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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You can buy The High King’s Will here:

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4 Stars, Mythology, Pride Publishing, Reviewed by Jennifer, Sci-Fi/Fantasy/Urban Fantasy, T.A. Chase

Review: Pestilence by T.A. Chase

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TitlePestilence (The Four Horsemen: Book One)

Author: T.A. Chase

Publisher: Pride Publishing

Pages/Word Count: 170 Pages

At a Glance: The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse in a romance novel? Yes, please!

Reviewed By: Jennifer

Blurb: For Pestilence, the White Horseman, love becomes the most powerful cure.

Having lost his wife and child during the Black Death, Pestilence accepts the fate destiny has given him as one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. For centuries, Pestilence did his job, spreading plagues and disease around the world. He does it to keep the balance between good and evil, yet he hates every minute of it. He longs to be left alone, but suddenly fate seems to have a different plan for him.

When Bart Winston stumbles into an Amazon clearing, he’s terribly ill and sure he’s going to die. A tall white-haired man with unusual black eyes catches him in his arms and Bart’s life takes a turn into the unbelievable. Blaming the whole situation on his illness might have worked, but as he gets better and learns about the strange man who heals him, Bart must accept there are more things in the world than he ever guessed.

Pestilence and Bart heal each other, and begin to wonder if there can be a future for the White Horseman and the mortal he’s fallen in love with.

Reader Advisory: This book is best read in sequence as part of a series.

Publisher’s Note: This book was previously released under the same title. It has been re-edited for re-release with Pride Publishing.

Dividers

Review: It’s not often you find new books about the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, but every time I find one, I have to snatch it up. I’m not sure why exactly, but the mythology/legend/whatever you want to call it about the Horsemen has always fascinated me. Maybe it’s my love of post-apocalyptic fiction or dystopian societies that draws me to them, but I know when they show up, the end is near and everything is about to go from bad to worse, and I’m thrown into the societies either collapsing from their presence or struggling to overcome them. A few years ago I read a fantastic YA series that reimagined the Four Horsemen by drawing teenagers suffering from different problems into the roles. I adored it. I never thought I would find m/m fiction with the Horsemen. But here we are!

This first book is about Pestilence. In life he was an Italian doctor during the bubonic plague. After losing his wife and son, he commits suicide and is thrust into the role of Pestilence. He exists to bring plagues to mankind in order to maintain the balance between heaven and hell. But after several hundred years of doing this, while Pest is settled in his role, he’s far from happy. How could he be with what he does? Spreading plagues is the exact opposite of what he did when he was alive. When Bart literally stumbles into him in his home in the Amazon, Pest is drawn to the man suffering from an unknown disease. While he first attributes the attraction to the potential for finally helping a human, the attraction changes into desire, and soon he is lusting after his ward. And the feeling is mutual. Despite his illness, Bart is drawn to the white-haired, black-eyed man named Pestilence.

What follows is a story of love and redemption. Pestilence needs to find a way to forgive himself before he can let himself love—and be loved.

As the first book in the series, it clearly follows the first of the four horsemen who ride. Now, in religious mythology the first horseman on a white horse is more frequently known as Conquest, but there have been some changes, and he is more often known in pop culture as Pestilence. War and Famine do not make an appearance at all, but Death does, because Death rides with them all as the “de facto leader” of the Horsemen as Pest calls him. Also involved is Lam, one of the lambs of God. He’s the messenger for Death, and is more or less unwillingly dragged into helping Bart.

Each character is well developed and I loved reading about them. They each display distinct personalities. Though he isn’t in the book too long, I loved Lam and his desire to both help and please as well as fight against Death’s request. Pest does his job well, but when he’s not needed, he retreats to the Amazon, obsessed with finding cures for diseases in the undiscovered flora of the jungle. Even if he can’t cure people, he still needs to maintain his role as a doctor. And poor Bart, dumped in the jungle—literally—by an ex who used him for his research and then left him to die from an unknown disease; he unwittingly bumps into the one person who literally causes disease in anyone he touches with his hands, and has to rely on him for help. Of course, he doesn’t know Pest’s true nature, and it takes a long time for Pest to reveal it as it goes against the rules of the Horsemen. Then, when this unknown disease starts to spread, it’s up to Pest and Bart to stop it before it reaches epidemic levels that will upset the balance of the world, and the rider of the white horse must use his abilities for good rather than ill.

