Fillion by Sean Michael

Fillion by Sean Michael
Publisher: Self-published
Genre: Contemporary, Erotic Romance, LGBTQ, Holiday
Rating: 3 stars
Reviewed by Fern

Could the gift of a massage be exactly what Fillion needs to make this holiday his merriest ever?

Fillion Berry is a profitable bookshop owner, but his personal life is less successful. His Daddy left him on New Year’s last year and he’s been floundering. When his friend Chrissy discovers how bad things are getting, he enlists the help of his Daddy, Jerusalem, and together they cook up a plan to bring some holiday joy into Fillion’s life.

Spa owner Rome Aparny holds an auction every year to raise money for charity. When the highest bidder of a full-body massage gifts the item to Fillion with the note “for a lonely boy in need’, Rome thinks he knows exactly what that means and he arrives at Fillion’s store with his massage table, his oils, and the willingness to get to know Fillion better.

Could a little holiday magic turn Christian and Jerusalem’s matchmaking into a success? Find out in this Daddy Boys story.

Fillion owns a successful and prosperous bookshop, but his private life is quite the mess. After his Daddy and long-term partner left him on New Years the previous year, Fillion has struggled to recover from the loss. Fillion’s good friend, Christian, is blissfully happy with his own Daddy and relationship and when Fillion confides that he’s seriously unhappy and lonely, Christian is determined he and his Daddy should help. They purchase a private massage as a Christmas present for Fillion and quietly let the masseuse – Rome – know that he’s a boy looking for a Daddy, something that piques Rome’s interest immediately. Can this be a Christmas neither man will forget?

I found this to be a lovely and sweet short story. It’s part of a much larger series by multiple authors called “A Daddy for Christmas” but I thoroughly enjoyed this story, and I haven’t read any of the others in the series. I found it still stood by itself very well. I really felt a connection to Fillion’s character. Owning a prosperous bookshop means for the most part he’s really got his head screwed on straight and I really liked that. I also was pleased that Rome had noticed Fillion at previous gatherings, but just assumed he was in a relationship with someone. That previous connection helped the situation feel a little less like insta-love and while in a story this short they obviously moved very quickly I did find it still worked well for me.

Readers should be aware that this short story doesn’t have a complicated plot or a long, slow drop into the relationship. The two men recognize what they want from each other and while they do ease into the intimacy it’s exceedingly fast and there isn’t a whole lot of other plot revolving around them. For such a short story I can understand and even enjoy this – but I can certainly understand some readers might want a bit more complexity and plot to their stories.

Fun and sexy, this would be a good introduction to some readers on the Daddy/boy lifestyle and also a good quick taste for this particular author and their style/tone of writing.

Invisible York by Aden Simpson

Invisible York by Aden Simpson
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Invisible York is a dystopian satire set on the island of Manhattan following an unknown phenomena that renders its citizens invisible.

While the outside world grows wary of their Invisible compatriots, within Manhattan a new society emerges, with bold plans for expansion.

FBI Agent Leonard Walcott did not expect to become a modern day apostle. But he will certainly make the most of it.

Not every superpower is as fun as it might originally seem to be.

The creation and evolution of conspiracy theories were deeply woven into the storyline. This was not something I was expecting to think about as I read this, but it played nicely with how little most of the characters knew about what was going on and how desperate they were for an explanation of or, even better, a cure for their invisibility. People who don’t have access to much outside information can come up with all sorts of stories to explain things, and it made perfect sense for them to react this way as the government continued to hamper their efforts to figure things out.

I struggled with the slow pacing of this book. As important as it was to meet all of the characters and learn about the mysterious event that made them become invisible, so much attention was paid to these portions of the plot that there wasn’t much room for conflict or action for the first hundred pages or so. This meant that there weren’t many moments that made me eager to read just one more page or chapter until I was more than halfway through this tale.

