4 Stars, Fairy Tale/Mythology/Folk Lore, M.A. Ray, Sci-Fi/Fantasy/Urban Fantasy, Self-Published

Review: The High King’s Will by M.A. Ray

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Title: The High King’s Will (Steel for the Prince: Book One)

Author: M.A. Ray

Publisher: Self-Published

Pages/Word Count: 185 Pages

At a Glance: The High King’s Will takes off on an exciting and action packed adventure.

Reviewed By: Lisa

Blurb: “The High King’s will crushes all before it. …Fare well, Eagle Eye Wormsbane. If you can.”

Eagle Eye’s world is full of magic. Fairies love him, and his only real friend is the resident unicorn, but since he killed the Worm of Shirith, nothing feels the same. When he collides with beautiful, broken Brother Fox a second time, he knows there’s no going back.

“I’m not in love with him. He needs help, that’s all.”

There’s no shortage of monsters in Fox’s life. The Worm was nothing compared to his own father, High King Beagar. When Eagle suggests an escape, Fox seizes the idea–and he wants Eagle with him.

“Damn propriety! I don’t want a servant! I want you to be my friend!”

The High King’s designs send Eagle and Fox across the sea to Rodansk, a land of summer sunshine at midnight and endless winter dark. Between the two, low-caste Eagle presents the bigger threat to Beagar’s power, and he didn’t even know it. Now that his Prince is giving him so much to lose, he won’t go down without a fight.

“Don’t be afraid. …I’m with you.”

Dividers

Review: Filled with magic, betrayal, danger, and mayhem—not to mention a couple of engaging heroes—M.A. Ray’s The High King’s Will sweeps readers along on an exciting high fantasy adventure. Digging into this story, I have to confess I wasn’t sure whether I was reading a fable or folk lore or a fairy tale. It turns out the answer is yes, I was reading a little bit of all those things, and I found this book to be a delightful tale with a New Adult feel.

Eagle Eye has just been named Wormsbane. He’s slain a dragon and saved the life of Brother Fox, the Crown Prince, but feels unworthy of the title that’s been bestowed upon him by the High King Beagar, certain that it wasn’t skill but luck that was with him that day. When the author introduces us to Eagle and Fox (whose names are what kept me wondering at the start of the book if I was reading a fable or maybe the re-imagining of a Native American folk tale), we don’t learn as much about the slaying as we do about the High King—namely that he’s never going to be up for father of the year. He’s abusive in some brutal and heinous ways, and as the story evolves, we see exactly why Fox is so eager to set off with Eagle to see the world when he has the opportunity.

What I didn’t understand for a good ways into this tale is exactly what sort of creatures Eagle and Fox are. I only knew for sure they weren’t at all human—it’s actually a bit difficult to get a good mental picture of what they do look like, at least for me—but the author does make sure we get a clear picture of this fairy tale world inhabited by trolls, dragons, fairies, elves, as well as humans, not to mention the magic and courage our heroes possess. The world-building along with my compassion for Fox and respect for Eagle made for some good binge reading.

As it turns out, the High King allowing Fox to set off on his adventure, accompanied by Eagle as his guard, wasn’t a rare kindness displayed by a father toward his son. There were much more sinister motives involved, and as the boys discover their journey is going to turn into a fight for survival, this story draws you in to all the danger they face, in the classic hero’s journey fashion. The action scenes are well written and fraught with tension, making for a brisk paced read.

Our young lovers have only just begun, and there are more than a few obstacles they’ll have to overcome, not the least of which is that Fox’s life is the stuff of nightmares and there are many things he’s done and had done to him he can’t put behind him. As the book draws to a close, we’re also left on the cusp of change for Eagle… Yes, the story ends in a cliffhanger, so what that change is remains to be seen. I’m looking so forward to book two to find out, and can only hope these boys will find a talisman of good fortune or that fate will throw some luck their way. Something tells me they’re going to need it.

I’m always excited to be introduced to new authors, and if the entire series lives up to the promise of The High King’s Will, M.A. Ray is one I’ll be paying close attention to.

