Bewitched By The Bear by Jessica Coulter Smith


Bewitched By The Bear by Jessica Coulter Smith
Publisher: Changeling Press
Genre: Contemporary, Erotic Romance, Paranormal
Rating: 3 stars
Reviewed by Fern

Discover the power of true love in this spellbinding tale of magic and adventure.

All Amara wants is to live a life of adventure, without being tied down. With the dark fae relentlessly pursuing her, she needs a place to hide. Her gram’s cottage seems like the perfect spot, but the old witch’s words leave Amara unsettled — What you seek is in Cutter’s Creek.

Alpha bear shifter Hale is determined to safeguard those closest to him. His life takes an unexpected turn when he crosses paths with a captivating witch. Enchanted by her very presence, he’s unable to banish her from his thoughts.

As destiny ties them together, not even the dark fae will destroy their newfound happiness.

Uncover the magic in this fast-paced, insta-love story that’s sure to warm your heart.

Amara wants to be free and have adventures, but with Dark Fae pursuing her she need to hide out and her gram’s quiet cottage seems like the perfect place. Only her path crosses alpha bear Hale and they both discover their destiny is something neither of them can outrun.

I really enjoyed this short story. With Hale being a cranky old bear who was clearly ready to turn a corner and start fresh I found him to be a wonderful and believable hero – with issues and not being perfect. I also found Amara to be a strong and enjoyable character, with plenty of magical powers of her own and not one to just swoon and give herself easily over to Hale. I thought they were very well matched and deliciously modern.

Readers who don’t like insta-love (or insta-lust) stories might not find this story suits their tastes. While I completely understand Hale as a were-bear recognized Amara as his true mate and couldn’t help his physical and chemical reaction to her it was rather amusing that he did seem to pretty much lose control and his mind over the whole situation. I was pleased Amara seemed to take it in stride – and with a bit of humour herself – but it was a little disappointing that it meant the sexiness was fast-tracked and they didn’t have much time initially to get to know each other.

There was a really intriguing sub-plotline around another werewolf – Sage – part of Hale’s pack and the dark fae prince that I found interesting. I suspect this leads off into a different book and I found the whole plotline interesting enough I may very well search that book out. This also helped the story feel like it wasn’t simply about Amara and Hale and their mating but helped the story feel like it was part of a much larger paranormal world and I really enjoyed that.

With interesting characters and plenty of steamy intimacy this was a good book and one I enjoyed reading.

Now Or Never by John Carson


Now Or Never by John Carson
Publisher: Vellum
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery/Suspense/Thriller
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Fern

You can’t make up your own ending…

The lifeless body of a renowned author is found murdered within his residence, prompting DCI Harry McNeil to uncover the unsettling truth that not everyone held the man in high regard. Initially dismissed as a tragic mishap stemming from a misjudged publicity stunt, this incident swiftly transforms into a grim realization of foul play.

As a remorseless and deranged murderer prowls the streets, McNeil finds himself embroiled in an intense pursuit, exacerbated by the absence of one of his key team members.

Meanwhile, a surprising call interrupts DCI Angie Fisher’s routine – none other than her ex-husband, DI Dougie Fisher, whom she believed would remain estranged. Dougie, now residing in London with his new spouse and infant son, has come north to Fife for a family funeral. A nagging suspicion haunts him – he suspects his father-in-law’s demise was no accident. Frustratingly, his position as a detective in London’s MET has yielded no cooperation.

Initially hesitant to engage, Angie’s resolve wavers when Dougie discloses that his family has become a target. Yet, this is merely the prelude to an intricate sequence of events that ensnare Angie in the investigation. Amidst the labyrinth of twists and turns, the ultimate revelation catches her off guard, leaving her blindsided as events reach their irreversible climax.

DCI Harry McNeil books are always complicated but really well plotted with plenty of twists and turns and I found this book to be no exception. I enjoyed the fact that this full-length novel had about three main plotlines twisting and turning together which helped make me feel like the pace of the whole book kept up at a good clip. There was significant movement in DI Frank Miller’s story-arc which I feel should keep readers of the series very happy, but there was also a good plotline around the murder of a mystery author and some family drama with other members of the police team. I heartily empathize with Frank’s character – he has absolutely been through the wringer, and I definitely hope there’s a bit of peace and stability in store for him soon.

