A Symphony of Heart Strings by T.E. Hodden


A Symphony of Heart Strings by T.E. Hodden
Publisher: Roane Publishing
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Paranormal, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (50 pages)
Heat Level: Sweet
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Meet Bob. Bob is the guy between the lines of every love story you ever met. The lucky chance, the twist of fate, the astounding coincidence that sets sparks flying. Never seen, but always there.

Today Bob is assigned to help Jenny find love. But there is something more than bad luck working against the quirky librarian. Bob might have to save her life, before he can help her find love.

And he can’t do that from the shadows…

You don’t need luck to fall in love. You need Bob.

The world-building was amazing. It honestly felt more like a chapter out of a full-length novel because of how complex and logical it all was. Everything the main character explained about his world made perfect sense, but it also left me yearning for more. I had never stopped to wonder what it would be like to be the entity who makes people fall in love, but now I can’t stop thinking about how such a system would have first been set up or what might happen to Bob next.

I would have liked to see a little more time spent developing Bob and Jenny’s personalities. I loved the shy and sweet parts of their personalities that were revealed, but I finished this book with a few lingering questions about how they behaved in general. There was so much time spent on creating the incredible world that they lived in and moving the plot forward that this part of the storyline didn’t get quite enough attention. With that being said, I still deeply enjoyed this tale. This is only a minor criticism.

The descriptions of the places Bob went and the people he met were so vivid. I especially enjoyed his descriptions of how humans are connected to each other and how he figured out which folks should be gently encouraged to get to know each other better. While I can’t say much more about this without giving away spoilers, there was some gorgeous writing in these passages that got Bob’s point across perfectly.

A Symphony of Heart Strings was both a beautiful love story and a thrilling urban fantasy. I’d heartily recommend it to fans of either of these genres.

Rael by Colleen S. Myers


Rael by Colleen S. Myers
Publisher: Champagne Books
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Length: Short Story (22 pgs)
Rating: 3.5 stars
Reviewed by Fern

Sixteen-year-old Rael, the Avaresh Prince survives the E’mani attack, but his sister is taken. Rael will do anything to get her back. Will he get to her in time or will he fail, just as his father predicts?

Rael’s people, the Avaresh, are generally peaceful. But their government knows to plan for all eventualities. So when they come under attack, Rael knows his duties – to protect the children. Can Rael do rise to the challenge when disaster strikes?

This is an interesting, very short story. There are a number of new words and a whole new universe all introduced in this snippet of a story. I found it a little overwhelming – a lot of information and explanation in a very short space. Although there is definitely action – the scene opens with an attack, which I feel was a great way to draw in the reader – I really feel that the shortness of the story just didn’t allow the author to really expand and show the reader the richness and depth of this new world. After reading through the story twice I had a much deeper appreciation for the author’s imagination and her way of managing to infuse action, treachery and a sort of hero’s awakening into such a quick story.

Readers should be aware that I feel this is a pure Sci-Fi style of story. There is no romance — not even a heroine really — just Rael as the main male protagonist. There also to my mind is not a happy ending. Bittersweet and heroic, yes, but not a happy ending in the traditional sense at all. While I feel this will appeal to readers who like quirky stories or darker endings – readers used to everything turning out well (either Happy Ever After or even Happy For Now) might not find this ending satisfying.

I greatly enjoyed Rael’s character – at seventeen he was almost a fully grown male and his love for his little sister was deep and really struck me as true. I did appreciate how the author crammed a whole lot of action, intrigue and danger into such a short story, but this really felt like an extract of a longer-length story. I was left not really knowing clearly what happened next, or how the events in this story unfolded right after where the ending left off. Add onto that the bittersweet, not-happy resolution and I felt a little down when I’d finished reading this story and normally that’s not how I like to finish on a book I read.

The characters, action and plot were excellent. I enjoyed the Sci-Fi aspect of this new world and I’d certainly be willing to give this author another chance. I’d pick up another of her stories again.