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4 Stars, Fairy Tale/Mythology/Folk Lore, JL Merrow, Josephine Myles, Paranormal Romance, Reviewed by Lisa, Sci-Fi/Fantasy/Urban Fantasy, Self-Published

Review: Boys Who Go Bump in the Night by Josephine Myles and JL Merrow

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Title: Boys Who Go Bump in the Night (Mad About the Brit Boys: Book Two)

Author: Josephine Myles and JL Merrow

Publisher: Self-Published

Pages/Word Count: 84 Pages

At a Glance: Short stories and the supernatural and this pair of authors combine to make for some really good reading.

Reviewed By: Lisa

Blurb: When boy meets (supernatural) boy

Buckle up as two queens of British gay romance take you on a whistlestop tour of all things paranormal. Vampires, genies, ghosts, magicians and shifters all get their chance for a bit of boy on boy action, in five erotic stories that span the range from the humorous to the sublime.

Will you seek to make your fortune with magic and ritual, or pin your hopes on a genie’s power to grant wishes? Discover a shifty young man on a Scottish shoreline, meet a hapless garlic farmer who’s been turned into one of the undead–and if you dare to venture into the cellar, gird your loins for a horny ghost!

These stories have all been previously published, but are now available exclusively in this anthology.

Dividers

Review: Some authors you read no matter what: don’t care about the blurb, don’t care about the sub-genre, you just read them. Josephine Myles and JL Merrow happen to be two such authors for me. Combine this with my love of short stories, and Boys Who Go Bump in the Night was pretty much a guaranteed win.

Several of the stories in this anthology are short enough I might even call them flash fiction, but the common theme (besides the fact they’re all previously published) is that they share a paranormal/fantasy element, and some of them are just purely erotic and don’t play at being otherwise. JL Merrow starts the collection with Leeches and Layabouts, and the first thing that stands out is that the story is told with the author’s trademark sense of humor and gift for taking a fairly mundane human woe and turning it into a clever boy-meets-vampire story. A vampire who grows garlic? Yep. A human who loves living off of government assistance just a little too well. Yep. It’s the perfect marriage of need and want when Art interviews for a job with Crispin, who loves his garlic but can no longer eat it because, well…vampire. But ingenuity abounds, and Crispin gets both his man and his garlic fix.

A horny incubus in Something Queer, blood magic and stone circles in Sacrifice add to the mix of supernatural offered in this anthology, leading to the final two tales. JL Merrow’s Et in Orcadia is my absolute favorite of the five in the collection. It’s a story that blends the tragedy of lost love, the romanticism of man’s call to the sea, and a mysterious stranger who knows that call better than any human. But he also knows the allure of the land and the desire to comfort a man in his grief. A grief they both share. I loved the emotional intimacy of Runi and David’s story, brief though it was. It did a fantastic job of plucking at my sentimental heartstrings.

Finally, bookending the lighthearted beginning of Boys Who Go Bump in the Night is Josephine Myles’ One Last Wish, a fun and sweet little story about a poor genie who’s just tired of being imprisoned in his lamp for the past two hundred years. Scott is the lucky human to rub Xavier’s lamp just the right way—three wishes are his—but Scott ends up surprising Xavier with the way he chooses to use them. And then, well, they end up rubbing each other just the right way.

If you love one of these authors, or both of them, and love a good short story, I don’t think you can go wrong with this collection.

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3.5 Stars, Audio Book, Dreamspinner Press, Narration Rating - 4 Stars, Reviewed By JJ, Sci-Fi/Fantasy/Urban Fantasy, Shira Anthony

Review: Stealing the Wind by Shira Anthony – Narrated by Michael Stellman

Title: Stealing the Wind (Mermen of Ea Trilogy: Book One)

Author: Shira Anthony

Narrator: Michael Stellman

Publisher: Dreamspinner Press

Run Time: 7 Hours and 31 Minutes

At a Glance: Shira Anthony has a way of making a world come alive, which made me feel like I was on the ship and under the sea with the characters.

