Like Statues by S. Rose


Like Statues by S. Rose
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Contemporary
Length: Short Story (14 pages)
Other: F/F, Fetish
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Like most girls, I have a secret or two. One of those secrets just happens to be a fixation with statues.

My tendencies go largely unnoticed, until one night when Valerie, my boss, catches me alone with a company-owned statue.

Confessions ensue, and sparks fly.

Almost nobody can keep a secret forever, especially when it’s about their deepest desires.

One of the things I liked the most about this tale was its descriptions of what it’s like to live in a small town and not fit into the culture there. The author did a wonderful job of showing how lonely that experience can be, especially for people who think they’ll never meet anyone in their rural community who is sympathetic. Understanding this was an important part of understanding why Melanie, the main character, decided to hide her statue fetish so well from everyone she worked with. I was glad that so much attention was paid to this part of the plot because of this.

The chemistry between Melanie and Valerie never felt right to me. While they shared similar sexual tastes, they didn’t have much else in common. As much as I wanted to root for them to end up together, it would have been nice to have a few more reasons to hope for that kind of ending. There simply wasn’t enough information about what kind of people they were and why they’d be good for each other for me to make up my mind about that.

The dialogue was nicely written. There were times when it made me giggle in a good way because of how dramatic Melanie could be when things weren’t exactly going her way. This definitely wasn’t something I was expecting to find in an erotic tale, but it was a nice addition to the storyline. I also enjoyed seeing how things between her and Valerie played out once Valerie realized what was happening in the sculpture garden.

I’d recommend Like Statues to anyone who is in the mood for a short, steamy read.

The Princess and the Swineherd by Michael Bracken


The Princess and the Swineherd by Michael Bracken
Publisher: Deep Desires Press
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Historical
Length: Short Story (25 pages)
Other: F/F, Toys
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Princess Maegth is the most beautiful woman in the kingdom, and, like many others, a young, female swineherd named Hunig has a crush on her.

When the evil wizard Vilemort abducts the beautiful princess, Hunig joins the search. In the company of a broken-down knight named Fearn-leah of Heathfield, Hunig trails the wizard and his entourage, battles dwarves transformed into swine, and faces physical and emotional challenges.

During the search for the princess, Hunig discovers herself. After rescuing the princess, she reveals her feelings and discovers the feelings are reciprocated.

But there isn’t time to become complacent. Vilemort and his dwarves are hot on their trail. Can Hunig prevent Vilemort from stealing the princess back, can she keep the broken-down knight from claiming credit for rescuing the princess, and can true love win the day?

It takes a very special kind of person to win a princess’ heart.

The world building was really well done. I actually wondered if I’d accidentally stumbled into the middle of a series when I first began reading because of how well-developed and beautifully-described the setting was. While my first guess didn’t turn out to be correct, I was impressed by how much attention Mr. Bracken paid to all of the little details that make such a big difference in how a reader imagines what a faraway place would really be like to visit.

There was a lot of telling the audience what was happening instead of showing it to us in this story. Some of the most exciting and interesting scenes were only given a few sentences worth of attention before the narrator moved on to the next part of the plot. It would have been nice to see how those scenes played out for myself instead of them being quickly explained and then brushed aside like that.

Maegth and Hunig had fantastic chemistry. At first I was a little surprised by how quickly their relationship moved when they first met, but they were so well-suited for each other that it made sense for them to jump in and start exploring their attraction to each other right away. Their personalities were so compatible that I completely understood why they were into each other as well as why neither of them had any interest in taking things slow.

The Princess and the Swineherd should be read by anyone who is in the mood for a sultry fairytale.

Chimera Catalyst by Susan Kuchinskas


Chimera Catalyst by Susan Kuchinskas
Publisher: Pandamoon Publishing
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Suspense/Mystery
Length: Full Length (192 pages)
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Who Decides What is Human…The

Corporations, Clones or Chimera?

When Finder is hired to locate charismatic, green-haired Miraluna Rose, it seems like an easy job. Crack into corporate databases, brew up some biologics to enhance his thinking, and get the job done with the help of the Parrot, a bird/dog chimera with the finest traits of both species.

The search takes Finder and the Parrot to the sun-broiled streets of Laxangeles, the canals of Seattle and the weirdly mutated vegetation of the Area. It turns out that it’s not a simple missing-person case after all.

Finder discovers that ReMe, a corporation providing medical cloning services, is illegally breeding human/animal chimeras. ReMe is selling these exotically beautiful female creatures, branded as ArcoTypes, as playthings to the wealthy and ruthless.

