Knot Real by M.C. Roth

Knot Real by M.C. Roth
Publisher: Pride Publishing
Genre: Contemporary, Erotic Romance, LGBTQ, Paranormal, Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Moonflower

Vale will never have to worry about a mating contract, right?

Vale considers himself lucky that he’s exempt from having a mating contract. Why would any omega want thousands of alphas to bid on them and try to prove themselves worthy?

From his best friend Zyke to the cute omega he met at a house party—everyone’s lives seem to revolve around the search for a single mate. It’s simple… The alphas bid and the omegas make their choice, while protective instincts take care of the rest.

But the barbaric practice has its own beauty that will always be just out of reach for Vale. Maybe if he had a contract, he would find someone who would love him wholly and completely and he wouldn’t have to spend his time cherishing the last few days with his best friend before Zyke inevitably finds a mate of his own. Maybe he wouldn’t be so lonely…

Knot Real is a standalone as far as I can see, but I would love to return to this world and see further into how it works!

Vale and Zyke are best friends who everyone thinks are a couple. Vale is one of the lucky ones who doesn’t have to have a mating contract, but he’s not looking forward to when Zyke has one in case it impacts their friends. Well, Zyke gets a contract, and it does have an impact, but maybe not in the way Vale was expecting!

This was a great story with plenty of emotion. It was pretty clear what the lay of the land was, but I enjoyed staying with Vale as he discovered the truth about the situation, Zyke’s feelings, and his own.

A quick read that I thoroughly enjoyed and have no hesitation in recommending.

The Perfectly Fine Neighborhood

The Perfectly Fine Neighborhood edited by Kayleigh Dobbs, Stephen Kozeniewski, and Wile E. Young
Publisher: French Press
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Paranormal, LGBTQ, Mystery/Suspense/Thriller, Contemporary, Horror
Rating: 5 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

For all of human history ghosts were real and they were everywhere. Then, one day, after a horrible cataclysm, they all disappeared.

That was the story of THE PERFECTLY FINE HOUSE.

But there are more tales to be told from that world. And a thrilling lineup, ranging from horror legends to relative newcomers, have joined forces to bring you:

– a roadside attraction featuring a real, dead serial killer

– a pair of twisted sisters whose sibling rivalry only begins with suicide

– a hitman hired to facilitate a ghostly sexual liaison

And more!

The first unhaunted house was just the beginning. Come, stake your claim in…


If you love paranormal horror, I have quite the treat for you!

One of the biggest strengths of this anthology had to do with the wide variety of approaches the contributors took to the theme. A few of them were a little too gory for my tastes, but I still found their stories to be well written and memorable. Horror fans who love the bloody side of the genre may have completely different responses to them, of course, and I thought it was wonderful that so many different writing styles and horror subgenres were included to suit all sorts of readers. I wish I had space in this review to cover every tale, but I will have to limit myself to only speaking about three of them for the sake of brevity.

In “Jurisdiction,” Eddie and his fellow officers tried to figure out who or what had been killing ghosts. I thought the premise of this tale was a clever one, and I couldn’t stop reading until I reached the conclusion. Eddie’s interest in this case overshadowed everything else in his life, including his relationship with his partner. This was an interesting way to realistically showcase some of the protagonist’s flaws while also keeping the pacing strong and steady until the final scene. I was left yearning for more and would love to read a sequel if Mr. Vincent ever decides to write one.

Thomas decided to kill his wife in “The Perfectly Fine Family” so that she could join him in his peaceful afterlife. Honestly, that was not a decision I would expect a ghost to make, so I was immediately sucked into his story as he planned out the ideal way to ensure he and Marie would be together forever. There was a surprising streak of humor in the storyline as well that suited the characters perfectly. Horror and humor should be mixed together more often in my opinion!

While I generally shy away from stories about serial killers, “Addict to Slaughter” had such a creative spin to the topic that I soon became insatiably curious to find out more about John Miller and his terrible compulsion to kill others. The twist showed up early and will probably be something most horror fans figure out early on. Knowing there is more to his life that meets the eye was all I needed to remain interested.

The Perfectly Fine Neighborhood was deliciously scary.

Smoke and Mirrors by Pelaam

Smoke and Mirrors by Pelaam
Publisher: Pride Publishing
Genre: Contemporary, Erotic Romance, LGBTQ, Paranormal
Rating: 3 stars
Reviewed by Cholla

Two may be company, but four is pure magic.