If you’re like me and you find reimagining mythology great reading, I highly recommend this book. I’m thrilled that I’ll also be reading and reviewing the next three books in the series. So watch out for them!

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You can buy Pestilence here:

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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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You can buy Stealing the Wind here:

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4 Stars, Fairy Tale/Mythology/Folk Lore, Inkstained Succubus Press, Reviewed by Lisa, S. Zanne, Sci-Fi/Fantasy/Urban Fantasy

Review: 1KRV5 by S. Zanne

Title: 1KRV5

Author: S. Zanne

Publisher: Inkstained Succubus Press

Pages/Word Count: 67 Pages

At a Glance: The next time you’re in the mood for a short story that offers a little something outside the norm, something a bit different, I’d recommend giving this one a go.

Reviewed By: Lisa

Blurb: The world of genetic experimentation is highly regulated. Mikkel’s beautiful creations are as illegal as they are magnificent, and none so miraculous as Icarus, his perfect lover and companion. But love and good intent may not be enough to protect their little enclave. A new child may just tip the scales…and place Icarus and his Master at risk.

Dividers

Review: When da Vinci sketched Vitruvian Man, it was meant to depict the artist’s vision of the perfectly formed male, a blend of artistry and anatomy. 1KRV5, known in this story as Icarus, is author S. Zanne’s blend of mythology and art set in a sort of cyberpunk alternate universe, where human tissue is harvested illegally to create a new species. Icarus is Mikkel’s greatest creation, beauty in both form and feature, an earthbound angel—wings and all.

Reading this short and haunting story, one can’t help but make comparisons to Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s Frankenstein: Or, the Modern Prometheus. There are similar moral questions involved, those that examine mere mortals playing gods in the creation of life; though, unlike Victor Frankenstein, Mikkel is not the human monster who plays his version of God and then abandons his creation. Rather, harkening to another character in mythology, we see a Pygmalion-esque relationship formed between Mikkel and Icarus, in that Mikkel has fallen deeply in love with the life that sprang from his experimentation.

1KRV5 is bleak in both tone and storyline, but at the same time there is a poetry to its telling. There is love, there is the frailty of human life paired with the beauty of the artificial life form, and there is a bitter irony, the mockery of a man given wings but not the ability to fly. Icarus is the caged bird who longs to take to the sky but must remain locked away, admired, even worshiped, by his Master, but still a possession in the end. And, when Mikkel’s hubris catches up with him in the form of a dysfunctional child he created, we are left at the end to wonder if we’ve witnessed a tragedy or merely an inevitable outcome of his arrogance.

1KRV5 is a different sort of love story, not romantic in content yet there is a romanticism among its darker elements. The next time you’re in the mood for a short story that offers a little something outside the norm, something a bit different, I’d recommend giving this one a go.

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You can buy 1KRV5 here:

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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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You can buy Tempestuous Tides here:

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5 Stars, Dreamspinner Press, Mythology, Reviewed by Jules, Sci-Fi/Fantasy/Urban Fantasy, Shira Anthony

Review: Running with the Wind by Shira Anthony

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Title: Running with the Wind (Mermen of Ea: Book Three)

Author: Shira Anthony

Publisher: Dreamspinner Press

Pages/Word Count: 220 Pages

At a Glance: I loved the book. I absolutely, whole-heartedly recommend it. Go! Read! Now!

Reviewed By: Jules

Blurb: With the final confrontation between the island and mainland Ea factions looming, Taren and Ian sail with Odhrán to investigate a lost colony of merfolk in the Eastern Lands. Upon their arrival, the King of Astenya welcomes them as friends. Odhrán, however, isn’t so quick to trust the descendent of the man who held him prisoner for nearly a decade, especially now that he has someone to cherish and protect—the mysterious winged boy he rescued from the depths.