Reviewed By: JJ

Blurb: Taren Laxley has never known anything but life as a slave. When a lusty pirate kidnaps him and holds him prisoner on his ship, Taren embraces the chance to realize his dream of a seagoing life. Not only does the pirate captain offer him freedom in exchange for three years of labor and sexual servitude, but the pleasures Taren finds when he joins the captain and first mate in bed far surpass his greatest fantasies.

Then, during a storm, Taren dives overboard to save another sailor and is lost at sea. He’s rescued by Ian Dunaidh, the enigmatic and seemingly ageless captain of a rival ship, the Phantom, and Taren feels an overwhelming attraction to Ian that Ian appears to share. Soon Taren learns a secret that will change his life forever: Ian and his people are Ea, shape-shifting merfolk… and Taren is one of them too. Bound to each other by a fierce passion neither can explain or deny, Taren and Ian are soon embroiled in a war and forced to fight for a future—not only for themselves but for all their kind.

Dividers

Review: Stealing the Wind is the first Mermen book I’ve ever read. I wasn’t sure at first how mermen could be sexy, but the author makes them very appealing. The story starts out when Taren, an indentured slave, is captured by a pirate. The pirate agrees to let him have his freedom in exchange for sexual servitude. Since Taren is attracted to the pirate, he agrees. However, before he can earn his freedom, he is in an accident, which results in him being rescued by a man named Ian. Taren is drawn to Ian, and when he learns that Ian is of the Ea people and shifts into a merman, his world is transformed.

I was initially drawn to Taren, but his time on the ship with the pirates was narrated so much that I lost a certain degree of interest. However, when Taren was rescued by Ian, things became interesting. Though Taren’s heart was at first split between Ian and the pirates, Ian is extremely drawn to Taren. I could really feel Ian’s pain over his love for him, which made their unions very erotic. The only part I didn’t really like about the book was the ending, since it kind of left me hanging. Also, I didn’t really connect with the twist, but despite disliking the end, I was entertained by the book as a whole. Shira Anthony has a way of making a world come alive, which made me feel like I was on the ship and under the sea with the characters.

Narration: Michael Stellman’s narration was perfect. I especially loved the voice he used for Taren, which was extremely erotic at times. Stellman used different voices for each character and was very expressive.

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5 Stars, Fairy Tale/Mythology/Folk Lore, L.M. Brown, Pride Publishing, Reviewed by Angel, Sci-Fi/Fantasy/Urban Fantasy

Review: Tempestuous Tides by L.M. Brown

Title: Tempestuous Tides (Mermen and Magic: Book Two)

Author: L.M. Brown

Publisher: Pride Publishing

Pages/Word Count: 270 Pages

At a Glance: An engaging sequel that furthers and enhances the amazing world L.M. Brown has created.

Reviewed By: Angel

Blurb: Bound by a curse, two mermen find the greatest love of their lives, but can they keep it?

Justin is a merman who has been raised on land. He hates his fins and wants nothing to do with his heritage.

Lucas is an ambitious merman who has lived his whole life in Atlantis. He has spent his adulthood hiding his sexuality because homosexual relationships are forbidden in the underwater city. Now he has been sent on a mission by King Nereus to locate his oldest son and bring him back to Atlantis to take his place as the heir to the throne.

Although his mission seems impossible, Lucas finds help from the Atlantean Goddess of Love, little knowing that she has her own reasons for bringing Lucas and Justin together.

Justin is no stranger to immortals, having been raised by two of them, but he has no idea of the consequences of angering the Goddess of Love. When he insults her, she curses him to find love only to lose it forever shortly after. As the love ‘em and leave ‘em type, Justin isn’t overly concerned, at least until Lucas enters his life and he sees how the curse will end.

Together they could have the greatest love of their lives, but only if they can appease the furious goddess before their time runs out.

Dividers

Review: I have read L.M. Brown before, and I really enjoyed the worlds created and the author’s writing style. Tempestuous Tides is another book that follows the same pattern.

