Dragons of the Ice by C.L. Kraemer


Dragons of the Ice by C.L. Kraemer
Publisher: Rogue Phoenix Press
Genre: Contemporary, Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Length: Full Length (190 pages)
Heat Level: Sweet
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Orchid

Unexpected dragon shiftings have increased since the conference in China. More deaths being covered up inexplicably sends Lee Svensson to Japan to investigate from the Swedish Embassy. Why is it World Watch, Inc., a marketing company, is always on site when a shifter dies? Lee is charged to find out. When the husband of his wife’s best friend discovers an account he is managing, World Watch, Inc., is manipulating oil companies by buying up all available stocks, the two realize their paths are the same. Now that their wives have announced the impending births of dragonlings, it is imperative the men solve this riddle. An American dragoness shifter and former full blood warrior dragon will prove courage comes in all sizes.

Shape shifting dragon investigators try to determine why some dragons are shape shifting without intent. The bodies are hustled away but where and who is doing the hustling?

I love dragon stories and this was no exception, although there were several disappointments in the story. Several times some of the main characters mentioned they would “talk about it later” but never did. Also when something happened which showed dangerous intent, it seemed to take forever for any action to take place. A discovery by a servant who wanted to warn others of the danger, goes no further. Why not?

Other than the above inconsistencies, the concept of the story was great showing that even in the dragon hierarchy there is misconception, deception and the intention to harm others of their kind. Loved the little babies coming into the world and causing immediate chaos to their parents. The aftermath was a bit insipid, but on the whole this story was reasonably good.

Hazardous by Ruby Stiff

STIF
Hazardous by Ruby Stiff
Publisher: Rogue Phoenix Press
Genre: Action/Adventure, Contemporary, Suspense/Mystery
Length: Full Length (150 pgs)
Rating: 3.5 stars
Reviewed by Fern

One priceless diamond. A team of ruthlessly efficient thieves. A punk rock band and the ride of your life.

Mysterious Erika Ward has been on Brisbane’s most wanted list since she was a teenager. Detached and efficient, she and her team who call themselves The Black Letter E evade the police time and time again with ease. Their most recent heist at the Gallery of Modern Art should be a cinch but they never counted on Patrick Marquis and his mob princess girlfriend Ilesha O’Brien. From here on everything begins to unravel in a series of events that leads to the final moments on the roof top of the Treasury Casino.

Emma (Ringleader), Elle (Disco), Em (Rookie) and Erika (Phantom) all belong to a very special club. While they might call it a book club, BLE – Black Letter E – was a far different group than they outwardly appear. While they all know their actions are hazardous, it’s not until one of their heists go wrong that they’re really put to the test.

I really loved the concept that four women – almost strangers in their “real life” met together through a series of coincidences and ended up forming a group to carry out heists. A stay at home mother, a check-out chick, a law student and an architect. Four seemingly regular women with a completely irregular sideline. I loved it.

There were a few grammatical errors (cue instead of queue, and Circular Key instead of Circular Quay) but generally speaking, the editing was decent. During one of their heists the four ladies are beaten to the punch, and suddenly Phantom is caught up with a man from her past. Readers should be aware that there are character deaths in this story – important characters. While I found overall the plotline of thieving to be dealt with in a fun and lighthearted manner, there were darker, far more serious aspects to the storyline that weren’t shied away from. This book isn’t horror – the deaths weren’t particularly graphic, but I can’t help but feel that readers wanting a light, fluffy mystery might find some parts of this story too dark for them. Also more regular romance readers who dabble in mysteries might be put off by the major character deaths. This doesn’t have a traditional style happy ending.

I found the pacing of this story fast and effective. While the four women are introduced separately once the action starts it keeps on coming at a fast clip. I was a little lost a few times in the beginning – each of the women have both a “real life” name and a moniker they take on when they do jobs, so I got mixed up quite a few times between the characters. While I found this was a little annoying – it didn’t really detract too much from the pleasure of the action based, fast moving plot. And I really enjoyed the characters and their dual natures – normal women doing extraordinary heists. I have a soft spot for fiction involving thieves.

I found this to be a great story with an interesting and complex plot. Interesting and vibrant characters make this a lovely read.

The Air Dragon’s Secret by Keryn Munson

AIR
The Air Dragon’s Secret by Keryn Munson
The Dragon Keeper’s Tale Book One
Publisher: Rogue Phoenix Press
Genre: Action/Adventure, Paranormal, Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Length: Full Length (197 pages)
Heat Level: Sweet
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Orchid

Young dragons Glan and Nuriel have a secret. When exposed, worlds collide as an unbalanced leader seeks to destroy their young and shatter their world.

