Haffling by Caleb James

Haffling

Haffling by Caleb James

Series: The Haffling, Book 1
Published by: DSP Publications on January 5, 2016 (2nd Ed.)
Rating: 4 stars (★★★★☆)

Sixteen-year-old Alex Nevus lives a challenging life for a teenager. Living with a schizophrenic mother, he does all he can to keep things together for his younger sister, Alice. He will do everything he can to keep his family together. And while he manages, it’s always just by a thread. And he tries hard to ignore the fairy that he hallucinates, worried he might end up just like his mother someday.

When Alex’s mother disappears on the day of a court hearing, he knows he has to find her. And his quest to find her takes him to a strange place–the land of the Fey. What he learns there helps explain some of what’s going on in his life, but it stirs up more questions than answers. And in the land of the Fey, all questions come with a cost.

Alex learns there might be a bigger threat to his family than the court system. To save them, he’ll need to find a way to stop May, queen of the Fey. And it won’t be easy.

Complicating things is the fact that the boy of Alex’s dreams, Jerod Haynes, just started talking to him. As much as Alex has longed for a relationship, Jerod’s timing is terrible. Or is it actually the best timing ever?

I really enjoyed this fun and action-packed story. Once things get moving here, they move quickly and stay that way right up until the end. There’s a rich history between the Fey lands and the lands of the humans that the author has developed. And there are some fun references to other stories that certainly made me smile.

This is the start of a series and I’m looking forward to the next installment.

[Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.]

Medusa’s Revenge by Brian Trent

Medusa’s Revenge by Brian Trent

Published by: Daily Science Fiction on June 13, 2016
Rating: 4 stars (★★★★☆)

 

When Sergeant Percy and Detective Cassie receive a dire warning from the Sybil, they need to decide what to do. While they know Prisoner X is dangerous, there are many other worries plaguing the city. But any tip from the Sybil is worth investigating. So they set off for her island prison to investigate.

But even with the Sybil’s warning, will anyone be able to stop what’s to come?

A delightful short story that takes ancient mythology into the present day. The question of how the characters and creatures of mythology would interact with modern technology is an interesting one to consider. And in just a short amount of words, Brian Trent gives us a great answer to that question and an entertaining and thoughtful story.

Beauty, Inc. by Tara Lain

Beauty, Inc.

Beauty, Inc. by Tara Lain

Series: The Pennymaker Tales, Book 3
Published by: Dreamspinner Press on June 8, 2016
Rating: 4 stars (★★★★☆)

Dr. Robert “Belle” Belleterre is more than just a pretty face. He’s a skilled chemist who has just developed an innovative face cream that will prove a breakthrough for his father’s cosmetic company. Belle’s success seems to go unappreciated by his father. The older Mr. Belleterre’s alcohol and gambling problems keep the company on the brink. And when a series of events find him facing a debt he can’t pay, he offers up his son to Magnus Strong, CEO of Beauty, Inc.

Belle finds himself on the other side of the country from his family and his best friend. And all he knows of Mr. Strong, aside from his position, is that he’s known for a major scar across his face. But any man who would accept a year of his service in his company to pay off a poker debt can’t be a great person, right? How can he be expected to work for a rival company? But with a family like Belle’s, perhaps the family business shouldn’t be his main concern.

And what of Magnus Strong and the man behind the mystery? What are his motivations? And who is he? As Belle settles into his new home, he soon finds that there may be something unexpected behind the scar…

I’ve been really enjoying The Pennymaker Tales, of which this is book three. It shouldn’t be too much of a surprise considering they’re modern adaptations of fairy tales. I live for retold stories that offer new perspectives and elements not present in the original. And who doesn’t like seeing the story of that princess retold with someone like themselves in her place?

Tara Lain approaches these stories in a masterful way. There’s always just enough of the source story for you know what’s being referenced. But the new story still feels fresh and original. Even knowing that a fairy tale is being referenced, you don’t feel like you’re just seeing and hearing the same thing all over again.

I’m not sure if more of these are planned, but I certainly hope they are. I’d love to keep reading more about the men who are fortunate to have Mr. Pennymaker cross their paths…

Damned If You Do by Marie Sexton

Damned If You Do

Damned If You Do by Marie Sexton

Published by: Samhain Publishing on June 14, 2016
Rating: 3 stars (★★★☆☆)

Abaddon is down to his last chance. If he doesn’t do something to meet his quota for soul collection soon, he’ll be demoted a less than desirable job. He needs a big score. And he knows just where to get it.

