Mrs. Claus by Rhonda Parrish, editor

Mrs. Claus by Rhonda Parrish, editor
Publisher: World Weaver Press
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Paranormal, Holiday, Horror, Contemporary, Historical
Length: Full Length (214 pages)
Rating: 4.5 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

When you think of Mrs. Claus, do you imagine a quiet North Pole homebody who finds complete fulfillment in baking cookies, petting reindeer and crafting toys alongside elves? How about a magic-wielding ice goddess, or a tough-as-nails Valkyrie? Or maybe an ancient fae of dubious intentions, or a well-meaning witch? Could Mrs. Claus be a cigar-smoking Latina, or a crash-landed alien? Within these pages Mrs. Claus is a hero, a villain, a mother, a spacefarer, a monster hunter, and more. The only thing she decidedly is not, is a sidekick.

It’s Mrs. Claus’ turn to shine and she is stepping out of Santa’s shadow and into the spotlight in these fourteen spectacular stories that make her the star! Featuring original short stories by Laura VanArendonk Baugh, C.B. Calsing, DJ Tyrer, Jennifer Lee Rossman, Kristen Lee, Randi Perrin, Michael Leonberger, Andrew Wilson, Ross Van Dusen, MLD Curelas, Maren Matthias, Anne Luebke, Jeff Kuykendall, and Hayley Stone.

Santa might have demanded the lion’s share of the attention in the old myths about the North Pole, but that’s all about to change for good reason!

In “The Asylum Musicale,” Lizzie, a patient at an asylum, quickly began to wonder where Yessica Klaus, the newest patient there, had come from and why she seemed to be capable of things that no one else could do. The foreshadowing in the early scenes was excellent. I especially liked Lizzie’s descriptions of her life before she was committed and how she responded to Yessica when she began to feel threatened by her. She was a complex person who seemed to believe several contradictory things at once, so it was a lot of fun to weigh the various things she told the audience against each other and come up with my own theories about what was going on before the big reveal at the end.

All of the stories in this collection were creative, diverse, and well written. I never would have guessed that Mrs. Claus could be interpreted in so many different ways or that she could be frightening in one plot and sympathetic in the next. “You’d Better Watch Out” was the only tale that I thought could have used a little more plot development. While I loved the idea of Nick and Fianna Claus adopting a house full of children, I would liked to see a little more time spent on explaining why Fianna ended up with such an unusual part-time job and how she and her husband decided to take in so many kids. With a little more development, this instalment easily would have been my favourite part of the entire book.

“Good Morning” followed Nick and Eve on the one day of the year when they awoke from their slumber and used powerful magic to help Nick deliver presents to every home on Earth. By far the best part of the storyline were the references to who these characters were before they became Santa and Mrs. Claus. One of the things I’ve always found most thought provoking about this couple was how little attention anyone ever paid to why these beings gave away presents or how they ended up together. This story had the most inventive take on their backstories by far, and I deeply enjoyed reading it.

I’d heartily recommend Mrs. Claus to anyone who loves modern spins on traditional fairy tales.

Chatel’s Vision: A Cheetah Princess Story by Glenn McCorkhill and Joan Conning Afman

Chatel’s Vision: A Cheetah Princess Story by Glenn McCorkhill and Joan Conning Afman
Publisher: Champagne Books
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Length: Full length (191 pages)
Heat Level: Sensual
Rating: 3 stars
Reviewed by Poinsettia

When a stranger shows up at the door of her parent’s rundown farm, Chatel hopes her dreams have come true. But he seems consumed with a desire for wealth and power, and shows little interest in her.

However, his arrival will sweep her up into an epic adventure across Futurah, with her loyal pet cheetah at her side. She will encounter a king and queen on a desperate quest, accompanied by their own cheetah and a handsome young man who hopes to make her dreams a reality.

The young man who shows up at Chatel’s door isn’t exactly the prince she’s always dreamed of.