Leo thinks he’s scored the scoop of a journalist’s lifetime when he secures an all-expenses paid trip to write in-depth articles on the magic act Three of Wands.

However, American billionaire and recluse, Paul, who commissioned the articles, isn’t all he seems, and soon Leo is plunged into a situation where things are not what they appear to be.

Leo falls in love with all three men of Three of Wands—Lucien, Xanto and Ahad—and they are equally keen to take him as their fourth.

When evil strikes Leo and Xanto, will even the combined powers of Lucien, Ahad and their familiar, Salem, be enough to save them?

When Leo sets out to interview the renown magic group Three of Wands, he thinks it’s going to be his big journalistic break. After all, who’d fly him all the way from New Zealand to the US if they didn’t think he could handle the job? However, he’s about to discover that the Three of Wands have more than his career in mind – like possibly the rest of his life? But when danger strikes, it’ll take all four of them working together to make it out alive.

Of all four, Leo was by far my favorite character. His attachment to his grandmother was sweet, and I enjoyed how he approached everything he was faced with. Even when he was nervous or afraid, he put himself out there, ready to face it head on. The way the Three of Wands took to him was fun as well, each welcoming him almost immediately into their group. Each magician is different from the other and their wildly varying personalities make their little group a joy. Leo fits right in, too.

However, there were a lot of things going on for such a short novella. At times, it made it hard for me to follow and keep track of who was doing what. There was also the issue of the tentacles. Which simply isn’t my thing, even if it did add an air of exoticness to the story.

Overall, Smoke and Mirrors was fast paced and exciting. The moments between the boys were smoking hot as well, making you eager for the next time they have a minute to be alone. Also, the addition of the mythological aspects was intriguing. I’d love to read more about where the four of them are now and what they’re doing with the magic show and, of course, each other.

Cruel Seduction by Katee Robert

Cruel Seduction by Katee Robert
Publisher: Sourcebooks Casablanca
Genre: Erotic Romance, LGBTQ, Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Dicentra

Aphrodite has never flinched at getting her perfectly manicured hands dirty, and she’s not about to start now—even if that means marrying Olympus’s enemy number one, the new Hephaestus. She has a wicked plan to keep her deadly new husband off-balance, seducing the one person he seems to care about most in this world: Pandora, a woman as beautiful as she is sweet.

Two can play the seduction game, however, and Hephaestus is all too happy to put his new wife in her place. Her ex, Adonis, seems like he’ll do the trick. It doesn’t hurt that he’s gorgeous in the way of fallen angels, either.

The only problem with using seduction as a weapon? Hearts are all too quick to get involved. With Hephaestus and Aphrodite trading venomous strikes that feel a whole lot like foreplay, lines become blurred and emotions entangled. But a broken heart may be the least of their worries. With unrest in Olympus reaching new heights, these bedroom games may have deadly consequences for themselves, their city, and everyone they’ve come to love.

As someone who enjoys anything related to Greek mythology, I’ve been a big fan of Katee Robert’s ongoing Dark Olympus series. One of the latest releases, Cruel Seduction, centers on the Aphrodite and Hephaestus myth. A very loose re-imagining of the original story, the author does a great job honoring the tone and heart of the source material while still weaving in their own trademark spiciness and complexities.

If you had to sum up Aphrodite and Hephaestus’ relationship in one word, it would be complicated. In almost every version of the myth, Aphrodite was not exactly thrilled about getting married to her husband. That holds true in this book as Aphrodite (formerly known as Eris) is forced to marry the new Hephaestus in order to secure his cooperation in working with the other members of the Thirteen for the good of Olympus. Those who have read the previous books in the series know that both are very talented when it comes to manipulation and politics. Since they can’t physically hurt their spouse, they choose to go for the emotional jugular and seduce their spouses’ former lovers (Adonis and Pandora, respectively). Romance readers who pick their books by trope will be pleased to know that the ‘marriage of convenience’ and ‘second chance romance’ feature very heavily in this book. The whole situation between Hephaestus and Aphrodite gets very complicated very quickly (turning into what the author terms as a ‘polyamorous knot’) and it was quite entertaining as a reader to follow along.

