Deadly Sweet, by Lola Dodge

Anise Wise loves three things: baking, potion making, and reading her spellbooks in blissful silence. She might not be the most powerful witch, but enchantment is a rare skill, and her ability to bake with magic is even rarer. Too bad one wants witchcraft on their campus. Anise’s dream of attending pastry school crumbles with rejection letter after rejection letter. Desperate to escape her dead-end future, Anise contacts the long-lost relative she’s not supposed to know about. Great Aunt Agatha owns the only magic bakery in the US, and she suddenly needs a new apprentice. Anise is so excited she books it to New Mexico without thinking to ask what happened to the last girl. The Spellwork Syndicate rules the local witches in Taos, but as “accidents” turn into full-out attacks on Anise’s life, their promises to keep her safe are less and less reassuring. Her cranky bodyguard is doing his best, but it’s hard to fight back when she has no idea who’s the enemy. Or why she became their target. If Anise can’t find and stop whoever wants her dead, she’ll be more toasted than a crème brûlée. Who knew baking cakes could be so life or death?

I’ve been a fan of Lola Dodge’s Shadow Ravens series, so when I saw a book about a kitchen witch by Dodge on netgalley, I immediately requested it. I prefer my fantasy stories to be light on the witchiness, and like it when magic is used in a utilitarian fashion, rather than grand use in epic battles, etc. The premise that each magic user is tied to a specific discipline is nothing new, but the concept of a witch whose powers are all about the baking with a specialty in desserts just makes me smile.

Because witchcraft is presented as a female-dominated skill, this story is full of badass ladies. The portrayal of Anise is pretty standard fare for a young adult novel. What really intrigued me was the history of the prominent witches in the story. Their relationship with Anise’s mother and her expulsion from Taos was sadly not explored in this first book. The sexism and misandry is almost nonexistent in Deadly Sweet, and I was just a little disapointed in the opportunity missed to compare the world of Taos to modern society. Science fiction and fantasy have a rather unique ability to criticize society without offending, and while not every novel needs to be a treatse into the flaws of our society, I feel that it would’ve been easily accomplished, especially since Anise was raised in the “normal” world.

From a socio-anthropological view, the ways that the closed tribe of witches interacts with each other, and the normies is another theme that is well done in Deadly Sweet. The ‘townie’ trope is commonplace, and I rather enjoyed Wynn’s uncomfortable encounters with tourists. Which brings me to a part of the story that disappointed me: Wynn. Written as a stoic hero trope – almost a reverse-gender La Femme Nikita, I found his antics to be off-putting. Plus the constant references to his contract, and shields in general, weren’t explained enough in this book. I understand that it’ll be a prominent theme in the second book, but the lack of knowledge made his character unnecessarily uninteresting. I hope in a future story, Dodge explores the issue of power and wealth, and perhaps even same-gender relationships.

Overall, Deadly Sweet is a fun read. I look forward to the next book later this year, and my expectations are pretty high. A solid four-star read. Lola Dodge is one of the few writers that I usually end up “over-reading,” because the story is just so engrossing, that I say to heck with my responsibilities and just keep reading. The book is out today, so let’s help Ms. Dodge have a grand start to this new series.


Lola Dodge is nomadic and has lived in New Zealand, France, the Czech Republic, and Taiwan. Her current base is Chiang Mai, Thailand, where she spends her days eating excessive amounts of coconut and trying to avoid heat stroke. She grew up in Upstate NY (Salt potatoes! Apple cider donuts!), got a degree in English Lit and German at Stonehill College, and an MFA in writing popular fiction at Seton Hill University. She doesn’t like bacon, coffee, beer, the sun, or fireworks. Instead, give her tea, vodka drinks, air-conditioning, and anything sweet. She’s a proud part of the writing roster at Ink Monster publishing, where she collaborates on the Shadow Ravens and Alpha Girls series. Her other fiction is represented by Rebecca Strauss at DiFiore and Company Literary Agency. Some days she hates writing and some days she loves it, but she can’t imagine doing anything else (even though she works at the pace of a sloth on sleeping pills.)


Wrong Place Wrong Time (FFC2018)

I was inspired recently. Cindy and I are gearing up to write the third book in the Sixteen Sunsets Saga. Here’s a little short to whet your appetite. I’ve included prompts by Chuck Wendig & Bree Salyer.

They were in the wrong place at the wrong time. Joaquin and Quake picked their way through the debris left in the demolition of Globe Tower. They both wore backpacks stuffed with bottled water, air filtration masks, and first aid supplies. Joaquin wanted them both to be armed in the brave new world that they fought against, but their leader, Anne Henderson, insisted that although Major Globe was dead, his legacy of discrimination, bigotry, and hatred lived on. As a couple of college-age kids picking through the debris, they were at most, trespassing. Armed, they were insurgents. Terrorists. Criminals.