Chatel desperately wants to be rescued from the dull life she leads on her family’s farm. When a rich young man shows up, she hopes her fantasies are about to come true. Unfortunately, the man isn’t who he seems. Chatel and Teekay, her pet cheetah, sense something isn’t right and it isn’t long before Chatel finds herself caught up in a royal struggle for power, one that could cost Chatel her life.

I really like the premise of Chatel’s Vision. The world the authors have created is vivid, realistic, and easy to imagine. However, I don’t feel that I got to know any of the characters very well. The story is told from several characters’ viewpoints. The transitions are smooth and never confusing, but the characters are not as rounded as they could have been. Most of the characters, except the villain of course, are likable, but they never truly came to life in my mind.

Chatel is a sweet, brave young woman, and I was pleased when she met a young man worthy of her affections. However, their romance is rushed, and they become serious extremely fast without knowing much about each other. I just feel that it was wrapped up much too quickly. Despite my issues with the human characters, I absolutely love the cheetahs, Kiboli and Teekay. In fact, they are my favorite characters. I found myself laughing at their antics and holding my breath when they were in danger. Kiboli and Teekay’s families are lucky to have such loyal friends watching over them.

Chatel’s Vision is an enjoyable read. It is part of a series, but I believe it stands on its own very well. Mr. McCorkhill and Ms. Afman have provided enough background information that I never felt lost. I recommend it to anyone looking for a quick, fun book.

Fleet by Brian T. Marshall

Fleet by Brian T. Marshall
Publisher: missppelled press
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Contemporary
Length: Full Length (281 pages)
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

A man, lost and naked, on the streets of Manhattan, pleading in an unknown tongue. The retired linguist who realizes it’s an archaic Greek, unspoken for three thousand years. And the young woman who befriends them both, just in time for an unlikely quest. From New York to LA, Nebraska to Delphi, Fleet travels a labyrinth, with a mystery as old as mankind lying at its very heart.

It isn’t easy to figure out who someone is when they don’t even remember who they are.

The characters made intelligent decisions even when very odd things happened to or around them. This is something I’m always happy to find in the fantasy genre. It’s refreshing to meet characters who remain level-headed and think things through logically when they encounter something that they can’t yet rationally explain.

This book got off to a slow start. It took a while for the main characters to discover the lost man, and it took much more time than that for them to even begin to figure out anything about his background at all. As intrigued as I was by the idea of someone speaking an archaic tongue, it was difficult to stay interested in the storyline due to how slowly it moved.

There’s something to be said for dialogue that makes a reader chuckle. I had plenty of reasons to smile at the witty things these characters said to each other as they were trying to figure out who the lost man was and why he spoke such an obscure dialect. The further I got into the plot, the better their retorts became.

I also had trouble keeping track of all of the characters, especially in the beginning when the plot kept switching between various points of view. Having to adjust to so many different narrators right away made it even more challenging than it would have otherwise been to remember who everyone was and how they were connected to each other.

The backstory of the man who was found wandering the streets alone was nicely written and suited his personality well. While it did take quite a while to have any of my questions about this part of the story answered, I was satisfied by how those questions were handled once the plot decided to jump into them.

Fleet should be read by anyone who has ever wondered what it would be like to have a conversation in a language that almost no one speaks.

The Time by Peri Elizabeth Scott

The Time by Peri Elizabeth Scott
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Horror, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (75 pages)
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

In a post apocalyptic world, a woman struggles to survive until reunited with her son, only to bring grave danger to the small band of people he leads. Choosing to sacrifice herself to protect the clan, Ann Murdoch discovers how resourceful she can be in the face of torture and death.

She knew revenge was a luxury even as she yearned for it, her daughter horribly murdered. And Ann has killed a boy, albeit in self defense, and obviously someone connected to him didn’t view luxury in the same way. And that someone is well past the yearning stage…

How long would you survive in a society that no longer had a government and was quickly running out of food?

Malnutrition makes everything in life more difficult, from defending one’s home to finding the energy to keep walking in order to find a safe place to sleep at night. Some of my favorite sections of this tale were the ones that described how the main character and her companions survived in a world where most people were running out of food and where strangers would kill anyone for a few supplies. Yes, they were dark scenes at times, but the characters were so determined to survive that I couldn’t wait to see what they’d eat next and how they’d avoid starvation over the winter.