Halfway by Lokesh Sharma


Halfway by Lokesh Sharma
Aspiration for Deliverance #1
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Contemporary
Length: Full Length (175 pages)
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

A few hundred people wake up in an auditorium with no memory of their past, scared and confused, struggling to remember who they are and how they got here. A voice draws their attention to the person standing on the podium, impeccably dressed, an air of calm confidence about him that suggests he has the answers to all their questions. As he starts explaining the situation, they slowly begin to realize they are in a futuristic realm called Enigma, where dead humans are reborn and brought to trials for the crimes they committed in their human-lives…

Death isn’t the end. In fact, it’s only the beginning.

The world building was really well done. I could tell that Mr. Sharma had put a lot of effort into developing how Enigma worked and what it would be like to live there. That entire realm ran like a well-oiled machine. It felt real to me because of how many details the author included about who was invited there, what they had to do while they there, and where they might go after their time at Enigma had ended. I was perfectly satisfied with what the narrators shared with me, but I also found myself wanting to know more about this unique place.

I had trouble keeping track of all of the characters because there were so many of them. While it was interesting to jump between their experiences in the afterlife, I would have preferred to focus on a smaller number of characters who were going through the process of being judged on what they did while they were alive. Having so many different characters made it hard for me to remember which backstory belonged to which individual in this book.

One of my favorite parts of this book was how little the main characters knew when they woke up in the auditorium. It was interesting to feel their confusion as they tried to figure out who they were and how they had all ended up in the same room. What made this scene even more memorable to me is how all of their questions were answered. Without giving away any spoilers, the narrator did a nice job of tying all of those pieces of the plot together in ways that made sense but also required the reader to do some thinking of their own.

The ending was quite abrupt. While I understand that this was meant to be the first story in a series, I would have liked to have some closure for at least a few of the conflicts that were explored here. There were many opportunities for the characters to grow and learn from their experiences that were never taken advantage of. Leaving everything hanging like that in the end made me feel unsatisfied.

With that being said, I would be curious to know what happened to Aparna, Dev, and the other people who woke up in Enigma because the pacing of their storylines were so fast and strong. I was always interested in finding out what would happen next to these characters. There was never a point where their adventures slowed down at all, and that was a good thing.

Halfway was a thought-provoking tale that I’d recommend to anyone who is in the mood to start a new series.

Touching Water by Viola Grace


Touching Water by Viola Grace
Publisher: Devine Destinies
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (58 pages)
Heat Level: Sweet
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Lydra wanted to live a life as a researcher and focus on solving mysteries of genetics. She never intended to become one of those mysteries.

Trapped in an experiment gone wrong, she ends up blue and powerless on her own world, so she decides to be a freak amongst freaks elsewhere.

Locals populate guardian Base Vidiaro, but Lydra gets by by doing her crime scene analysis until the day that the experiment that started on her own world takes its course. She goes from an anomaly to a hero and isn’t sure which she really wants to be.

Not every superpower is created equally.

Lydra was such an interesting main character. I was fascinated by the fact that she was so embarrassed over the color her skin after the science experiment she was participating in didn’t end the way she was expecting it to. It was knowing this fact about her that made her courage later on on the tale even more remarkable that it might have otherwise been. Facing what you perceive to be a weakness is never easy, but the way she handled it only made me like her twice as much as I did before.

The romantic subplot didn’t work for me at all. While I liked both of the characters involved in it quite a bit, I had trouble imagining them as a couple. The chemistry between them also never felt quite right. I could have seen them possibly becoming friends by the end, but I would have preferred to see more time spent developing their relationship before anything other than a completely platonic friendship was on the table. With that being said, I love romances that begin with a genuine and solid friendship, so I would have happily rooted for them if I could have seen more examples of why they’d make a good match.

The battles were nicely written. I especially enjoyed the fact that Ms. Grace spent so much time keeping them moving along smoothly. There was a lot going on during some of them, but I always remained on top of what everyone was doing and which science fiction or high tech devices were currently being used.

I’d recommend Touching Water to anyone who likes science fiction with a side of romance.

