Gangs of Galis by Nicholas Woode-Smith


Gangs of Galis by Nicholas Woode-Smith
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Suspense/Mystery
Length: Short Story (23 pages)
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Galis City, crime-ridden capital of Zona Nox, was formed in the desperation of war. For mafia boss, Danny Marzio, this desperation is opportunity. Where the rest of the city sees grit and dirt, he sees glitz and red lights.

For Danny, crime is a business. Violence is just a part of the job. But when one of his men is assassinated, Danny realises that Galis cannot stay like this forever.

In the flames of a perpetual gang war and the shadows of conspiracy, Danny Marzio sees an opportunity. He doesn’t want to be an emperor, but to ensure the survival of his business – he is willing to do whatever is necessary.

Gangs of Galis is a thrilling crime sci-fi prequel to Fall of Zona Nox.

Sometimes law and order comes from the last place you’d expect it to.

The descriptions were vivid. I especially liked how Mr. Woode-Smith showed the audience what was going on in the very first scene when Danny discovered the body of one of his men, Michel. Despite the fact that the main character was looking at a bloody murder scene, there was something eye-catching about the way the author described Michel’s last pose. It was the perfect sendoff to a character who sounded like someone Danny had depended on for a long time.

The plot needed more development. I had so much trouble following the storyline the first time I read it that I had to read it again in order to understand what was going on. There wasn’t enough time spent explaining how everyone knew each other or why Danny was trying to unite all of the various gangs that ran Galis City. I felt like I got bits and pieces of the puzzle instead of the whole thing, and that made it hard to understand even though I was fascinated by the premise.

One of my favorite parts of this tale were the futuristic curse words the characters used. They were creative but also easy to figure out once I paid attention to how the characters used them. While they didn’t sound anything like modern curse words, they served the exact same functions in conversations. This made it easy to understand what the characters were talking about even without any kind of translation going on.

If you like gritty science fiction, give Gangs of Galis a try.

Eccentric Symmetries by Nancy Springer


Eccentric Symmetries by Nancy Springer
Publisher: Untreed Reads
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Holiday, Paranormal, Historical, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (148 pages)
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Eccentric Symmetries, 20 fantasy short stories spanning the forty-year career of author Nancy Springer, showcases tales ranging from the quirky to the transcendent. Including mythic tales of long ago and far away such as award-winner “The Boy Who Plaited Manes,” this collection also contains wry, sometimes humorous contemporary fantasy stories such as “Rumple What?” and “Snow Spawn,” plus mystic magical realism in which cabbage roses grow down from the ceiling (“Mariposa”) and hard-edged future fantasy stories such as “We Don’t Know Why,” a tale of failing “angels.” Like our lives, the stories in Eccentric Symmetries are mostly off-kilter, even laughable, but sometimes achieve a luminous moment of perfect balance, an epiphany. In this carefully selected collection, every fantasy reader should find something to love.

Magic can be found everywhere you could possible imagine.

In “Who’s Gonna Rock Us Home?” Jephed Shue was dreading the idea of being assigned to work for the government for his entire adult life so much that he ran away from home. I was fascinated by the idea of a society choosing occupations for every young person and couldn’t wait to see what his life would be like after he refused to accept his assignment. The more I read about Jephed’s adventures, the more I wanted to know. He has such a stubborn personality that I was never sure how he would respond to the next challenge that crossed his path.

While I enjoyed how all of them began, some of these tales ended so abruptly that I didn’t feel satisfied by how everything was wrapped up. “Gilly the Goose Girl” was a good example of it. The storyline followed a princess named Gillianna who decided to switch places with her maid in order to avoid being married to someone she’d never met before. I was fascinated by this impulsive decision, but it would have been nice to see more time spent on wrapping up the ending. The final scene explained what happened to her, but it didn’t go into hardly any detail about it. I would have preferred to see those events play out in real time instead of condensed into a single paragraph.