This tale would have benefitted from more editing. There were a few sentences that didn’t make sense to me because they were either missing words or contained words that didn’t fit into the their tone. Many other sentences had comma or other punctuation errors that made them hard to follow at times. While I deeply enjoyed the plot itself, needing to decipher what the narrator was trying to say so often was frustrating for me as a reader.

It was easy to keep track of all of the characters even though there were far more of them than I’d normaly expect to meet in a short story. Everyone the author wrote about had something unique about them that instantly let me know who she was talking about. This was a good decision, especially later on in the storyline when many of them were involved in the same scenes and there were a lot of different things happening at once.

If you’re a fan of post-apocalyptic fiction, give The Time a try.

October Mystery/Suspense Book of the Month Poll Winner ~ Passport to Murder by Mary Angela

Passport to Murder by Mary Angela
Publisher: Camel Press
Genre: Contemporary, Suspense/Mystery
Length: Full Length (249)
Rating: 5 stars
Reviewed by Stargazer

Voted BoM by LASR Readers 2013 copy

Start with an unlucky number. Throw in a romantic location. Include a dashing Frenchman and an uncompromising professor. And you have all the ingredients for a passport to murder.

This semester, it seems that Professor Prather’s dreams are about to come true. Ever since she was a young girl, she’s imagined going to France, and her French colleague, André Duman, has finally made that trip possible. Over spring break, she and André are to lead a group of students and faculty to Paris to explore the City of Light. But before she can utter her first bonjour, a professor dies, and they are stuck in Minneapolis. She returns to Copper Bluff with an unstamped passport and a mystery to solve.

When André becomes the prime suspect, Emmeline puts her research skills to good use, determined to find out who really killed the professor and spoiled their spring break plans. With thirteen travelers assembled, the possibilities are varied and villainous. Luckily, her dear friend and sidekick, Lenny Jenkins, is close by. Together, they will sort through the conflicting clues even if it costs them time, trouble, or tenure.


Dutch by Madhuri Pavamani

Dutch by Madhuri Pavamani
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Genre: Urban Fantasy, Paranormal
Length: Full Length (342 pgs)
Other: M/F, F/F/M, Anal sex, Multiple Partners, Masturbation
Rated: 3.5 stars
Review by Rose

I’ve spent years holed up in the deepest, darkest parts of the city, fighting to keep Death and her Poochas from crossing the dead back to the living. My skill with a blade is bested only by my menace, my despair, my anguish – the strongest weapons I yield.

Then I meet Juma Landry and it all goes to hell.

She is beauty and love and sex and light, everything I am not. And she makes me want things I haven’t desired in years. But the monsters of my life, the evil lurking in the dark corners of my soul, those places craven and vile, bind me to a past I cannot shake free. As the most skilled Keeper for The Gate, nothing and no one can prevent me from excelling at a job I never wanted. I do it because it is my legacy, a fate I cannot outrun, but when Juma becomes my next assignment, each of her nine lives to be ended by my hand, I must decide: the legacy I never wanted or the love I don’t deserve.

This is an adult fantasy and while it’s not labeled as erotic, in this reviewer’s opinion it should be. Before the principles meet, both male and female lead characters in this fantasy romance have engaged in multiple episodes of sex of various types (M/F, FFM, oral, anal, etc). Even after they meet and become cognizant of the attraction between each other, their sexual activities are not limited to the other. So, it’s important that the reader be aware of this, because I would hate for someone to pick up the book and not realize how much graphic sex there was.

That being said, the storyline is very interesting. We learn about Dutch, who is a Keeper of The Gate – the gate separating life and death. It is their job to keep those people who have died from coming back, by killing Death’s Poochas. This is an incredibly dark book, and does include some descriptions of torture.

Death is not the Death we normally think of– this Death is a very sexy woman who is very hedonistic and lives only for pleasure. She allows selected dead people to return to life – aided by her Poochas.

