the crowd behind a reporter on television. There’s no mistaking who he is, but getting her parents to believe her is a different matter. It leaves her one option: break out of the nunnery and travel to London to track him down.

She’s about to find out that things are never that simple and there are some secrets that are impossible to believe.

Nothing can stop this girl’s mission. Or can it?

Yes, Rachel has a prickly side, but underneath that is someone who would do absolutely anything to help her brother. Her strong attachment to her sibling is what first made me like her, and her kind, ethical personality soon gave me other reasons to root for her as well. Developing such a strong moral code makes up for a lot of personal flaws. While Rachel definitely has more than her fair share of them, this made her feel like a real person to me.

There were some plot holes that I noticed later on in this tale. One of the characters suddenly possesses a skill that had never been mentioned before. I would have preferred to have much more information about where this skill came from and why it took so long to show up. It would have also been helpful if more time had been spent explaining why everyone reacts to this event the way they do. Certain parts of it briefly made me wonder if there was a prequel that hadn’t shown up on my Internet searches for this title.

As a fan of the werewolf sub-genre, it’s always interesting to see how authors visualize this part of their books. Ms. Allard struck a smart balance between describing her version of werewolf culture and showing how humans who aren’t accustomed to it would realistically react to the less savoury parts of it. It was fun to see this world through her eyes.

Give The Dark of the Moon a try if you enjoy contemporary werewolf stories.

To Have or To Haunt by Ishabelle Torry

To Have or To Haunt by Ishabelle Torry
Publisher: Breathless Press
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Suspense/Mystery, Historical, Contemporary, Holiday, Paranormal
Length: Short Story (38 pages)
Heat Level: Sensual
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Can Melanie’s Halloween bash survive Leah’s ghostly tricks?

Melanie Fyre is a passionate teacher determined to raise funds for the town’s school. What better way to do it than by expanding the local businesses? All she needs is land. Untouched for years thanks to a local superstition, the Crowe property is perfect. If Melanie can debunk the myth, she can get the use of those 600 beautiful acres. She just has to prove to the town that Leah’s ghost is not haunting the mansion, even on Samhain night.

Burned to death and proclaimed a witch, Leah Crowe’s soul has been cursed to an eternity of loneliness, all because she dared to love a woman. When the saucy Melanie arrives at her home to throw a costume party that mocks Leah’s very existence, the bitter ghost resolves to renew the town’s fear of her name. Will Leah’s ghost ruin all of Melanie’s plans?

Sometimes the past bleeds into the present.

One of the things I enjoy the most about ghost stories is exploring what it was that caused the deceased to become trapped between this life and the next one. After all, most people don’t stick around to haunt the places they knew well when they were alive! It’s hard to discuss Leah’s reasons for haunting her old home without wandering into spoiler territory, but I was deeply satisfied with how that part of her past was explained. It worked well for her personality and history.

It would have been nice to see more of a difference between Melanie and Leah’s use of the English language. Despite growing up and living hundreds of years apart, their vocabularies and speaking styles were incredibly similar. I was a little confused about why this might be the case and briefly wondered if it was a clue of some sort or if their voices should have been more distinct.

Blending so many different genres into one short tale isn’t an easy task, but Ms. Torry did a good job mixing them all together. The romantic and science fiction elements were slightly stronger than the mystery ones. It wouldn’t have been the same without all three of them, though, so this is something that I think will appeal to anyone who enjoys any or all of them.

I’d recommend To Have or To Haunt to anyone who is interested in dipping their toes into a new genre. It covers so many of them that it’s an easy place to try something new.

Flux Orbit by Emily Veinglory

Flux Orbit by Emily Veinglory
Publisher: Loose Id
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Length: Full Length (180 pgs)
Other: M/M, anal sex
Rating: 4.5 stars
Reviewed by Cactus

Kell is a high-priced male courtesan sent to spend a month with Jorihn Parr, captain of an old space station orbiting a flux planet. He quickly finds himself facing perils on every side. A business baron who operates outside the law wants to take over the station, and when they won’t surrender he is ready to attack with state of the art battleships. The planet below hosts alien life forms who put Kell in a new body and force him to act as their spy. The lives of hundreds of innocent people, men women and children, hang in the balance.

And in the middle of the maelstrom, for the very first time, Kell finds he is falling in love.

