Tales From the Outer Lands by Shira Glassman

OUTER
Tales From the Outer Lands by Shira Glassman
Publisher: Prizm Books/Torquere Press
Genre: Action/Adventure, Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Length: Short Story (54 pgs)
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Aloe

Rivka in Port Saltspray: Trapped in a seedy port town because an innkeeper is holding her shapeshifting dragon-horse hostage until she can pay all the charges he invented, nomadic warrior Rivka finally has a chance at some decent money when a wealthy but weak man hires her to rescue his fiancée. But she has to think on her feet when she learns there may be more at stake.

Aviva and the Aliens: On the night before the royal Passover seder, Aviva has to outsmart the aliens who abducted her to cook for them because they had grown sick of their spaceship’s food replicators. Will she get home before Queen Shulamit wakes up and panics from her absence?

How about a couple of tales from out of this world? The first is about a woman warrior with a dragon; the second is about a very good cook that gets herself and her whole kitchen transported to a space ship. Neither story is boring!

Short stories are fun to read because the author has to get his/her storyline across with a minimal number of words and also needs to make them interesting enough to garner your attention. Ms. Glassman does a very good job with that. She also has a good imagination and can make your eyes stick to the pages as you read. Her sense of humor is also apparent.

The first story is my favorite, partly because the woman is a warrior trained by a wizard and partly because she has a pet dragon that turns into a horse when it’s tired. (Sounds handy, doesn’t it?) She’s trying to make some money and enters a contest to earn the prize: a woman. The man who contracted with her says she’s his bride to be. It’s untrue…

The second story is the one that made me chuckle. If you aren’t Jewish or don’t have Jewish friends, the humor might escape you. The cook is getting ready for Passover when she’s transported onto a space ship. The aliens look strange but what they want is her cooking. They ask her to make a meal. She does; they love it. Now they are going to keep her. So she cooks again and gives them matzo to eat. The results could be expected…

Here you have two great stories that are fun to read and don’t take too long. You could even fit them in during coffee breaks if you read fast. Why not go back to work with a smile on your face?

Interview & Giveaway: The New Owners of Torquere Press – Kristi Boulware and Joanna Talbot

torquereLong and Short Reviews welcomes the new owners of Torquere Press, Kristi Boulware and Joanna Talbot, today. Leave a comment – three winners will receive their choice of an ebook from Torquere Press. In addition, you can check out the current Open Call for Anthologies. Enjoy the interview.

Kristi is a Texan girl, through and through. There’s no doubt about it from her accent and Southern style to her thought processes. Joanna is also a Southern girl from Louisiana/Arkansas. Kristi also admitted, “I am a crazy dog lady with seven dogs.”

When Kristi and Joanna are looking at a manuscript, they want to see fully developed characters.

“World building is very important but the characters have to be able to draw some form of emotion for the readers,” they explained. “Whether you love them or hate them there has to be something memorable to them. Also there should be some type of conflict internal or external. Of course also having some great hot sex is always good too!”

They interact with their readers daily through social media.

“We interact with out readers daily through social media. We always love to hear what they have to say whether it be a request for a particular author, a problem with an order, or a suggestion for our shopping cart that we can put into place to make things more user friendly. We address all comments, we also encourage readers to email us at Torquere@torquerepress.com if they need assistance.”

It makes these two ladies happy that they putting out books that anyone and everyone can enjoy.

“We have coming of age stories that can help young people in the GLBT community know it’s okay to be out and proud. We also enjoy hearing that our stories inspire our readers,” Kristi said.

They publish erotic romance, so I asked them how they distinguished between pornography, erotica, and erotic romance.

“When we are vetting stories we distinguish by pornography is sex without story, erotica is a book with a lot of sex some back story but it is centered on the sex, erotic romance is more what we publish with is stories with romance, sex and there must be a happy for now or a happily ever after. We know that in real life there isn’t always HFN or HEA but we want to be able to take our readers into a world where things are okay and end happily.”

