Bee and Harp by Siondalin O’Craig

Bee and Harp by Siondalin O’Craig
Celtic Magic, Book 1: Midsummer
Publisher: Changeling Press
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Erotic Romance, Paranormal, LGBTQ
Rating: 3 stars
Reviewed by Nymphaea

Dublin Museum Curator Bee McBride’s research tour is interrupted by a shady stranger with a broken harp — and a broken heart.

When Bee, the stranger, and the harp are kidnapped by art thieves, Bee discovers the dusty instrument is the legendary magic harp of the ancient Celtic god Dagda.

Can her buzzing fervor find a way to unlock the harp’s music and the stranger’s ardor before Midsummer Night?

Talk about a slow burn! This one scorches.

I wasn’t sure what I was getting into with this story, but I’m glad I read it. The tale is sweeping and the circumstances are truly the work of legend and magic. Once I started the book, I was engrossed.

Bee and Kevin are great together. I liked the chemistry and the way things happened at just the right pace. They made a great pair, too. Oh, and were they hot. Wow. I wasn’t expecting that plot twist.

The writing did take a bit of getting used to–there seemed initially to be more telling than showing and I had a hard time getting into the point of view of the characters. Once the plot took off, then things fell more into place.

If you’re looking for a hot story with twists, turns and magic, then this might be the one for you.

Moon Over Soho by Ben Aaronovitch

Moon Over Soho by Ben Aaronovitch
Publisher: Orion Publishing Group
Genre: Contemporary, Paranormal, Mystery/Suspense/Thriller
Rating: 3 stars
Reviewed by Fern


The song. That’s what London constable and sorcerer’s apprentice Peter Grant first notices when he examines the corpse of Cyrus Wilkins, part-time jazz drummer and full-time accountant, who dropped dead of a heart attack while playing a gig at Soho’s 606 Club. The notes of the old jazz standard are rising from the body—a sure sign that something about the man’s death was not at all natural but instead supernatural.

Body and soul—they’re also what Peter will risk as he investigates a pattern of similar deaths in and around Soho. With the help of his superior officer, Detective Chief Inspector Thomas Nightingale, the last registered wizard in England, and the assistance of beautiful jazz aficionado Simone Fitzwilliam, Peter will uncover a deadly magical menace—one that leads right to his own doorstep and to the squandered promise of a young jazz musician: a talented trumpet player named Richard “Lord” Grant—otherwise known as Peter’s dear old dad.

PC Peter Grant is back, and I really enjoyed this second book in the Rivers of London series. This book picks up pretty much where the first book finished, but I was really pleased to find it stood rather well by itself. The remaining ramifications from the first book – like PC Grant’s friend and fellow police officer, Lesley, physical recovery as well as PC Grant’s governor Thomas Nightingale recovering from being shot – are all quite clearly explained without dragging the book down nor leaving the reader too mystified about what was going on. Indeed, for much of the first half of this book Grant is actually following along with two seemingly separate cases. It’s a bonus that the author manages to slowly and very subtly begin to link them, and I was impressed I wondered before the characters did if they were, in fact, related. So that made me feel pretty good about myself.

I also really enjoy how while there is a very strong paranormal aspect throughout the entire book, it’s not too overladen on the actual storyline. It’s still very much a modern London book, with regular people and plenty of “normal” stuff – there just happens to be magic and other paranormal beings out there below the surface. I found this realism really well handled and personally I felt it really added to the book and my enjoyment of it.

I feel both mystery readers and paranormal readers should feel there is strong enough writing to appeal to both genres – and only purists who dislike anything other than their chosen genre might not enjoy this well written and well-paced storyline. I also really appreciated the author has a “chatty” kind of style – instead of a gritty or stilted type of tone to the telling of his story it feels like two friends catching up on the latest action in their lives over a strong cup of tea. This writing style greatly appeals to me – it’s light enough to not bog me down or depress me over the harder aspects of the plots, but it’s catchy and interesting enough to keep me eagerly turning the pages. I really enjoyed it.

