Lera’s Sorrow – Darkliete, Book One by Gail Gernat


Lera’s Sorrow – Darkliete, Book One by Gail Gernat
Publisher: Andrea James Publishing
Genre: Historical, Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Length: Short Story (58 pages)
Rating: 4.5 stars
Reviewed by Orchid

Lera and her cousin have completed their long childhood and their training as healers. Sent to their grandparents back in Madean, they must negotiate the strange new world, attain their werwinstans. Fate intervenes in the shape of handsome young Ian, very human and very poisonous to the elven. Trying out her independence for the first time in her life, what will Lera decide? Where will she discover her loyalty to lay, with love or with duty?

Elves, I love elves! This is a story with a difference as Lera has come to her grandparents to be officially accepted as a healer. During the celebrations she bonds with.a human prince and this causes untold problems which is not helped by the lies of a pooka.

For such a short book, this story is full of emotion and intrigue, plus there’s an evil queen and a handsome prince. What more could a reader want when opening a fantasy book? Lera’s healing helps her through bad times but also puts her in danger which adds a bit of spice to the story.

Well written, easy to read and gives satisfaction. Recommended.

Luska by Will Robinson


Luska by Will Robinson
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Length: Full length (478 pages)
Rating: 3 stars
Review by Peony

The caretakers of the galaxy, the Idrix, are destroyed by an unknown force, breaking down the order that had dominated humanity for nearly a millennium.

Eidi is a unique, precognitive student, who lives on the divided planet of Luska and knows that their future is full of death and destruction, but can she stop it?

Sreiwa is a fanatical spy and assassin who helped enable an invasion of her own planet and becomes a pawn in the deadly intrigue of a Byzantine and brutal culture.

Sellen is an Idrix soldier who escaped the destruction of his fleet only to find himself in a jungle hellscape where his only salvation is in the form of a sworn enemy.

Cigva is an enigmatic AI who joins Eidi to struggle against shape-shifting, mind-controlling deities, nightmare simians, deadly parasites, and a surprising, tyrannical foe from her home planet of Luska.

The real danger lies in the showdown that is taking place between a long-dormant alien race called the Spearfinger, and the anti-alien, god-like Eth, where the ramifications of their confrontation could decide the future of the galaxy and the direction of humanity.

Will Robinson fills the need for a dramatic space opera with his pulse pounding Luska, an exciting adventure with action, a little bit of romance and the depth you’ve been pining for. Part of Robinson’s Spearfinger series, of which more books are the come, the Luska universe already contains three thrilling stories to wet your apatite about Wil’s expansive world building. It can be hard to find a sprawling novel that tries to build a world like Tolkien or Martin, but Will definitely takes aim at the stars.

When embarking on a space adventure, there are certain things the genre brings to mind. You as the reader will come to expect complex characters with a diverse set of motivations that equates to far more than just good or evil. On top of that these sorts of stories usually include organizations and families with their own problems and motivation to deal with. Does it sound like this is a description of a genre? It is, but it also perfectly encapsulates what you can expect when you dive into this novel. The sheer number of characters and groups and the different ways they rub up against one another will make the world feel living and breathing and quickly illustrate the time, love and care that Robinson put into crafting it.

There is a very real risk when trying to make a story this dense. From a reading prospective there can be a lot to absorb and without a clueless outsider to ask the questions for you in the story, there may not be a way to know and understand all the aspects of the world. Luska does have a lot going for it with a complex and evolving world, but this comes at a cost. With a whole host of dense reading, names and places that you’ll have to memorize, if can start to resemble homework. Some people, especially those familiar with epic tales will be excited by this, but for those who are not, the effort does pay off eventually.

Realism is another key factor when writing these sorts of stories, actions have to have reactions that make sense or the whole universe falls apart. That is probably one of the aspects of the grand adventure stories with copious world building that garners them the most praise and failure to do so the most scorn. There are lots of times in this book with a great deal of high tech that decidedly low tech solutions are used instead. Solutions that we wouldn’t even consider using in our pre space age civilization, so the times when it comes up in this story are especially jarring. There are other examples where the actions or motivations do not make a great deal of sense, but no spoilers. You’ll just have to decide how high a standard you hold up to realism in a fantasy or sci fi setting.

However you feel about reading epic space operas, there is one thing that this book conveys without a doubt. The sense of relief and satisfaction when you finish this book is quite unique in that not only do you get a wildly interesting world, but the sense of embarking on your own adventure to finish it. You’ll trudge through the arduous journey with the characters, you’ll struggle as they struggle through sections of tension and tedium, empathetic of their plights. If you decide to pick this book up, there will certainly be that pay off when you finally put it down. Book two isn’t out as of this writing, but there is a lot to enjoy here and with the two accompanying novellas already.