Broken, Collared, and Ready for Revenge by James Cox


Broken, Collared, and Ready for Revenge by James Cox
Publisher: Evernight Publishing
Genre: Action/Adventure, Contemporary, Paranormal, Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Length: Short Story (88 pgs)
Other: M/M, Anal Sex, Toys
Rating: 3 stars
Reviewed by Mistletoe

The collar comes off and all that’s left is a broken man.

Alexander Gentlemen has spent fifteen years with the collar on, beaten into submission, tortured beyond anything a human mind can survive. He’s fractured around the edges when his brothers finally save him. With the help of ‘One Nut’ Nigel, the collar is removed. He’s starting to remember the faces of those he’s killed and fighting the urge to murder everyone around him. But the one who put that clockwork device on him is still on the loose. With the help of Nigel, he tries to be integrated into a society he no longer understands.

Can he control himself long enough to get his revenge? Will Nigel be his savior or will Alexander embrace his darker side?

Alexander and his brothers live in a harsh world where one must fight in order to survive. Alexander is taken from the only life that he knows by the evil queen. He clings to the hope that is brothers will come and rescue him but as the years go by that hope grows dimmer until it is all but snuffed out. One day the unexpected happens and Alexander awakens from the terrible hell that the Queen has made of his life to see that his brothers have finally come to rescue him. After all that he has endured can Alexander return to some kind of normal life or is it too late for him?

The world that used to be has been destroyed and the evil Queen is using young boys to do her bidding. Stealing them as children and turning them into mindless drones used for her enjoyment and protection. Alexander was one such boy, but his brothers never gave up and fought to rescue him. As he learns to live again we see Alexander wrestle with emotions and new and different feelings. He is an engaging character and it was nice to see the relationship build between Alexander and Nigel. The two men form a special bond that grows deeper as they spend more time together. Their story is an intriguing read. While I got to see Alexander try to fit in and his feelings for Nigel grow I didn’t really get a good understanding of what is going on with the other part of the story. I knew that they were fighting as well as looking for the evil queen but never more than that. There are many unanswered questions that come up about that part of the story. I would like to have known how the brothers rescued Alexander and who their friends were as well as how the King ended up fighting the queen.

This story revolves around Alexander and how he strives to fit in now that he has been rescued. At times, it grabbed my attention while at others it felt as if it skipped important details for me. I enjoyed watching Alexander and Nigel come together but would have liked a bit more world building. Love is a strong emotion and it keeps Alexander alive through so much. Whether it is his love for his family or for Nigel, Alexander fights hard to keep it, it is what keeps him going. I enjoyed seeing that love help Alexander find his way back from the brink and give him something to fight for.

Dragon King’s Prize by Angelique Voisen


Dragon King’s Prize by Angelique Voisen
Publisher: Evernight Publishing
Genre: Paranormal Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Length: Short Story (73 pgs)
Other: M/M, Anal Sex
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Mistletoe

Leon is an anomaly, born to a family of hunters who believe all shifters need to die. When his family goes too far and uses a young dragon shifter as bait, Leon is forced to make the greatest mistake…or best decision of his life. Saved by an Alpha dragon, Leon wonders if Rashik is his captor or the one man he’s been searching for all his life.

Dragon King Rashik has been on the search for a stolen hatchling. He never expected to find a tasty and defiant human with steel in his spine. Humans hunt his kind for sport, yet Rashik can’t deny his attraction. Leon might be different but claiming the human could shift the balance in his clan.

Regardless of the consequences, Rashik is king for a reason. Once he sets his sights on Leon, Rashik will do anything to claim him.

All his life Leon just tried to survive. Living in the shadow of his father, the mighty paranormal hunter, was not always a good thing especially when he did not believe in his father’s ideals. Leon always believed that the shifters had just as much right to be in this world as the humans did. When Leon goes against his father and the other hunters by saving a baby dragon he finds himself under the protection of the dragon king. Just what will happen to Leon now that he is among the dragons. Is he safe or has he just traded one prison for another one?