Miraluna Rose is its finest creation, but she has other ideas. She’s holed up at Refuge, a haven for ArcoTypes, where she’s planning a future of freedom for her sisters. To help the ArcoTypes fight ReMe, Finder and the Parrot will need the help of a couple of sympathetic AIs, the CEO of the world’s largest advertising company and a posse of highly modded, celebrity-crazed media kids.

This exciting adventure is a must read for anyone concerned about where our world and humanity is possibly headed…

Sometimes science causes just as many problems as it solves.

The world building was wonderful. Ms. Kuchinskas’ vision of what life will be like in a few generations was as chilling as it was fascinating. I especially liked her descriptions of how climate change seriously affected the lives of everyone in this society no matter how wealthy or well-connected they were. They painted a very thorough picture of how a culture attempted to rebuild itself after nearly being completely destroyed. What impressed me even more was that this was only one of about a dozen examples of the author stretching her ideas out until they’d reached their logical conclusion. She made me feel like I’d really traveled to the future, and that made it impossible for me to stop reading.

I would have liked to see a little more time spent on character development. While Finder’s personality was described with plenty of detail, there wasn’t enough attention paid to how he changed over the course of the plot. The changes I noticed in him were pretty subtle even though he experienced some pretty exciting, frightening, and unimaginable things during his adventures. There were so many opportunities for him to grow as a person. Had he taken advantage of a few more of them, this book would have easily earned a much higher rating from me as I loved everything else about it.

One of the things I enjoyed the most about the mystery was how much effort it required from me to find any major clues at all. I hadn’t know that kind of storyline was waiting for me when I first began reading, so it was even more fun than usual to shift the way I interpreted certain scenes and start paying attention to anything that might give me a hint about who Miraluna Rose was or why Finder was being paid so handsomely to discover what happened to her.

Chimera Catalyst was the perfect blend of science fiction and mystery. I’d heartily recommend it to fans of either genre!

Water Into Wine by Joyce Chng


Water Into Wine by Joyce Chng
Publisher: Annorlunda Books
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Length: Short Story (62 pages)
Heat Level: Spicy
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

When war comes to your planet, everything changes.. perhaps even the meaning of family and identity.

Xin inherits a vineyard on a distant planet, and moves there to build a life… but an interstellar war intervenes. Will Xin’s dreams of a new life get caught in the crossfire? Xin’s understanding of family and sense of self must evolve to cope with the changes brought by life on a new planet and a war that threatens everything.

Most people wouldn’t worry about protecting a vineyard during a violent interstellar war, but Xin isn’t like most people.

Xin’s character development was fascinating. He was a transgender man who had recently begun questioning his gender identity yet again at the beginning of this tale. Given that he was also a single parent and the brand new owner of a vineyard despite the fact that he knew very little about growing grapes or making wine, there was plenty of room for him to evolve as a person. I deeply enjoyed seeing how Xin made decisions about everything from what his gender identity was to running a vineyard to adjusting to life on an alien planet.

There were pacing issues. Some scenes were fast-paced while others were much slower. Either writing style would have worked quite well for this tale, but I found it hard to switch between them because of how often the narrator moved from one style to the next. As soon as I adjusted to a slower form of storytelling, the pacing would pick up again with another bombing or nearby battle.

One of the things I liked the most about this story was how beautifully it described the characters and setting in such a compact number of sentences. Ms. Chng weighed out her words so precisely that she was able to show me exactly what everyone looked and sounded like in an incredibly short amount of time. The same thing can be said for her descriptions of the house, wine cellar, and vineyards. My impressions of them were strong and clear the first time she told me what they were like.

I’d recommend Water Into Wine to anyone who has ever wondered what a large battle between many spaceships would be like from the perspective of a civilian living on the ground.

SonofaWitch! by Laura VanArendonk Baugh, Sara Dobie Bauer, Lissa Marie Redmond, Frances Pauli, Mara Malins, and Adam Millard.


SonofaWitch! by Laura VanArendonk Baugh, Sara Dobie Bauer, Lissa Marie Redmond, Frances Pauli, Mara Malins, and Adam Millard
Publisher: World Weaver Press
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Contemporary, Historical
Length: Full Length (187 pages)
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

No one is perfect—not even a witch. Witches have amazing power at their fingertips to do unbelievable things. That magic can come in really handy sometimes too. They can make someone fall in love, poison an apple to enact a sleeping curse, banish an enemy to an alternate reality, or just conjure up some Nutella when there is none in the house.

But what happens when those spells go horribly awry?

