Arjun’s Pup by H. C. Brown

Arjun’s Pups by H. C. Brown
Publisher: Luminosity Publishing
Genre: Contemporary, Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Length: Short Story (82 pgs)
Other: M/M, Ménage, BDSM, Toys, Anal Play, M/M/M
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Mistletoe

Big Brother is watching every kinky move they make.

After Deon’s Artificial Intelligence module breaks down, Arjun must travel back to the future to collect the alloy he needs for the repair.

To gain access to a probe due to land on Amun 2 in the next few days, he must volunteer as a Dom in an experiment in multiple partner male-on-male sex run by the Klebs.

Arjun discovers the Klebs are using the “experiment” as an excuse to run a live feed BDSM porno channel around their world and gives them a performance they will never forget.

I was excited to see a second book in the STARMEN series from H. C. Brown. In Arjun’s Pups, the series continues with Arjun having to travel through time and space in order to save his good friend Deon, who’s in the first story. I quickly found myself immersed in Arjun’s story. He goes to a place that is using humans as cattle in their so called sexual experiments. The humans do not know and Arjun must make a choice to help them or let them remain unaware and hurting. As Arjun goes about his mission he meets two men that pull at him more than any others ever have and he cannot let them go. Will Arjun find a balance and be able to stop the aliens from experimenting on the humans and save Deon?

Arjun’s story moves along quickly and brings together three good men. Each character is strong on his own and when the three men work together there is no stopping them. Mason and Rhy are good matches for Arjun, both men add something different and special to their relationship. Rhy and Mason must also figure out just where they fit in with Arjun. Will they make the choice for love or go their separate ways? I enjoyed watching the three men find their way to a happy ending.

Their story is a nice mix of emotion and adventure. The author brings their world to life nicely. This was a nice peek at how these three men come to be together and I hope that we get to see more from them and this world in the future.

Sticky Sweet by JJ Lore

Sticky Sweet by JJ Lore
Publisher: Loose Id
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Length: Short Story (39 pgs)
Other: M/M
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Nymphaea

From a race known for their hedonistic delight in life and emphasis on pleasure and amusement, Artem is a frustrated chef serving prepackaged meals to bored customers on the space station. His one true pleasure comes in the form of an end-of-shift dinner-visit from Constable Driver, once every third day. For months, Artem’s been dreaming about serving the Constable a more physical dessert. When he thinks Driver’s been reassigned, Artem grabs what might be his only chance and woos Driver by palate. If he’s lucky, it might just end up sticky sweet.

Two lonely souls, a diner and a chance to open up. Who wouldn’t want to take the chance?

I wasn’t sure what I was getting when I picked up this short book. I mean, Sticky Sweet. It’s an interesting title, but will the story be overly cutesy or will there be something more? I’m glad to say there was a lot more.

JJ Lore has written a fun, yes fun, story in a few pages. The characters are complex and the plot, while it maybe isn’t so complex, it drew me right in. The writing was tight and I enjoyed myself. This is a quick read, but I had to pay attention. I didn’t want to miss a moment…or a morsel. I like stories with mismatches and Artem and Driver are such characters. But the way they’re written, I could see them being together before they screwed up the courage to try to make it so. I loved how Artem finally opened up and his skills in the kitchen are…yeah, out of this world. Then there’s Driver. He’s in law enforcement. Lore totally got the loneliness and the questioning of a man in Driver’s position, but wrote him with a rich balance of questioning and concern for Artem. I liked these characters and will be on the look out for more featuring them.

If you want a hot, sweet book for a lunch hour read, then this might be the book for you. Recommended.

The Bat by Leslie W P Garland

The Bat by Leslie W P Garland
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Suspense/Mystery, Horror, Paranormal, Historical
Length: Short Story (83 pages)
Rating: 5 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

With “fake news” hitting the headlines, I thought it would be nice to look at “truth” and muse on questions such as “what actually is true?” and “what is Truth?” using a fantasy story as a foil for same.

In this coming-of-age story Thomas recounts the events of a term at school when his class returned to a new beautiful class teacher, a donation of stuffed animals and birds by an eccentric benefactor which he and his friends subsequently discovered weren’t quite as dead as they looked, an exorcism in which a bell-jar which had contained a bat shattered, and then things, which up until then had been strange, turned to being sinister and frightening.