The worldbuilding of each book in the series works off of the foundation that previous books have laid. I’ve really enjoyed getting to learn more about how the city works, and what forces are working against it. While the plots of each book are constructed such that they can be read in any order and independently of each other, I do recommend reading it in order for the best experience. If you read this and subsequently start reading more of Katee Robert’s books, you will also notice that her different series are interconnected. I highly recommend checking out their graphics on Instagram to see the different connections. As a side note, for those who might be going into this as your first Katee Robert read, I do want to warn you that the spiciness rating is very high; multiple explicit and intimate lovemaking scenes are scattered throughout the book.

Overall, this was an excellent read that’s left me excited for more. Audiobook narrators Alex Moorcock and Zara Hampton-Brown did an excellent job bringing multiple perspectives to life with their performances in the audiobook version of the story. I’m super excited for the next installment in the series (due out January 2024), which features Charon, Eurydice, and Orpheus.

Candy Magic by M. C. Roth

Candy Magic by M. C. Roth
Publisher: Pride Publishing
Genre: Contemporary, Erotic Romance, Holiday, LGBTQ, Paranormal
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Cholla

Sweeter than candy—hotter than magic.

Crean is trying to leave it all behind—the closet, his overbearing family and, of course, his magic. In a world where vampires and shifters are hidden among humans, Crean is the odd one out. Born as a human to a family of shifters, he’s been hiding his orientation and his magic for his entire life.

In search of a new start, he sets out on a journey to a different province. The only condition is he has to live with his brother and his three roommates.

Living with a vampire, a werewolf and a faerie is bound to be a disaster, and Crean does his best to avoid the strangers. But everything he’s been told about others is wrong, and his life is about to change forever.

What would you do in order to be free? To stop having to hide all that you are? For Crean, that means leaving home and moving in with his younger brother, Rian, and his roommates. What starts out as a risky and possibly disastrous situation turns into more than any of them could have ever imagined.

Crean is a fun character. I enjoyed watching him grow into his sexuality and really own it. His interactions with his brother are fun and very realistic. He also has very different relationships with the other roommates, too, which I appreciated.

Rian’s roommates were a crazy bunch. A vampire, a wolf shifter, and a faery. Even more amusing is that Rian’s a panther shifter himself, so a dog, a cat, a biter, and a fae all in the same house. This diversity of paranormals makes for an enjoyable bit of banter throughout the story, as well as different experiences for Crean as he bonds with each man. It’s hard to choose a favorite, too, because each had a fun or quirky personality trait that endeared them to me.

One small thing that bothered me with the story is that Crean’s magic wasn’t really addressed. He hid it from everyone, but even his lovers don’t know about it. While reading, I assumed that the reason why Nate could feed off him and be sated for a long period of time was due to the magic. The same goes for what transpired with Tristan as well. But it’s a small thing and didn’t really detract from my enjoyment of the story overall.

Candy Magic is a super steamy, funny, and magical romance. Mixing an awkward, inexperienced ‘human’ in with a house full of more experienced paranormal beings is indeed a recipe for disaster, but it can also be a recipe for love, passion, and joy. I’d love to know more about their lives after this story ends, I just couldn’t get enough of Crean and his boys.

Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan

Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan
Publisher: Ember
Genre: LGBTQ, Contemporary, YA (Ages 14+)
Rating: 5 Stars
Reviewed by Nymphaea

Based on true events—and narrated by a Greek Chorus of the generation of gay men lost to AIDS—Two Boys Kissing follows Harry and Craig, two seventeen-year-olds who are about to take part in a 32-hour marathon of kissing to set a new Guinness World Record. While the two increasingly dehydrated and sleep-deprived boys are locking lips, they become a focal point in the lives of other teens dealing with universal questions of love, identity, and belonging.

Two boys kissing and so much more.

This book has been singled out as something to be banned, but I disagree. This book was fantastic. Yes, there are two boys kissing in this book, but it’s so much more. I liked the variety in the book, the characters and the tone. This isn’t an easy book to read. The author tackles hard topics–boys kissing, transgender issues, depression and thoughts of suicide. It’s not easy. But it’s worth the read.

I liked the various characters and seeing how they handled different situations. My favorite characters are the ones who came before, the ones telling the story. Their wisdom and wistfulness, along with their frankness, was the best part. They don’t mince words and I loved it. I liked the commentary.

This is a book everyone should read at some point. It’s sweet at times, endearing, sad and heartbreaking, but it’s realness is what really shines through. Recommended.