Tempestuous Tides isn’t a standalone story, as this book picks up soon after the first one, Forbidden Waters. I loved this sequel that furthered the original story and introduced wonderful and new characters. Once I began, I was immediately sucked back into this underwater world of gods and mortals, and read it straight on through. Hopefully, this review will entice you to try this series without overly spoiling the fantastically created and wonderful details of the series.

Tempestuous Tides returns to the world of Atlantis and its mer citizens. There are ancient gods and goddesses at work here in Brown’s world, reminiscent of the legends of the Greek gods and the Fae. The rules of the Atlantean world and modern society mix with the tropes of the shifter genre with an interesting outcome. I really loved how Brown weaves the legends of our world into the society that she has created.

The story is rich with details about both mortal and mer society, and I couldn’t wait to read about the citizens of this verse again. I was thrilled that Brown had several return characters play a part in this new story. It was wonderful to see how they had progressed, but the story is completely about Lucas and Justin.

While book one set the stage and background of the mer society, book two is more about how the mer people continue on when they are slowly dying out. Mortals are encroaching on the oceans, even though Atlantis is hidden, and there are the other inherent dangers of the oceans. Ancient rules and laws are stifling the society, and there is dissension in the ranks of the people because nothing is changing.

The King sees this and begins to make changes, but he needs his heir to continue on. An heir that possibly doesn’t even know he is royal. Lucas is appointed to find the King’s heir with only select knowledge about where he is going to attempt his mission.

Justin knows he’s mer, and wants nothing to do with the society he believes abandoned him and his mother. Enter Lucas, and all sorts of sparks fly, changing both men to a surprising degree.

Lucas and Justin’s story is similar to the old tales where the Fae or Greek gods interfered in mortal lives for entertainment. Ultimately, this book and verse is about acceptance, tolerance and compromise. There’s give and take in both worlds, and the old gods are waking, and no one is pleased about it; mortals or immortals.

The happy ending is hard fought for and won, and I loved how things worked out for Justin and Lucas. There is still the undercurrent of the society falling apart, but things are changing. Whether it is for the good or bad remains to be seen. I hope that Brown continues this verse, as I am eagerly looking forward to finding out how the mortals and immortals work things out.

Thank you, L. M. Brown, for another fantastic read!

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4.5 Stars, Anthology, Dreamspinner Press, Eli Easton, Historical Romance, Jamie Fessenden, Kim Fielding, Mystery/Suspense/Action Thriller, Mythology, Paranormal Romance, Reviewed by Lisa, Sci-Fi/Fantasy/Urban Fantasy

Review: Claw (Gothika: Volume Three) by Jamie Fessenden, Kim Fielding, and Eli Easton

Title: Claw (Gothika: Volume Three)

Authors: Jamie Fessenden, Kim Fielding, Eli Easton

Publisher: Dreamspinner Press

Pages/Word Count: 220 Pages

At a Glance: All three authors’ stories are unique not only in voice but in storyline too, and unlike with some anthologies I’ve read in the past, there isn’t a clunker story in this bunch.

Reviewed By: Lisa

Blurb: Beasts lurk in the shadows of wild and forgotten places and in the hearts and souls of men. They are the stuff of dreams and nightmares, but are they feral and savage, or just misunderstood? Creatures of myth and legend stalk these tales of dark desire and animal passions. Three men come face-to-face with such creatures and find they are much more than they seem. While there is danger, there might be unexpected benefits as well, if they can accept the impossible and dare to venture into the primordial regions where nature and the beasts still reign. Three acclaimed authors of gay romance explore the boundaries between man and beast and the place where their worlds overlap.

Dividers

Review: There are a variety of reasons I wanted to give this collection of stories a good seeing to, not the least of which is the three authors involved. Sadly I’ve never had the chance to read Eli Easton’s work, and only a novella each by Jamie Fessenden and Kim Fielding. Too many books, too little time…

This speculative fiction anthology is the third in the Gothika omnibus, and Claw, as its title suggests, focuses on shifters. In this case, those of the canine variety: Jamie Fessenden’s Isolation, Kim Fielding’s Transformation, and The Black Dog by Eli Easton round out the threesome and each give their own personal touch to the werewolf lore.