Armed with the knowledge he believes will save the Ea, Taren returns to the mainland. With Ian at his side, Taren convinces Vurin that their people must unite with their island brethren before it’s too late. When Seria and his men attack, Taren must call upon the ancient power of the rune stone to protect his comrades. But using the stone’s immeasurable power commands a hefty price—and Ian fears that price is Taren’s life.

Dividers

Review: Where do I even start, you guys??? I honestly get so blown away by the sheer force of imagination and the stunning beauty of this universe that I find it hard to get my full thoughts out. There is much to be said about this book, and this series, but I’m afraid it’s going to come out of my keyboard as ‘ASDLKJFALSJDFKSSDLSLF,’ as that’s how it feels in my head immediately after finishing this amazing story.

Running with the Wind jumps right in where Into the Wind left us – fresh out of a battle with the evil Seria and his followers, grieving the loss of Rider, and just having witnessed the transformation of Bastian, first into a dragon and then reincarnated as a winged boy, an Anuki, the ‘heavenly brethren of the Ea.’ Our heroes, Taren Laxley and Captain Ian Dunaidh, along with the pirate Odhrán, and the rest of their respective crews, are in shock, in mourning, and are trying to figure out where to go from there. Things are intense to say the least.

Taren really comes into his own in this book. Whereas in the past he was typically happy to defer to Ian on most things, in this book Taren is learning to trust himself and embrace who he is and who he is meant to be to his people. It was also so wonderful to see Ian supporting Taren, and encouraging him to fulfill his destiny. I absolutely loved this line:

“You’re no longer a slave, Taren. You’re no longer just a rigger. You’re no longer just my beloved. You’re the leader you were meant to be. You just haven’t realized it yet.”

There are so many fantastic things going on in this book. The romance between Taren and Ian – as well as their ancient counterparts, Treande and Owyn – is still off-the-charts fabulous; the rich detail of the world Shira Anthony has created is unbelievably intricate and as intriguing as ever, and the action sequences are incredible and heart-stopping. Though obviously it’s incredibly intense at times, there is still some humor interspersed throughout, and the different friendships – Taren and Odhrán, Ian and Renda, Bastian and Taren to name a few – are wonderful and heartwarming. We’re also introduced to a new character, Eiran, the King of Astenya, who I liked very much and hope to see again.

Okay. Let’s really get down to it. Everything I’ve said so far in my review is true. Ian and Taren…amazing world-building…beautifully detailed scenes and imagery…action-packed, intense battle scenes…high seas swashbuckling goodness…It’s all there. BUT, my heart was stolen by Bastian, and Bastian and Odhrán, on page one. Bastian is so fabulous, and his history, including all of the dragon lore, is beyond fascinating. I was also already a huge fan of Odhrán, so pairing him up with Bastian is so much win. A hybrid Ea/human and a dragon shifter – I still can’t believe he’s a dragon! – both immortal. How can that not be amazing?!?

Obviously I loved the book. I absolutely, whole-heartedly recommend it. Go! Read! Now! Heh, heh. The funny thing is, I started this series as sort of a dare from the lovely author herself…a challenge, if you will, to step outside of my bubble and try something different…and now, I never want it to end.

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4 Stars, DSP Publications, Felicitas Ivey, Reviewed by Jennifer, Sci-Fi/Fantasy/Urban Fantasy

Review: Back to the Dream by Felicitas Ivey

Title: Back to the Dream (Dreamlands: Book Two)

Author: Felicitas Ivey

Publisher: DSP Publications

Pages/Word Count: 314 Pages

At a Glance: Slower pacing than the first novel, with frequent character changes, but still a good story.

Reviewed By: Jennifer

Blurb: Although Inuzaka Keno has found freedom and love in the Dreamlands with oni Samojirou Aboshi, the war is still raging between The Trust’s battle-hardened recruits and the demons of his new home. While cloaked in shadows and magic, powerful people are using Keno, Aboshi, and their Lord Tamazusa as pawns in a deadly plan to rule both worlds.