In an attempt to understand what was going on, Thomas found himself reading up on Black Magic, Satanism, the early Christian Church, and the worship of evil, but instead of assisting his understanding this made him more confused than ever. Even a conversation with his local priest failed to resolve the problems he found himself wrestling with. What was true? What was the Truth? And of course, where was the bat?

An adult fantasy story for those who like to think about what they are reading.

The difference between good and evil isn’t always as easy to figure out as one might think.

One of the many reasons why I’m such a huge fan of Mr. Garland’s work is that it requires some effort from the reader in order to be understood. He’s the sort of writer who will give his audience a few important clues and then expect them to come to their own conclusions about what happened based on how they chose to interpret those clues. This was the perfect kind of storyline for this writing style because of how slippery people’s memories can be. Two people can remember the same moment in time in completely different ways depending on what their minds were paying attention to back then.

The character development was handled beautifully, too. At times I forgot that the narrator was remembering things that happened to him and his community decades ago because of how caught up I was in what young Thomas was experiencing and how much those events affected the way he saw the world. While I don’t know if the author would ever be interested in write a sequel about this specific character in this series, I’d sure like to read it if he does.

There was nothing gory about the horror in this tale, but that didn’t make any less frightening. I appreciated the way the fear sneaked up on me as I was reading. It wasn’t something I noticed at first, but I was pretty scared by the final scene. There is definitely something to be said for being scared by the threat of something terrible happening almost as much as I was by what actually occurred. Anticipation was one of the narrator’s biggest weapons, and he used it well.

The final reason why I gave this book a perfect score is that it wrestled with so many intriguing questions about faith, morality, grief, and what it means to be a good person without spoon-feeding any answers to the audience. I deeply enjoy philosophical discussions about these kinds of topics, and Mr. Garland gave me a lot of food for thought. I will be thinking about the various points his characters made for a long time.

This is part of the “The Red Grouse” series, but it can be read on its own or out of order.

The Bat chilled me to my core. It’s a must-read for anyone who loves though-provoking and intelligent stories.

Myth City by Anya Howard

Myth City: A Modern Retelling of The Pied Piper of Hamelin by Anya Howard
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (92 pages)
Other: M/F
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

A modern Dystopian retelling of The Pied Piper of Hamelin by Romance author Anya Howard.

After a nuclear battle, globalism has claimed power over every aspect of human life. A select group of survivors have been given refuge in the technological haven called the City. Here, every aspect of daily life is dictated by the laws of the governing Elders. One brave woman dares to risk the severest repercussions when an attractive stranger arrives from a place the Elders claim cannot possibly exist. When this man’s skills with a musical pipe are sought by the Elders, the dismal world they govern will be changed forever by the simple breaking of their word.

There’s more to life than following the rules.

The world building was handled well. I really enjoyed learning about the different roles that people could have in the City. It was such a strict society that I couldn’t stop wondering how folks managed to live in that kind of environment for a whole lifetime. The more I learned about it, the more curious I became about how it might change after Graham, the attractive stranger, came to visit. The odd way the City was set up became even more clear when I compared it to how Graham liked to live.

This story would have benefited from another round of editing. I noticed multiple typos in it, especially when it came to run-on sentences and the misuse of punctuation marks. There were also some sentences that didn’t make sense because they were either missing important words or had extra words added to them in ways that weren’t grammatically correct.

The chemistry between Apple and Graham was wonderful. I liked the fact that their relationship was given so much time to develop before anything sexual happened between them. It made a lot of sense due to the rigid culture Apple grew up in. By the time they decided to finally touch, I couldn’t wait to find out what would happen next or if they’d end up together for good.

Myth City: A Modern Retelling of The Pied Piper of Hamelin should be read by anyone who enjoys modern twists on classic fairy tales.

The Night Mark by Tiffany Reisz

The Night Mark by Tiffany Reisz
Publisher: Mira
Genre: Contemporary, Historical, Sci-Fi/Fantasy (Time Travel)
Length: Full Length (380 pgs)
Heat Level: Sensual
Rating: 3.5 stars
Reviewed by Nymphaea

She has nothing to live for in the present, but finds there’s something worth dying for in the past…

From Tiffany Reisz, the international bestselling storyteller behind The Bourbon Thief and The Original Sinners series, comes an enthralling new novel about a woman swept away by the tides who awakens to find herself in 1921, reunited with the husband she’s been mourning for four years. Fans of Kate Morton and Diana Gabaldon will fall in love with the mystery, romance and beauty of an isolated South Carolina lighthouse, where a power greater than love works its magic.

