C1PHER by Monica E. Spence

C1PHER by Monica E. Spence
Publisher: The Wild Rose Press
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Historical, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (100 pages)
Heat Level: Sensual
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Revolutionary War re-enactor Mary Banvard must travel to West Point during a thunder storm to authenticate papers concerning Benedict Arnold’s betrayal of West Point. Poor visibility causes a terrible car accident​, and she blacks out. When a masculine voice awakens her, she discovers everyone around her is wearing Colonial clothes. Odd. Who is this guy with the queue and the glasses who looks so worried?

Robert Townsend looks like a Quaker shopkeeper, but he is Culper, Jr., General George Washington’s most important spy. When Lady Mary Banvard, his fiancée, awakens following a carriage accident, she begins ranting about missing papers and traveling through Time.

Together Mary and Robert stumble upon a threat to their lives, their happiness, and the security of American generations to come.

Studying the past is one thing. Suddenly waking up in it is quite another.

The dialogue was fantastic. There were several times when I chuckled out loud at the things Mary said after she mysteriously found herself living back during the time of the Revolutionary War. She has a sharp wit, and it shone through the conversations she had with Robert and other characters during her adventures. The only thing better than this part of the plot was how funny it was to see how everyone responded to the things she said that made sense in our times but were unintelligible a few hundred years ago.

I would have liked to see more time spent developing the romance in this story. The characters involved in it were so different from each other that I needed more examples of what they shared in common. They were both fascinating people. I simply wasn’t totally sure that they would make a good couple because of how often their personalities and interests conflicted each other.

Mary was such an interesting woman. I loved her spunky attitude and how unflappable she was when she found herself in the middle of a crisis. She’s the kind of smart and steady person I’d want to have around if there were some kind of emergency. Her calm approach to even the strangest situations she found herself in made me adore her from the first scene to the last one.

C1PHER should be read by fans of light science fiction and historical romances alike. This is a nice blend of both of those genres!

Cape Zero: The Fall by Nicholas Woode-Smith

Cape Zero: The Fall by Nicholas Woode-Smith
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Horror, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (122 pages)
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

When social recluse and all round introvert, Peter Swart, manages to survive an attack by an insane homeless man, he soon discovers that Cape Town is not going to remain the holiday destination that it was previously regarded.

In the wake of a failed government state of emergency, society crumbles in South Africa as a virus turns people into violent cannibals. Within a day, the already compromised military collapses. Cape Town becomes a dark zone and its residents are forgotten.

With violent mobs roaming the streets, social anxiety and doubtable sanity thrown into the mix – will Peter be able to survive the apocalypse or, worse yet, the necessity to live with other people?

No one is safe when the undead rise.

The zombies in this story were nicely written. I liked the thought Mr. Woode-Smith put into how these creatures move and behave in this universe. He added some logical developments to their mythology that made me shudder. As much as regular zombies scare me, this version of them is even more frightening. I liked the scenes describing what it would be like to accidentally stumble across one of them because of this.

Peter’s character development was confusing to me. The way he behaved suddenly and completely changed about a third of the way through the plot. The medical explanation that was hinted at in the storyline didn’t make sense. Had it actually been the reason for the dramatic change to his personality, I would have expected there to be references to it beginning in the first scene. It’s definitely not the kind of condition that anyone would be able to hide, especially in an environment as stressful and chaotic as the one he was living in.

One of the things I enjoyed the most about this story was how the characters reacted to being in such a dangerous world. The fact that so many of them chose to work together to create a safe place to live made me smile. That doesn’t always happen in this genre, so I was glad to see folks working together so cooperatively this time.

There were multiple grammatical and punctuation errors. Some of the sentences were hard to understand because of how unusually they were written. It often wasn’t clear to me exactly what the author wanted his audience to get from those sentences. The storyline itself was interesting, but this book would have really benefited from another round of editing.

The characters in this tale had a refreshing amount of common sense. I appreciated the fact that they always remained cautious around the zombies and never let down their guards when they were in an unfamiliar situation or away from home. This doesn’t always happen in the horror genre, so I’m happy to meet characters who are so sensible.

Cape Zero: The Fall should be read by anyone who really likes zombie fiction.

Realm of the Dragon by Cici Cordelia

Realm of the Dragon by Cici Cordelia
The Soul Mate Tree
Publisher: Soul Mate Publishing
Genre: Action/Adventure, Contemporary, Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Length: Full Length (162 pages)
Heat Level: Hot
Rating: 5 stars
Reviewed by Orchid

An ancient legend spanning eras, continents, and worlds. To some, it’s nothing more than a dream. To others, a pretty fairy tale handed down through the generations.