While the plots were all well explained I do feel readers might struggle if they pick this book up just fresh by itself. While certainly not all the previous books in the series need to be read to fully enjoy this – I do feel that at least a few should have been read, mainly so the reader can know and be able to juggle the many different characters and their relationships together all in order. I also finally felt like some of the personal drama between Harry and his wife – a fellow Detective in a different unit, Alex, had reached an easy equilibrium and some semblance of normalcy had returned to them.

While a lot of the different plots did get neatly wrapped up, there was one particular thread that was only partially finished. I personally don’t feel as if this book ended on a cliff hanger – but I will admit that I was relieved the next in the series had already been released so I could move immediately on to it. This is not particularly unusual for this series – frequently the author wraps most things up and leaves just a few loose threads that can be followed into the next book, but I do feel readers who prefer to have the next book ready and waiting might feel that need here.

With a whole cast of funny and interesting characters, a number of different groups all circling around and working together as well as numerous plots twining together this was a good book and an engrossing read.

Love Rains by Kira Stone


Love Rains by Kira Stone
Publisher: Changeling Press
Genre: Contemporary, Erotic Romance, Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Fern

He’s loved her since they were children, before he even knew what real love is. As an adult he loves her even more, but she doesn’t belong to him. Yet. Maybe she never will.

She always felt he needs to be a part of her life, but exactly how remains uncertain. She loves him, but is it a forever kind of love?

When love rains down, these two meet to see what’s possible between them when the past is washed away.

They’ve always been a part of each other’s lives and he’s always loved her – but she can’t belong to him. She loves him but remains unsure if it’s a forever kind of love. Can these two meet each other’s needs when love rains down?

I enjoyed this very short story and found it refreshingly different to so many out there. Written in a slightly different way to most stories I come across – no names are used, just the “she” and “he” style of descriptors. At first I thought this would really detract from my being able to enjoy the characters and feel attached to them but I quickly found that this wasn’t true. Indeed just be reading “she/he” I found it sort of helped my own imagination fill in the blanks and almost create or embellish the written story already there. I’m honestly not sure this would have worked for me personally on a longer story – with too much vagueness the bubble might have burst – but for such a short story this really worked well for me and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

I’m also deeply curious as to whether another re-read in a few weeks or months might prove that I actually come away with a slightly different context or image of the story and am intrigued enough to really want to reread it soon and discover this.

This story felt to me very much like a vignette – a snapshot of a scene in the middle of a much larger story. A lot of things were left unanswered which I do understand might annoy some readers, but equally I really feel as if there is a lot of hope in this ending. Readers who need a Happy Ever After ending won’t find this satisfying I don’t feel, and while I’m not certain this is even a Happy For Now style of ending it does feel as if both parties are happy and satisfied with the way things between them are left.

A refreshingly different story this was a great quick read and an author I will be keeping an eye out for more of.

Mysterious Island 3: Here Be Dragons by Greig Beck


Mysterious Island 3: Here Be Dragons by Greig Beck
Publisher: Severed Press
Genre: Contemporary, Action/Adventure, Paranormal, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Mystery/Suspense/Thriller
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Fern

Below the English town of Ipswich a tunnel boring team is digging through solid rock when unexpectedly, they break into an ancient cave system filled with animal bones. Strangely, there were also the remains of men, knights in armor, some crushed, and some seemed to have had their bones and flesh melted. And there was one more thing found: a huge, egg-shaped ruby that glowed like a setting sun.

Just over 2000 miles away, still trapped on the lost island of Lemuria, Troy and Anne know that the time of monstrous beings long thought only existing in our legends or lurking in our nightmares, was returning.

But they now have a chance of escape – they have found the fabled submarine, the Nautilus.

Together, Troy, Anne, the secretive Elle, and the huge Viking woman, Yrsa, work together to break free so they can warn the world of the terror that is coming.