Kell’s only chance may be with a man he never expected to want, let alone need. Kell grew up as a paid prostitute and is very, very good at his job. His latest contract is to be help an uptight captain, Johrin, relax. Except while Johrin may be attracted to Kell, he feels guilty being with a courtesan, especially after hearing about Kell’s background. Kell can’t seem to get through to Jorihn and their relationship quickly ends, only to renew when Kell returns as Rally in a totally different body and looking nothing like he used to. Struggling to understand what and who he is now has consumed Kell but he must balance that with the needs of his new friends/masters, the Coil. Now only Jorihn can help Kell/Rally and the Coil against a much bigger threat.

Flux Orbit is a fascinating science-fiction story that balances tender romance and heavy science fiction without relying too heavily on one or the other. Instead both arms of the story are vitally important to its success. The science fiction aspects are pretty far fetched but in the most interesting ways. There is definitely some suspension of disbelief required to accept and go along with the many twists and turns the story takes but the emotional payoff is so rewarding that it’s worth it. It’s hard to talk about the main plot without giving away spoilers but suffice it to say the science fiction aspects are impressive but never overwhelming. Fans new to the genre won’t feel buried with too much jargon or bizarre concepts, just a few.

The romance itself is really lovely. Jorihn and Kell have an instant connection and a nice, if very brief, initial time together. The relationship that forms after Kell reappears as Rally truly becomes intense. Watching the two men dance around each other with obvious chemistry is very entertaining but also somewhat heartbreaking as Rally reaches out to Jorihn for help. The internal struggle and mental anguish rides the line of being too angst-driven but the author has such a deft hand with the drama that it never slides into overwrought. Instead it makes the depth of the characters and their relationship that much more meaningful.

I was surprised and delighted by Flux Orbit and it’s one story I whole heartedly recommend. It’s rare to find a story that has handles both aspects of the plot (romance and sci-fi) so incredibly well without sacrificing one for the other. The writing is stunning, evocative, and truly engaging. I couldn’t put this down!

Follow the White Rabbit by Shelli Rosewarne

Follow the White Rabbit by Shelli Rosewarne
Publisher: Breathless Press
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Historical, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (27 pages)
Heat Level: Spicy
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

In Wonderland the strange and magical is everyday, but when a woman who can’t remember her own name meets a shape-shifting cat, anything can happen.

Mary Ann doesn’t remember her life before she wandered into the Woods of Forgetfulness. She doesn’t remember who she was, where she came from, or even her real name—and she’s given up on anyone coming to look for her. Now, she works for the White Rabbit, and if she’s not deliriously happy at least her life is content.

Until, that is, she comes across a Cheshire Cat, a rare shape-shifter, who may be about to turn her life upside down.

In Wonderland, things are rarely what they seem.

It’s hard to hide the truth forever.

Imagine experiencing desire while having no clue at all if you’ve ever acted on those feelings. Mary Ann’s amnesia is the first thing the reader learns about her, but I didn’t think about all of the repercussion of having no memories of her previous life until she began showing how it was affecting her. There was something about her longing to remember that struck a chord with me. I was intrigued by the new life she’d built. At the same time, though, I really hoped she’d at least get a few clues about her identity. She was so likeable that I couldn’t imagine what it would be like for her to never get find answers she sought.

I definitely didn’t anticipate the plot twist that Ms. Rosewarne had up her sleeve. It worked well with everything that was established early on, but the execution of it was a little abrupt. There was simply so much going on in that section that it would have worked better for me if this had been a novella instead of a short story. Another 20 or 30 pages would have provided enough space to explore everything that was only hinted at in this version. Had those fascinating nooks been given more time to affect Mary Ann’s reality, I would have easily chosen a much higher rating for this tale.

The only thing more fascinating to me than Mary Ann’s blank page of a past were all of the descriptions of what it’s like to work for the White Rabbit. It’s hard to picture two characters with personalities more diametrically opposed than these ones. What surprised me about their business relationship, though, was how they accounted for each other’s weaknesses. They were actually a very good team!

Follow the White Rabbit was a peek into the adult side of Wonderland. It’s a good choice for anyone who’d like to revisit this universe as a grownup.

The Necro Files by CL Bledsoe

The Necro Files by CL Bledsoe
Publisher: Etopia Press
Genre: Action/Adventure, Contemporary, Paranormal, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Suspense/Mystery
Length: Full Length (233 pgs)
Rating: 5 stars
Reviewed by Thistledown

Ever wonder what happens after the hero kills the monster?

Daisy Janney just wanted to go to college next year like everybody else—get out of her mom’s house, go to some parties, maybe meet some cute guys. But when she finds out she has to pay for it herself, she has no choice but to get a job. Too bad no one wants her, not even the burger joint. Way to feel like a total loser.

Desperate, she takes the only job she can find—at Calvert Funeral Home. Putting makeup on dead people might not be glamorous, but at least dead people don’t complain. Too bad no one told her they wouldn’t always stay dead. Or that they weren’t always people.

