Cooking with Ergot

Luisa Prieto

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Dominic is a witch, Carter is a descendent of infamous witch hunters.  When Carter’s cousin attacks him in a parking lot, Dominic comes to his aid.  Just what can the two men expect from one another, especially when Cousin Simon is determined to eliminate another witch from the world?


I think I’ve figured out why I love Prieto’s stories so much. It’s because she convinces me so easily that she understands what evil is. Real evil, not just monsters, although sometimes her characters wear that guise. She presents to her readers the kind of evil that ruins everything it touches and most often tries to cloak itself in justifications and lies, and yet, somehow, her protagonists prove over and over again that it doesn’t take superhuman powers to triumph over evil. She makes me believe in love.

Cooking With Ergot is a more humorous story than the After books, but it still holds all the things I love most about Prieto’s writing.

Dominic is a kitchen witch. I really liked the fact that Prieto gave him a style of witchcraft that one might expect to see in a Disney film and then gave him a career on the “Cooking Network” instead. I also liked the fact that he has a great sense of humor, he’s as practical as he is romantic, he’s brave but not stupid, and he doesn’t wait for the Prince to rescue him when he sees the opportunity to rescue himself. And he’s cute. I want to sigh dreamily and stare at him with heart-shaped eyes.

I also liked Carter. Despite the fact that he grew up in what’s obviously a family of utter whackjobs, he still managed to come out of it with only a dark edge to his sense of humor and no burning desire to murder his fellow men. He’s rational and sceptical and grounded in reality, but his mind is open enough to accept it when he’s proven wrong about witchcraft. Oh, and this really showcases Prieto’s deft touch – I never once frowned and thought to myself, “Well, that doesn’t sound right, he shouldn’t react like that.” Despite the fact that Carter is getting his ideas about reality knocked down left, right, and center, his characterization never breaks. His reactions are always perfectly true – not true for almost anyone else, maybe, but true to Carter, which is all that counts.
No wonder Dominic loves him. I would, too. Prieto’s pairings always make so much sense to me.

The villain is Simon, Carter’s cousin. The man’s a lunatic, pure evil. He believes that what he’s doing is right, good, for the benefit of humanity, and all that other crap that true evil likes to tell itself. It doesn’t matter that he’s murdering people, because the people he murders don’t deserve to live. He wants to save the innocent, so he leaves a swathe of destruction in his wake. There’s a certain irony in Simon. He’s almost desperate to force Carter to understand him instead of condemning him, and yet that’s exactly what Simon’s doing to the people he murders – condemning them, not bothering to understand what he’s trying to destroy.

It doesn’t really matter that Dominic is a witch, or that Carter has a deeply-buried ability for witchcraft himself, or that together they have True Love. It doesn’t matter that Simon wouldn’t be able to do what he does if he wasn’t a fictional character. Those things are just spices in the cake. Prieto has a knack for presenting evil as a fact of existence, and love as a goal instead of an unattainable ideal, and she does it all with grace, humor, and a stuffed tiger that has impeccable manners and a British accent. Good God, what’s not to love about this author?

Top said it all, really. We are die-hard fans of Prieto because she has yet to disappoint.
More importantly, Dominic, the witch, has a stuffed tiger with a Peter Cushing accent for a familiar. Did we mention that already? If that didn’t make you want to read the book, there is no hope for you. I’m sorry.

Prieto has such a wonderful writing style: easy but complex, witty yet can get darkly serious incredibly quickly. The darkness is always just around the corner. She always has me on my toes because I’m never sure what comes next. Formulaic writing is not really in her repertoire, even in this short story.

In Cooking with Ergot, Prieto shows off more of her funny side. The recipes included in the book were cute and used really well. The two men in the story are easy-to-like guys who make me smile and want to squish them. Much like the tiger. This isn’t just for the fluffers, though. It’s not a sickening sweetness, but a nice bowl of fruit after dinner.

The only minuses this book has are a few flubs in the editing department; a few missed words or a couple doubled words. Not enough to detract at all from the story, but for once I caught them instead of CW, so I’m going to say it and be smug to her.

In short, fun story to read! I would recommend this book to anyone in need of a light story with a bit of a bite for an undertone. Heck, it was good enough to get us to come out of our cave, wasn’t it? ‘Nuff said.

Realms of Fantasy

Shayne Carmichael & Mychael Black
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Created to be equal, yet divided by the Fall.
Hunter and the Prey
When is it in the best interests of an angel to run like hell? Lev is about to finds out when he tries to destroy Alael, a demon from the Order of Blood.
Angels of Blood
The Order of Chaos sends Adon on a mission to exterminate Irael, a rogue angel who has set himself up as a god on the ninth world of the universe. But Adon has his own agenda, and the chaos that follows could very well destroy them both.

Unholy Need
As an angel of the Lower Order of Creation, Nichael’s mission is to stop a power-hungry wizard from shifting the balance of power between Michael and Lucifer. His own equilibrium is thrown when he’s dragged into saving the life of Nias, a young demon.
Order of the Highest
Talah, a demon of the Disillusioned, is sent by the powerful ruler Sepha to scout the Order of the Highest. There he encounters Aridas, equal in power and just as determined. Can Talah survive their power struggle?
The True Fall of Lucifer
Cast out from The Court of Heaven, blinded by eons of pain and bitterness, Lucifer has been separated far too long from the other half of his soul. Michael must show Lucifer the truth of their existence—or lose his only chance to bring the Prince of Hell back to where he truly belongs.

It was a travesty, really.
First of all, I disapproved of the cover art. It’s not that the art is bad. It just doesn’t fit. I’m supposed to be reading stories about angels and demons, or at least, that’s what the advertisements said I was going to be reading, so why does the cover depict two models reminiscent of Conan the Barbarian? No wings, halos, or forked tongues in sight.

Second, I don’t think I’ve ever read a collection of short stories in which every story was worth the cover price. This one is different only in the fact that none of the stories turned out to be worth buying.
The idea of angels is a grand, sweeping, encompassing idea, so deep and wide in its scope that it still holds millions of people in its grip even in this modern era of cynicism and disillusionment. Angels, and their demonic counterparts, capture the human imagination in a way that even vampires and werewolves can’t hope to match. It’s an enchantment that has spawned blockbuster hits, bestsellers, cult classics and even actual cults. But not this time. Carmichael and Black failed to capture any part of the mystique, the beauty, the awesomeness of their intended subject. Failed utterly, miserably, and pathetically. It’s mind-boggling, really. They had over two thousand years’ worth of mythology to draw on, none of which is copyrighted. How hard could it have been to do a decent job of it? Apparently impossible – perhaps Black and Carmichael saved that awesomeness for their lunch, because they certainly didn’t pass it on to their readers.