Leon’s story grabs you right from the start. He leads a hard life living amongst the hunters and believing that the shifters have a right to live. Being beaten and ostracized, Leon takes one last chance to do one thing right in his life and that decision leads him to Rashik and his dragons. From the very beginning the two feel something going on between them and they must figure out just where they each stand. I enjoyed watching the two find their way to each other and their happy ever after. They live in a world that is divided yet the two men find a way to come together and fight for what is right. Not only do we get to see Rashik and Leon’s relationship build but we also get to see Leon grow and find himself as he fights to protect the baby dragon. There are those that are full of hate in every race and Leon finds that he must be on guard at all times. Love and trust are key to Leon and Rashik’s relationship and the two must realize when to let their guard down and let that love and trust in.

The author weaves and intriguing story full of adventure and emotions. I quickly found myself engrossed in their story and as with any good book it left me wanting to return and see more from this world and its characters.

C1PHER by Monica E. Spence


C1PHER by Monica E. Spence
Publisher: The Wild Rose Press
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Historical, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (100 pages)
Heat Level: Sensual
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Revolutionary War re-enactor Mary Banvard must travel to West Point during a thunder storm to authenticate papers concerning Benedict Arnold’s betrayal of West Point. Poor visibility causes a terrible car accident​, and she blacks out. When a masculine voice awakens her, she discovers everyone around her is wearing Colonial clothes. Odd. Who is this guy with the queue and the glasses who looks so worried?

Robert Townsend looks like a Quaker shopkeeper, but he is Culper, Jr., General George Washington’s most important spy. When Lady Mary Banvard, his fiancée, awakens following a carriage accident, she begins ranting about missing papers and traveling through Time.

Together Mary and Robert stumble upon a threat to their lives, their happiness, and the security of American generations to come.

Studying the past is one thing. Suddenly waking up in it is quite another.

The dialogue was fantastic. There were several times when I chuckled out loud at the things Mary said after she mysteriously found herself living back during the time of the Revolutionary War. She has a sharp wit, and it shone through the conversations she had with Robert and other characters during her adventures. The only thing better than this part of the plot was how funny it was to see how everyone responded to the things she said that made sense in our times but were unintelligible a few hundred years ago.

I would have liked to see more time spent developing the romance in this story. The characters involved in it were so different from each other that I needed more examples of what they shared in common. They were both fascinating people. I simply wasn’t totally sure that they would make a good couple because of how often their personalities and interests conflicted each other.

Mary was such an interesting woman. I loved her spunky attitude and how unflappable she was when she found herself in the middle of a crisis. She’s the kind of smart and steady person I’d want to have around if there were some kind of emergency. Her calm approach to even the strangest situations she found herself in made me adore her from the first scene to the last one.

C1PHER should be read by fans of light science fiction and historical romances alike. This is a nice blend of both of those genres!

Cape Zero: The Fall by Nicholas Woode-Smith


Cape Zero: The Fall by Nicholas Woode-Smith
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Horror, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (122 pages)
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

When social recluse and all round introvert, Peter Swart, manages to survive an attack by an insane homeless man, he soon discovers that Cape Town is not going to remain the holiday destination that it was previously regarded.

In the wake of a failed government state of emergency, society crumbles in South Africa as a virus turns people into violent cannibals. Within a day, the already compromised military collapses. Cape Town becomes a dark zone and its residents are forgotten.

With violent mobs roaming the streets, social anxiety and doubtable sanity thrown into the mix – will Peter be able to survive the apocalypse or, worse yet, the necessity to live with other people?

No one is safe when the undead rise.

The zombies in this story were nicely written. I liked the thought Mr. Woode-Smith put into how these creatures move and behave in this universe. He added some logical developments to their mythology that made me shudder. As much as regular zombies scare me, this version of them is even more frightening. I liked the scenes describing what it would be like to accidentally stumble across one of them because of this.

Peter’s character development was confusing to me. The way he behaved suddenly and completely changed about a third of the way through the plot. The medical explanation that was hinted at in the storyline didn’t make sense. Had it actually been the reason for the dramatic change to his personality, I would have expected there to be references to it beginning in the first scene. It’s definitely not the kind of condition that anyone would be able to hide, especially in an environment as stressful and chaotic as the one he was living in.

One of the things I enjoyed the most about this story was how the characters reacted to being in such a dangerous world. The fact that so many of them chose to work together to create a safe place to live made me smile. That doesn’t always happen in this genre, so I was glad to see folks working together so cooperatively this time.

