The Relic of Hoomspire by Sasha Gajic

The Relic of Hoomspire by Sasha Gajic
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Middle Grade (8 – 12 y.o.), Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Incredible adventure. Heart-stopping danger. Wholesome exploration. The bonds of family and friendship. Talking dogs. Talking dogs?

If you have a middle grader in your life who loves to dive into exciting science fiction stories, then they’re going to love The Relic of Hoomspire. 10,000 years ago, an asteroid chased humanity into underground cities, leaving most of their world behind – including their four-legged best friends. Friends who missed their humans so much that they would worship and emulate them by using their artifacts to build wondrous cities, learn to speak their language, and rapidly evolve to walk and use tools like them.

Trapped on the surface after exploration gone wrong, three young human siblings would encounter their old companions, and strike out together in search of a map to their underground city entrance and the promise of ancient human secrets. Through tragic loss and heart-stopping danger, the new friends would face shocking revelations that would leave hearts shattered and new bonds strained. But in the face of insurmountable peril, the children and their canine friends would remember just how much they mean to one another.

Mei and Winnie, Su and Chase, Jaden and Copper, they all represent the best and worst in us, but the undeniable power of a love between a human and their dog is something that will always withstand the test of time.

Friendships come in all shapes and sizes.

Telling the truth about history isn’t always easy. I liked the passages that explored how or if new generations should learn about the ugly things their ancestors did or were the victims of. This isn’t a topic that has a black and white answer, so there was plenty of space for nuance here as some characters argued for sharing every last detail while others thought it was better to focus on the positive aspects of the past before figuring out a way to gently mention some of the negative ones.

I did find myself wishing for a little more character development for both the hooms (humans) and the Kineen (dogs). As exciting as it was to read about all of their adventures, there wasn’t quite enough time devoted to exploring their personalities or how the revelation that both groups still existed and were doing well affected everyone who made that marvelous discovery.

The world building was strong and steady. I enjoyed seeing how much effort the author put into the little details of both the human and the dog cultures. Such things add up over time as later revelations build upon what the audience already knew. Some of the best world building moments in my opinion were based on misunderstandings the two groups had created about each other over the thousands of years they had been separated, so keep an eye out for those passages in particular.

The Relic of Hoomspire was adventurous.

Seven Times Unto Eternity by J.S. Frankel

Seven Times Unto Eternity by J.S. Frankel
Publisher: Extasy Books
Genre: Young Adult (14 – 18 y.o.), Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Romance, LGBTQ, Contemporary, Historical
Rating: 5 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Being reincarnated over and over is one thing. Becoming the opposite sex is another. But saving the world is an entirely different story—and it’s also a lot stranger.

You get only one go-around in life, or so the experts say. Paige DeMaster, almost nineteen years of age, formerly Callisto Merriwether, formerly five other lives, has seven chances to right a major wrong. She has seven chances to save the world as well as save herself—and now she’s down to her last chance.

Saving the world is much more difficult than it looks!

I enjoyed the casual and friendly dialogue in this book. It sounded just like the sort of conversations one might accidentally overhear in public places or share with friends and family. This also made it easy to get to know the characters and figure out what their personalities were like as the way they spoke always felt natural to me. It’s certainly not easy to write these things out in such a realistic manner, so I must tip my cap to Mr. Frankel for pulling it off!

Some of my favorite scenes were the ones that explored Paige’s romantic relationship. They fit in so seamlessly to everything else that was going on in the storyline and showed me aspects of her personality that I probably wouldn’t have otherwise taken note of. I thought she and her partner were a lovely match and hoped for a happy ending for them as soon as they became an item.

The world building was strong and consistent from beginning to end. I especially liked the flashbacks to Paige’s previous lives that showed what she learned from them and how she adjusted every time she woke up again in a new era. Of course it would be disorienting at first to speak a new language, worship different gods, and eventually even figure out how the Internet works! Seeing how the main character interacted with the various people she met from one lifetime to the next as she tried again and again to save the world made me yearn for more.

Seven Times Unto Eternity was lovely.