I had so many problems with this book that it’s difficult to keep track of them. Let’s start with the writing. The angst and the attempted romance is… sappy. Syrupy. You could pour it over pancakes. It would be overly-generous to say that they gave lip-service to a plot, because they didn’t even give it that much. It seemed to me that they were rushing over all the boring plot-like things in order to get back to the porn. They presented a progression of events as though it were a logical progression, sensible, and yet it wasn’t. They didn’t bother to give any information as to why they thought it might be sensible. The entire thing was unbelievable; not the good kind of unbelievable, but the other kind, as in, it’s not possible for me to believe that these writers knew what they were doing.

The editing was non-existent. I don’t mean this in the way that I usually bitch about editing, either. For instance, in the third story, Nias’ hair was either auburn or ebony, depending on which paragraph you were reading. How hard would that have been for an editor to catch in the first read-through? I caught it immediately, while skimming through it. By no stretch of the imagination are these programming errors, nor are they obscure oopsies. Either the editor blew off his or her responsibilities, or Samhain Publishing doesn’t care if they’re selling unedited crap to unsuspecting readers. Or maybe it’s both, which wouldn’t surprise me at all.

I, personally, would never let LdD publish something like this without a healthy slap upside the head and a great deal of red-marking. I would have informed her that “auburn” and “ebony” are not, in fact, the same hair color. I would have educated her on the catastrophic visual effects of emerald feathers against red sheets. I would have given her a list of possible substitutes for actual lube. I’m thinking that maybe the publishing companies should just start hiring from the fanfiction pool of beta-readers. It’s saying something that the free fanfiction online has better editing in many cases than the stuff one buys at the ebook sites. And what it’s saying isn’t very nice.

Let’s talk about the porn. I refuse to give it the more elegant title of “erotica,” first, because it wasn’t particularly erotic, and second, because “erotica” implies, to me, a level of artistry that was missing completely. As a matter of fact, I could almost hear the “boom chicka wow wow.” But let’s forget for just a moment that I would defy any person reading this to find me a man who wouldn’t protest being anally penetrated, forcefully, without any hint of lube or preparation. Let’s forget for a moment that the authors need to be slapped with an anatomy book, or maybe, if you want to be more polite about it, emailed a link to Google with a list of possible search words.

I want to talk about the prostate-licking.

My biggest pet peeve in M/M fiction is prostate-licking. I hate it. It’s ridiculous. It’s not cute, not sexy, and not physically possible, and I don’t care if the top is a demon that the authors endowed with the miraculous (and oh-so-convenient) ability to manipulate his own tongue into becoming longer and stronger. It was an absolutely pathetic piece of drivel that caused me to lose any amount of respect I might have had for the authors. Still, I could have ignored it once, if only the rest of the porn had been well-written (which it emphatically wasn’t). But then it happened again. I’m surprised that the after-shocks of my temper exploding didn’t cause a natural disaster somewhere in the world.

From the very beginning, I was praying for it to end. I never expected that the authors would answer my prayers by making it just stop. It didn’t end. It stopped! Somewhere in the universe of this book is a renegade mage playing havoc with some sort of mystic power while the angels are off screwing each other, and… Oh. Oh, God. Let this not be the harbinger of a sequel. Let it end. Please.

Do I recommend this book?
Hell no.

Unfortunately, the only thing in which CW and I have a difference of opinion regarding this book is the cover. I loved the cover. My favorite facet of angels is their warrior aspect. So seeing gladiator-bodied angels and demons on the cover was very exciting to me and made me force the issue of buying and reviewing this book. Regrettably, Anne Caine’s gorgeous cover art couldn’t save this book. (Or my hide once CW had gotten through it. I said I was sorry!)

I have a real angel/demon fetish, so when I came across mention of this book, I was very excited. I was even more excited when I read the blurbs for the stories. Oh, how I wish I hadn’t been so incredibly disappointed.

Technically, the writing is okay. I didn’t find a slew of typos. It’s the plots and characters that leave much to be desired. The angels and demons did not act at all like their namesakes. At all. The only thing the celestial beings and the characters in the book had in common were wings. Otherwise, they were something completely different, so I am not sure why they were called those names. The concept of expanding the idea and scope of demons and angels was fascinating and exciting, but the result in this book did not work. As the reader, I’m going to have certain preconceived notions of characters called angels or demons. If my notions are not going to work, then the author has to help me out by explaining the mechanics. If a character is called a demon, I expect demonic things from him. If the character is called a fallen angel, I will need the author to explain the difference to me in regard to the particular story. Dumping me in a new world with different laws without a map is not going to work. I was confused and pretty disappointed.

Throughout the book, there is talk of Orders. There is never any clear understanding what any of these Orders do or mean until the second-to-last story. I really wish the history lesson slid into this story had been put in the front of the book. It would have given so much more feeling and understanding behind the words the characters mouthed. Also in the second-to-last story, we finally are told of the “twin souls” thing, which makes so many other parts of the book make some sense. All the pairings had these “I’m drawn to you but I don’t know why” emotions and mentions of ‘threads’ to one another. Not until near the end of the entire book, do the authors mention the twin souls, one of light and one of dark. That would have been so much more appreciated right from the beginning. Without it, it just made the characters shallow, silly, and a bit stupid. Even with this information, much of the characters antics were just not explained enough, or explained in a way that is believable. When you have a character seek out the other, when he is aggressive, demanding, dominating, and possessive, and then having him suddenly think, “Oh, I mustn’t run away anymore, he is my soul twin,” it makes absolutely no sense.

While I was reading, I constantly felt as if I was missing huge chunks of information. The characters were a mix of arrogant, needy, and blind. And vampiric in one WTF? instance. In one story I thought an angel was actually a demon once he shows his forked tongue, a character trait of the demon from the first story. But then this character is revealed as being one of the highest angels… so why the forked tongue? The settings were confusing and jumbled, as well. I was never sure where the hell I was, except for the one story that takes place almost entirely in an apartment while the mad mage the angel is supposed to be stopping runs rampant somewhere else.

