Security (Spaceport 1) by Shelby Morgen

Security (Spaceport 1) by Shelby Morgen
Publisher: Changeling Press
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Suspense/Mystery, Paranormal
Length: Short Story (38 pages)
Other: M/F
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

A dark corner of a seedy bar on the edge of nowhere. A woman who’s seen too much. A man who moves through the shadows with the grace of a cat.

She’s on his tail, and he’s determined to find out why. Once he might have been flattered to have her checking out his ass. Now he knows women are dangerous. And far, far too expensive.

But Commander Kala Decoltéir always gets her man, and she wants the space pirate they call Dancer — no matter who — or what — he is. This time, Dancer has no escape.

All Kala was looking for was one night of pleasure to help her unwind from her stressful life. Only time would tell if that’s what she’d receive or how she’d feel the next morning.

The world building was well done. I especially liked reading about the slang terms Ms. Morgen had developed for this universe. The fact that she expected the audience to pay attention and figure out the definitions of them for ourselves only made me more curious to figure them out. They also fleshed out this character’s world in all kinds of subtle but worthwhile ways.

I had trouble keeping track of all of the characters. It was confusing to read about them because there were more of them than I’d normally expect to find in a short story and because most of them weren’t described with a lot of detail. This was something that was most noticeable when it came to Kala talking about the people she knew through her job.

Kala and Dancer had great chemistry. I totally understood why things moved so quickly between them because of how intense their attraction was towards each other. They were clearly a great match inside of the bedroom, and that made me wonder if they’d be good for each other outside of the bedroom in the longterm as well. This was a question I had to know the answer to, so I didn’t stop reading until I’d figured out what would happen to them next.

I’d recommend Security (Spaceport 1) to anyone who is in the mood for something short and steamy.

Nicholas: Lost Innocence, The Demon Series Part 6 by E.H. James

Nicholas: Lost Innocence, The Demon Series Part 6 by E.H. James
Publisher: Crushing Hearts and Black Butterfly Publishing
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Horror, Paranormal, Historical, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (83 pages)
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

On a September night, in 1962, five-year-old Nicholas Starke finds himself alone on a street in Fairfield.

Confused and frightened, he is rescued by a kind couple. When that same couple adopts him, he is able to move on with his life…Only the people in the town of Fairfield won’t let him. And when met with angry and frightened stares, wherever he goes, his parents decide it best to move. But where can you go, when strange happenings follow your every move?

Will Nicholas hold on to what is left of his innocence, or will his brother’s influence be his downfall?

Nobody chooses the circumstances of their birth or what kind of childhood they had, but everyone always has a choice when it comes to how they behave.

The world building in this series keeps getting better the further along in it I go. It was very good in Beyond The Red Door four year ago, and it’s only gotten better since then. There were a few scenes in the beginning that are only now starting to pay off fully for the characters. I’ve enjoyed seeing how the author has developed this universe so far, and I’m looking forward to finding out what happens next.

I would have liked to see more character development for Nicholas Starke. He had a lot of exciting, frightening, and unexpected things happen to him in his life, but I didn’t see many examples of him changing as a result of these experiences. It was also difficult at times to get a feel for his personality. Other than him having a tendency to be cautious, I was never quite sure what other words could be used to describe him.

The creative plots twists are one of the biggest reasons why I enjoy this author’s stories so much. Nicholas: Lost Innocence was just as full of surprises as I expected it to be, especially once the main character grew up and began to explore who he really was and where he came from. I was so interested in finding out where those moments would all lead to that I couldn’t stop reading.

This tale is the sixth in a series. I’d recommend reading the first five before moving onto this one due to how much backstory was covered in them.

Nicholas: Lost Innocence, The Demon Series Part 6 should be read by anyone who enjoyed the first five installments of the The Demon Series.

Mrs. Claus by Rhonda Parrish, editor

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

Voted BoM by LASR Readers 2013 copy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fleet by Brian T. Marshall

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Time by Peri Elizabeth Scott

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Tell All by Libby Howard

The Tell All by Libby Howard
Publisher: Self-published
Genre: Suspense/Mystery, Paranormal, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (137 pages)
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Life at sixty isn’t quite what Kay Carrera expected. She’s working as a skip-tracer for a PI who is desperate to land his own reality TV show. She has a new roommate who arrived with more than the usual amount of baggage. And her attempts at knitting are less than stellar – way less than stellar. Worse, the cataract surgery that restored her sight has also delivered an unexpected and disturbing side-effect. Kay sees ghosts. And when the dead turn to her for help, she just can’t say no.

It’s hard to have a peaceful life when the dead keep trying to get your attention.

Kay was a well-developed and quite likeable main character. Her intelligence was what caught my eye first. She wasn’t the kind of person who would ever make a big fuss over something like this, but I enjoyed seeing her quietly figure out how to get through sticky situations and solve mysteries that didn’t give her a lot of clues to work with at first. Her flaws were written nicely as well. They showed me sides of her personality that I wouldn’t have otherwise seen. Noticing them only made me like her more than I already did because of how much they humanized a woman who was so sweet, gentle, and interested in making her home an oasis for everyone who lived there.

The pacing issues were what prompted me to choose the rating I did. As much as I enjoyed getting to know the characters, it took a while for the plot to pick up speed and even more time for Kay to realize that the shadowy figures her optometrist thought were a side effect of cataract surgery were actually real spirits. It would have been nice to have more time to explore what was happening and to have more clues about the case earlier on.

Once the mystery was revealed, though, I dove straight into it. There was far more going on than Kay originally thought, so I was curious to see how she’d react to all of the new information she found as she probed more deeply into the case. It didn’t take long for her to follow the clues she was given. I was intrigued by how persistent she was and how she reacted to certain surprising plot twists.

The Tell All was a cozy story that I’d recommend to anyone who is in the mood for a fairly quick read.

Evil Speaks Softly by Maureen L. Bonatch

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

They were never supposed to meet.

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

They were never supposed to find love.

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

They’ve broken all the rules.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Blue Guitar by Arnold Greenberg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.