The main conflict comes in when Dutch and Juma (one of Death’s Poochas) meet and discover themselves to be soulmates only to discover that Dutch has been assigned to kill her.

There are a lot of twists and turns in this book, and you see both Dutch and Juma grow and change quite a bit. Though I was a bit dismayed by the darkness here, I was very invested in these characters. I enjoyed watching their development and look forward to seeing how Dutch and Juma resolve the difficulties that surround them.

FYI, this is the first book in the series and ends on a cliffhanger.

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Evil Speaks Softly by Maureen L. Bonatch

Evil Speaks Softly by Maureen L. Bonatch
Publisher: The Wild Rose Press
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Horror, Paranormal, Contemporary
Length: Full Length (315 pages)
Heat Level: Spicy
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

They were never supposed to meet.

Fame came easy for Liv by following in the footsteps of the female writers in her family. The cycle repeated for decades…until Liv changed the story. Her villain doesn’t like the revision—and he isn’t a fictional character. In his story, the bad guy always wins.

They were never supposed to find love.

Liv never questioned her demanding nocturnal muse, or the strange incidents in her old, family home until she met Gage. His job was to watch her from afar, not reveal the truth about the curse and the stories of the dead.

They’ve broken all the rules.

Together they unravel secrets as they strive to stop the cycle. Liv’s ability to find love, and protect her loved ones, hangs on the fickle whims of the dead—and they’ve got nothing to lose.

Just because you can’t see it doesn’t mean it can’t hurt you or the people you love.

Liv’s relationship with her grandmother was one of my favorite parts of this tale. They shared so many of the same quirks that I would have immediately known they were related even if the main character hadn’t been so clear about it. What made this even better was that Liv would probably never admit to being so much like her grandma! The conversations between them in the beginning were thought provoking as well. There was something about her grandmother’s serious approach to life that I found irresistible, especially when Liv unconsciously acted the same way.

The pacing was uneven. While it began strongly, there were several times in the plot when the characters either had far too much going on in their lives or weren’t experiencing very much conflict at all. I enjoyed the more exciting scenes quite a bit, but it was a struggle for me to keep reading when Liv and Gage entered the quiet parts of the storyline.

Horror, fantasy, and romance aren’t genres I see mixed together very often, but I really liked how Ms. Bonatch handled all three of them. The horror scenes were genuinely frightening, especially once the characters began to dig more deeply into the curse on Liv’s family and who might be trying to harm her. What made these scenes even better was how seamlessly they were woven into the budding romance between Liv and Gage and all of the strange things that happen in a universe where spirits are everywhere. It was an unique experience to move so quickly between passion, wonder, and fear. These emotions ended up complementing each other nicely, and I was pleased with how much effort the author put into making sure she struck an even balance between all of them.

I had trouble keeping track of all of the characters. There were so many folks running around that I often mixed up the ones that didn’t spend a lot of time interacting with Liv. While I understand why all of them were included, it would have been helpful to have a list of characters and their occupations to refer to so I could refresh my memory and avoid having to search for their names so often when I forgot how they were connected to the main characters.

The dialogue was well written. There were a few times when various characters said something that made me chuckle. That wasn’t something I was expecting to happen, so I was pretty pleased by those moments. I also appreciated the fact that Liv and the people around her got straight to the point when they had something on their mind. That kind of straightforward dialogue was perfect for the tone of this story overall.

Evil Speaks Softly should be read by anyone who is looking for some horror in the romance and fantasy genres.

The Blue Guitar by Arnold Greenberg

The Blue Guitar by Arnold Greenberg
Publisher: The Wild Rose Press
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (43 pages)
Heat Level: Spicy
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Orrin is powerfully drawn to a blue guitar he sees in a music store when he is twelve and is taught to play and compose haunting music by a master teacher. While working as a janitor, he is attracted to Emily, a para-legal secretary. He knows if she could only hear his music she’d know he is more than a janitor.