With a small but thoroughly enjoyable cast of characters, two excellent plots that were woven together with great skill and a bunch of mystery and paranormal aspects to the plot I feel this should appeal to a wide range of readers. A great book and I’m eager for the next in the series.

Visions by Kaye Lynne Booth,

Visions by Kaye Lynne Booth,
Publisher: WordCrafter Press
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Mystery/Suspense/Thriller, Paranormal, Contemporary, Historical
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

An author’s visions are revealed through their stories. Many authors have strange and unusual stories, indeed. Within these pages, you will find the stories of eighteen different authors, each unique and thought provoking. These are the fantasy, science fiction, paranormal, and horror stories that will keep you awake long into the night.

What happens when:

An inexplicable monster plagues a town for generations, taking people… and souvenirs?

A post-apocalyptic band of travelers finds their salvation in an archaic machine?

The prey turns out to be the predator for a band of human traffickers?

Someone chooses to be happy in a world where emotions are regulated and controlled?

A village girl is chosen to be the spider queen?

Grab your copy today and find out. Let authors such as W.T. Paterson, Joseph Carabis, Kaye Lynne Booth, Michaele Jordan, Stephanie Kraner, and others, including the author of the winning story in the WordCrafter 2022 Short Fiction Contest, Roberta Eaton Cheadle, tantalize your thoughts and share their Visions

From Kaye Lynne Booth, editor of Once Upon an Ever After: Modern Fairy Tales & Folklore, Refracted Reflections: Twisted Tales of Duality & Deception and Gilded Glass: Twisted Myths & Shattered Fairy Tales.

Not everything in life can be easily explained.

As odd as this may sound at first, I smiled at the kidnapping gone wrong in “Tourist Trap.” You see, the main character knew the men who were showing her good photography sites weren’t trustworthy, and she had a plan to handle every curveball they threw her way as they attempted to kidnap her for ransom. It’s always nice to meet protagonists who are that resourceful and intelligent, especially when there are so many plot twists coming to help a reader get to know her even better.

Ashling was shocked to realize she was missing a tattoo in “The Vanishing Tattoo.” Her reason for originally getting it is something other readers should discover for themselves, but I was immediately drawn into her reaction and emotions when it disappeared. I only wish there had been more world building so I could have determined whether this was as impossible in that setting as it would be in the real world or whether such a thing had been known to happen there before. It was a bit confusing for me as a reader to hear about something impossible happening without knowing the context of it all.

In “At Mountains, Majesty,” a wanderer named Ahlam discovered something spectacular that had been created and then abandoned many years earlier. He and his family didn’t have a permanent home thanks to how unstable human society was in the future, but he hoped his discovery might help to change that. I loved the creativity and hopefulness of this tale. While the characters were in a tough situation, they had multiple reasons to believe their luck was about to change. That’s the sort of science fiction I always enjoy discovering.

Visions was a satisfying anthology.

Caressed by Ice by Nalini Singh

Caressed by Ice by Nalini Singh
Psy-Changelings, Book 3
Publisher: Berkley
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Paranormal, Romance, Action/Adventure, Mystery/Suspense/Thriller
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Nymphaea

As an Arrow, an elite soldier in the Psy Council ranks, Judd Lauren was forced to do terrible things in the name of his people. Now a defector, his dark abilities have made him the most deadly of assassins – cold, pitiless, unfeeling. Until he meets Brenna…

Brenna Shane Kincaid was an innocent before she was abducted – and had her mind violated – by a serial killer. Her sense of evil runs so deep, she fears she could become a killer herself. Then the first dead body is found, victim of a familiar madness. Judd is her only hope, yet her sensual changeling side rebels against the inhuman chill of his personality, even as desire explodes between them. Shocking and raw, their passion is a danger that threatens not only their hearts, but their very lives…

Complicated, hot and fantastic.