Young dragons Glan and Nuriel have broken dragon law, a union of fire and water punishable by death. The spark between them grows; an unbreakable bond fraught with danger. As word of their pairing spreads, clashing cultures tip an uneasy peace between earth, water, fire and air. Hunted by rival dragon groups and an unbalanced father bent on revenge, the two must decide to hide, run or fight to save their alliance and their future.

In the time before man, there were three different types of dragon – earth dragons, fire dragons and water dragons. The different clans did not interbreed or have much to do with each other.

Water dragons Glan and her brother Kaelin, flee the massacre of their family and take refuge in a small lake where they are befriended by male and female fire dragons. Their escape to the world above the home lake and their mating with the fire dragons brings a new type of dragon into existence – the air dragons, but this is only the beginning. The four adult dragons must protect their young, but their efforts could bring about a war between the different clans.

A slow start to this book makes it difficult to get into the story. Although the series is called The Dragon Keeper’s Tale, it’s not really about the dragon keeper, more about the dragons. Once the keeper fades into the background the story begins to evolve and pick up speed and this gave me the impetus to carry on reading.

A dragon tale with a difference.

Straight To Heaven by Christine Young

MediaKit_BookCover_StraightFromHeaven

Straight To Heaven by Christine Young
Publisher: Rogue Phoenix Press
Genre: Historical, Time Travel
Length: Full (389 pgs)
Heat: Spicy
Rated: 4 stars
Review by Poppy

Running from demons, Alexandra McMurdie stumbles into Forbidden Ground where up is down and elements of nature are contested. Though a strong independent woman in the twenty-first century’ she is unprepared for life in the 1800s. Her first sight of the formidable James Lawrence makes her heart skip a beat, giving her cause to reconsider her desperate need to find a way home.

Born with a silver spoon, James’ life was torn apart during the War Between the States. Moving west he vows to put the life he once knew in the past. When he discovers a half-frozen woman near Gold Hill, his heart begins to thaw. His love for Alexandra and his need to keep her from a man who has pursued her through time might cost him his life as well as hers.

A solid entry into the time travel genre.

James, an honorable man who was left damaged by the Civil war makes a wonderful hero. His honor is indisputable, as shown the by the way he devotedly takes care of his young, orphaned niece, Jessie.

Alexandra is a sweet woman who is pursued through time by a villain who wants her for his own. She unexpectedly falls into a vortex when running from him in 2015 and finds herself in the past, just following the end of the war between the states.

The villain, Sean Cassidy, is truly reprehensible. And single minded. All he wants is Alexandra, and he doesn’t care what he has to do to get her.

I enjoyed watching Alex trying to find her way around the past. It’s remarkable how many little slang sayings make no sense out of context, like when she wants to keep James from the treehouse where she and Jessie are talking, and gives as her reason that “it’s Grand Central Station” up there. Of course, the way women behave now and how they were expected to behave in the late 1800s was also an issue. Ms. Young does a good job painting the past through Alex’s eyes.

The romance between James and Alex is bittersweet, since Alex intends on returning to her own time. But neither can help falling for the other and it’s sweet and heartbreaking and helps both James and Jessie to heal from their emotional wounds.

The only “complaint” I had with the story is that James is so good and Sean Cassidy is so bad. I wish James had been more flawed and that the villain had a few redeemable qualities. Oh, and the other thing that made me a bit crazy is how the author seldom referred to him as simply “Sean” and mostly called him by his full name, Sean Cassidy. Not only did it feel a bit odd, but every time it happened I ended up picturing him as the teen idol from my youth.

Overall, though, Straight To Heaven was a well-written, interesting book that should appeal the time travel romance fans. And it should certainly touch your heart. It did mine.

Patients in Purgatory by William T. Delamar

PATIENTS
Patients in Purgatory by William T. Delamar
A Reverend Christie Mystery Book 2
Publisher: Rogue Phoenix Press
Genre: Suspense/Mystery, Contemporary
Length: Full Length (176 pages)
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Reverend Oxford Christie visits a patient in a strange nursing home, one of a number owned and operated by The Group, Inc. Its profit far exceeds that of the typical nursing home, and patients seem to disappear. The state’s system of nursing home inspections is deeply flawed to the extent that severe and continued abuse easily goes unchecked. The Group, Inc. becomes aware of Christie’s nosing around and orders are given to do whatever is necessary to stop his snooping. Ox, aware that he is being watched, is torn between the possible danger to his wife and children and the suspicion that the incredible abuse of helpless patients is even worse than what’s been observed.

