The Chef and the Ghost of Bartholomew Addison Jenkins by Aletta Thorne


The Chef and the Ghost of Bartholomew Addison Jenkins by Aletta Thorne
Publisher: Evernight Publishing
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Paranormal, Horror, Historical
Length: Full Length (151 pages)
Other: M/F
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Halloween, 1982. MTV is new, poodle perms are the rage, and life just might be getting better for Alma Kobel. Her ugly divorce is final at last. Her new job as chef at Bright Day School’s gorgeous old estate is actually fun. But the place is haunted—and so is Alma’s apartment.

Bartholomew Addison Jenkins’ ghost has been invisibly watching Alma for months. When he materializes one night, Alma discovers Bart—as he likes to be called—has talents she couldn’t have imagined … and a horrifying past. Can you have a one-nighter with a ghost? And what happens if you decide one night is all you want—and end up ghosting him? Some spirits don’t like taking “no” for an answer.

First impressions definitely aren’t always accurate.

What a hilarious main character Alma was! She could find a funny spin to anything that happened to her, from surprise health inspections at work to her strange and complicated interactions with her ex-husband. Some of the things that happened to her would have seriously annoyed or even frightened a lot of people. I loved the fact that she was able to quickly shake so many of those memories off with her fabulous sense of humor.

The only criticism I have of this story has to do with how quickly the romantic relationship in it heated up. Both of the people involve in it were so cautious and meticulous in other areas of their lives that I never would have expected them to move as fast as they did. Yes, I definitely wanted to see them end up together, but it felt a little odd to me because it didn’t feel consistent with everything else I’d learned about them. With that being said, this is a minor complaint about something I enjoyed quite a lot.

The world building was really well done. I especially enjoyed figuring out what ghosts were and weren’t capable of in this universe. Since nobody was given any instructions after they died, Bartholomew had to learn what he could do and what the consequences of those actions would be on his own. Him slowly discovering his abilities and limitations as the plot moved forward made it difficult for me to stop reading. I always wanted to know more about what the afterlife was like for him.

The Chef and the Ghost of Bartholomew Addison Jenkins was as spooky as it was sexy. It should be read by fans of erotica and ghost stories alike.

Sanctity of Life by Jennifer E. Whalen


Sanctity of Life by Jennifer E. Whalen
An Enemy Loved Novel

Publisher: Lilac Press
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Horror, Action/Adventure, Historical
Length: Full Length (156 pages)
Heat Level: Spicy
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Deep in the Black Forest of Germany, dark experiments have been taking place since WWII. Now the secrets are in danger of being exposed. Who will live? Who will die? Can it be contained?

Sometimes science causes more problems than it solves.

The dialogue was well done. This was a fast-paced story, so there wasn’t a lot of room for lengthy descriptions or discussions. I liked the fact that the characters’ conversations were kept as short as possible. That was exactly how I’d expect members of the military and government to behave when they were trying to contain a threat to the security of their nation.

There were so many characters in this story that I found it really difficult to remember who was who. I kept mixing everyone up, and it only became tougher to remember who everyone was once the pacing picked up and the characters began to find themselves in dangerous situations.

One of the things I always like discovering is a character who makes intelligent decisions regardless of what’s happening around him. There were several characters in this book who had good heads on their shoulders. No matter how other people reacted around them, they always paid close attention to their surroundings and thought logically about what they should do next. I appreciated that.

The time jumps were confusing to me. Some of the scenes were set in 1945 while others happened in 1918. Since I was struggling so much to remember who all of the characters were, it was strange to suddenly meet new people or to see someone in a different part of his or her life than they’d been a few scenes earlier.

My favorite sections of this story were the ones that explained what was going on with the dark experiments in full detail. I’m a big fan of science fiction about medical advancements that don’t turn out the way their creators intended them to. The author did a good job at explaining why these attempts were having such poor results and hinting at what would happen if the scientists continue to push the boundaries of what the human body is capable of.

Sanctity of Life should be read by anyone who loves the idea of science experiments gone terribly wrong.

The Hematophages by Stephen Kozeniewski


The Hematophages by Stephen Kozeniewski
Publisher: Sinister Grin Press
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Horror, Action/Adventure
Length: Full Length (162 pages)
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Doctoral student Paige Ambroziak is a “station bunny” – she’s never set foot off the deep space outpost where she grew up. But when she’s offered a small fortune to join a clandestine salvage mission, she jumps at the chance to leave the cutthroat world of academia behind.