When he plays Rhapsody, the song he composed for Emily, she is overwhelmed and falls in love with him. Orrin now has the love of his life until she is hit by a drunk driver. While in a coma, Orrin knows his music will bring her back but is forced to stop playing by the hospital and he loses her. His music grows sad until he realizes he must play beautiful music to have a love like Emily come to his life.

Music lifts people up when they’re discouraged and comforts them when they’re sad. There’s a song out there for nearly every occasion you could imagine. Whether or not a song can make two people fall in love, though, still remains to be seen.

Orrin was such a well-developed character. His kind and gentle personality was impossible for me to resist, especially once the difficult pieces of his backstory were revealed. The fact that he was so painfully shy only made me like him even more than I already did. It made perfect sense given what he’d been through. I had a great deal of sympathy for him and couldn’t wait to see if he’d muster up the courage to pursue all of his dreams.

While I could easily imagine what it would be like to have a conversation with Orrin, I couldn’t say the same thing about Emily. She was described as beautiful, but I was never able to come up with a clear picture of what her personality was like. The fact that Orrin was so enamoured with her made me really curious to know what it was he loved about her so much. Had more time been spent showing me who she was, I would have easily given this book a much higher rating as I otherwise enjoyed it quite a bit.

I liked how the fantasy elements of Orrin’s adventures were gently folded into the edges of the storyline. The romance was definitely the main focus of the plot, and there were a few times in the beginning when I honestly wasn’t sure how literally I should be reading certain scenes. That ambiguity worked nicely with all of the uncertainty in the rest of the main character’s life as well. This is the sort of tale I’d mention to fans of the romance genre who have not read any fantasy before and are not sure what they think of trying something new. It was a wonderful introduction to stories that can’t easily be boxed into any one genre.

The Blue Guitar was a whimsical romance that I’d recommend to anyone who is in the mood for something magical.

Suzy Spitfire Kills Everybody by Joe Canzano

Suzy Spitfire Kills Everybody by Joe Canzano
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Action/Adventure, Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Length: Full Length (306 pages)
Rating: 3 stars
Reviewed by Peony

When outlaw Suzy Spitfire discovers her father was murdered after creating a super-duper artificial intelligence, she races across the solar system in search of the brain he built—but it’s a rough ride, and she’s soon forced to tangle with pirates, predators, and her father’s killer—as well as a man she thinks she can love.

Suzy Spitfire Kills Everybody is a smash-bang sci-fi adventure filled with action, intrigue, and a dose of dark humor.

Joe Canzano’s fast paced action Suzy Spitfire Kills Everybody begins with a bang and never slows down. The author himself has a few books under his belt, but perhaps none quite so eye catching as this, with the very first hook delivered by a title that you can’t help but give a second glance to. As of this writing, Joe has already written five books and his talent with action adventure shows through the page with pulse pounding excitement. It is hard not to pick up a book with such a bodacious title, but once you do it may be harder still to put it down.

What kind of wild ride is this book? The initial hook hints at either an action or a comedy, or a mixture of both. Without spoiling the excitement, I can say with certainty it is an action. While there are a few running gags to be had, the chuckles are clearly not the focus of this story and shouldn’t be what guides your choice. For some the jokes may fall flat entirely and really, they’re pretty sparse, making this book clearly aimed at the action crowd. Luckily the action hook doesn’t make you wait, the story opens with a bang within the first half dozen pages. For those seeking an explosive read, the book does try to deliver, though initially at least it may seem mindless. Almost for the entire book the narrative focus is on the external, the events that happen, but not the why. Internal narrative, the emotions driving the actors or the drama is almost entirely neglected. Ultimately this book most closely resembles the summer blockbuster action flick, lot of muscle, but not a long of mind.

Because the book is so heavily slanted to the goings on and not the reasons why and because it opens to a gunfight so soon, there is little to no room for development before explosions start happening. The book does start to talk about romance and hint at the possibility, before building a character whose romance would matter to you, let alone if they live or die. In order to have any sense of worry or concern for the safety or the characters you’ll have to read on for quite a while, because for the most part nothing truly developmental happens until a good third into the book. The approach seems to be very whimsical, with ideas tossed out randomly and sometimes contradicting themselves on the same page. If the book had a planned armature, or guiding principal or moral I cannot say what it was, the story really doesn’t lend well to analysis, preferring to be the roller coaster that you’re just along for the ride.

