Off Book by Jessica Dall

Off Book by Jessica Dall
Publisher: REUTS Publications
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Contemporary
Length: Full Length (181 pages)
Heat Level: Sweet
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Twenty-year-old Eloise has learned all she can from the School, where characters live until joining their novels. No one knows genre and plot structure better than her, but despite her knowledge, she’s yet to be assigned to her own story. All her friends are off starting their lives with their authors—and if Eloise doesn’t get assigned soon, she’ll fade away, forgotten by all.

When she is offered a job at the Recording Office, instead, she takes the chance to write her own future. Suddenly living among the post-storied, Eloise meets Barnaby Fitzwilliam, a former romance novel hero who hasn’t lost any of his in-story charm. But just as their relationship begins to get serious, Eloise is sucked into a novel she was never meant to be part of, turning everything they thought they knew about their world upside down.

Now, caught where the only rules are made by authors and truly anything is possible, Eloise must find her way back home—or her life might end before she ever gets the chance to live it.

It’s hard to sit by and watch other people find their destinies. Eloise has been gracious about it for a long time, but when will it be her turn?

There were quite a few plot twists that I didn’t see coming. Ms. Dall’s vivid imagination worked really well with the premise of this story, especially once the characters settled into their roles and began reacting to everything that was happening to them. What I appreciated the most about all of these surprises was how well they worked with the plot as well as everything I was able to figure out about the personalities of the characters involved in them.

Speaking of the characters, I would have really liked to see more time spent developing their personalities. I like Eloise and Barnaby, but I finished the final chapter without ever having a clear understanding of what it would be like to be in the same room with them. Would they be talkative or quiet? How would they react to disappointing news? What kind of response could I expect from them if they were angry? Had even some of my questions about them been answered, this book would have easily earned a much higher rating.

One of my favorite things to see in a possible romantic subplot is a strong friendship. If two characters have enough in common that I could see them being best friends, I will almost certainly root for them to end up together. It took a while for the romantic elements of this tale to fully appear, but I was glad the author took her time to show the audience why the people involved in that storyline might make such a good match. It kept my attention and made it hard to stop reading.

Off Book was incredibly clever. I’d recommend it to anyone has ever wondered what characters really do when an author stops paying attention to them.

Valentine’s Heat I by Ally Shields, Nessie Strange, Keith Melton, C.L. Bledsoe

Valentine’s Heat I by Ally Shields, Nessie Strange, Keith Melton, C.L. Bledsoe
Publisher: Etopia Press
Genre: Action/Adventure, Contemporary, Holiday, Paranormal, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Young Adult
Length: Full Length (210 pgs)
Heat Level: Sensual
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Thistledown

“Heart’s Pride” by Ally Shields

The Guardian Witch Series

When their wedding is ruined by a werepanther attack, Katrina is left hospitalized and Blane is just…gone. But when he finally finds his way back to Riverdale, he learns he’s not the only one who’s been tracking Katrina…

“Lost Soul, Lost Love” by Nessie Strange

The Living Dead World Series

It’s Jen MacLellan’s first trip back to earth as a new reaper, and Mardi Gras is in full swing. When she happens upon Chip, a partier stuck in a perpetual 1983, Jen decides to help him find the woman he loves so he can move on. Assuming all goes well when he finds her…

“Red Dogs” by Keith Melton

The Zero Dog Mission Series

Mercenary pyromancer Andrea Walker has just saved the world from bloodthirsty hagworms and is late for her Valentine’s date with Jake. Until she hears that Jake has already left her house…with her…

“V-Day” by CL Bledsoe

The Necro-Files Series

Daisy and her friends think going to a frat party on Valentine’s Day will be a fun, not-at-all-desperate Girls Night Out. What they don’t expect is to have Delilah’s succubus pheromones accidentally set off the apocalypse…

Valentine’s Day is for suckers…

At least that’s what the majority of the stories in this anthology relate to. In the first story, “Heart’s Pride” by Ally Shields, we meet a cat shifter with a few unwanted beaus that turn from rowdy drunks to kidnapping slavers. Katrina is searching for her lost mate and is derailed from her mission, only to find hope in the darkest places. Great tension, strong characters and I was sad when this story was over.

In the second story “Lost Soul, Lost Love” we meet a new Reaper getting her education about the other side of the proverbial fence. She meets a lost soul who won’t give up the ghost of his former life and has to decide if tangling with her mentor Sam or Death is worth the education. Great story. It made me want to read the rest. The telepathic link from Sam to the new reaper was fun and awkward all at the same time.