Paige is convinced she’s been enlisted to find the legendary Manifest Destiny, a long-lost colonization vessel from an era before the corporations ruled Earth and its colonies. Whatever she’s looking for, though, rests in the blood-like seas of a planet-sized organism called a fleshworld.

Dangers abound for Paige and her shipmates. Flying outside charted space means competing corporations can shoot them on sight rather than respect their salvage rights. The area is also crawling with pirates like the ghoulish skin-wrappers, known for murdering anyone they can’t extort.

But the greatest threat to Paige’s mission is the nauseating alien parasites which infest the fleshworld. These lamprey-like monstrosities are used to swimming freely in an ocean of blood, and will happily spill a new one from the veins of the outsiders who have tainted their home. In just a few short, bone-chilling hours Paige learns that there are no limits to the depravity and violence of the grotesque nightmares known as…THE HEMATOPHAGES.

There are no friendly aliens here.

I appreciated how much time Mr. Kozeniewski spent on the world building and character development before the plot sped up. Having such a detailed introduction to the strict, corporate-run society Paige grew up in made it easy for me to bond with her. Paige’s childhood had not been an easy one, but it had shaped her into a strong and self-reliant woman. I really enjoyed having such a deep understanding of how those early experiences shaped the person she became as an adult. They made her heroic acts later on in the plot even more exciting than they might have been for someone who didn’t have quite so much to lose.

My only piece of constructive criticism has to do with the plot twists. While I definitely enjoyed following Paige’s adventures, the fact that I could predict what would happen next so regularly did make me wish that I could have been surprised by what the characters experienced more often. It was a minor complaint about a tale that I otherwise had a great time reading, though.

Yes, there were many gory scenes in this book. It’s something that is to be expected when characters visit a planet that has oceans full of blood, after all. The violence served an important purpose to the plot, though, and I liked the way it was folded into what had been a much tamer adventure story in the beginning. I knew the characters so well at that point that I couldn’t stop reading until I’d found out what their fates were.

I’d recommend The Hematophages to anyone who is in the market for dark and violent science fiction.

One Night in Havana by Kathleen Rowland


One Night in Havana by Kathleen Rowland
Publisher: Tirgearr Publishing
Genre: Suspense/Mystery, Action/Adventure, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (84 pages)
Other: M/F, BDSM (Biting)
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

A desperate competition and sizzling attraction leads to dangerous desire.

New York Marine biologist Veronica “Roni” Keane is attending the Havana Bay Conference in Cuba. Tomorrow only one grant will be awarded which will provide the winner with professional recognition, resources for a project, and living expenses for two years. She hopes to continue her deceased father’s work, but smooth operator, Carlos Montoya, has won many grants in the past.

Carlos, a freelancer for the Havana Port Authority, works to help protect Havana’s reputation as a bastion of safety. As international travelers flock to the island, attracted by its 1950’s time-warp and colonial architecture, the drug business is running rampant, particularly on Roni’s cruise ship. Something’s not right, and when her scuba tanks are tampered with, Carlos brings in the military police to investigate. For her safety, he keeps her close, but he craves her body.

Their attraction leads to a fun night with a bit of kink. But Roni finds herself in more trouble than she bargained for when the criminals blame her for alerting the military police and come looking for her. Can Roni trust Carlos to protect her? Will she stay in Havana if Carlos wins the coveted grant, or kiss her lover goodbye?

Sometimes danger can be the most powerful aphrodisiac of them all.

Ms. Rowland’s descriptions of the scenery were so vivid that they made me feel like I’d been to Cuba even though I’ve never actually been to that country in real life. The beaches sounded gorgeous at any time of the day or night. I also enjoyed the descriptions she gave of what Cuban culture is like. It wasn’t something I knew much about at all, so I was glad that she spent so much time showing how Cuba is different from other parts of the world.

The chemistry between Roni and Carlos never felt right to me. The plot didn’t spend very much time developing these characters, so it was hard for me to figure out what their personalities were like and why they were so attracted to each other. Having more details about who these people were would have made it a lot easier to root for them to end up together.