Camp Effigy – A Ghost Story by I A M Watson

Camp Effigy – A Ghost Story by I A M Watson
Publisher: Regenesis Press
Genre: Middle Grade (8 – 12 y.o.), Mystery/Suspense/Thriller, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Paranormal, Contemporary
Rating: 5 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

“Rule number one: no one is to leave designated camper areas for any reason. You will not leave camp without permission. Do not attempt it. And stay clear of locked doors and anything marked as off-limits.”

Camp Effigy is an unusual summer camp destination to say the least. As they pass through the foreboding gates of Hopewell Manor, Dahlia, Serena, and Aria anticipate a bootcamp for troubled girls (and boy, are they troubled). It doesn’t help that the surrounding camp is built on ancient burial grounds deep in some very haunted woods. Strange things happen quickly, leaving our heroines to band together as unlikely friends and fight for their lives at the place where the land of the living and the dead meet and merge. Everything goes off the rails when the campers discover that their own family secrets may tie them to the hauntings that threaten their lives, and that only they hold the key to solving a cold case from 1851.

Every kid breaks a minor rule or two while at summer camp, right?

The horror elements of the storyline were delightfully scary. I shuddered my way through the ones that involved bodies of water and the various entities that can sometimes be found lurking in their depths. They reminded me a little of the various urban legends that are sometimes told around the campfire on warm nights when the looming darkness just past the edge of where flickering flames can cast their light makes every spooky sentence feel bigger and more ominous than it seems during the day. This is a good pick for middle grade or older readers who enjoy being frightened without being grossed out.

There was strong character development for all three protagonists. I enjoyed seeing how Aria, Serena, and Dahlia got to know each other better and worked together to solve the mystery of what was really happening at Camp Effigy. What made this even more impressive was that the author managed to pull it off in a fast-paced novel that didn’t leave a lot of space for long conversations. Much of what I learned about them happened while they were on the run or exploring parts of the camp they had been clearly told were off-limits to them. This gave everything a strong sense of urgency that made it impossible for me to stop reading.

I grinned as Dahlia, Serena, and Aria figured out how they were connected to the cold case from 1851. It was a clever way to tie the present closely to the past and give the characters understandable motives for behaving the way that they did. While I was already enjoying this tale before these details were revealed, I became even more excited to see how it ended once such crucial information about all three girls was revealed.

Camp Effigy: A Ghost Story was the perfect summer read.

The Dark Court by Vyvyan Evans

The Dark Court by Vyvyan Evans
Publisher: Nephilim Publishing
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Rated: 5 stars
Reviewed by Rose

Voted BoM by LASR Readers 2013 copy

A genre-blending dystopian, sci-fi mystery-thriller that will make you think about communication in a whole new way.

Five years after the Great Language Outage, lang-laws have been repealed, but world affairs have only gotten worse. The new automation agenda has resulted in a social caste system based on IQ. Manual employment is a thing of the past, and the lowest soc-ed class, the Unskills, are forced into permanent unemployment.

In a world on the brink of civil war, a deadly insomnia pandemic threatens to kill billions. Lilith King, Interpol’s most celebrated detective, is assigned to the case.

Together with a sleep specialist, Dr. Kace Westwood, Lilith must figure out who or what is behind this new threat. Could the pandemic be the result of the upskilling vagus chips being offered to the lowest soc-ed class? Or are language chips being hacked? And what of the viral conspiracy theories by the mysterious Dark Court, sweeping the globe? Lilith must work every possible angle, and quickly: she is running out of time!

While attempting to stop a vast conspiracy on an intergalactic scale, Lilith also faces shocking revelations about her origin, coming to terms with her own destiny.

This book is the second in the series that explores and warns of what could possibly happen in our near future society. You can read our five-star review of the first book in the series here. Rather than a language outage, this book focuses on a deadly pandemic that seems to be targeting the lowest socioeconomic group…those who have been deemed from testing at birth to be Unskills, permanently unemployed.

Even though it’s the second book in the series, THE DARK COURT can very much stand on its own as it takes place several years after the events of the first book; however, I strongly recommend reading them in order because, while the majority of the book can be understood, the ending will make a lot more sense if you are familiar with the first book.

THE DARK COURT, as does the first book, offer a cautionary tour, but also reaches out beyond our current technology and into more of a sci-fi bend. I really liked this as well as the deeper view of what is going on behind the scenes and the part that Lilith plays in them.

