The Path: Keeper of Amaarand by E.H. James


The Path: Keeper of Amaarand by E.H. James
The Demon Series Part 8

Publisher: Crushing Hearts and Black Butterfly Publishing
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Horror, Paranormal, Historical, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (54 pages)
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

When Max Jensen is brutally murdered, on September 9, 1962, Timmy Jensen’s life is changed forever.

Timmy adored Max, and his loss was something neither he, nor his parents, could overcome. Shunned and ostracized, as the brother of that murdered teen, Timmy manages to find a job with a kind man by the name of Earl Jackman. Hauling away junk from people’s attics, Timmy meets Jenny Krieger and falls in love. Only Jenny’s father won’t have it, and she is shipped off to boarding school in Europe. But not before he meets Jenny’s grandma and is given a powerful medallion, known as the Amaarand.

Told he can use it to rescue his brother Max’s soul from hell, he must now patiently wait for his opportunity. He just didn’t know he’d have to wait until 2012.

Sometimes the best way to handle a supernatural battle is to wait for the perfect time to strike.

The dialogue was well done. There were a few scenes where characters were able to guess what their conversation partner was about to say and respond to it before the other person had even had a chance to speak. This was a creative way to keep those scene moving, and I enjoyed seeing how easy it was for them to make those educated guesses.

There were some pacing issues in the beginning. It took a while for the narrator to explain what Timmy’s life was like during the years after his brother was murdered. Timmy wasn’t a character I was necessarily expecting to see again, so it was interesting to see how he was brought back into the plot for the grand finale. It was a pleasant surprise, though, and I was glad to see him get more time to show the audience what he was about.

I was quite pleased with how the author wrapped everything up. The previous instalments spent a lot of time creating a complex world that involved everything from time travel to alternate timelines to the notorious behavior of demons who were capable of twisting any human action to their own dark purposes. There was a lot of material to cover because of this, and I was happy with how well it was all tied together by the end of the last scene.

This is part of a series. It should be read in order.

The Path: Keeper of Amaarand should be read by any horror or science fiction fans who enjoyed the first seven parts of this tale.

The Immortals and Other Tales by Victor J. Banis


The Immortals and Other Tales by Victor J. Banis
Publisher: Untreed Reads
Genre: Suspense/Mystery, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Horror, Historical, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (90 pages)
Heat Level: Spicy
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Edgy. Controversial. Thoughtful. Brilliant.

There are a lot of adjectives that have been used over the decades to describe the writings of Victor J. Banis. From his start in gay fiction, to forays into other genres such as mystery and horror, Banis’ unique voice has brought to life a myriad of characters and creatures, excitement and entertainment, as well as the trials and tribulations of love between both gay and straight couples. Gathered here are stories spanning more than five decades of Banis’ incredible career, including “Broken Record,” his first story to ever be published.

No matter how strong they may be, first impressions aren’t always correct.

In “New Kid in Town,” the main character had slowly come to regret her marriage to a kind, wealthy man who was much older than she was. She spoke of her spouse in such glowing terms that I was surprised by how tired she seemed to be of their relationship. The more I read, the more curious I became about what could be making her so unhappy. It was as much fun to discover the twist ending to this one as it was to try to figure out what was going on in advance.

While I deeply enjoyed the majority of the tales in this collection, there were a couple that I thought could use more development. “The Journey (a parable)” was one of them. There was one character, and he or she was never given a name, backstory, or any identifying features. I was intrigued by the idea of a narrator speaking directly to the audience about what they think human intellect can and can’t do for people who are on a literal or metaphorical journey, but I would have liked to see more time spent transforming this monologue into something that also included a traditional sort of plot at some point.

The protagonist in “The Canals of Mars” was a man whose face had been badly scarred in a lab accident. After his boyfriend left him, he had the chance to find love again with an old friend. As their love began to blossom, they both began to experience things that defied explanation. What I enjoyed the most about this tale was how many different ways it could be interpreted. Mr. Banis is quite good at tying multiple genres together in ways that I don’t typically see them combined, and this was one of the best examples of that talent of his that I’ve seen so far.

I’d recommend The Immortals and Other Tales to anyone who is looking for some truly creative mysteries.