Torquere Press also has an imprint, Prizm Books, which publishes young adult, edgy young adult, and new adult – handling all genres in GLBT and mainstream characters. They wanted to have books with characters like the people reading them.

“If there is a closeted GLBT young adult that needs to see there are characters like them that are happy and have a full life that is important to us,” Krisit said. “We have coming out stories for GLBT and mainstream readers of all genres.”

“What do you envision happening in the YA field in the next five to ten years?” I wondered.

“The YA field is growing rapidly and a good majority of the YA readers are adults. As shown from the number of television shows and movies adapted from YA books it shows the field of YA is growing exponentially.”

Finally, I asked, “What advice would you give a new writer just starting out?”

“For a new author just starting out I would say firstly get a beta reader and a critique partner. Not a best friend that won’t be honest with you but someone that will go through your manuscript and give you honest help. Then submit and don’t get discouraged. If you are turned down find out what they think and why? Then keep submitting do not give up! If you are accepted pat yourself on the back and start marketing!!!”

About Torquere Press: Back in 2003, two writers and critique partners were getting tired of being told there was absolutely no market for male/male romance. Publishers all over the country were turning these stories down, but Shawn Clements and Lorna Hinson had been writing for years, and loved the spicy-hot aspect of m/m fiction. They knew other people felt the same way, and on the impetus of an online chat, Torquere Press was born.

Torquere Press has always been about the readers of LGBT romance, providing those readers with great stories about men and women who truly care about each other. Whether novel-length or short story, whether steamy or sweet, Torquere provides readers with the fiction they crave. The catalog has grown from those first five books released in September 2003 to approximately two thousand titles and nearly two hundred authors, including Sean Michael, Chris Owen, Tory Temple, Kiernan Kelly, Mychael Black and Stormy Glenn.

In 2007, Shawn and Lorna launched the Prizm Young Adult line, a labor of love created in the name of giving back to the LGBT community, who has been so supportive of Torquere through the years. Prizm books focus on the experiences of gay teens and young adults. In 2012 Prizm Books opened up to mainstream as well as LGBT stories for young adult and new adult age groups.

Torquere has also supported charities with a short story collections for the last three years, with authors donating their royalties, and Torquere matching those donations 100%.

In 2014 Shawn and Lorna chose to focus on their writing careers and sold the business to the other shareholder in the company Kristi Boulware along with her fiancee’ Joanna Talbot.

Torquere’s tagline has always been, “Romance for the Rest of Us”™ and a lot of people have asked what that means. It means that Torquere pushes the boundaries, providing romance for readers who like to color outside the lines and believe that everyone deserves a happy ending. It means that you can love traditional romance and also embrace differences in life and love. Anyone can enjoy a Torquere Press book as long as they bring an open mind to the bookshelf, and as long as they enjoy a traditional romance with non-traditional characters.
Kristi and Joanna have over 30 years together in experience in the publishing industry, marketing, business management and more. We are very excited to see where Torquere and Prizm go in the next few years with much success. We have been around for over 10 years and are not going anywhere but up.

Twitter – Torquere | Twitter – Prizm Books | Facebook – Torquere | Facebook – Prizm Books
OPEN CALLS FOR ANTHOLOGIES

Our anthology calls are a great place to get your feet wet with a short story, or to explore a theme without committing to a full novella or novel. For all anthology calls, we’re looking for fully realized, romantic LGBT stories about the chosen monthly theme. Make us laugh, make us cry, or surprise us and make us glow with happy endings!

Please send your submissions following the below specified word count to submissions@torquerepress.com with the title of the theme (ie: Torqued Tales) and your story title in the subject field. Please see our general submissions guidelines for formatting etc. Each theme has a title and due date listed on the individual call.
If the completed anthology reaches a minimum word count of 60K, the book may go to print. In that case, payment is a $35 flat fee for first time electronic and print rights for three years, as well as an electronic and print copy of the book. Print rights are reserved for six months. If the print rights are not optioned, all print rights revert to the author.