Under the earth on a mysterious island, Troy, Anne, Elle and the huge Viking warrior Yrsa are working together to escape the lost island of Lemuria. They’ve been gone for almost two years, but after surviving death many times they remain determined to return to their world. Will they be successful?

Meanwhile in the town of Ipswich in England a team is boring a tunnel unexpectedly find they break through into an ancient cave system filled with animal bones. The team discover an enormous, egg shaped ruby and all too soon human greed takes over on a journey that can’t be reversed.

This is the third – and technically final – book in the “Mysterious Island” trilogy by Greig Beck. While I do feel this book can be enjoyed by itself and much of the plot is very well explained just be reading this book alone, I do strongly feel the characters, the overall story arc and much of the deeper emotions will be better enjoyed if readers start at the beginning with the first book. I was very relieved and pleased that the bulk of the story throughout this full length novel was centered around Troy, Elle and Anne returning back home. This was the part of the story I was most heavily invested in from the previous two installments.

That said, I thought it was exceedingly clever of Mr. Beck to have incorporated from the beginning a secondary plotline about a new egg/dragon ruby being found in England and the new problems arising from this. A part of me felt very vindicated for Anne – human greed being what it is I nearly despaired of anyone believing her theory about these “dragon rubies” and having Anne proven correct felt wonderful to me. I was also deeply satisfied that even though I felt he was seriously slow on the uptake – Troy finally managed to work out who he could trust and who would turn on him when the opportunity arose.

I must point out that a number of Mr. Beck’s books don’t end on a traditional Happy Ever After (and not even a Happy For Now) style of ending. This is absolutely one of those series. There are a few twists at the end. One of them was fairly clear – to me at least – from early on in this book but another was quite a sharp plot twist right at the end of the book that I really didn’t see coming. Readers who like all their loose threads neatly tied up might not find this to be a fully satisfying ending, so be warned. This also does not have anything close to a traditional ending so readers should be aware of that, as well, going in.

Mr. Beck has loosely mentioned on Facebook that there may be a fourth installment coming. I think I’d be equally fine whether that happened or not. While I completely understand the ending might not be comfortable for everyone and might not be my own personal preference – with exceptional writing, brilliant characters and a fabulous plot a few small niggles can be easily overlooked.

A brilliant trilogy with a solid plot, dragons and Vikings and deep under-ground worlds, adventure and plenty of danger, I feel this book straddles numerous genres and should be a fabulous read for everyone.

A Murmuration Of Opas by William Meikle


A Murmuration Of Opas by William Meikle
Publisher: Weird House Press
Genre: Contemporary, Paranormal, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Mystery/Suspense/Thriller
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Fern

Mankind is spreading through the Solar System but, as yet, is still alone in the vastness of space.

That is all about to change.

A small team of intrepid scientists and engineers have made the long trip through the dark to Jupiter’s moon, Europa, and set up camp on an icy plain under the looming watch of Jupiter above them.

Initial samples show that the planet is host to primitive, unicellular life.

A submersible makes its first dive under the moon’s icy surface and finds signs that the life forms may not be quite so primitive after all. They uncover an indigenous species that shows signs of being capable of swarming together to achieve goals impossible for a single cell, a colonial organism that they nickname Opa. These Opas swarm in several different configurations in the cold dark ocean beneath.

The teams A.I. is set the task of deciphering the science behind the Opa’s dances, a swirling, and swooping that looks very similar to the movements of great flocks of birds back on Earth. Science is done, samples are taken back to the lab on the surface… and that’s when the trouble begins.
The Opas have been given a chance to roam in a new environment. A human environment.

Mankind is not the only species hungry for exploration. The Opas escape into the expedition’s living quarters.

They are curious, and hungry.

They are voracious for food…

And they will kill every living organism in the space station!

A small team of intrepid scientists and engineers have made the long journey to Jupiter’s moon, Europa. While at first, they believe only primitive, unicellular life is possible, under the ocean’s icy surface the team soon finds signs that some of the cells can swarm together to achieve goals impossible for a single cell. They nickname the organisms Opa. The Opas can swam into many different configurations and soon samples are captured and sent back to the lab for study. Only now the Opas have a new environment within which to swam and explore – and eat.