Traveling to “the Bible Belt,” Abaddon quickly finds Seth, a blind musician who is part of a traveling revival. His purity quickly draws Abaddon in. Seth’s soul would be an ultimate score. But Abaddon is drawn to Seth in other ways too–ways that make his task more difficult to complete than he expected.

But there’s something about Seth that Abaddon can’t quite figure out. There’s more to Seth’s story than Seth himself might even know. At the end of it all, will Abaddon be able to collect Seth’s soul knowing what it means for him? Or will be willing to walk away to save Seth while sacrificing himself to an eternity of one of the worst jobs in Hell?

The opening here is right out of Charlie Daniels song–and it didn’t strike me as a particularly original approach. Sadly, that really colored the way I read the rest of the book. It took a long time for me to get past that and into the story, which is actually an interesting one. Had it not been for that scene, I feel like it would have been easier to connect with the story. It was more distracting than anything else.

Abaddon and Seth certainly experience a quick-build relationship. It borders a bit on unbelievable, but as the rest of the story unfolds, it all ends up making sense.

If you’re looking for something that will let you just sort of roll with the story, this book would be one of those. It’s not going to require you to think too much, and it’s likely to keep you entertained.

[Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.]

The Valet and the Stable Groom by Katherine Marlowe

The Valet and the Stable Groom

The Valet and the Stable Groom by Katherine Marlowe

Published by: Honeywine Publishing on June 24, 2016
Rating: 4 stars (★★★★☆)

Clement Adair is an excellent personal valet. So it’s no surprise he has his eyes set on becoming a butler. When the household he’s working in splits, he expects his promotion will go along with it. To his dismay, however, he is moving with his employer, but he is staying in the same role. Not happy with the prospect of being stuck as a valet on a small country estate, Clement plans to resign as soon as things are settled and return to London to seek a new path.

What Clement doesn’t count on, however, is meeting Hugo Ogden, the estate’s stable groom. Hugo is fascinating to Clement in ways in hadn’t expected. And he finds himself wanting to get to know the man much better. Which can’t really happen if he gets on the next train to London and never looks back.

There’s more going on in the household, though, that needs Clement’s attention. His employer’s constantly changing hobbies keep him more than occupied. The fact that the household butler is nearly incompetent gives him extra duties. And someone keeps playing pranks on said butler–who is quick to give Clement the blame. Can Clement help get the household in order in time to figure out what he wants with Hugo? Or should he really just leave all of the disorder behind?

Let me start by saying this book is simply wonderful. That’s really the best way I can sum it up at this point. The plot, the characters, and the storytelling make for a masterful book. It was quite difficult to put it down when I needed to get back to work. 🙂

Many times in regency-type historical romances, we see the relationship between two members of the aristocracy or one aristocrat and a member of the serving class. A story that focuses on two members of the serving class is a bit more rare, in my experience. So this is certainly refreshing for that fact alone.

What’s more is the cast of characters that rest in the background (if you could really call it that). They bring this wonderful world to life in some very vivid ways. And the humor and entertainment value of these characters is also great. Considering the relationship is slow to get started, they certainly serve to keep the reader interested while Clement and Hugo take their sweet time in finding their way.

This is a definite strong recommendation from me!

[Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review.]

Bender by Gene Gant

Bender

Bender by Gene Gant

Published by: Harmony Ink Press on June 16, 2016
Rating: 4 stars (★★★★☆)

College freshman Mace Danner works his way through college as an escort for a specific clientele. He seeks out those interested in domination and pain. He doesn’t experience sexual urges, so it’s not about sex for him. It’s about the punishment he feels he deserves for causing his brother’s death. And though he knows it’s a dangerous coping mechanism, he feels it works for him as he keeps everyone who expresses any care or kindness at a comfortable distance.

After a job goes wrong, Mace loses the bit of control he still held on his life. Mace’s resident advisor, Dex, notices this and won’t let Mace push him away. He’s determined to help. Of course, until Mace is willing to allow someone to help him, things aren’t really going to change. And his dangerous course could prove to be deadly before too long…

This is an intense story. It’s not long, and there is a lot that happens here. And some of the subjects that come up are difficult. This is definitely not something I expected from this particular imprint, but I think it’s an important story to tell. The issues here–guilt, self worth, assault, self-destructive behavior, asexuality–are things that the mainstream wants to shy away from. And it’s important that we don’t do that.

I’m not sure I’d necessarily call this young adult (which is what Harmony Ink tends to be), but certainly new adult or maybe an older young adult, just due to the intensity of the subject matter.

Content warnings: sexual assault

[Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.]

