Bloodstone by Rebecca Henry

Bloodstone by Rebecca Henry
Publisher: Finch Books
Genre: Young Adult (14 – 18 y.o.), Paranormal, LGBTQ, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Romance, Contemporary
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

There’s something wicked in the wind on Ambrosia Hill and strength is held within a stone.

Zinnia knows nothing is as it seems in the witching world, and she realizes the aunts calling her back to the Fern House was not without consequences. Zinnia must embrace her witch abilities and undergo her biggest test yet. Can she learn to rely on her personal magic, the strength in others, and trust that what she sees isn’ t always reality? There’ s something wicked in the wind this Halloween on Ambrosia Hill and Zinnia must fight for those she loves most.

What might you find if you peeled back the stereotypes and looked at who someone really was?

The romantic subplot made me smile. I’ve enjoyed seeing it gradually develop from a friendship into a heartwarming romance since first meeting these characters in Amethyst. Not only was the slow burn approach perfect for them, it also gave me plenty of time to notice all sorts of similarities between them that make me think they’d be a great match. I can only hope that any sequels in the works will include more of this storyline as it’s such a nice contrast to the sometimes-scary work a witch must do.

Once again, I would have liked to see more character development. Yes, it is happening slowly, but I found myself wishing that Zinnia especially would be given more opportunities to show the audience how she’s changed as a result of coming out of the closet as a member of the LGBTQ community as well as accepting her identity as a witch. This was the only thing holding me back from choosing a five-star rating.

I know I’ve mentioned the beautiful world building in both of my previous reviews of the first two books in this series, but it continued to impress me this time around. Ms. Henry has been doing a wonderful job so far of feeding the audience exactly enough information about witchcraft and witch culture in this universe to keep my interest levels high. Just when I think I have it all more or less figured out, she adds yet another layer to it that deepens my previous understanding of how it all worked and makes me eager to see what might happen next. As far as this reader is concerned, there’s still a ton of ground to cover for these characters, and I hope for many more updates to come in the future.

While the plot itself could technically function as a standalone work, this is the third instalment of a series that should be read in order to best understand the complex and memorable world the author is building here.

Bloodstone made me yearn for more.

The Lady of the Mirrored Lake by Jennifer Ivy Walker

The Lady of the Mirrored Lake by Jennifer Ivy Walker
Publisher: The Wild Rose Press
Genre: Historical, Romance, Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Moonflower

Hunted by the Black Widow Queen, Issylte–a healer with the verdant magic of the forest–must flee Avalon with the two finest knights in the Celtic realm, both wrongly accused of treason. The trio travels to Bretagne, where Issylte heals a critically injured wolf and obtains fiercely loyal, shapeshifting allies.

In mystical Brocéliande, Issylte becomes a warrior priestess of the Tribe of Dana and otherworldly mate of the Blue Knight of Cornwall, discovering with Tristan a passion that transcends all bounds. When she becomes the Lady of the Mirrored Lake, sworn to defend the sacred waters of the Goddess, Issylte must undertake a perilous quest to discover what priceless object lies hidden in its murky depths.

As a nascent evil emerges in a fetid cave, Issylte and Tristan must face a diabolical trio that threatens their lives, their love, and their kingdoms.

Enchanted. Enflamed. Entwined. Can their passion and power prevail?

A breath-taking adventure set in a world of chivalry.

The Lady of the Mirrored Lake continues where book one left off and I absolutely recommend you read this as a series rather than a set of standalones. There is a big character list and if you don’t start at the beginning, there is a chance you will get lost.

The story moves on brilliantly, taking the reader along on a breath-taking adventure when chivalry was still a code to live by. Issylte gains more strength every time something is thrown at her. Tristan also has his own trials to contend with, but they always return to each other. I am loving the way the story is taking me to places unknown and yet still recognizable from old tales.

However, I do have to mention a couple of things. Firstly, it can get repetitive in places with repeated words and phrases. The second thing is random words are italicized, which is fine when it’s a French word, but not so good when it’s a regular word and for no apparent reason.