One of my favorite stories in this collection was “You Are Such a One.” The main character in it was a middle-aged woman who found her life boring and repetitive. One day she discovered her dream house while out on a drive and struck up a friendship with the caretaker of that place. He told her something that she never would have guessed in a million years. What I liked the most about the plot was how careful it was when it came to which clues it gave the audience about what was happening. Telling too much about it would have spoiled the ending, so I was happy that the narrator was so cautious about that. I surprisingly didn’t figure out the twist ahead of time, although it made perfect sense once everything was revealed.

Eccentric Symmetries should be read by anyone who is in the mood for fairy tales that are set in all kinds of unusual places.

Call of a Succubus by April Garrus


Call of a Succubus by April Garrus
Publisher: eXcessica
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Paranormal
Length: Short Story (19 pages)
Other: F/F, Toys
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

A woman has needs, but they can be hard to fill in the depths of space. Tiris Longsword, one of the greatest bounty hunters in the galaxy, is alone and unsatisfied. Too busy for men, and too frustrated for toys, she is desperate. When Oriel appears, she promises Tiris something more…something unearthly.

Tiris is conflicted. Who is Oriel? Where did she come from? Should she give in? Can she hold out? Will her life ever be the same?

Spaceships can be lonely, dull places. How will Tiris find a way to pass the time?

Tiris was such a great character. I loved how tough, calm, and assertive she was when she was on the job. She’s definitely someone I would want around in an emergency. There are very few things in life that she’d find overwhelming or confusing. What made her even more appealing to me was how she reacted when she finally stumbled across something that defied all of her expectations or logical explanations about what was happening.

There were a few big plot holes that were never explained. A character briefly appeared in the first scene only to never be heard from again. Based on how he was introduced, this wasn’t at all what I was expecting. It would have been nice to have more information for why he was included in the storyline for such a brief period of time. The other part of the plot that I found confusing had to do with where, exactly, Oriel came from and how she found Tiris. I kept expecting Oriel to go into more detail about it and was surprised when she didn’t.

The dialogue was funny and realistic. I especially liked seeing how Tiris reacted when she realized that there was a stranger on her ship. She was just as flabbergasted and alarmed by her new visitor as I expected her to be, and I giggled throughout that entire exchange. It couldn’t have been a better conversation or one that was more appropriate for their personalities.

One of the main characters in this story is a woman who is also a hermaphrodite. It wasn’t something I was at all aware would be part of the storyline when I started reading it, but I found it interesting.

Call of a Succubus was a wild ride. Give it a shot if you’re in the mood for something short and hot.

Visions of Sugarplum by Sara Jay


Visions of Sugarplum by Sara Jay
Yule Tied
Publisher: Changeling Press
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Holiday, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (35 pages)
Other: M/F
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Ice fairy Sugarplum has wanted Santa’s only Cyclops in employ, Heath, for years. She knows he returns her interest, but why won’t he give in to his feelings for her? With a little nudge from her best friend, Ice Queen Erika, she is bound and determined to get what she wants this Christmas.

Heath has secrets that he knows would damage his chances with the curvaceous fairy. He would much rather protect both their hearts than risk something that could hurt them both forever. Will he take a chance once Sugarplum brings him a pretty Christmas present that he can’t resist?

How do you tell the difference between a crush and something that’s much deeper than that?

This story was quite the tease. Every time I thought that Sugarplum and Heath might finally do something about their feelings about each other, something got in their way. The more they were delayed, though, the more impatient I became to see them finally fall into each other’s arms and beds. The sexual tension between them was exquisite. As much as I couldn’t wait to find out what would happen next, I really liked living in the moment as they swerved past one interruption after the next.

There was a little too much time spent on the subplots. As fascinated as I was by the politics of living and working at the North Pole, I would have preferred to spend some of those scenes focused on what was happening with the main characters. With this being said, it’s a minor criticism of a book that I otherwise really enjoyed reading.