The third piece “Red Dogs” by Keith Melton was more militaristic than some of the other stories. An unpleasant surprise awaits a team of elite fighters when their mission to contain a disturbance at an antique shop goes horribly wrong. Mistaken identities, spiritual warfare and a sexy dinner out might be just the thing to get this Valentine’s Day heated up.

The last story is “The Necro-Files: V-Day” by C.L. Bledsoe. I love this series and this story was a fun addition. It lends itself to a common problem at frat parties. What do you do when someone spikes the punch and if a succubus with insane lusty powers drinks it, how many men do you think will still be standing? This was a hilarious car humping story that had me snorting through my nose more than once.

All of these stories had a unique view on Valentine’s Day foibles and just how much of a trial it can be. From outdated ghostly love to a doppelganger style manifestation to lusty punch and kitty shifters, this was a blast to read and I am going to go back and check out the authors I haven’t read before. Fans of the Anita Blake books, Kim Harrison and Charlaine Harris will love these authors.

If you want some short reads that are urban fantasy style romance with snark, these are for you.

The Book of the Not-Dead-Enough: Admin Errors from the Other Side by Richard T. Watson

The Book of the Not-Dead-Enough: Admin Errors from the Other Side by Richard T. Watson
Publisher: Self-published
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Holiday, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (75 pages)
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

With a fresh round of spending cuts in the Afterlife and immigration services stretched to breaking point, mistakes are inevitable. Admin errors, but from the Other Side. Anomalies slip through the net and sit down to tea.

It’s those at the bottom that suffer, the ones with no say in it. The living world begins to fill up with those who have died but been refused entry to the Hereafter; the dead that haven’t died to their full potential. The Book of the Not-Dead-Enough is the story of their continued attempts to keep calm and carry on, in a world that has seen too many George Romero films.

The dead live on in our memories, but the Not-Dead-Enough don’t need memories; they need a good beautician and central heating. They’ve been Beyond and come back. They’re not sure they like it.
They’re not just pushing up the daisies; they’re making daisy chains, tidying up the graveside floral arrangements and downloading Interflora vouchers on their smartphones. If you want something done properly…

Loitering somewhere between Dickens, Pratchett and Douglas Adams, The Book of the Not-Dead-Enough is a debut collection of short shorts and flash fictions that isn’t wholly flippant nor wholly serious, but tickles at the join between.

Sometimes the dead do share their secrets.

By far my favorite entry was “Murphy’s Insurance Law.” It was written as a series of letters sent from the CEO of an insurance company to someone who was trying to claim her life insurance benefits under a weird set of circumstances. It’s hard to discuss them in any detail without giving away spoilers, but I chuckled my way through these correspondences. I’ve never read anything quite like this before and was surprised by the author’s inventive approach to the plot.

This anthology contain over twenty stories, nearly all of which were extremely short. In most cases, there was enough plot and character development packed into those few pages to help me connect to the main character and understand what was going on. There were some exceptions to this rule, though, and “A Charitable Death” was one of them. It followed a man named Mark who decides to continue his charitable fundraisers after he died. There were several things about his not-dead-enough existence that never made sense to me. The plot also ended in such an abrupt manner that I had trouble what the narrator was trying to tell me. This happened often enough in this collection that I would have liked to see a little more time spent explaining what was going on. I was otherwise a fan of Mr. Watson’s writing style and would have given his book a higher rating had I not been confused about where he was going with certain characters.

“No Migrants No Zombies No Dogs I” and “No Migrants, No Zombies, No Dogs II” work best together. While they were entertaining when read separately, they were even more appealing to me when I read them back to back. Both of these tales show how a young couple deal with discrimination against them as a result of something they didn’t choose and can’t change. The pacing in them was strong, and the character development made me wish they had been expanded into a full-length novel because I didn’t want to stop following their lives.

The Book of the Not-Dead-Enough: Admin Errors from the Other Side has grabbed my attention. I’d recommend it to anyone in the mood for truly creative science fiction.

Eban by Allison Merritt

Eban by Allison Merritt
The Heckmasters Book 2
Publisher: Samhain Publishing
Genre: Paranormal, Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Length: Full Length (181 pgs)
Heat Level: Spicy
Rating: 5 Stars
Reviewed by Sorrel

If love can’t save them, there will be hell to pay.

