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.

The Wake Up by Catherine Ryan Hyde


The Wake Up by Catherine Ryan Hyde
Publisher: Lake Union Publishing
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Length: Full Length (362 pgs)
Rating: 5 Stars
Reviewed by Stephanotis

Something has been asleep in forty-year-old cattle rancher Aiden Delacorte for a long time. It all comes back in a rush during a hunting trip, when he’s suddenly attuned to the animals around him, feeling their pain and fear as if it were his own. But the newfound sensitivity of Aiden’s “wake up” has its price. He can no longer sleepwalk through life, holding everyone at arm’s length. As he struggles to cope with a trait he’s buried since childhood, Aiden falls in love with Gwen, a single mother whose young son bears a burden of his own.

Sullen and broken from his experiences with an abusive father, Milo has turned to acting out in violent and rebellious ways. Aiden can feel the boy’s pain, as well as that of his victims. Now he and Milo must sift through their pasts to find empathy with the innocent as well as the guilty, to come to terms with their deepest fears, and to finally discover the compassionate heart of a family.

I’ve never read a Catherine Ryan Hyde book I didn’t thoroughly enjoy, and this one was no exception.

What I like most about this author’s stories is she lets you connect with the characters from page one, you feel for them, you cheer them on, and the lead character, Aiden, made me feel that way. The other characters are just as well created but it’s Aiden that you feel yourself empathizing with the most as he struggles with his new found ‘gift’, that of feeling others pain. Well, not just humans but animals too which isn’t a good thing for a man who’s a cattle rancher.

This story is a page turner and not just because of its plot but it you feel the essential emotional pull that makes you want to read more and read on to see how Aiden’s new life evolves. Another interesting character in this story is Milo, the young son of Aiden’s new love interest. Milo’s got his own issues, his own pain from the past and it’s all brought out beautifully when he and Aiden start to interact and gradually begin the healing process.

The dialogue is wonderful and the pacing spot on for a book of this length. I don’t think I’ve ever read any book by Ms. Hyde that hasn’t left me a bit teary eyed. You might not have experienced the same thing as the characters, but you, like Aiden in this story, can feel what they’re going through which for me is the trademark of a book that lives on in your heart.

This is a story I highly recommend for your winter reading list.

New Game, Start by C.S. Poe


New Game, Start by C.S. Poe
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Genre: Contemporary, Holiday
Length: Short Story (38 pages)
Other: M/M, Anal play
Rating: 4.5 stars
Reviewed by Fern

Reclusive medieval scholar, Edgar Royal, has a crush. On a guy. Not a big deal, except that said guy, Walter Chase, is a famous online gamer who has no idea Edgar even exists. Edgar has harbored these feelings for nearly a year, and when Walter announces on Twitter that he’ll be visiting New York City as a guest at the GamerOn convention, Edgar decides he’ll be one of the thousands of fans who responds to the message.

He definitely doesn’t expect to be singled out by the humble, gorgeous, out-and-proud heartthrob. And when it comes to dealing with people, Edgar’s skills are pretty nonexistent. Even with Walter giving all the right signals, Edgar lacks the courage do anything about the mutual attraction growing through their online courtship. He’s always been better with the written word, so maybe the perfect Christmas gift will say what he cannot. But if Edgar can’t get the present to Walter before the convention ends, he may miss out on the boyfriend of a lifetime.

Edgar is entranced by online gamer, Walter. Even though Edgar knows it is crazy, he can’t help himself and when he finds out Walter will be at the GamerOn convention – in Edgar’s own New York City – Edgar knows he has to go and at least look at his crush. One simple tweet turns into something so much more.

I absolutely loved this short story. Told in the first person, I found it funny, realistic and extremely modern (#JingleYourBells!) and laughed aloud in numerous places. I adored Edgar’s character – I found him humble, normal and extremely sweet. I could heartily sympathize with his anonymous crush on Walter and cheered the two of them on for every page as they met up and got to know each other. I was really excited that the story gave itself time to develop, it wasn’t just Edgar met Walter and they jumped into bed, the two men played games online and got to know each other a fair bit first, which really helped sell me on their romance.

