The Axe by Linda Griffin

The Axe by Linda Griffin
Publisher: The Wild Rose Press
Genre: Mystery/Suspense/Thriller, Contemporary
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Sweethearts Eric Leidheldt and Desiree Chauveau are spending a weekend at his uncle’s cabin when they encounter two strangers cutting wood. Eric is knocked unconscious, and Desi is viciously attacked. The following day two police officers come to their apartment to arrest Desi. Her assailants are dead, murdered with an axe, and her fingerprints are on it. She confesses—but is she really guilty? Eric is determined to stand by her, but the physical and emotional effects of the attack severely challenge their relationship.

Senseless violence must be punished…right?

The criminal investigation scenes kept my attention from the beginning. It was interesting to see how the officers gathered facts and how they kept coming back to the main characters to verify their testimonies and try to get more information out of them. What a painstaking and difficult process that was at times, and yet every bit of it was necessary if the truth were to be revealed.

I would have liked to see more time developing the mystery elements of the plot. There were some clues that never quite added up for me, especially when it came to what Desiree remembered about the axe and when she touched it. Her story shifted around so often that I wasn’t sure which version of it I should believe. There was space here to investigate the facts more deeply, and I would have gone with a higher rating if that had happened.

Ms. Griffin did a good job of showing how a violent and traumatic event affects people who experience them. I liked the way she explored the many different ways that Eric and Desiree were changed by the unprovoked attack against them. Since everything from trying to eat a raisin to explaining what they remembered about that horrible day was extremely difficult, I wondered what their healing journeys would look like and if justice would be served in the end. It was nice to have as much focus on the victims’ perspectives as there was, and this only became more important once the grimmer aspects of the attack had been revealed.

The Axe kept me guessing.

The Weather by Caighlan Smith

The Weather by Caighlan Smith
Publisher: Tor Books
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Horror
Length: Short Story (20 pages)
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

In the middle of a barren wasteland, a small town goes through the motions as if nothing’s changed. Lolly has school, a part time job, a senile grandmother that needs looking after. But everything has changed, and Lolly’s always one storm away from facing that.

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One of the things I always enjoy the most about science fiction set in the future is seeing how it imagines our current era might be thought of by people who were born long after it ended. This story had several scenes that made references to things that people living in the twenty-first century would easily understand but that folks in this era found mystifying. I’ll leave it up to future potential readers to discover the specific examples I’m talking about here, but all of them made me chuckle. They couldn’t have been written better.

There weren’t enough details included in this story for me to figure out exactly how the world had changed. Lolly and her family made multiple comments about some sort of dangerous thing that was coming for them, but I couldn’t figure out exactly what they were afraid of. Their references could have been interpreted in so many different ways that narrowing them down to the truth was just about impossible. As much as I loved the atmosphere of this one, I would have enjoyed it even more if it had been clearer about what sort of conflict they were facing.

The atmosphere was fantastic, though. I really liked seeing how Lolly’s completely ordinary shift at work was mixed in with her quickly increasing fear that something awful was about to happen to her and the people around her. There’s something appealing to me about characters whose lives are interrupted in this way, and there was a lot of that in this tale.

If you enjoy endings that are open to many different interpretations, The Weather might be right up your alley.

Mercenary Crush by Frey Ortega

Mercenary Crush by Frey Ortega
Unit Alpha book 2
Publisher: Evernight Publishing
Genre: Contemporary
Length: Short Story (88 pgs)
Other: M/M, Anal Play
Rating: 3 stars
Reviewed by Fern

Thad Langham’s life has been a series of unfortunate events—from being blackmailed to being coerced into working with his father on his shady business deals. When the opportunity presents itself to turn his entire life around, he takes it.

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Six months later, a chance encounter leads Thad and Caleb down the road to an actual relationship. But when Thad’s past comes back to rear its ugly head, how can a brash and headstrong sniper and a damaged, slightly neurotic businessman make things work? Will their mutual attraction survive the test of time or will their relationship just remain a mercenary’s crush?

Thad’s life had been miserable these past few years, a mere pawn in his father’s games. After being rescued by Unit Alpha, Thad realised he’d merely exchanged once cell for another, the bounty on Thad’s head meaning he still had practically no freedom at all. Thad is finding it difficult to adjust, but making the best of it. When Caleb kisses him though, the feelings of hope and the possibilities the small tenderness arouses blows open Thad’s life and shows him maybe there really is something more out there for him.

I enjoyed this story. Despite being the second in a series I didn’t at all feel like I was missing something – this book stands really well by itself. I was a little puzzled how the author jumped over the murder of Thad’s father. Initially, the way the book starts led me to believe this would be a big plot device. Thad’s father is a clear bad guy and the reason Thad’s life is in shambles and the one who is trying to kill Thad himself. I was really surprised, therefore, when the story jumps six months into the future and skips almost entirely over the killing and death of this man and Thad’s subsequence freedom and ability to live his own life on his own terms. I’m not sure if this was cut from the story due to a word-limit or some other necessary reason, or if the author merely wanted to focus on Thad’s recovery and life out from under his father’s thumb, but I couldn’t help but feel the jump forward in time past all that was odd and a real lost potential for a great plot.

Also because of the time-jump in the story I felt a little like the chemistry between Thad and Caleb was a bit rushed. While the reader only experiences a chapter of time between the two men, more than six months passes in the story. So intellectually I know there is more than enough time for both Thad and Caleb to get to know each other, for their attraction and crush to deepen and really flourish. But as a reader I didn’t get to see or experience any of that. Merely being told this is what happened didn’t leave me with that same burning feeling of wanting to see them act on this long, drawn out feeling and be really eager for the culmination of their desires. Even though I know they’d spent a long time pining for each other, not experiencing it for myself meant the time from their first meeting to actually coming together felt a bit rushed and I wasn’t as invested in them as I would have hoped.

That said, the sex between Thad and Caleb was truly sizzling and exceptionally well written. I really enjoyed the scene of them coming together and found it not only hot, but also good with the detail and I really felt the strong emotions from both men. I eventually became attached to both their characters and invested in them as a couple. I found the chemistry and camaraderie between them believable and sexy once the story really got moving. I also thoroughly enjoyed the plot – Thad and the rest of Unit Alpha needing to clean up the loose ends from when Thad’s father ran the company.

An exciting and steamy M/M romance with a good, solid plot I enjoyed this story.