We’ll also be releasing the story on its own in ebook format. Royalties for the single title electronic version will be 45% net on books sold through Torquere Books and 35% net on books sold through our distributors, again for a period of three years.

FIRST TIMERS – DEADLINE MAY 15

It’s cherry-popping time! Be it a virgin lover under the covers or a virgin cop undercover, nothing stirs that special spot in our hearts (and heats up various other parts of the anatomy) like a first-timer. Send us your stories of first loves, first kinks, first threesomes, first-time parents, first shifts, or first base hits or misses!

Please send your 3000 -10,000 word submissions to submissions@torquerepress.com with “First Timers” and your story title in the subject field. Please see our general submissions guidelines for formatting etc. Deadline for submission is May 15, 2015; all submissions will be held and reviewed after the deadline.

If the completed anthology reaches a minimum word count of 60K, the book may go to print. In that case, payment is a $35 flat fee for first time electronic and print rights for three years, as well as an electronic and print copy of the book. Print rights are reserved for six months. If the print rights are not optioned, all print rights revert to the author.

We’ll also be releasing the story on its own in ebook format. Royalties for the single title electronic version will be 45% net on books sold through Torquere Books and 35% net on books sold through our distributors, again for a period of three years.

EXCHANGE OF POWER – DEADLINE JUNE 15

Even Alphas need to learn a lesson now and then. We’re looking for your sizzling paranormal stories of power exchanges between Doms and subs, Alphas and betas, Tops and bottoms. Maybe your wolf-shifter alpha needs an attitude adjustment from his beta, or a vampire prince needs a reminder of what it was like to be human. Give us your hottest paranormal dynamics flip!

Please send your 3000 -10,000 word submissions to submissions@torquerepress.com with “Exchange of Power” and your story title in the subject field. Please see our general submissions guidelines for formatting etc. Deadline for submission is June 15, 2015; all submissions will be held and reviewed after the deadline.

If the completed anthology reaches a minimum word count of 60K, the book may go to print. In that case, payment is a $35 flat fee for first time electronic and print rights for three years, as well as an electronic and print copy of the book. Print rights are reserved for six months. If the print rights are not optioned, all print rights revert to the author.

We’ll also be releasing the story on its own in ebook format. Royalties for the single title electronic version will be 45% net on books sold through Torquere Books and 35% net on books sold through our distributors, again for a period of three years.

HAUNTED HOTTIES – DEADLINE JULY 15

What’s better than a great ghost story just in time for Halloween? A great ghost LOVE story! From haunted houses to haunted underwear, from howling at the moon to mooning your werewolf lover, there’s no shortage of paranormal creatures to tap for a blazing hot haunting!

Please send your 3000 -10,000 word submissions to submissions@torquerepress.com with “Haunted Hotties” and your story title in the subject field. Please see our general submissions guidelines for formatting etc. Deadline for submission is July 15, 2015; all submissions will be held and reviewed after the deadline.

If the completed anthology reaches a minimum word count of 60K, the book may go to print. In that case, payment is a $35 flat fee for first time electronic and print rights for three years, as well as an electronic and print copy of the book. Print rights are reserved for six months. If the print rights are not optioned, all print rights revert to the author.

We’ll also be releasing the story on its own in ebook format. Royalties for the single title electronic version will be 45% net on books sold through Torquere Books and 35% net on books sold through our distributors, again for a period of three years.

LOVE IN A UNIFORM – DEADLINE AUG 15

Who doesn’t love a man in uniform? All kinds of uniforms can make for sizzling fantasies, including military, police, fire, EMT, postmen, or deliverymen, when they’re stuffed with hot men hungry for a good time!

Please send your 3000 -10,000 word submissions to submissions@torquerepress.com with “Love in a Uniform” and your story title in the subject field. Please see our general submissions guidelines for formatting etc. Deadline for submission is August 15, 2015; all submissions will be held and reviewed after the deadline.

