Frost & Claus by Matilda Janes


Frost & Claus by Matilda Janes
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Paranormal, Holiday, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (49 pages)
Other: M/F
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

She loves to frost cookies. Now he’s going to frost hers.

Santa’s eldest daughter Chrystal Claus is curvy, cute, and loves to bake. Opening her bakery has been a dream come true, she loves to watch her customers smile after they’ve eaten one of her treats. It’s her gift and she’s never been happier. That is until Jack Frost comes back into town, seemingly intent on disrupting her life with his scowling eyes, grumpy growls, and all his bulging muscles, she can’t help but notice! After he embarrasses and hurts her feelings she decides she can’t stand the handsome jerk. But when she’s kidnapped, Chrystal discovers not all is as it seems.

Jack Frost has been waiting for Chrystal Claus for an eternity, and when she comes of age Jack wants to claim his mate. But it isn’t to be; bound by a promise, Jack reluctantly leaves Christmas Town. When he returns years later he can barely contain himself. He wants nothing more than to claim his mate and no one will stand in his way. Or so he thinks.

Can Chrystal accept being Mrs. Frost? Will Jack convince Chrystal that being naughty can be nice?

Chrystal and her sisters have all been good this year. Only time will tell how they’re rewarded for that.

Ms. Janes had a descriptive and playful writing style that worked well for her subject matter. From the opening scene in Chrystal’s bakery to the steamy experiences she shared with Jack in private later on, I was always able to easily picture what was going on. The author did a good job at showing the audience what was happening in her story at every step along the way.

I would have liked to see way more time spent developing the chemistry between the Claus sisters and the men who wanted to be with them. This was something I noticed especially between Jack Frost and Chrystal Claus. He had a strong desire for her from the very first scene, but at the same time he barely knew anything about her at all. Due to this, the chemistry between them never felt right to me.

The dialogue often made me smile. I liked discovering how many Christmas and folklore references the characters made throughout the plot. Not only did the mixture of all of these references give the storyline a creative spin, it made Christmas town come alive in my imagination. It felt like a real place to me, and that’s not something that’s easy to accomplish in a story of this length.

Frost & Claus should be read by anyone who is in the mood for a sultry version of life at the North Pole.

Witches: Tea Party by Mark Taylor


Witches: Tea Party by Mark Taylor
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Paranormal, Historical, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (46 pages)
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

In Salem, 1692, Marie-Anne witnessed the death of her friend and confidant, Sarah Good. Charged with being a witch, Sarah goes to the gallows to protect Marie-Anne, a true witch.

Three hundred years later, Marie-Anne, under the name Mary Anson, vows to put things right.

With a new coven – Dina, Excalibur, and Lady – Mary puts in motion the steps to right what went wrong…and what followers is a chase across the country, a chase against time, pursued by monsters and darkness…

…will Mary put things right?

…or will she die trying?

It’s never too late to try to fix a past mistake.

Mary’s personality was quite well developed. She was an intelligent, cunning, and stubborn woman who definitely had her fair share of flaws. There were times when she made decisions that made me shake my head, but there was always something about her that kept me coming back for more. Her personality was so complex that she felt like a real person to me. That’s not an easy thing to accomplish in a short story, so Mr. Taylor should be commended for pulling it off.

Unfortunately, there were many loose plot ends left dangling after the final scene. While I understand that this is the first story in a series and that the author wanted to leave room to explore the conflicts again in the future, it was unsatisfactory for me as a reader to finish the last paragraph without feeling a sense of closure about the majority of the issues that Mary faced during the course of this tale. It would have been nice to see her accomplish more of her goals before she tried to move onto her next adventure.

The world building was handled beautifully, though. The narrator quickly introduced the complicated and sometimes dangerous society that witches had developed and then left it up to the audience to fill in the blanks as the plot moved forward. There was a lot of ground to cover in order to fully develop the settings and that culture. I was always comfortable with how much I was learning about Mary’s world, though, and I walked away from it feeling as if I’d really been there with her.

Witches: Tea Party should be read by anyone who would like to lose themselves in another time and place.