Anyway, if you ignore those couple of things – which really don’t have that much of an impact on the overall story – this is a great addition to the series. I can’t wait for the story to continue and have no hesitation in recommending it.

The ’86 Fix: A 1980s Time Travel Novel by Keith A. Pearson

The ’86 Fix: A 1980s Time Travel Novel by Keith A. Pearson
Publisher: Inchgate Publishing
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Historical, Contemporary
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Lavender

Imagine if you could travel back in time and relive one weekend as your teenage self — would you change anything?

On the way home from school in 1986, Craig Pelling decided to buy a can of Coke. He wasn’t to know a seemingly innocuous visit to the local newsagent would dramatically change the course of his life.

Fast forward to his forties, Craig finds himself trapped in a loveless marriage, earning a living in a dead-end job as the manager of an electrical store. He could have been so much more, achieved so much more.

However, fate hasn’t finished with Craig Pelling yet.

A school reunion proves to be the catalyst for chaos, and decades on from his visit to that newsagent, Craig’s mundane life is turned upside down as his past comes back to haunt him.

As he plummets towards rock-bottom, all seems lost for Craig until he’s thrown a lifeline — the miraculous lifeline of a brief trip back in time to 1986.

Will he be able to fix his life? Is it as simple as just reverting one decision he made over thirty years ago?

Craig is about to find out.

Imagine making an important decision in your teens that left your life a wreck by the time you were in your forties. Now imagine that you could go back to that particular day in your youth and reverse what you did. Craig Pelling did that in this sci-fi time-travel novel.

Craig returns to his present, and things are different. There are some positive changes, but some things went really wrong. Craig searches for a way to set things back to his original difficult life. Why would he do this, and if he succeeds, but then?

This is an interesting take on the genre and somewhat unpredictable. The protagonist is well-developed, and the secondary characters enough to fill out the storyline. Parts of it are funny, and parts make a reader think about humans and their situations.

The story comes in two installments, where the second book picks up where the first one ends. For an entertaining vintage eighties sci-fi, time-travel story, why not give this one a try?

Dark Surrender by Morgan Welsh

Dark Surrender by Morgan Welsh
Book 1 in the Vampire’s Call Series
Publisher: Totally Entwined
Genre: Contemporary, Erotic Romance, Paranormal, Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Rating: 3 stars
Reviewed by Nymphaea

Olivia Hargreaves had often fantasized about the man of her dreams. Little did she know he actually existed—and that he was a vampire.

Following a bad break-up and the need for a fresh start in her life, Olivia Hargreaves has moved from London to the US East Coast to be with her best friend. Now she has finally met the man of her dreams—literally.

Gabriel Langston, a vampire with the ability to get into the minds of humans has been entering her head and showing her the time of her life. When he turns up at the local bar she frequents, she is sure she must be losing it. Wealthy, powerful, commanding and impossibly handsome, Gabriel is different to any man she has ever known and there is no way she can resist the attraction.

And there is no way he will let her.

Dark, full of desire and wonderful.

I like a story I can, er…sink my teeth into. This is one of those stories. It’s long enough that it’s well developed, but short enough for a chilly night. The writing zipped along well, and I couldn’t get enough.

I liked Olivia because she’s every woman. She’s been through a rough time and wants things to level off. Then there are her dreams. Wooo doggie. Hot stuff. I loved when she’d see him that way. It made her relatable, in an odd way, because who hasn’t had dreams about a hot guy?

Gabriel is interesting because he’s a vampire and he’s devoted to her, but he’s also the dark, desirable package that’s rather standard in romance. It works and I like how the author used him.

If you’re looking for a hot read for a chilly night, then I suggest this one.

The Wild Rose and the Sea Raven by Jennifer Ivy Walker

The Wild Rose and the Sea Raven by Jennifer Ivy Walker
Publisher: The Wild Rose Press
Genre: Historical, Paranormal, Romance, Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Moonflower

In this dark fairy tale adaptation of a medieval French legend, Issylte must flee the wicked queen, finding shelter with a fairy witch who teaches her the verdant magic of the forest. Fate leads her to the otherworldly realm of the Lady of the Lake and the Elves of Avalon, where she must choose between her life as a healer or fight to save her ravaged kingdom.