Few people are more vulnerable in modern society than the ones who are sick or frail enough to require a nursing home. Who would ever take advantage of this group?

The dialogue was nicely done. A lot of the character and plot development happened as a result of certain conversations people had, so it was nice to see all of these things develop. I often felt like I was eavesdropping on other people’s conversations in a good way. It was simply that smooth and natural.

There were a few too many clues provided about what was going on at the nursing homes. I was able to figure out the mystery early on in the plot because of this. While I enjoyed the rest of the chapters, I would have had an even better time if I’d needed to put more effort into piecing everything together. Reducing the numbers of clues or making them more difficult to figure out would have made it a more challenging reading experience.

One of the things I liked the most about this story was how complex it was. Nearly all of the characters had completely understandable reasons for everything they did regardless of which side they happened to be on. Sometimes the bad guys had a surprising amount of empathy, and sometimes the good guys actually made things worse when they tried to fix things. No one was ever one hundred percent helpful or harmful. That made the plot incredibly interesting because I was able to relate to the motivations and thought processes of so many different characters at the same time.

This is part of a series, but I had no trouble at all reading it as a standalone novel. I’m now looking forward to discovering the first book.

Patients in Purgatory was full of intrigue. I’d recommend it anyone who likes mysteries that explore real-life issues.

May by Alicia Stone

may
May by Alicia Stone
Publisher: Rogue Phoenix Press
Genre: Contemporary
Length: Short Story (73 pgs)
Heat Level: Spicy
Rating: 3 stars
Reviewed by Fern

Marielle, single, restless and thirty-something is looking for a man. Can love compete with Fate? The problem is the man she desperately wants and needs is not interested in her. He was once, but ten years ago she threw away their chance of happiness. Together again, Marielle and Peter discover how they have both changed and how much they have in common. Their attraction for each other is intensified, but can their love be rekindled? Can they risk everything for love? Affairs of the heart prove to be no match for the darker powers of Fate as Marielle’s very survival hangs in the balance.

Marielle is taking a rare day off work. Giving herself a treat, she goes to London to visit a gallery and enjoy herself. While waiting for coffee she bumped into Peter – her ex from university and the man with whom she’d left her much younger, more innocent self’s heart. Can they really pick up where they so bitterly left off? Could they both get a second chance?

This is an interesting, sweet style of story. While I was a little surprised at how quickly Peter and Marielle became intimate once more, the author did an excellent job of reminding me, the reader, that Peter and Marielle were far from strangers. I found the lovemaking scenes tasteful and spicy. I think they were detailed enough to make a reader blush but not explicit enough to be a turn off. Most of the story revolved around Peter and Marielle as they try to find common ground after parting as young adults on bad terms. A part of me found much of the plot clichéd – their unwillingness to communicate and the repercussions of their time together – but I have to admit it added a good amount of conflict and tension between them. While I might have wished Peter and Marielle particularly had acted more maturely, it was interesting watching them take the usual “two steps forward one step back” that a rocky, difficult relationship so often shows.

This is a lovely, emotional story I feel will resonate with many readers. Marielle and Peter love each other deeply but have a number of obstacles to overcome first. While there are miscommunications and difficulties, these tensions only serve to make their happiness even more joyful. While sensually spicy I think the love scenes are tastefully and carefully written to still appeal to most readers and can be thoroughly enjoyed. A heart-warming story I can see myself reading again.

The Haunting of Aaron House by Joyce Zeller

AAROn
The Haunting of Aaron House by Joyce Zeller
Publisher: Rogue Phoenix Press
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Paranormal, Contemporary
Length: Full Length (158 pages)
Heat Level: Spicy
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Evil ghosts, mystery, murder and mayhem await documentary film producer Paul Barlowe, his wife Sam, and their teenage son Andy when they arrive in Lancaster County, PA, from Chicago, to shoot a film on local history. Sam becomes the victim of Amalie Broome, circa 1867, tormented by past mysteries and determined to destroy Phineas, her husband, whose ghost lives in the other side of the house, and take Sam’s life as her own. To survive Sam must enter a world where folklore, spells, Pow-Wow faith healers and witches are taken for granted. Only the wisdom of an elderly seer will save them from destruction by the spirits that claim them.

