The Beauty of Forever by Elyzabeth M. VaLey

The Beauty of Forever by Elyzabeth M. VaLey
A Christmas Realm Tale Book 1

Publisher: Evernight Publishing
Genre: Contemporary, Holiday, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Paranormal
Length: Short story (89 pages)
Other: M/F
Rating: 4.5 Stars
Reviewed by Sorrel

Once dead, always dead.

Christopher Beaufort works in what could easily be the most cheerful place on earth, Santa’s Christmas Realm, but as a vampire, he is nothing more than a shadow among the living.

Worn out by the demands of his job as Chief Toy Officer, Santa assigns a human woman to help him, Samantha Kraus. Tantalized by the fiery red-head, Christopher makes it his business to seduce her, but as he does, something within him begins to stir.

Life is a gift in which every moment counts.

When Samantha Kraus accepted the job of assistant manager at Santa’s, she expected elves, fairies and maybe some shifters, but definitely not vampires. Least of all did she imagine her boss would be one of them or that she’d be attracted to him.

Though she tries to remain professional, Samantha finds herself falling for Christopher. But, can a vampire’s heart ever beat again?

Not just a romance but a holiday romance set in the North Pole with Santa, elves, vampires and more…

It’s a whole other world with magic! It definitely surprised me when reading about vampires at the North Pole. It was a first for me. It is not just an erotic novel, it’s much more than that and I loved that aspect of the book.

When Santa appoints a human, Samantha, to work under Christopher, it was apparent that he did not like the decision, even if he liked her. However, with every page more of the wonders of the North Pole showed up and I became as astonished as Samantha with the new world. I would have loved to have read more about their world and the different species that live together.

Samantha and Christopher are attracted to each other but all Samantha wants is to try to focus on her work and making his work easier. That is not easy. With them working together, it was inevitable that they get together. That being said their relationship heals each other. The climax to the relationship wrapped up nicely and it was satisfying to see them go through the motions of positivity and end up with each other.

This book is a wonderful story for a Christmas romance that any erotic reader would absolutely love.

Where Would You Be Now? by Carrie Vaughn

Where Would You Be Now? by Carrie Vaughn
Publisher: Tor Books
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (35 pages)
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

The world as they know it is ending, a new world is taking its place. Among the doctors and nurses of a clinic-turned-fortress, Kath is coming of age in this new world, and helping define it. But that doesn’t make letting go of the old any easier. “Where Would You Be Now?” is a prequel to the novel Bannerless, a finalist for the Philip K. Dick Award.

How long would you survive in a world where even the most basic medical care is hard to come by?

Even the healthiest person can quickly run into serious trouble if they develop health problems in a place where medical professionals and proper treatments are scarce at best. Some of my favorite scenes showed what happens to characters under these circumstances. From what I understand, this book is the prequel to a series that will explore this universe in much greater depth. I was impressed by what I’ve seen so far, and I’m looking forward to digging more deeply into how this world works and why some characters worked so hard to provide medical treatment to perfect strangers despite not having enough supplies for themselves.

The world building was weak. While I wouldn’t expect a narrator to go into a lot of detail about how and why modern society has collapsed in a tale of this length, it would have been nice to at least have a brief description of what happened and why the characters no longer have any hope of getting help from the outside world. It was confusing to me to read about them running low on everything from food to medical supplies without knowing why they were in such a serious predicament or how long it had been going on.

Kath was an incredibly strong and compassionate woman. She ran towards the kinds of emergencies that most people would run away from, and she did it knowing that her safety was never guaranteed in those situations in any way. The more I got to know her, the more I liked her. While she lived in a dangerous world, she never allowed the uncertainty of her life to stop her from helping everyone she possibly could.

I’d recommend Where Would You Be Now? to anyone who loves post-apocalyptic stories.

Legends of Persia by Jennifer Macaire

Legends of Persia by Jennifer Macaire
Book Two – Time for Alexander series

Publisher: Accent Press Ltd.
Genre: Historical, Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Length: Full length (280 pages)
Heat level: Hot
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Lavender

When Ashley Riveraine jumped at the chance to travel back in time to meet her hero Alexander the Great, she never thought she would end up staying there…

Following Alexander the Great’s army on its journey across Persia, Ashley is walking the knife edge of history. As a presumed goddess, Ashley is expected to bless crops, make sure battles are won and somehow keep herself out of the history books.