Tristan of Lyonesse is a Knight of the Round Table who must overcome the horrors of his past and defend his king or lose everything. When he becomes a warrior of the Tribe of Dana, a gift of Druidic magic might hold the key he seeks.
Haunted and hunted. Entwined by fate. Can their passion and power prevail?

Tristan and Iseult/Issylte has always been a favourite of mine.

When I read the blurb for this book, I knew I had to give it a go. What I got was so much more than I expected! It is a mixture of a well-known Arthurian story with Snow White, sprinkled with some Marian Zimmer Bradley feelings.

You definitely get both sides of the story with Tristan and Issylte having their own chapters. What I loved is that they have their own lives before they meet each other. In fact, part of Issylte’s life may impact the future stories, so I can’t wait to see if it does. It isn’t all sweetness and light either. The author describes the hardship of war, of those who pay the cost even if they’ve never lifted a sword. I loved the fantasy aspect with the Tribe and Avalon.

You have so much information given to you in this story and yet I was definitely left wanting more when I had finished. An excellent start to the series and I look forward to reading more. Absolutely recommended by me.

Faces in a Window by Oliver C. Seneca

Faces in a Window by Oliver C. Seneca
Publisher: Sunbury Press
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Mystery/Suspense/Thriller, Paranormal, Romance, Contemporary, Historical
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Every school has a secret.

After two beloved teachers pass away at St. Stephen’s Middle School, it’s up to Ian Evans & Michelle Thompson to fill their shoes.

But their eager anticipation soon turns to terror.

They are plagued with unexplainable nightmares and horrific visions: Students who aren’t really there; the school catching fire; scenes of their own deaths playing out before them.

Uncovering what it all means could cost them their jobs, or their lives. With each other’s determination to find the truth of the school’s past, and with the help of an old janitor, Ian and Michelle must risk it all to save more than just their souls.

Resting in peace isn’t always an option.

It took a while for the horror elements of the storyline to fully make their presence known, but it was well worth the wait. There’s definitely something to be said for giving readers tantalizing hints of what’s really going on without sharing everything right away, especially when the characters have excellent reasons for holding back some information from the newcomers.

The plot development was slow and uneven. There was plenty of thrilling material to work with here, but so much time passed between exciting moments that I struggled to remain interested in the storyline. This is something I’m confessing as a reader who was originally thrilled to pick this up and loves paranormal horror in general. The setting itself was delightfully scary. I simply needed more frightening moments and revelations about what was going on at this spooky school to justify giving it a higher rating.

I enjoyed the world building, especially when it came to how long it took the main character to discover anything substantial about the tragedy at St. Stephen’s Middle School that later generations had worked so hard to cover up. The hints about it were enough to keep my interest piqued, and it made a lot of sense to me that the surrounding community would have been so reluctant to share certain painful details about that day with newcomers.

Faces in a Window
made me shudder.

Gawain Unbound by Rebecca York

Gawain Unbound by Rebecca York
Unbound 2
Publisher: Changeling Press
Genre: Erotic Romance, Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Dicentra

When Killian returned alive after an enchanted captivity, his younger brother Prince Gawain was more than happy to step aside as heir to the throne of Abercarn. Now, though, Gawain is at loose ends — until Lady Catrin seduces him and secures his agreement to stalk Madrin, the evil magician who enchanted Killian and killed her father.

Posing as troubadours, the two battle adversity together and find that they are connected by more than their hatred of Madrin. Yet despite their growing longing for a life together, neither of them is willing to abandon their dangerous quest. Their confrontation with their powerful and wily enemy will be the ultimate test of their resolve and their love.

Heroes unite in the name of facing down a dark magician. Their disguise – traveling troubadours making their way through the region. What could go wrong?

On first glance at this book, without reading the synopsis or knowing anything besides the title and what the cover looked like, my first thought was ‘medieval’. Given the name of the main character (Gawain), I went into the book expecting something inspired by the King Arthur myth but that wasn’t the case. The book has a similar vibe and setting, but any inspirations drawn from that legend are loose at best. Gawain, our hero, is searching for his purpose in life after handing the heir to the throne position back to his brother following his return from magical captivity. When he encounters Lady Catrin, the physical tension is electric, and they make an agreement to take out the evil magician Madrin together. A task easier said than done, however, because there are a lot of obstacles in the way of securing their happily ever after ending (especially if they want one together).