SonofaWitch! contains six humorous contemporary fantasy stories of magic spells gone wrong by Laura VanArendonk Baugh, Sara Dobie Bauer, Lissa Marie Redmond, Frances Pauli, Mara Malins, and Adam Millard.

Modern magic is far more complicated than it might first appear to be.

The main character in “Good Spell Gone Bug” agreed to get a tattoo in order to earn money to pay off a debt. It wasn’t until the tattoo began to cause her some odd health problems that main character decided to break the rules and try to get rid of it regardless of the consequences. Ms. VanArendonk Baugh’s writing was filled with creative moments. I never knew what she was going to shock her characters with next, and that made it hard to stop reading.

Violet had an unrequited crush in “The Trouble with Love Spells,” and she thought the best way to fix it was to put a love spell on the guy she desired. Ms. Bauer’s twist to the spell made me gasp. It was the last thing I would have expected to happen, but it fit the tone of this tale perfectly. I also enjoyed the fact that the main character was so flexible when her plans didn’t exactly turn out the way she thought they would.

James owned a coffee shop that catered to fairy tale characters in “All the Petty Curses.” I was amused by seeing how he interacted with everyone from Hansel and Gretel to the Big Bad Wolf. While I enjoyed seeing how many references to classic fairy tales Ms. Redmond fit into James’ daily life, the number of characters running around the scenes was so high that I had trouble keeping track of what everyone was doing. It would have been nice to focus on a smaller number of people instead.

All Rowan wanted was to fall in love with the perfect man. What surprised me the most about her and her dog Rex’s adventures in “The Perfect Mate Fiasco” was how she reacted when she woke up the next morning and realized her spell had come true but not in the exact way she’d hoped. Ms. Pauli made me chuckle as I followed Rowan through her strange day and waited to see if she’d accept the soulmate she’d been given.

“A Matter of Perspective” showed what happened to a witch named Olyvar after he failed to learn how to make one of the simplest potions his instructor knew of. After he carelessly tossed a tatty root ball and watched it land in his potion, he and a few other members of the class were magically transported far away from home. Olyvar and his companions had intelligent reactions to their predicament, especially once they realized just how far away they’d really landed. I was especially impressed with how calm they were after they arrived. The plot twists only became more creative after that! Ms. Malins put plenty of obstacles in their paths, and that it made hard to stop reading until I knew how it would all end.

The first sentence of “A Poppet Named Dave” was as shocking as it was memorable: “River Everbleed had only been a witch for an hour when her head came off.” I giggled when I read it, and then I dove back into the story to find out what River had done to deserve such a fate. Don’t worry, though. It wasn’t gory. If anything, it reminded me of how it feels to learn any new skill and be terrible at it in the beginning. Mr. Millard captured that feeling perfectly, and I only grew more impressed with his writing style as I settled into the plot and realized what River was actually trying to learn to do with her magic lessons.

SonofaWitch! is a must-read for anyone who loves modern fantasy.

iHunt: Killing Monsters in the Gig Economy by David A. Hill Jr.


iHunt: Killing Monsters in the Gig Economy by David A. Hill Jr.
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Contemporary, Paranormal, Horror
Length: Full Length (269 pages)
Heat Level: Spicy
Rating: Best Book
Reviewed by Astilbe

Voted BoM by LASR Readers 2013 copy

It’s like Uber, but for slaying monsters!

Lana is a monster hunter. She kills vampires, werewolves, demons and all the other terrifying creatures of the night. She doesn’t do it because she’s the chosen one. She doesn’t do it because it’s her duty. She does it because working one job just doesn’t cut it for a millenial in Southern California.

She takes contracts using iHunt, an app which freelance monster hunters use to find profitable prey. It’s like Supernatural meets Uber, Buffy meets Airbnb, and sadly, Blade meets Fiverr.

Lana’s story is about making ends meet, about economic anxiety, and about what a person’s willing to do to pay the bills. It’s a equal parts horror, dark humor, slice of life, and social commentary on the gig economy.

I’ve reviewed hundreds of books for Long and Short Reviews over the last five years. This is the by far the best one I’ve ever reviewed for them.

The character development was amazing. Lana was an incredibly complex woman whose personality could never be condensed to a few short sentences. Everything I learned about her was doled out gradually between and during her various iHunt assignments, That only made me more curious to find out more about her. I especially loved how much time Mr. Hill spent exploring her many reasons for signing up to be a monster hunter. Every single one of them taught me more about her as a person while they were also pushing the plot forward in all kinds of exciting ways.