Love comes in peculiar ways, but if we’re willing to embrace it we’ll win.

Tiffany Reisz has a way with words. I can’t lie. The author is a true story teller. As soon as I read the blurb, I wanted to devour this book. Who doesn’t like a time travelling romance? Who doesn’t want a happy ending?

I’m glad to say I got what I wanted from this book. The characters are interesting and the landscape fascinating. The descriptions of the lighthouse and what Faye sees are breathtaking.

But…as much as I liked the book, there were a few quibbles. The writing is good, no doubt, but I put the book down a handful of times and getting back into it was difficult. That’s not to say it wasn’t a good book. It was. But it had a hard time occasionally holding my interest. I also had a bit of a time with the jumps in time back and forth to 1921. I had to go back and reread to make sure I knew what was going on. Still, it was good.

I liked Faye, the heroine, too. She’s been through hell and come back. I didn’t always agree with her decisions, but hey, that’s fine. She’s a very twenty-first century woman and seeing her with a very twentieth century man–Carrick, was good. The thing was, I had a hard time connecting with her. I kept expecting more from her. But that doesn’t mean she was a bad character or it was an unsatisfactory read. Far from it. The author deviated from what I thought would happen and that’s fantastic. I’d rather be surprised and I was. Carrick was my favorite character. Strong, quiet and very Irish, I could practically see him whenever he was on the page. He’s the best part of the book for me.

If you’re looking for a book that spans time frames, that’s written eloquently and is not the norm, then this might be the book for you.

Dragon’s Trail by Joseph Malik

Dragon’s Trail by Joseph Malik
The Outworlders, Book One
Publisher: Oxblood Books
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Length: Full Length (436 pgs)
Rating: 4.5 stars
Reviewed by Poinsettia

“I didn’t come here to sell my soul. I came here to buy it back.”

Once dubbed “The Deadliest Man Alive,” Jarrod Torrealday is a former Olympic saber hopeful and medieval weapons expert banned from competition for killing another fencer in a duel. He now scrapes by as a stuntman and technical consultant for low-budget fantasy films.

A young sorcerer from another world offers Jarrod the gig of a lifetime: adviser to the war council for a magical realm teetering on the edge of collapse, with a foreign army massing just beyond its borders.

Swept into a treacherous and deadly world of intrigue and conspiracy, Jarrod soon learns that the enemy mastermind is also from Earth, and has laid the foundations for a new kind of war.

Jarrod has nothing left to lose.

Jarrod’s life is in shambles. At the height of his career, he lost it all and has been in a tailspin ever since. When Crius, a sorcerer from another world, approaches Jarrod with the opportunity to be a hero again, he gladly accepts. Fortunately, Jarrod isn’t going alone. His good friend Carter, also an exceptionally skilled warrior, is invited as well. Together they have the power to turn the tide of war.

Jarrod and Carter adapt to the medievalesque world of Gateskeep very quickly. While they are well versed in the weaponry and armor of that type of civilization, I would think that knowing about it would be quite different from actually living it. They did have quite a bit to learn, but they acclimated to their new surroundings just a bit too easily for my taste.

Jarrod is a very likable character. He doesn’t tolerate bullies, and he never hesitates to stand up for those in need of his help. His fighting and weaponry skills are far beyond anything the people of Gateskeep have ever seen. While many are impressed with Jarrod’s skill, others seek to eliminate him immediately. In fact, Jarrod finds himself in so many fights that I began to wonder if he would even live to see the war. However, Jarrod wins practically every conflict he becomes tangled in. Ordinarily, I would say this is unrealistic, but Mr. Malik makes it seem completely plausible. As if his skill in combat weren’t enough, Jarrod also has the brains to back up his brawn. He has the ability to analyze his enemies and predict their next moves on the battlefield and off. As I read, I eagerly anticipated his confrontation with the sorcerer.

Perhaps the most striking thing about his novel is Mr. Malik’s attention to detail. Absolutely everything, the fights, weaponry, people, animals, weather, etc., is described meticulously making this strange new world feel very concrete and realistic. Consequently, I feel that this is not a book to race through. It is a book to savor and soak in all the details.

I highly recommend Dragon’s Trail. I thoroughly enjoyed following Jarrod and Carter’s adventures in Gateskeep, and I look forward to the next installment in the series. Fans of fantasy would do well to pick up a copy today.