Ultimately, I felt as if I had picked up the private journal of writers playing around with ideas and writing a fun story for themselves. For me, this book never felt as though it was ready for others to read. I can’t recommend this book to anyone. Honestly, even if the emotions in this weren’t so shallow and syrupy, it was still too confusing to make any sense to anybody, in my opinion.

Tina Anderson & c.b. Potts
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In the notorious Five Points slum of 1870’s Manhattan, Galen ‘the Mongoose’ Driscol steps out of jail and back into the arms of his transgendered lover, Wira Boruta. When Galen tells Wira that he’s tracked down the man who tried to kill them as children, Wira is unwilling to listen, and pleads with Galen to forget the past, and live only for the future…their future.

Only Galen doesn’t forget, nor does he forgive. He doesn’t give a second thought about exacting justice, but justice has a price, and it’s come to collect from the one person Galen loves most…

Gadarene isn’t like anything we’ve reviewed before, and definitely isn’t like anything I’ve read before. To begin with, it’s not an M/M romance: first, because Wira more correctly falls under the “T” in “GLBT,” and second, because despite the fact that the two main characters are in love and have lots of sex, this is an in-your-face horror novel. It’s the book version of the scary movie you always want to watch when you’re alone in the dark, and then regret it the moment you’ve turned out the lights.

I’ve read horror novels before… well, I’ve tried to read horror novels. I find the “masters” like Stephen King or Dean Kootz to be boring because, simply, they talk too much. They strip all the horror from their own works because they’ve left my nerves so deadened by frustration with their endless yapping that it’s impossible for me to be afraid. The Anderson/Potts team didn’t do that. In fact, if I ever needed an example of when telling can be more effective than showing, Gadarene would be perfect.

Anderson/Potts tell us what happened, what Wira saw, how she felt about it, what she did about it. They don’t explain why any of it is happening, though. The unknown is left in the realm of the unknown, and that’s where the scare factor comes to play. Is any of this really happening? Is Wira imagining things? Is she psychic or psychotic? What happened back then? What did they do? What was done to them? Little by little, I learned enough to begin to piece together the events that led up to what’s happening now, but never – quite – enough to answer the first question, is this really happening? When the book was over, when the story was done, I was left wondering what, if anything, had been real. I even had to read it a second time, almost immediately after the first reading, to find out if I could pick up any more clues to let me comprehend the sheer strangeness of what was going on.

Holy crap, is that a recipe for night terrors, or what?!

The scariness of the story is the first thing that impressed me. The second thing is the characterization, and I don’t mean just the people. The story was set in Manhattan in the late 19th century; the time and place has a character all its own, not as obvious as Galen’s or Wira’s, but just as real. I have no idea how historically accurate it is, but it was written so beautifully that it didn’t matter to me. For the length of the novel, that’s where I lived, where I worked and played and struggled. It was dirty, smelly, cold, hungry, overcrowded, underwashed, and by modern standards, it was appallingly bleak and hopeless. Luckily for us, Anderson and Potts didn’t bother with modern sensibilities.

There was a fairly large cast of incidental characters, each of whom retained their true purpose in the story – they were archetypes, reflections of the main characters. In the thugs and bullies and drunkards, we see what Galen really is when you strip away all the romance from his character. In the whores and barmaids and cross-dressing working “girls,” we see what Wira is, what she has to live with. The two of them accepted this world without question as reality and therefore I, the reader, had to accept that this is what the two of them really were: a thug and a whore. The wonder of their relationship with each other was much more than hot sex and tender words and smiles. It was the fact that it was able to exist at all.

As a side-note, the cover art is superb. You might think that Wira and Galen look a bit cleaner than they should, but cleanliness is actually an intrinsic part of Wira’s character, and therefore it’s not surprising. I love the image of Wira – the juxtaposition of a man’s wiry muscles with the ruffles and curls of the feminine garb. I also like the way that the children are placed inside the mirror. Supposedly a mirror, by its nature, can reflect only what’s there, but it actually shows the opposite of what’s really there. That makes it the perfect symbol of the gap between life and death, a symbol of truth instead of fact, and, in this case, it summarizes the uncertainty that I was left with after finishing the story.

The only quibble I have with the art is that there are two little girls shown. Why? I have no idea. There are no little girls in the story, so why should there be any on the cover?

As a second side-note… The title Gadarene confused me. It’s no one’s proper name, it doesn’t appear anywhere in the text, and I ended up having to investigate the reference. Even after I did, it still stumped me. Why did the authors choose this reference as the title? How exactly did it fit the story? It was like a bonus puzzle. It doesn’t actually matter in regards to enjoying the story, but it’s a question I can pick up and put down again at will, and happily wonder about for as long as I’m interested in doing so.

If LdD hadn’t bought this book for me, I would never have read it. For one thing, I loathe PayPal, and for another, it’s simply not the sort of thing I would think to buy for myself. I don’t even know how she found it – one of the mysteries of being LdD, I guess. So would I recommend it? I don’t know. Since the publisher offers a discount to people who purchase the ebook and then decide to buy the printed novel, I suppose I feel good about recommending it. I felt that it was ultimately worth reading, after all. Each reader can then decide for themselves if they want to invest the money in the print version. As for myself, I’m content with the PDF.

Gadarene is a phenomenal book. It’s rare to find a book in this genre that pulls you into the story. Even more rare in the fact that this is a historical work. Absolutely stunning.

Even more fascinating is that Wira, our transgendered character, is in no way a chick-with-a-dick character. Wira is Wira. There is no other way to put it. Wira’s character is written so well, so perfectly, that even as she is referred to as a girl, as I refer to her as “she”, never did I feel I was reading a hetero story. Not once. Wira is strong, loving, helpful, but has her faults, too. Wira is Wira. When you read this, you’ll understand.

The setting and time played an integral part in this story. So many times, historical fictions gloss over the not-so-great stuff. Not Gadarene. This book lays it out as smelly, dirty, hard, cramped, cold, and not so great. And the people are the same. Calling people by racial nicknames: a given. Cleanliness: maybe. Food: you hope. Struggle: you bet. Because of this, there is no whitewashing in order to keep modern sensibilities. Wira had to survive while Galen was gone, and she did it the best way she could. Galen never bats an eye at his lover’s ‘profession’. Galen is a hired thug, an assassin. Wira worries, but can’t stop it. The people in this story can’t afford high-class morality.