The Chef and the Ghost of Bartholomew Addison Jenkins by Aletta Thorne


The Chef and the Ghost of Bartholomew Addison Jenkins by Aletta Thorne
Publisher: Evernight Publishing
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Paranormal, Horror, Historical
Length: Full Length (151 pages)
Other: M/F
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Halloween, 1982. MTV is new, poodle perms are the rage, and life just might be getting better for Alma Kobel. Her ugly divorce is final at last. Her new job as chef at Bright Day School’s gorgeous old estate is actually fun. But the place is haunted—and so is Alma’s apartment.

Bartholomew Addison Jenkins’ ghost has been invisibly watching Alma for months. When he materializes one night, Alma discovers Bart—as he likes to be called—has talents she couldn’t have imagined … and a horrifying past. Can you have a one-nighter with a ghost? And what happens if you decide one night is all you want—and end up ghosting him? Some spirits don’t like taking “no” for an answer.

First impressions definitely aren’t always accurate.

What a hilarious main character Alma was! She could find a funny spin to anything that happened to her, from surprise health inspections at work to her strange and complicated interactions with her ex-husband. Some of the things that happened to her would have seriously annoyed or even frightened a lot of people. I loved the fact that she was able to quickly shake so many of those memories off with her fabulous sense of humor.

The only criticism I have of this story has to do with how quickly the romantic relationship in it heated up. Both of the people involve in it were so cautious and meticulous in other areas of their lives that I never would have expected them to move as fast as they did. Yes, I definitely wanted to see them end up together, but it felt a little odd to me because it didn’t feel consistent with everything else I’d learned about them. With that being said, this is a minor complaint about something I enjoyed quite a lot.

The world building was really well done. I especially enjoyed figuring out what ghosts were and weren’t capable of in this universe. Since nobody was given any instructions after they died, Bartholomew had to learn what he could do and what the consequences of those actions would be on his own. Him slowly discovering his abilities and limitations as the plot moved forward made it difficult for me to stop reading. I always wanted to know more about what the afterlife was like for him.

The Chef and the Ghost of Bartholomew Addison Jenkins was as spooky as it was sexy. It should be read by fans of erotica and ghost stories alike.

Sanctity of Life by Jennifer E. Whalen


Sanctity of Life by Jennifer E. Whalen
An Enemy Loved Novel

Publisher: Lilac Press
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Horror, Action/Adventure, Historical
Length: Full Length (156 pages)
Heat Level: Spicy
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Deep in the Black Forest of Germany, dark experiments have been taking place since WWII. Now the secrets are in danger of being exposed. Who will live? Who will die? Can it be contained?

Sometimes science causes more problems than it solves.

The dialogue was well done. This was a fast-paced story, so there wasn’t a lot of room for lengthy descriptions or discussions. I liked the fact that the characters’ conversations were kept as short as possible. That was exactly how I’d expect members of the military and government to behave when they were trying to contain a threat to the security of their nation.

There were so many characters in this story that I found it really difficult to remember who was who. I kept mixing everyone up, and it only became tougher to remember who everyone was once the pacing picked up and the characters began to find themselves in dangerous situations.

One of the things I always like discovering is a character who makes intelligent decisions regardless of what’s happening around him. There were several characters in this book who had good heads on their shoulders. No matter how other people reacted around them, they always paid close attention to their surroundings and thought logically about what they should do next. I appreciated that.

The time jumps were confusing to me. Some of the scenes were set in 1945 while others happened in 1918. Since I was struggling so much to remember who all of the characters were, it was strange to suddenly meet new people or to see someone in a different part of his or her life than they’d been a few scenes earlier.

My favorite sections of this story were the ones that explained what was going on with the dark experiments in full detail. I’m a big fan of science fiction about medical advancements that don’t turn out the way their creators intended them to. The author did a good job at explaining why these attempts were having such poor results and hinting at what would happen if the scientists continue to push the boundaries of what the human body is capable of.

Sanctity of Life should be read by anyone who loves the idea of science experiments gone terribly wrong.

The Hematophages by Stephen Kozeniewski


The Hematophages by Stephen Kozeniewski
Publisher: Sinister Grin Press
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Horror, Action/Adventure
Length: Full Length (162 pages)
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Doctoral student Paige Ambroziak is a “station bunny” – she’s never set foot off the deep space outpost where she grew up. But when she’s offered a small fortune to join a clandestine salvage mission, she jumps at the chance to leave the cutthroat world of academia behind.

Paige is convinced she’s been enlisted to find the legendary Manifest Destiny, a long-lost colonization vessel from an era before the corporations ruled Earth and its colonies. Whatever she’s looking for, though, rests in the blood-like seas of a planet-sized organism called a fleshworld.