I’ve never read Nalini Singh before and I’m glad I remedied that. I can’t wait to go back and pick up more of her titles. This one was hot, so hot it scorched the pages, complicated – I’ve never read a world this intricate – and fantastic. The pacing was good, and the reveal was even better. I got emotionally involved in the story and didn’t want to put it down.

Brenna is a changeling with issues. Oh boy, does she have issues. She’s been traumatized and her past may be a trigger to some – there is violence and assault toward her – but this makes her who she is. She’s stronger than she thinks. I liked how Judd plays off her, too. He’s cold as ice and trained to be that way, but he’s got a reason. He’s an Arrow. An elite. He’s supposed to be tough, unyielding and strong. I like how he melts for her and the way their pairing progresses. It’s hot and sometimes painful, but worth the ride.

If you’re looking for something intense, then this might be the romance for you. I’m hooked.

Obsidian by Rebecca Henry

Obsidian by Rebecca Henry
Publisher: Finch Books
Genre: Young Adult (14 – 18 y.o.), Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Paranormal, LGBTQ, Romance, Contemporary
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Sometimes the truth has to be revealed in order to recieve love.

Ninth grade is everything Zinnia didn’ t want it to be at St. Hopes. Her life back in the city feels empty and Liv’ s groupies of popular girls are suffocating Zinnia with their daily taunts. As Halloween approaches, Zinnia craves the comfort and security of Ambrosia Hill and desperately wishes to be back with her aunts but especially Billie, the girl with the green eyes, who Zinnia can’t get out of her mind. Right when Zinnia thinks she won’ t be able to wait until the summer to see Billie, her mom shocks her with a spontaneous announcement. They are leaving for Ambrosia Hill to visit the aunts. But can Zinnia surrender her truth to accept love?

Everyone needs a place that makes them feel like they belong there.

Some of the most memorable scenes were the ones that explored the many different options that were available to a witch. Not only did young witches decide whether they wanted to be on the side of good or of evil, the powers they had could vary quite a bit from one individual to the next. This meant that it wasn’t easy to predict in advance what someone in this group was like even in small ways like whether it would be safe to walk through their garden. I was fascinated by the diversity here and gobbled up every last description. It made me think of all of the Halloween stories I’ve read and watched about witches and wonder what a film based on this world might be like!

My review of Amethyst mentioned wanting to see more character development for Zinnia and the people closest to her. While it still happened much more slowly than I would have preferred to see, I was pleased to take note of the subtle but important ways in which all of the main characters had evolved since I’d first met them. I hope that any possible sequels in the works will speed up this progress as this was the only thing holding me back from giving a full five-star rating.

Once again, I was thrilled with the world building in this series. The first instalment did an excellent job of showing how magic worked in this universe and what it meant to be a witch. It was wonderful to see all of that hard work not only acknowledged in the sequel but used as a foundation to explore these topics in even greater detail here. I highly recommend beginning with book one in order to fully appreciate just how much effort the author put into this. She couldn’t have done a better job at it.

Obsidian was a satisfying read.

Son of the Morning by Linda Howard

Son of the Morning by Linda Howard
Publisher: Pocket Books
Genre: Historical, Contemporary, Paranormal, Mystery/Suspense/Thriller, Romance, Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Nymphaea

A scholar specializing in ancient manuscripts, Grace St. John never imagined that a cache of old documents she discovered was the missing link to a lost Celtic treasure. But as soon as she deciphers the legend of the Knights of the Templar — long fabled to hold the key to unlimited power — Grace becomes the target of a ruthless killer bent on abusing the coveted force. Determined to stop him, Grace needs the help of a warrior bound by duty to uphold the Templar’s secret for all eternity. But to find him — and to save herself — she must go back in time . . . to fourteenth-century Scotland . . . and to Black Niall, a fierce man of dark fury and raw, unbridled desire. . . .

Unbridled desire is the truth!

This is the first Linda Howard book I’ve read, but it won’t be the last. This one captivated me right off and I had to know what would happen next. The writing is engaging and the characters fascinating.