This is a fantastic short story and I loved every moment – from Edgar’s shy awkwardness to Walter’s happy joy in life and enjoyment of simple things, to them sharing the same drink and helping each other to be better versions of themselves. This is a happy and sexy story that I absolutely loved. I thought the sex scene was meaningful and hot, the misunderstanding well-handled and not too clichéd, and the happy ending made me sigh and finish the story ready to immediately go back and re-read it all over again. While there are only really Walter and Edgar as characters, they fill each page and I didn’t feel any lack from there really only being the two of them. Indeed, I didn’t really find anything negative at all throughout the story.

This will be a keeper story for me and I strongly recommend it.

His Personal Stripper by Sam Crescent


His Personal Stripper by Sam Crescent
Publisher: Evernight Publishing
Genre: Contemporary
Length: Short Story (58 Pages)
Other: M/F
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Reviewed by Tulip

The moment Jack sees her curvy figure and blonde hair, he knows he wants her. Everyone has a price, he just needs to find out what hers is.

Rachel is completely broke and been out of a job for a long time. She’s nearly homeless when Jack propositions her. Being one of the richest men in the world, he’s used to snapping his fingers and getting what he wants—Rachel knows what he wants. He wants sex, and all kinds of dirty things. How can she deny him? She’s broke. Being whatever Jack wants is the only option.

Jack wants everything. Her company, her body, her heart, her soul, but first, he’ll settle for her stripping for him. He loves watching a woman undress and all he wants is to see Rachel’s lush body revealed to him. But what happens when Jack makes it clear he wants more than just a stripper and a fuck? He wants forever—Rachel as his wife, and to put his baby inside her.

From stripping to sex, can it end in love?

His Personal Stripper was another fantastic book by Sam Crescent.

This time around the author outdid herself by going with a sizzling hot but sweet at the same time plot for the seventh entry into her Curvy Women Wanted Series. Jack knew what he wanted from the first time he saw Rachel so he wasted no time in propositioning the down on her luck curvy woman. At first, I didn’t know what to make of his character following Rachel all over town and then offering her a deal she couldn’t afford to pass up. It wasn’t long in this fast paced story that the author brought out the feelings and showed me that he was a good guy. I loved how he protected Rachel. Now, I loved Rachel from the very beginning. Life had been rough on her. She was strong but not hardened by her adversities.

Excellent writing, romance, sex and rich characters. I look forward to more Curvy Women books in the hopefully near future.

Winning The Campaign Manager by Lucy Felthouse


Winning The Campaign Manager by Lucy Felthouse
Publisher: Evernight Publishing
Genre: Contemporary, Paranormal
Length: Short story (44 pages)
Other: M/M, Anal Play
Rating: 3 stars
Reviewed by Fern

Cade Avery is running for a position on his local county council. He’s extremely good at what he does and is a valuable asset to his community. The trouble is, he upsets people, says the wrong things, and rides rough-shod over other people’s plans and ideas. His assistant, Mary, eager to improve Cade’s public image, hires him a campaign manager.

Quentin Rayworth is thrilled to be working with such a formidable public figure. It’ll be a challenge, but he’s confident he can help Cade to win the election, and knows that the achievement will look impressive on his CV.

It’s soon clear that the two men are set to be an excellent team. That is, until Cade’s werewolf makes its intentions known—in Quentin, it has found its mate, and it will not rest until he has claimed him. But can Cade—and his wolf—win over the campaign manager?

Cade is not impressed when his friend hires him a campaign manager. Cade knew he’d never win any popularity contests, but he also knew he was excellent at his job and genuinely the best candidate for the job. Cade just hadn’t realised how much of a popularity contest running for election was, and he reluctantly had to admit that Quentin was the manager best suited to helping him win this election.

I thought this was an interesting short story. I was a little nervous that the pace of the story would feel a bit too fast, but the author did a good job in my opinion of explaining the speed with which Quentin and Cade got together due to Cade’s wolf-shifter. Cade’s wolf wants who it wants and nothing would get in his way – it made the very sudden and firm decision that Cade wanted Quentin and no one else and made it seem understandable. I was a little disappointed though that the paranormal aspect of the story did feel rushed to me. With the short length of the story I sympathize that there really wasn’t too much room for the author to take her time with world-building or long explanations on how Cade “knew” Quentin was his mate and nor was there a huge amount of time for Cade and Quentin to really get to know each other. It just came across to me a little muddled and unrealistic. Quentin’s reaction to Cade’s coming on to him just felt like too much of an about face – in the space of one scene Quentin changed from being excited and really wanting the job to being uncertain, uncomfortable and wanting to resign. As someone whose job was PR and image meant everything he clearly hadn’t thought how lasting less than a day in a new (and outwardly appearing very important) job would have been disastrous to Quentin’s career reputation. A lot of this side of the story just didn’t seem to have been properly thought through – the characters acting on impulse, not logic.