If the completed anthology reaches a minimum word count of 60K, the book may go to print. In that case, payment is a $35 flat fee for first time electronic and print rights for three years, as well as an electronic and print copy of the book. Print rights are reserved for six months. If the print rights are not optioned, all print rights revert to the author.

We’ll also be releasing the story on its own in ebook format. Royalties for the single title electronic version will be 45% net on books sold through Torquere Books and 35% net on books sold through our distributors, again for a period of three years.

HOLIDAY WANT ADS – DEADLINE SEPT 15

Who needs Santa when you have Craig’s List? Maybe your hero’s hunting at a garage sale and finds his perfect mate among the power tools and old golf balls. Or, perhaps he’s put out an ad for a housekeeper, and finds someone he wants to play house with instead! The plots are only as limited as your imagination, and we want to see your hottest Want Ad stories!

Please send your 3000 -10,000 word submissions to submissions@torquerepress.com with “Holiday Want Ads” and your story title in the subject field. Please see our general submissions guidelines for formatting etc. Deadline for submission is September 15, 2015; all submissions will be held and reviewed after the deadline.

If the completed anthology reaches a minimum word count of 60K, the book may go to print. In that case, payment is a $35 flat fee for first time electronic and print rights for three years, as well as an electronic and print copy of the book. Print rights are reserved for six months. If the print rights are not optioned, all print rights revert to the author.

We’ll also be releasing the story on its own in ebook format. Royalties for the single title electronic version will be 45% net on books sold through Torquere Books and 35% net on books sold through our distributors, again for a period of three years.

Return to the interview.

The Dybbuk’s Mirror by Alisse Lee Goldenberg

MIRROR
The Dybbuk’s Mirror by Alisse Lee Goldenberg
Publisher: Prizm Books
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Length: Full Length (227 Pages)
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Reviewed by Cyclamen

It has been nearly two years since the events in The Strings of the Violin, and Carrie has adjusted to life as a university student far from her friends. However, when the path to Hadariah is sealed, she starts to fear malevolent forces may be behind the other strange occurrences around her. After trying to contact Lindsay and Rebecca to get help in unraveling the mystery, Carrie discovers that her friends are in fact missing. With no way of knowing who to trust, Carrie must find a way back to the land she once saved to rescue her friends from the dybbuks’ clutches. Reuniting with the dybbuk princess Emilia, and finding a new friend in the mysterious farmer Mikhail, Carrie must once again do battle with Asmodeus’s forces, and help stop the chaos that threatens to overtake the land while striving to save both Lindsay and Rebecca. For the first time, Carrie is working without the two friends who have helped her through every major decision in her life. Carrie must learn to rely on herself, and find her own strengths to save those she holds dear.

Carrie can’t understand why no one seems to remember her best friends, Lindsay and Rebecca. Her parents try to convince her that those names belong to the imaginary friends she had when she was little. Her college friends have no memory of Carrie’s ever talking about them or their visits to her at college. Has the whole world gone mad? Is Carrie all alone now? Why can’t she find a portal through to the land of Hadariah, a land she and her friends saved two years ago. And now, to add to her growing anxiety, she is being stalked.

Carrie’s character is well developed and her worries are certainly understandable and very real. When her supposed stalker turns out to be Mikhail, a guard sent by the dybbuk princess, Emilia, to protect Carrie after Rebecca and Lindsay have been kidnapped, Carrie demands information and soon, she is back in the land of Hadariah trying to rescue her friends.

The action is fast-paced and very exciting. Carrie, Emilia, and Mikhail run into one adventure after another and the rescuing of her friends soon looks like an impossible task. The three of them work well together, each bringing a particular skill or perspective.

My only complaint is that I found the dialogue to be rather unnatural and wooden at times. I found myself saying more than once that a person would never have said something. The dialogue just doesn’t always ring true, and it doesn’t help to build the tension and excitement.

This is the second novel, following The Strings of the Violin, and I certainly hope that a third novel will be forthcoming very soon as I want to know what happens next. This novel ends at a reasonable stopping point, but certainly the story is far from over.