That isn’t to say the book doesn’t manage some impressive feats in terms of development and change. For instance our titular character is very rash to begin, but is forced to depend on others. Whether or not she can or will allow anyone to take control, help her out or solve a situation for her quickly becomes a running theme for the story. Other aspects that worked well is her view of sexuality. There is romance in the story, but it largely fades and leaves it to the reader’s imagination. Free loving or not is a theme that gets some attention in that the characters may be laid back about whom and when they engage romantically with people. The book simply does not judge a woman for taking control of her own sexuality, nor for being strong in her own right and features more than one example of both. LGBT is not included in this book, but nor is it spoken against and male and females are capable in this story of having meaningful friendships with both genders without being judged or painted into a box. This gives the reader the opportunity to draw their own conclusions and for some the absence may bother them. There is a lot of sexual tension to be had and virtually no one, especially female, is going to escape the possibility of a romantic storyline or two.

One of the main driving forces of this book is the action and the tense moments which tend to be the glue holding sections together. They’re constant and can seem overwrought in many ways. The biggest problems, besides the earlier mentioned lack of development, is that the story does tend to contradict itself and use questionable means to escape situations. For instance, at one point a room is described as lacking cover for the bad guys, but then a few sentences later the same room is described as having plenty of cover once Suzy needs it. Additionally the way situations are escaped can range wildly from deus ex machina to well thought-out and clever. The movie analogy really fits there, where as it isn’t hard to imagine the action movie with bad guys unable to hit anything and good guys with seemingly perfect aim.

Overall recommending this book depends more on the individual reading it than anything else. Summer blockbusters are hugely popular and this book captures a lot of that excitement within its pages. Despite the early lack of development, it actually manages to catch up as the book goes on and deliver some deeper than expected characters and interactions, all while not slowing the pace down. For the right reader this book could be an amazing fit and will surely make you wonder what else Joe’s library of work contains. He’s certainly proven that he can make exciting action and if that is something you enjoy reading then you should definitely not pass up Suzy Spitfire Kills Everybody.

Shaalon by Ashlynn Monroe

Shaalon by Ashlynn Monroe
Married To The Aliens 3
Publisher: Changeling Press
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Length: Short Story (55 Pages)
Other: M/F
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Tulip

Shaalon knows she made a mistake, but she never thought she’d be sacrificed to an alien. Thrust in a cell with a blood thirsty male of Xerra’s warrior class, she expects a terrible death. Bracing for the worse, she never expects to see hope in his eyes.

Cayylen wanted a warrior’s death, not the disgrace of an execution. With a single sun cycle left to him his last request is to fuck the daughter of his enemy. He never expects his request to be honored, but the moment he looks in Shaalon’s eyes he realizes she is his mate.

The strength he gains from finding his woman is enough for him to break free, but he refuses to let her go. War has been coming for a long time, but will taking his woman hostage be the tipping point the warriors need to fight the system trying to end their lines.

I enjoyed reading this short, but romantic and steamy, fantasy story.

At first it was the tense and seemingly hopeless romance that captured my attention in this book. I really liked the characters, Cayylen and Shaalon and the strength that they both had to stand up for the right things in life. It made them more easy to relate to as sometimes it can be hard for me to really connect with the characters in a novella. The author did a great job with pulling me into the story and not just with the sizzling sex. Another nice aspect is how some previous characters from this intriguing series had brief cameos in this one. That really grabbed my interest and had me wanting to read the other two books in this Sci-Fi / Fantasy world.

This book was a great short read that filled my afternoon with pleasure just reading it. It was a nice romantic, passionate and exciting story that flowed easily and left me interested in the coming war on planet Xerra. I loved the hope and romance that was at the heart of this story.

As for a quick fantasy romance I can recommend this novella to anyone.