Brynnde by M. Pepper Langlinais


Brynnde by M. Pepper Langlinais
Publisher: Self Published
Genre: Historical
Length: Full Length (212 pgs)
Heat: Sweet
Rated: 5 stars
Reviewed by Snapdragon

Brynnde Archambault needs to find someone to marry, else she’ll be stuck with dull Mr. Dallweather. The answer to her problem arrives in the form of handsome and witty Viscount Burbridge, but just when everything seems to be going smoothly, scandal strikes and the engagement ends.

Meanwhile, Brynnde has no trouble matchmaking her friends and even her own brother. But while she breezily finds suitors for everyone else, for her time is running out. Must she resign herself to becoming Mrs. Dallweather? Or will Brynnde yet succeed in making a match for herself?

An unexpected gem, Brynnde will restore Regency readers’ joy in reading–and rejoice in discovering author Pepper Langlinais!

Quite properly, if I may say so, this regency romance offers all the correct components: the marriage-mart, the slightly-stifled leading lady, unexpected scandal, ballrooms and tea rooms and gossip! What’s more, Proper Regency though it is, Brynnde (the story and the character) manages to be a bit unpredictable. Brynnde, who “will not be treated like a heifer,” has a good head on her shoulders and is quite the match for sparring in the drawing room. Her combative conversations are superb!

There are a plethora of characters, but they are distinct, and never confusing. The author’s style gives a bit of flavor to this historical. Is it subtle word choice? A particular care when offering a phrase? I cannot quite put my finger on it, but she can twist a bit of ‘funny’ into action, unexpectedly. This is the most enjoyable story I have read in quite a while.

Bryndde is a fun, uncomplicated, well-written read that any fan of the genre should pick up.

Lunacy’s Core by T.D. Edwards


Lunacy’s Core by T.D. Edwards
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Paranormal, Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Length: Short Story (125 pages)
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Peony

It’s the late 1990s and Kory Diffoten is a bookworm with no friends apart from his English literature teacher, which is fine with him. Growing up the target of relentless teasing about his unstable aunt has made him reluctant to get close with others in the first place. However, once a freak accident renders his favorite teacher incapable of returning to Hushmore High School, Kory finds himself swept into an unexpected friendship with Ronda Smith, a pretty classmate in need of tutoring, and Jakil Dunston, her flippant boyfriend. The unlikely friendship soon takes an unexpected turn though, spawning troublesome rumors, complicated feelings, and ultimately, a police investigation.

Then there’s Kory’s increasing paranoia. He’s certain his recent affiliation with Ronda and Jakil has caught the attention of an eerie and potentially dangerous new teacher at their school for some reason. But getting anyone to take him seriously seems impossible, especially once people began to question his sanity. Kory can’t really blame them though, particularly upon noticing his sudden difficulty with separating truth from illusion.

Yet, Kory can only keep quiet for so long before things spiral out of control. But who’s going to believe him when he sometimes isn’t sure he can even believe himself?

T.D. Edwards delivers a refreshing story, one that destroys old tropes with her paranormal mystery, Lunacy’s Core. Though the descriptions of a book are meant to be the first hook for a reader, so many have fallen into the same generic trends that when books like this one do something different, it is instantly noteworthy. With Lunacy’s Core we have a refreshing friendship dynamic offered and the author absolutely does not fail to deliver.

Although this is a rather short book, there is a lot to love with how dynamic and impactful the characters manage to be. As a reader it takes no effort to put yourself in the shoes of our lead, Kory, whom will feel familiar to anyone who has ever struggled to fit in. While he is a compelling character all by himself, the true genius comes from Edward’s use of supporting characters. The summary promises colorful friends with Ronda and Jakil, but it is a mystery as to what role they will play. You could divide this book between the slice of life, an all too familiar high school drama, and the magical realism and still have two excellent stories. The main characters really are fantastically told and ultimately end up being the glue that holds the whole experience together.