They’re not alone: soldiers Mason, Wolf, and McGann—Keno’s friends from The Trust—also find themselves embroiled in the battle spreading through the Dreamlands, involving its other lands and cultures. If they’re to have any chance to survive, Aboshi will have to leave his love to protect him, and Keno will have to find the power within himself to live on without his heart.

Dividers

Review: I absolutely adored the first book in this series, Dreamlands, when I read it, and I had high hopes for the sequel. I wanted to know more about Keno and Samojirou, as well as the humans Mason and Wolf. I got more of that in this book, but the pacing was slow in the first quarter of the book, and in many parts the story dragged on, and I had to stop. After that first quarter, however, things definitely picked up, and I couldn’t read fast enough. Once again, Ivey has blended urban fantasy with a more traditional fantasy/mythology. New cultures are introduced and explored, which adds new elements to the novel not seen in the first.

Keno is growing as a character. In the first book, while he slowly falls for Samojirou, he is afraid of anything sexual with him because of his abuse on Earth. Understandable. In this book, however, he has gotten past that, and it seems that every time they are on the page together, Keno is exploring his newfound confidence. Readers will also see him grow once he travels with Tamazusa and is reunited with Mason, Wolf, and the others.

The intrigue of the Game in the Dreamlands is developing more. There are new characters, and the tension rises as Tamazusa plays the Game, putting herself in possible danger. Samojirou doesn’t like this, but it enables Keno to take on a new role. Of course, this new role is yet again as a woman, like his alter-ego Sakura. For being the avatar of a vicious warrior, he certainly dresses as a woman more frequently than not. But I guess that could be explained due to the interesting history of his ancestor and how he’s missing from the Dreamlands. It’s almost like two extremes of one person. However, he does shed this role once they reach the Northlands.

Mason is just as crass and protective of McGann as in the last book, and his relationship is growing with Tamazusa, which is fascinating, given her history and distrust of all men except Samojirou, Keno, and her samurai. And then there’s the other new, complex characters from the Trust as well as the Dreamlands, particularly the newly introduced Northlands.

For new readers, it is sometimes tricky because so many characters tell their story from first person perspective. Sometimes the events overlap, other times they skip ahead a bit. Others happen simultaneously in different areas of the Dreamlands. But each character brings something unique to the story.

If you are new and want to check this out, you absolutely must read the first book. While Ivey does a good job of covering the basics, there is just too much that would be missed. Characters that are not present in this novel are discussed, and they are crucial to the development of some events in this book. Plus, the first book is just so awesome, why would you want to skip it anyway?

I look forward to reading book three and finding out more about the Dreamlands and what the Trust is going to try next.

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You can buy Back to the Dream here:

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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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4 Stars, Alexis Hall, Fairy Tale/Mythology/Folk Lore, Reviewed by Jennifer, Riptide Publishing, Sci-Fi/Fantasy/Urban Fantasy

Review: Sand and Ruin and Gold by Alexis Hall

Title: Sand and Ruin and Gold

Author: Alexis Hall

Publisher: Riptide Publishing

Pages/Word Count: 48 Pages

At a Glance: An interesting twist on mermaids in a dystopian-esque setting.

Blurb: Once upon a time . . . that’s how the old stories always begin.

Once upon a time there was a king of a fallen kingdom. He was just and he was beloved. Or so the numbers said. One day, he gathered together the greatest, wisest minds in all the land—not sorcerers, but scientists—and he bade them fashion him a son. A prince. A perfect prince to embody his father’s legacy.

The scientists each brought the prince a gift: beauty, strength, ambition, intellect, pride. But they must have forgotten something because when he saw the mermaids dance at the Cirque de la Mer, he ran away to join them.

For a year, he trained them, performed with them, thought he was happy. For a year he thought he was free. But then Nerites came: A merman who refused to be tamed. A captive from another kingdom. A beast in a glass cage.