I have enjoyed many of William Meikle’s horror and paranormal books and this was an excellent addition to the pile I’m growing. While I am usually not a fan of Sci-Fi or inter-space styles of stories, the fact I am such a fan of Meikle led me to give this book a try and I’m really glad I did. Meikle is exceptional at writing “monster eats all the humans” sorts of stories and this was another fast paced and excellent adventure.

Readers who are used to Meikle’s other tales should be warned this one does feature a fair bit more heavily on the Sci-Fi front than his others. While there is absolutely a strong element of “monster eats everyone” to the story this didn’t really kick into high gear until after the first quarter or so of the book. The Europa moon and otherworldly nature of the setting featured heavily in the beginning, as well as introducing our six main characters and letting the reader get a feel for their dynamics and interactions. Speaking personally, I found this different focus was very well written and I did enjoy it, but I have to be honest that I was present – and really largely interested in – the monsters aspect to the story so I was pleased when this part took center stage.

Readers looking for something different – particularly Sci-Fi fans or readers who enjoy the “monster eats everyone” style of story should find this is definitely up their alley and I found this a well-paced book with relatable and interesting characters and a whole bunch of vivid imagination. A story I will re-read in the future.

The Boy Who Saw by Simon Toyne


The Boy Who Saw by Simon Toyne
Publisher: Harper Collins Publisher
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery/Suspense/Thriller
Rating: 3 stars
Reviewed by Fern

Solomon Creed, the enigmatic hero introduced in The Searcher, must stop a killer tied to a conspiracy stretching back over generations to the dying days of World War II.

Solomon Creed has no recollection of who he is, or where he comes from. The only solid clue to his identity is a label stitched in his jacket that reads: “This suit was made to treasure for Mr. Solomon Creed.”

The jacket fits perfectly, and so does the name, but there is a second name on the label, the name of the tailor who made the suit and an address in southern France. Solomon heads to France in search of this man, hoping to discover more about who he is. But instead of answers he finds a bloody corpse, the Star of David carved into his chest and the words “Finishing what was begun” daubed in blood on the wall.

When the police discover Solomon at the crime scene they suspect he is the murderer and lock him up. Solomon must escape to clear his name and solve the mystery of why the last remaining survivors of a notorious Nazi death camp are being hunted down and murdered. Only by saving these survivors from evil can Solomon hope to piece together the truth about a decades-old conspiracy as well as discover the key to his own identity.

Solomon Creed has come to the small down of Cordes in France, looking for the tailor whose name is sewn in the exquisitely made men’s suit jacket he wears – the one giving him the only name he knows himself by. When Solomon finds the elderly tailor has been murdered – only hours before Solomon reached him – he knows solving the murder, and protecting the vulnerable, seven year old Leo are critically important. Can Solomon save the young boy?

This is the second novel about Solomon Creed, but I found it to be a very well woven story that stands exceptionally well alone. I was pleased the author gave a good amount of Solomon’s story without any massive info-dumps and managing to simultaneously keep the plot moving along at a good clip.

Readers should be aware that the Holocaust features quite heavily in this book, as does a lot of the more recent racial and political right-wing rhetoric. I felt the author did an exceptional job keeping it all tasteful, but Toyne doesn’t pull any punches of how a lot of society continues to be swayed and continues to voice their hatred. It is quite heavy reading in some respects and while I do feel there is an element of hope and peace retained in this, I could well understand how it won’t be an easy read for everyone.

That said I really enjoyed the characters and continue to be dazzled by Solomon and his quest to discover who he is and what his past history is all about. I was very relieved a number of answers were found – and given – but I hope and suspect there might be one more book coming down the line somewhere; possibly a concluding book where the rest of the mysteries surrounding Solmon might finally be unveiled.

For readers looking for a well plotted murder mystery with a lot of moving parts and plenty of weight and depth to it this should be a good and interesting read.