The Heckmasters, Book 2

Grateful for his mother’s human blood that cools the dark fire of his demon father, Eban Heckmaster has set up a medical practice in New Mexico territory. But there’s no hope of living a normal life until he rids himself of a seductive demon that’s been pursuing him.

Vanquishing it won’t be as simple as sharpening his demon-hunting sword. The clever creature is hiding inside his best friend’s head, and she has no idea of the havoc she’s been wreaking, especially with his body.

Beryl suspects Eban knows why she’s been waking up with no memory of where she’s been or what she’s done, but he’s not talking. But when she inevitably learns what he’s hiding—or rather, what’s hiding inside her—she wonders if her love for him is real, or an illusion created by the demon’s lust.

Eban is losing the battle to hold his rising desire in check. There may be only one way to extricate Beryl from the beast entangling her mind. Call upon his demon blood…and offer it as a sacrifice.

“They’d been conceived in love, they battled demons, but their blood ran thick with barely controlled evil”

This is the second book in the series depicting the story of the second brother, Eban. This series is solely focused on the three Heckmaster brothers who are half demon. Their father is a full-fledged demon who fell in love with a human.

There is a history in all the three books, which mainly comprises of what happened to their parents and their only sister. If you want to know more about all of this I would very much recommend for any reader to start from the first book, Wystan.

All of the brothers are very different from each other. Eban is a healer at heart. Fighting is not what he likes though he is good at it like his brothers. His heart is for healing people. I think this is where his urge to get the demon residing in Beryl comes from. He has a soft spot for Beryl though in his mind he still think himself in love with Rhia who is married to his elder brother, Wystan.

This book begins where Rhia and Wystan got married and left for their honeymoon, leaving Beryl in charge of the school and the classes including their otherworldy children or students.

Eban is bent on making sure Beryl lives, no matter the consequences. Their relationship did start with friendship though it wasn’t merely that for Beryl. However, their chemistry is at first very light. I could almost take it for lust. But at some point the passion and chemistry becomes difficult to ignore.

I loved the ending immensely. It was unexpected but not disliked in any way. I liked the ending very much and am looking forward to the third book and the surprises in store.

This is an easy recommend for any paranormal romance lovers.

Tall Dark and Hairy by CL Bledsoe

Tall, Dark and Hairy by CL Bledsoe
Publisher: Etopia Press
Genre: Action/Adventure, Paranormal, Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Length: Full Length (224 pgs)
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Thistledown

In the woods, no one can hear you sneeze…

Daisy Janney–college student and assistant mortician–can’t wait to get out to the country to attend a music festival for spring break. Her favorite band Shizknit will be there. But so will the bugs. And the bathrooms at their campsite are just…wow. Then there’s the secret war being waged by the wizards of the council and a mysterious group of creatures that look a whole lot like bigfoots (bigfeet?). Whatever they are, they seem to know something about Daisy that she doesn’t, and they aren’t telling. Now she’s got to save an entire race of mythical—scratch that, very real but kind of smelly—creatures from the clutches of the deranged (and equally smelly) leader of the council, Caroline. If she plays her cards right, Janie might be able to stay alive…and she might even get to spend what’s left of spring break getting to know the bass player for Shizknit a little better…

If a bigfoot walks in the woods and no one hears it, is it really there?

In this third book in the Necro Files series, we find Daisy out camping with her friend from college. Hanging out in the woods, she meets an ensemble of pot heads, band members and a herd of bigfoots. Dark dealings are at hand when she discovers a strange disk shaped object and witnesses a battle in a field. After that, all signs of a normal camping trip/ concert venue are pretty much toast. What do you do when you witness a hidden species and have to communicate by thought? Think carefully and dodge flying spells from renegade Council members who are up to no good.

Unlike the first two books, I was not pulled into the story right away. The historical beginning was a little interesting but strange, given the tone of the first two books. Also, the camping trip threw me and I struggled with getting into where the book was going. From the history I got where the bigfoot thing was going and once they appeared and the action got moving it was fine. Daisy rocked it and so did Nathan, the hunky spell binding hero. The romantic sparks between the band member and Daisy were lukewarm.

One of the funnier things were the names of the bigfoots and how they communicated by thought. Slips in Shit and Deer Humper. I think I snorted jello through my nose during my break at work when I read that the first time. Good one. It stands to reason the bigfoots would communicate differently than we would and how that effects a human if they touched one. Very good.

Overall I enjoyed the story after I got past the first bit and into the action. A great series, this is one I would recommend to anyone who enjoys the Southern Vampire series from Charlaine Harris, The Hollows series by Kim Harrison or even the Anita Blake books. Urban fantasy meets a funeral home with some unusual goings on, these books are great and have interesting story lines.