Department of Truth by Jennifer Rose Jorgenson

Department of Truth by Jennifer Rose Jorgenson

Published by: Daily Science Fiction on June 7, 2016
Rating: 4 stars (★★★★☆)

 

In the year 2230, Emmett Wright works for the Department of Truths, a government agency focused on citing people for deception and ensuring historical accuracy. Which is why he’s troubled for having told his son what some would call a little white lie. But it’s the first lie Emmett’s ever told.

It’s no surprise, then, when Emmett realizes he’s being followed. Yes, it seems odd they would have found out about the lie so quickly. But at the same time, he knows that employees of the Department are held to a higher standard.

How he’s going to get out of this one is something that’s certainly beyond him…

This was a fun play on a situation I think most people can relate to with the added twist of Emmett’s requirement to always tell the truth. So many times–probably every day–we all have moments when we’re not completely truthful. Whether it’s to spare someone’s feelings, to keep private thoughts to ourselves, or to simply avoid making a big deal when one’s not needed: We all engage in small deceptions. But what would it be like if we couldn’t do that? If those small twists we make could get us into trouble? Would the world and our lives be different? And how could we find a way out when we stumble into that territory?

In Shining Armor by E.L. Phillips

In Shining Armor

In Shining Armor by E.L. Phillips

Published by: Bold Strokes Books on June 1, 2016
Rating: 4 stars (★★★★☆)

Krish Nayar is not one who is into roughing it. Which is why he wasn’t keen on the suggestion of camping near Cardiff to end out his vacation in the United Kingdom. But his friends thought it was a good idea, and he went along with it. Though it doesn’t seem like a good idea after he trips in the woods, lost in fog, with no one around to help him.

Krish is surprised when a knight in shining armor–literally–rides up on a horse to come to his aid. Although he’s in pain, Krish finds the man’s commitment to being in character amusing. He assumes this knight, Bleddyn, is an actor in a local renaissance faire. But when Bleddyn brings Krish back to the castle where he lives for medical attention, Krish begins to wonder just how much of this is an act. He might have actually somehow stumbled into the seventeenth century.

Despite his surroundings, Krish can’t deny his attraction to his savior. And he’s more than a little surprised when he gets a hint that Bleddyn might feel the same way. But if Krish acts on it, it could spell trouble. His kind of love wasn’t exactly accepted in the 1600s. And he’ll only be there until he finds his way back home, right?

Faced with circumstances beyond his imagination, Krish must decide to follow his head or his heart.

This book has a few things going for it that always tend to interest me. I’m a sucker for some good historical romance. And when you throw in a time travel twist, you’ve certainly got me interested. When an author can put them together into a compelling story–then we’re talking a must read. And this fits that bill.

There’s a powerful magic influencing the events in this story. And it’s a magic that comes off the page and into the reader’s imagination. I recommend this for anyone who is a fan of any of this story’s subgenres.

[Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.]

After the End by Damien Angelica Walters

After the End by Damien Angelica Walters

Published by: Daily Science Fiction on June 10, 2016
Rating: 4 stars (★★★★☆)

What would it be like to be a child in the aftermath of an epidemic that wipes out most of the population? For something so devastating to happen while you’re still in your formative years? It seems like it would be a tough way to learn about the ways of the world. And learning the hard lessons about humanity can make one grow up way too fast.

But one can’t change their circumstances. All we can ever do is try our best to live within them, make the most of what we have. And at some point, we all have to leave childhood behind…

This was an interesting and sobering first-person account of what it means to be a young girl in what followed after a deadly epidemic that wiped out most of the population. And it was not one of those stories of an epic journey and fight to survive. It was the reality of living without having access to everything you need. It showed that the struggle doesn’t always lend itself to glamorous action shots that can be filmed for the big screen. And that makes it an incredibly powerful short story.

Love Unmasked by Dale Cameron Lowry

Love Unmasked

Love Unmasked by Dale Cameron Lowry

Published by: Dreamspinner Press on June 1, 2016
Rating: 3 stars (★★★☆☆)

Aaron Loreto is a shifter, but he’s not one that’s well-known or often appreciated. In a world where shifters are known to humans, raccoon shifters aren’t exactly considered highbrow. And Aaron’s other self has proven to be too much for past boyfriends.

When Aaron meets Philip MacRory, he’s drawn to the man immediately. There’s something about Philip that makes Aaron think he can let his guard down. But past experience still makes him wary of divulging his secret.

But as they spend more time together, Aaron learns he may not be the only one with a secret…

Is it okay to call a story adorable and fun? Because that’s exactly what I have to say about this story. It’s a unique shifter story–how often does one see a raccoon shifter?–and the characters are great. This is definitely one of my personal favorites of this year’s Daily Dose series from Dreamspinner Press. I definitely suggest giving it a read.