In Plain Sight by Marion Todd


In Plain Sight by Marion Todd
Publisher: Canelo Crime
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery/Suspense/Thriller
Rating: 3 stars
Reviewed by Fern

A child’s life is at stake. Which of the residents of St Andrews is hiding something – and why?
When a baby girl is snatched from the crowd of spectators at a fun run, the local police have a major investigation on their hands. DI Clare Mackay and her team are in a race against the clock when they learn that the child has a potentially fatal medical condition.

As Clare investigates she realises this victim wasn’t selected at random. Someone knows who took the baby girl, and why. But will they reveal their secrets before it’s too late?

DI Clare Mackay has just returned from a short holiday in France. While still technically on leave, she attends a local fun run with a number of her police team members only to be present when an infant girl is stolen from her parents. Knowing how critical the first few hours are, Clare and her team immediately begin investigating, only for them to raise more and more questions the longer they look at the parents and the events leading to the baby’s abduction. Can Clare and her team work out what’s happening before disaster strikes?

This is the second DI Mackay book and I’m beginning to really enjoy the series. I feel this book can certainly picked up by itself – as the second Clare is still a newcomer to both the unit and the area and so there isn’t a huge amount of history or past links between the team members and the main characters, so that would make picking this story up alone a lot easier.

I found it a very well written police procedural style of story. The pace was a little slow in areas I felt, but overall, the plot was well written and complicated enough it had me guessing quite a fair way into the book. Readers looking for a heavily action-orientated story or something a bit more movie-ish with a fast action plot might not find this suits what they’re after, but readers wanting some good characters, a strong female lead, and a decent plot should find this certainly fits the bill well.

While the baby’s abduction is central to the plot, I was pleased this wasn’t a grim or darkly plotted book. There was no titillation nor any graphic violence so readers who are wary of those things should feel free to give this book a go. The plot is quite police procedural based – and not darker as a plot like this could have moved into that area if written in a different style.

A solidly plotted mystery with well balanced and strong characters, I found this to be a good read.

Hard as a Rock by Sara Jay


Hard as a Rock by Sara Jay
Publisher: Changeling Press
Genre: Contemporary, Erotic Romance, Paranormal
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Fern

Canna, a flirty, impish fairy, loves to service just about any client who enters The Pleasure Club, a futuristic sex club. But although the clientele is satisfied, Canna aches for the impossible — a sexy, larger-than-life gargoyle statue that happens to be a simple décor item… or is it?

Basalt has spent centuries wanting Canna all to himself. Though her nightly visits train her to be his perfect lover, will she still want him when she finds out who he really is?

The impish fairy Canna loves to service almost anyone who enters The Pleasure Club – a futuristic sex club. But even though her clients are satisfied, Canna years for the impossible – a sexy, enormous gargoyle statue that’s part of the Club’s décor. But is this statue really made of rock?

This very quick read was a lovely and fun short story – perfect for when you haven’t got a lot of time or just want something super-fast to make you smile. I enjoyed the fact that as a fairy Canna could make herself invisible – I really felt this was an excellent addition to the plotline of her flitting around the sex club and added a hint of impish mischievousness to the whole story.

While there was plenty of sexy shenanigans throughout the story, I was a little disappointed that there wasn’t a lot of sentient sex between Canna and her gargoyle. I didn’t feel this impacted the overall steaminess of the story at all, but the romantic in me would have enjoyed a scene or two between the main pair. That said, this is indeed a very short story so I can understand if the low word count hampered this effect.

Readers looking for a cheeky and fun short story with plenty of steam should find this an interesting and strong read.

Cobalt Blue by Matthew Reilly


Cobalt Blue by Matthew Reilly
Publisher: Pan MacMillan Australia
Genre: Contemporary, Action/Adventure, Paranormal
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Fern

For 35 years, the United States and Russia each had their own superhero.

Three days ago, America’s hero died. Today will be bad.

In the face of an overwhelming attack, one young woman – unassuming and anonymous – might be America’s only hope.