The old stories always end with happy ever after. But this isn’t one of the old stories. This is a story of princes and monsters.

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Review: Most readers will probably be able to read this short story in an hour or two, but even though it’s so short, I thought it was a good read with a fresh approach to the legend of mermaids.

Set in what appears to be a dystopian world, the story is told in the first person narrative, but the narrator never gives his name. In fact, none of the human characters are named. There are, if I remember correctly, eight named characters in the entire book, and they are all mer creatures. There isn’t even any dialogue. The entire story is written as a reflection by the narrator on his experiences with Cirque de la Mer and the mer creatures.

I must admit the cover drew me in. It’s stunning. And when you read the book, it’s clear that the artist paid attention to the author’s description of the merman Nerites because all of the details appear to be there. It’s beautiful.

There are many different takes on the mermaid mythos, and this one adds a new twist to it. At least new to me. In what I’ve read, mer creatures are beautiful, intelligent creatures capable of human speech and complex, human-like relationships. Not so in this story. Sure, they’re beautiful, mystical creatures that draw crowds, but they’re monsters. Beasts. They have a matriarchal society, but they behave as other wild animals do. They are violent. Vicious. They do not speak. They are caged animals in a Sea-World like environment where they perform for the crowds on a daily basis.

While this might sound like it wouldn’t belong in the M/M genre, the author has twisted the story. Somehow the narrator and Nerites form a bond and while it may not be love, they certainly lust after one another. The narrator may not understand what is happening, but as a reader, you see that the caged animals may not be complete animals at all. Just different from humans.

As I read this, I couldn’t help but think about the whales and dolphins that are kept in aquariums around the world. They are intelligent in their own way, even if we cannot understand them. Is it right to keep them caged like the mermaids and mermen in this story? Perhaps not.

It’s amazing how such a short fantasy story about a prince who neglected his duty and ran off to work with mermaids got me thinking so much in such a short span of time.

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You can buy Sand and Ruin and Gold here:

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3 Stars, Dreamspinner Press, M. Raiya, Mythology, Paranormal Romance, Reviewed by Jennifer

Review: Natural Instincts by M. Raiya

Title: Natural Instincts

Author:  M. Raiya

Publisher: Dreamspinner Press

Pages/Word Count: 54 Pages

At a Glance: Strange but good story involving mythology, a mathematical genius, and a loon

Blurb: Most people would consider near perfect recall, an ability to crunch numbers that rivals a computer’s, and an uncanny knack for predicting the stock market to be remarkable gifts. But for Kyle, those abilities also curse him to recall every moment of his horrible, abusive past. Searching for an escape, he takes his therapist’s advice and leaves his finance job behind for a weeklong camping trip on a remote lake in Vermont. He’s not sure how a week in seclusion with nothing but his own thoughts for company will be the reprieve he needs. Then he stumbles across a man engaged in a pagan ritual and is drawn into mysteries he never dreamed existed, and realizes nature is more distracting than he thought.

Dividers

Review: I’m not quite sure where to start with this review, as this novella was unlike anything I’ve ever read before. There’s a little bit of everything in it: contemporary romance, BDSM, mythology, shape-shifting (but not really), and angst. M. Raiya takes a unique concept and crams it into 54 all too short pages.

Kyle is a sympathetic character who has suffered horrendous tragedies in his past. I mean, it seems like misfortune has a knack for finding him, and as a result, he doesn’t speak. Ever. Not one line of dialogue from the book is his, although the book is told from his point of view. He decides to go on a camping trip to get away from everything and ends up changing his entire life.

Things happen too quickly in this novella, and I really wish it had been longer. There were so many interesting aspects that I wanted to know more about, but there wasn’t enough time. The romance that happens between Kyle and Jon is incredibly fast. Kyle is only there for a day or so, and they have a connection and are in love. Sure there’s some ancient magic involved, and it is explained a bit, but a longer explanation would have made it more believable.