Isolation is, at its heart, a second chance story, the tale of two men who fell in love as teenagers but couldn’t last through Sean’s betrayal of both himself and of Jack, the man Sean asked to stand beside him while he, Sean, did what was expected of him and married a woman.

Four years later, divorced, more than a little gun-shy and seeking forgiveness, Sean finds Jack in a cabin in the remote wilderness—the means to the title of this story. Jack has isolated himself, by choice, by necessity, it doesn’t matter. What matters is he’s living the way he wants to live, even if it is a lone-wolf sort of existence.

The shortest of the three stories, what Isolation lacks in word count it makes up for in heart, a little humor, and some truly suspenseful moments, not only from the creature that lurks without and within but in the sense that perhaps too much water has flowed under the proverbial bridge for these two men to find their way back to each other.

I like the spin Fessenden offers in his version of shifter lore, as well as the fact that the author resisted the urge to tie things up in a trite little bow of happily ever after at the end. I’m not sure why I expected it, but it was refreshing not to find it. There was simply too much left to resolve between these two would-be lovers for that outcome to be believable. Isolation was a satisfying appetizer to the start of this three-course read.

Kim Fielding’s Transformation is the second novella in this anthology, a story set in rural Oregon in the late 19th century. Transformation ticked all my boxes for a lovely historical read, as not only does the author ground readers in the time but also draws us into the sense of place, the rugged and untamed landscape in which the story takes place. In fact, if someone were to put a gun to my head and force me to choose, I’d have to say this one was my favorite of the trilogy. I’m such a sucker for the finding-love-against-all-odds trope, and that’s the story Fielding wrote here, with a supernatural twist.

This novella begins as a fish out of water story, though, when we’re introduced to Orris Spencer, the seventh son of a seventh son, his father an extravagantly wealthy man we never meet but certainly know the type. Orris was sent down from university after being caught in flagrante delicto with another student, Daniel, and to further add to Orris’s disgrace, his father sends him away, penniless and shamed, to live with his older brother Samuel, now an outcast himself as he’s shunned the soft life of privilege in New York City to work the land and provide for his family on their small Oregon farm.

I loved the portrayal of Orris and Samuel’s relationship, which blossoms under Orris’s own transformation, the more he proves to both himself and Samuel that he’s capable of being so much more than the studious misfit Samuel expects him to be. Samuel also proves to be not at all what I’d expected from him when first introduced, and I wanted to cheer out loud each time he imparted his wisdom and understanding on Orris.

There’s more to the story, however, than the brothers’ relationship, in the supernatural element and the canine beast that’s stalking and killing sheep on Samuel’s and surrounding farms. This storyline also serves to introduce the Bonn brothers, and more specifically Henry Bonn, the man in whom Orris discovers a kinship of loneliness and desire.

The duality of this novella’s title is revealed at its end, in the full transformation Orris undertakes, part sacrifice and part an honoring of his heart’s desire. Transformation is a wonderful second course in this trilogy.

To round things out, Eli Easton’s The Black Dog puts the finishing touch on the collection, set in the rugged landscapes of northern Scotland and bringing to life the legend of the coimheadair, a gigantic black dog said only to appear in times of national crisis.

Constable Hayden MacLairty doesn’t buy into the legend at all—it is just that, after all, a legend, a tall tale that’s been passed down from generation to generation in the small town of Laide, the place where American author Simon Conto has chosen to do some research on the Black Dog for his next book.

I have to say right off the bat, one of the things I loved immediately about Hayden is the Jamie Fraser visual that Eli Easton then references for a bit of a comical turn in this otherwise mystical and mythical tale. True to the Viking ancestry, Hayden is a mountain of a man who catches Simon’s eye—certainly after he was tackled and nearly flattened by Hayden in a case of wrong place, wrong time.