Fire in Her Blood by Rachel Graves

Fire in Her Blood by Rachel Graves
Publisher: The Wild Rose Press
Genre: Contemporary, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Mystery/Suspense
Length: Full Length (402 pgs)
Heat Level: Spicy
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Daisy

Death witch and Detective Mallory Mors arrives at the scene of an out of control arson called by a victim who desperately wants to die. Using her powers, Mallory battles the strongest fire witch in town to help the woman cross over.

When she’s forced to work with the angry fire witch, she discovers their lives are linked in complicated ways. As all the other fire witches in the city mysteriously lose their powers, the heat is on to solve the case. Saddled with a vampire assault at the local supernatural brothel, a missing person who doesn’t want to be found, and a mess of vampire politics, Mallory struggles to put together the pieces before the city burns.

This book has all the elements of what I would call a riveting read. Despite being the second book in a series, it’s still a fully contained tale. Mallory Mors is a rookie detective in a magical world with numerous bad guys capable of burning people to a crisp, and her home life is steamy, with a head vampire beneath the sheets. Her latest story is full of fire witches and a tangled mystery of arson and death by fire, plus a bonus mystery surrounding the fire witches in her friendship circle.

As a protagonist, Mallory is spontaneous without being stupid, but she is naïve and green in her job, her powers and her beliefs, something I sense will change as the series progresses. I found the intricacies of her love life politics to be played well, most of the time, though occasionally she let a fight go too quickly, as did her partner. Their frequent time in bed, or heading towards it, vividly goes through the play by play of the event and is full of screams, primitive and primal alike. For me, this went too far and ended up sounding unrealistic, a caricature of the event. However, this may have been because I was far more interested in the mystery playing out within the book and found the romance to be a relatively boring interruption in this part of the narrative.

The mystery running through this story was what kept me hooked through the conflictless love scenes and the occasional typo. With fire after fire killing, maiming, and destroying buildings, the culprits were known but not their motives, or their location. The manhunt to find them, bouncing through many seedy establishments along the way, was riveting and gave me a wonderfully thorough introduction to the society and world Graves is building in this series. The payoff to this mystery was a little predictable and I had guessed the outcome from maybe halfway through the book, but there was a twist or two in there which made me smile.

This series is sure to appeal to people who like sex with their mysteries. Some readers may recognise it as a more mainstream version of what Laurell K Hamilton creates in her Anita Blake series. What draws me to the series above all else, are the potential conflicts to come. Mallory has embedded herself into a life with a vampire who keeps his professional life as head vampire of the city secret. Since an old friend of his has reappeared on the scene and become central to Mallory’s work, there’s much for her to learn and, I suspect, much she would not like. I’m eager to find out how those mysteries reveal themselves in later books. I imagine Mallory is in for a rough ride!

A Symphony of Heart Strings by T.E. Hodden

A Symphony of Heart Strings by T.E. Hodden
Publisher: Roane Publishing
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Paranormal, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (50 pages)
Heat Level: Sweet
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Meet Bob. Bob is the guy between the lines of every love story you ever met. The lucky chance, the twist of fate, the astounding coincidence that sets sparks flying. Never seen, but always there.

Today Bob is assigned to help Jenny find love. But there is something more than bad luck working against the quirky librarian. Bob might have to save her life, before he can help her find love.

And he can’t do that from the shadows…

You don’t need luck to fall in love. You need Bob.

The world-building was amazing. It honestly felt more like a chapter out of a full-length novel because of how complex and logical it all was. Everything the main character explained about his world made perfect sense, but it also left me yearning for more. I had never stopped to wonder what it would be like to be the entity who makes people fall in love, but now I can’t stop thinking about how such a system would have first been set up or what might happen to Bob next.

I would have liked to see a little more time spent developing Bob and Jenny’s personalities. I loved the shy and sweet parts of their personalities that were revealed, but I finished this book with a few lingering questions about how they behaved in general. There was so much time spent on creating the incredible world that they lived in and moving the plot forward that this part of the storyline didn’t get quite enough attention. With that being said, I still deeply enjoyed this tale. This is only a minor criticism.

The descriptions of the places Bob went and the people he met were so vivid. I especially enjoyed his descriptions of how humans are connected to each other and how he figured out which folks should be gently encouraged to get to know each other better. While I can’t say much more about this without giving away spoilers, there was some gorgeous writing in these passages that got Bob’s point across perfectly.

A Symphony of Heart Strings was both a beautiful love story and a thrilling urban fantasy. I’d heartily recommend it to fans of either of these genres.