There were multiple grammatical and punctuation errors. Some of the sentences were hard to understand because of how unusually they were written. It often wasn’t clear to me exactly what the author wanted his audience to get from those sentences. The storyline itself was interesting, but this book would have really benefited from another round of editing.

The characters in this tale had a refreshing amount of common sense. I appreciated the fact that they always remained cautious around the zombies and never let down their guards when they were in an unfamiliar situation or away from home. This doesn’t always happen in the horror genre, so I’m happy to meet characters who are so sensible.

Cape Zero: The Fall should be read by anyone who really likes zombie fiction.

Realm of the Dragon by Cici Cordelia


Realm of the Dragon by Cici Cordelia
The Soul Mate Tree
Publisher: Soul Mate Publishing
Genre: Action/Adventure, Contemporary, Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Length: Full Length (162 pages)
Heat Level: Hot
Rating: 5 stars
Reviewed by Orchid

An ancient legend spanning eras, continents, and worlds. To some, it’s nothing more than a dream. To others, a pretty fairy tale handed down through the generations.

For those in critical need of their own happy ending, a gift.

For sheltered Lily Kiers, it’s all too real. Her escape from danger, straight into the arms of her destiny.

Thrust into a realm made of fantasy and unbridled passion, Lily faces violent resentment and jealousy from extremely powerful enemies. Amidst fierce creatures whose very existence defy all common sense, Lily pieces together a past she could never have imagined.

Claimed by Kord, Prince of Battle Draconian, their love will not be denied, even as malevolent forces plot to rip them apart.

Chased by a psychopath, Lily runs as hard as she can through the park, trying to outrun her pursuer. Next thing she knew she has fallen as if from a great height, and landed on a dragon!

Kord has his life mate literally drop into his arms.  Unfortunately she’s human and doesn’t know anything about dragons who can change to human shape.

This story is fascinating. It has the action and adventure of dragons who have a peaceful nature until roused. Unfortunately, a female dragon has marked Kord as her own and Lily’s abrupt arrival upsets her plans. With the help of another male she plans to dispose of Lily, take Kord as her own, and kill Kord’s parents to enable him to become King of Battle Draconian.

The plots that interweave in this story make it very exciting and alluring. I read it in one go as I couldn’t put it down, partly due to the fact I love dragon stories. This was not a straightforward “dragons are strong beasts so Lily was bound to fall for Kord” it was about the life of dragons, how they lived and the social mores which kept the three dragon kingdoms apart but in tune with each other. This is very well written and a joy to read.

Spirited Attraction by Ashantay Peters


Spirited Attraction by Ashantay Peters
Warning: Ghosts at Work
Publisher: The Wild Rose Press
Genre: Contemporary, Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Length: Full Length (153 pages)
Heat Level: Spicy
Rating: 5 stars
Reviewed by Orchid

Long ago, Julia Wilkinson left home and didn’t look back. Now she’s unwillingly facing her parents’ ghosts—and their plans for her love life.

Sam Bradley has a ghost of his own, his interfering and opinionated deceased father. He’s a parent with definite ideas about whom Sam should date.

Julia and Sam think they’re happy singles and resist their supernatural matchmakers. But when the ghosts combine efforts, all bets are off. Will Julia and Sam heed advice from the other side, or will they go their own way?

Julia has trust issues when it comes to romance. Her friends decide to set her up with a co-worker but Julia feels her klutzy ways will put the man off before the relationship even starts. Little do both of them know that help is on the way…spiritual help.

This book is very funny in places, sad in others and gives a nice cozy, cuddly feeling as well. Then, of course, there’s the spicy bedroom romantic get-together moments. I thought the spiritual assistance of both Julia’s deceased parents and Sam’s father provided comedy and helped the couple overcome their awkwardness and inability to communicate properly.

I smiled, had tears in my eyes and felt compassion all through reading one book. At the end of the novel I sighed, but the author hadn’t finished with her twists to the story. The final page was…well I won’t spoil it for other readers, but I finished reading with another smile.