I really enjoyed the way the story was structured. The author shows readers the world through Gawain and Catrin’s travels, and it was cool to get to see the region that way. It’s always fun to see heroes go undercover, especially when they pick a disguise of someone that is traditionally overlooked by those in positions of power. I also appreciated that the author chose to make them troubadours (an underutilized role in books) instead of something stereotypical like a servant or a handmaiden.

The sex scenes, unfortunately, were where the author lost me as a reader. As Gawain puts it, they went from conversation to fucking in a blink of an eye (translate that to less than 20 pages into the book). I can get behind characters jumping into bed together fairly quickly, but there was no set up or development to explain what was happening before it did happen. After that first encounter, I wasn’t really invested in their relationship and that negatively impacted my reading experience.

For those who might be curious, this is the second book in the Unbound series. There are some pieces of context and character backgrounds that you’ll get by reading the first book, Killian Unbound, but if you want to read this one first you shouldn’t have too many issues.

Overall, Gawain Unbound was a fairly enjoyable read. There were some minor issues, but the plot was enough to keep me engaged. If you’re looking for a quick (less than 150 page) romantic fantasy tale filled with action and adventure, this would be a good choice.

Bee and Harp by Siondalin O’Craig

Bee and Harp by Siondalin O’Craig
Celtic Magic, Book 1: Midsummer
Publisher: Changeling Press
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Erotic Romance, Paranormal, LGBTQ
Rating: 3 stars
Reviewed by Nymphaea

Dublin Museum Curator Bee McBride’s research tour is interrupted by a shady stranger with a broken harp — and a broken heart.

When Bee, the stranger, and the harp are kidnapped by art thieves, Bee discovers the dusty instrument is the legendary magic harp of the ancient Celtic god Dagda.

Can her buzzing fervor find a way to unlock the harp’s music and the stranger’s ardor before Midsummer Night?

Talk about a slow burn! This one scorches.

I wasn’t sure what I was getting into with this story, but I’m glad I read it. The tale is sweeping and the circumstances are truly the work of legend and magic. Once I started the book, I was engrossed.

Bee and Kevin are great together. I liked the chemistry and the way things happened at just the right pace. They made a great pair, too. Oh, and were they hot. Wow. I wasn’t expecting that plot twist.

The writing did take a bit of getting used to–there seemed initially to be more telling than showing and I had a hard time getting into the point of view of the characters. Once the plot took off, then things fell more into place.

If you’re looking for a hot story with twists, turns and magic, then this might be the one for you.

Visions by Kaye Lynne Booth,

Visions by Kaye Lynne Booth,
Publisher: WordCrafter Press
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Mystery/Suspense/Thriller, Paranormal, Contemporary, Historical
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

An author’s visions are revealed through their stories. Many authors have strange and unusual stories, indeed. Within these pages, you will find the stories of eighteen different authors, each unique and thought provoking. These are the fantasy, science fiction, paranormal, and horror stories that will keep you awake long into the night.

What happens when:

An inexplicable monster plagues a town for generations, taking people… and souvenirs?

A post-apocalyptic band of travelers finds their salvation in an archaic machine?

The prey turns out to be the predator for a band of human traffickers?

Someone chooses to be happy in a world where emotions are regulated and controlled?

A village girl is chosen to be the spider queen?

Grab your copy today and find out. Let authors such as W.T. Paterson, Joseph Carabis, Kaye Lynne Booth, Michaele Jordan, Stephanie Kraner, and others, including the author of the winning story in the WordCrafter 2022 Short Fiction Contest, Roberta Eaton Cheadle, tantalize your thoughts and share their Visions

From Kaye Lynne Booth, editor of Once Upon an Ever After: Modern Fairy Tales & Folklore, Refracted Reflections: Twisted Tales of Duality & Deception and Gilded Glass: Twisted Myths & Shattered Fairy Tales.