Another draw that this book promises is a mystery with reality questioning implications. Like much of the book, the greater mystery is a slow burn, foreshadowed and hinted at initially and then later more fully expounded on. There are certainly interesting plot points to be had that will keep a reader going. For me the effort put into giving the villains motivations and obstacles of their own to overcome helped drive the narrative, but you need not take my word for it. Reading the book will show you exactly what I mean and given the length, it should not be hard to get from one hook to the next and experience the tale as the author intended.

This isn’t to say the book is entirely without flaws. For instance, our supporting main characters are supposed to be popular foils to our outcast Kory. While this is paid some lip service early on, the author does not really show this and instead you’re left wondering who, if anyone, is their friends. The story instead paints a slightly different picture of an odd ball bunch, rather than the popular kids and their genuine friendship. Another thing to be aware of is that this book is short. While length should not dissuade a reader, the fact remains the ending will come abruptly and may leave some unsatisfying loose ends. If this bugs you, fret not, there is a sequel already available and considering the accessibility of both volumes, the length becomes entirely forgivable.

If you’re looking for a refreshing take on teen friendship with a hefty dose of mystery and reality questioning paranormal, then you might find a good home here. T.D Edwards certainly demonstrates a lot of talent in writing with her first published work and I will look forward to her future ventures. Though it may not be a masterpiece, the time needed to enjoy this with an instantly compelling narrative shouldn’t in any way prevent a prospective reader from picking it up. After all, what have you got to lose? Maybe just your sanity.

Drunk on Men, Vol 1 by Afton Locke


Drunk on Men, Vol 1 by Afton Locke
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Historical
Length: Short Story (143 pgs)
Other: M/F
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Ginger

You may think it’s sloe fizz gin
But honey we’re sober, just drunk on men

When three African-American women meet at a resort on the Jersey Shore in the 1920s, they say goodbye to their old lives. Finding men as intoxicating as bootleg liquor, they pin their futures on happily ever after. But love can be worse than a hangover when the men’s flaws threaten to destroy them.

Hannah knows it’s time to replace her fiancé who died in the war, but the abrupt white man who rescues her from rough surf hardly fits the bill. Belle longs to ditch her latest meal ticket, but is the rich African-European owner of an upscale hotel out of her league? And while Edie struggles to face her upcoming arranged marriage, a rugged Hispanic-white fisherman decides to stake his own claim on her.

Three women from various walks of life meet at Wilmott Hotel. Will this bond of friendship bring about a strength that gives each woman needed courage to step outside of their individual comfort zones?

This is an enjoyable read with an interesting plot. The characters are likable and have a sisterly bond that gave me a feel good comfort. The bond of the trio felt like they could be my sisters or long time friends. The storyline flowed and kept my interest.  The women are all quite different, with Belle Longstreet who is from the street of Camden, New Jersey, Hannah Williams, who is on this trip as a gift from her family member (this is out of the normal for her coming from her farm life) and Edie Childers came to Ocean Promenade to marry the man who was chosen for her by her parents.

The women were strangers but, due to a hotel fire alarm, the women find themselves in the same area of the hotel. Though each woman comes from a different background, the connection between the three ladies was a delight to read. Seeing their individual strengths being shared while also watching their fondness for each other grow is something that is rare these days. With all the reality shows on television of women screaming and going against each other this was a refreshing read. And though it seems the common thing between the women is seeking love of a man this did not cause any drama or arguing. The innocence of first encounters with the men makes for an interesting read, leaving you wondering if they’ve met the right man.

This is a quick read that brings about incredible women telling a good story of their life to each other. Their combined personalities help each woman find her strength and voice. They may have been through the bad, but their story shows that strength can come from numbers. They each have hurdles to cross but the author clearly shows that they don’t have to accept their fate but they can change the path that was laid for them. I enjoyed reading about their courage in how they didn’t let society determine who they should love.

I enjoyed the delightful story of Belle, Hannah and Edie and watching their friendship blossom. I look forward to the second volume of the series to see where the journey will lead the ladies.

Girl at Christmas by Rhoda Baxter


Girl at Christmas by Rhoda Baxter
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Contemporary, Holiday
Length: Short Story (93 pages)
Heat Level: Sensual
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Xeranthemum

Tammy is normally at her happiest at Christmas when she has the flat to decorate and those perfect days between Christmas and New Year to relax. But when her long term partner dumps her, with no real explanation, her Christmas looks very bleak.