Icarus by David Hulegaard

Icarus by David Hulegaard
Publisher: Self Published
Genre: Historical, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Suspense/Mystery
Length: Full (271 pgs)
Rating: 5 stars
Review by Rose

It’s the winter of 1947 in Ashley Falls, West Virginia, and a teenage girl has gone missing. Local private detective Miller Brinkman takes the case, quickly uncovering a string of bizarre clues. A hidden diary, cryptic riddles, and buried secrets all pique Miller’s interest, but one key detail gives him pause: the girl’s parents haven’t reported her disappearance to the authorities.

As the case deepens, Miller’s investigation begins to poke holes in the idyllic picture of his beloved hometown. No longer certain whether anyone in his community can be trusted, Miller dives headfirst into a desperate search for the truth that extends far beyond the borders of Ashley Falls. He soon discovers that his missing persons case is not an isolated incident, but part of an otherworldly mystery—one that, if confronted, may threaten the very future of humanity.

This is my first book by this author, and it will definitely not be my last. I have already bought the second book of this series, and I can’t wait to read more of it.

Miller Brinkman is a private detective in his small hometown of Ashley Falls, WV, in the late 1940s and is happy staying right where he is—mostly because he suffers from anxiety attacks. His anxiety accounts not only him staying in Ashley Falls, but also explains why he is still single.

He becomes involved in a missing persons case which takes him out of his comfort zone – leading him to Washington DC and Maryland. It also leads him back to his ex-love, who helps him in his investigations.

Icarus is full of adventure, twists, mystery, and thrills – keeping me on the edge of my seat. The tone is definitely “noir”, reminding me of some of the hardboiled detective shows from the same era. It’s hard to tell much about the book without getting into spoilers, but there is a definite shift towards the end of the book, and I’m looking forward to discovering more about the bigger story involved.

The characters are wonderfully drawn—Miller, his ex-love Charissa, a mysterious stranger who leaves Miller clues, and even the “bad guys.” Although Miller has his weaknesses and second-guesses himself, he has a great deal of integrity and wants to do what’s right–not only for Jane, the missing girl, but for other people who have also been affected.

Kudos, Mr. Hulegaard, and I’m looking forward to reading the next book.

Rael by Colleen S. Myers

Rael by Colleen S. Myers
Publisher: Champagne Books
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Length: Short Story (22 pgs)
Rating: 3.5 stars
Reviewed by Fern

Sixteen-year-old Rael, the Avaresh Prince survives the E’mani attack, but his sister is taken. Rael will do anything to get her back. Will he get to her in time or will he fail, just as his father predicts?

Rael’s people, the Avaresh, are generally peaceful. But their government knows to plan for all eventualities. So when they come under attack, Rael knows his duties – to protect the children. Can Rael do rise to the challenge when disaster strikes?

This is an interesting, very short story. There are a number of new words and a whole new universe all introduced in this snippet of a story. I found it a little overwhelming – a lot of information and explanation in a very short space. Although there is definitely action – the scene opens with an attack, which I feel was a great way to draw in the reader – I really feel that the shortness of the story just didn’t allow the author to really expand and show the reader the richness and depth of this new world. After reading through the story twice I had a much deeper appreciation for the author’s imagination and her way of managing to infuse action, treachery and a sort of hero’s awakening into such a quick story.

Readers should be aware that I feel this is a pure Sci-Fi style of story. There is no romance — not even a heroine really — just Rael as the main male protagonist. There also to my mind is not a happy ending. Bittersweet and heroic, yes, but not a happy ending in the traditional sense at all. While I feel this will appeal to readers who like quirky stories or darker endings – readers used to everything turning out well (either Happy Ever After or even Happy For Now) might not find this ending satisfying.

I greatly enjoyed Rael’s character – at seventeen he was almost a fully grown male and his love for his little sister was deep and really struck me as true. I did appreciate how the author crammed a whole lot of action, intrigue and danger into such a short story, but this really felt like an extract of a longer-length story. I was left not really knowing clearly what happened next, or how the events in this story unfolded right after where the ending left off. Add onto that the bittersweet, not-happy resolution and I felt a little down when I’d finished reading this story and normally that’s not how I like to finish on a book I read.

The characters, action and plot were excellent. I enjoyed the Sci-Fi aspect of this new world and I’d certainly be willing to give this author another chance. I’d pick up another of her stories again.