I did enjoy the twist on Ancient Greek mythology. I found that part fascinating and wish there had been more. The same with Jon’s history and the whole loon aspect. Loons are my favorite birds and seeing them get the spotlight in a story was pretty awesome. I understand where Kyle was coming from with being haunted by their song. Spending summers in Maine, I heard them often and they haunt me as well with their cries. And Raiya’s description of them is spot on.

If the story had alternated between Kyle and Jon, it would have been all the stronger for it. If the author chose to write more exploring the relationship between the two, or expanded on Jon’s story, I would definitely read it.

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You can buy Natural Instincts here:

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3 Stars, Bottom Drawer Publications, Fairy Tale/Mythology/Folk Lore, L.J. LaBarthe, Reviewed by Rena

Review: Mythica by L.J. LaBarthe

Title: Mythica

Author: L.J. LaBarthe

Publisher: Bottom Drawer Publications

Pages/Word Count: 235 Pages

Rating: 3 Stars

Blurb: Caiden Jones is part-selkie and lives an idyllic life by the sea in South Australia. He’s had his fair share of disappointments, like being kept out of the Navy due to his mythica status, but overall he’s got a pretty good life. Until he’s in the wrong place at the right time. Continue reading

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Chris T. Kat, Dreamspinner Press

Guest Post and Giveaway: Tidal Change by Chris T. Kat

Sex Underwater

5767496A big thank you to The Novel Approach for having me! I’m Chris T. Kat and Dreamspinner Press will publish my new release, Tidal Change, on September 17th. Tidal Change is a shape-shifter story but it also has fantasy/fairy tale elements because the main character, Marty, is a merman.

Given that Marty is a merman, but a shifter as well, he’s capable of having sex in his human form, even underwater. Of course, that’s not what you wanted to hear, right? ;-)

No worries, there is underwater sex, and it happens while the guys are in their shifted forms. Now, how does the sex work? For a while, I contemplated basing my mermen’s physiology on fish, but after some research decided against it. For the story to work, I needed my merfolk to be mammals. Since I’m a whale and dolphin lover for, hmm, shall we say forever, the logical conclusion was to have a look at how these animals have sex. Continue reading

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4 Stars, Chris Quinton, Kouros Books, Paranormal Romance, Reviewed by Chris, Sci-Fi/Fantasy/Urban Fantasy

It’s Good vs. Evil In Chris Quinton’s “Greymalkin”

Title: Greymalkin (Melusine’s Cats: Book One)

Author: Chris Quinton

Publisher: Kouros Books

Pages/Word Count: 188 Pages

Rating: 4 Stars

Blurb: The mutual attraction between Jesse and Will is a bonus for Melusine when her enemies close in and she needs to rebuild her war band—starting with Jesse, Will, and Greymalkin. Continue reading

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Reviewed by Lisa, Samhain Publishing, Vaughn R. Demont

Vaughn R. Demont Strikes In The Same Place Twice With Lightning Rod (Broken Mirrors #2)


“Reality means you live until you die…the real truth is nobody wants reality.” ― Chuck Palahniuk


Title: Lightning Rod (Broken Mirrors #2)

Author: Vaughn R. Demont

Publisher: Samhain Publishing

Pages/Word Count: 312 Pages

Rating: 5 Stars

Blurb: Always stand. Never fall.
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Reviewed by Lisa, Samhain Publishing, Vaughn R. Demont

Vaughn R. Demont’s “Coyote’s Creed” Is An Urban Fantasy Worth Howling About


“It takes all kinds to make the world, right? Hell, you’re looking at a bisexual half-Coyote small-time grifter, and in the last week I’ve stolen, committed fraud and assault, and nearly killed someone. Who the hell am I to pass judgment?” – Vaughn R. Demont


Title: Coyote’s Creed (Broken Mirrors, #1)

Author: Vaughn R. Demont

Publisher: Samhain Publishing

Pages/Word Count: 273 Pages

Rating: 5 Stars

Blurb: Always have an ace up your sleeve.
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Dreamspinner Press, Felicitas Ivey

Love Gets A Little Nudge From The Big Guy In “In Trouble With Angels”


