Visions of Sugarplum by Sara Jay


Visions of Sugarplum by Sara Jay
Yule Tied
Publisher: Changeling Press
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Holiday, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (35 pages)
Other: M/F
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Ice fairy Sugarplum has wanted Santa’s only Cyclops in employ, Heath, for years. She knows he returns her interest, but why won’t he give in to his feelings for her? With a little nudge from her best friend, Ice Queen Erika, she is bound and determined to get what she wants this Christmas.

Heath has secrets that he knows would damage his chances with the curvaceous fairy. He would much rather protect both their hearts than risk something that could hurt them both forever. Will he take a chance once Sugarplum brings him a pretty Christmas present that he can’t resist?

How do you tell the difference between a crush and something that’s much deeper than that?

This story was quite the tease. Every time I thought that Sugarplum and Heath might finally do something about their feelings about each other, something got in their way. The more they were delayed, though, the more impatient I became to see them finally fall into each other’s arms and beds. The sexual tension between them was exquisite. As much as I couldn’t wait to find out what would happen next, I really liked living in the moment as they swerved past one interruption after the next.

There was a little too much time spent on the subplots. As fascinated as I was by the politics of living and working at the North Pole, I would have preferred to spend some of those scenes focused on what was happening with the main characters. With this being said, it’s a minor criticism of a book that I otherwise really enjoyed reading.

Sugarplum was exactly what I’d think a fairy would be like. She was cheerful, sweet, kind, and also fiercely persistent when she set her mind to accomplishing something. There was also a slightly mischievous side to her personality that didn’t show itself right away. I liked her as soon as I met her and sure hoped that she’d find her happy ending.

Visions of Sugarplum made me smile. If you’re in the mood for a saucy Christmas tale, I’d strongly recommend jumping into this one.

The Part That Doesn’t Burn by Sam Poling


The Part That Doesn’t Burn by Sam Poling
Publisher: Tirgearr Publishing
Genre: Paranormal, Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Length: Full (319 pgs)
Rating: 4 stars
Review by Rose

In an overpopulated city-state where technology and magic are forbidden by the corrupt church, young witch, Mirabel Fairfax, plots the creation of a deadly plague to cull the burdensome rabble. That is, until she falls in love with the very alchemist she has been deceiving. Now, with soul-hungry geists flooding the city, the church scrambling for their prey, and her own mind at war with itself, Mirabel must decide what she’s fighting for before she loses everything to the evils of Autumnfall.

The Part that Doesn’t Burn is a fun romp filled with adventures as Mirabel Fairfax and Felix Eggland travel across the country…and, in the meantime, learn more about each other and are changed by each other.

The story is mostly Mirabel and Felix’s story, although we do also get the POV of the church through the eyes of the young priestess who is chasing them—I actually liked her and found her surprisingly sympathetic as she tried to do what she thought was the right thing to do. Ultimately, though, the person most changed throughout the story was Mirabel.

There were times during the first part of the story that I wanted to slap her –she was grating on my last nerve with her self-absorbtionism. However, the longer the story went on, the more I started to like her and realize that her attitude had more of a veneer of self-protectionism on it than true shallowness.

Felix is a bumbling scientific nerd who comes into his own during the course of the story and, even though this is not a romance, still made this reader’s heart fall a little in love with him.

There are some definite twists and turns in this story, keeping the reader on her toes to keep up. To me, however, it didn’t have the feel of a dark fantasy—it put me more in mind of The Wild Wild West (the old TV show) with magic instead of the steampunk elements.

I really enjoyed the world that Mr. Poling built for this story and would like to revisit it—there was a reveal at the end that came as a surprise to me and I really hope he has some other stories in mind.