Lawrence usually spends Christmas watching DVDs and catching up on his paperwork. At thirty one, he’s already stuck in a rut.

When Lawrence has a sudden heart attack, it is Tammy who comes to his rescue. It turns out a happy Christmas can be made from the most unexpected ingredients.

Girl At Christmas is a novella in the award nominated Smart Girls series. If you like authors like Lindsey Kelk, Sarah Morgan or Milly Johnson, it’s perfect for you. Grab a copy and get into the Christmas spirit today.

This book’s title doesn’t even hint at the sublime and sweet romance between its pages. I applaud Ms. Baxter’s presentation of two people finding each other just at the right time when both are ready to discover and accept love and a new future. Girl at Christmas is a character driven romance about two very likeable people that seem so real, they easily could be someone I’d be proud to know.

The novella focused on Tammy and Lawrence. She’s been hurt emotionally and he’s in danger physically – two very convincing reasons to care for this couple. Honestly, I’m having a hard time putting what I want to say in words. It’s not because I don’t believe this is a well written book – it is! Ms. Baxter has a way of making the heroine and hero’s path to love so sweet, and compelling and honest that I just wanted to hug them both. The author paid attention to the little things that people do to show interest, to show they care and because both of the main characters were a little shy, they were super adorable. I actually felt HAPPY to know them. I can’t remember actually being happy while I watched a romance unfold – interested, fascinated, and entertained,sure, but not happy in the way Girl at Christmas made me.

I liked how the author painted her characters to be slightly geeky; it was part of their charm. I also liked the three main supporting casts of Walter, Olivia and Suzie. Their friendship and camaraderie enhanced the novella and contributed significant emotional touchstones. The one character that caused a lot of the angst is Tammy’s ex, Jeff. I concur with Suzie’s opinion of him. I’m glad that Tammy finally found clarity where that bozo is concerned.

The one thing that stood out to me was Tammy’s recollection of Jeff’s opinions about things she liked, and that includes celebrating Christmas. The joy she experiences when she’s with people who see it the way she does is incalculable. The ending is more a happy for now because it’s a beginning of something beautiful. As to what makes me believe that Tammy and Lawrence’s strengthening love and HEA is inevitable stems from their conversations towards the end. But don’t take my word for it – try reading Girl at Christmasfor yourself and see why I feel so positive about Tammy and Lawrence’s love and future.

Shrouded Memory by Krista Wagner


Shrouded Memory by Krista Wagner
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Mystery/Suspense, Contemporary
Length: Full Length (249 pages)
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Snowdrop

What You Don’t Remember Can Hurt You

After surviving a shark attack, Marine Biologist Rian Field becomes haunted by disturbing memories of a past traumatic incident and begins to suspect that the assailants may be those closest to her. But more chilling is her fear that they are somehow connected to the shark attack and want her dead. Rian must overcome her fear of sharks and uncover the truth before the past drags her into its shadows.

Can a large whale be dangerous in an estuary?

Estuaries are places where the salt water meets the fresh water. A place that holds all sorts of weird species. Why would Rian Field get her PhD in Marine Estuarine & Aquatic Life Studies in a place like this? She was even a little afraid of water. For that matter, why would she want to see and study the Great White shark? But…many of us have seen the movie Jaws and thoughts of such a movie have stayed with us for years. Rian Field had been fascinated with sharks ever since she saw the movie.

Just like I seem to know Rian and her thoughts, the author also did a good job with development of many of the characters. While I enjoyed reading this book, it does have a lot of flashbacks in the form of dreams, “bad guy thoughts” and memories. Sometimes that can be hard to follow or throw off the flow of reading. It was handled pretty well by this author. One thing that helped ease the flow of reading was that dreams, thoughts of the “bad guy” and regular prose were all done in different fonts. This made Shrouded Memory much easier to read than many books of its type.

This is a book full of relationships, good friends, and intrigue. I read it very quickly but not because it was easy. It was because I didn’t want to put it down.