Another thing I found spectacular is the gender roles played out in the story. Wira sees herself as a woman. Wira acts like a woman. Galen knows what Wira looks like under the dresses. Galen treats Wira like a woman. When he comes back home, he takes the role of the man. This doesn’t mean Wira becomes an empty-headed doll. It does mean that Wira falls into the role of a woman in the rough side of town. I loved it and thought it absolutely brilliant. Again, never did I feel I was reading a hetero story. I salute the authors for this feat of genius.

When it came to the horror aspect, the authors didn’t hesitate. It hits full-force without it being gory. Okay, maybe a tad bit. But mainly, it’s just creepy and gave me a great scare. The way the story unfolds, with memories and dreams, it kept me on my toes and off-kilter.

The best part (I know! There’s more?) is that this is a story I couldn’t just put down after the end. It stayed with me. The mystery continued to get solved in my brain; the little details of the setting and characterization slowly slid into the light and made me gasp in delight while I was doing the dishes. It’s a story that I had to tell others about, to talk it out, and make further discoveries. The story is still with me. It makes me greedy and demanding and hoping for a sequel of some sort, any sort. But, really, I couldn’t be happier with the ending. I couldn’t be happier with this book.

I recommend this book to anyone who loves excellent characterization, historicals, mysteries, or horrors. I would be shocked if those who read it didn’t love it. If you don’t “get it” after the last page, give your brain a couple of days. Let is set a while before making a firm decision. You’ll be glad you did.

I read the print edition of this book. Buy the print edition. You will want to hug and stroke this book. Save your monitor and just get the print edition. Besides, you’ll also want to be able to easily flip the cover over to stare at the art created by Laura “Zel” Carboni. It’s gorgeous and so ambiguous. It couldn’t have summed up this story any better.

Thanks to Elisa Rolle for pointing out this book. And thanks go to Muroku on Live Journal for linking me to the excerpt.

Blood Brothers
Barbara Sheridan & Anne Cain
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In a world where the nights are darker and the passions run deeper, two young men go from friends to something more when a dangerous stranger appears on their doorstep.
In feudal Japan, war and famine tear through the countryside, and demons lurk in the darkness. Two young men struggle together on the outskirts of a ravaged village: the strong yet kind Liu Sakurai and his beloved gentle hearted Kiyoshi. And as their friendship endures the endless hardships, their bond grows into something more.
When the summer night brings a mysterious stranger to their door, the most dangerous desires of their dreams and nightmares are awakened. Blood now binds Kiyoshi and Sakurai together where once love did, but can this tie last an eternity?

I didn’t enjoy this story. In fact, I was irritated with it by the end of the first page and extremely relieved when I finally finished it.

The italicized terms made me expect (and wish for) a glossary at the end of the story. I actually don’t know the difference between a kosode and a yukata, but somehow, although the difference was obviously important enough to the authors to require the usage of both terms (in italics, no less), it was never actually explained in the story. The glossary would have been useful. As far as I’m concerned, if the author feels that something is important enough to add, then it’s the author’s job to explain it. I shouldn’t be required to reach for Google on every page.
Also, if I’d never seen a Japanese period film or even watched Inu Yasha, I would have been hopelessly lost in the setting. As it was, I was only slightly lost. Once again, Google rescued this story from being completely incomprehensible. It would have been nice of the authors to make a better attempt at explaining some of the culture, for those of us who don’t actually live in Japan, but, like the terminology, the authors didn’t seem to feel that this was necessary.
I didn’t like the uke any more than I liked the seme. Either of the semes. I didn’t like any of the characters. Kiyoshi had some sympathy value, but he was still no more interesting to me than Sakurai/Liu. I absolutely detested Kuro. By the end of the story, I was vindictively hoping that at least one of them would die. Preferably Kuro.
Worst, though, in my point of view? This was, in effect, a vampire story. It was really neat of the authors to go to the trouble of actually making it an authentic Japanese version of a vampire instead of cheating by transplanting a Western vampire to 16th century Japan, but that didn’t make it any less excruciating to read for someone who doesn’t actually like vampires. I’m not entirely positive that I would even have recognized the difference between Western vampires and Japanese vampires if I hadn’t had my browser open to a page that discusses it. And the tragic thing is that even I know that Japan has a huge pantheon of mythological creatures that could have been the centerpiece of this story. Could have been, but wasn’t. Is the market really clamoring that loudly for yet another vampire fic?

I can’t say that the story is badly-written, other than the lack of explanation. I’m aware that the artistic merit is sailing right over my head. I recognize that the authors did a good job of blending their separate styles so well that I can’t tell where one author ends and the other begins. I didn’t notice any technical errors such as poor grammar or discontinuity. The sex didn’t particularly interest me, but I can say that at least it gracefully served to further the plot instead of being a meaningless sidestep into mere porn. I have no idea whether or not the authors intended to emulate a Japanese style of story-telling, and I can’t tell if they succeeded. It was frustrating, at the very least.
If you are a Japanophile, then I suspect you’d enjoy this story. Academically, if nothing else. If you’re a vampire fan, then you’ll likely find Blood Brothers to be an intriguing foray into a whole new world. If you’re simply curious and want to know why I was so opposed to it, then by all means, buy the book and make up your own mind. But if you’re like me and you’re indifferent and/or opposed to reading either Japanese history or vampire fiction, then just take a pass.

On a side note, I’d like to once again compliment the artist for her ability to create cover art. It’s well-balanced and evocative, while the poses and Liu’s expression perfectly convey what you can expect from the story itself.


Blood Brothers is a short and bloody tale, which I enjoyed.

Let me first say that, unlike my partner, I am a Japanophile and vampire enthusiast, so my take on this story is very different from CW’s. And from my point of view, Blood Brothers was worth the read.

There were, however, a few things that didn’t gel with me.

One of the lead character’s name switched back and forth. When we first meet him, he’s called Sakurai. I got to know Sakurai. I became comfortable with Sakurai. Then suddenly he is Liu. The name in the narrative changes as well as the dialogue. And then toward the end, he is back to Sakurai and Liu. I understood what the authors were trying to convey, I think it was just handled sloppily. It’s confusing, especially for Western readers not as comfortable with Japanese and Chinese names. Personally, I think they should have picked one to use in the narrative and changed his name in the dialogue to show the changes in his personality and the way he was being seen by others.

