Ready for Love by Jules Dixon


Ready for Love by Jules Dixon
Publisher: Evernight Publishing
Genre: Contemporary
Length: Short Story (52 pages)
Other: F/F
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Advertising account executive Jace Zelensky has a lover that won’t ever have a heart beat.

Personal trainer and former soldier Kai Thomas worries that when it comes to love her heart may have been permanently broken at a young age.

When Jace’s blind commitment to her job interferes with Kai’s attempts to make a true connection and leaves Kai searching for her neurotic dog, Waffles, can Jace come to the rescue? Will a night with a no-strings-attached promise be the release they both need to satisfy their curiosity, or will those few minutes lead to something they’re willing to risk their hearts for?

One night of pleasure is all either one of them is looking for. What a night it will be!

I appreciated having the chance to jump between Kai and Jace’s minds as I read this tale. They both had incredibly unique voices, so it was always easy to remember exactly who was narrating a specific scene. I also liked being able to see both characters through each other’s eyes. How someone sees themselves isn’t always how other people see them. That happened to be even more true than normal for both of these ladies, so it was nice to see the differences between their perspectives.

There were a few too many characters in this story. I especially had trouble keeping track of all of Jace and Kai’s friends. Some of them were friends with only one of the main characters while others were close to both. It was hard to remember how everyone knew each other, though, because of how many different names were being mentioned.

The chemistry between Kai and Jace was perfect. Their personalities played off of each other beautifully, especially when they were flirting. They had a lot in common, and both of them had similar communication styles as well. All of these things made me hope they’d end up together even though they said they were only looking for a casual fling.

Ready for Love was a short, sexy tale that should be read by anyone who is in the market for a seriously hot romance.

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.

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.

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.

Loving a Ghost by Marisa Chenery


Loving a Ghost by Marisa Chenery
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Contemporary, Paranormal
Length: Short Story (25 pages)
Other: M/F
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Jordana’s dream of meeting hunky romance cover model, Grady Timmins, comes to an abrupt end when he dies in a tragic car accident in her city. She’d known she would never meet him in real life, but that didn’t stop her from mourning him, anyway.

Her sorrow all-too-soon changes after Grady appears to her in ghost form, unable to leave her apartment. As love springs between them, Jordana will do anything in her power to keep him at her side.

Sometimes celebrity crushes can be more than just a fun fantasy about someone you’ll never meet.

Including so much backstory about Jordana’s life was a good decision. My first impression of her was that she was a sweet and lonely woman. It was nice to have that gut feeling about her confirmed because it made it easier to understand why she made certain decisions later on in the plot. Loneliness can drive people to make all kinds of choices that they might not otherwise be brave enough to try.

The one thing I never understood about this story was why Grady ended up being drawn into Jordana’s life after he died. They’d never even met while he was alive, so it didn’t make sense to me that he would haunt her home instead of the home of one of his friends or relatives. I otherwise enjoyed the plot quite a bit. This was a big sticking point for me, though, and it’s something that I wished would have been explained better by the author.

With that being said, the chemistry between Jordana and Grady was undeniable. They were both great conversationalists, and their banter made me eager to see what would happen once they figured out that ghosts can’t touch people or objects the same way a living person can. The anticipation of wanting to see them together but not being sure how it would be possible made it hard for me to stop reading. I simply had to know what would happen to them next.

I’d recommend Loving a Ghost to anyone who is in the mood for a sweet paranormal romance tale.

The Crow by Leslie W P Garland


The Crow by Leslie W P Garland
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Horror, Paranormal, Historical
Length: Short Story (71 pages)
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

The Crow: A sad, poignant story of misunderstanding, bitterness and blame.
“Vanity of vanities, saith the preacher; all is vanity.”

This story, which centres on our almost desperate desire to leave something to mark our lives upon this earth, is told as a history recounted by Dave, of the time when he, as a child, was taken by his mother to a hospice where he met a dying and embittered old Irish priest known as Mad Father Patrick, who told him about the school days and subsequent rise of a local councillor, Reginald Monday, and of his (Monday’s) involvement in the construction of a dam which flooded a valley. Father Patrick’s increasingly mad tale is told with a blend of biblical quotations, philosophical musings and wild fantasy, but how does it end and just why is he so bitter?

