After Me by Joyce Scarbrough

AFTER
After Me by Joyce Scarbrough
Publisher: Buzz Books USA
Genre: Young Adult, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Contemporary, Paranormal
Length: Full Length (290 pages)
Age Recommendation: 16+
Heat Level: Sensual
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

After she’s murdered by a sexual predator, 18-year-old Jada Gayle must stay among the living until she finds and stops the Internet stalker who killed her. When the Afterlife Admissions Office assigns the now “transdead” Jada to a foster home back among the living, she assumes the identity of a newly-dead homeless teen and is expected to simply fit in as she hunts down her killer.

Complicating things even more, Jada discovers that an addendum to her termination agreement was inadvertently left out of her paperwork and means she now must learn to deal with normal human emotions. How can a dead girl be expected to feel anything when life had left her so empty? Then she meets Lew Stanton—captain of the chess team and computer whiz who makes her dead heart beat phantom rhythms in her chest. As if it’s not bad enough to have the hots for a nerd, Jada’s new friend Annalee likes him too.

While Jada deals with all this unwanted teenaged angst, the man who murdered her is closing in on more foolish girls. Jada thinks she has plenty of time to handle her predicament until the night she gets a terrifying message: I HAVE YOUR FRIEND.

Some deaths leave behind loose ends. Now that Jada’s been given the chance to tidy a few of hers up, will she be able to do it?

Jada’s snide approach to the afterlife is quite funny. What really made me like her, though, was how she responded to everything that happened after she was murdered. Not only did it fit her personality to a tee, it blended in incredibly well with how some people react to the type of trauma that she’s just endured. Her character development was superb, especially considering how subtle it is in the first few chapters of this novel. While I don’t know if the author has any intention of fulfilling my wish, this is the kind of book that is absolutely begging for a sequel. I loved getting to know Jada and would be thrilled to catch up with her again very soon.

People in Jada’s position are given special powers to help them complete their missions. Most of her newfound abilities are things that her new friends and foster family wouldn’t notice under normal circumstances, but there are a few things about her that I would have liked to see explained in more detail due to how easy it would be to accidentally reveal them. The powers themselves make a great deal of sense given the nature of her assignment, but it was occasionally hard to believe that Jada was so good at keeping others from noticing the logical consequences of her having them.

The premise of this tale was so unique that as soon as I noticed it I had to know what happens next. Ms. Scarbrough snagged my attention so thoroughly that I actually stayed up past my bedtime for several nights in a row to power through just one more chapter. What really earned this story such a high rating, though, was how the author acknowledged certain tropes in young adult fiction without succumbing to them. It’s hard to dig more deeply into this topic without bumping up against spoilers, but I was impressed by her consistently creative approach to the plot. This was my first introduction to Ms. Scarbrough work, and I’m eagerly looking forward to seeing what she’ll do next!

After Me is a must-read for adults and teens alike. I, for one, will be rereading it again soon.

August Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Mystery/Suspense, YA Book of the Month Poll

Prophecy: Elf Queen of Kiirajanna by Stephen H. King

PROPHECY
Prophecy: Elf Queen of Kiirajanna by Stephen H. King
Publisher: Dragon Tale Publishing
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, YA
Length: Full Length (397 Pages)
Age Recommendation: 12+
Rating: 4.5 Stars
Reviewed by Cyclamen

Alyssa never could have imagined that her first accomplishment after high school in a small Mississippi town would be traveling to a land she’d never heard of and ascending to its throne as the new Elf Queen. But when her long-lost father, the Elf King, comes back for his daughter, that is exactly the future that he brings.

With the help of her cousin, her father, and others, Alyssa carefully finds her way as an outsider through the intricacies of elf society. Along the way she meets fairies, unicorns, and other beasts that she’d grown up believing were only to be found in myths. At the same time, Alyssa encounters a mysterious cult whose entire purpose seems to be the prevention, by any means necessary, of her taking the throne. After an arrow that misses its mark and a message written in blood fail to warn her away, Alyssa finds herself in a fight for her own life and for those of her companions.

That magic exists in the realm of the elves is obvious to Alyssa from the beginning. Its use, though, is forbidden by centuries of elf tradition. When the Cult of the Wyrm finally makes its move, Alyssa must decide whether to risk banishment from her own birthright in order to wield the destructive forces as a weapon against those who would see her dead.