You’ve Got Aliens by Fiona Roarke


You’ve Got Aliens by Fiona Roarke
Alienn, Arkansas – 1
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Contemporary, Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Length: Short Story (136 pages)
Heat Level: Sweet
Rating: 5 stars
Review by: Orchid

Librarian and aspiring journalist Juliana Masters has a mystery to solve: Who am I? Armed with the truth about her past, she can leave her humdrum present behind and get on with her future. She just needs to complete one lucrative investigative writing assignment and she’ll be on her way. All she has to do is prove aliens live and work out of a secret facility based under the Big Bang Truck Stop. No problem. Getting her socks knocked off by the Fearless Leader isn’t part of the plan.

Diesel Grey worked for years to achieve his goal of heading up the family business in Alienn, Arkansas. Mission accomplished, but being Fearless Leader of a galactic way station comes with a lot more headaches than anticipated. It’s hard to consider the shockingly well-informed writer a headache, though, especially when she makes him ache in all the right places.

If he’s not careful, he’ll give her everything she needs to blow his family’s cover and expose to the human world that aliens do walk among them.

All he really wants to do is sweep her up in his arms and never let her go.

If only his trigger-happy brother would stop erasing her memories …

Juliana is an orphan who accepts an assignment to earn money to fund research into who she is, where she comes from and what happened to her parents.

Diesel runs the family business in Alienn, Arkansas. He is the Fearless Leader of the galactic way station – which means most of the inhabitants of Alienn are aliens from Alpha Prime.

When the two get together the spark of true love flashes between them, but how can Diesel marry an earthling when he is has all the responsibility of his fellow aliens and the way station for intergalactic travelers?

This book was a bit slow to start but then the fun began. The inner turmoil of both main characters came across beautifully, filling out the story to make it a “can’t put it down” read. Every problem that arose was met with an understandable solution and the mystery in the background made the story even more intriguing.

I originally started reading this book because I liked the title, and I have to admit I wasn’t disappointed by the development and ending. Solutions slotted into place, even if they weren’t what I – as the reader – originally thought the answers would be. Excellent writing style with a good, thrilling story.

Santa’s Reject by Lily Vega


Santa’s Reject by Lily Vega
Yule Tied
Publisher: Changeling Press
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Holiday, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (55 pages)
Other: M/F, BDSM
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Banished from the North Pole for bad behavior, Beryl is shipped off to Fairyville. A scratch from Cupid’s arrow infuses her with Christmas spirit and saddles her with a mad crush on her new boss, Killian — a.k.a. the Tooth Fairy.

Killian despises love and the entire notion of Yuletide celebrations. The last thing he needs is a beautiful Elf spreading holiday cheer and trying to drag him into the sack. After all, Beryl’s love could sour like rotten eggnog once she discovers his secret.

Banishment doesn’t always have to be a bad thing.

There were so many creative touches in this tale. Everything from the names of certain characters to the economic value of the teeth that Killian collected had clearly been thought out carefully. I grinned every time the protagonist drew my attention to yet another funny pop culture reference that had been tucked away in a description or conversation These little surprises made it so much fun to read.

The dialogue was awkward. Both of the main characters often said things they should have expressed through their body language or jumped right into doing instead. This was especially noticeable during their most intimate moments. Those exchanges pulled me out of what was otherwise an entertaining and enjoyable story. If not for this problem, I would have had no problem selecting a much higher rating as I really liked everything else about it.

Killian and Beryl were perfect for each other. I loved watching them spend time together because of how good both of them were at flirting with their body language. They knew exactly which buttons to push to get each other revved up and ready for action. My favorite scenes were the ones where they danced around their attraction for each other for this reason. It was so much fun to see them gradually move closer and closer to revealing their true desires, and I couldn’t wait to see how things would pan out between them.

I’d recommend Santa’s Reject to anyone who is in the mood for some witty erotica.