My favorite scenes were the ones that focused on why Roni’s scuba equipment was tampered with and how the authorities reacted to that. Not only were they fast-paced and exciting, they placed the main characters in so much peril that I couldn’t wait to find out how they might escape. I actually read the whole story in one siting because I couldn’t bear to put it down until I knew how everything would turn out.

If you’re in the mood for an erotic mystery, One Night in Havana is a good place to start.

Hungry by Nikka Michaels


Hungry by Nikka Michaels
Publisher: Evernight Publishing
Genre: Contemporary
Length: Short Story (34 pages)
Other: F/F
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Sydney Donnelly has poured her heart and soul into the bar she runs in an up and coming Portland neighborhood. When she receives a letter from the landlord that her block is going to be turned into expensive condos, she feels lost. Then a scheduled band cancels, but her friend and bartender, Mitch promises to find another group to play the show. When the band shows up, Sydney’s shocked, along with the rest of the bar when world-famous band Finnegan’s Wake plays her tiny neighborhood bar.

Natalie Summers, the lead singer and t.v. star of a quirky independent skit show on cable is talented, sexy and beautiful. She’s also a local, and grew up near Sydney’s bar. When Natalie and her band play a show that rocks the small bar, she also rocks Sydney’s world with her sexy, sultry songs. Will Sydney and Natalie connect or will they be left hungry for more?

Natalie’s only in town for a short time, but one night might be all that Sydney needs.

Sydney had a fabulous personality. I loved her assertive attitude as well as her compassion for the people in her neighborhood whose homes were in danger of being torn down and replaced by condos. She really cared about her friends and community. It showed in every conversation she had about wanting to protect them, and it somehow made me like this character even more than I did when I first met her.

I would have liked to see more time spent developing the ending to this tale. The beginning and middle had plenty of opportunities to shine, but the ending felt a little rushed to me. While it mentioned all of the things that needed to be resolved, it didn’t go into quite enough detail about them in order to make those scenes come alive in my mind the way they did in the beginning. I would have chosen a much higher rating if this hadn’t happened as I enjoyed the storytelling quite a bit overall.

The chemistry between Sydney and Natalie was really well done. The backstory between them explained why Sydney had such a strong reaction to Natalie the first time she saw her at Finnegan’s Wake, and their connection only grew more powerful from there.I don’t know if the author is planning to write a sequel, but I’d sure be interested in finding out what happens to these characters next if she does.

Hungry would be a good choice for anyone who is in the mood for something short and racy.

The Killer Wore Cranberry: A Fifth Course of Chaos by Edited by J. Alan Hartman


The Killer Wore Cranberry: A Fifth Course of Chaos by Edited by J. Alan Hartman
Publisher: Untreed Reads
Genre: Suspense/Mystery, Holiday, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (137 pages)
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Just when you thought it was safe to head to the table for Thanksgiving feasting, the Killer Wore Cranberry series is back with a fifth course of pure chaos!

The Killer Wore Cranberry has been acclaimed worldwide for its wicked combination of humor and Thanksgiving-themed mysteries, and this year’s installment is sure to carry on everyone’s new, favorite holiday tradition.

This year’s contributions come from 14 of today’s best and brightest short mystery authors that could be seated at one dinner table: Barbara Metzger, Arthur Carey, Earl Staggs, KM Rockwood, Herschel Cozine, Kelley Lortz, Bobbi A. Chukran, Lesley A. Diehl, Albert Tucher, Maryann Miller, Liz Milliron, Terrance V. Mc Arthur, Betsy Bitner and DG Critchley. And, back by popular demand, Lisa Wagner provides delicious recipes, proving that murder and mystery work best on a full stomach.

So have a seat, pick up your fork and knife (on second thought, maybe not the knife) and get ready to have so many laughs it’s criminal!

Sometimes there are far more dangerous things to worry about on Thanksgiving than accidentally choking on a turkey bone.

In “The Capo-Clipped Capon Caper,” Sam Spad was hired by the secret service to find out who stole the White House’s Thanksgiving turkey. The only thing better than discovering the funny and creative premise for this tale was finding out that it exceeded every expectation I had for it. Not only was the mystery incredibly entertaining, the characters were well-developed and the ending made me grin. I never would have guessed that any detective would have to work so hard to figure out who’d want to prevent the president from eating turkey.