The two didn’t speak. It wasn’t that the masks they wore made it difficult; it was the devastation all around them. Their mood was somber. Neither of them knew what sights their little excursion would bring. Their destination was the unknown. They’d left the safety of their hideout in the dark hours. It was the only time that people with superpowers could travel. Their movements went unnoticed, the Seattle Police tried to enforce curfew, but they were spread thin due to daily rioting.

The riots were getting worse. Those with super powers tried to defend their right to exist. The Superhub was in shambles. Andy still hadn’t recovered from his experience at the base of Globe Tower. His ramblings of a phantom self only served to fuel the image of an unstable young man. No one at the hideout had stopped them. Anne seemed to ignore anything not directly involved with tracking down Kristof. It didn’t mean that she was unaware of their nightly romp through the disaster area. She likely had eyes everywhere. Joaquin was certain that having an immortal super in their midst was an asset, but there were those that remembered Anne’s previous affiliation, albeit a forced one, with Major Globe.

It felt good for Joaquin to do something. The losses were staggering. Frank Massey’s daughter did her best to keep their outfit running. Her eyes were always puffy. With their numbers dwindled, it was not hard to hear her crying in the wee hours. Inside the warehouse, sound carried with no concern to snores, the sounds of sex, of a grieving daughter over her hero father.


Detective Frank Massey was a hero. Even before the disaster, the city had been in chaos. Their covert underground railway orchestrated by Massey’s partner, Betty Patterson, smuggled many supers out of Seattle. The police presence before Globe Tower fell was one thing – now, Seattle was a police state. The streets were crawling with armed soldiers, the Army National Guard called in to assist getting the populace under control. Something Joaquin knew that Frank Massey would’ve rallied against. For a hero cop, the old man wasn’t half bad.

The duo had been out every night searching for their family. Neither of them had a biological family. Quake was cast out by his parents fearing that his emerging superpowers would bring unwanted scrutiny to their family. This was before the “supers crisis,” initiated by a confused super-powered Miles Jensen, dubbed The Madison Park Butcher, and the machinations of an egomaniacal kingpin by the name of Jacob Globe. Now… Quake’s story played out again and again as worried people lashed out against those that were different. Co-workers “outed” supers living as if they had no powers.

Parents against children.

Husbands against wives.

Neighbors against neighbors.
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Books I’ve read in 2017

Another year, another hundred books. Well, 102 books for 2017. I was super busy as a writer this year, and I was concerned that I wouldn’t make it. I probably felt the same way at the end of 2016, but for some reason, I never blogged about it. The 2016 image is on the blog, but I never posted it. The 2015 list is here, and since I only started keeping track the summer of 2014, there wasn’t a complete list that year or before. I think 2017 resulted in about eleven or twelve DNFs, and at least one, is still on my reading list.

Highlights from 2017? I discovered Felix R. Savage in 2016, and read five of his books that year. I read four of his this year. Other stand-outs were Lola, by Melissa Scrivener; Paradox Bound, by Peter Clines; The Time Salvager Series, by Wesley Chu; The Factory, by Greg Dragon; Realm FM, by Tyrolin Puxty; More of Me, by Kathryn Evans; Mansions of Karma, by Ruth White; and The Shadow series, by Lila Bowen. There were a lot of five star reads in 2017, and to browse my list, check out my blog, or Goodreads.

About 20% of my reads featured LGBT themes or characters, 5% were superhero stories, 5% were not sci-fi, and less than 50% were written by straight white dudes. There were a handful that I wanted to read, but for some reason couldn’t. Most of those will be in my 2018 reading pile. So, here’s looking at another 100 books to read in the new year!
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Ice Kingdom, by Tiana Warner

The final adventure in the Mermaids of Eriana Kwai trilogy … Meela and Lysi have unleashed Sisiutl, legendary two-headed serpent of the Pacific Northwest. It was supposed to be an ally that would help them win the war. Instead, it has fallen under the control of King Adaro, ruler of the Pacific Ocean. If Meela and Lysi can’t stop him, Adaro will use the deadly serpent to rid the oceans of mankind. With the American military using catastrophic weapons of their own to retaliate, Meela and Lysi must make peace between humans and merpeople before one race destroys the other. The journey will risk their lives and put their relationship to the test—but the vengeance that has been consuming Meela’s thoughts, day and night, might prove even more dangerous.