The Time by Peri Elizabeth Scott


The Time by Peri Elizabeth Scott
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Horror, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (75 pages)
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

In a post apocalyptic world, a woman struggles to survive until reunited with her son, only to bring grave danger to the small band of people he leads. Choosing to sacrifice herself to protect the clan, Ann Murdoch discovers how resourceful she can be in the face of torture and death.

She knew revenge was a luxury even as she yearned for it, her daughter horribly murdered. And Ann has killed a boy, albeit in self defense, and obviously someone connected to him didn’t view luxury in the same way. And that someone is well past the yearning stage…

How long would you survive in a society that no longer had a government and was quickly running out of food?

Malnutrition makes everything in life more difficult, from defending one’s home to finding the energy to keep walking in order to find a safe place to sleep at night. Some of my favorite sections of this tale were the ones that described how the main character and her companions survived in a world where most people were running out of food and where strangers would kill anyone for a few supplies. Yes, they were dark scenes at times, but the characters were so determined to survive that I couldn’t wait to see what they’d eat next and how they’d avoid starvation over the winter.

This tale would have benefitted from more editing. There were a few sentences that didn’t make sense to me because they were either missing words or contained words that didn’t fit into the their tone. Many other sentences had comma or other punctuation errors that made them hard to follow at times. While I deeply enjoyed the plot itself, needing to decipher what the narrator was trying to say so often was frustrating for me as a reader.

It was easy to keep track of all of the characters even though there were far more of them than I’d normaly expect to meet in a short story. Everyone the author wrote about had something unique about them that instantly let me know who she was talking about. This was a good decision, especially later on in the storyline when many of them were involved in the same scenes and there were a lot of different things happening at once.

If you’re a fan of post-apocalyptic fiction, give The Time a try.

The Tell All by Libby Howard


The Tell All by Libby Howard
Publisher: Self-published
Genre: Suspense/Mystery, Paranormal, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (137 pages)
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Life at sixty isn’t quite what Kay Carrera expected. She’s working as a skip-tracer for a PI who is desperate to land his own reality TV show. She has a new roommate who arrived with more than the usual amount of baggage. And her attempts at knitting are less than stellar – way less than stellar. Worse, the cataract surgery that restored her sight has also delivered an unexpected and disturbing side-effect. Kay sees ghosts. And when the dead turn to her for help, she just can’t say no.

It’s hard to have a peaceful life when the dead keep trying to get your attention.

Kay was a well-developed and quite likeable main character. Her intelligence was what caught my eye first. She wasn’t the kind of person who would ever make a big fuss over something like this, but I enjoyed seeing her quietly figure out how to get through sticky situations and solve mysteries that didn’t give her a lot of clues to work with at first. Her flaws were written nicely as well. They showed me sides of her personality that I wouldn’t have otherwise seen. Noticing them only made me like her more than I already did because of how much they humanized a woman who was so sweet, gentle, and interested in making her home an oasis for everyone who lived there.

The pacing issues were what prompted me to choose the rating I did. As much as I enjoyed getting to know the characters, it took a while for the plot to pick up speed and even more time for Kay to realize that the shadowy figures her optometrist thought were a side effect of cataract surgery were actually real spirits. It would have been nice to have more time to explore what was happening and to have more clues about the case earlier on.

Once the mystery was revealed, though, I dove straight into it. There was far more going on than Kay originally thought, so I was curious to see how she’d react to all of the new information she found as she probed more deeply into the case. It didn’t take long for her to follow the clues she was given. I was intrigued by how persistent she was and how she reacted to certain surprising plot twists.

The Tell All was a cozy story that I’d recommend to anyone who is in the mood for a fairly quick read.

Suzy Spitfire Kills Everybody by Joe Canzano


Suzy Spitfire Kills Everybody by Joe Canzano
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Action/Adventure, Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Length: Full Length (306 pages)
Rating: 3 stars
Reviewed by Peony

When outlaw Suzy Spitfire discovers her father was murdered after creating a super-duper artificial intelligence, she races across the solar system in search of the brain he built—but it’s a rough ride, and she’s soon forced to tangle with pirates, predators, and her father’s killer—as well as a man she thinks she can love.