Fantasy lovers will find a lot to enjoy in this novel as Carrie has to stand on her own and lead the rescue mission. She holds her friends’ lives in her hands. Will she succeed in saving them?

Northern Lights by Sharon McGregor

LIGHTS
Northern Lights by Sharon McGregor
Publisher: Prism Books
Genre: Action/Adventure, Contemporary, Suspense/Mystery
Length: Short Story (64 pgs)
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Aloe

Maddie Smart is at a crossroads. Her job and her relationship have both suddenly ended. On the advice of a friend she flies to a northern fishing lodge to recoup and plan her next move. Here she meets fishermen who don’t fish, a policeman who does, a man who says he’s seen Sasquatch and a lodge owner who sets her pulses racing.

She finds herself running headlong into danger with no idea of who she can trust. Her feelings for Lodge owner Rupert are clouded by his hot and cold moods, and her growing suspicions of his right hand man’s involvement in a bear part harvesting ring. Maddie must face her deepest fear before she can find answers. She also must learn to trust again before she can find her own happy ending.

Have you ever been to Alaska or other north country? Maddie hasn’t. But when she loses her job and her boyfriend on almost the same day, it seems like a good idea to make a fresh start. After all, it’s only a temporary job and she’ll be back home soon. It sounds like a good place to think.

This author writes an interesting tale of a city girl in the country. She’s afraid of bears and sasquatches, she doesn’t trust fisherman who don’t fish and why is the RMCP undercover?

She finds her new boss attractive, but he’s hot and cold. One minute he’s kissing her, the next he’s mad at her because she’s been wandering around alone outside. He claims he’s worried about bears, but she thinks there is more to it than that.

When someone pushes her off the edge of the watchtower, she knows it for sure. Rupe didn’t like her looking info up on the computer about the lodge and the environment, but he’s there to save her from a fall. He still doesn’t want to tell her anything. She’s upset because she saw his right hand man meeting in an old cabin with one of the non-fishing fishermen, and she thinks he’s up to something. Rupe says no. But what else would he say if he’s involved in it?

This is a busy story with both good and bad characters. Ms. McGregor uses bear poaching and organ harvesting as the crime, and this is a real problem. If you’re not familiar with it, just do an internet search. That’s how Maddie became aware of it. The romance is a bit rushed: at first they don’t trust each other, and then they have wedding plans. However, I believe in love at first sight, so I can accept that.

Why don’t you take a walk in the woods with Maddie? Just don’t notice the Sasquatch. That will help chill the rumors.

Destined for Deception by Sandra Tilley and Suzanne Purvis

DESTINED
Destined for Deception by Sandra Tilley and Suzanne Purvis
Publisher: Prism Books
Genre: Contemporary
Length: Short Story (63 pgs)
Heat: Sweet
Rated 4 stars
Reviewed by Snapdragon

Beneath the emerald waves, churn deception, corruption, and murder…

Forensic accountant Drew Arnoud could be on vacation. Instead, he’s investigating misappropriation of BP’s oil spill settlement funds in the beachside town of Destin, Florida. Having his kayak tipped by head hunting specialist Bree Finley could be a coincidence, or could she be involved? Either way he’s keeping her close, maybe too close. In his search to reveal the truth, he finds his life and his heart in jeopardy.

Bree Finley has been betrayed before by her ex-husband, but is it possible he’s involved her and their company in criminal activities and fraud? Who can she trust? She must decide, but the wrong decision may prove deadly.

In all, this is a look at the darker side of paradise; crowds, cruise boats full of drunks, and clueless objectionable local law enforcement. There’s also the open waters of the gulf; light and beauty and sailboats and yet, still that dark side, giving it all a rather ‘real’ quality.

The setting cleverly parallels the story – with the harsh reality of having to solve a crime (Suicide? Murder? Theft?) smacking headlong against the two people meeting, and realizing, possibly…the possibilities.