Of Noble Blood: Out of the Darkness by E.H. James


Of Noble Blood: Out of the Darkness, The Demon Series Part 7 by E.H. James
Publisher: Crushing Hearts and Black Butterfly Publishing
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Horror, Paranormal, Historical, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (53 pages)
Heat Level: Sweet
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Being the queen’s daughter doesn’t exclude you, when the fate of the world is in the balance. And when Princess Amara has the opportunity to help, she readily accepts.

Transformed into a shape-shifting time traveler, she journeys back through the centuries to the year 1522. Here she retrieves a baby boy and brings him forward to the year 1995, where he becomes Jesse Miller.

Unaware he is chosen, he comes to realize he alone must save the world. And with the help of Amara, he must travel further yet into the future, to destroy the demon infiltration and repair the damaged timeline.

But the story is far from over, and when he returns to 2233, where he lives with Amara, he discovers there is far more to experience than he can possibly imagine.

Imagine what it would be like to remember doing something that technically hasn’t happened in your timeline yet.

The time travel in this story was incredibly complex. Multiple timelines interfered with each other over and over again, so I was glad that the author spent as much time as possible showing the audience what happened in each timeline before and after they were changed yet again. This made for a pleasant reading experience, especially once the pacing picked up and Amara’s mission became even more urgent

There were so many other conflicts going on that I was a little bit surprised when a romantic twist was included as well. While I liked both of the characters who were involved in it and it is a minor criticism, the plot would have been even stronger if it had stuck to the main storyline. The characters had plenty to keep them busy as it was.

As usual, the world building was spectacular. I know I’ve mentioned this in previous reviews of this series, but I love the way all of these stories build on each other over time. There are little details in each one of them that are later expanded on. This makes it important to read everything in order, and it also makes it rewarding for longterm readers who may have wondered about a small detail early on that is only now being fully explored.

I’d recommend Of Noble Blood: Out of the Darkness, The Demon Series Part 7 to all of the fans of this world. It was one of the best instalments in it so far!

S.A.R.A.H. by P.C. Ryan


S.A.R.A.H. by P.C. Ryan
Publisher: Deep Desires Press
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Length: Short Story (24 pages)
Other: M/F, M/F/F, Anal Play, Menage
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Robert Vincent is a thirty-eight year old loner who is awkward with women. In fact, he’s never been laid. But the year is 2040 and automaton technology is reaching a new height.

Desperate, Robert orders the latest model, a companion named S.A.R.A.H. (Sexually Active Robot Artificial Human). He expects at least an exciting substitute, an escape from the endless chain of disappointments in his real life.

What he finds instead, when he opens the crate, is far more than he could ever have imagined.

Could you fall in love with a robot if you knew they were a machine from the beginning?

I liked the fact that Robert’s motivation for wanting to buy a robot were so clearly explained in the opening scene. The loneliness he felt was a serious problem, and he’d clearly spent a lot of time trying to fix that issue in any way he could. I was curious to see if Sarah would give him the companionship he desired so much.

There were many character development issues. It was especially noticeable with the two female characters. While I understood why Sarah would be programmed to agree with everything her owner wanted to do, I found it odd that the other female character behaved the same way since she was human. It would have been helpful to understand what their motivations were and what they actually wanted out of life. I never understood who they were as individuals, and that made it hard for me to empathize with them.

The science fiction elements of the book were fascinating. Early on, the main character explained that robots were so advanced in the 2040s that they could do anything a human being could do other than give birth. I was fascinated by the idea of a machine who looked and behaved exactly like the average person, and I couldn’t wait to find out more.

Robert didn’t face any conflict in this story. I was expecting him to meet resistance at some point during his adventures in order for him to have something to encourage him to be persistent. The fact that it didn’t happen made it harder for me to stay interested in what was happening to him because he seemed to get what he wanted immediately without ever having to negotiate or struggle for it.

One of the other things I appreciated about the main character was how interested he was in giving pleasure to Sarah as well as receiving it from her. Despite the issues with her character development, Robert was clearly determined to make sure she had a good time with him no matter what they were doing.

S.A.R.A.H. should be read by anyone who has ever dreamed about what it would be like to have all of their wishes come true.

Security (Spaceport 1) by Shelby Morgen


Security (Spaceport 1) by Shelby Morgen
Publisher: Changeling Press
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Suspense/Mystery, Paranormal
Length: Short Story (38 pages)
Other: M/F
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

A dark corner of a seedy bar on the edge of nowhere. A woman who’s seen too much. A man who moves through the shadows with the grace of a cat.