Join Alyssa as the sassy Southern girl enters the land of her father’s birth and deals with a stern priesthood, a stuck-up royal trio, and, of all things, a crush, as she comes of age in Kiirajanna.

Alyssa has grown up as the daughter of a hard-working single mom in Mississippi. Her mother always said that her father was special, but as she got older, Alyssa stopped believing in him. However, right after her high school graduation, her father arrives and he is definitely special. He is the elf king to the land of Kiiirajanna, and he as come to take her to the land of the elves where she will claim her birthright as the next elf queen.

I really liked Alyssa, finding her to be a wonderfully smart, strong, totally believable young woman. She has a lot to learn once she arrives in Kiilrajanna, including a new language, many elf customs, history, geography, protocol, and a totally different way of viewing the world.

I was hooked from the opening sentence of this novel. “In hindsight, I’ll admit that slugging the high priestess was probably a very bad idea.” I thought the opening was very effective, giving the reader enough to capture them before taking a step back and showing how Alyssa reached the place where she slugged the high priestess.

The other characters are also well-drawn and multi-dimensional. Her father does all in his power to ease her transition into this new world. Sephaline, her ranger cousin, soon becomes her best friend. Sephaline has a familiar, Booboo, who is a very protective wolverine. There is also Little Treebeard, a tree which Alyssa succeeds in singing back to health.

Alyssa discovers right from the beginning that she might be the prophesied dragon queen, but not everyone wants that prophecy to come true. The plot has a lot of action and mystery and the pacing is excellent. The land of Kiilrajanna is very clearly described and it seems to be a wonderful place, filled with amazing inhabitants, even though all magic is forbidden. Alyssa finds herself having to battle magical foes with the aid of Sephaline and Prince Keion, without having any real idea of how to survive.

This is a wonderful, exciting, magical story, and while I haven’t seen any references to a series, I’m really hoping that I will once again enter the land of the elves and find out what adventures await Alyssa. Readers of fantasy are sure to be captivated by this story.

Wishing Will by Daniel Harvell

WILL
Wishing Will by Daniel Harvell
Publisher: Self-published
Genre: Young Adult, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Contemporary
Length: Full Length (255 pages)
Age Recommendation: 10+
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Outcast middle schooler Will Cricket wants a new look, popular friends, cool parents and enough coordination to dribble a basketball – but he never actively pursues any of it. Instead, Will makes wishes. When the magical wishing corporation known as the Sky Castle Network and Enterprises (a.k.a. the SCENE) agrees to grant him his ultimate wish to be someone different, he must work for his reward. Becoming a super-powered agent for the organization, Will teams up with a celestial wish agent with delusions of Hollywood stardom, a shape-changing half-Genie, a narcoleptic Dreamweaver and a stick-in-the-mud wish lawyer. Together, they grant the wishes of Will’s classmates and family members, helping the same people who pick on Will every day. As if these challenges weren’t enough, there’s a mystery surrounding his peculiar grandmother and a malevolent force bent on enslaving humanity. Will might have to fight not only for his wish but also for the entire world!

Have you ever wondered who is in charge of making wishes come true? Magic isn’t infinite, after all, and it can’t be used to fix everything.

Will is an easy guy to like. His empathy for other people reveals itself fairly quickly, but what I really appreciated about him is what a well-rounded character he is. He has realistic strengths and weaknesses that interact with the plot in ways that I often didn’t see coming ahead of time. I had a good time getting to know him, and I’d be interested in reading more stories about him in the future.

There were a few pacing issues in the beginning that threatened to distract me from the plot. A surprising amount of time was spent describing Will’s family and school. I enjoyed seeing what his daily life was like before he received this peculiar assignment, but this tale would have easily earned a much higher rating if some of that exposition had happened within more action-packed chapters. Eventually I did get drawn into Will’s world, but the slow beginning was a bit of deterrent for me at first.

I had an inkling that this book might be funny, but I wasn’t expecting to enjoy its zany sense of humor as much as I did. The supporting characters were just as flamboyant as I’d expect from beings who work for a magical wish fulfilment company, but the creative, little details about their costumes and physical appearances that the author made sure to point out to the reader were what really endeared me to them. Imagining exactly what each one of them looked like was effortless.

Whether you’re a kid or a kid-at-heart, Wishing Will is a good choice for anyone in the mood for something lighthearted.