Our heroine in Destined for Deception, Bree Finley, has a boring day job, and yearns for the chance to speed across waves, and enjoy the beauty of the naturall world. Forensic Accountant Drew isn’t there for the paradise part at all, but to research a potential crime and is only frustrated by the sheriff, and a complex array of evidence.

The mystery is both interesting and a bit complex, as Drew tries to figure out who is involved, either in murder or the misappropriation of funds – if it is several people or one, and if…somehow…even distantly…Bree’s company might be involved. The romance part is much more promising, right from the start.

Destined for Deception has it all – sharks and sunshine, hope and fun, obvious chemistry! Will make a great beach-read!

The Co-Walkers Awakening by Hermine G Steinberg

AWAKENING
The Co-Walkers Awakening by Hermine G Steinberg
Publisher: Prizm Books
Genre: Contemporary, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, YA
Length: Full Length (233 pages)
Age Recommendation: 12+
Rating: 3.5 stars
Reviewed by Orchid

Could life get any worse for Ashley, Brian, and Matthew? Their father abandoned them, they’ve been shipped off to live with a total stranger, and now they’ve discovered that everything they’ve ever learned about the world is a lie! But to find the truth, they will have to battle evil faeries, risk their lives to claim magical talismans, and earn the respect of Elves who have vowed to kill them. Will they be able to prove that they are the legendary Co-Walkers who are able to travel between the Earthly and Faery Realms? Or are they merely pawns caught in the midst of a dangerous conspiracy that could lead to the destruction of both their worlds? It’s up to Ashley, Brian, and Matthew to discover their unique abilities and restore what magick alone cannot repair.

Deserted by their father at an early age Ashley, Brian and Matthew watch their mother fades away to nothing. When she dies they are devastated, but their father’s sister offers them a home in the country town of Watkin’s Glen . None of them want to go. Where has this aunt been all their lives? They don’t want to leave the comfort of the only place they’ve ever known.

Aunt Elvira is not sure how much of the past she should tell them, but eventually they discover their father is one of the Fey of the Otherworlds and Elvira introduces them to their heritage. They are the result of human and fey and as the Children of the Prophecy they must take the great Journey of Achtain to Tara on the eve of Samhain.

This is a pleasant story if a little confusing at times. There are so many characters, both good and bad, I found it difficult to keep track. Ashley is portrayed as level headed, but she does some silly things, whereas Matthew is a dreamer, but also a very intelligent boy. The warmth of Elvira and her home comes through beautifully and gives the story a lovely cosy feeling.

The idea of the book is excellent, three human half breeds who need to make a special journey to save their world and the Fey worlds. On the whole very good, but a few less characters would have made it less confusing. Their discovery of what happened to their father was great, but could have been developed a little more.

I believe this is the first of a series, as their destiny had not been fulfilled by the end of the book. Would be a good series to follow.

Eagle Peak by Elizabeth Fontaine

EAGLE
Eagle Peak by Elizabeth Fontaine
Publisher: Prizm Books
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary
Length: Full Length (191 pages)
Age Recommendation: 16+
Heat Level: Spicy
Rating: 4.5 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Eagle Peak, population 596, has two bars, five churches, and a vibe (or lack thereof) that couldn’t be more different than Sean’s native Minneapolis. Moving to rural small town Minnesota, Sean must leave his life of acting classes, going to all-ages shows, and hanging out with friends, to enter into a world of pep rallies, pick-up trucks and country pop.

Sean’s inclination for heavy eyeliner, black attire, and surly attitude make him an easy target of suspicion, intrigue, and prejudice in the small town of Eagle Peak. But despite Sean’s growing sense of dread and depression, small town Minnesota also offers a lot of firsts: he becomes the love interest of three classmates of which one is a closeted gay boy afraid of his own sexuality, he is surprised to discover and chant with a Buddhist family in town, and he gets in the middle of an abusive father and his town jock son. Sean’s old life of theater, live music, and diverse friends collides with his new life in Eagle Peak, and Sean is left confused about what he thought he knew about small towns, the world he left behind, and himself.