Some of the most interesting scenes were the ones that explored what happens when a community needs a leader but none of the most capable and intelligent possibilities for the role are interested in taking it. Leadership can be difficult under the best of circumstances, and this is even more true when society is also struggling to adapt to changes like, for example, a large group of people suddenly becoming invisible. The author did a good job of allowing the reader to tease out the reasons why many of the leaders in this tale craved power so deeply and how those character flaws negatively affected everyone eventually. Not everything necessarily needs to be spelled out directly in order to be effective.

It was difficult for me to keep track of the large cast of characters because of how little time was spent describing them. Sometimes only their names were given which meant that I didn’t have any physical features, hobbies, or personality quirks connected to those individuals to help me recall who they were and how they were connected to Leonard. While I certainly wouldn’t expect everyone to be described in as much detail as the protagonist, it would have been really helpful to have even one interesting thing to remember about every character when I was trying to figure out who they were later on in the storyline.

The deep and totally understandable mistrust of the government by some citizens was another theme in this book that I thought was handled well. In both our world as well as the fictional one in this book, the government has not always been honest with their citizens about a wide variety of topics from why environmental tragedies really occurred to what happened to certain community leaders who suddenly died at the height of their popularity. This was not a partisan take on the topic by any means. The author was careful to choose examples that readers from any background could relate to, and I appreciated that.

Invisible York was a thought provoking read.

The Convenient Roommate by E.C. Finnegan

The Convenient Roommate by E.C. Finnegan
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Romance, LGBTQ, Contemporary
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Caught Between a Rock and a Hard Place…

After enduring a devastating betrayal, Fox finds himself in dire need of a fresh start and a new place to call home. When his loyal friend offers him a spare room in the house he shares with his charismatic brother, Fox cautiously accepts the invitation. Little does he know that this housing arrangement will ignite a flurry of unexpected emotions within him.

Caught off guard by a magnetic pull towards his friend’s older sibling, Fox battles with the fear of embarking on another vulnerable relationship. Despite his reservations, he soon realizes that there’s no escaping the undeniable chemistry that intertwines their lives.

As Fox navigates the intricacies of cohabitation, he discovers a bond beyond what he ever imagined. With shared moments of laughter, secrets exchanged, and tender gestures that hint at something more, can Fox find the courage to let go of his past heartbreak and embrace the tantalizing possibilities that lie with his conveniently attractive roommate?

It’s never too late to heal from the past.

The dialogue was realistic and entertaining. Given the difficult childhoods that both West and Fox experienced, it made total sense that their communication skills weren’t always particularly strong. This is something I’m sharing as a reader who is not generally a huge fan of plots that rely on miscommunications for conflict, but in this case, it worked perfectly for everyone involved given how much they had to hide their sexual orientations, among other things, in order to feel safe as kids. Honestly, I would have been shocked if either of them had emerged from childhood without these sorts of emotional scars. Including them enriched the storyline and made me want to keep reading.

I had trouble keeping track of many of the secondary characters. There wasn’t as much time spent describing their physical appearances, personalities, or interests as I would have preferred to see, so except for the two protagonists I struggled to form mental images of them that could have helped me remember who was who. This did improve once I was more than halfway through it, but it was still something that held me back from enjoying this as much as I would have liked to.

With that being said, I appreciated how slowly and organically the romance was allowed to unfold. The friends to lovers trope is one I already loved, and it was put to great use here. Fox and West both had excellent reasons for not rushing anything, especially given all of the other stuff going on in both of their lives that was rightfully taking up so much of their attention when they first met. In my opinion, romance novels are best to read when the characters in them already have full and satisfying lives before the slightest whiff of a new love interest is introduced. Kudos to the author for putting so much effort into this.

The Convenient Roommate had a fun premise.

*Fashionista’s Playbook by Candi Scott

*Fashionista’s Playbook by Candi Scott
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Contemporary, Romance
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Larkspur

The door to the New York fashion world shut firmly in her face, Moriah Stanhope’s only option seems to be to return to her small-town home as a failure. At least, she would go home in disgrace, but her car was just repossessed. In front of the hottest guy she’s ever seen.