Catnip by J.S. Frankel

CATNIP
Catnip by J.S. Frankel
Publisher: Devine Destinies
Genre: Young Adult, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Contemporary, Action/Adventure
Length: Full Length (204 pages)
Age Recommendation: 16+
Heat Level: Sensual
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Harry Goldman, a teenage prodigy thrown into jail for illegal research, is teamed up with a transgenic cat-girl and soon finds himself in love and running for his life.

Harry Goldman, teenage DNA researcher, genius, and total nerd, is thrown into jail for illegal transgenic research. Freed by the FBI on the condition he works under their aegis, Harry is taken to New York where he meets Anastasia, a cat-girl and the product of transgenic engineering. No sooner do they get acquainted then they are attacked by another creature, a bear which is more than a bear, and are forced to flee for their lives. Along the way, they encounter furries, Doug the Dog, find out that they are more into each other emotionally than they’re willing to admit, and end up in the Catskill Mountains where Harry finds out the shocking truth about how Anastasia was created…and what she was created for.

Everyone is capable of doing things that may not be ethical, but not everyone is willing to admit when they’ve crossed that line.

Mr. Frankel pulled me into the plot through the use of one of the most exciting opening scenes I’ve read in a long time. Imagine two homeless men suddenly coming across something incredibly strange in the fetid, garbage-strewn alley they call home. It was most definitely not the introduction to this tale I was expecting. Not knowing what was happening made me eager to find out more.

I would have liked to see more character development, especially when it came to Harry. He experienced a few different traumatic events growing up that never quite had as much of an affect on his personality as I would have expected. His dazed reaction was completely understandable in the beginning, but this book would have easily earned a higher rating had the author spent more time exploring what happens when Harry’s numbness wears off. It would have been especially interesting to see which, if any, of his negative personality traits stem from this emotional paralysis.

Strong pacing from beginning to end made it hard for me to put this story down. I really liked how the author embedded crucial clues about Anastasia’s background into scenes that also had a lot of other exciting stuff going on in them. At times it felt like I was watching an action movie instead of reading a book. This was a smart approach for such an action-heavy plot.

Catnip is one of the most adrenaline-inducing tales I’ve read so far in 2014. This is a good choice for anyone who likes being perched on the edge of their seat in anticipation of what might happen next for 200+ pages.

Masque of Shadow by T.A. Miles

MASQUE
Masque of Shadow by T.A. Miles
Publisher: Raventide Books
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Paranormal, Horror, Historical
Length: Short Story (29 pages)
Heat Level: Sensual
Rating: 4.5 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Heartbroken over the premature death of her young sister, Estelle conceives a dark plan to recover Lunette’s innocent soul from the thief she witnessed taking it. The price is higher than she anticipated, reaching far beyond the loss of her own innocence when she enters voluntarily into the realm of the Lord of Shadows, into a theater of madness constructed by the souls of the dead.

Few things in this world are stronger than the bond between siblings. What Estelle doesn’t know, though, is if that bond will give her enough strength to keep searching for her lost sister.

The horror elements took a little while to show up, but they were quite noticeable when they did. It was interesting to see how this author sampled the often gruesome origins of traditional fairy tales in order to make her story come alive. Masque of Shadows is truly intended for a mature audience. Given the dark subject matter, this was a great decision.

Once or twice I wondered why Estelle accepted all of the strange things she encountered so easily. This is a minor criticism of an otherwise mesmerizing book, but it would have been helpful to know a little bit more about her previous life in order to better understand why she was so eager to jump into a dangerous, new realm without any qualms about her own safety.

The villain in this piece was perfectly dastardly. I was especially creeped out by the physical description of him. It was a little unusual for this genre. In retrospect, it worked incredibly well given everything else the reader learns about him and his plans for Estelle.

Ms. Miles has a hypnotic writing style that made it impossible for me to tear my eyes away from the page. She described each scene in such precise detail that I felt as though I were watching a movie instead of reading a short story. This was my first introduction to her work. If it’s any indication of her talent, I don’t know how I’ll be able to remain patient while waiting for her next book comes out.

Masque of Shadow is a must-read for anyone who loves fairy tales. Just don’t be surprised if you follow in my footsteps and read it more than once!