Deception by John Paulits


Deception by John Paulits
Publisher: Burst Books
Genre: Action/Adventure, Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Length: Short Story (146 pgs)
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Stargazer

Lanyon takes on the job of recovering a shipment of rators, weapons imported from Earth, which have gone missing from the spaceport. A not-so-merry chase begins as Lanyon has trouble detecting the true trail to follow from the false. Jophena, his 12-year-old friend from Selenia, tags along and the complications multiply. The Malcosian Over-minister then hires Lanyon to track down his daughter Meihon again, but Tellurians will have something to say about whether Meihon gets back home or not, and Lanyon soon regrets his decision to take on the assignment.

Working and living for hire means you are always at someone’s beck and call.

Lanyon is who you would call when something needs done right. Quick thinking, easy going but always right on target is how Lanyon operates. When one simple job turns out to be a little more complex than he desired, Lanyon takes a side job that happens to be on the same planet. Things start to heat up and Lanyon tries to smooth things over but things don’t go to plan.

Deception is a fast-paced futuristic story set across the galaxy. Incorporating alien races, advanced technology and a sense of humor, John Paulits makes the world of working for hire in the future an adventure like no other.

Deception is the fifth novel in the Lanyon For Hire series. While I had not read any of the other novels, I did not feel I was left behind. The author does a great job bringing forth events that had happened in the previous novels and how they apply to the current events facing Lanyon and his friend, Jophena.

This book is a great adventure in the world of working odd jobs to keep the galaxy moving smoothly. Lanyon had several situations where it seemed nearly impossible to resolve, yet a bit of luck and some quick thinking puts Lanyon back on the fast track to finishing the job at hand.

Deception, just like the title, means that there is something deeper going on under the surface. Throughout the novel, the author does a great job keeping the reader guessing at who or what is behind the strange events that seem too interconnected to be random.

I truly enjoyed the futuristic adventure of Deception and if you enjoy Science Fiction, I believe you have a great read ahead of you if you pick up a copy of Deception!

The Crimson Curse by Melissa J Crispin


The Crimson Curse by Melissa J Crispin
Publisher: Roane Publishing
Genre: Historical, Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Length: Short Story (65 pages)
Heat Level: Sweet
Rating: 4.5 stars
Reviewed by Orchid

Cursed and disfigured, Calliope must find true love before the final leaf falls from the Enchanted Tree. Being bound to her mansion on the outskirts of town leaves her with little hope.

Abandoned by his wife for a wealthy man, Bastian only needs one female in his life, his five-year-old daughter, Yareena. When she goes missing during a raging fire, fate brings him to a strange place where he encounters a woman wearing a golden mask.

An attack by rogues puts Bastian in Calliope’s care. As he struggles against pride and prejudice, Bastian can’t ignore his growing attraction to the kind soul behind the mask.

Yareena and the mansion staff do their best at matchmaking, but Calliope can’t reveal her darkest secret. Will Bastian discover her true beauty before it’s too late?

Calliope’s mother led her to believe the beauty spot on her face would deter men from courting her. A witch appears and offers to remove the spot, then casts a foul spell which leaves half of Calliope’s face a burned ruin. Before she departs the witch puts a curse on the entire household. Only true love will lift the curse, but if if the last of the crimson leaves of the Enchanted Tree in the garden fall before love appears, Calliope will remain scarred for the remainder of her life.

At first I wondered where this story was going as there seemed to be no reason for anything to change, but once the child Yareena appeared the mansion came alive again. Warmth also grew in Calliope when Bastian Chance, Yareena’s father, appears in her life. Constant misunderstanding and intriguing secrets hidden behind the mansion’s walls draw Bastian and Calliope together then pulls them apart. Warmth and lightheartedness from Yareena helps to solve their differences, before another one causes yet more problems.

A short story but with enough depth to catch my attention and hold it until the end of the book. A good read.