Travis Madera is supposed to hire an assistant. One with qualifications and experience. Someone who won’t be starstruck by the fact he’s a professional football player. But he never could resist a damsel in distress, especially one with all those curves.

Moriah’s been humiliated in front of guys like Travis before. But as his assistant, she has access to every moment of his day-to-day life, so surely she can stay ahead of any potential problems.

Until the past comes rushing into the present.

Candi Scott writes an emotional and entertaining, sports romance. The story is well written, the characters were easy for me to relate to and the story immediately drew me in.

I loved everything about the two main characters. Moriah is curvy, smart and sweet and Travis is a hot football player with a heart of gold. Moriah and Travis have undergone pain and hurt in their pasts, which makes them vulnerable and slow to trust others. However, when these two meet, they meet they have a strong connection and attraction. They feel comfortable with each other and are able to put down their guard.

It was so much fun reading Travis and Moriah’s story as they fall in love. I easily connected with them and enjoyed all of the interactions. They have a strong chemistry and thought they were perfect for each other. You don’t want to miss this captivating story.

Early Adopter by Drew Harrison

Early Adopter by Drew Harrison
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

The Price of Tomorrow, Paid Today
“Early Adopter” is a collection of short stories from the edge of human progress. Eight stories hold dark mirrors to our own world… experience thought-provoking sci-fi, technologic tragedy, and pulse-pounding thrillers.

To Run Again: Dr. Laura Brandie is ready to change the world.
She’s the lead researcher behind the KSE, a revolutionary cure for paralysis and neurodegenerative conditions. And now, by good fortune, she’s found the perfect candidate for her first human trial: a man who suffers from locked-in syndrome.
Brett Harmon’s paralysis is total: he can’t move his arms, legs, torso, neck, or face. To the outside world, he’s little more than a statue that breathes… but Dr. Brandie’s KSE might be the miracle that allows Brett to run again.

Homonoia: The world faces an unprecedented alignment of catastrophes and failing systems, far too intricate and interconnected for any human to solve. Frank Burman joins with seven other volunteers for Project Homonoia–a radical, last-ditch effort to postpone the apocalypse. Separate minds link to form one multidisciplinary consciousness, the world’s first human superorganism… a hive mind. But with the world’s health rapidly failing, can Project Homonoia work out its kinks in time to make a difference?

Early Adopter: A loner enters into a relationship with a new type of partner: an AI agent, programmed to be the “perfect companion.”
Sure, it’s all self-deception and a game of pretend, as she’s not actually real… but where simulated consciousness is concerned, maybe the lines between real and real enough can get blurry.

And many more!

Science fiction is for everyone, the earnest and the unsure alike.

The character development in “Early Adopter” was realistic and well done. While the unnamed main character was intelligent and resourceful, he was also incredibly sexist. I was as irritated by how he objectified and dismissed women as I was intrigued by his budding relationship with Alison, the AI agent he created and then spent hours interacting with each day. Part of him seemed to understand that it was deeply wrong for him to treat women – and women-shaped artificial intelligence – the way that he did, and I had to keep reading to find out if this faint glimmer of self-awareness would be enough to encourage him to make some genuine and sorely needed changes to his life. This could have easily been expanded into a full-length novel, yet I was satisfied with the way it ended even while daydreaming about what might happen next.

While I enjoyed reading them all, there were a few stories in this collection that I thought would have benefited from some more development of which “Commercialopolis” was one such example. It was written from the perspective of a robot named Addybot V3 who was hired to increase sales by coming up with ads that humans would enjoy. While I liked the fact that the author took creative risks here by writing it in the form of a poem and not following conventional storytelling rules, I struggled with how little the plot progressed. There were plenty of descriptions but not much time spent showing what Addybot V3 did at work or how their choices affected the world around them. If only this had been easier to follow!