I, like CW, also thought the constant proper names for items was a bit much. I don’t mind a few, such as mentioning the fundoshi, a loin cloth, in order to properly show the setting and time period, but after that it became a bit annoying. It was having the Japanese in italics that bothered me because the reading voice in my head automatically emphasized those words. Also, I think those like CW, who are not into the culture of Japan, would just be confused (and needing that glossary), and for those like me, I already knew the proper names and didn’t need them repeated over and over. In italics. A little goes a long way, you know? This hindered the enjoyment of the sex scenes for me since I had to wade through kimono, yukata, kosode, fundoshi, some more. Otherwise, though, I thought the sex was good, hot, and not too much.

I was a bit disappointed in this book’s brevity, but it actually works well for the setting. It definitely calls to mind the ambiguous storytelling many Japanese stories and films have. It’s not my favorite way to read a story, and if it were any other book I’d have knocked it for this. But for this story, it worked, helping to set the tone. I’m not sure if it was intentional on the authors’ parts, but once I got into the groove, it helped pull me into the mood of the writing.

I really liked the way Sheridan and Cain showed the emotion of the characters. They set it up well, using action and words to show the way the two main characters feel for each other. They also really showed the change, the twisting, of it. Very nice and made me really sink into the story. Kiyoshi, the real heart of the story, is portrayed very well. I fell in love with him and rooted for him. I could feel his pain and confusion and desire.

What I really appreciated in this was that I thought the vampire was not there to just strut around looking Brooding and Evil. It wasn’t the vampire that was the evil, really. It was just the wedge, the shiny that pulled at Sakurai/Liu, causing a rift in his and Kiyoshi’s relationship. It could have been vampirism, drugs, booze, adultery, gambling, anything at all. And for that reason, I felt as if the vampire thing was more of a tool rather than a focus. Which was neat and, for me, made it not the central focus of this story. The central focus was definitely the relationship of Kiyoshi and Sakurai/Liu.

One of the best parts of this book is that it does not read like a role-playing script, which is always a possible (and, unfortunately, expected by me) pitfall when you have more than one author. I am very happy to say that Blood Brothers reads smoothly with no dizzying and annoying switching of point-of-view as each author has her say. Kudos to Sheridan and Cain for that.

Kudos also goes to Cain for the cover. Lovely. I enjoy their website for Cain’s art if nothing else. Really lovely.

Blood Brothers is the first, I believe, of the Sheridan-Cain collaboration for the Dragon’s Disciple series they have going. In the other book blurbs, I saw both Sakurai’s and Kiyoshi’s names, so that is definitely a perk in picking this book up.

I recommend Blood Brothers to anyone who is into the Japanese craze, the yaoi craze, or the vampire craze. If you enjoy all three, like me, you’ll definitely enjoy this book. It’s short, and not so sweet, and perfect for a nice dark evening’s reading. This book isn’t for the fluff at heart.

Mind Fuck
Manna Francis
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There are no bad guys or good guys. There are only better guys and worse guys.
One of the worse guys is Val Toreth. In a world in which torture is a legitimate part of the investigative process, he works for the Investigation and Interrogation Division, where his colleagues can be more dangerous than the criminals he investigates.
One of the better guys is Keir Warrick. His small corporation, SimTech, is developing a “sim” system that places users in a fully immersive virtual reality.

A minnow in a murky and dangerous pond, he is only beginning to discover how many compromises may be required for success.
Their home is the dark future dystopia of New London. A totalitarian bureaucracy controls the European Administration, sharing political power with the corporations.
The government uses violence and the many divisions of the feared Department of Internal Security to maintain control and crush resistance. The corporations fight among themselves, using lethal force under the euphemism of “corporate sabotage,” uniting only to resist attempts by the Administration to extend its influence over them.
Toreth and Warrick are more natural enemies than allies. But mutual attraction and the fight for survival can create unlikely bonds.

What an appropriate title.

I’d never really appreciated BDSM stories before, in fanfiction, yaoi, or original novels. Too often, the author uses the kink as a quick and dirty means of injecting angst and drama into an otherwise drab story; some authors can actually manage to turn the kink to advantage, most authors can’t. Also, it’s not something I personally enjoy. A story written merely to explore the kink bores me quickly. I’m also not particularly fond of sci-fi dystopias; it’s depressing, and I don’t want to read about it. I wasn’t expecting much when I ripped open the shipping envelope to find out what LdD had sent me this time.

Manna Francis’ MindFuck blew my expectations out of the water.

The story never gets too technical and Francis is especially good at explaining what little tech there is, so the scifi-nonlovers will still be able to read this story – I can easily imagine it taking place 20 or 30 years into the future instead of, say, 200 or 300 years. Francis preserved a sense of familiarity through the small details of the characters’ personal lives, while using the larger aspects of the setting, such as the corporations, the government, and the I&I, to foster the sense of strangeness. The balance of known and unknown was quite masterful, actually.

The mystery was another thing that showcased Francis’ deft touch. There weren’t any sudden shifts between the sleuthing and the characters’ personal lives. She kept up a relaxed, intriguing flow so that I was able to follow easily, with an attitude of “Oh, wow, what happens next?” instead of “How far ahead will I have to skip through the boring plot-stuff in order to get back to the part I actually want to read?”

But, by far, the most fascinating aspect of this story was found in the characters.

Warrick is a gentleman. Toreth is a sociopath. Warrick has a dream of beauty and idealism that is just within his grasp. Toreth enjoys his job of finding criminals and torturing them. Warrick treats everyone with courtesy. Toreth gets a kick out of fucking with people. Warrick is moral. Toreth has no appreciable conscience.

The balance of power between these two men is at once fascinating, addictive, beautiful, and appalling. Warrick is a control-freak, with a firm grip on his world and his place in it, yet Toreth only needs to use a certain tone of voice and Warrick is writhing in his chains, begging for more. Toreth is an expert at playing people, controlling their reactions and divining their motivations, and yet Warrick terrifies him on a level he can’t consciously understand. There is no clear line in their interactions, no real demarcation between Dominant and Submissive, other than in “the game.” Through the entire story, one must ask oneself, “Who’s mastering who?” The answer is, as far as I can discern, “Neither one.” And that seems a far more realistic portrayal of the dynamic than I’ve read in far too many other (wretched) stories.