Thrown to the Wolves by Naomi Clark


Thrown to the Wolves by Naomi Clark
Publisher: Evernight Publishing
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Horror, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (42 pages)
Other: F/F
Rating: 3.5 stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Paige went to Romania looking for inspiration for a book. She found herself caught in a horror story. Attacked and left for dead by a vampire, Paige finds herself at the mercy of Kata, a beautiful, enigmatic werewolf. Their attraction is instant, but Paige’s fate hangs in the balance. She may yet be turned into a vampire herself. Soon it’s clear to Paige that the only way to save herself may be to return to the woman who attacked her…even if it means placing both herself and Kata in the greatest danger.

Few things in life will get your blood pumping faster than running around in the woods in the middle of the night while trying to avoid being eaten by a vampire. Luckily, that’s only the beginning of this tale, and it’s not the only thing that will raise Paige’s heart rate.

Paige was such a likeable main character. The first thing I noticed about her was how smart and level-headed she was even when she was surrounded by danger. She was the kind of person who took her own safety quite seriously, and that’s refreshing to see in a modern fantasy story. It made me hope that all of her precautions would pay off for her in the end.

I would have liked to see more attention paid to the conflict with the vampire who attacked Paige just before the first scene began. The characters spent so much time trying to figure out how to handle that threat that I was surprised by how quickly that storyline ended up being resolved. I was fascinated by the idea of werewolves and vampires not getting along, so it was a little disappointing to not get to dive into that conflict very deeply.

The chemistry between Paige and Kata was sizzling hot. Watching the sexual tension build up between them made me eager to see it finally come to a head. I couldn’t wait to see what would happen once they finally ended up in bed together and if the sparks that flew between them could ignite something that lasted far longer than one night.

Thrown to the Wolves should be read by fans of erotica and dark fantasy alike.

The Enchanted Swans by Christy Nicholas


The Enchanted Swans by Christy Nicholas
Publisher: Tirgearr Publshing
Genre: Historical, Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Length: Full Length (135 pages)
Rating: 3.5 stars
Reviewed by Orchid

In pre-Celtic Ireland, Fionnuala was a fae princess, born to a life of luxury. She knew her duty and loved her family. She missed her mother, who died in childbirth when Fionnuala was but ten years old. Still, she had hopes and dreams of love and a full life.

All her dreams were stolen from her, ripped away in a torrent of envy and magic.

Now she must care for her three brothers while learning to live under an evil curse. Will she find a way to break the spell, or would they remain swans, tethered to three places for nine hundred years?

A fantasy story which reminded me of The Six Swans of Grimms Fairy Tales. Set in Ireland many years ago around 460 BC and gradually wending its way to 450 AD, this is the tale of a princess and her three brothers who are turned into swans by their wicked stepmother. They all belong to the Faerie people who are gradually moving to the world below as humans take over the surface of the world.

This story was rather bland. There were no highlights to get the reader excited, no battles, nothing. Any events which could have grabbed the reader were told rather than shown. For instance the stepmother’s changing the children to swans could have been an exciting event. Instead they went to sleep and woke up as swans – lost opportunity here. There were too many explanations and not enough depth to the story. Also punctuation and tense need to be looked at.

I thought the actual premise of the story was good, though, and the historical parts of the story were very interesting.  If you like stories with a pretty princess and three handsome princes, a dash of magic, and history of many centuries, this may be a book for you.

D is for Dinosaur by Rhonda Parrish


D is for Dinosaur by Rhonda Parrish (editor)
Publisher: Poise and Pen Publishing
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Horror, Contemporary, Historical
Length: Full Length (373 pages)
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

For the fourth installment of Rhonda Parrish’s Alphabet Anthologies, contributors were challenged to write about dinosaurs. The resulting twenty-six stories contain widely different interpretations of the dinosaur theme and span the spectrum from literal to metaphoric.

Within these stories — set in alternative histories, far-flung futures and times just around the corner — dinosaurs whimper and waste away or roar and rage. People can be dinosaurs, as can ideas, fictions and flesh. Knitted dinosaurs share space with ghostly, genetically engineered and even narcotic ones.