For those in critical need of their own happy ending, a gift.

For sheltered Lily Kiers, it’s all too real. Her escape from danger, straight into the arms of her destiny.

Thrust into a realm made of fantasy and unbridled passion, Lily faces violent resentment and jealousy from extremely powerful enemies. Amidst fierce creatures whose very existence defy all common sense, Lily pieces together a past she could never have imagined.

Claimed by Kord, Prince of Battle Draconian, their love will not be denied, even as malevolent forces plot to rip them apart.

Chased by a psychopath, Lily runs as hard as she can through the park, trying to outrun her pursuer. Next thing she knew she has fallen as if from a great height, and landed on a dragon!

Kord has his life mate literally drop into his arms.  Unfortunately she’s human and doesn’t know anything about dragons who can change to human shape.

This story is fascinating. It has the action and adventure of dragons who have a peaceful nature until roused. Unfortunately, a female dragon has marked Kord as her own and Lily’s abrupt arrival upsets her plans. With the help of another male she plans to dispose of Lily, take Kord as her own, and kill Kord’s parents to enable him to become King of Battle Draconian.

The plots that interweave in this story make it very exciting and alluring. I read it in one go as I couldn’t put it down, partly due to the fact I love dragon stories. This was not a straightforward “dragons are strong beasts so Lily was bound to fall for Kord” it was about the life of dragons, how they lived and the social mores which kept the three dragon kingdoms apart but in tune with each other. This is very well written and a joy to read.

Spirited Attraction by Ashantay Peters

Spirited Attraction by Ashantay Peters
Warning: Ghosts at Work
Publisher: The Wild Rose Press
Genre: Contemporary, Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Length: Full Length (153 pages)
Heat Level: Spicy
Rating: 5 stars
Reviewed by Orchid

Long ago, Julia Wilkinson left home and didn’t look back. Now she’s unwillingly facing her parents’ ghosts—and their plans for her love life.

Sam Bradley has a ghost of his own, his interfering and opinionated deceased father. He’s a parent with definite ideas about whom Sam should date.

Julia and Sam think they’re happy singles and resist their supernatural matchmakers. But when the ghosts combine efforts, all bets are off. Will Julia and Sam heed advice from the other side, or will they go their own way?

Julia has trust issues when it comes to romance. Her friends decide to set her up with a co-worker but Julia feels her klutzy ways will put the man off before the relationship even starts. Little do both of them know that help is on the way…spiritual help.

This book is very funny in places, sad in others and gives a nice cozy, cuddly feeling as well. Then, of course, there’s the spicy bedroom romantic get-together moments. I thought the spiritual assistance of both Julia’s deceased parents and Sam’s father provided comedy and helped the couple overcome their awkwardness and inability to communicate properly.

I smiled, had tears in my eyes and felt compassion all through reading one book. At the end of the novel I sighed, but the author hadn’t finished with her twists to the story. The final page was…well I won’t spoil it for other readers, but I finished reading with another smile.

Treasure for Treasure by R. Cooper

Treasure for Treasure by R. Cooper
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Genre: Paranormal, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Contemporary
Length: Full Length (333 pgs)
Other: M/M
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Mistletoe

In the nineteenth century, the dragon Dìzhèn put the small coastal town of Everlasting under her protection. Her family was supposed to carry on the tradition, but all of Dìzhèn the Great’s heirs eventually left rather than live in the shadow of such a powerful dragon.

Only the youngest dragon of the current generation remains: Zarrin, the softhearted disgrace of his family. He might be weak, small, and afraid, but he is determined to show the humans they have not been forgotten… one human in particular. The problem is, Zarrin can barely get that human to talk to him.

It should be a dream come true to have a dragon trying to get his attention. But Joe refuses to bow to Zarrin like everyone else. Yes, Zarrin is sexy, oddly gentle for a dragon, and stares at Joe with a gaze so hot it makes him shiver. But hurt, mistrustful Joe can’t believe Zarrin’s promises that he’s here to stay. Joe doesn’t realize he is the treasure Zarrin has been looking for his whole life, a treasure he once let slip through his fingers out of fear. Now, to win Joe’s trust, Zarrin has to be brave and become as strong as Dìzhèn herself.

Joe has always been an outcast in the town that he lives in. After high school and what happened during those years, he could not wait to get away but eventually something pulls him back to the little town. Coming back he finds a job at the local coffee shop and soon finds that he has attracted the attention of the local dragon. The dragons have been in this town for years but it seems that every dragon has left except one. Zarrin is not the fearsome dragon that he believes he should be, yet he is trying to take care of the town and Joe. Fear and hate are among the many things that Zarrin must overcome in this town. Is he strong enough to stand and fight for Joe and the town or is he truly as weak as all the other dragons have made him feel? Will Joe and Zarrin find a way to a happy ever after or is it already too late?