Speaking of the plot, the pacing of it was so beautifully relentless that I couldn’t tear my eyes away from the page. The blurb gave an excellent introduction to this universe, but there were many new conflicts and characters introduced later on in the storyline that were somehow even more fascinating than the original idea of freelancers being hired to kill monsters.

One of the many reasons why I gave this story the highest rating possible is how much attention it paid to real-world issues. The characters dealt with all kinds of frustrating situations when they weren’t actively fighting monsters: dealing with deeply prejudiced people, running out of money well before payday, experiencing truly terrible customer service, and so much more. Some of these scenes made me laugh, while others made me wince. All of them developed this world so thoroughly that I honestly forgot I was reading a piece of fiction. It was like listening to a friend talk about her terrible or wonderful day instead.

The romance was handled perfectly. Not only did the characters involved in it have an unbelievable amount of chemistry, they also genuinely liked each other as human beings. Their strong friendship made me eager to see if they could turn their platonic feelings into romantic ones. This part of the plot was also a refreshing break from the often intense fight scenes.

iHunt: Killing Monsters in the Gig Economy was phenomenal in every single way. If you can only spare the time to read read one more novel this year, make it this one!

Invisible Love by Amanda Steiger


Invisible Love by Amanda Steiger
Publisher: Changeling Press
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Paranormal, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (64 pages)
Other: M/F
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Gregory, an ambitious sorcerer, tried to become immortal…but the spell went wrong and transformed him into a bodiless spirit. For five hundred years, he’s roamed the world trapped between life and death, cut off from all human contact. Then he meets Linda, a young psychic who can feel his presence.

Shy, lonely Linda hasn’t felt a man’s touch for a long time. Then one night, a gorgeous man appears to her in a vivid, erotic dream…and the next day, she hears his voice in her mind. At first, Linda thinks she’s going crazy, but she can’t ignore the man’s desperation, his hunger for human contact. When he asks her to open her mind to him, she can’t refuse.

By inhabiting Linda’s body, Gregory discovers, he is able to feel again. After five hundred years without pleasure, he is overwhelmed by the sensations. Linda, meanwhile, discovers that having Gregory’s spirit inside her is surprisingly erotic. Though she can’t see him, she can sense his essence moving through her, even feel his hands on her body. Before long, she finds herself falling in love with this strange, lonely, passionate man. As her feelings grow, Linda vows to help Gregory escape the empty half-life of a wandering soul and become human again…but to save him, she must make a terrible sacrifice.

How many centuries could you wait to meet your soulmate?

One of the things I enjoyed the most about this story were its vivid descriptions of Linda’s ordinary daily routines. She wasn’t at all happy with the way she was living when she first met Gregory, and her frustration shone through brightly in the beginning. Seeing those scenes in such detail made the rest of their adventures even more appealing than it would have otherwise been.

The chemistry between Gregory and Linda never felt quite right to me. Their relationship heated up so incredibly fast that I wasn’t quite sure what they saw in each other or why they were suddenly all over each other. While I liked both of these characters as individuals and thought they had real potential as a couple, I would have liked to see more examples of what they found attractive about each other in the beginning since they didn’t know each other at all when the sparks first began to fly.

With that being said, the sex scenes were nicely written. I was intrigued by what it might be like for someone to sleep with a spirit when I first read the blurb, and I couldn’t wait to see how everything from foreplay to afterplay and everything in-between would work when only one of the characters actually had a body. Ms. Steiger’s take on the topic was fresh and well done.

Invisible Love was a short, satisfying tale that I’d recommend to anyone who is in the mood for something steamy.

Trust in Axion by Bruce Meyer


Trust in Axion by Bruce Meyer
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Action/Adventure, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (79 pages)
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Aidan Scelestus never meant to change reality. But when he, together with his girlfriend Emma Drommel, focused too much energy on too small a physical space, that’s what they did. Together, they hijacked the stellar laboratory of Atraville College for a glimpse of another dimension. In this science fantasy novella, the multiple containment walls and magnetic protection of the lab can’t contain the damage to the fabric of space. The worst wasn’t what it did to themselves. The worst wasn’t even that it spread and nobody knew how to stop it; or that it affected people and buildings and landscaping alike. No, the worst was the fix devised by the professor of physics, Aubrey Probo.

This is what happens when science goes terribly wrong.

The scientific explanation for what was happening in this story was explained perfectly. The author went into just enough detail to show what was happening and why it was happening without slowing down the pacing of the plot. I don’t know very much about physics, but I didn’t have any trouble at all understanding what went wrong with Aidan and Emma’s experiment or why they were so concerned about the dark energy spreading.