Grace has everything she wants–the life, the job, the guy, but then it’s all taken away. I liked how she had to build herself back up to get what she wanted the second time around. There’s a lot of forgiveness in this story and it made it relatable. The suspense is thick, too. Ooh boy! I liked Niall, too. He’s dark, broody and romantic. He’s the perfect hero.

I have to admit the first half of this story moved a bit slowly for me. I wanted it to pick up and for Grace to get a few breaks, but it paid off at the end. Plus, there is some definite steam. I liked how the author teased the relationship for Grace and kept getting right to the edge, then bringing the reader back. That’s great.

If you’re looking for a suspense story that’s certainly a slower build, then this might be the one for you. I’m on the lookout for more by this author.

Designed by Destiny by Maya Tyler

Designed by Destiny by Maya Tyler
Fairy Godmothers Incorporated, #1
Publisher: Tirgearr Publishing
Genre: Contemporary, Romance, Paranormal
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Xeranthemum

Confirmed bachelor Nicholas Grey is more than the playboy perpetrated by the tabloids. Now his position as CEO of the architecture firm Grey & Company is on the line, and his mother’s interference is making things more difficult. Nick’s committed to his work, but, in order to be taken seriously, he needs to land a huge project. A stable personal life will help guarantee the contract.

Fairy Godmother Faye Delmore hears Nick’s plea and steps in to help. Posing as a publicist, she suggests a strategy to polish his public image, which includes convincing Beth to play his wife. Faye knows Nick needs the huge project to save his job, but she also knows he needs Beth in his life.

What happens when you add a fairy godmother who loves playing matchmaker into the equation? A future designed by destiny.

If readers enjoy the fake fiancé trope, then this is a fun story to try. Bethany Clark and Nicholas Grey accidently meet during a meet and greet at an architectural conference. What I found interesting is that there is a fuzzy thread of ‘love at first sight’ though that’s not the theme of this romance tale. Nevertheless, their initial contact frankly screamed attraction and interest. The author wasted no time in creating a situation of desperation, the catalyst that starts a series of events Nicholas could never have conceived. It quickly snowballs out of control and he and Beth have to navigate it as a team.

The thing about two strangers coming together in this manner means that there’s a lot of vulnerability that can easily be taken advantage by unscrupulous characters. And boy oh boy did the author create some whackos. Poor Nick was surrounded by them, and it shocked me that one of them was a member of his own family. Even though it’s a common kind of wrinkle in fledging relationships, Ms. Tyler used it to good effect. I kept hoping for a fairytale ending, and I kind of got one, but not in the manner I expected.

This book, though touted as paranormal, wasn’t heavy with it. It’s a light touch via the gentle guidance/inference of a fairy godmother, Faye. What was unexpected is the sub-story of Faye’s own doomed romance also getting a second chance. While I wasn’t thrilled with the ‘interruption’, Faye’s character grew on me. I mean, there’s nothing wrong with hoping for two ‘happy ever afters’, right?

I really liked Cara, Beth’s best friend. Everyone should have a friend like Cara. In a way, Nick had his best friend, Greg, to rely on as well, but I was ambivalent about him for most of the story. I was worried he would end up like Jason Alexander’s character from Pretty Woman – there were subtle similarities and it preyed on my mind in the background every time he was on scene. I don’t know if it was accident or design by the author, but it provided a heightened sense of worry for both Nick and Beth – I really wanted them to be happy. I became 100% engaged in their journey to a happy ever after that I felt they both deserved. I am relieved to report that this romance story satisfied my optimistic hope for the couple – after a very scary encounter with an enraged and vengeful secondary character. I didn’t expect that and was properly stunned.