R. Cooper weaves a magical story of love and devotion with this book. I adored Zarrin. He is so much stronger than what he has been led to believe. He is smart and loves with all his heart. Joe has had a hard life but is still a good man inside. Both men long for things that they think they cannot have and are not worthy of, but love does not judge in the same way. I loved watching the two find their way to a beautiful relationship. It was nice to see Joe and Zarrin willing to stand and fight for each other and their love. Not only did I enjoy seeing the two work through their emotions but it was also nice to see Zarrin find a way into the hearts of townspeople as well. Zarrin and Joe find out just how strong love and trust can be as they find their own way. Treasure for Treasure is a great addition to this series and I enjoyed this visit and hope to return to this world again.

The Bucktown Babies by Janine R. Pestel

The Bucktown Babies by Janine R. Pestel
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Suspense/Mystery, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Paranormal, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (124 pages)
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Johann Gunter, a former priest, whose sister has been taken by a demon, travels to a small farming community where there is an alarming outbreak of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. Knowing this is the work of a demon, he prepares to fight the monster and, hopefully, save the town. Before he can finish his investigation, however, he finds out his cover has been blown, and an unlikely person steps up as an ally. “The Bucktown Babies” is the first book in the Father Gunter Demon Hunter series.

Sometimes the innocent suffer more than anyone else.

Johann had an sad and interesting backstory. I appreciated the fact that the narrator waited quite a while to share it with the audience. Not knowing what it was that originally drew this character into such an unusual line of work kept me curious in the beginning. Finding it out eventually was also important, though, and I’m glad that the author made sure her readers had a strong understanding of this part of his past.

This story spent a lot of time telling me what was happening instead of showing it to me. The premise was incredibly interesting, but I had a hard time getting into the plot because there weren’t enough details to draw me into the scenes. Even what should have been the most exciting sections were described so vaguely that I had trouble picturing what was happening in them and what it would be like to be standing next to Johann at those exact moments.

Why would a demon decide to prey only on babies? This question haunted me as I read. The nice thing about this part of the plot is that it was so open to interpretation. There were passages early on that supported just about all of the theories I came up with to explain why this might be so. This made me eager to push on and find out which one of them might be correct.

There were some things I didn’t understand at all about the demon. For example, Johann’s plan for getting rid of this creature was much simpler than I thought it would be based on how distressed he was at the news of the demonic infestation in the opening scene. Other scenes shared the same kind of information about the demon. It seemed contradictory to me at times, so I would have really liked to see more time spent explaining why the main character was distressed about this case.

The science fiction and mystery elements of the plot were balanced wonderfully. It actually took me a while to figure out how to classify this tale because of what a good job it did at mixing these genres together seamlessly. The mystery tag won out in the end, but only barely. This is the sort of thing that can appeal to more than one audience due to how much care it took in making sure that the storyline included the best from both of the genres it was playing around with.

I’d recommend The Bucktown Babies equally to fans of both of these genres.

My Traveling Man by Dee Dee Lane

My Traveling Man by Dee Dee Lane
Slip in Time Series

Publisher: The Wild Rose Press, Inc
Genre: Contemporary, Historical, Holiday, Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Length: Short Story (92 pages)
Heat Level: Spicy
Rating: 4.5 stars
Reviewed by Orchid

Alice Hanstrom prefers books to people, facts over feelings, and in her world, “adventure” is just a word in the dictionary. That is until the night she braves shadowed hallways of the Cowboy and Western Museum in pursuit of a long​-lost diary. Her search of an antique covered wagon halts abruptly when the museum slips Alice back in time.

Thomas Bristol is an experienced wagon master. On a daily basis he deals with cholera, exhausted oxen, and river rapids on the treacherous journey to Oregon Territory. But he’s completely flummoxed when a mysterious woman appears in Big Blue River.

On the trail, Alice and Thomas strive to balance his love of roaming adventure and her desire for predictable orderliness. As the wagon train reaches Independence Rock, the sparks between them catch fire. But can such different people become equal partners in love…and can their love survive the slip in time?

Alice, is an academic who is studying for her PhD. Her research takes place in the Cowboy and Western Museum and concerns the American west, in particular the wagon trains that travelled west in the mid-1800s. When an accident causes a slip through time, Alice finds a new life in a wagon train. She also finds Thomas Bristol who becomes the love of her life.