The difference between a hero and a villain isn’t always as clear cut as it might seem.

Small town politics can be extremely complicated. One of my favorite parts of this tale was how much effort the characters put into explaining why certain issues were so sensitive for the people who lived in the community where this all took place. It actually made me wonder for a moment if this was based on real events because of how true to life some of the scenes were. They genuinely felt like the kinds of grudges and quiet but stubborn conflicts that I’ve seen played out over many years in other rural places.

There were some pacing issues in the beginning. The narrator spent the first third of the story introducing everyone and explaining how they all knew each other. While I liked having so many details, it didn’t leave quite enough room for all of the exciting things that happened once Dave started to dig deeply into his conversation with Father Patrick. I would have liked to have more time to sort through the conflicting theories about Reginald’s life after they were revealed.

Once the introductions were finished and the pace picked up, though, I couldn’t wait to find out what happened next. Reginald’s involvement with the dam lead to a tragedy that the community talked about for many years afterwards. I was haunted by the various theories about what happened that day and whether or not he should have been blamed for the outcome. While I can’t say much else about this part of the plot without giving away spoilers, it was thought-provoking and it did help to ease my earlier frustration with not knowing what was going on.

This is part of “The Red Grouse” series, but it can be read on its own or out of order.

The Crow should be read by anyone who is in the mood for a slow-burning book that pays off nicely in the end.

Death on the Trek by Kaye George


Death on the Trek by Kaye George
A People of the Wind Mystery, #2
Publisher: Untreed Reads
Genre: Suspense/Mystery, Historical
Length: Short Story (148 pages)
Rating: 4.5 Stars
Review ed by Astilbe

The Neanderthal tribe of Enga Dancing Flower must trek south to flee the approaching glacier, but the distance is long and the food is scarce. When a venerable elder drowns crossing a flooded river, Enga suspects that it was not an accident, and that a murderer travels with them.

Someone in this tribe is extremely dangerous.

The character development was fabulous. I especially liked seeing how Enga Dancing Flower had changed since I first met her. She’s grown in all kinds of ways since then, and her new status as a fully-grown adult showed in how she reacted to the newest crime that threatened her people. It was interesting to watch her figure out that something was terribly wrong once again. She didn’t have a lot of time to catch the murderer, so I was really glad that she reacted as quickly and maturely as she did as soon as she noticed the threat.

With that being said, there were a few times when I was a little surprised by how openly the main character went about trying to figure out who the murderer was. She knew that her list of suspects was small, so talking about the clues she’d uncovered with so many different people didn’t strike me as the smartest idea. Normally she was much more aware of danger than that. This was a minor criticism of a story that I otherwise really loved, though.

It was fascinating to read a mystery set in a time when there was no such thing as a detective, judge, trial, or prison sentence. Enga Dancing Flower has to figure out what happened to the murdered member of her tribe with only very limited experience solving this kind of crime. This meant that some of her techniques for finding new clues and trying to figure out what happened weren’t at all what I’d normally expect to find in this genre, but that didn’t make them any less effective. It was refreshing to watch this character put such a creative spin on on the process.

This is the second book in the People of the Wind series. While the plot itself technically can be understood if you haven’t read Death in the Time of Ice, I strongly recommend reading this series in order because of how complex all of the family and other relationships are in Enga Dancing Flower’s tribe. The narrator only goes over them again briefly here, so there was a lot of background information that I was happy to have remembered so clearly from the first tale. Already being familiar with that stuff made it much easier for me get absorbed in what was a pretty compelling mystery.

Death on the Trek was a fabulous read. I can’t recommend it highly enough! Anyone who enjoys prehistoric fiction or complex murder mysteries should definitely give it a try.

Lost Among the Stars by Paul Di Filippo


Lost Among the Stars by Paul Di Filippo
Publisher: WordFire Press
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Contemporary, Paranormal, Historical
Length: Full Length (201 pages)
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

In this astonishing, variegated assortment of tales, award-winning author Paul Di Filippo covers all the themes and modes he is best-known for, and ventures into new territory as well.

—Visit a hermetic city where beauty is the only currency.

—Experience a steampunk fable in which nothing is what it first seems, and a young man’s future rests on finding his true father.

—Hang out with the techno-savvy, social-media gypsies who form the new elite in the not-too-distant future.