Can Ashley avoid the wrath of the Time Institute while keeping the man she loves alive?

A major road trip adventure, this story does a fine job displaying quirky people and the problems they encounter in their epic quest across an ancient land. Modern-day Ashley goes back in time and is married to her hero, Alexander the Great. What could possibly happen here?

Legends of Persia is the second in this series, continuing the story of Alexander expanding his kingdom while searching for his and Ashley’s kidnapped son. What a man won’t go through to save his boy. Because there are many battles to go through over the years, Alexander gets seriously hurt, more than once. His recovery, and Ashley’s responses, are one of many good ways a reader gets to know them better. However, serious injuries are only one way we get to know them and their friends and enemies. The human relationships between exotic characters bring interesting scenarios to light. Ashley has to face her husband taking yet another wife because history says he married this other woman and fathered her children—to interfere could get Ashley eliminated from time as a punishment. What does she think as she stands and watches this wedding? What does Alexander think? The unrolling of episodes such as this is woven skillfully through the story.

This is not technically a romance. True, Ashley and Alexander are married and in love, and they act like it, but they are not alone in the relationship. He has other wives, and she has another lover. There is jealousy but not enough to destroy the main relationship. This novel is also very spicy, with unconventional and very hot love scenes. If one is offended by non-traditional “love scenes”, this would not be the book to read. If a reader doesn’t mind this or can get past it, then it becomes obvious that the scenes either develop the plot or the characters or simply just show life as it was thousands of years ago, with different human values.

Customs and values change, but human emotions are the same, and this comes out. Though, those human emotions go through the filter of a different culture and time and can inspire eye-opening revelations.

At first, I found myself wondering at times if what happened in the book was good for the characters, but the way these types of scenes are written, it becomes clear that they are appropriate for the setting and the characters. Put in this context, our concepts of feelings such a love may widen upon reading about these complex love relationships.

Mundane details like meals are delightful for putting us in average scenes, making them more realistic. There are good details about different types of festivals with one memorable and spicy festival in particular—not for the squeamish. Other scenes, like a rape, are offensive in themselves, but how do the characters handle them? A reader will keep turning pages to find out.

Deep ponderings come up. Alexander talks about descendants and ancestors—food for thought. Even though this is a road trip, with battles and big things happening around the interesting details of everyday life, in the background there is a sense of urgency behind this story. Ashley knows that Alexander dies young, and she knows when. As each passing year happens, she feels fate pushing down upon them.

This story will have a reader reconsidering conceptions of several things. It ends on a calm note with the promise of great adventure ahead. I would recommend this story to anyone who would enjoy unconventional but deep love with some violence mixed in, with a story that does a good job with character development and world-building.

Illera’s Darkliete by Gail Gernat

Illera’s Darkliete by Gail Gernat
Publisher: Andrea James Publishing
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Length: Full Length (340 pages)
Rating: 4.5 Stars
Reviewed by Orchid

When the messengers from Frain arrive to secure the hand of Princess Illera for their cruel, selfish heir to the throne, Torul, she hides. Forced by circumstances and her own father, Illera and her three companions journey to the cold, dark north. Fighting against her fate, Illera plunges the quartet into danger. But when she accedes to the demands of cruel destiny they must fight against a ravening evil that knows no restraint. Using her mixed blood heritage, can this innocent child learn and mature fast enough to control both herself and the forces ripping her world apart? Can she negotiate the political intrigues and defeat the hordes of Shul, the pirates of Carnuvon and the hatreds of Frain?

What happens when an elf falls in love with a human? Princess Illera is the result. She inherits her mother’s healing abilities and uses this for everyone, not only her own people. Her father reluctantly arranges a marriage for her but Illera runs away. Raven and Lark, the two brothers who came to escort her to her betrothed, are full of sympathy but they have to obey their king and they find her and take her to her new home, where she escapes once again.

Illera’s actions, and her reasoning, show a strong character full of determination to do what is right, regardless of the consequences to herself. She meets many different people in her travels, not all of them human, but helps them all. This endears her to many different races. The heroine’s personality is apparent from the beginning and I wasn’t disappointed by her subsequent actions.

I enjoyed reading this book, and have to admit I guessed wrong about the final outcome several times. I believe keeping the reader guessing makes this an excellent read. Illera is a heroine who caught my interest until I had to find out what happened to her. Great book.