My sympathies and interest are usually reserved for the bottom in any story, and I do adore Warrick. I ache for him, considering what Toreth puts him through, and I admire him for his inner strength and grace. He’s in my Top Five Favorite Bottoms list because he’s a perfect model for everything I find most alluring in a bottom.

But I have to admit… this time, it was Toreth who did it for me. He’s emotionally stunted, ruthless, selfish, arrogant, cruel, and emotionally weak. There is absolutely no escaping what a horrible person he really is. And yet…

And yet he cares for his administrative assistant, and not just because she threatens to leave his office in a shambles should she ever transfer away from him. He’s usually fair to his subordinates. He believes that his job is necessary and for the good of his community, even if he’s despised by the very people he’s supposed to be helping. He’s a natural leader because he leads by example instead of rhetoric. He is, ultimately, a very cheerful sociopath. And he hums off-key when he’s happy.
He’s a sociopath, but dammit, for the length of the series, he was MY beloved sociopath, and that made him special!

Would I have changed anything? Well… no. I know that’s not particularly helpful for the prospective reader, or informative to the author, but it’s also true. I can’t think of a single thing that left me unhappy. The editing was superb, the characters were engrossing, the story was absolutely satisfying while still lingering painfully in my subconscious. Exactly what I like most about reading. There are a lot of eBook authors who have had their works printed which I thought were an outrageous waste of time and money. MindFuck is so much not one of them, it seems a sacrilege to compare it to those wastes-of-a-good-tree novels. Reading the story online is fine and dandy, but there is a certain beauty, a satisfaction of the spirit, to holding the edited print version in my hot and greedy little hands. This is one of those books whose value far outstrips its cost.

I highly doubt that I and LdDurham are unique in being addicted to the Administration Series, so I fully expect that anyone who reads MindFuck will immediately hunt down the rest of the series. There’s a reason why it was sold out of its first printing, and I predict that the second and probably third printing will be likewise gobbled down. Manna Francis deserves to have her name shouted from the rooftops.

This is, by far, the most enjoyable, addictive, and amazing story that I have ever come across in all my readings. And Manna Francis is one of the greatest storytellers.

I first stumbled onto this story years ago while searching for original gay fiction. There was a small online archive, so I started in the A’s. I was so lucky I did because the Administration Series was what I found. I became obsessed with all of the stories in the series and with the characters and with the world. I spent hours, late into the night, just trying to fit in just a few more paragraphs before I needed sleep. Four hours, three hours, two hours before the alarm was set to go off.

Imagine my elation when I heard that the first story would be published. Through the roof, my friends, through the roof. I was incredibly excited to be able to reread one of my favorite stories.

Mind Fuck has an incredibly intelligent plot. It plays out like a sci-fi mystery blockbuster with sex added in. Manna’s voice is so clear, so focused in telling the tale, that I could see the story unfold before my eyes. The mystery in it is good. It is multi-layered and clever. Toreth puts things together slowly, with small breaks in the case and with tiny pieces of dumb luck.

The technology used in this book, the setting, and the people, are all portrayed realistically and believably. Not once was I ever left questioning anything. From IIP forms that were annoying and needed to be filed and yet never looked at by superiors, to a world with CEOs needing to know self-defense from threat of corporate kidnappings. Manna knew her world and she made me know it too.

What makes this book so addictive are the characters. The main characters, Warrick and Toreth, are absolutely enthralling. They are characters that cement the story and make it perfect. And the sex scenes between them are not only hot, but important to the story as well. There is nothing gratuitous in or about the sex scenes. They are there to fully flesh out the characters and the way they relate to each other on one level, while their discussions and arguments show how they relate on another. The reader should know that the sex is very D/s, with tiny shadows of S&M. I’m not into S&M, but in this, the light touches of it only heighten the D/s and make it hot, make it real. Which is exactly what Warrick is looking for.

I recommend this book for any reader who enjoys a gripping story, a story that is intelligently written, and with characters that make you believe they are alive somewhere. This is not a book you can read in one sunny afternoon. Expect many days of trying to squeeze in as many sentences between phone calls, work, dishes, and appointments. And expect that Toreth and Warrick won’t disappear once the book ends.

Big cheers to Casperian Books for having the foresight to pick this book and its series up. They seemed to have treated both the author and her material with respect and their work is quality. I will definitely be paying more attention to them as a publisher and getting more of their books. Excellent work.

Touching Evil
Rob Knight
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Greg has a special talent he’d give anything to be rid of. After an accident many years ago that left him in a coma, Greg woke up to find that he could touch things and know what had happened to them. Too bad he can’t control the talent enough to keep it from overwhelming him.

The only good thing his gift has brought him is Artie, an overprotective cop with a psychotic cat and a great bedside manner. When a sociopath targets Greg as his new victim will Artie’s protection be enough? And can they stop the killer before he ruins their lives forever?

Reading Touching Evil was kind of like watching a very thrilling movie on a tv with bad reception. There were so many things I liked about this book. I cared very much about the main characters. There were moments when I flapped my hands and squealed “Eeeeek!” There was humor, horror, and hotness. There’s a cat. There’s food – lots of it, in fact. The villain was truly, madly, deeply villainous. I am extremely appreciative of authors who are willing to go that far to make the monsters that scary, that… well, monstrous.

In particular, I was quite impressed with Greg. I’ve read books where the main character might as well be a girl in a het romance, and I’ve read books where there’s nothing girlish about him, but I’ve never seen anyone as unique as Greg. For instance, he’s the first main character I’ve seen with his body-type: very tall and very thin. I’ve seen this body type a few times on the street, but never in a romance… not in a man, at least. Also, Greg is far from perfect in his personality. He does extremely stupid things, he has difficulty coping, he flips out into hysteria – nothing that’s really too ridiculously over-the-top, just more extreme than usual. A lot of this is the result of being a psychic, but a lot of this is just Greg’s personality; I got the distinct impression that he was high-maintenance even before he became psychic.

To only a very slightly-lesser extent, I was also impressed with Artie, another atypical character. The most extraordinary thing about both of these men is how ordinary they seem to be. There’s nothing particularly eye-catching about them, they’re not “OMG hot!” You could probably find an Artie in any precinct in the country, you could probably have found a pre-psychic Greg at almost any elite cocktail party. You wouldn’t likely find a post-psychic Greg anywhere, that’s how well Rob Knight managed to convey how excluding and scary and horrible it must be, to be that sensitive.