One salt-covered, burnt witch later, Daisy finds herself the recipient of an evil curse. She’s got two weeks to figure out how to break it before she’s scheduled for dismemberment by an angry demon. And she hasn’t even gotten her first paycheck yet. She turns to an old boyfriend for help, but with finals coming up, and some weird guy stalking her who looks like Johnny Cash, she’s not sure there’s enough help on the planet for her kind of trouble…

Beggars can’t be choosers but this job… whoa…

If you take a job in a funeral home, you better be prepared for the weird, the ugly and the undead. That’s what Daisy finds out in this first amazing book in a series I hope lasts for many, many books. I had the opportunity to read the second book in the series first and for the record, I wasn’t lost or annoyed. That takes talent and this author has it with spades and shovels. Oh and stakes. Mustn’t forget those.

In this first book in a rocking hot series, Daisy finds herself hip deep in the hidden world behind what everyone else thinks is normal. She takes a part time job at the home when all else fails and discovers her bosses might be at least a little bit odd. When a body shows up covered in salt and she begins to clean it, some of the dead witch’s spirit possesses her. Fitted with the child murdering witch’s memories and a curse, Daisy has to sink or swim in waters no normal human girl was ever prepared for.

Welcome to a world of Johnny Cash look alike bounty hunters (Nathan), vampires with issues (Polidori), witches with hidden libraries and two bosses who have more secrets than anyone should have a right to. Oh, and Dave-her cop friend from her childhood. He’s just well…Dave. Insert family drama and a near fatal cookie making episode and you have a novel that will keep you hiding under the covers with a flash light until you’re done.

Daisy has a limited time to solve the curse and she will need all the resources a girl can get. It’s learn quick or die trying and in between she has to pass her exams and not lose her soul. Life can be complicated. So is dating one of your study partners that may or may not be a demon. What can you do?

Just like the second book, I was snared immediately with the voice of the book, the immense awesomeness of the characters and am now clamoring for another. Now please. CL Bledsoe has the world building down pat and people who practically breathe (or in case of the undead, not so much) right off the page. If you like urban fantasy books like Kim Harrison or the Anita Blake series, you’ll fall in love with Daisy and her crew.

This series has won my heart and I want another one soon…

Asylum by Dana Wright

Asylum by Dana Wright
Ghost Echoes Book 1
Publisher: Breathless Press
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Paranormal, Contemporary, Historical
Length: Short Story (71 pages)
Heat Level: Sensual
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

The voices of the past are alive behind the iron gates of Bremore Asylum. Can Rachel and Matt deduce its secrets before it’s too late?

When Rachel agrees to take the job investigating the disappearance of a fellow ghost hunter at Bremore Asylum, she is totally unprepared for the sexy and stubborn psychic debunker Matt Rutledge to be a part of the package. Can these two opposing forces find the answers behind the asylum’s crumbling walls before they become the newest victims to the asylum’s grim history?

The living may forget certain atrocities, but the dead never will.

Rachel was a fascinating protagonist. Her personality was sketched out quickly, yet it provided enough details about who she is as an individual to keep me interested. She appeared to have many more secrets than she was willing to reveal. As this is the first book in a new series, I will be curious to see if she changes her mind about this in the future.

The romantic subplot happened far too quickly. It wasn’t easy for me to understand why the characters involved in it were happy with this new development in their lives due to how their relationship was described in their introduction. I’m not opposed to seeing sparks between two people who strongly dislike one another, but these cases I do prefer to see some pretty strong arguments made for why they would make a good couple. It’s hard for me to imagine being in a relationship with someone that I couldn’t also see as a close friend.

There’s something melancholy about old, abandoned buildings. They’ve seen so many things, not all of which must have been good. This is even more true when the building in question is an asylum where people suffered horrible fates. It’s the kind of setting that grabs my attention immediately, and I was pleased with how much time the author spent describing what it looked like and why it was so haunted.

I’d recommend Asylum: Ghost Echoes Book 1 to anyone who likes spooky ghost stories.

The Lycan Hunter by Kelsey Jordan

The Lycan Hunter by Kelsey Jordan
A Gardinian World Novel
Publisher: Booktrope Editions
Genre: Contemporary, Paranormal, Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Length: Full Length (307 pgs)
Heat Level: Spicy
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Poinsettia

When Alexis James arrives at her first assignment in months, she anticipates the danger and violence rife in her calling as a Lycan Hunter. What she doesn’t expect is a handsome, blue-eyed wolf saving her life and kidnapping her. Surrounded by the enemy, Alexis must not only survive her prisoners but the bonds of a different sort that begin to form against her will.