Bleed For Me by Cynthia Eden

BLEED
Bleed For Me by Cynthia Eden
Loved by the Gods 1
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Paranormal Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (76 pgs)
Other: M/F
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Waratah

The Greek gods are alive and well. But, unfortunately for the gods, the humans have all but forgotten their glorious existence…and this fact really pisses off the all-powerful, immortal beings.

Apollo, the Greek god of the sun, takes one look at the mysterious Terese Lafitte and knows that he wants her. Even in this modern century, a god takes what he wants. But Terese isn’t a mortal, not any longer. As a newly turned vampire, her attraction to Apollo is downright lethal because desire arouses not just her body, but also her bloodlust.

But Apollo likes a woman with bite, and now that he’s found Terese, he’s not about to let the little vampiress out of his sight or out of his bed. When Terese’s psychotic vampire ex begins to stalk them, Apollo knows that he will have to use all of his strength to keep her safe. Lucky for Terese, Apollo has more power than she could ever have imagined.

When you trifle with the sun god, you will get burned.

Sun god looks to take a mate, vampires need not apply. Unless you happen to be really smoking hot and give good chase.

Loved it! Both of my favorites wrapped up in one hot cute sexy love story. When you mix a Greek god and a vampire that just has to lead to some hot times. Most ironic though is that Apollo is the Sun God and the female he happens to want to claim is a vampire.

I adore alpha men and Apollo has all that in spades. He’s bossy, arrogant and protects what he claims as his. He’s just bumping around looking for a good time and bored out of his mind. In walks Terese (love her name) a walking vision in pale skin and dark hair, looking to feed after she has spent quite a bit of time talking herself into it.

It was very intriguing that a vampire thought that maybe a god could be harmed. This short had some awesome banter between all the characters. I had a lot of fun with this, the characters and the story. This seems like the first book of a potential series, but I don’t see a second one listed anywhere. Thankfully this story was a good standalone.

A few scorching scenes mixed with a bit of danger then topped off with some sweetness. Again, it’s a winner for me and I would love to read more from this writer. Do I recommend it? Yes!

The Firedragon: A Flynn Nightsider Tale by Mary Fan

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The Firedragon: A Flynn Nightsider Tale by Mary Fan
Publisher: Glass House Press
Genre: Young Adult, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Action/Adventure
Length: Short Story (67 pages)
Age Recommendation: 14+
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Almost a hundred years ago, the Enchanters defeated the Lord of the Underworld in one of the most fearsome wars the world had ever seen. The public thinks that this victory means the people are safe. But they’re wrong. The supernatural beasts the Lord unleashed remain on the earth, multiplying and ravaging what’s left of civilization. As long as these monsters exist, mankind will be in danger. And though the government, ruled by the magic-wielding Enchanters, seeks to protect their people, they are too few in number. They need the Defenders – a special class of non-magical humans – to fight the monsters. The Defenders are an elite force, and mankind’s only hope against the horrors that live beyond their gates.

Fourteen-year-old Aurelia “the Firedragon” Sun has been training since she could walk to become a Defender, and her extraordinary combat skills have earned the attention of the powerful government. In fact, she’s been tapped to represent her nation in an international monster-fighting competition, which pits champions from across the globe against creatures of the Underworld in a violent spectacle. If she wins, she will become a full-fledged member of the Defender force.

But as Aurelia moves deeper into the competition, she realizes that all is not as it appears. There’s something sinister behind the competition, something that could change the way she sees everything … and the Enchanters, it seems, are not the heroes she thought. Aurelia begins to ask questions. But before she can discover the truth, she is pitted against the most dangerous monster in the competition – one that will take her life if it can.

It’s never easy to crush stereotypes, but that’s what Aurelia will need to do if she has any hope of becoming a Defender.

The monsters Aurelia encounters during the competition made my skin crawl. Some of them were introduced without any explanation at all of what Aurelia was facing. This made figuring out why they were such a threat even more intriguing. Their abilities – magical and otherwise – are a big reason why the age recommendation is 14+. Some of the scenes that describe them would definitely not be appropriate for younger readers, although older teens and adults will find a lot of creepy stuff between these pages.

It would have been helpful to have more world-building as the plot progressed. The glimpses into Aurelia’s society were fascinating, and I hope they will be more fully explored in the full-length sequel that will be published early next year from what I’ve read. I understand why the author wouldn’t want to give everything away so early, but there were a few times when I really could have used slightly more detailed explanations about exactly how their institutionalized discrimination affects the daily lives of everyone who isn’t born with magical powers.