I also would have really loved the whole werewolf thing to have been explored deeper too. Again the short page count really hampered this, but just the speed and seeming ease that Quentin accepted that Cade was a werewolf, was destined to be mated with him and agreeing they should date – it all happened in the space of two scenes. While exciting and sexy, I felt after reading it a little like I’d been running – hard to catch my breath and I needed to reread it all to make sure I hadn’t missed anything. The pace was just a little too fast for my personal preferences.

That said, the chemistry between Cade and Quentin was amazing. The two men clearly lusted deeply after each other and even though Cade was being ridden hard by his wolf, I had no problems at all believing the two men would form a solid and lasting relationship. A part of me would have enjoyed knowing how the campaign turned out (did Cade end up getting elected? Did Quentin and Cade blitz the media and win in a landslide of votes, having turned public opinion in their direction?). I completely understand the campaign itself was not the main focus of the story – Cade and Quentin were, and rightly so – but I did feel that final question of how the campaign turned out felt a bit like unfinished business to me.

With interesting characters and some deliciously steamy sex, this is a great M/M with a large bite of paranormal that is sure to appeal to a wide range of readers. A few small bumps in the pacing had me wishing for more, but overall this is a great short story and I feel sure many people will eagerly devour it in one sitting.

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!

No One Until Her by Lynn Burke


No One Until Her by Lynn Burke
Publisher: Evernight Publishing
Genre: Contemporary
Length: Short Story (48 pgs)
Other: M/F, BDSM, Spanking, Toys, M/F/M interaction, Multiple Partners
Rating: 3.5 stars
Reviewed by Nymphaea

Kaden Quinn has life by the balls and enjoys his side job as a Dom in a downtown Boston BDSM club. What he doesn’t want—or need—is a pseudo-sub trying to shred the veil that protects his painful past.

When untamed Livi Risso’s insatiable need to get to the bottom of a story leads her to an exclusive kink club, her curiosity ignites upon meeting a restrained Dom who refuses to touch her.

Kaden feigns disinterest while scening, but that doesn’t stop Livi from experiencing intimacy like she’s never imagined. When one misstep leaves Kaden shaken, will Livi be the one to break down his wall against love?

This book is seriously hot. Kaden isn’t a perfect hero. He’s got issues and I admired him for how he’d gotten through them. Livi is a good match for him. Their chemistry is off the charts and fun to read about.

There were a few typos and a couple of extra quotation marks, which was bothersome, but didn’t stop my enjoyment of the story. I liked that Kaden was flawed and trying to overcome his issues. That endeared him to me. I wish there would’ve been a few more flaws to Livi, though. She’s a tough as nails reporter, but she seemed almost too perfect. Still, I liked the story.

If you’re looking for a story involving a pain sub, then this might be the one you’re wanting. It’s hot, sweet, and will singe the screen.

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.

Homemade From The Heart by Bru Baker


Homemade From The Heart by Bru Baker
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Genre: Contemporary, Holiday
Length: Short story (55 pages)
Other: M/M
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Fern

Craft store owner Grant has always been a sucker for a pretty face, and that goes double for a pretty face with an adorable sidekick. When seven-year-old Aubrey has her heart set on taking Grant’s already-full holiday craft series, he caves and gives up his one day off a week so she (and her hot guardian, Josh) can take private lessons. Their flirting ramps up week after week, and even though Josh isn’t with Aubrey’s mother, Grant can’t be sure the man isn’t straight. Maybe he’s just being friendly. And Josh, who most definitely is not straight, is afraid of being the creepy guy hitting on the teacher.

Frustrated by their stubbornness and cluelessness, Aubrey takes matters into her own hands. She decides the best gift to give Josh is something homemade and from the heart—a boyfriend they’ll both love.

Grant hadn’t realised just how popular his “Homemade from the Heart” holiday craft series would be. The online booking filled up almost immediately and Grant had irate phone calls from parents wanting to enroll their kids for weeks after the spaces were gone. Grant hadn’t had a clue how a little bit of exposure could have his small co-op arts studio for kids wildly popular. When Josh walks in with his daughter, Aubrey, Grant suddenly has a whole lot less spare time for the lead up to his Christmas holidays.