Some ghosts are kind and friendly. Others, not so much.

The setting was deliciously frightening. I was especially fascinated by the narrator’s description of the house Samantha and Paul rented. I’ve seen houses with similar designs in real life, and they’ve always made me shiver. There’s something inherently creepy to me about squishing more than one architectural style into the same building, especially when so little care is taken to blend them together in any coherent manner. It seems to give a house more than one personality, and those personalities don’t always mesh well with each other.

There were far more reasons for these characters to abandon the old farm house than there were for them to stay there.The warning signs popped up so early in the plot that I had a hard time understanding why Paul and Samantha didn’t decide to find a different place to live, especially since they were accompanied by their young son. It’s certainly what I would have done if the place I was planning to stay made me as afraid of it as they were on their first visit!

Not every afterlife is a pleasant experience. One of the things I relished the most about this tale was how it explored what the afterlife was like for the ghosts that were connected to the farmhouse. Their backstories were explained early enough for me to understand why they behaved in certain ways but also late enough for me to build anticipation about what their lives might have been like when they were alive.

I would have liked to have more information about Samantha and Paul’s marriage. The communication between them left quite a bit to be desired. There were times when I wondered how they’d stayed together for so long because they seemed to have so many problems telling each other what they were really thinking and feeling. It might have made sense for a brand new couple, but it felt odd for two people who are raising a child and who have been together for many years to struggle so much in this area.

The secondary characters were lively and colorful. Seeing how they interacted with the main characters as well as with one another was a highlight of this story for me. Their occasional eccentricities made perfect sense given the culture of Lancaster, the town where this all takes place. I wouldn’t have expected anything else from this community.

The Haunting of Aaron House is a good choice for anyone who is in the mood for something romantic and paranormal.

The CareTAKERS by William T. Delamar

CARE
The CareTAKERS by William T. Delamar
Publisher: Rogue Phoenix Press
Genre: Suspense/Mystery, Contemporary
Length: Full Length (186 pages)
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Doug Carpenter, a new administrator, the third in four years, at Eastern Medical College Hospital, fights hospital power politics and physician greed while trying to provide a good setting for patient care. This combative scene forms a constant barrier to a successful, smooth-running operation and creates a threat to Doug’s own position, but that’s not all. A patient commits suicide. A drunk anesthesiologist kills a mother during an emergency delivery. Several patients are victims of an “angel of death.” A patient is poisoned by an unscrupulous doctor. A union strike explodes. A female goon brutalizes two nurses. On top of all that, Doug’s wife is injured in a terroristic attack instigated by the pro-union forces. This all happens in only a matter of weeks, challenging Doug’s every emotion, diplomatic expertise, morals and ethics.

How would you fix an organization that doesn’t want to admit it isn’t functioning properly?

One of the first things I noticed about this tale was how concisely the dialogue was written. It was used to share a lot of information with the audience about where the characters came from and what they were planning to do in the near future. What really caught my attention, though, was that the author accomplished this without slowing down the plot. He was able to pack quite a few details into short conversations which was helpful.

I would have liked to see much more time spent on character development. The narrator relied heavily on common tropes to give the audience a quick impression of what the characters were like and how they behaved. These impressions felt too stereotypical to me, though, because of how often they were used and how rarely they were challenged. It would have been fascinating to peel back at least a few stereotypes so that I could see the parts of the characters’ personalities that weren’t given a chance to shine here.

The subplots were woven nicely into the main storyline. There was a lot going on in this novel, but everything was connected so seamlessly that I never had a problem keeping up with any of it. Seeing the main character balance so many different issues simultaneously actually made a great deal of sense. His line of work requires those kinds of juggling acts in order to keep a hospital running.

It took a while for me to figure out which genre this book belongs to. The mystery elements of the plot didn’t show up right away, but once they did I completely understood why the author had spent so much time setting everything up first. It was definitely worth the wait.

I’d recommend The CareTAKERS to anyone who is in the mood for a medical mystery.

The Dance by McKinzie S. Heart

DANCE
The Dance by McKinzie S. Heart
Elemental Seduction
Publisher: Rogue Phoenix Press
Genre: Paranormal, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (56 pgs)
Heat Level: Spicy
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Ginger

Rebecca’s had a horrible marriage. Though the divorce isn’t finalized, she has put as much distance as possible between her husband and herself. She’s forlornly alone but safe. As she spends yet another night in her grandparents’ old farmhouse, strange unexplainable things begin to happen. Has Charles tracked her down or is it some unknown intruder setting her up? And what are these whispers that she’s now hearing? Are they real or in her mind? While she tries to sort everything out as it happens, she has no idea how much is at stake. Not only is her life in jeopardy, but she may very well lose her heart and soul. But that is exactly what might have to happen for her to give in to The Dance.