She’s on his tail, and he’s determined to find out why. Once he might have been flattered to have her checking out his ass. Now he knows women are dangerous. And far, far too expensive.

But Commander Kala Decoltéir always gets her man, and she wants the space pirate they call Dancer — no matter who — or what — he is. This time, Dancer has no escape.

All Kala was looking for was one night of pleasure to help her unwind from her stressful life. Only time would tell if that’s what she’d receive or how she’d feel the next morning.

The world building was well done. I especially liked reading about the slang terms Ms. Morgen had developed for this universe. The fact that she expected the audience to pay attention and figure out the definitions of them for ourselves only made me more curious to figure them out. They also fleshed out this character’s world in all kinds of subtle but worthwhile ways.

I had trouble keeping track of all of the characters. It was confusing to read about them because there were more of them than I’d normally expect to find in a short story and because most of them weren’t described with a lot of detail. This was something that was most noticeable when it came to Kala talking about the people she knew through her job.

Kala and Dancer had great chemistry. I totally understood why things moved so quickly between them because of how intense their attraction was towards each other. They were clearly a great match inside of the bedroom, and that made me wonder if they’d be good for each other outside of the bedroom in the longterm as well. This was a question I had to know the answer to, so I didn’t stop reading until I’d figured out what would happen to them next.

I’d recommend Security (Spaceport 1) to anyone who is in the mood for something short and steamy.

Nicholas: Lost Innocence, The Demon Series Part 6 by E.H. James


Nicholas: Lost Innocence, The Demon Series Part 6 by E.H. James
Publisher: Crushing Hearts and Black Butterfly Publishing
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Horror, Paranormal, Historical, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (83 pages)
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

On a September night, in 1962, five-year-old Nicholas Starke finds himself alone on a street in Fairfield.

Confused and frightened, he is rescued by a kind couple. When that same couple adopts him, he is able to move on with his life…Only the people in the town of Fairfield won’t let him. And when met with angry and frightened stares, wherever he goes, his parents decide it best to move. But where can you go, when strange happenings follow your every move?

Will Nicholas hold on to what is left of his innocence, or will his brother’s influence be his downfall?

Nobody chooses the circumstances of their birth or what kind of childhood they had, but everyone always has a choice when it comes to how they behave.

The world building in this series keeps getting better the further along in it I go. It was very good in Beyond The Red Door four year ago, and it’s only gotten better since then. There were a few scenes in the beginning that are only now starting to pay off fully for the characters. I’ve enjoyed seeing how the author has developed this universe so far, and I’m looking forward to finding out what happens next.

I would have liked to see more character development for Nicholas Starke. He had a lot of exciting, frightening, and unexpected things happen to him in his life, but I didn’t see many examples of him changing as a result of these experiences. It was also difficult at times to get a feel for his personality. Other than him having a tendency to be cautious, I was never quite sure what other words could be used to describe him.

The creative plots twists are one of the biggest reasons why I enjoy this author’s stories so much. Nicholas: Lost Innocence was just as full of surprises as I expected it to be, especially once the main character grew up and began to explore who he really was and where he came from. I was so interested in finding out where those moments would all lead to that I couldn’t stop reading.

This tale is the sixth in a series. I’d recommend reading the first five before moving onto this one due to how much backstory was covered in them.

Nicholas: Lost Innocence, The Demon Series Part 6 should be read by anyone who enjoyed the first five installments of the The Demon Series.

Abbie and the Alien Official by Jessica Coulter Smith


Abbie and the Alien Official by Jessica Coulter Smith
Intergalactic Brides 14
Publisher: Changeling Press
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Length: Short Story (119 pages)
Other: M/F
Rating: 3.5 stars
Reviewed by Xeranthemum

Abbie prides herself on being a strong, independent woman. Having been on her own since she was seventeen, she’s taken care of herself, doing whatever was necessary to keep a roof over her head and food on the table. But when she loses her job, her car, and her apartment, she begins to think maybe it’s time to admit defeat and ask for a little help. Even if it means becoming the bride of an alien and living on another world.

Councilman Larimar has only wanted one thing since he reached adulthood. A mate. But his duties have kept him from seeking a wife, no matter how many tempting humans enter the bride program. They’re all attractive, and certainly any of them would do. Then he meets Abbie. The moment he sees her, touches her soft skin, he knows he wants her more than his next breath.