Reverends aren’t that common in modern science fiction, so I was curious to see how Reverend Jacob Waters would respond to a mysterious job offer from his old friend Alex in “The Emulated.” Alex had been hired to create a computer simulation that became far more complex and human-like than she would have ever assumed it could, and she needed Jacob’s advice to figure out how best to respond to this unexpected turn of events. There were some fantastic plot twists in this one that asked thought-provoking questions about forgiveness, why a benevolent god or programmer would allow evil to exist, how humans are naturally meant to behave, and how we should respond to suffering among many other topics. Any one of them would have sufficed to nudge the plot forward, so having all of them included only deepened my enthusiasm to see where things went next.

Early Adopter has piqued my interest and made me want more from Mr. Harrison.

Sally Mitts Finds A Home – The Story Of A Shy Shelter Kitten by Shain Stodt

Sally Mitts Finds A Home – The Story Of A Shy Shelter Kitten by Shain Stodt
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Children’s (0 – 6 y.o.), Contemporary
Rating: 5 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

When little Sally’s family moves away, she is left alone in the world. Wandering unknown streets, our bodacious kitten has adventures both wonderful and scary. When a well-meaning Samaritan finds Sally asleep on their doorstep, they take her to an animal shelter, where she is surrounded by strangers. Lonely and feeling very small, she tries to curl into a ball and hide.
Then Sally felt a warm nudge. What was this?
One of the cats was rubbing against her!
Right through the cage, she felt his soft fur.
And he made the sweetest sound,
a loud rumbling purr.

Life is so much better with a friend! But when Charlie is adopted, Sally feels more alone than ever. Considered unfriendly and unadaptable because she is shy, it looks like Sally may languish in a cage. Until a patient man who won’t go away offers her the chance to trust again. A tender, heartwarming story about courage, love, and a brave kitten’s journey to her new forever home.

Everyone deserves the chance to live happily ever after, especially pets waiting for adoption in animal shelters.

Almost all of the pets my family had when I was a kid were rescues, and we often knew no more than a handful of things about their lives before they came to live with us. Some of my favorite scenes in this story were the ones that explored a few of the reasons why a pet might need to be rescued or adopted. These were such honest and sweet moments that later played out in how Sally and her companions behaved at the shelter and helped to explain why some animals behave certain ways due to their past experiences.

I loved how much space was left for interpretation and discussion. As this is the first instalment in a new series, it made perfect sense for the author to introduce characters without answering many of the audience’s questions about them or tying up every loose end. There were so many opportunities here for the sequels to explain what happened to Sally’s original family, whether she might someday see Charlie the Tailless again, and so much more.

The gentle and empathetic ending made me smile. It was perfect for the little ones who will read this or have it read to them, especially since some of the earlier scenes talked about how hard it can be to be a stray animal in ways that were appropriate, but still sad, for that age group. Ending on a reassuring note was exactly what was needed, and I look forward to seeing what sorts of adventures Sally might have next.

Sally Mitts Finds A Home – The Story Of A Shy Shelter Kitten was a heartwarming tale that made me yearn for more.

Dogboy v Catfish by Luke Gracias

Dogboy v Catfish by Luke Gracias
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery/Suspense/Thriller
Rating: 5 Stars
Reviewed by Ginger

On the day of her second wedding, Katherine Fisher, aka ‘Catfish,’ set the date for her divorce. In precisely 18 months, she would be entitled to half of their combined assets and receive maintenance payments until her five-year-old daughter, Emma, turns 18. Just as Catfish was about to take her husband, Lindsay ‘Dogboy’ Kramer (a successful businessman and dog whisperer) to the cleaners, he goes missing.

The police investigation into Dogboy’s disappearance leads them into the dark world of counterfeit designer goods, money laundering, and drug smuggling.

With Dogboy’s assets frozen and the mob protecting their interests, the missing persons case escalates to homicide. Catfish is in a race against time to get hold of Dogboy’s assets before the police get hold of her.

One question remains – is Dogboy dead or alive?

There are several slang words that fit Katherine Fisher, gold digger could be one. A gold digger is described as a person or woman who seeks out wealthy men or enters a relationship with someone for money, gifts otherwise basically exploiting or deceiving the other person rather than for a love interest. However, the author gave Kath an appropriate name of ‘Catfish’. This slang title is defined as a fictitious attractive persona with malicious intent.