I loved Kace and Lilith and their interactions together. Without giving away an spoilers, I really hope I’ll be able to see them in future books.

This is truly a book that is almost impossible to put down, and I was lucky as I got to read it during a storm when I was without power and distractions, which I absolutely loved!

There is only one problem with reading a book like this… now I have to wait patiently for the next book in the series!!

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Earth’s Final Chapter Winning Collection 2020 by Martha Everitt, Jim Horlock, Jackary Salem, Victoria Clapton

Earth’s Final Chapter Winning Collection 2020 by Martha Everitt, Jim Horlock, Jackary Salem, Victoria Clapton
Publisher: Endless Ink Publishing House
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

A collection of winning stories set in the Earth’s Final Chapter series, part of Volume 1. 2020 contest winners.

Curiosity is a gift that not everyone is given.

Riss needed to go on a raid outside the safety of his city in “The Wilding” to find medicine for his ill uncle. I enjoyed the slow but steady world building in this tale. It was also interesting to meet a protagonist who was not curious about the world outside of his gated community and who was so reluctant to explore it. That isn’t a common personality trait in the science fiction genre, but it made for some fantastic plot twists as he adjusted to the many dangers waiting for him.

The thought of eternal life was all Rezag needed to convince him and his crew to risk their lives searching for the witch who knew how to grant it in “Ever-Life.” He was such a violent and unpredictable character that it took me a while to adjust to him, but I was intrigued by the glimpses of his past that explained why he was so ruthless and gave examples of times he had shown mercy to others. Complexity made reading more enjoyable, and I would have happily kept learning about the high-risk choices his crew made.

I struggled with the world building in “Lungs Full of Water.” As interesting as it was to see how Grant survived a pirate attack that killed everyone else in his crew and should have claimed his life as well, I had so many unanswered questions about how magical powers work in this world that it was difficult to remain focused on the plot. This was still a good story, but I did find myself wishing it had been explained more clearly.

In order to keep the last remnants of Irish culture alive, Muireann had to journey to a place she’d only heard about in fairy tales in “Intertwined.” The plot twists in this story were numerous and kept me guessing. I smiled as she shared the clever tricks her small village had come up with in order to survive against steep odds and with no outside assistance. She was a brave protagonist who I was pleased to get to know.

Earth’s Final Chapter Winning Collection 2020 was imaginative.

Obedience by Isabella Jordan

Obedience by Isabella Jordan
Publisher: Changeling Press
Genre: Contemporary, Erotic Romance, Paranormal, Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Rating: 3 stars
Reviewed by Fern

A princess with a problem… Meela must marry a prince from another planet in order to ensure the security of her people. Trouble is Meela’s known to be a bit feisty, and sometimes that gets her into trouble. It’s bad enough she has no say in who she’ll marry. Worse still, the queen places an obedience curse on Meela to thwart her errant ways. As a result of the curse, Meela finds herself in plenty of predicaments not exactly fit for a princess. But what’s a princess to do when two gorgeous hunks come along and place sensual demands on her Meela’s not sure she can — or even wants to — deny?

Meela might be a feisty princess, but she knows she has to marry a prince for the good of her people. But when the Queen puts an obedience curse on her to curb her feisty ways the magic has some unexpected consequences.

I found this to be a fun and rather sassy short story. I thought the twist in the tale about the Obedience curse was a stroke of genius and I really enjoyed the slant to the story as a whole. The first chapter really setup the situation Meela had found herself in – and both the good and bad aspects to the queen’s curse – and all the sexy shenanigans rolling in from those consequences was a fun delight to read.

I thought the author showed a good balance between Meela being unable to refuse a command and having the curse force her to obey, but equally not pushing past the ilne of non-consent. I do admit that while the ending felt just a little cliched to me, it was very satisfying, and I feel most readers should be very happy with the twist.

Sexy and fun, this is a quick read I feel many readers will enjoy.

Scars by G.A. Bassier

Scars by G.A. Bassier
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Romance, Paranormal, Contemporary
Rating: 5 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

They say love can heal all wounds…but some scars may run too deep.

Eight months ago, while in a werewolf rage, Lily escaped her cage and killed an innocent person. Every moment since then, Lily’s guilt has grown heavier and more suffocating. Just as it threatens to engulf her, she meets a kind stranger who is struggling through his own turmoil after losing his beloved wife.