Mikko Kyran was chosen by the gods to lead his pack, and he has made it his mission to end the eight thousand years of war plaguing his people. The Alpha never suspected that the key to the prophecy ending the Forever War would be held by a smart-mouthed, sexy Hunter determined to kill him.

Can two people from different worlds set aside everything they know about one another long enough to survive retribution from the Hunters, the pack, and the gods? Or will their differences start a war that neither can win?

Will the tension between Lycans and Hunters end, or explode with renewed hostility?

Ms. Jordan did a brilliant job of crafting a beautiful world full of interesting and unique characters. She clearly spent a lot of time precisely organizing the lifestyles and histories of the gods, Lycans, and Hunters. She even provides a glossary at the end of the book, which I enjoyed. Provided with such excellent detail, I was able to completely immerse myself in the Ms. Jordan’s book.

Alexis definitely has my sympathy. She has spent her entire life trying to prove worth to people who should have loved her unconditionally. Alexis is clearly emotionally damaged from her upbringing. However, I was very pleased to watch her begin to heal once she met Kyran. The Hunter lifestyle is shocking in its stark lack of love or compassion of any kind, so when Alexis meets Kyran’s pack, she experiences a huge cultural shock. After reading the blurb, I expected a lot of opposition concerning Kyran and Alexis from both Hunters and Lycans. However, there was very little opposition from Kyran’s pack. I found this surprising since the Hunters are ruthless in their attempts to eradicate Lycans. However, Kyran’s pack really embrace Alexis as one of their own, which is something Alexis never even experienced with her own family.

I’m not really sure how I feel about the gods. They remind me of the Greek gods in that they are very human in their behavior. The gods and their motivations are extremely murky and they apparently have no qualms about interfering with the lives of Lycans and Hunters alike. The gods also clearly have some big agenda for Alexis and they seem to do whatever they like regardless of whether or not she is ready for it. Lykil, the god of destruction, is the most intriguing god. He has taken a liking to Alexis, and I’m curious to see what role he will play in her life.

I’m not exactly sure what to make of the prophecy regarding Lycans and Hunters. Kyran and Alexis seemed to be on the right track, but that didn’t exactly pan out how I thought it would. Again, the gods are confusing in their behavior. I’m very curious about what happens next to Alexis and Kyran. Are they still the key to ending the war, or have they completely misunderstood the meaning of the prophecy?

I hope Ms. Jordan has a sequel in the works because I have a feeling that once readers get a taste of the Gardinian world, they’ll be hungry for more.

The Heart of the Kingdom by Sasha L. Miller

The Heart of the Kingdom by Sasha L. Miller
The Kingdom Curses Book 1
Publisher: Less Than Three Press LLC
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Length: Full Length (289 Pages)
Rating: 5 Stars
Reviewed by Cyclamen

All Cenric wanted was a necklace to gift to his lady love, in the hopes it might persuade her to actually become his lady love. Instead of love, however, Cenric is informed of her engagement to someone else, wakes up to find his house burning down around him, and is dragged away by a man who might have saved him, but won’t say much about why one necklace has Cenric running away from someone willing to kill to get it back.

Cenric is his town’s scribe, having lived in Lansdale his entire life. But his life changes dramatically when he buys a necklace from a peddler’s cart. He thinks about giving it to a girl he admires, only to find out that she has just gotten engaged to someone else. Then, his house catches fire in the night and Cenric barely escapes with his life. He’s lost everything, but before he can absorb his losses, a stranger grabs him and hustles him out of town, just ahead of a specter bent on killing him.

The world described in The Heart of the Kingdom is a rich and believable world, replete with a variety of characters and places. My favorite spot was the tree inhabited by dwarves, a spot I’d really like to visit in person. The characters are also well-drawn, three-dimensional, and interesting. I especially liked Cenric and Rylan. The dynamics between them rings true and I enjoyed watching their relationship develop.

The plot is exciting with a lot of twists and plenty of curses. The mystery of who is behind the curses is well plotted and it took me quite awhile to figure things out. Parts of it I didn’t deduce until the very end, so the book is a real page turner. It is hard to decide who can be trusted and who can’t.

I liked the way the point of view changed from Cenric in the first part to Rylan in the second. It was fun to see the love develop between them, how each was uncertain about the feelings of the other, and how they managed to resolve their feelings. It is really very sweet indeed.

The Heart of the Kingdom is the first book in The Kingdom Curses series and it is one that fantasy readers will really enjoy. Personally, I’m looking forward to reading more in this series. It has really captured my interest.