Kath has timed her divorce from Lindsay ‘Dogboy’ Kramer after 18 months of marriage, she knows she will be entitled to half of his assets and receive child support payments for her five-year-old daughter, Emma, until she turns 18 but there seems to be a bit of delay in her plan. Her husband Lindsay ‘Dogboy’ Kramer is missing.

Be warned: if you do not have time to read it in one or two sittings, you may want to hold off until you can block off time and make sure your eReader is charged in advance. I like the organized set up of the breakdown or table of contents that shows the different sections and how each chapter has a name, reminding me of how episodes in a television series are named. The title references a phrase said during that chapter or episode. I like that the author provided the dates so that I was able to follow along in the timeline of events and investigation easily. What attracted me to the book was first the cover and then the excerpt. I like that the cover ties into the storyline where the three snakes were mentioned by Matthias in Bangkok and again in the tale of the Endless Knot that explains the color and what each snake represents.

This book has all the right ingredients for a suspenseful and remarkably interesting storyline. I can tell research was done on the criminal and family laws in Australia, statistics were reviewed on the suicide rate among men and my favorite since my background is in fraud and forensic accounting is reading about the money laundering and counterfeit/luxury handbags. I enjoyed the storyline; the author gave details that kept the story going enough to help set up the scenes, but he did not overdo it or get carried away being too wordy. Kath is an entitled individual that I did not like from the very first chapter when she met with the family law attorney Freya Keogh and there are many more instances that shed light on her true gold digger characteristics. Sadly, readers are not introduced to Lindsay, or his persona but I feel like his character was represented and created clearly by those that he considered devoted friends and acquaintances. The other characters spoke of Lindsay in a positive way which led me to believe he was a smart and good person, and I like how the author carried that out. Lindsay was a huge part of the story but yet he was not a physical character so to speak he was only mentioned and talked about, and the author executed that very well.

The author effortlessly captivated me with this complete, intriguing well told novel where the good guys win. A book of greed, crime, illegal pursuits, and friendship; however, the characters play a small part as the novel is plot driven. I normally like to get to know the
characters I am reading about better, but the narrative surrounding counterfeit designer bags, and the twist of illegal activity in this exceptional story took precedence.

A must read for readers seeking a good crime thriller!

A Cat’s Garden of Secrets by Jacqueline Diamond

A Cat’s Garden of Secrets by Jacqueline Diamond
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Mystery/Suspense/Thriller, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Paranormal, Contemporary
Rating: 3 Stars
Review by: Astilbe

Awakening magical powers? Yes! Solving a murder, sure. But turning into a cat? Who, me?

On the weirdest day of my life, my cat starts talking, my car kidnaps me to a charming hidden village, and I inherit a mystical library. Plus, I discover I have superpowers!

As an orphan who grew up in foster care, I had no idea I came from an enchanted land full of furry shapeshifters, including—surprise!—me. Or that I had a gifted grandmother, who’s been murdered. Now it’s up to me, with the help of a handsome, otherworldly detective and my know-it-all cat, to uncover the truth… if someone doesn’t kill me first.

Identity matters…even for folks who don’t know much about where they come from yet.

The mystery elements of the storyline were handled nicely. This was one of those books that wove multiple genres together seamlessly. While it did feel like slightly more of a mystery to me than anything else, the fantasy themes were strong as well. There’s something to be said for authors who pull this off. It’s not an easy thing to do by any means, and I tip my cap to Ms. Diamond for following the rules of all of the genres she included here while still leaving space for a few surprises.

I struggled to keep track of the large cast of characters in this novella. There simply wasn’t enough time or space to develop dozens of different people and animals, and the ones that were given more attention were still only able to reveal limited parts of their personalities due to how many of them there were. As interested as I was in the world building and storyline, this prevented me from choosing a higher rating.