While I’m looking forward to seeing what Aurelia does next, I was quite pleased by how well everything was wrapped up in her first adventure. The Firedragon is most definitely a standalone story, and that’s something that matters a lot to me when I’m debating whether or not to continue on with a series. My appetite has been whetted for more!

I’d heartily recommend The Firedragon to anyone who loves science fiction that’s set in the distant future.

Ever Lost by Melissa MacVicar

LOST
Ever Lost by Melissa MacVicar
Publisher: Red Adept Publishing
Genre: Young Adult, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Contemporary, Paranormal
Length: Full Length (212 pages)
Age Recommendation: 16+
Heat Level: Sensual
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

New town, new school, new ghost.

Jade has a dedicated boyfriend, an overprotective mom, and a full scholarship. Uprooted from Nantucket, Jade is installed off-island at her dad’s new house so she can attend snobby Layton Academy. Leaving Charlie behind is sheer torment, but living with her father has plenty of dangerous distraction—in the form of a terrifying spirit haunting her new school. Hottie classmate Mateo Fernandez can’t see the ghost, but he knows its story. He’d like to know hers, too, but Jade still misses Charlie, even though distance seems to be changing him.

With support from Mateo and the mysterious Noemie, Jade commits to helping the agonized spirit cross over. As she delves into the ghost’s past, the disturbing secrets Jade learns draw her into a deadly confrontation with a desperate man. If she can’t play his demented game, the spirit’s harrowing fate could become her own.

Moving to a new community might change whom you meet along the way, but it can never change your destiny.

It was fascinating to see the relationship between Jade and her father develop during the course of this tale as he wasn’t part of her daily life in the first book in this series. Her connection to his side of the family hasn’t always been that strong, so she has a lot to learn about them. There is plenty of unexplored territory between them, though, and I hope that this series will spend even more time exploring this part of her life in the future.

A few chapters were written from the perspective of a secondary character. The first time it happened I was surprised, and when it happened again I wondered why the author made the decision to show her audience these scenes from someone else’s point of view. The secondary character has an interesting perspective, but the story would have been stronger if it had only been told from Jade’s point of view due to how much scarier some scenes would have been if I’d known only what she knew.

There were a few plot threads in the first book that never quite found satisfactory endings in it. I was pleased to see them picked back up again in the sequel, especially when it came to a romantic relationship that I found bizarre due to how the individuals in it knew one another. While they technically weren’t breaking any laws, it was cathartic to finally have this topic addressed in a more realistic manner.

The most important details from Ever Near are briefly alluded to from time to time. There have been some major changes in Jade’s life since then. Readers who are familiar with those adventures will discover a few surprises along the way, but it’s not strictly necessary to understand all of those references in order to enjoy this sequel.

Ever Lost was a wild ride. Anyone who likes ghost stories should give it a try!

Camille’s Capture by Evanne Lorraine

CAPTIVE
Camille’s Capture by Evanne Lorraine
New Eden Chronicles 3
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Length: Full Length (184 pgs)
Other: M/M/F, Ménage, Anal Play
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Waratah

Camille, a plump, sweet-natured breeder, is caught in New Eden’s endless war with Baldor. Her mates, Jaxon and Aegis, need cunning and courage to rescue her. They need a miracle to capture her heart.

Warning: This story contains two searing hot alpha males and a sweet, but very determined and lushly curved woman. There’s also plenty of violence, red-hot sex, alien naked naughty bits, male/male intimacy and multiple partner interludes.

Camille is a Sister of the breeding order…taught to believe in one thing and when things don’t happen as planned; Camille takes her destiny in her own hands. It’s not very often that I pull that strongly for the heroine in a story, but with Camille, I couldn’t help myself. Her personality was contagious.

This is a pretty quick read. It’s the third book in the series but even though I hadn’t read the others before it, I couldn’t tell that it was part of the series. It felt like a complete story that wasn’t relying on prior books to prop it up.

The male characters where hella hot and awesome. Aegis and Jaxon are both total alphas but each has his own unique personality. The story line along with the characters interaction with each other just made this a fun read. The hot scenes were an added plus. The way the author came up with the “demon” parts was wow… interesting, loved it!

Watching how quickly the characters melded together for each other was enjoyable. It’s what made me really like the book. I’d recommend it to anyone looking for a sweet sci-fi love story with some serious heat.