Sitting in a coffee shop with Jack, Lily smiles for the first time in eight long, dark months. She and Jack love all the same things: Star Wars, banana bread, even cheesy eighties movies. In spite of her lingering guilt, Lily starts to fall for him. Jack makes it easy. He trusts her. He worries about her. He never compares her to his lost love. Jack makes Lily want to live again–and she does the same for him.

There’s just one problem:

The innocent person Lily killed was Jack’s wife.

It’s never too late to turn things around and try again.

The premise of this novella grabbed my attention immediately, and I thought the author handled the dilemma of a werewolf falling in love with the widower of the woman she accidentally killed in a sensitive and beautiful manner. The tension between their developing relationship and Lily’s terrible secret made it impossible for me to stop reading. Of course, she would have no idea how to bring this topic up to Jack and would struggle to figure out what to do!

Given the tragedy that brought them together, it made total sense for things to develop slowly and unevenly between Jack and Lily. This was exactly what needed to happen in order for me as a reader to want them to live happily ever after, and their chemistry was perfect. What made it even more impressive was the fact that the characters evolved from meeting each other, to falling in love, to discovering the truth, to reaching the climax of this tale within such a short time period. Many authors would need a few hundred pages to reach the same conclusions, so getting it done in about forty pages instead was impressive.

I was blown away how many layers of detail and meaning the author was able to include as well. Yes, the main plotline was romantic, but the writing also included thoughtful messages about the meaning of life and how one can begin to heal from something that may feel insurmountable. This is the sort of story I’d especially recommend to readers who might not normally like the romance genre but who are willing to try the cream of the crop of it.

Scars couldn’t have been better. Bravo!

Cryptid Bits by Jess Simms

Cryptid Bits by Jess Simms
Publisher: Last-Picked Books
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Paranormal, Contemporary
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Cryptids. At the movies and at the bar, cryptids. In china shops and running for office, cryptids. Cryptids, cryptids everywhere.

Mythical beings need to earn a living, too!

The world building was incredible. Getting glimpses of so many different residents, notable spots, and moments in time in this neighborhood gave me a well-rounded understanding of what it would be like to visit The Fairy District if it were a real place. If the author ever decides to write a sequel, I’d love to dive even more deeply into the many different species that call this area home and how they are being affected by human gentrification.

I would have loved to see more character development. Meeting the characters was a memorable experience, but there was never a lot of time to get to know most of them better due to how brief each section was and how many different folks there were to meet. Louise, a local mortician, was one such creature that I wish I could have had more time with as she seemed to have a fascinating life as an undertaker. This pattern was the only thing holding me back from choosing a full five-star review.

Some of this flash fiction was written in the style of online news articles or reviews of different businesses. What made these pieces even more unique were the comments included by various members of the community and visitors who had strong opinions about the event, business, or topic being discussed. I loved the originality of these sections, especially when it came to the many types of feedback that can be shared in such places. A kind commenter might be immediately followed by someone who had a harsher perspective, but the variety of it all made it feel incredibly realistic.

Cryptid Bits was delightfully creative. I can’t wait to read more from this author.

Beyond Mortal Bounds – Memoir of a Ghost by Gina Easton

Beyond Mortal Bounds – Memoir of a Ghost by Gina Easton
Publisher: Touch Point Press
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Paranormal, Romance, Contemporary, Historical
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Heather Radcliffe, a successful author, is approached by Fiona, a ghost, to write Fiona’s memoir. What follows is a tale of love, betrayal, madness and the quest for atonement. It is the story of two women—one living, one dead—and the man they both love . . . and the issue of love’s ability to endure beyond death itself.

Death is the beginning, not the end.

The dialogue was smooth and believable. Often I could tell who was speaking before I finished the sentence because of how uniquely the two main characters were written. As much as they had in common, there were important differences between them that influenced how they spoke. It takes a lot of work to pull something like this off, so I must acknowledge the effort there and share my gratitude for it. This is the sort of flourish in a story that makes reading even more enjoyable than it already is.