A Barista for Christmas by J. Hali Steele

A Barista for Christmas by J. Hali Steele
Publisher: Changeling Press
Genre: Erotic Romance, Holiday, LGBTQ, Contemporary
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

With a lot of hard work, Aspen Ferris’ dream of owning his own coffee shop has finally come true. Unfortunately, renovations are almost complete on a nearby mall that will house a chain coffee establishment. Not only that, Christmas is a few weeks away! When the electricity goes out at the mall, the construction company’s owner visits Asp’s store. Insulting the pushy brute gets Aspen thoroughly told off and… kissed! A kiss he can’t forget.

Dandridge St. Clare speeds to his worksite to handle an electric outage and misses his morning coffee. Locating a place to grab his caffeine fix, he’s offended by the barista at Your Coffee Cup. Anxious and upset, Dan pulls the man over the counter and can’t resist kissing the handsome jackass. On top of that, he enjoys the best cup of coffee ever. More unsettling still, he can’t erase the taste or feel of the man’s mouth. Dandridge returns for more of both.

The holidays are approaching and neither man expects much. Both get more than they bargained for.

Anything is possible at Christmas time.

Most of the LGBTQ stories I read are set in cities, so I was intrigued by the small town setting here. It didn’t take very long at all for the characters to explain what it was like for them to live in such a rural area while being part of a minority group. I liked the fact that this was included as it added another layer of tension and intrigue to the plot without distracting the audience from the main storyline.

As much as I thought Eric and Aspen were well-suited for each other, I was never quite convinced that they were ready for something much more than a fling due to the emotional baggage both of them carried from previous relationships that ended on sour notes and other difficult life experiences. Honestly, I wanted to send them both to counselling for a few months and then have them try again. It would have been helpful to see more examples of how these characters were overcoming their fears and facing their pasts in order to have a better future together.

The plot twists in this novella made me smile. For example, who knew that an argument with a stranger could be stopped in its tracks with a kiss? That was such an interesting way to start things off that I was eager to keep reading and see how else the author was planning to surprise their audience. I’ll leave it up to other readers to find out what happened next, but it was certainly worth the read.

A Barista for Christmas was a wild ride.

Veronica by Asif Hossain

Veronica by Asif Hossain
Publisher: Turquoise Book House
Genre: LGBTQ, Romance, Contemporary
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Veronica is a young (18-year-old) girl who recently graduated from high school and plans to attend college. Loneliness is her best companion. She has a quiet personality and spends the majority of her time reading. She decides to embark on an adventure with no set destination in order to see the world from another point of view. As she continues, different perspectives, including her romantic awakening, start to fill the void in her mind.

As she drives through the streets and wanders around, she finds herself in places she has never been before. A quiet, empty motel, a cafe with old-fashioned people in a deserted area—entering all these becomes a discovery for her. The calm atmosphere and sudden downpour of rain bring a sense of nostalgia to her life. However, meeting a captivating college student named Olivia in the Ozarks brings a different flow of emotions into her life.

The book is divided into twelve chapters with an epilogue, each titled after an art form that Veronica’s feelings resonate with, which is mostly songs and sometimes poetry.

Love makes everything better.

Veronica was a thoughtful and kind protagonist. I appreciated the way she took note of how her actions might affect others and did everything she could to make the right decisions that would have the highest probability of being good for everyone involved. There is definitely something to be said for characters who care about social harmony as much as she did!

I struggled with the slow pacing of this book. The plot development that was there took a lot of time to show up and included a lot of filler scenes that could have been cut out or trimmed down. As much as I enjoyed the thoughtful atmosphere of certain scenes, having everything move so slowly meant that I didn’t have as many incentives to keep reading as I would have liked to discover. Some of the scenes did make me eager to see what would happen next, especially in the last fifteen percent of the storyline or so, but sadly there weren’t enough of them to warrant giving this a higher rating.

The friends to lovers trope is one of my favorite romance tropes, and it was handled nicely here. It was refreshing for Veronica and her love interest to have so much time to get to know each other before anything romantic happened to them because it gave them the opportunity to get to know each other on a deep level. There’s a lot of overlap between what makes two people compatible as friends versus what makes them a good match romantically speaking, so confirming just how much they had in common ahead of time did them both a service.

Veronica was a quiet read.

Blue Star Boy by Gavin Atlas

Blue Star Boy by Gavin Atlas
Publisher: JMS Books
Genre: Contemporary, Erotic Romance, LBGTQ
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Nymphaea

Jerry’s goal is to fulfill as many sexual fantasies as he can before he starts graduate school in the fall. The next fantasy on his list is topping a surfer, and with the help of the internet, he’s discovered a submissive young man on the Texas coast who is famous for giving up his incredible rump on the beach at sunset.