Dangers abound for Paige and her shipmates. Flying outside charted space means competing corporations can shoot them on sight rather than respect their salvage rights. The area is also crawling with pirates like the ghoulish skin-wrappers, known for murdering anyone they can’t extort.

But the greatest threat to Paige’s mission is the nauseating alien parasites which infest the fleshworld. These lamprey-like monstrosities are used to swimming freely in an ocean of blood, and will happily spill a new one from the veins of the outsiders who have tainted their home. In just a few short, bone-chilling hours Paige learns that there are no limits to the depravity and violence of the grotesque nightmares known as…THE HEMATOPHAGES.

There are no friendly aliens here.

I appreciated how much time Mr. Kozeniewski spent on the world building and character development before the plot sped up. Having such a detailed introduction to the strict, corporate-run society Paige grew up in made it easy for me to bond with her. Paige’s childhood had not been an easy one, but it had shaped her into a strong and self-reliant woman. I really enjoyed having such a deep understanding of how those early experiences shaped the person she became as an adult. They made her heroic acts later on in the plot even more exciting than they might have been for someone who didn’t have quite so much to lose.

My only piece of constructive criticism has to do with the plot twists. While I definitely enjoyed following Paige’s adventures, the fact that I could predict what would happen next so regularly did make me wish that I could have been surprised by what the characters experienced more often. It was a minor complaint about a tale that I otherwise had a great time reading, though.

Yes, there were many gory scenes in this book. It’s something that is to be expected when characters visit a planet that has oceans full of blood, after all. The violence served an important purpose to the plot, though, and I liked the way it was folded into what had been a much tamer adventure story in the beginning. I knew the characters so well at that point that I couldn’t stop reading until I’d found out what their fates were.

I’d recommend The Hematophages to anyone who is in the market for dark and violent science fiction.

The Raven Flies at Night by Janine R. Pestel


The Raven Flies at Night by Janine R. Pestel
Publisher: Creativia Publishing
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Paranormal, Horror, Contemporary
Length: Full Length (154 pages)
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

In the second book of the series, Father Gunter and his friend, Robert Durling travel to the town of Mountainview.

A demon’s presence in the town has the townfolk depressed, with suicides being a daily occurrence. After the duo meets Father Nelson, they receive an amulet that will aid them in their battle against the Mountainview demon.

But after a meeting with TV reporter Belinda Carstone, they learn of her mysterious dream, and a demon that abducted her many years ago. Soon, their adventure takes a completely new, terrifying direction.

Demon hunting is a messy and dangerous job, but someone has to do it.

One of my favorite things about Robert Durling and Father Gunter in this tale was how level-headed they remained in even the most volatile situations. No matter how violent their supernatural encounters became they never panicked or made reckless decisions while they were trying to figure out the best way to excommunicate the demons they keep running into in this series.

There were many punctuation errors. By far the most common errors were the overuse and misuse of commas. While I deeply enjoyed the plot itself, it was distracting to be interrupted by so many sentences that I had to reread a few times in order to understand. I would have given this book a much higher rating if this hadn’t been the case.

The demon’s method of killing people was creative. Most of the other horror novels about demons I’ve read have taken a completely different approach to the harm they cause, so I was fascinated by the idea of one of these creatures causing so many grisly deaths without actually touching any of their victims. The original twists on this genre like this one are a big part of what keeps me so interested in what will happen next to these characters.

As I mentioned above, this is the second story in a series. It can be read out of order or as a standalone work.

I’d recommend The Raven Flies at Night to anyone who loves modern horror.

#iHunt Mayhem in Movieland by David A Hill Jr.


#iHunt Mayhem in Movieland by David A Hill Jr.
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Paranormal, Horror, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (74 pages)
Heat Level: Sensual
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Lana hunts monsters for a living. She absolutely hates hunting ghosts. So, of course, a friend is calling in a favor and having her hunt a ghost. Not just any ghost, but Old Anne, an urban legend at Movieland, a theme park inspired by the golden age of Hollywood. Worse off, Lana used to work at Movieland, and was fired after she had a… little incident killing three vampires on park property. So in addition to hunting ghosts—which she doesn’t want to do—she has to sneak around and not get noticed by her former coworkers. This is Book 3 of #iHunt. But it’s a completely standalone story—you don’t need to have read the others to get this. Content Warning: Drug use, violence, minor gore, descriptions of anxiety attacks.

Monster hunting is never as easy as it looks in the movies.

There’s nothing quite like trying to catch a bad guy that doesn’t play by the rules. The more I learned about this creature, the more curious I became to discover what it really was and why Lana was having so much trouble figuring out how to fight it. It was one of the most creative parts of the plot, and it kept me guessing until the end.