Suzy Spitfire Kills Everybody is a smash-bang sci-fi adventure filled with action, intrigue, and a dose of dark humor.

Joe Canzano’s fast paced action Suzy Spitfire Kills Everybody begins with a bang and never slows down. The author himself has a few books under his belt, but perhaps none quite so eye catching as this, with the very first hook delivered by a title that you can’t help but give a second glance to. As of this writing, Joe has already written five books and his talent with action adventure shows through the page with pulse pounding excitement. It is hard not to pick up a book with such a bodacious title, but once you do it may be harder still to put it down.

What kind of wild ride is this book? The initial hook hints at either an action or a comedy, or a mixture of both. Without spoiling the excitement, I can say with certainty it is an action. While there are a few running gags to be had, the chuckles are clearly not the focus of this story and shouldn’t be what guides your choice. For some the jokes may fall flat entirely and really, they’re pretty sparse, making this book clearly aimed at the action crowd. Luckily the action hook doesn’t make you wait, the story opens with a bang within the first half dozen pages. For those seeking an explosive read, the book does try to deliver, though initially at least it may seem mindless. Almost for the entire book the narrative focus is on the external, the events that happen, but not the why. Internal narrative, the emotions driving the actors or the drama is almost entirely neglected. Ultimately this book most closely resembles the summer blockbuster action flick, lot of muscle, but not a long of mind.

Because the book is so heavily slanted to the goings on and not the reasons why and because it opens to a gunfight so soon, there is little to no room for development before explosions start happening. The book does start to talk about romance and hint at the possibility, before building a character whose romance would matter to you, let alone if they live or die. In order to have any sense of worry or concern for the safety or the characters you’ll have to read on for quite a while, because for the most part nothing truly developmental happens until a good third into the book. The approach seems to be very whimsical, with ideas tossed out randomly and sometimes contradicting themselves on the same page. If the book had a planned armature, or guiding principal or moral I cannot say what it was, the story really doesn’t lend well to analysis, preferring to be the roller coaster that you’re just along for the ride.

That isn’t to say the book doesn’t manage some impressive feats in terms of development and change. For instance our titular character is very rash to begin, but is forced to depend on others. Whether or not she can or will allow anyone to take control, help her out or solve a situation for her quickly becomes a running theme for the story. Other aspects that worked well is her view of sexuality. There is romance in the story, but it largely fades and leaves it to the reader’s imagination. Free loving or not is a theme that gets some attention in that the characters may be laid back about whom and when they engage romantically with people. The book simply does not judge a woman for taking control of her own sexuality, nor for being strong in her own right and features more than one example of both. LGBT is not included in this book, but nor is it spoken against and male and females are capable in this story of having meaningful friendships with both genders without being judged or painted into a box. This gives the reader the opportunity to draw their own conclusions and for some the absence may bother them. There is a lot of sexual tension to be had and virtually no one, especially female, is going to escape the possibility of a romantic storyline or two.

One of the main driving forces of this book is the action and the tense moments which tend to be the glue holding sections together. They’re constant and can seem overwrought in many ways. The biggest problems, besides the earlier mentioned lack of development, is that the story does tend to contradict itself and use questionable means to escape situations. For instance, at one point a room is described as lacking cover for the bad guys, but then a few sentences later the same room is described as having plenty of cover once Suzy needs it. Additionally the way situations are escaped can range wildly from deus ex machina to well thought-out and clever. The movie analogy really fits there, where as it isn’t hard to imagine the action movie with bad guys unable to hit anything and good guys with seemingly perfect aim.

Overall recommending this book depends more on the individual reading it than anything else. Summer blockbusters are hugely popular and this book captures a lot of that excitement within its pages. Despite the early lack of development, it actually manages to catch up as the book goes on and deliver some deeper than expected characters and interactions, all while not slowing the pace down. For the right reader this book could be an amazing fit and will surely make you wonder what else Joe’s library of work contains. He’s certainly proven that he can make exciting action and if that is something you enjoy reading then you should definitely not pass up Suzy Spitfire Kills Everybody.