I enjoyed all of the stories in this collection, but a couple of them would have been better if they’d focused on a smaller number of characters. “No Starch in the Turkey, Please” was one example of this. It was about a woman named Emily who decided to reconnect with her estranged family for the holidays after receiving a strangely formal letter from her mother about her father’s declining health. She soon began to wonder if something sinister was happening to her family. The premise itself was fantastic, but there were so many characters running around in the plot that I had trouble keeping up with what everyone was doing.

“Turkey Underfoot” was told from the perspective of a cat named Misty. Her humans were hosting Thanksgiving dinner for a grouchy, elderly relative who kept narrowly escaping attempts on his life during the course of the day. Not only was Misty a funny narrator, her understanding of how human society works and why her owners were trying to kill their relative was so different from how a person would interpret those scenes that I couldn’t wait to find out how it would all end. This was such a fun twist on the typical murder mystery that I’d recommend skipping ahead to read it first before diving into the rest of this anthology.

The Killer Wore Cranberry: A Fifth Course of Chaos should be read by anyone who is in the mood for some truly creative Thanksgiving mysteries.

The Raven Flies at Night by Janine R. Pestel


The Raven Flies at Night by Janine R. Pestel
Publisher: Creativia Publishing
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Paranormal, Horror, Contemporary
Length: Full Length (154 pages)
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

In the second book of the series, Father Gunter and his friend, Robert Durling travel to the town of Mountainview.

A demon’s presence in the town has the townfolk depressed, with suicides being a daily occurrence. After the duo meets Father Nelson, they receive an amulet that will aid them in their battle against the Mountainview demon.

But after a meeting with TV reporter Belinda Carstone, they learn of her mysterious dream, and a demon that abducted her many years ago. Soon, their adventure takes a completely new, terrifying direction.

Demon hunting is a messy and dangerous job, but someone has to do it.

One of my favorite things about Robert Durling and Father Gunter in this tale was how level-headed they remained in even the most volatile situations. No matter how violent their supernatural encounters became they never panicked or made reckless decisions while they were trying to figure out the best way to excommunicate the demons they keep running into in this series.

There were many punctuation errors. By far the most common errors were the overuse and misuse of commas. While I deeply enjoyed the plot itself, it was distracting to be interrupted by so many sentences that I had to reread a few times in order to understand. I would have given this book a much higher rating if this hadn’t been the case.

The demon’s method of killing people was creative. Most of the other horror novels about demons I’ve read have taken a completely different approach to the harm they cause, so I was fascinated by the idea of one of these creatures causing so many grisly deaths without actually touching any of their victims. The original twists on this genre like this one are a big part of what keeps me so interested in what will happen next to these characters.

As I mentioned above, this is the second story in a series. It can be read out of order or as a standalone work.

I’d recommend The Raven Flies at Night to anyone who loves modern horror.

#iHunt Mayhem in Movieland by David A Hill Jr.


#iHunt Mayhem in Movieland by David A Hill Jr.
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Paranormal, Horror, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (74 pages)
Heat Level: Sensual
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Lana hunts monsters for a living. She absolutely hates hunting ghosts. So, of course, a friend is calling in a favor and having her hunt a ghost. Not just any ghost, but Old Anne, an urban legend at Movieland, a theme park inspired by the golden age of Hollywood. Worse off, Lana used to work at Movieland, and was fired after she had a… little incident killing three vampires on park property. So in addition to hunting ghosts—which she doesn’t want to do—she has to sneak around and not get noticed by her former coworkers. This is Book 3 of #iHunt. But it’s a completely standalone story—you don’t need to have read the others to get this. Content Warning: Drug use, violence, minor gore, descriptions of anxiety attacks.

Monster hunting is never as easy as it looks in the movies.

There’s nothing quite like trying to catch a bad guy that doesn’t play by the rules. The more I learned about this creature, the more curious I became to discover what it really was and why Lana was having so much trouble figuring out how to fight it. It was one of the most creative parts of the plot, and it kept me guessing until the end.

The pacing would have worked well in a full-length novel, but it felt uneven for a short story because of how much time it took for Lana to discover any clues at all about who or what was killing people at the amusement park. As much as I enjoyed seeing what she was up to again, there was a lot of room here to include more conflict in the storyline.

The fight scenes were exciting. One of the things I’ve enjoyed the most about this series so far is how vulnerable Lana is when she’s fighting something that has supernatural strength. She’s not a superhero, and she has sustained serious injuries from her battles in the past. There is always the very real danger that one of her opponents will kill or severely injure her. While I never like the thought of her being hurt, the genuine tension of not knowing for sure that she’ll be okay keeps me coming back for more.