Sean has a definite opinion about what he thinks it will be like to live in the middle of nowhere, but only time will tell if his first impressions of his new home are correct.

Excellent character development made it impossible for me to stop reading. Sean is a well-developed protagonist whose personal strengths and weaknesses reveal themselves almost immediately. What makes Eagle Peak such a great tale, though, is how this development spreads to the secondary characters as well. The author acknowledges certain stereotypes only to turn them upside down just when this reader thought she had everything figured out.

All of the subplots are handled with sensitivity and humor. Ms. Fontaine tackles a lot of tough subjects during the course of Sean’s adjustment to Eagle Peak, but she weaves everything together so deftly that all of the points of conflict feel like natural extensions of the main storyline. My sole criticism of this story involves the way one of the subplots is resolved. Certain parts of it felt a little rushed due to the nature of the problem and how much it affected the character who was figuring it out earlier on in the narrative. This is a minor criticism of an otherwise well put-together plot, though.

It’s difficult to explain what it feels like to live in a small town if you stand out from the crowd in some way, but Ms. Fontaine accurately captures the positives and negatives of belonging to a minority group while living in a rural setting. This is the kind of book I’d heartily recommend to anyone who is curious about this topic.

Eagle Peak is a must-read for anyone who has ever felt out of place. It captures the maelstrom of emotions that accompanies this experience well and is something I will be rereading again soon.

The Second Mango by Shira Glassman

MANGO
The Second Mango by Shira Glassman
Publisher: Prizm Books
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, YA
Length: Full Length (165 Pages)
Age Recommendation: 14+
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Cyclamen

Queen Shulamit never expected to inherit the throne of the tropical land of Perach so young. At twenty, grief-stricken and fatherless, she’s also coping with being the only lesbian she knows after her sweetheart ran off for an unknown reason. Not to mention, she’s the victim of severe digestive problems that everybody think she’s faking. When she meets Rivka, an athletic and assertive warrior from the north who wears a mask and pretends to be a man, she finds the source of strength she needs so desperately.

Unfortunately for her, Rivka is straight, but that’s okay — Shulamit needs a surrogate big sister just as much as she needs a girlfriend. Especially if the warrior’s willing to take her around the kingdom on the back of her dragon in search of other women who might be open to same-sex romance. The real world outside the palace is full of adventure, however, and the search for a royal girlfriend quickly turns into a rescue mission when they discover a temple full of women turned to stone by an evil sorcerer.

Queen Shulamit has a lot to deal with, everything from thinking she is the only lesbian in her country to becoming queen at the age of twenty, following the unexpected death of her father. She also has severe digestive problems which make it hard to find meals that she can actually eat without getting sick. Her lonely plight is further compounded by the fact that no one believes she gets sick when she eats and no one understands her love for women. Rivka enters her life just when she needs a friend. Rivka is a warrior who also happens to be a woman, although she usually disguises that fact.

I liked Rivka a lot. She is a very believable character with a lot of depth to her personality. I felt very sorry for Queen Shulamit, and I know she has led a very sheltered life, but still she seems terribly immature to me. She is twenty and she has just become queen of her land, but all she can think about is finding a girl friend. She hires Rivka to help in this search, but soon the two woman find themselves trying to defeat a sorcerer and save a woman’s religious house where nearly all the woman have been turned to stone.

Queen Shulamit does seem to mature a bit over the course of the novel as she tries to figure out ways to defeat the sorcerer, but again, it was Rivka who held my attention. The dialogue feels contrived in places and Queen Shulamit’s obsession with women is definitely more adolescent than adult. But there were some wonderful moments and I really liked the dragon who could turn into a horse and then back to a dragon.

This is a very gentle lesbian love story and it needs to be commended for that alone. It is also a fun fantasy adventure, and readers of fantasy will certainly enjoy it.