For a story to keep you reading long into the night give this one a try.

The Dawn of Mars by Jeff Ferry

The Dawn of Mars by Jeff Ferry
Publisher: Self-published
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Length: Full Length (298 pages)
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Revolution has come to Mars. Max Lupine has been secretly creating a virus to pacify and enslave the populace. However, a mining accident triggers a premature release of the virus and sets off a pandemic that causes the majority of the populace to become mindless killers. Beverly Gibson, lead scientist of the Delta Dig, tries to rally a resistance not only to battle the infected that roam the populated living domes of Mars, but to stop Max Lupine from consolidating his despotic power. Beverly is assisted by Edgar Lourdes who is the only man on the planet with the ability to diagnose and combat the virus. He must discover how the virus was created and how to save the millions of people living on Mars. Recently arrived Thomas Stargell must battle across the Martian landscape to find Beverly’s resistance group and help them break Max Lupine’s control of the communications on Mars. He must attempt to contact Earth and hope they will come to the aid of the beleaguered Martians. When Lupine discovers how to control the infected the stage is set for a final showdown to find out who will control the future of Mars. Beverly’s rebels and Lupine’s forces meet in a climactic planet wide showdown that will cost many their lives and force the people of Mars to become revolutionaries or find themselves under the control of a madman.

It isn’t wise to start a revolution at the same time that a pandemic is spreading. Or is it?

Some of my favorite passages in this book were the ones that described how the Martian cities were laid out. The descriptions of them were so thorough that I genuinely felt as though I’d just finished walking up and down their streets. They were perfect setting for this tale given all of the changes their buildings have seen as one human generation gave way to the next.

It took a while for me to get into the story because so much time was spent introducing the characters and describing what life on Mars was like for average people. While I appreciated all of these details later on, including so many of them in the beginning did slow down the pacing of it. I had to plough through the first fifty pages or so before the plot picked up.

The explanation for the origin of the virus was well done. It fit all of the hints about where it might have come from that were dropped early on, but it still managed to surprise me in a few places. I also enjoyed the time that Mr. Ferry spent telling the audience where it came from and showing why it was so dangerous.

I would have liked to see more time spent on character development. It was hard to keep everyone straight because there were so many of them running around. Their personalities weren’t given an opportunity to develop to the point where I could tell the difference between two people based on how they behaved or spoke. Even knowing a few key facts about the most important characters would have made it much easier for me to remember who was who.

There’s definitely something to be said for intelligent protagonists. One of the things I was able to figure out about the main characters is that most of them were smart. They tended to be fairly cautious in new situations. That isn’t something that happens too often in this genre, so I was pleasantly surprised by how Mr. Ferry wrote those sections.

The Dawn of Mars is a good choice for anyone who likes science fiction that is heavily plot driven.

Ghost of Death by Chrys Fey

Ghost of Death by Chrys Fey
Publisher: The Wild Rose Press
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Paranormal, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (41 pages)
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Jolie Montgomery, a twenty-one-year-old woman, wakes up in an alley next to her corpse. She has no memories of her murder or the night she died. She didn’t even see the killer’s face before he or she took her life. Wanting justice, Jolie seeks answers in the only way a ghost can…by stalking the lead detective on the case.

Avrianna Heavenborn is determined to find the person responsible for a young woman’s death. She gets closer to the killer’s identity with every clue she uncovers, and Jolie is with her every step of the way.

But if they don’t solve her murder soon, Jolie will be an earth-bound spirit forever.

Everyone dies with some kind of unfinished business.

Jolie was such a fascinating protagonist. Her reaction to her death gave me a clear understanding of the smart, witty person she had been in life and continued to be in the afterlife, especially once she realized what she was capable of as a ghost. There were a few times when I giggled while reading her internal monologue, and that definitely wasn’t something I was expecting to do given the serious subject matter of this tale!

There were a few things about the murderer that I never quite understood. I briefly wondered if I’d accidentally stumbled into book two or three of a series based on how this character was written, although after researching it online this didn’t actually seem to be the case after all. It would have been helpful to have more details about this particular aspect of the plot so that certain pieces of information would be easier to pick up on.

The dialogue was well done. There isn’t a great deal of room in a story of this length for exposition, so tucking it into ordinary conversations was a smart idea. Doing it this way gave me precisely the right amount of background information about the characters I was most curious about. At a few different points during the dialogue I wanted to know more about what the characters were discussing. They provided enough information about what was currently going on, but they also whetted my appetite for more. While I don’t know if the author is planning to write a sequel, there is certainly plenty of room here to do so.