This is the sequel to iHunt: Killing Monsters in the Gig Economy. It should be read in order.

I’d recommend #iHunt Mayhem in Movieland to anyone who loves gritty books about killing monsters.

Dead and Breakfast & Other Stories by Marilyn Todd


Dead and Breakfast & Other Stories by Marilyn Todd
Publisher: Untreed Reads
Genre: Suspense/Mystery, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Historical, Contemporary
Length: Full Length (154 pages)
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Not all detectives are heroes.
And when the dead can’t defend themselves, help comes from the most unlikely sources.

It might be from P.I.s with offices in unusually high places (“Heaven Knows”). It might come from shapeshifters in love (“Stakes & Adders”). Hell, it could even come from…you’ve guessed it, Hell. (“667, Evil and Then Some”). But whether you’re cruising a narrow boat down an English canal (“The Way It Is”) or taking a break on an idyllic French lakeside (“Dead & Breakfast”), justice is like the endings in these stories. You never see it coming.

Listening to what a character doesn’t say is sometimes just as important to listening to what they do say.

In “Something Rather Fishy,” Stevie and her accomplice, Patti, ran multiple scams on unsuspecting strangers in order to steal their money or sell them products that were nothing at all like what was advertised. What I enjoyed the most about their scams was how much thought was put into them. Stevie put a lot of time into figuring out how to get people to do what she wanted without them realizing what was happening. I definitely didn’t see the ending coming, and that was a good thing. It fit the tone perfectly while still being a pleasant surprise.

There were some tales in this collection that I thought could have used more clues about what was really going on in them. For example, “The Great Rivorsky” showed what happened when a magician’s attempt to accomplish that famous trick involving sawing a woman in half didn’t go as he had planned. As amused as I was by the main character’s narration, I needed more details about what was going on to figure out why his assistant was so badly injured and who might have been responsible for it.

A small, sleepy town isn’t typically where anyone would expect to find three murders over the course of a short period of time, but that’s exactly what happened in “The Longboat Cove Murders.” The muted reactions of the townsfolk to the first few murders shocked me. They also made me curious to find out what happened and why no one was panicking about the suddenly high death rate in their community.

I’d recommend Dead and Breakfast & Other Stories to anyone who is in the mood for mysteries that require their audience to pay close attention to detail in order to solve them.

Ruthless by Kara Lowndes


Ruthless by Kara Lowndes
Publisher: Loose ID
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (84 pages)
Other: F/F, Toys
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

A small-town lesbian in the big city. It should be easy. Except for Ruth, it’s anything but predictable. Born with powers she can’t explain, she escaped to the sprawling metropolis of Dollar to figure out why she was endowed with her mysterious gifts. But, three years later, she’s none the wiser–until she gets hit by a car and a mysterious nurse named Killian comes to her rescue. But Killian has a dark past that she’s desperately trying to leave behind and, as a dangerous organization uncovers Ruth’s secrets, they must fight to keep their intense romance alive.

Many people are full of secrets. Killian and Ruth are no exception to this rule.

Ruth and Killian had excellent chemistry. It was nice to see them get to know each other for a little while in the beginning before anything physical happened between them. Due to how shy they both were about sharing certain important parts of their pasts, this was a smart decision on the author’s part. It also gave me a chance to figure out their personalities right away which was something I was glad I got to do.

I would have liked to see way more time spent on the world building. Ruth’s background was especially confusing because of how little she knew about her powers, why she had them, or what she was capable of. While I didn’t expect every question about her background to be answered, it would have been helpful to at least have a basic understanding of how powerful she was and what, if anything, she wasn’t able to do. I was also never quite sure how her abilities fit into what life in this universe is like in general, and that made it difficult to imagine how certain scenes played out.

With that being said, Killian’s backstory was much more well-developed. I enjoyed the process of slowly uncovering clues about what happened to her in the past and why she was so jumpy in certain situations. Her extraordinarily cautious nature made perfect sense to me once I’d come up with an educated guess about what had caused it. I couldn’t wait to find out if my theory was correct and was pleased with how much thought I had to put into this aspect of the plot.

I’d recommend Ruthless to fans of urban fantasy and erotic tales alike.