Despite Larimar’s reservations when it comes to Abbie, he finds he can’t keep his hands to himself, and the only place he wants her is under his roof and in his bed. When she accidentally ends up pregnant, he knows he has to do whatever is necessary to make her his, and not just because she’s carrying his child. Even if it means studying human mating customs, or inviting her crazy mother to live with them.

One way or another, Abbie will be his.

If you read the synopsis, it pretty much sums up the whole story but it does not capture the emotion that the author manages to inject into Abbie’s character and situation, nor does it hint at Larimar’s gaffe. For such a respected, responsible and hardworking individual, the hero finds those stalwart labels flying out the window in his pursuit of Abbie. It’s the ability to touch a reader’s feelings and sensibilities that made this short story worth reading.

I take umbrage over the wording in the synopsis about Abbie’s mom. The heroine’s relationship with her mom is the strongest emotional element in the story and it’s there that I found the strength and depth that gave this tale that half bit more in the rating. Sure, the sex is well written and gives erotic romance fans their due, but I need more than that. The power of engagement comes from the hero’s fallibility and the heroine’s unconditional love.

There were light brushes of conflict or consternation or annoyance throughout book but the main effect I received from reading this short story was optimism and hope. Okay, so there were a few grins and the enjoyment of some hanky-panky too, so overall, Abbie and the Alien Official was a good read.

If a fan likes their romance with an alien flavor that engages just as well as an erotic Earth-bound romance, then this tale is a perfect short-shot of fun.

Dragon’s Breath by Stephani Hecht


Dragon’s Breath by Stephani Hecht
Publisher: Pride Publishing
Genre: Contemporary, Paranormal, Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Length: Short Story (70 pages)
Other: M/M, Anal Sex
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Reviewed by Mistletoe

Sometimes, to save another, you have to look at your own weaknesses first.

Ever since Nicholas saw the small Dragon in chains in the scrying bowl, he knew that he had to save him. For some reason Nicholas is drawn to the other man and he won’t rest until he knows he’s safe.

Tommy has been a captive from the day he was born. When he is rescued by Nicholas he feels an instant connection to him. But Tommy is afraid to let his guard down and let anybody get close to him.

Can Tommy overcome his abusive past? Or will it doom him and Nicholas from finding love?

Dragons and magic, a hero who saves the day and it is all wrapped up with love. There is not much more you could want from this story. Nicholas is on a mission to save the dragon that he has seen while scrying. Tommy has lived his life as a slave and knows nothing about living free let alone mating. When Nicholas and his brothers come to save Tommy, he does not know what to expect. He longs for a life full of happiness and love, but he has no idea what he can do or expect. Can he learn to trust when he never had a reason to do so before?

Nicholas and Tommy’s story grabs your attention right from the start. I loved seeing the camaraderie between the men and how they work together. The men tease and support one another treating each other as equals and are ready to accept Tommy into the fold. Nicholas tries hard to let Tommy grow and go at his own pace but they both know that their attraction will soon bring them closer to love.

Tommy has lived a hard life and tries to be all that he can when he gets the chance. Showing his independence and growth while learning to deal with his emotions and attraction to Nicholas. It was nice to watch these two men find a way to work together towards their happy ever after. Their emotions shine through in everything that they do, and we can see the bond that they share growing deeper the more that they are together.

This is a fast-paced quick read that grabs your attention right from the start and keeps you turning the pages all the way to the end and even then, it has you wondering what will happen next in this world.

Fire Born by Rayanne Haines


Fire Born by Rayanne Haines
Book 1 The Guardian Series
Publisher: Soul Mate Publishing
Genre: Action/Adventure, Contemporary, Historical, Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Length: Full Length (256 pages)
Heat Level: Spicy
Rating: 4.5 stars
Reviewed by Orchid

Independent, tough as nails, and fierce to her core, Alex Taleisin can’t quite believe it when she has to fight for her life against something not-quite-human in the YMCA parking lot.

That’s when her aunt lets her in on the family secret. They’re immortal—Elementals to be precise, and Alex is the long-lost daughter of the strongest female warrior of their time.