Ghost of Death is a good choice for anyone who likes the paranormal side of science fiction.

Playing by the Rules by J. Hepburn

Playing by the Rules by J. Hepburn
Publisher: Less Than Three Press
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Length: Short Story (133 pages)
Heat Level: Spicy, F/F
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Life aboard a luxury yacht, travelling deep inside safe space, isn’t supposed to be exciting, and it’s one of the main reasons Tori works on board as a beautician and cocktail waitress. Her growing friendship with Annick, another beautician, is a pleasant bonus.

Then the ship is attacked by pirates, the very last thing she needs, but it soon becomes apparent that if they stand any chance of surviving she will have to dredge up the past she’s tried so hard to leave behind.

But even Tori’s unique history can’t help her sort out what to do when she’s caught between the friend she’s falling in love with and the pirate captain she’s seducing…

How would you survive a hostile takeover of your home and workplace?

This story had incredibly strong pacing. The idea of having a ship hijacked by strangers whose motives are unclear was spellbinding, especially since the audience is tossed into one of the tensest moments of the book almost immediately. There were no dull moments here. Nearly every single scene had me perched on the edge of my seat as I waited to find out what would happen next.

I would have liked to see more character development. It was hard to understand why Tori made certain decisions because I knew so little about how her mind worked. She also didn’t seem to change as a result of everything that happened to her during the course of the plot. Had the author spent more time explaining why this character responded to those events the way she did, it would have earned this tale a higher rating.

One of the most interesting things I learned about Tori’s current job was how it prepared her and the other employees for certain things that could go wrong while their yacht is travelling through space. It vaguely reminded me of the mandatory safety drills that contemporary cruise ships put their employees and passengers through before setting sail. Including such information about how Tori was trained was a smart decision that made her work life seem more three-dimensional than it otherwise might have been.

Playing by the Rules is a good choice for fans of science fiction and romance alike.

Almira and the Backward Family by Eugenio Negro

Almira and the Backward Family by Eugenio Negro
Publisher: Self-published
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Historical
Length: Short Story (52 pages)
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

During the grinding struggle of gold rush-era California, a nine year-old girl learns a secret that sets her on a path to revenge. Her imagination and lack of education drive her and her family to an unavoidable conclusion. Her story is a western without romance and without honor.

Be careful what you wish for. Sometimes wishes get granted.

Almira was such an eerie child. The scenes that involved her interacting with the world around here were full of offbeat moments. She was written to come across as the kind of girl that flies under the radar of most adults. This was the biggest reason why I was so fascinated by her, as it was hard at first to imagine why anyone would overlook what made her so special. The slow process of figuring out why this was so made it hard to put this tale down.

This story spent a great deal of time jumping from one narrator to the next. It was confusing at times to adjust to yet another character’s take on what was happening because their points of view were so different from one another. This technique would have worked better in a full-length novel that had the time to explore why everyone reacted to certain events the way they did. There simply wasn’t enough space to divulge that kind of information to the audience, and it did affect how I related to the characters as well as the transitions between their perspectives.

The descriptions of the shack Almira and her family lived in were incredibly vivid. I can’t imagine trying to do everything this girl’s mother had to do to keep her family fed and happy in such a tiny house and with three young children underfoot. Spending so much time showing what it’s like to living in such a cramped environment was a smart decision. It made the rest of the plot even more compelling.

I’d recommend Almira and the Backward Family to anyone in the mood for something out of the ordinary.

April Sci-Fi/Fantasy Book of the Month Poll Winner ~ Chaysing Destiny by Jalpa Williby

Chaysing Destiny by Jalpa Williby
Chaysing Trilogy Book 3
Publisher: Outskirts Press
Genre: Contemporary, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Suspense/Mystery
Length: Full Length (342 pgs)
Heat Level: Spicy
Rating: 5 Stars
Reviewed by Sorrel

Voted BoM by LASR Readers 2013 copy

Will you find your destiny? Or will destiny find you? Lesson One: Follow your instincts. Lesson Two: Trust no one. Lesson Three: Don’t hesitate. Truth is nothing but lies. Light is overshadowed by darkness. Hope is replaced by despair. Innocence is lost. Only anger and bitterness remain. Don’t miss this final installment as destiny’s path is ultimately unraveled in Chaysing Destiny.