I loved Duke. Absolutely and totally. Partly because he is as unique as the humans. Partly because I was impressed with how well Rob Knight caught the perplexed/amused/infatuated spirit of a cat-lover in Artie. Every cat-owned person in the world would easily identify with the relationship between Artie and Duke, and it adds yet another facet to the realism of the characters.

The villain? He’s revealed in increments to the reader, although we see more of him than Greg and Artie do. He’s truly creepy, crazy, frightening, and bloody. Like everyone else, he’s utterly, recognizably human. He’s evil in the way that only real people can be evil.
The food thing was mildly distracting, but I didn’t really notice it as much as LdDurham did. Same with the sex. Probably because I’m totally willing to skip entire pages if necessary.

And yet, despite how impressed I was with the story and the characters, I had a great deal of trouble reading this book. I almost concluded that I didn’t like it. I almost don’t like it. The narrative style that Rob Knight used in writing this book is a turn-off. It’s confusing, distracting, and clumsy. This is why I compare it to the TV with bad reception: who really wants to work that hard to get through the fuzz and static just to watch a movie? And who wants to wade through confusing prose in order to find a good story? I didn’t appreciate it at all.

I do recommend this book, simply because I thought the story was worth it. But I add a very strong warning: if you’re not the kind of reader who is willing to invest yourself in order to find the story, then you’re not going to like it.

This book should have been named “Touching Dinner” because the star of this story was definitely the food. I think in nearly every scene without the psycho killer, there was eating of, discussion of, or the making of food. It wouldn’t have been so bad if they had been all over the salad and turkey. But no, these guys were all about the deliciously bad for you stuff. If you are on a diet, I strongly suggest you don’t read this book. I know it pissed me off more than once when I was left with a craving for big ol’ biscuits with honey and butter, or fried chicken, or home-baked bread.

Let me tell you, this book is very hard to review. This is my first brush with Knight so I can’t say whether this was an experimental piece for the author or not.

The characters were definitely engaging enough. Greg’s “gift” is played pretty realistically, except for one major flaw. One of those “the story couldn’t have been told if we took care of it” type flaws: Greg could have just worn gloves to avoid a lot of fallout. But then, you know, there wouldn’t be a story, so we’ll just leave that under the rug.

Both Artie and Greg are extremely likable characters. And they fit really well together right from the get-go. The growth of their relationship was really well done, very realistically portrayed, and emotionally satisfying for this reader.

Now here is where I try to explain what went… off. I can’t say it was wrong, because it wasn’t quite that. The book opens with Greg having touched something and seeing something really bad. Like, “It puts the lotion on its skin” feeling bad. It immediately caught my attention, had me immediately in the moment. It was written in a stream of consciousness style that was really engrossing because it kept you off-balance and guessing.

The problem was that this style of writing never stopped. There was no break from it. The entire book is written from either Greg’s, Artie’s, or briefly, the killer’s point of view. Not just their point of view, so much as we are in their heads. It’s at its worse when we are in Greg’s head because Greg is also in Artie’s head. I was never quite sure who was thinking what or feeling what. Add to this a distressing lack of the word “said”. There were nearly zero dialogue indicators. In short bursts of dialogue this is fine. But an entire book? A four-page conversation with actions in between? I spent most of my time counting back lines of dialogue to figure out whose turn it was to be speaking.

Reading this book was a chore. I have never seen a greater collection of fragmented sentences in my life. I am sure it was done for effect, but it got old and tiresome very, very quickly.

The murder mystery aspect to it was exciting in that it was pretty freaking creepy. Unfortunately, the author didn’t showcase this to its best because the reader only got flashes of the exciting creepiness in between dinners, breakfasts, snacks, and sex. They had sex nearly as much as they ate. It would have been great if I could have figured out who was feeling what, who was doing what, or who was saying what.

The climax was very exciting from Artie’s point of view. When it came to the final confrontation with Mr. Psycho, I felt like the author chickened out and we only get the very fragmented view from Greg, which was damn near nothing. It was exciting, but I really wish Knight would have pulled back a bit, let me out of Greg’s head, and allowed me to see what the hell was going on.

The conclusion, though, was very well put together, very realistic, and very believable. And yes, it ended with them eating.

So, do I recommend this book? I think I do. The story was good. It just got lost in the fragmented writing style. But it was there. I think someone who is perhaps more accustomed to, or who enjoys, more experimental writing would enjoy this book. Heck, maybe a lot more people would enjoy this book. Maybe I’m just bitter because I still haven’t had the sushi it left me hungry for. Oh, or the fried chicken and biscuits. Or omelets. Mmmm… jambalaya…

Scarlett & the White Wolf
Kirby Crow
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Scarlet of Lysia is an honest peddler, a young merchant traveling the wild, undefended roads to support his aging parents. Liall, called the Wolf of Omara, is the handsome, world-weary chieftain of a tribe of bandits blocking a mountain road that Scarlet needs to cross. When Liall jokingly demands a carnal toll for the privilege, Scarlet refuses and an inventive battle of wills ensues, with disastrous results.

Scarlet is convinced that Liall is a worthless, immoral rogue, but when the hostile countryside explodes into violence and Liall unexpectedly fights to save the lives of Scarlet’s family, Scarlet is forced to admit that the Wolf is not the worst ally he could have, but what price will proud Scarlet ultimately have to pay for Liall’s friendship?

Mariner’s Luck
Kirby Crow
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In this second book of the Scarlet and the White Wolf trilogy, Scarlet the pedlar and Liall the bandit find themselves among hostile company aboard a Rshani brigantine headed north through icy waters. Liall has been summoned home to Rshan na Ostre by way of a cryptic message.

Scarlet, after a near-fatal encounter with bounty-hunters seeking Liall’s head, recklessly follows Liall into danger. Now the unlikely pair -a slight, honorable Hilurin and a giant northern rogue- are relentlessly pursued over rough seas on a perilous journey for Liall to reclaim his past, but what new dangers will await them in the fabled Land of Night?

The Land of Night
Kirby Crow
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Struggling to come to terms with his new life in Rshan na Ostre, young Scarlet is trying to find his place in a decadent, foreign society that bears an ancient hatred for all Hilurin. As Liall is pulled away from Scarlet and into the jaded intrigues of a royal court, the young pedlar wonders if they’ve made a terrible mistake in journeying to Rshan.