I was surprised by how quickly Heather believed the ghosts who approached her for help. As much as I liked her innocent and trusting personality, there were times when I wondered why she didn’t make any efforts to verify what she was told and only spent a small amount of time trying to protect herself from anything in the spirit world that might try to attach itself to her. There was one scene that described a ritual she went through after talking to spirits in order to discourage them from sticking around. This reader was fascinated by that process and wished that the protagonist had spent more time describing it as well as taking additional precautions to protect herself from spirits she was still getting to know.

Some of the most memorable moments in my opinion were the ones that explored Heather’s previous lifetimes and how they helped to explain why her personality clicked so well with certain people she met in her most recent body. Reincarnation is an interesting explanation for why this happens, especially when it is explored in fiction that shows how those individuals knew each other in previous lives and why their fates have remained so tightly entwined. This is a trope I’m always happy to discover in books, and I thought Ms. Easton made good use of it here.

Beyond Mortal Bounds: Memoir of a Ghost was satisfying.

The Succubus’s Prize by Katee Robert

The Succubus’s Prize by Katee Robert
Publisher: Trinkets and Tales LLC
Genre: Erotic Romance, LGBTQ, Paranormal, Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Dicentra

Belladonna was born wrong. At least that’s what her parents, religious community, and even her beloved sister believe. Walking away from the church hasn’t helped her come to terms with her purpose in life, and when her sister is diagnosed with cancer, Belladonna has nowhere to turn…until a demon offers her a deal.

After agreeing, nothing is like she expects. There’s no fiery hell to speak of. Her soul seems to still be her own. All she’s required to do is serve. When she’s auctioned off to Rusalka, a powerful and ruthless succubus, her confusion only grows. Rusalka surprises her at every turn, even refusing to allow Belladonna to bear a child that would benefit the entirety of their territory.

Rusalka has sacrificed everything for their people. There are no lengths they won’t go to as leader…but they see something of themself in Belladonna, a familiarity that tempts beyond anything they could have dreamed. They want to keep her.

But if Belladonna can’t release her shame and step into a future where she’s living for herself instead of in service to others… Things may be over even before they begin.

I will basically read any romance books that Katee Robert writes with a fantasy element at this point, so it was a no-brainer that I picked up The Succubus’s Prize (fourth book in the A Deal with a Demon series) as soon as it was released through Kindle Unlimited. While the book maintains the author’s trademark spice and romance, she also does a great job bringing deep emotional scenes into such a short story.

If you’ve been following the series, you’ll know that bargainer demon Azazel brought five human women to the demon realm to be auctioned off to each territory’s leader in the hopes of brokering peace throughout the realm. A disclaimer for those who might not have followed the series: all of the humans made their deals of sound mind, got things out of the deal, and have protections in place such that they cannot be harmed by the respective territory leader. Some of the choices were random, however things worked a little differently for Rusalka, leader of the succubi and incubi as Azazel basically said you need to pick this specific human (Belladonna). Belladonna has been traumatized in the past, and Azazel felt that the succubi powers of sensing emotions would be the best fit to help her (compared to those of the gargoyles, kraken, or dragons). Despite that advantage, the two of them have a lot to work through before they can make true headway in the relationship (and hopefully have a child to strengthen the territory in the future).

Prior to the release of the book, the author made it clear on social media that the book deals with a lot of religious trauma. Belladonna was raised to believe she was bad because she was queer, and that she was only of value if she was of use to others. Even the deal Belladonna made that brought her to the demon realm was a sacrifice in service of someone else. Rusalka and the others in the Insomnior Court worked hard to gently get Belladonna to be more comfortable in expressing what she wants and coming out of the indoctrination her family overwhelmed her with. They also gave her the space to make sure what she was saying was what she wanted, even if they were unsure about it themselves. There were definitely some uncomfortable moments, but as a reader it was a great experience to get to see Belladonna’s journey of healing and growth. Things do feel like they end a bit abruptly given the length of the book, but I loved the epilogue and I hope we get to see more of these characters in the future.

If you’re looking for a quick monster romance book you can finish in an afternoon, this would be a great choice for you. However, if you’re looking for a longer romance tale, complete with extensive worldbuilding and more in-depth character development you might be better served looking at another title on the author’s backlist instead. We got more glimpses of Azazel and their relationship with Eve, so I’m super excited for when the final installment in the series The Demon’s Queen will come out in 2025.