Lera’s Sorrow – Darkliete, Book One by Gail Gernat

Lera’s Sorrow – Darkliete, Book One by Gail Gernat
Publisher: Andrea James Publishing
Genre: Historical, Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Length: Short Story (58 pages)
Rating: 4.5 stars
Reviewed by Orchid

Lera and her cousin have completed their long childhood and their training as healers. Sent to their grandparents back in Madean, they must negotiate the strange new world, attain their werwinstans. Fate intervenes in the shape of handsome young Ian, very human and very poisonous to the elven. Trying out her independence for the first time in her life, what will Lera decide? Where will she discover her loyalty to lay, with love or with duty?

Elves, I love elves! This is a story with a difference as Lera has come to her grandparents to be officially accepted as a healer. During the celebrations she bonds with.a human prince and this causes untold problems which is not helped by the lies of a pooka.

For such a short book, this story is full of emotion and intrigue, plus there’s an evil queen and a handsome prince. What more could a reader want when opening a fantasy book? Lera’s healing helps her through bad times but also puts her in danger which adds a bit of spice to the story.

Well written, easy to read and gives satisfaction. Recommended.

Luska by Will Robinson

Luska by Will Robinson
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Length: Full length (478 pages)
Rating: 3 stars
Review by Peony

The caretakers of the galaxy, the Idrix, are destroyed by an unknown force, breaking down the order that had dominated humanity for nearly a millennium.

Eidi is a unique, precognitive student, who lives on the divided planet of Luska and knows that their future is full of death and destruction, but can she stop it?

Sreiwa is a fanatical spy and assassin who helped enable an invasion of her own planet and becomes a pawn in the deadly intrigue of a Byzantine and brutal culture.

Sellen is an Idrix soldier who escaped the destruction of his fleet only to find himself in a jungle hellscape where his only salvation is in the form of a sworn enemy.

Cigva is an enigmatic AI who joins Eidi to struggle against shape-shifting, mind-controlling deities, nightmare simians, deadly parasites, and a surprising, tyrannical foe from her home planet of Luska.

The real danger lies in the showdown that is taking place between a long-dormant alien race called the Spearfinger, and the anti-alien, god-like Eth, where the ramifications of their confrontation could decide the future of the galaxy and the direction of humanity.

Will Robinson fills the need for a dramatic space opera with his pulse pounding Luska, an exciting adventure with action, a little bit of romance and the depth you’ve been pining for. Part of Robinson’s Spearfinger series, of which more books are the come, the Luska universe already contains three thrilling stories to wet your apatite about Wil’s expansive world building. It can be hard to find a sprawling novel that tries to build a world like Tolkien or Martin, but Will definitely takes aim at the stars.

When embarking on a space adventure, there are certain things the genre brings to mind. You as the reader will come to expect complex characters with a diverse set of motivations that equates to far more than just good or evil. On top of that these sorts of stories usually include organizations and families with their own problems and motivation to deal with. Does it sound like this is a description of a genre? It is, but it also perfectly encapsulates what you can expect when you dive into this novel. The sheer number of characters and groups and the different ways they rub up against one another will make the world feel living and breathing and quickly illustrate the time, love and care that Robinson put into crafting it.

There is a very real risk when trying to make a story this dense. From a reading prospective there can be a lot to absorb and without a clueless outsider to ask the questions for you in the story, there may not be a way to know and understand all the aspects of the world. Luska does have a lot going for it with a complex and evolving world, but this comes at a cost. With a whole host of dense reading, names and places that you’ll have to memorize, if can start to resemble homework. Some people, especially those familiar with epic tales will be excited by this, but for those who are not, the effort does pay off eventually.

Realism is another key factor when writing these sorts of stories, actions have to have reactions that make sense or the whole universe falls apart. That is probably one of the aspects of the grand adventure stories with copious world building that garners them the most praise and failure to do so the most scorn. There are lots of times in this book with a great deal of high tech that decidedly low tech solutions are used instead. Solutions that we wouldn’t even consider using in our pre space age civilization, so the times when it comes up in this story are especially jarring. There are other examples where the actions or motivations do not make a great deal of sense, but no spoilers. You’ll just have to decide how high a standard you hold up to realism in a fantasy or sci fi setting.