A Deal with the Enemy by Jessica Ennis

ENEMY
A Deal with the Enemy by Jessica Ennis
Publisher: Prizm Books
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary, Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Length: Short Story (17 pages)
Age Recommendation: 16+
Heat Level: Spicy
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

All-American Brenden has a crush on the weird boy at school. Brenden’s best friend Alex is also gay, so that’s not the problem. The problem is that Alex hates Brenden’s crush with a fiery passion. Can he prove to Brenden that he’s a good enough friend to support Brenden no matter what? The price may be more than he or Brenden are willing to pay, though, when Brenden’s crush stumbles upon their deadly secret and nearly dies in the process.

Best friends don’t always agree on everything. Sometimes being a good friend means figuring how to respond to choices you may not necessarily agree with.

What initially piqued my interest about the personalities of Brenden, Alex, and Alan in particular is how each one of them responds to changes in their environments. No one is ever too old to be curious about his or her environment, but how each reacts to new experiences says a lot about the kind of person they are as individuals.

This story includes a fairly large cast of characters for something this length. I had trouble remembering who was who as I read, especially since some individuals are interchangeably referred to by their first and last names. Once or twice I mixed up the backgrounds of key characters which made things even more confusing. I ended up making a list of characters and reading through the story more than once. Both of these tactics helped me figure out what was really going on, but it would have been a more enjoyable read had the author focused on a smaller group of students.

There were some pacing issues at the beginning that were almost entirely caused by the inclusion of more characters than could easily be accommodated by a tale of this size. More time than usual was spent introducing everyone, and while I would have preferred the discovery to happen sooner once the plot does reach that point it is well worth the extra wait.

It’s difficult to discuss the second half of the plot without inadvertently giving away spoilers, but sufficed to say what happens to Brenden and his friends quickly reinvigorated my interest in their fates after a slow beginning. If I could rate this section on its own it would earn a much higher rating than the one given to the entire book. The pacing picks up nicely and much of the time spent on explaining the relationships among and between certain characters earlier on makes much more sense.

A Deal with the Enemy is a good choice for anyone who likes to see how classic sci-fi/fantasy and romance tropes are expressed when the two genres are mixed together.

Refrigeration Blues by Richard Natale

PINCH
Refrigeration Blues by Richard Natale
Publisher: Prizm Books
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (19 pages)
Age Recommendation: 16+
Heat Level: Sensual
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

When you have the perfect lover and he’s suddenly taken from you, what’s the point of going on? I mean, really. Might as well go out in a blaze of glory, or in this case, a chill of glory. Of course, something could go wrong, and in Matthew Robins’ case, it almost always does.

Not everything in life has a happy ending.

Mr. Natale captures the numbness and fog of grief quite well in Refrigeration Blues. Matthew’s reaction to the sudden death of his life partner is heartbreakingly realistic. The first few pages in particular painted such a vivid picture of Matthew’s state of mind that I felt as if I were walking alongside him as he struggles to figure out what to do next. Due to numerous references to suicide and sex, the age recommendation for this piece is a firm 16+ and should be taken seriously.

Uneven pacing, flashbacks that took up a large percentage of the ninteen pages of this story, and an abrupt ending made it difficult for me to understand the author’s intentions at times. Had this been the first chapter of a novella or full length novel it would have made more sense to include some of the anecdotes that explain how Matthew and Nathaniel met and they type of life they built together. Adding these things into such a short piece distracted me from the main plot, though, and made it difficult to remember where the original narrative had previously ended. While I understand there is at least one sequel in the works I would have also preferred to see the conflicts in this installment wrapped up more sufficiently.

Matthew’s wry sense of humor was what kept me so interested in the conclusion of this tale. I never expected to laugh while reading such serious material, but Matthew is able to find the humor in even his darkest experiences as a brand new widower. He’s an extremely intelligent and witty character who Mr. Natale has clearly spent a great deal of time developing. The end of this story promises that it will be continued, and I am looking forward to finding out what Matthew does next.

Refrigeration Blues is a good choice for mature teens. I’d especially recommend it to anyone who has ever lost someone they really loved.