Soon to be divorced Rebecca spends a sleepless night in her country home that was previously owned by her Nana and Papa. Though the night has a chilly breeze, with impending bad weather approaching this night isn’t like any ordinary night. Rebecca’s fascination with the wind could be what saves her life and could very well bring about the love she desires.

This was a touching story that is sure to be uplifting to any reader. Rebecca comes from an abusive marriage where her husband doesn’t seem to want to abide by a restraining order placed against him.

Something doesn’t seem right in the home, with strange things such as the radio playing, candles burning, tapping at the window but could these only be in Rebecca’s mind?

The Dance is a entertaining read that I truly enjoyed. The author has a talent in giving detailed description that gives such a visual picture. The writing and details are so clear and readable. Though the story is short it delivers in full detail a night when Rebecca’s past marriage meets the true love she didn’t know exist.

There is something so sensual and fulfilling about this story. Seeing a woman that obviously has been through a violent marriage, she finds solace in dancing with the wind, in finding a way of letting go of the hurt and disappointment. She finds some symbolism of healing and moving on with her life. I was happy with the ending and would suggest this book for those that enjoy a sensual happy paranormal ending.

Valley of the Shadow by T.H. Gerety

VALLEY
Valley of the Shadow by T.H. Gerety
Publisher: Rogue Phoenix Press
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (88 pages)
Heat Level: Spicy
Rating: 2.5 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Avid naturalist, hunter and birder, Mr. Gerety has constructed a tale of two people who meet briefly then are reunited after death in a place and time other than the one they have always known. In this unfamiliar and pristine environment, his characters find each other, leaving behind their years of professional education and training as well as a lifetime of modern urban assumptions to assume lives of hunters, nomads, lovers and parents in a world emptied of all other people.

As Michael and Val are about to learn, surviving is easier than thriving.

The descriptions of the food made my mouth water. They were written so clearly that I could almost taste the simple, delicious meals that the characters made based on what they’d found to eat each day. These scenes were my favourite ones because they made me so hungry at times!

I was quite puzzled by Val and Michael’s reaction to their new surroundings. They both adjusted to it extremely quickly for reasons that I was never able to determine. This is the exact opposite of how I’d expect two ordinary adults to respond to waking up injured in the middle of the wilderness with no supplies and no way to signal for outside help. I would have also really liked to know why they both knew how to do things like knapping flint, tracking prey, curing animal hides, and figuring out which wild plants are safe to eat. These are all uncommon hobbies for the twenty-first century, so it was surprising to have two characters who were both so skilled at all of them.

The dialogue often made me smile. Val and Michael found ways to tease each other over small things. Writing them this way made their romance more relatable because those sections showed me how well these characters work together. It was also a lot of fun to see what kinds of things they’d come up with next to joke about.

Many words and phrases were repeated over and over again in this story. Sometimes several sentences in the same paragraph would all begin with the same word. At times this made it difficult to keep my place while I was reading because it was so easy to lose my place and accidentally return to a paragraph I’d already completed.

One of the things I liked the most about the ending was how well it blended in with everything that had happened before. While I would have preferred more concrete answers to certain questions I had about the characters and what had happened to them, I appreciated the fact that the narrative stayed true to the author’s style. This section repeated the same themes that had been introduced in the beginning, and that’s a good thing.

There was a great deal of telling instead of showing in this tale. The characters faced circumstances that should have brought a lot of tension and anticipation to the plot. It was difficult to immerse myself into those scenes, though, due to how much distance the narrator left between what was happening and how those events were communicated to the reader. It felt like I was hearing a second or third-hand account of these sections instead of imagining them for myself.

This was a huge surprise for me because I was so enamoured with the blurb when I first stumbled across it. I’m a lifelong fan of books set among hunter-gatherers and other groups who live off of the land. The idea of two contemporary characters ending up in this kind of lifestyle made me feel even more excited to give it a try. This is the kind of premise that snags my attention immediately. The idea of trading all of today’s technology and luxuries for a chance to spend the rest of one’s life sleeping under an unpolluted sky is so fascinating.

I’d recommend Valley of the Shadow to anyone who is really interested in stories about living off the land.