Sugarplum was exactly what I’d think a fairy would be like. She was cheerful, sweet, kind, and also fiercely persistent when she set her mind to accomplishing something. There was also a slightly mischievous side to her personality that didn’t show itself right away. I liked her as soon as I met her and sure hoped that she’d find her happy ending.

Visions of Sugarplum made me smile. If you’re in the mood for a saucy Christmas tale, I’d strongly recommend jumping into this one.

The Part That Doesn’t Burn by Sam Poling


The Part That Doesn’t Burn by Sam Poling
Publisher: Tirgearr Publishing
Genre: Paranormal, Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Length: Full (319 pgs)
Rating: 4 stars
Review by Rose

In an overpopulated city-state where technology and magic are forbidden by the corrupt church, young witch, Mirabel Fairfax, plots the creation of a deadly plague to cull the burdensome rabble. That is, until she falls in love with the very alchemist she has been deceiving. Now, with soul-hungry geists flooding the city, the church scrambling for their prey, and her own mind at war with itself, Mirabel must decide what she’s fighting for before she loses everything to the evils of Autumnfall.

The Part that Doesn’t Burn is a fun romp filled with adventures as Mirabel Fairfax and Felix Eggland travel across the country…and, in the meantime, learn more about each other and are changed by each other.

The story is mostly Mirabel and Felix’s story, although we do also get the POV of the church through the eyes of the young priestess who is chasing them—I actually liked her and found her surprisingly sympathetic as she tried to do what she thought was the right thing to do. Ultimately, though, the person most changed throughout the story was Mirabel.

There were times during the first part of the story that I wanted to slap her –she was grating on my last nerve with her self-absorbtionism. However, the longer the story went on, the more I started to like her and realize that her attitude had more of a veneer of self-protectionism on it than true shallowness.

Felix is a bumbling scientific nerd who comes into his own during the course of the story and, even though this is not a romance, still made this reader’s heart fall a little in love with him.

There are some definite twists and turns in this story, keeping the reader on her toes to keep up. To me, however, it didn’t have the feel of a dark fantasy—it put me more in mind of The Wild Wild West (the old TV show) with magic instead of the steampunk elements.

I really enjoyed the world that Mr. Poling built for this story and would like to revisit it—there was a reveal at the end that came as a surprise to me and I really hope he has some other stories in mind.

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You’ve Got Aliens by Fiona Roarke


You’ve Got Aliens by Fiona Roarke
Alienn, Arkansas – 1
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Contemporary, Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Length: Short Story (136 pages)
Heat Level: Sweet
Rating: 5 stars
Review by: Orchid

Librarian and aspiring journalist Juliana Masters has a mystery to solve: Who am I? Armed with the truth about her past, she can leave her humdrum present behind and get on with her future. She just needs to complete one lucrative investigative writing assignment and she’ll be on her way. All she has to do is prove aliens live and work out of a secret facility based under the Big Bang Truck Stop. No problem. Getting her socks knocked off by the Fearless Leader isn’t part of the plan.

Diesel Grey worked for years to achieve his goal of heading up the family business in Alienn, Arkansas. Mission accomplished, but being Fearless Leader of a galactic way station comes with a lot more headaches than anticipated. It’s hard to consider the shockingly well-informed writer a headache, though, especially when she makes him ache in all the right places.

If he’s not careful, he’ll give her everything she needs to blow his family’s cover and expose to the human world that aliens do walk among them.

All he really wants to do is sweep her up in his arms and never let her go.

If only his trigger-happy brother would stop erasing her memories …

Juliana is an orphan who accepts an assignment to earn money to fund research into who she is, where she comes from and what happened to her parents.

Diesel runs the family business in Alienn, Arkansas. He is the Fearless Leader of the galactic way station – which means most of the inhabitants of Alienn are aliens from Alpha Prime.

When the two get together the spark of true love flashes between them, but how can Diesel marry an earthling when he is has all the responsibility of his fellow aliens and the way station for intergalactic travelers?