—Ride a wild ribofunk express train into the badlands where a man’s skin is not his own.

—Experience a counterfacutal World War II where victory is acheived by amazing rays.

—Vist a haunted Italian city where the Neolithic and the present live side-by-side, and a hero who falls in love with a goddess must battle her ancient foe.

—Visit an Orwellian future redeemed only by the imagination and love of a tortured dissenter.

These are just some of the uncanny tales contained in this collection, incorporating comedy and tragedy, laughter and tears!

Sometimes science makes the world a better place, but it’s impossible to tell in advance if this will actually happen.

My favourite tale was “Desperados of the Badlands.” It followed a man named Ruy who wore a manufactured suit of skin that kept his body safe and helped him track down bad guys. What I found most interesting about his adventures was how dangerous they were even with the assistance of such advanced technology. He experienced thing that no regular person would ever expect to feel. This made it really hard to stop reading because I couldn’t wait to find out what would happen to Ruy next.

One of the things I noticed about many of the stories in this collection is that they had incredibly abrupt endings. I was enamoured by how all of them began, but their final scenes often left me feeling confused because of how many loose ends they left untied. The biggest example of this was “City of Beauty, City of Scars.” It followed Tono from his birth to a woman who had very low status to his ascension to the upper classes in a society that harshly judged and sorted everyone based on their physical attractiveness. I was excited to find out what would happen to this character if he made it to the highest level of Aesthetica, so it was disappointing to reach the end with so many unanswered questions about him and the culture he was born into.

The main character in “Ghostless” was woman named Ilona who could see and communicate with spirits. When she’d caught the attention of several dozen of them who all crave her attention, she had to decide what to do with them. What I liked the most about this one is how much creativity was folded into the plot. There were things that happened in it that I never would have thought to include if I were writing about ghosts and what happens after someone dies, but they all worked incredibly well for all of the characters who were involved in it.

Lost Among the Stars should be read by anyone who is a die-hard fan of science fiction.

The Golden Tup by Leslie W P Garland


The Golden Tup by Leslie W P Garland
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Suspense/Mystery, Horror, Paranormal, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (88 pages)
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

The Golden Tup: A dreadful tale of a young couple’s paradise being cruelly taken from them by latent evil.

“But whom sent I to judge them?”

Can evil be in a place? The tale opens with Verity, a farmer’s wife, recalling how a young couple were arrested a few years previously for killing their new born baby. How could such a nice young couple have done such a dreadful thing? Through a series of flashbacks we learn how they had created their rural idyll, how an enigmatic man had come into their lives and how their idyll and relationship had gradually fallen apart – how, with references to Milton’s Paradise Lost, their paradise was lost. Gradually the young wife reveals a dreadful past, but Verity realises that she is holding something back, but what? What is the terrible truth that caused her and her husband to kill their baby?

Small communities have long memories. Whether or not this is a good thing depends on what they’re remembering.

Gossip is everywhere. One of my favorite parts of the plot was when it showed just how eager some people are to believe anything they’re told as well as to spread it along to as many of their friends as possible. This wasn’t a topic I was at all expecting to see mentioned in a horror tale, so it was fascinating to see how the author tied together everything together. It is yet another reason why I enjoy his tales so much.

I would have liked to have a few more details about Constance and Matthew’s reaction to the evil they encountered. This was such an important part of the plot that I was a little surprised that it wasn’t given more attention. I always enjoy the challenge of figuring out what a narrator is hinting at without being directly told what’s going on, but I would have loved it even more if I’d had a few more hints to work with here.

With that being said, this is one of the scariest stories I’ve read in ages. One of the things I appreciate the most about Mr. Garland’s work is how much time he gives his characters to reveal their deepest secrets to the audience. This is the kind of horror that slowly sneaks up on a reader, and that makes it so much fun to read. I actually found myself getting more frightened after I’d finished the last scene and started thinking about that strange farm where Matthew and Constance lived again. There were so many details of their lives there that became much more alarming once I knew how those things fit together and what they meant. Sometimes there’s a good reason why old buildings have been abandoned, after all!

This book is part of the Red Grouse series, but it can be read on its own or out of order.

Give The Golden Tup a try if you’re in the mood for something bone-chillingly creepy.