I loved this book. Alice’s thoughts on what was happening around her and her thoughts on her research coming to life were fascinating. Her interpretation of the Fourth of July celebrations were quite unique, considering the year she was from and the year she was now living in. One thing I found strange was that no one questioned where she’d come from. You’d think the wagon master or the family she travelled with would at least ask, but I don’t remember that at all.

All through the story, and the heated love scenes, the question hovered – would she return to her own time and if she did would that be the end of any love between her and Thomas? I won’t spoil the story by revealing the ending, but I will say it’s a unique and clever way of finishing the tale.

First Hunt by Ima Erthwitch

First Hunt by Ima Erthwitch
Publisher: Wild Ozark, LLC
Genre: Paranormal, Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Length: Short Story (91 pgs)
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Stargazer

The whole world went a little sideways after the global collapse. Aside from the general mayhem caused when TEOTWAWKI finally struck, there were other unexpected problems. The fabric of the universe ripped and portals to other dimensions sprang from the rifts. Treya signs on to be a bounty hunter with ARSA and has no idea what she’s gotten herself into. In a world where criminals are hunted three times each, bad karma builds fast. Sooner or later, the hunters become the hunted.

Set in the upper Buffalo River wilderness area in northwest Arkansas. Martial law is in effect and the government has secrets. Perhaps it is the knowledge gained by the ARSA team that leads to their demise more than the karma. Luckily, Treya’s mentor has outside connections to a rebel stronghold guarding a portal deep in the hollers of the Ozarks. Together they might all be able to escape the system.

Set in a near future, the existence that Americans currently enjoy is about to change.

After the collapse of the United States and the military law and NATO takeover, Treya watches, helpless as solders take her parents away. She is given a special card and told she should apply for a job with the government as a bounty hunter, but why would she want to work for the same government that took her parents? When her life falls apart more than it had, Treya has to make a choice to either work for the government or starve. In this decision, Treya learns much more about what she holds inside than she has ever imagined.

The character development and between Treya and her mentor is an ongoing process, one which will leave the reader speechless at times. Initially, the gruff individual seems to care for nothing but getting the job done, even to the effect of failing to actually teach Treya as they go along. Yet, after several events, the reader begins to see a completely different side of both characters.

The events that the author describes and the reality that the characters live in is not too far from what could be. The shift from a life of choices to one of regulated military guard is one that is often feared and discussed. The reader will not only be able to understand where the author is coming from, but also understand the decisions that each of the characters make.

I really like the flow of the story. While the story sets up for follow-up sequels, the reader is not left with a bad taste in their mouth from an abrupt ending. In fact, the ending almost has a smooth transition into wanting to continue the journey without feeling forced or compelled.

I highly recommend picking up a copy of First Hunt! This is a Science Fiction story that is not too far out from what could truly be!

A Passport to a Nation of Talking Slugs and Other Stories by Andrew Kozma

A Passport to a Nation of Talking Slugs and Other Stories by Andrew Kozma
Publisher: Kozmatic Press
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Horror, Paranormal, Historical, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (44 pages)
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

A Passport to a Nation of Talking Slugs is a collection of weird, speculative fiction containing four stories of people exploring strange places and situations, from a newly-discovered civilization of six-foot-tall talking slugs to being haunted by a man in a dark chocolate suit. Whether waking up in a prison camp or navigating a city full of copies of themselves, the characters in these stories are bent on understanding their world, even if that understanding also means the end of the world they thought they knew.

If you like the strange side of science fiction, keep reading.

The main character in “Stammlager 76” lived in a prison camp and was gradually forgetting everything about the life he’d lead before being imprisoned there. There were so few details about what was going on in that camp that I had to read this twice before I understood what was going on. Once I figured it out, though, I really appreciated how much Mr. Kozma left up to his audience’s imagination. This is the sort of thing that works really well with his writing style because of how many different ways the ending can be interpreted.

“The Man in the Dark Chocolate Suit” was about a man who was trying to keep the man in the dark chocolate suit from haunting him. I absolutely loved the beginning of this story. Trying to figure out how I should interpret the identity of the strange man who was haunting the main character was just as much fun as attempting to guess how their conflict would end. With that being said, I really needed more hints here. None of the theories I came up with about what was going on were confirmed or denied. It would have been nice to have them narrowed down somewhat.

In “We of the Future are the Ghosts of the Past,” a man watched himself die over and over again. He then realized that the entire city was filled with copies of himself who were all experiencing the same event simultaneously. What I liked the most about this one was how calmly the protagonist explained an incredibly bizarre and dream-like situation. I didn’t want his saga to end. All of my most important questions were answered, but I was still fascinated by what this kind of experience would be like.