“My name is Eros, and this is my holiday.” – Felicitas Ivey


Title: In Trouble With Angels

Author: Felicitas Ivey

Publisher: Dreamspinner Press

Pages/Word Count: 40 Pages

Rating: 4 Stars

Blurb: With the increasing commercialization of Valentine’s Day in the 1950s, the Pagan deities of Love, led by Eros, gather to make sure everything runs smoothly. Shy, quiet angel Shateiel offers help, and Eros is quite taken with the cute angel, though he keeps his lust to himself. When the higher-level angels discover Shateiel’s little rebellious streak and how he’s been spending his time, they intervene to keep him from falling from grace. Now, Eros may wish he’d admitted his feeling before it was too late.
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Dreamspinner Press, J.L. O'Faolain

“Holly and Oak” Is A Big Story In A Small Package



“If we never experience the chill of a dark winter, it is very unlikely that we will ever cherish the warmth of a bright summer’s day.” – Anthon St. Maarten


J.L. O’Faolain serves up a yin-yang holiday fantasy, in which the Oak King and the Holly King, the keepers of the seasons, battle for supremacy each solstice in Holly and Oak, the story of immortal brothers, and the one of them who has fallen in love with a human.

Loving a human isn’t necessarily forbidden for the Holly King but it certainly does present some interesting issues, namely the fact that Sergio isn’t immortal, not to mention that he and Holly are from two vastly different worlds, which causes some concern on the part of the Oak King for his brother. Where love is concerned, however, the old adage “where there’s a will, there’s away,” is often all one needs, especially when one is as powerful as a god of seasons.
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Harmony Ink Press, John Goode

When Surviving Is Only Half The Battle – Eye of the Storm (Lords of Arcadia, Book Two) by John Goode

Courage is not defined by those who fought and did not fall, but by those who fought, fell and rose again. – Author Unknown

Being heroic doesn’t always mean being the bravest or the boldest or the strongest, or even the wisest. Sometimes acts of heroism are performed by the one who simply doesn’t stop to think at all, but is the one who rushes in when the wisest would run away. The most daring of all heroes doesn’t leap into battle with an absence of fear but with the presence of hope and faith, doesn’t think about sacrifices or the statistical probabilities of success and failure. The most daring are the ones who believe in the power of friendships and family and love’s ability to triumph over all, and then does everything in his or her power to defend them.

There are many heroes on Kane’s journey to the other side of reality, in pursuit of his injured prince. Of course, there are enemies too, those bent toward a single goal: to ensure that the tide of events will turn in the favor of the oppressed, though the aggressor’s motives are far from selfless or honorable. For every wrong there is a price that must be paid. For every wrong that is righted, there is a cost that is often far greater than would seem possible to pay. There are gains and there are losses in this installment of John Goode’s “Lords of Arcadia” series; there are revelations and mysteries yet to be solved; there is strength in numbers that is found in one but shared with all; there is a battle looming on the horizon, a battle of the lust for absolute power that has corrupted absolutely.

This is where high fantasy meets the reality that love and a deep and indefinable connection can be found in the most unexpected of places. It is a journey that defies the precept that only men can be heroes and that women must be the damsels in distress. These are partners and lovers and friends and former adversaries together, who find the will to stand up and fight for their choices through terrific acts of valor and against a slew of dark and deadly magic.

Eye of the Storm is a swashbuckling adventure with epic battles and even more epic resurrections, a blend of fairytale and mythology that the author has woven together into a love story between the heir to the Arcadian throne and the human boy who is proving with more and more certainty that he is so much more. It is a love story that triumphs in the face of the improbable and discounts the probability of the impossible, two souls that have now become one and must now face a formidable foe, one that wants what Hawk has and is willing to do anything he can in order to get it.

If you don’t love to-be-continueds, you won’t love that you’ll have to wait to see what’s coming next for Kane, Hawk, and their band of diverse allies. If you don’t mind a cliffhanger, however, and love a great adventure, then dig in.

You can buy Eye of the Storm (Lords of Arcadia, Book Two) here:

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