Each passing day, Liall seems more like a stranger, more like one of the haughty Rshani nobility and less like the bandit leader Scarlet knew in Byzantur. As Liall contends with the aristocracy to uphold his fourteen-year-old brother’s claim to the throne, an infinitely more dangerous enemy draws nearer, determined to part the lovers forever.

Holy cow!

To say that I enjoyed Scarlet and the White Wolf would be an understatement. I was sucked in immediately; I stayed up all night reading until I couldn’t keep my eyes open any longer, then woke up the next morning to continue reading in every spare moment. The main characters were gorgeous, the setting was lush with detail, the romance was sweet and the story surrounding the romance was thrilling. I was practically humming with happiness as I read it. This trilogy (and the quality of this author) is precisely what I was hoping to find when I entered the world of M/M.

I wouldn’t call this a romance, per se; Scarlet is sheer fantasy, where both of the main characters happen to be male, and they happen to fall in love. I actually don’t mind having foreign words and weird names scattered through the narrative; it serves to remind me that the people I’m reading about are not the English-speaking people of my own universe, and sinks me deeper into the universe of the author’s creation. This is precisely what Kirby Crow does, picks up her readers and immediately drops us into the middle of her universe, one that is completely fresh and unique. Little by little, the context of that universe is unfurled until the reader is absorbed into these foreign cultures.

Had the trilogy been stitched together into one ultra-long novel, the pieces would fit almost seamlessly. What marks them as being three books is mainly the settings. Scarlet and the White Wolf is set in Scarlet’s homeland, where everything is familiar to Scarlet while Liall is obviously the exile. Mariner’s Luck takes us to the ocean and foreign ports, where both Scarlet and Liall find themselves in hostile surroundings and neither of them are at home. The Land of Night brings the exiled Liall back home, and now it is Scarlet who is the foreigner.

There is a lot I could discuss about these books, and that is entirely due to how much is happening in the story. I am blown away by how much intrigue and plot twists, humor, angst, excitement, and action that Crow was able to pack into this story. Every single character, no matter how brief their appearance in the story, is fully-formed and recognizable as a human being (even the non-human-beings). There are several moments where the reader’s mouth will drop, where the events or concepts described are sheer fantasy, but Crow never crosses the line between “fantastic” and “ridiculous.” There is no smut, and little erotica; every bit of the erotica serves to either further the plot or is a welcome moment of quiet and tenderness in the story. The ending was a little abrupt, a little bewildering, but that just allowed me to continue savoring the excitement.

Kirby Crow started out with an ambitious story, and carried it through with stunning success. Do I recommend this trilogy? Oh, hell yeah! Without any hesitation whatsoever!

P.S. Torquere Press is a pain in the ass to navigate, is difficult to casually browse, and caused me no end of frustration when trying to find and purchase these books. I actually had to contact their customer service in order to figure out where to get my downloads. Nevertheless, the customer service was helpful, and I can’t recall ever reading a book through this publisher that was low-quality. I’d have to say that Torquere is definitely one of the publishers that T&B readers should frequent. Let us know if you find something we overlooked.

This book was recommended by one of our long-time readers. She has recommended other books to me that I had already read and enjoyed, so when she mentioned this series, I wasted no time in reading it.

I have to admit, as I began reading I was disappointed. I could see the characters’ and story’s potential, I just couldn’t seem to get to it through all the excessive information. Histories on why a certain race of people wore a particular color is interesting if it has some bearing on the story. Explaining that a well is called Second Well because there is another well down the road in the center of town in the main courtyard called First Well is only important if we need to later get to one of these wells. A character just stopping to get a drink does not warrant the history/geography lesson. It just slows things down and throws me, the reader, into confusion as I try to figure out if that was something I’d need to know later on. It wasn’t.

The first thirty pages of the first book should have been trimmed considerably. It was stuffed with information that should have just stayed in the author’s notebook for her own reference. Giving me pages of histories of peoples and places I have never heard of is boring. I am not emotionally connected yet to want to bother knowing this stuff. And in addition, giving me pages of dry information is pretty much guaranteed to have me forget all the carefully crafted references.

On top of the excess information, the author also peppered the text with foreign words. I know this is a fantasy story and I expect made up words. They can be really cool. But these words just seemed to be made up words for English words that really didn’t need to be changed. And coupled with the unnecessary information, it became boring and had me huffing and rolling my eyes.

With all that being said, I really enjoyed these books!

The world in which the story is set is very solid and interesting. The different races of people, and the politics between them, were crafted very well. It didn’t need all the cultural and historical info that was given to make it so, the author just did a great job in rendering it very realistically.

The characters were fantastic. From Scaja, Scarlet’s stolid father, to Cestimir the Crown Prince. They all sprang to life and really fleshed out the story.

Scarlet was the kind of character I truly enjoy. He was strong-willed and willing to fight for what he wanted. He had fears and weakness, but he also had loyalty and determination. Scarlet is truly who moves this story. I rooted for him and was impressed with him and laughed with him and grieved with him.

Liall was an impressive man, as well. As the leader of a gang of bandits, he really rocked. There is depth in him that makes you want to know more and more about him. There is more to him than just being a big hunk of blond hotness. As his story develops, we are given glimpses into what shaped him and what haunts him. Crow never quite reveals his secrets until it is absolutely necessary, which is always the perfect time.

The setting for these epics is great. Crow’s time and care shows in how well each place is crafted. From busy towns to ships to the icy shores of Liall’s home, it is all drawn well and believably. Never did I catch Crow missing a detail that would have yanked me out of the story saying, “Wait a minute! What about…!” Crow definitely had a handle on her world and it was magnificent.

I would also like to point out the lovely cover art by Analisa. Truly stunning. The art is absolutely perfect. Scarlet is clearly a man, which I really enjoy seeing! (Thank you, Elisa, for giving me the artist’s name!)

I recommend these books to anyone who enjoys fantasy stories. The adventure is there, the magic is there, the prophetic dreams and fortune telling are there. For the romance lover, this is right up your alley too. Scarlet and Liall are slowly and dramatically pulled together, demonstrating their love and care for each other over and over, even while they, as Scarlet would say, keep misunderstanding each other. Once you get past the first thirty pages, the rest of the story won’t let you go.