I saw on Twitter that the third, and final Mermaids of Eriana Kwai book had released, so I asked the author for a copy to read and review. The quality of writing from the first two books continued in Ice Kingdom.

The Good: Meela really pushed the story. She made decisions, and she lived with the consequences. Ice Kingdom, like Ice Crypt, was so compelling, that I had to finish reading it in one sitting.

The Bad: When a totalitarian regime is portrayed in literature, we come to expect certain things. We want to know that those caught under the influence of the charismatic madman are still good people, they just go along out of fear. We want to easily identify those going along for personal gain. We want to cheer on the underground resistance, we want to despise those in it for personal gain. We have a resistance in Ice Kingdom, but they’re uninteresting. We don’t see minor acts of rebellion to let us know that the people want a better world.

The Beautiful: I mentioned in my review of Ice Crypt that I felt that book two was the best, and I continue to feel that way. Ice Kingdom is a fast-paced swim toward the inevitable conclusion that we want. Adaro’s motives finally make some sense, and he loses some of the clichéd snidely whiplash-ness. I still think he’s a sub-par villain, but at least there’s something.

The Final Word: Ice Kingdom returns to a four-star rating. The conclusion of the trilogy ends as you’d think it would. Overall, the series is a great read that should appeal to young readers. Other than the violence in Ice Massacre, there’s nothing in the series to be concerned with as far as young readers are concerned. The middle book is the shining jewel in the series, and overall, the series is a great read.

Tiana Warner

My grandma tells me I sold her my first story, The Sachmoe, for $2. I’m not sure if this makes me a born entrepreneur or just plain saucy, but my point is that I’ve been a writer for longer than I can remember. I wrote poems and short stories throughout elementary school (most of them about ponies), and wrote my first full-length novel in high school. I now spend my evenings writing about killer mermaids. I went to the University of British Columbia to study psychology and came out of it with a bachelor’s degree in Computer Science. I’m now a technical content creator for a software company, which means when I’m not writing about kick-ass mermaids I’m writing about kick-ass technology. I currently live in Langley, BC, and am an avid supporter of animal welfare. I have a quarter horse named Bailey, a pony sidekick named Strawberry, and an extremely naughty cat named Paisley.


The Sigma Imperative, by Greg Dragon

Human/synth relations are suffering… And Dhata Mays is stepping in. Two years after stopping a wicked serial killer, former detective Dhata Mays is called in to investigate a kidnapping. After all, he’s the new “fixer” in town. But when Dhata discovers that there’s more at stake than a missing woman, he knows he’s up against an evil entity that might destroy everything. With help from his partners, Dhata uncovers a plot that not only involves genocide, but a brand new model of android. It’s the final hour and time is running out, but can Dhata Mays pull a hat trick, and bring an end to the synth crisis?

So, you got a fancy e-reader for Christmas, and are looking for great sci-fi to fill that precious storage… Use one of those Amazon gift cards you got and purchase Greg Dragon’s The Synth Crisis series. Personally, I think seven bucks for all the books is a steal. (For those of you that rock the dead tree versions, $36 is nothing to energize your reading.) Greg’s past experience as a relationship blogger shines through with realistic depictions of character interactions, especially when examining xenophobia, substance abuse, and the lengths someone will go to protect what’s important to them.

I’ve worked with Greg in the past on fiction collaborations, and it was his action-packed writing with flawed protagonists who present as real people that attracted me to his writing. From space opera to futuristic urban mystery to fantasy, there doesn’t seem to be a genre or topic that Greg is unable to tackle. Whether it be futuristic Tampa, Florida; a spaceship on a mining mission; galaxy-hopping soldiers; or an urban gangster getting what’s his, Greg Dragon writes it all. (And to be perfectly honest, I’m a little envious of his writing chops.)

After two paragraphs, I haven’t even talked about The Sigma Imperative. (Which like The Unsung Frame, and The Judas Cypher, the meaning behind the title is revealed in the last third of the book.) This is because I don’t need to. Anyone who has read the first two books in the series already know that the third book is going to be awesome. Anyone who has read Greg’s other works, but hasn’t read The Synth Crisis, knows that they’ll enjoy it.

Like books one and two, I devoured The Sigma Imperative in quick order. Greg continues the five-star writing, and I dare say that The Sigma Imperative (and the first two books) is a Netflix original series just waiting to happen. I can easily see each book being a limited-run series. Go order it, and the rest of Greg Dragon’s work. You will not be disappointed.


Greg Dragon has been a creative writer for several years, and has authored on topics of relationship, finance, physical fitness and more through different sources of media. In particular, his online magazine has been a source of much pragmatic information, which has been helpful to many. As a result, his work continues to grow with a large and loyal fan base.