Designed by Destiny is a really good read and a wonderful romance story. It includes variations of the tropes of the genre that fans will recognize, but Ms. Tyler uses them to create an engaging and entertaining tale of two unlikely people who share a passion for architecture and discover a new passion, for each other. Its ending shows a promising future for both Nick and Beth as they both open themselves up to trust, love, and the realization that together, they could conquer anything. I think the only thing that could have made this story even better would have been adding an epilogue showing the fruits of their new dream. Alas, I have to use my imagination – which isn’t too much of a stretch. The author laid a solid foundation that pretty much guaranteed their solid HEA. I definitely recommend this book and if you do decide to pick up your own copy, I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Atticus Everheart, Fifth Grade Tutor, and Monster Hunter? by C.L. Colyer

Atticus Everheart, Fifth Grade Tutor, and Monster Hunter? by C.L. Colyer
Publisher: The Wild Rose Press
Genre: Middle Grade (8 – 12 y.o.), Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Paranormal, Contemporary
Rating: 5 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Nothing frightens Atticus Everheart more than monsters, thanks to his older brothers, who often threaten to feed him to the beastly creatures. Fearing that’s what they will do if he doesn’t replace the book he accidentally ruined, he takes a job tutoring a boy in his neighborhood. Although nervous about the job, Atticus soon discovers there’s a lot more in store for him than teaching. Never in a trillion years would he have imagined he’d be hiding from monsters, working with ghosts, or searching for werewolves and witches. He’s not brave, and he has no plans to change. Until he’s forced to.

Tutoring isn’t always as easy as it looks.

Ms. Colyer has a smooth writing style that makes her work a joy to read. She knew exactly when to explain things in a way that would make sense to her target audience as well as when to leave other details a little vague for the amusement of older readers or later chapters when all would be revealed. I appreciated her sense of timing and her willingness to allow some of her readers to be a little confused for a while in order to build tension for future scenes. This was my second time reading one of her books, and I hope to have many more adventures with her characters in the future.

In a review of a previous work of hers, I had mentioned wishing the author had spent more time on world building. It was delightful to see exactly that happen this time around. The plot didn’t require the characters to dig too deeply into why half-vampires existed in their universe, to share but one example, but it did give me exactly enough information about what sorts of supernatural creatures existed here and how ordinary humans reacted to the idea of them. Would I have liked to know even more? Yes, but it wasn’t strictly necessary for the storyline, and I walked away pretty content with what I did know. Sometimes it’s better to leave an audience wanting more, after all.

Kids don’t always interpret our world the same way grownups do, and that’s one of the reasons why I enjoy middle grade fiction so much. There’s something magical about seeing a character attempt to figure out an unusual and rare social convention or discover the meaning of a complex word for the first time. I had plenty of opportunities to do just that in this tale, and I relished every miscommunication and misunderstanding Atticus faced as he attempted to earn the money he needed to replace his brother’s book. Those moments were as funny as they were necessary for everything else that was about to happen to him.

Speaking of that, I was also impressed with how focused the writing was on its target audience. While adults can enjoy it, too, it truly was written for middle grade readers from the first scene to the last one. This isn’t something I see nearly as much as I’d like to in this genre, and it was refreshing to read a story that knew exactly who its audience was and never wavered from speaking to them in ways they’d best understand.

Atticus Everheart, Fifth Grade Tutor, and Monster Hunter? was a spooky and delightful read.

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The Well Of Hell by Greig Beck

The Well Of Hell by Greig Beck
Publisher: Pan Macmillan
Genre: Contemporary, Paranormal, Action/Adventure, Mystery/Suspense/Thriller
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Fern

In the forbidden deserts of Yemen, a structure has been found – a buried pyramid – thousands of years older than anything previously known. And indications are, it was buried on purpose.

What is discovered inside could prove that we’re not alone in the universe. And terrifyingly, after 7000 years, there is a biological obscenity that remains, not yet dead.

Ancient writing suggests the pyramid’s builders have been taking humans for reasons that will tear at all sanity, and when evidence is found that in remote corners of the world people are still disappearing, the HAWCs are called to action.