The local flavor and colorful population of Laide add to the charm of this story, moving the plot forward and adding to the suspense and mystique, as it’s revealed there are secrets locked inside the dementia addled mind of Hayden’s own mother, things Hayden has a difficult time reconciling.

While The Black Dog takes on the taste of the bittersweet in the end, Hayden and Simon find a way to their happy ending, and bring a lovely close to this charming trio of supernatural treats.

As an overall summary, I can easily recommend Claw when you’re in the mood for a touch of speculative fiction with a little variety in its mythology. All three authors’ stories are unique not only in voice but in storyline too, and unlike with some anthologies I’ve read in the past, there isn’t a single clunker story in this bunch.

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5 Stars, Fairy Tale/Mythology/Folk Lore, Love Lane Books, Meredith Russell, Reviewed by Jennifer

Review: Just Jack by Meredith Russell

Title: Just Jack

Author:  Meredith Russell

Publisher: Love Lane Books

Pages/Word Count: 149 Pages

At a Glance: Wonderfully written characters and a beautiful world where magic exists

Blurb: When the line between fairy tales and magic, and the real world become blurred, can love really conquer anything?

Leo Marsh is having a bad day. He just caught his boyfriend cheating on him, and not for the first time, then he falls, quite literally, for a man who has to be too good to be true…. When Leo slips and falls on some ice in front of Jack, Jack sees something all too familiar in Leo’s eyes. For over fifty years, Jack has existed in a solitary life of ice and bitterness. Just like Leo, he was betrayed by a man he loved, and swore no one would ever break his heart again: he gave up on love, and it seemed love had given up on him.

But if by fate or magic, Jack and Leo find their paths crossing for a second time, and with a little guidance from friends, dare to take a chance on each other. The problem is, Jack isn’t the charming and uncomplicated guy Leo thinks he is. When Jack gave away his ability to love, he became something else, someone cold and unloving. He became Jack Frost.

As Jack and Leo get closer, Jack is left torn and confused. Jack yearns for anything that reminds him of his humanity, but the truth is, he feels nothing, not warmth, not love, and he knows he might never be able to love Leo the way he deserves to be loved.

Dividers

Review: First off let me just say I love the cover of this novel. It’s stunning and fits the story so perfectly. The color is so eye-catching and really makes me think of Jack’s eyes, which are described often throughout the story and captivate Leo. And the cover model? Gorgeous.

With that out of the way, I have a confession to make. I adore the character Jack Frost and have had a mild obsession with him since watching Rise of the Guardians when it came out. I’m not ashamed to admit it. However, it was nice to see in a recent interview with the author that she, too, enjoyed the character, and this book is a result from that.

I loved it. Jack Frost might be a popular winter character in folk tales, but Russell gives him a new story. This Jack is not the only Frost out there, but one of many. He is a man who finds himself with a heart of ice after he gives up on love and is then doomed to exist forever without love.

The story broke my heart and had me tearing up often. I also laughed a lot, because while heartbreaking, Jack has a mischievous spirit which follows along with the tales many of us are familiar with.

And then there’s Leo. The book opens with him catching his boyfriend of several years cheating. Despite what should be a clear way out, Leo is torn because this isn’t the first time Mac has cheated. It’s the first time he’s caught him, but it has happened before, and he still loves him. After leaving, he runs into Jack—Just Jack—who helps him when he slips on the ice and hits his head.

Totally Jack’s fault, by the way.

While the two of them are attracted to each other and Leo wants more, there’s just one problem: how can a man with a frozen heart love someone? A man who cannot even feel the warmth of a human body? Oh yeah, and there’s one other teensy tiny problem with the whole magic ice thing: Leo doesn’t know who Jack really is.

This book really was fantastic. I loved the reimagining of the Jack Frost story, and what made it special was the idea that many Jacks exist, not just one. In fact, I would love to see more stories about Jack Frost from this author. Some people might think that would be repetitive, considering the characters would have the same name, but really, the possibilities are endless! Russell has taken a well-known story and made it her own with wonderfully written characters and a beautiful world where magic exists.

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