Not everything in life can be easily explained.

As odd as this may sound at first, I smiled at the kidnapping gone wrong in “Tourist Trap.” You see, the main character knew the men who were showing her good photography sites weren’t trustworthy, and she had a plan to handle every curveball they threw her way as they attempted to kidnap her for ransom. It’s always nice to meet protagonists who are that resourceful and intelligent, especially when there are so many plot twists coming to help a reader get to know her even better.

Ashling was shocked to realize she was missing a tattoo in “The Vanishing Tattoo.” Her reason for originally getting it is something other readers should discover for themselves, but I was immediately drawn into her reaction and emotions when it disappeared. I only wish there had been more world building so I could have determined whether this was as impossible in that setting as it would be in the real world or whether such a thing had been known to happen there before. It was a bit confusing for me as a reader to hear about something impossible happening without knowing the context of it all.

In “At Mountains, Majesty,” a wanderer named Ahlam discovered something spectacular that had been created and then abandoned many years earlier. He and his family didn’t have a permanent home thanks to how unstable human society was in the future, but he hoped his discovery might help to change that. I loved the creativity and hopefulness of this tale. While the characters were in a tough situation, they had multiple reasons to believe their luck was about to change. That’s the sort of science fiction I always enjoy discovering.

Visions was a satisfying anthology.

The Tower’s Peculiar Visitor by Lesley-Anne McLeod

The Tower’s Peculiar Visitor by Lesley-Anne McLeod
Publisher: Uncial Press
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Romance, Historical
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Jane Gladwyne enjoys her work, and she enjoys her life as a general secretary and governess at Kenning Old Manor. When she is told of the propensity of the ancient Red Tower, part of the ruined Kenning Castle, to allow people of other times to arrive in 1825, she is at first disbelieving. The household at Kenning Old Manor accept this oddity as fact however, and eventually Jane too acknowledges the impossible reality. She is thankful the Red Tower is not her responsibility, but that of Caleb Debray, son of the estate steward.

When a visitor from the future arrives in the Tower however, she is seconded to Debray as his assistant. And the fact of time travel is all too real, as between them, Jane and Caleb attempt to conceal the visitor’s origins, curtail his activities, and cope with his ebullient personality. The task brings them into constant contact and, as they become better acquainted, a warmth grows between them.

When the visitor’s actions endanger the family that owns Kenning Old Manor, Caleb and Jane must protect the household. When the traveler’s suggestions endanger Jane’s peace of mind, she must make difficult decisions. And when the visitor’s presence threatens Caleb’s future happiness, he takes decisive action.

Eventually the explorer decides to travel on, risking his life again through the Tower portal, and Caleb cannot be sorry. But the visitor’s arrival and his presence have changed everything for the inhabitants of Kenning Old Manor. Balance and normality will be difficult to recapture, and happiness could be elusive.

Nothing remains the same forever.

It was intriguing to read a time travel novel from the perspective of characters who must suddenly cope with a visitor who is so uninformed about their culture and way of life. I can’t say I’ve ever read anything like it before, and it made me look at time travel in a new light. What may be exciting to the person travelling to the past can also be puzzling or even sometimes irritating to the individuals who must explain everything and have their routines thrown out of order.

I struggled with the slow pacing, especially later on once the main characters had all been introduced and the visitor from the future began to settle into rural life in 1825. While I wouldn’t expect this storyline to move as quickly as something set in the present day, there were plenty of opportunities for more conflict and adventure here that never came to fruition.

The world building was solid and dependable. Jane lived in a time and place when change happens slowly and, with the exception of the turning of the seasons, one day was generally more or less just like the one that came before it. Ms. McLeod explained the benefits of this sort of society nicely, and I enjoyed the subtle touches she added to explain certain social mores that are no longer culturally relevant for the average reader today. While they weren’t strictly necessary for understanding most scenes, they added a vibrant undercurrent to the plot that made me curious to find out what would happen to these characters next as Zeke accidentally disrupted everything.

The Tower’s Peculiar Visitor was a thoughtful read.