In a final battle across two worlds – with the fate of the planet at stake – Alex Hunter and his team will be pushed to their very limits as they confront a horrifying and deadly army.

A buried pyramid has been found in the secret deserts of Yemen – one that appears to be thousands of years older than those of the Egyptians. Ancient writings appear to discuss how beings not from here crafted mind-destroying objects and all too soon various factions around the world are all converging for a fight no one truly understands. Alex Hunter and his team are right in the thick of it – but will this be a fight they can win?

This is an excellent story that ranges over quite a number of different genres and I feel should appeal to a very wide range of readers. There is plenty of action/adventure and an Army/military thrust to a lot of the plotline – especially in the second half of the book where the proverbial excrement hits the fan. There is also quite a healthy dose of science and archaeology related around the monsters and their pyramids and that side to the story, so readers who like those sorts of adventures should also be deeply satisfied. Finally, there is quite a bit of paranormal and Lovecraft kind of things going bump in the night and forces far greater than we mere humans at work. So roll all of that together, add in some tech gizmos and gear and a bunch of excellent characters and it all works together into one fantastic ride of a book.

While this is the tenth book featuring Alex Hunter, I don’t feel you need to have read all of them to follow along in this adventure. Readers who really dislike landing halfway through a series might find there’s a bit of background they need to catch up to on the fly – but as long as the general idea is grasped this actual story is fairly well contained in itself and I found it quite easy to pick up and follow along when I haven’t read the last few books in this series for quite some time. I feel this story might be better appreciated with some prior knowledge of the key players and main points – but for sure it can be picked up by itself and still greatly enjoyed.

Overall, I found this to be an exceptionally plotted story with a number of different and well-woven-together parts. There are a few longer-term story arcs I was happy to catch up on and clearly there’s a general direction where these wider ranging parts to the story is heading. This book can stand well on its own and has a wonderfully fresh plotline with enough realism to it to be just this side of scary because it’s so very believable. A great read and an author I can strongly recommend.

A Wee Boo by Jessica Boyd

A Wee Boo by Jessica Boyd
Publisher: Orca Book Publishers
Genre: Children’s (0 – 6 y.o.), Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Paranormal, Contemporary
Rating: 5 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

This heartwarming ghost story will make readers laugh out loud and sympathize with a ghost who is too cute to be scary.

Wee Boo is a ghost who wants nothing more than to earn her haunting license like all the other accredited ghosts. The problem? She’s far too cute to scare anyone! She’s given one last chance, with extraordinarily low standards: Boo doesn’t need to make anyone scream or gasp or shudder, she just needs one “whoa” to earn her place as a certified ghost. But she’s running out of chances and her final haunting is not going well―that is until she meets a baby. When Boo makes the baby laugh, she realizes something: although she’s terrible as a scary ghost, she might just make an outstanding imaginary friend. And a baby laughing in a crib at an invisible friend might just be enough to spook someone after all―the baby’s parents.

Even ghosts have to follow the rules.

Boo was utterly adorable. I loved her gentle personality and her belief that everyone she met was a future friend. She was such a kind spirit that being scary enough to finally earn her haunting license was the hardest thing she’d ever tried to do. I smiled as I read about her dilemma and wondered what else she’d try to fix it.

I loved the subtle messages this tale shared about the assumptions we make about how we should behave based on other people’s or other ghost’s in this case, expectations of us. Getting along with others is a good goal, but there are other things to consider, too. I can’t say much more about this part of the storyline without giving away spoilers, but I thought it was blended into the narrative nicely and had an important point to make for readers of all ages.

The plot twists were delightful for Halloween and beyond. They were straightforward enough for young children to follow but also included some extra layers of meaning to appeal to older readers. I always enjoy finding picture books that work well for both preschoolers and their siblings, parents, or caretakers who are reading it aloud again to the small ghost-lover in their lives. It takes talent to pull that off, so I’ll be keeping an eye out for what Ms. Boyd might release next.

A Wee Boo was the perfect ghost story for readers of all ages.