Bloody Sexy by CL Bledsoe

Bloody Sexy by CL Bledsoe
Publisher: Etopia Press
Genre: Action/Adventure, Contemporary, Paranormal, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Suspense/Mystery
Length: Full Length (267 pgs)
Rating: 5 stars
Reviewed by Thistledown

Not all vampires suck.

Daisy Janney—college student, assistant mortician, and supernatural detective—is excited about her friend John Polidori’s new book, Bloody Sexy, the autobiography of his life as a vampire. But when someone attacks Polidori at the book reading, Daisy will have to figure out who’s after him on her own. There’s a killer on the loose, and Nathan Venator, the hero of Baltimore (although he looks more like a young Johnny Cash), has got his hands full tracking him down. If that wasn’t enough, it seems like everyone’s in a relationship except Daisy, even her mom. So when Daisy agrees to go on a date with someone who just might be the killer, she begins to wonder how she’s going to juggle her classes, her investigations, and her social life—all without winding up in the funeral home at which she works.

If you take a job in a funeral home, you better be prepared for the weird, the ugly and the undead.

In this second book in a rocking hot series, Daisy finds herself hip deep in the hidden world behind what everyone else thinks is normal. Her bosses have begun to reveal some of their secrets and Polidori, a vampire Daisy saved from an inopportune staking in the first book has found himself in the line of fire from someone who does not want the true and unvarnished history of vampires out in the open.

When girls start to go missing, a serial killer is suspected. Nathan, a supernatural bounty hunter joins with Daisy as she tries to help her bosses solve the case. Being a student and part time associate should really pay more. Especially if she has to fight serial killers.

The homeless brigade of supernatural beings and the vampire legend of Polidori was a great story element and I loved the way the historical figure was represented. Finding out who was stalking him and the courage Daisy exhibits when she goes in defense of the vampire was truly great.

I was hooked with the voice of this book from the start. It didn’t matter to me that it was the second book and I hadn’t read the first one. It was clear and touched on necessary topics that led me right into the story and into the finer points of the plot and the tensions going on at the funeral home. The world building was stellar and I sucked up every detail. This is a book I wanted to sneak away on breaks and read. That I stayed up way too late and had a twitch when it was over, making me reach for the phone to request the first book in the series. Like now…right freaking now. Lol.

Now there isn’t much in the way of romance, but there is some sexual tension going on with Nathan. Here is me hoping in future books there will be some bed hopping chemistry but I loved it just the same. The snark and interaction with the characters, paired with the supernatural elements and the surprise twist with the serial killer was a jaw dropper and I started to snort through my hand in the middle of the break room. Awesome CL. I love your twisted mind. You are an inspiration to me and I bow down before you.

Oh-and I want many, many more books with Daisy. She kicks some monster butt.

A&A Salvage by Lucy Kemnitzer

A&A Salvage by Lucy Kemnitzer
Publisher: Less Than Three Press
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (81 pages)
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Elisabeth and Melissa live a quiet life, running their mechanic shop together. The biggest drama in their life is Melissa occasionally having to remind men that she’s happily taken.

Then they’re called to pick up an abandoned car that proves to be unidentifiable and without an owner. It also has a strange radio that plays music both strange and familiar, stirring up memories and longings Elisabeth believed long buried.

Then a mysterious, beautiful woman arrives to claim the car and threatens to draw Elisabeth into a world far beyond the happy, stable life she’s built…

It’s hard to outrun the past, but that hasn’t stopped Elizabeth from trying.

The descriptions of the abandoned car made me wish I could sit in it. The differences between it and what one can generally find in a regular automobile weren’t always easy to spot right away, but once they were revealed I was curious to learn more about them. Some of the most interesting sections of this short story were devoted to exploring these differences without giving away the biggest pieces of the puzzle right away.

While I understand Elisabeth and Melissa’s strong preference for a quiet, rural life, there were times when their aversion to modern technology felt unrealistic for a story with a contemporary setting. There are definitely people out there who aren’t comfortable using these things, but I would have preferred to have some sort of explanation for why there are two of them living in the same household. In my experience, that’s extremely rare. Figuring out why this was the case distracted me from an otherwise engaging plot.

Elisabeth has lived with her secrets for a long time. She seemed like the kind of person who has always followed the rules, so I was curious to see what someone as mild-mannered as her could possibly be hiding from her partner. What intrigued me even more about this character is what all of this secret-keeping says about her personality. It was a smart way to dig into what makes Elisabeth tick while still expecting readers to piece certain clues together on our own.

I’d recommend A&A Salvage to anyone who enjoys science fiction that has a completely ordinary setting.