The pacing would have worked well in a full-length novel, but it felt uneven for a short story because of how much time it took for Lana to discover any clues at all about who or what was killing people at the amusement park. As much as I enjoyed seeing what she was up to again, there was a lot of room here to include more conflict in the storyline.

The fight scenes were exciting. One of the things I’ve enjoyed the most about this series so far is how vulnerable Lana is when she’s fighting something that has supernatural strength. She’s not a superhero, and she has sustained serious injuries from her battles in the past. There is always the very real danger that one of her opponents will kill or severely injure her. While I never like the thought of her being hurt, the genuine tension of not knowing for sure that she’ll be okay keeps me coming back for more.

This is the sequel to iHunt: Killing Monsters in the Gig Economy. It should be read in order.

I’d recommend #iHunt Mayhem in Movieland to anyone who loves gritty books about killing monsters.

Dead and Breakfast & Other Stories by Marilyn Todd


Dead and Breakfast & Other Stories by Marilyn Todd
Publisher: Untreed Reads
Genre: Suspense/Mystery, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Historical, Contemporary
Length: Full Length (154 pages)
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Not all detectives are heroes.
And when the dead can’t defend themselves, help comes from the most unlikely sources.

It might be from P.I.s with offices in unusually high places (“Heaven Knows”). It might come from shapeshifters in love (“Stakes & Adders”). Hell, it could even come from…you’ve guessed it, Hell. (“667, Evil and Then Some”). But whether you’re cruising a narrow boat down an English canal (“The Way It Is”) or taking a break on an idyllic French lakeside (“Dead & Breakfast”), justice is like the endings in these stories. You never see it coming.

Listening to what a character doesn’t say is sometimes just as important to listening to what they do say.

In “Something Rather Fishy,” Stevie and her accomplice, Patti, ran multiple scams on unsuspecting strangers in order to steal their money or sell them products that were nothing at all like what was advertised. What I enjoyed the most about their scams was how much thought was put into them. Stevie put a lot of time into figuring out how to get people to do what she wanted without them realizing what was happening. I definitely didn’t see the ending coming, and that was a good thing. It fit the tone perfectly while still being a pleasant surprise.

There were some tales in this collection that I thought could have used more clues about what was really going on in them. For example, “The Great Rivorsky” showed what happened when a magician’s attempt to accomplish that famous trick involving sawing a woman in half didn’t go as he had planned. As amused as I was by the main character’s narration, I needed more details about what was going on to figure out why his assistant was so badly injured and who might have been responsible for it.

A small, sleepy town isn’t typically where anyone would expect to find three murders over the course of a short period of time, but that’s exactly what happened in “The Longboat Cove Murders.” The muted reactions of the townsfolk to the first few murders shocked me. They also made me curious to find out what happened and why no one was panicking about the suddenly high death rate in their community.

I’d recommend Dead and Breakfast & Other Stories to anyone who is in the mood for mysteries that require their audience to pay close attention to detail in order to solve them.

Ruthless by Kara Lowndes


Ruthless by Kara Lowndes
Publisher: Loose ID
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (84 pages)
Other: F/F, Toys
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

A small-town lesbian in the big city. It should be easy. Except for Ruth, it’s anything but predictable. Born with powers she can’t explain, she escaped to the sprawling metropolis of Dollar to figure out why she was endowed with her mysterious gifts. But, three years later, she’s none the wiser–until she gets hit by a car and a mysterious nurse named Killian comes to her rescue. But Killian has a dark past that she’s desperately trying to leave behind and, as a dangerous organization uncovers Ruth’s secrets, they must fight to keep their intense romance alive.

Many people are full of secrets. Killian and Ruth are no exception to this rule.

Ruth and Killian had excellent chemistry. It was nice to see them get to know each other for a little while in the beginning before anything physical happened between them. Due to how shy they both were about sharing certain important parts of their pasts, this was a smart decision on the author’s part. It also gave me a chance to figure out their personalities right away which was something I was glad I got to do.

I would have liked to see way more time spent on the world building. Ruth’s background was especially confusing because of how little she knew about her powers, why she had them, or what she was capable of. While I didn’t expect every question about her background to be answered, it would have been helpful to at least have a basic understanding of how powerful she was and what, if anything, she wasn’t able to do. I was also never quite sure how her abilities fit into what life in this universe is like in general, and that made it difficult to imagine how certain scenes played out.

With that being said, Killian’s backstory was much more well-developed. I enjoyed the process of slowly uncovering clues about what happened to her in the past and why she was so jumpy in certain situations. Her extraordinarily cautious nature made perfect sense to me once I’d come up with an educated guess about what had caused it. I couldn’t wait to find out if my theory was correct and was pleased with how much thought I had to put into this aspect of the plot.

I’d recommend Ruthless to fans of urban fantasy and erotic tales alike.

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.