With that being said, the world building was handled nicely. Sometimes I found myself wishing I really could travel to Loobly and explore all of the magical things to be found there. I’d recommend taking notes about how the characters know each other and what the mysterious terms they use mean unless you have a photographic memory as recalling all of these details will be extremely important later on. There were a lot of moving pieces in this tale, but the complexity of it truly pays off later on.

A Cat’s Garden of Secrets kept me guessing.

Lion Man: The First and Greatest Black Superhero by Demetrius Sherman

Lion Man: The First and Greatest Black Superhero by Demetrius Sherman
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Non-Fiction, Historical
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

When no Black comic book heroes existed, he battled the most dangerous villains in the world.. He was Lion Man. Discover the fascinating history of African American journalists and cartoonists. Learn why Lion Man was the first and greatest Black superhero.

World War II changed the world in many ways…including when it came to what people expected from superheroes!

One of the many things I learned from this novella was just how much some adults fretted over comic strips in the 1940s. There were fears that children would prefer this style of entertainment over reading novels, so some parents tried to discourage their kids from picking up comic strips at all. I have seen some modern parents share similar concerns about what their children are reading and whether graphic novels should be counted as reading time at all. The solution to this dilemma that Evans came up with made a great deal of sense for his era as well as for our own.

It would have been helpful to have more examples of how the last few sections were intended to tie into Lion Man’s groundbreaking accomplishment. While I understood that they were giving other examples of how African-American artists and creators were producing all sorts of toys and content beginning in the early 1900s, it did feel a little disjointed to me to suddenly leap to this topic after spending so much time on Orrin C. Evan’s career specifically. As much as I wanted to give this a full five-star rating, I needed stronger connections between these sections in order to feel justified about doing so.

I appreciated all of the time Mr. Sherman invested in explaining the historical context for Lion Man and the other African-American comic book characters that Orrin C. Evans invented. There were some scenes from these strips that could be read in very different ways today due to how much American culture has changed over the last eighty years, so knowing the original intentions behind them was as educational as it was interesting.

Lion Man: The First and Greatest Black Superhero made me smile.

Rogue Vampire by Pamela Turner

Rogue Vampire by Pamela Turner
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Mystery/Suspense/Thriller, Paranormal, Contemporary
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

I work with the dead. Now, I work with the undead.

My name is Amber McAllister, and I’m a deputy coroner. Until recently, I didn’t believe in the supernatural. Then what I thought was an insect stung me. The next day, I see that a medical examiner is an angel with black wings, and a co-worker is a skeleton woman.

It turns out the insect was a vampire. I won’t be looking at blood the same way.

But bodies are showing up, drained of the life force. It’s my job, along with the detectives in the Louisville Paranormal Investigation Agency, to find and stop the killer. Only problem? The murderer might be the vampire who attacked me. If he or she dies, so do I.

A label is never a destiny.

The friendships in this book were strong and meaningful. Some of the most memorable scenes were the ones that explored how the characters built, maintained, and benefited from the platonic relationships in their lives. I smiled as I read their banter and took note of all of the small ways they supported one another through difficult moments in their cases. Kudos to Ms. Turner for devoting so much time to this topic. It’s not explored often enough in many modern fantasy novels for my tastes, so it was refreshing to find it here.

I was surprised and confused by how quickly Amber adjusted to the idea that supernatural creatures are real and that some of them were her coworkers. The claims were so extraordinary that I really would have thought she’d struggle with them more. It would have been helpful to have more information about why she was so trusting there when many other folks would have at least temporarily been suspicious of such claims. She didn’t strike me as a gullible person in other areas of life, so this never quite sat right with me. I would have happily gone with a full five-star rating if this had been explained better as everything else about it was well done.

With that being said, I did enjoy the world building once Amber dug more deeply into her new life. It was interesting to see how many monsters from folklore and fairy tales popped up here and what the differences were between their real selves and what stories said about them. No sooner did I assume that I’d met all of them than someone would mention yet another mythical being who was running around in this universe. The author did a nice job of reinventing these characters and linking them all together in her universe.

Rogue Vampire piqued my curiosity.