Her guardian (a freaking Dragon!) and the sexiest man Alex has ever seen gives her a choice. Go with him, learn how to control her fire, and find her father’s people, or try to survive on her own. It’s an easy choice considering she’s only twenty-six. And the Elders may already be on her trail thanks to the fight with the nut job in the parking lot kick-starting her dormant DNA.

Enter an insane grandfather, a shifter with a hidden agenda, and a witch with a shoe addiction, and suddenly loner Alex is wishing for a quiet house in the hills with the dragon she’s falling for.

But a fight is coming and Alex knows the only way to find her answers is to trust her powers and become the warrior she was destined to be.

Despite being set in the present, this story also refers to the history of the guardians. Alex comes into her powers which include fire. Collum, her dragon guardian, must keep her safe until she is a full elemental, able to control her magical urges and make them obey her wishes.

This is a wonderful story of dragons, magic, and the solving of an ancient mystery which has bearing of Alex’s past, in particular who her parents were. Life for Alex is mixed up and becomes more so when the weird Elders of the Elementals interfere.

I loved the way this travelled all over the world, but would point out that the author should research her venues. The island off the south coast of England is called Isle of Wight (pronounced white, but not spelled that way). This error took me out of the flow of the story and it took a while to get back into it again as I kept looking for other mistakes.

I really enjoyed reading this book as it had a bit of everything fantasy and in the main was well written. Definitely worth 4.5 stars.

Mrs. Claus by Rhonda Parrish, editor


Mrs. Claus by Rhonda Parrish, editor
Publisher: World Weaver Press
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Paranormal, Holiday, Horror, Contemporary, Historical
Length: Full Length (214 pages)
Rating: 4.5 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Voted BoM by LASR Readers 2013 copy

When you think of Mrs. Claus, do you imagine a quiet North Pole homebody who finds complete fulfillment in baking cookies, petting reindeer and crafting toys alongside elves? How about a magic-wielding ice goddess, or a tough-as-nails Valkyrie? Or maybe an ancient fae of dubious intentions, or a well-meaning witch? Could Mrs. Claus be a cigar-smoking Latina, or a crash-landed alien? Within these pages Mrs. Claus is a hero, a villain, a mother, a spacefarer, a monster hunter, and more. The only thing she decidedly is not, is a sidekick.

It’s Mrs. Claus’ turn to shine and she is stepping out of Santa’s shadow and into the spotlight in these fourteen spectacular stories that make her the star! Featuring original short stories by Laura VanArendonk Baugh, C.B. Calsing, DJ Tyrer, Jennifer Lee Rossman, Kristen Lee, Randi Perrin, Michael Leonberger, Andrew Wilson, Ross Van Dusen, MLD Curelas, Maren Matthias, Anne Luebke, Jeff Kuykendall, and Hayley Stone.

Santa might have demanded the lion’s share of the attention in the old myths about the North Pole, but that’s all about to change for good reason!

In “The Asylum Musicale,” Lizzie, a patient at an asylum, quickly began to wonder where Yessica Klaus, the newest patient there, had come from and why she seemed to be capable of things that no one else could do. The foreshadowing in the early scenes was excellent. I especially liked Lizzie’s descriptions of her life before she was committed and how she responded to Yessica when she began to feel threatened by her. She was a complex person who seemed to believe several contradictory things at once, so it was a lot of fun to weigh the various things she told the audience against each other and come up with my own theories about what was going on before the big reveal at the end.

All of the stories in this collection were creative, diverse, and well written. I never would have guessed that Mrs. Claus could be interpreted in so many different ways or that she could be frightening in one plot and sympathetic in the next. “You’d Better Watch Out” was the only tale that I thought could have used a little more plot development. While I loved the idea of Nick and Fianna Claus adopting a house full of children, I would liked to see a little more time spent on explaining why Fianna ended up with such an unusual part-time job and how she and her husband decided to take in so many kids. With a little more development, this instalment easily would have been my favourite part of the entire book.

“Good Morning” followed Nick and Eve on the one day of the year when they awoke from their slumber and used powerful magic to help Nick deliver presents to every home on Earth. By far the best part of the storyline were the references to who these characters were before they became Santa and Mrs. Claus. One of the things I’ve always found most thought provoking about this couple was how little attention anyone ever paid to why these beings gave away presents or how they ended up together. This story had the most inventive take on their backstories by far, and I deeply enjoyed reading it.

I’d heartily recommend Mrs. Claus to anyone who loves modern spins on traditional fairy tales.