But when he meets Adriano, Jerry is stunned, and not just by the surfer’s beautiful body. The combination of Adriano’s sweet essence and natural sex appeal have Jerry wanting much more than a one-night stand.

Two hot men, one chance meeting and a hot time to ensue?

I didn’t know what I’d get when I picked up this book. Sweet romance? There is some in there. These two men are trying to find something in this crazy world, so yes, that part is sweet. Something saucy? There’s that, too. There is certainly spice. This is a short story, but there’s a lot in it and it’s fun.

Adriano has been embarrassed by his ex and his name placed online as a Blue Star Boy–there for someone’s good time. He’s not interested, until Jerry comes along. Jerry just wants a one-nighter. Then he meets Adriano. I liked the pairing and the pacing of this story. It’s good. I’ll read more by this author.

If you’re looking for a quick romance that will satisfy for a lunchtime read, then this is the one for you.

The Red Tin Box by Matthew Burgess

The Red Tin Box by Matthew Burgess
Publisher: Chronicle Books LLC
Genre: Children’s (0 – 6 y.o.), LGBTQ, Contemporary
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Like modern-day Miss Rumphius and her promise to make the world a more beautiful place, this luminous story brings the scope of a lifetime into focus for a young reader and fills it with the magic of gifts given and received.

This moving and radiant story of the relationship between a grandmother and granddaughter, and the joy and promise passed down between them, begins one quiet dawn . . .
On the morning of her eighth birthday,
Maude buries a secret
at the foot of a flowering dogwood—
and inside it,
a tiny toy elephant,
a marble like a tiger’s eye,
a bird’s nest with purple string woven through the twigs,
and more.

A special box.
A gift, waiting for the right moment to be opened again.

At once lyrical and profound, this enchantingly illustrated book is a joyful celebration of intergenerational relationships and of the secret treasures of childhood. Young readers and adults will delight in the memories and magic tucked away in the red tin box.

REASSURING AND MAGICAL: In these unpredictable times, gentle stories have the power to reassure little ones that the most important things in life are still right in our hands. This beautiful book celebrates the enduring themes of family love, connection, and the power of memory with poignancy and care.

CELEBRATES INTERGENERATIONAL SHARING: The warmth between a grandmother and her granddaughter that this luminous picture book depicts serves as a beautiful model of the little moments that form fond memories and build lasting intergenerational relationships.

EVERYONE HAS A TREASURE: The collection of special objects in this story give a grandmother’s memories and connection to her granddaughter a physicality that even the youngest readers can use their own senses to understand, reinforcing the deeper meaning and mystery each one contains.

A MEANINGFUL GIFT: With gorgeous, color-drenched illustrations and lyrical text that illuminates a message of enduring love, this picture book makes a wonderful gift for any occasion, from birthdays to holidays, and every day of the year.

Perfect for:
Anyone seeking storytime books that celebrate family connection
Fans of beautiful and heartfelt picture books like The Giving Tree, One Morning in Maine, and Last Stop on Market Street
Gift book for new grandmothers, as part of a wishing well basket for baby shower, a birthday gift to a grandchild, or a classroom resource for diverse kids’ books
Any occasion that calls for distinctive books that will become treasured keepsakes

Childhood doesn’t last forever, but what if you could preserve a piece of it?

The relationship between Maude and her granddaughter was sweet and beautiful. I loved getting a taste of the sorts of quiet adventures they went on together, especially once the storyline explained what they hoped to accomplish on this trip. It’s always nice to have more stories about loving and involved grandparents, especially when they remember what it’s like to be a kid as clearly and fondly as this one did.

I was disappointed by how little time was spent explaining the contents of the red tin box. After all of the scenes that hyped up what Maude might have buried so many years before and why they were so meaningful to her, it felt odd to skim over these details so quickly in the last few scenes. If more attention had been paid to this, I would have happily gone for a much higher rating.

It was interesting to see how much the landscape stayed the same between when Maude buried her box and when she went back again to dig it up. There are a few places I know that are like that, and visiting them can feel like stepping back in the past in a soothing and wholesome way. This isn’t a feeling or a setting that’s easy to capture in a picture book, so I tip my cap to the author for pulling it off.

The Red Tin Box was a peaceful tale.