However you feel about reading epic space operas, there is one thing that this book conveys without a doubt. The sense of relief and satisfaction when you finish this book is quite unique in that not only do you get a wildly interesting world, but the sense of embarking on your own adventure to finish it. You’ll trudge through the arduous journey with the characters, you’ll struggle as they struggle through sections of tension and tedium, empathetic of their plights. If you decide to pick this book up, there will certainly be that pay off when you finally put it down. Book two isn’t out as of this writing, but there is a lot to enjoy here and with the two accompanying novellas already.

The Chef and the Ghost of Bartholomew Addison Jenkins by Aletta Thorne

The Chef and the Ghost of Bartholomew Addison Jenkins by Aletta Thorne
Publisher: Evernight Publishing
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Paranormal, Horror, Historical
Length: Full Length (151 pages)
Other: M/F
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Halloween, 1982. MTV is new, poodle perms are the rage, and life just might be getting better for Alma Kobel. Her ugly divorce is final at last. Her new job as chef at Bright Day School’s gorgeous old estate is actually fun. But the place is haunted—and so is Alma’s apartment.

Bartholomew Addison Jenkins’ ghost has been invisibly watching Alma for months. When he materializes one night, Alma discovers Bart—as he likes to be called—has talents she couldn’t have imagined … and a horrifying past. Can you have a one-nighter with a ghost? And what happens if you decide one night is all you want—and end up ghosting him? Some spirits don’t like taking “no” for an answer.

First impressions definitely aren’t always accurate.

What a hilarious main character Alma was! She could find a funny spin to anything that happened to her, from surprise health inspections at work to her strange and complicated interactions with her ex-husband. Some of the things that happened to her would have seriously annoyed or even frightened a lot of people. I loved the fact that she was able to quickly shake so many of those memories off with her fabulous sense of humor.

The only criticism I have of this story has to do with how quickly the romantic relationship in it heated up. Both of the people involve in it were so cautious and meticulous in other areas of their lives that I never would have expected them to move as fast as they did. Yes, I definitely wanted to see them end up together, but it felt a little odd to me because it didn’t feel consistent with everything else I’d learned about them. With that being said, this is a minor complaint about something I enjoyed quite a lot.

The world building was really well done. I especially enjoyed figuring out what ghosts were and weren’t capable of in this universe. Since nobody was given any instructions after they died, Bartholomew had to learn what he could do and what the consequences of those actions would be on his own. Him slowly discovering his abilities and limitations as the plot moved forward made it difficult for me to stop reading. I always wanted to know more about what the afterlife was like for him.

The Chef and the Ghost of Bartholomew Addison Jenkins was as spooky as it was sexy. It should be read by fans of erotica and ghost stories alike.

Sanctity of Life by Jennifer E. Whalen

Sanctity of Life by Jennifer E. Whalen
An Enemy Loved Novel

Publisher: Lilac Press
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Horror, Action/Adventure, Historical
Length: Full Length (156 pages)
Heat Level: Spicy
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Deep in the Black Forest of Germany, dark experiments have been taking place since WWII. Now the secrets are in danger of being exposed. Who will live? Who will die? Can it be contained?

Sometimes science causes more problems than it solves.

The dialogue was well done. This was a fast-paced story, so there wasn’t a lot of room for lengthy descriptions or discussions. I liked the fact that the characters’ conversations were kept as short as possible. That was exactly how I’d expect members of the military and government to behave when they were trying to contain a threat to the security of their nation.

There were so many characters in this story that I found it really difficult to remember who was who. I kept mixing everyone up, and it only became tougher to remember who everyone was once the pacing picked up and the characters began to find themselves in dangerous situations.

One of the things I always like discovering is a character who makes intelligent decisions regardless of what’s happening around him. There were several characters in this book who had good heads on their shoulders. No matter how other people reacted around them, they always paid close attention to their surroundings and thought logically about what they should do next. I appreciated that.

The time jumps were confusing to me. Some of the scenes were set in 1945 while others happened in 1918. Since I was struggling so much to remember who all of the characters were, it was strange to suddenly meet new people or to see someone in a different part of his or her life than they’d been a few scenes earlier.

My favorite sections of this story were the ones that explained what was going on with the dark experiments in full detail. I’m a big fan of science fiction about medical advancements that don’t turn out the way their creators intended them to. The author did a good job at explaining why these attempts were having such poor results and hinting at what would happen if the scientists continue to push the boundaries of what the human body is capable of.