Teenagers must embrace their inner dinosaurs in order to find peace and belonging, a dying woman duels a God in a far future city that echoes aspects of our past, an abused wife accompanies her husband on a hunt for an ancient power and finds more than she could ever have imagined and a girl with wonderful magical powers stumbles across the bones of a giant long-dead lizard. And so much more!

Everyone has a hidden side to themselves. Only time will tell if those unexplored parts of anyone’s personality, past, or future will be revealed.

In “B,” Brontë was a teenage girl who was bullied by classmates during the day and who had vivid dreams of being a raptor at night. When she decided to confront the meanest bully, these two worlds collided in unexpected ways. What I enjoyed the most about this tale was how much time the narrator spent planning her revenge. It made me eager to see what would happen next, and it also fit Brontë’s stubborn personality perfectly.

Once again, Ms. Parrish compiled a collection that I didn’t want to stop reading. Every single one of them had something that appealed to me, and there were very few missteps. “K” was one of the few stories that could have used more development. It was about two men named Gunnar and Brynjar who had recently survived a shipwreck and were trying to figure out how they might live on a deserted island. When one of them spotted another ship on the horizon, they had to decide if they’d rather signal for help or rough it alone. While I really enjoyed the premise, the ending was abrupt. I would have preferred to see more time spent on their dilemma before the twist was revealed. There was still so much material to explore before they made their choice.

“H” followed an ancient race that was capable of living both on land and in the sea. When their existence on one was threatened, they’d switch to fins or legs and live in the other one for a few millenia. This was one of my favourite selections because of how beautiful Ms. Engelhardt’s writing style was. She knew exactly how to capture a single moment and share it with her audience using every single sense a human is capable of perceiving. I didn’t want her storytelling to end, and I would love to read a sequel to this if she ever decides to write one.

I’d wholeheartedly recommend D is for Dinosaur to anyone who is a fan of any part of the modern science fiction or fantasy genres. There is something here for everyone!

Strange Medicine by Mike Russell


Strange Medicine by Mike Russell
Publisher: StrangeBooks Indiepress
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (144 pages)
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

We recommend the following prescription: Strange Medicine – weird and wonderful stories for all that ails you. Strange Medicine is a fantastic collection of extraordinary tales of transformation by UK weird-fiction author Mike Russell. If you love the strange, surreal and unusual or if you are just looking for something different, Strange Medicine is for you.

Not everything can be explained away easily.

In “Seventy-Two Bricks,” Geoffrey and Tiffany discovered that they’ve both been playing the same game with mysterious objects that randomly appear and disappear as they go through their normal daily routines. When Geoffrey failed to win one of his rounds, Tiffany came up with a plan to help both of them succeed the next time they were invited to play. The most interesting thing about these games to me was how seriously the characters took them. I was fascinated by their stubborn insistence that every single clue needed to be solved, especially since they knew so little about why the game started or what the purpose of it was.

Some of these stories would have benefited from more detailed explanations about what was happening in them. While I definitely do enjoy reading things that expect readers to come up with our own theories about what they might mean, I really struggled to understand some of the selections in this anthology because their narrators spent so little time showing me what was happening. “Mime” was one of the biggest examples of this. The main character in it was a mime who sneaked into a park that strictly forbade mimes from using it. As curious as I was to discover why a park would make such a bizarre rule, I had trouble following the protagonist’s moves as people began to notice she had broken it. Some of her actions didn’t make sense at all because there wasn’t enough backstory given about when and how it became a negative thing to be a mime.

The most interesting thing about “Brain” to me was that it began with a college professor named Eddie who was undergoing some medical testing for charity purposes. I was perplexed by how something as ordinary as as a CT scan could veer off into completely unexpected territory. The more I read about what happened to Eddie after his test results were interpreted, the more I wanted to know about what was really going on with him. The twist in the final scene only made me like this tale than I already did.

Anyone who appreciates the peculiar side of life should give Strange Medicine a try.