I would have liked to see more time spent developing Aidan and Emma’s personalities. While the plot itself was really well done, I finished it without ever getting a strong impression of what Aidan and Emma were like as individuals. Were they shy or outgoing? Did they generally have a serious or lighthearted approach to life? Had I known more about them, I would have given this book a much higher rating as I enjoyed everything else about it.

The pacing was strong. Every scene had something interesting happening in it, and many of them had more than one discovery, battle, or action sequence that made it impossible for me to stop reading. I also appreciated the fact that the author included so many different subplots. They brought a lot of depth to this universe and made the question of what was going to happen to the characters even more pressing than it already was.

Trust in Axion is a great choice for anyone who likes hard science fiction.

Don’t Dream It’s Rover by Misty Simon


Don’t Dream It’s Rover by Misty Simon
Publisher: The Wild Rose Press
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Paranormal, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (77 pages)
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Things at the ghostly junkyard have calmed down since Mel Hargrove and her boyfriend, Becker, destroyed a nasty ghost bent on mischief and mayhem. So when Becker brings a stray dog to her house, one that seems to understand far more than it should and might have brought along a ghostly friend, she is not exactly happy. A junkyard full of ghosts is no place for a pet — or for ghosts she can’t see or talk to.

She tries everything she has in her arsenal to get answers, but time is running out when she finally realizes what they’re up against. No amount of hairspray, jelly shoes, or lace gloves is going to get her out of a confrontation that threatens not only her home but possibly her very life.

There’s something about being dead that makes some folks refuse to play by the rules.

Mel was a likeable and interesting main character. Her compassionate reaction to Mumford, the stray dog who had recently wandered into her life, only made me like her more than I already did. I was also amused by how she responded once she realized that he was different than most dogs.

There were some pacing issues. This book started off with a lot of stuff happening at once, so I was surprised by how much it slowed down after the first scene or two. It would have been nice to spread some of those plot twists out more. I had trouble staying focused on the plot during the slower sections of it.

The world building was well done. I started imagining the people and places who were part of it in vivid detail as soon as I finished the first page. It was especially interesting to find out what the author’s ideas were about why some folks become ghosts after death while others go straight on to the afterlife. Her explanation made perfect sense for the tone of the storyline, and it was also downright emotionally satisfying for me as a reader.

This is the second part in a series, but it can be read on its own or out of order. I hadn’t read part one yet, and I didn’t have any issues keeping up with what was going on.

Don’t Dream It’s Rover was a spooky, fun tale that I’d recommend to anyone who likes a little humour in their ghost stories.

Ascension: The Chosen by E. H. James


Ascension: The Chosen by E. H. James
The Demon Series Part 5
Publisher: Crushing Hearts and Black Butterfly
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Horror, Paranormal
Length: Short Story (46 pages)
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Jesse returns from India, ten years later, in his arms a Katemara. But he is not returning to the world he left. Demons are possessing humans on a regular basis. Committing crimes and leaving the humans to suffer the consequences, the demons are amassing huge sums of money.

Left to wonder what the demons could be plotting, Jesse knows they are after more than just mischief, pain, and pleasure. But when Cole confesses to one of Starke’s murders, believing himself responsible for not having stopped Starke, Jesse and the gang have more than just demons to worry about. And when overwhelmed by demons bent on killing them, they must run.

Will Jesse take his rightful place as the chosen one, or will the demon occupation prevent the ascension?

In the battle between demons and humankind, only one group can be victorious.

One of my favorite parts of this tale was how many clever twists it had. I was surprised by a few of them, especially towards the end when the main character finally had the time to start putting things together. It was rewarding to see how he did this and what his response was once he realized that everything wasn’t necessarily the way he thought it was.

There was a little bit of an information dump at the end. While I enjoyed seeing how everything was connected to each other, it would have been nice to have some of these revelations earlier on in the plot so that I could concentrate on what was currently happening with the characters. With that being said, this was a minor criticism of a book I otherwise enjoyed quite a bit.

The dialogue was fantastic. Every character had such an unique voice that I was immediately able to tell who was speaking. I also appreciated seeing how relaxed their conversations were. They passed on all of the information that the audience needed, and they did it in such a casual way that I felt as though I were eavesdropping on real conversations.

This is the fifth story in this series. I would strongly suggest reading the first four instalments before moving onto this one because of how little time Jesse had to explain what was going on. Already being familiar with the characters and their mission will make it easier to understand what’s happening in the plot.

Ascension: The Chosen was a wild ride. If you’re in the mood to see what a war with demons could look like, look no further.