Not every vacation is necessarily an ideal one. The most interesting thing about “A Passport to a Nation of Talking Slugs” for me was how unexcited Roger was at the prospect of visiting a faraway land full of large, intelligent slugs. His vacation only fascinated me more as time went on because of how many contradictions there were between what the advertisements for Slugland promised and what the actual destination was like. The beginning and middle were full of questions that the ending only partially answered. I would have liked to see a little more time spent on explaining how everything tied together. I’m still not entirely sure that my theory about Roger’s fate is the correct one.

A Passport to a Nation of Talking Slugs and Other Stories should be savored. There is a lot of meaning to be sucked out of these tales if you take your time with them.

Dark Matter by Elsa Jade

Dark Matter by Elsa Jade
Big Sky Alien Mail Order Brides #3 ~ Intergalactic Dating Agency
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Contemporary, Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Length: Short Story (141 pgs)
Heat Level: Spicy
Rating: 3 stars
Reviewed by Xeranthemum

Dating and mating are the irrational pursuits of mortal races while the rare vrykoly species watches dispassionately from afar. But after his captain and first officer find love with the extraordinary females of Earth, this vrykoly is forced to wonder if he was—dare he say it?—wrong. Piloting the deathly cold and vast distances of space is why he was meant to exist, all he’s ever known, and even his dreams have always been black and still. Can anyone ever love a soul-sucking space vampire?

The third and final finding their bride story is on Earth for only a little bit of time. Outer space calls and the adventure begins when the heroine accepts the invite to climb aboard a spaceship to map a solar system.

Most of Dark Matter takes place between Del and Ivan once they leave Earth for what is expected to be a quiet, scientific exploration of Sin’s (the hero of Alpha Star) new solar system that his grandmother gave him. It’s the perfect opportunity for Del to have the adventure of a lifetime by getting a chance to go into space and she thinks it’s going to be a piece of cake. Well, after she gets used to the blackness of space, being on a ship, a panic attack, eating a very strange food product and the realization that she’s got the hots for Ivan, the hero. Oops.

From the previous two books in the trilogy I got the impression that Ivan was a risky member of the team because he ‘ate’ people; based on something Honey alluded to in the first book. It was related to a reader that he was dangerous, cold and unfeeling. Well, along the way Del finds out that yes, Ivan is dangerous, he is cold but there’s a reason for that and he doesn’t stay unfeeling for long. And the reason he’s been dark and mesmerizing is because of the type of being he is. Honestly, I never saw that coming. I was impressed. Anyway, being in proximity to Del is stimulating something in Ivan’s psyche – perplexing elements of a past genetic history thought long gone. The poor hero was very confused but unwilling to stop exploring what Del is doing to him. He’s discovering that there’s something intriguing about male/female physical relations after all. It’s at that point a reader is assured that the relationship between Del and Ivan was making significant progress. This romance story sure has a different kind of courtship in store for readers.

The drawbacks for me in this novella were that the villain called Blackworm wasn’t a successfully developed plot conflict – sure he’s been a threat since the second book but I never got to meet the scoundrel; that even in this third book in the trilogy it was never resolved as to WHO the traitor was on Sin’s ship, Sinner’s Prayer that was left dangling in the first book, Alpha Star; and the biggest thing was, I was confused about Ivan himself. The descriptions of his species and his references to cold, the elements that consist of his very existence and his matrix and relationship to the universe, and the threat to his continued survival all left me perplexed and baffled. They were certainly unique and fascinating, but I couldn’t follow it enough to decide if it had the capacity to be super sexy, profound or I simply could not grasp the sci-fi aspect of it all. I did like his innocence with the subject of sex and how quickly he caught on, but once again the use of science fiction words for things threw me. How do I pronounce ‘exciton’ anyway?

One thing that the author excelled at was in describing the crash landing, the landscape of the alien environment, and my favorite, the eel. That was a strong and amazing bit of creativity. Even the idea and description of the space lily pads was cool. The one thing Ms. Jade has in spades is a great imagination and I did enjoy most of it.

On the whole, Dark Matter was a good read. Yes, it was a challenge at times but the dynamics and dialogue between Ivan and Del were what kept me flipping the pages. I did enjoy reading about the challenges they both faced as they tried to survive in a very unforgiving landscape. I totally enjoyed Ivan’s enthusiasm once he figured out that sex in action was a lot more fun than he thought, and I thought Del and Ivan were good together. So, as far as the romance goes in Dark Matter, it worked and I totally enjoyed the happy ever after at the end. For Ivan and Del, it was a perfect ending to a very unusual courtship.