Sanctity of Life should be read by anyone who loves the idea of science experiments gone terribly wrong.

The Hematophages by Stephen Kozeniewski

The Hematophages by Stephen Kozeniewski
Publisher: Sinister Grin Press
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Horror, Action/Adventure
Length: Full Length (162 pages)
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Doctoral student Paige Ambroziak is a “station bunny” – she’s never set foot off the deep space outpost where she grew up. But when she’s offered a small fortune to join a clandestine salvage mission, she jumps at the chance to leave the cutthroat world of academia behind.

Paige is convinced she’s been enlisted to find the legendary Manifest Destiny, a long-lost colonization vessel from an era before the corporations ruled Earth and its colonies. Whatever she’s looking for, though, rests in the blood-like seas of a planet-sized organism called a fleshworld.

Dangers abound for Paige and her shipmates. Flying outside charted space means competing corporations can shoot them on sight rather than respect their salvage rights. The area is also crawling with pirates like the ghoulish skin-wrappers, known for murdering anyone they can’t extort.

But the greatest threat to Paige’s mission is the nauseating alien parasites which infest the fleshworld. These lamprey-like monstrosities are used to swimming freely in an ocean of blood, and will happily spill a new one from the veins of the outsiders who have tainted their home. In just a few short, bone-chilling hours Paige learns that there are no limits to the depravity and violence of the grotesque nightmares known as…THE HEMATOPHAGES.

There are no friendly aliens here.

I appreciated how much time Mr. Kozeniewski spent on the world building and character development before the plot sped up. Having such a detailed introduction to the strict, corporate-run society Paige grew up in made it easy for me to bond with her. Paige’s childhood had not been an easy one, but it had shaped her into a strong and self-reliant woman. I really enjoyed having such a deep understanding of how those early experiences shaped the person she became as an adult. They made her heroic acts later on in the plot even more exciting than they might have been for someone who didn’t have quite so much to lose.

My only piece of constructive criticism has to do with the plot twists. While I definitely enjoyed following Paige’s adventures, the fact that I could predict what would happen next so regularly did make me wish that I could have been surprised by what the characters experienced more often. It was a minor complaint about a tale that I otherwise had a great time reading, though.

Yes, there were many gory scenes in this book. It’s something that is to be expected when characters visit a planet that has oceans full of blood, after all. The violence served an important purpose to the plot, though, and I liked the way it was folded into what had been a much tamer adventure story in the beginning. I knew the characters so well at that point that I couldn’t stop reading until I’d found out what their fates were.

I’d recommend The Hematophages to anyone who is in the market for dark and violent science fiction.

The Raven Flies at Night by Janine R. Pestel

The Raven Flies at Night by Janine R. Pestel
Publisher: Creativia Publishing
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Paranormal, Horror, Contemporary
Length: Full Length (154 pages)
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

In the second book of the series, Father Gunter and his friend, Robert Durling travel to the town of Mountainview.

A demon’s presence in the town has the townfolk depressed, with suicides being a daily occurrence. After the duo meets Father Nelson, they receive an amulet that will aid them in their battle against the Mountainview demon.

But after a meeting with TV reporter Belinda Carstone, they learn of her mysterious dream, and a demon that abducted her many years ago. Soon, their adventure takes a completely new, terrifying direction.

Demon hunting is a messy and dangerous job, but someone has to do it.

One of my favorite things about Robert Durling and Father Gunter in this tale was how level-headed they remained in even the most volatile situations. No matter how violent their supernatural encounters became they never panicked or made reckless decisions while they were trying to figure out the best way to excommunicate the demons they keep running into in this series.

There were many punctuation errors. By far the most common errors were the overuse and misuse of commas. While I deeply enjoyed the plot itself, it was distracting to be interrupted by so many sentences that I had to reread a few times in order to understand. I would have given this book a much higher rating if this hadn’t been the case.

The demon’s method of killing people was creative. Most of the other horror novels about demons I’ve read have taken a completely different approach to the harm they cause, so I was fascinated by the idea of one of these creatures causing so many grisly deaths without actually touching any of their victims. The original twists on this genre like this one are a big part of what keeps me so interested in what will happen next to these characters.

As I mentioned above, this is the second story in a series. It can be read out of order or as a standalone work.

I’d recommend The Raven Flies at Night to anyone who loves modern horror.