This book was a bit slow to start but then the fun began. The inner turmoil of both main characters came across beautifully, filling out the story to make it a “can’t put it down” read. Every problem that arose was met with an understandable solution and the mystery in the background made the story even more intriguing.

I originally started reading this book because I liked the title, and I have to admit I wasn’t disappointed by the development and ending. Solutions slotted into place, even if they weren’t what I – as the reader – originally thought the answers would be. Excellent writing style with a good, thrilling story.

Santa’s Reject by Lily Vega


Santa’s Reject by Lily Vega
Yule Tied
Publisher: Changeling Press
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Holiday, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (55 pages)
Other: M/F, BDSM
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Banished from the North Pole for bad behavior, Beryl is shipped off to Fairyville. A scratch from Cupid’s arrow infuses her with Christmas spirit and saddles her with a mad crush on her new boss, Killian — a.k.a. the Tooth Fairy.

Killian despises love and the entire notion of Yuletide celebrations. The last thing he needs is a beautiful Elf spreading holiday cheer and trying to drag him into the sack. After all, Beryl’s love could sour like rotten eggnog once she discovers his secret.

Banishment doesn’t always have to be a bad thing.

There were so many creative touches in this tale. Everything from the names of certain characters to the economic value of the teeth that Killian collected had clearly been thought out carefully. I grinned every time the protagonist drew my attention to yet another funny pop culture reference that had been tucked away in a description or conversation These little surprises made it so much fun to read.

The dialogue was awkward. Both of the main characters often said things they should have expressed through their body language or jumped right into doing instead. This was especially noticeable during their most intimate moments. Those exchanges pulled me out of what was otherwise an entertaining and enjoyable story. If not for this problem, I would have had no problem selecting a much higher rating as I really liked everything else about it.

Killian and Beryl were perfect for each other. I loved watching them spend time together because of how good both of them were at flirting with their body language. They knew exactly which buttons to push to get each other revved up and ready for action. My favorite scenes were the ones where they danced around their attraction for each other for this reason. It was so much fun to see them gradually move closer and closer to revealing their true desires, and I couldn’t wait to see how things would pan out between them.

I’d recommend Santa’s Reject to anyone who is in the mood for some witty erotica.

Deception by John Paulits


Deception by John Paulits
Publisher: Burst Books
Genre: Action/Adventure, Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Length: Short Story (146 pgs)
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Stargazer

Lanyon takes on the job of recovering a shipment of rators, weapons imported from Earth, which have gone missing from the spaceport. A not-so-merry chase begins as Lanyon has trouble detecting the true trail to follow from the false. Jophena, his 12-year-old friend from Selenia, tags along and the complications multiply. The Malcosian Over-minister then hires Lanyon to track down his daughter Meihon again, but Tellurians will have something to say about whether Meihon gets back home or not, and Lanyon soon regrets his decision to take on the assignment.

Working and living for hire means you are always at someone’s beck and call.

Lanyon is who you would call when something needs done right. Quick thinking, easy going but always right on target is how Lanyon operates. When one simple job turns out to be a little more complex than he desired, Lanyon takes a side job that happens to be on the same planet. Things start to heat up and Lanyon tries to smooth things over but things don’t go to plan.

Deception is a fast-paced futuristic story set across the galaxy. Incorporating alien races, advanced technology and a sense of humor, John Paulits makes the world of working for hire in the future an adventure like no other.

Deception is the fifth novel in the Lanyon For Hire series. While I had not read any of the other novels, I did not feel I was left behind. The author does a great job bringing forth events that had happened in the previous novels and how they apply to the current events facing Lanyon and his friend, Jophena.

This book is a great adventure in the world of working odd jobs to keep the galaxy moving smoothly. Lanyon had several situations where it seemed nearly impossible to resolve, yet a bit of luck and some quick thinking puts Lanyon back on the fast track to finishing the job at hand.