Her codename … COBALT BLUE

An accident in the Antarctic unleashed a strange substance and the two infected individuals became the world-renown superheroes – Cobalt from America and the Fury of Russia. In the decades that have followed each have had a number of children – all superheroes in their own right, though only half as powerful as their famous parent. When Cobalt dies, the Fury storms America, devastating the entire country and wreaking havoc. Through the rubble of the damage, it appears the fate of the world rests on the slender shoulders of just one, hidden woman who has never been in the spotlight before. Cobalt Blue.

I really love Matthew Reilly’s books and this was an exceptional stand alone novel that went immediately onto my keepers shelf. With a rollicking fast pace this was an action orientated thrill of a ride and I loved every page. There are a number of moving parts to the plotline and I was really impressed how small sections of the story are in different colours and fonts to help the reader easily understand when perspectives change or something important is said from one of the other colours. There are a few (four or five I believe) colour illustrations that really helped me see and understand exactly the superhero characters that were being described. I really loved this too and it made the book feel even more special than the words and storyline itself.

I can’t say a lot about the plot without giving stuff away, but I was impressed how the main thrust of the plot was very simple – bad guy is trying to destroy the world and good guy tries to stop them – but with about a dozen or so main characters and a number of jumps back and forth in time the book was so much more layered and complicated than at first glance. I also really enjoyed how the story didn’t get bogged down with those layers either, like a good movie the pace kept up a good clip and I easily kept reading for more and more. This is a very hard book to put down.

While there are a few very small aspects to the plot that might not be teen or YA friendly, for the most part I feel this is a book that should appeal to both adults and YA/teen readers. Parents might want to read the book first just to gauge the small parts of plot that are more adult-centric, but I do feel many YA readers will really enjoy this story too.

Fast paced and with some excellent characters and plot this is a great book and one I will absolutely be reading again soon. Recommended.

Iced by Felix Francis


Iced by Felix Francis
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery/Suspense/Thriller
Rating: 3 stars
Reviewed by Fern

Seven years ago, Miles Pussett was a steeplechase jockey, loving the rush of the race. But after an unfortunate event, he left horseracing behind and swore he would never return. Now he gets his adrenaline rush from riding headfirst down the Cresta Run, a three-quarter-mile Swiss ice chute, reaching speeds of up to eighty miles per hour.

Finding himself in St Moritz during the same weekend as White Turf, when high-class horseracing takes place on the frozen lake, he gets talked into helping out with the horses. Against his better judgement, he decides to assist, but things aren’t as innocent as they seemed.

When he discovers something suspicious is going on in the races, something that may have a profound impact on his future, Miles begins a search for answers. But someone is adamant about stopping him—and they’ll go to any length to do it.

Miles Prussett is a former steeplechase jockey but now gets his adrenaline rushing shooting head first on a toboggan down a Swiss ice chute reaching speeds in excess of eighty miles per hour. While he swore seven years ago never to return to horse racing, he finds himself inexplicably helping out with the White Turf, a high-class racing event that takes place once a year on a frozen lake. Miles uncovers suspicious activity around the horse racing, and against his better instincts he starts to look into it. It’s only too late when he realizes his questions might have consequences and someone is determined to stop him no matter the cost.

I was really pleased to find I enjoyed this book right from the beginning. I am a little hit and miss with Felix Francis so it was a pleasure to find I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I was a little surprised that most of the book delves back and forth in time, the story both explaining how Miles comes to be assisting in the horse race out on the ice, but also how he rose – and then left – the horse racing community from his younger teenage years. I found the author did an excellent job balancing the two timelines, weaving them together to both culminate on the ice in the Championships under the freezing conditions and to where Miles presently was. I feel this back and forth from the past to the present could have gone very badly and Francis did some exceptional writing to make it both well paced and retain my interest throughout.

About a third of the way into the book the mystery aspect to the story really picked up and I feel most readers should thoroughly enjoy both the different setting to the story as well as the more usual mystery aspects to the plot. I felt this was quite a different outlook both on a more regular Dick Francis/Felix Francis horse-racing based mystery book and I really enjoyed the fresher perspective to the story as a whole.

Readers who enjoy any of the Francis previous books should find they can appreciate this story to an equal degree, and readers who simply enjoy a well plotted and paced mystery should find this story really suits them.