I enjoyed this fun, short Christmas story. Unlike a lot of M/M’s I was a little unsure whether Josh was gay or bi or straight, and this led me to be incredibly curious not just about him, but also the story as a whole. It was a wonderful (and fairly new – for me – hook) into the story and before I’d finished the first chapter I was completely engrossed. I loved the easy, happy style of writing and commend the author for an excellent story that was Christmassy, fun and lighthearted.

I also really enjoyed the main characters, Grant, Josh and Aubrey were all vivid and unique characters that I had no problems becoming attached to. This really helped me fall even deeper into the story and happily turn the pages promptly. This was absolutely a quick read, but a delightful one that will be easy for me to pick back up in the future, and although it’s strongly Christmas-themed, as the main plot is the craft store, the kids and the growing relationship between Grand and Josh I don’t think it will feel weird to me when I reread it at a non-Christmas time.

The pacing on this story was good – I was pleased there was plenty of time for Grant and Josh to get to know each other first, and for Aubrey to become comfortable and friendly with Grant. I thought the author did a great job of balancing the whole “new relationship” feel along with the three characters coming together to form a little mini-family. While I can understand some readers might not like the “is he/isn’t he” feel of Josh’s attraction to Grant, personally I found it refreshing. There was also never doubt in my mind that Josh liked Grant as the friendly camaraderie was clear. The question of whether there was potential for a romantic relationship might not appeal to all readers, but I liked the second-guessing and tantalizing wondering that the author infused the first half of the story with. And I have to say, once Grant decided to be a little less subtle about his interest, I laughed an awful lot at the antics Josh and Grant got up to!

A fun and light Christmas story with an interesting twist I didn’t see coming at the end, this book covers a lot of great things I think readers will enjoy. I had loads of fun reading this and can happily recommend it.

Hot Water (Heart and Endurance, 3) by J.S. Marlo


Hot Water (Heart and Endurance, 3) by J.S. Marlo
Publisher: Champagne Books
Genre: Contemporary, Suspense/Mystery
Length: Full length (198 pages)
Heat Level: Sensual
Rating: 3.5 stars
Reviewed by Mistflower

Can Agent Sullivan repress his feelings for the woman he secretly loves and use her as bait to catch a serial killer?

Nineteen-year-old varsity swimmer Maxime Tremblay is leery of the string of fatal accidents involving female athletes, but after she thwarts an attack, she can no longer ignore the connection between the victims.

Special Agent Ross Sullivan investigates the deadly events on campus only to discover they are not accidents, the athletes are not targeted at random, and the killer is only warming up.

To protect his only witness, he goes undercover as Maxime’s boyfriend, but as pretense and reality begin to blur, Sullivan faces the dilemma of putting her in harm’s way to stop the killings.

This is my second J.S. Marlo book yet my first book in the Heart and Endurance series. Even though this happens to be the third book in the series, it can be read as a standalone.

I enjoy reading contemporary novels that are relevant to me in some manner. The last ten years my sons have swum competitively, therefore I was excited to read a story about a heroine who was a varsity competitive swimmer in college. Maxime Tremblay was a brave, caring and sweet yet fiery red-headed nineteen year-old woman.
The hero, Special Agent Ross Sullivan, was competent, confident, safe and of course, handsome. He was also slightly older than Maxime. This age difference between Ross and Maxime was an internal conflict between the characters. As a mother of an almost nineteen year old I personally felt the internal conflict but from a parental perspective. Trust me when I tell you that it took an exemplary writing style to enable me to connect with this couple and their budding romance considering my ideal age expectations of a hero and heroine. I honestly struggled a tiny bit with Ross’s nicknames for Maxime. They made me feel he was a father figure at times more than a boyfriend. However they were appropriate in the context.

Maxime was very mature and responsible for her age. It was amazing how she balanced all her obligations while her life was in danger. The suspense/mystery plot made for a rapid paced page turner. It was unpredictable and the twists were clever. I’m not sure how realistic it all was but I was definitely entertained.

Over all I was pleased to read Hot Water. The ending was nicely wrapped up giving me complete closure which resulted in a satisfying sigh. I agreed with Maxime’s father when he gave Ross and Maxime his blessings. This was a clean romance with just enough chemistry that made it a heartwarming love story with well-developed characters that will linger in my mind for days to come. I wish them all the best as they go on in their life journey.