Deception, just like the title, means that there is something deeper going on under the surface. Throughout the novel, the author does a great job keeping the reader guessing at who or what is behind the strange events that seem too interconnected to be random.

I truly enjoyed the futuristic adventure of Deception and if you enjoy Science Fiction, I believe you have a great read ahead of you if you pick up a copy of Deception!

The Crimson Curse by Melissa J Crispin


The Crimson Curse by Melissa J Crispin
Publisher: Roane Publishing
Genre: Historical, Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Length: Short Story (65 pages)
Heat Level: Sweet
Rating: 4.5 stars
Reviewed by Orchid

Cursed and disfigured, Calliope must find true love before the final leaf falls from the Enchanted Tree. Being bound to her mansion on the outskirts of town leaves her with little hope.

Abandoned by his wife for a wealthy man, Bastian only needs one female in his life, his five-year-old daughter, Yareena. When she goes missing during a raging fire, fate brings him to a strange place where he encounters a woman wearing a golden mask.

An attack by rogues puts Bastian in Calliope’s care. As he struggles against pride and prejudice, Bastian can’t ignore his growing attraction to the kind soul behind the mask.

Yareena and the mansion staff do their best at matchmaking, but Calliope can’t reveal her darkest secret. Will Bastian discover her true beauty before it’s too late?

Calliope’s mother led her to believe the beauty spot on her face would deter men from courting her. A witch appears and offers to remove the spot, then casts a foul spell which leaves half of Calliope’s face a burned ruin. Before she departs the witch puts a curse on the entire household. Only true love will lift the curse, but if if the last of the crimson leaves of the Enchanted Tree in the garden fall before love appears, Calliope will remain scarred for the remainder of her life.

At first I wondered where this story was going as there seemed to be no reason for anything to change, but once the child Yareena appeared the mansion came alive again. Warmth also grew in Calliope when Bastian Chance, Yareena’s father, appears in her life. Constant misunderstanding and intriguing secrets hidden behind the mansion’s walls draw Bastian and Calliope together then pulls them apart. Warmth and lightheartedness from Yareena helps to solve their differences, before another one causes yet more problems.

A short story but with enough depth to catch my attention and hold it until the end of the book. A good read.

Thrown to the Wolves by Naomi Clark


Thrown to the Wolves by Naomi Clark
Publisher: Evernight Publishing
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Horror, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (42 pages)
Other: F/F
Rating: 3.5 stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Paige went to Romania looking for inspiration for a book. She found herself caught in a horror story. Attacked and left for dead by a vampire, Paige finds herself at the mercy of Kata, a beautiful, enigmatic werewolf. Their attraction is instant, but Paige’s fate hangs in the balance. She may yet be turned into a vampire herself. Soon it’s clear to Paige that the only way to save herself may be to return to the woman who attacked her…even if it means placing both herself and Kata in the greatest danger.

Few things in life will get your blood pumping faster than running around in the woods in the middle of the night while trying to avoid being eaten by a vampire. Luckily, that’s only the beginning of this tale, and it’s not the only thing that will raise Paige’s heart rate.

Paige was such a likeable main character. The first thing I noticed about her was how smart and level-headed she was even when she was surrounded by danger. She was the kind of person who took her own safety quite seriously, and that’s refreshing to see in a modern fantasy story. It made me hope that all of her precautions would pay off for her in the end.

I would have liked to see more attention paid to the conflict with the vampire who attacked Paige just before the first scene began. The characters spent so much time trying to figure out how to handle that threat that I was surprised by how quickly that storyline ended up being resolved. I was fascinated by the idea of werewolves and vampires not getting along, so it was a little disappointing to not get to dive into that conflict very deeply.

The chemistry between Paige and Kata was sizzling hot. Watching the sexual tension build up between them made me eager to see it finally come to a head. I couldn’t wait to see what would happen once they finally ended up in bed together and if the sparks that flew between them could ignite something that lasted far longer than one night.

Thrown to the Wolves should be read by fans of erotica and dark fantasy alike.