Strike, by Delilah S. Dawson

The hit list was just the beginning. Time to strike back. After faking her own death to escape her term as an indentured assassin for Valor Savings Bank, Patsy is on the run with her boyfriend, Wyatt. All she wants to do is go home, but that’s never going to happen—not as long as Valor’s out to get her and the people she loves. Left with no good choices, Patsy’s only option is to meet with a mysterious group that calls itself the Citizens for Freedom. Led by the charismatic Leon Crane, the CFF seem like just what Patsy has been looking for. Leon promises that if she joins, she’ll finally get revenge on Valor for everything they’ve done to her—and for everything they’ve made her do. But Patsy knows the CFF has a few secrets of their own. One thing is certain: they’ll do absolutely anything to complete their mission, no matter who’s standing in their way. Even if it’s Patsy herself.

I enjoyed Hit, so it made sense that I’d like Strike. Initially, I thought that Strike would be longer, since the hardcover is one and a half times larger than Hit, but it ends up that the opposite is true. Strike picks up where Hit left off with Patsy and Wyatt, and I was hoping for some resolution in Strike that didn’t pan out. The overall story introduced in Strike is resolved, and since I heard that there wouldn’t be a third book, I’m disappointed that the ultimate fates of Patsy and Valor Bank won’t grace pages.

Whereas Hit painted Patsy as a lovable misfit, there the hard edge she picked up during Hit transferred to Strike. There’s nothing wrong with a character evolving, but Patsy’s innocence in Hit was what endured the character to the reader. She was sympathetic, whereas in Strike, she’s just another femme fatale – albeit a YA femme fatale.

The leader of the Citizens for Freedom starts out making sense, but quickly devolved into a clichéd villain. It seemed that Ms. Dawson kept heaping on character flaws to make us hate him, but in the end, he lacked substance. Hit worked because we’ve all had run-ins with large impersonal corporations, and can identify and relate to them as a monolithic villain. Not so much with the CFF.

Overall, I enjoyed the exploits of Patsy and her rag-tag crew of misfits, but I feel that Hit was a better story. They’re both worth reading, and should provide the reader with hours of entertainment. Which brings us to YA readers. Hit should be easily consumed by young readers, but Strike, not so much. It’s difficult to quantify why exactly, but that was the vibe I got.

Hit was a solid four stars, and for the purpose of this review, I’m awarding Strike the same rating, although just barely. Like its predecessor, my autographed hardcover sits prominently on my shelf. Ms. Dawson is easily approachable at events for an autograph. As with most big five publishers, the eBook is way overpriced, so be sure to wait for a sale.

Delilah S. Dawson writes dark, edgy books for teens and fantasy with a wicked edge for adults. The Blud series is available now and includes WICKED AS SHE WANTS, winner of the RT Book Reviews Steampunk Book of the Year and May Seal of Excellence for 2013. SERVANTS OF THE STORM debuts August 2014, and Kirkus called the Southern Gothic Horror YA “an engaging page-turner” and “a standout, atmospheric horror tale.” April 2015 will see the launch of HIT, a YA pre-dystopia about teen assassins in a bank-owned America.


The Deep Beneath, by Natalie Wright

H.A.L.F. (Human Alien Life Form) #9 is the product of genetic engineering, the union of human and alien DNA. Created to be a weapon in a secret war we don’t know is coming, he proved too powerful to control. He has lived for seventeen years in an underground lab, sedated and trained to be a cold-blooded killing machine. But H.A.L.F. 9 has escaped the lab and the sedation has worn off. He has never been more alive. More powerful. Or more deadly. While H.A.L.F. 9 revels in his newfound freedom, Erika Holt relaxes in the desert with friends. But a typical Saturday night soon erupts into chaos when fate brings her together with H.A.L.F. 9. Erika is forced to make a choice that will irretrievably change her life. If she chooses to help H.A.L.F. 9 escape, her fate will become intertwined with his in what will become an intergalactic adventure. Little do any of them know that their actions trigger a vast New World Order conspiracy which began after the UFO crash in Roswell in 1947. Will H.A.L.F. 9 be reeled back in, once again forced to do the bidding of the Makers? And will any of them survive the dangers of The Deep Beneath them?

I’ve run into Natalie at writing conventions, book festivals, and comic cons. Since we’re both Arizona authors, we often get invited to the same events. She’s always fun to sit next to on a sci-fi panel. Obviously, I’ve known about her alien/human hybrid story for a while (The Deep Beneath came out almost three years ago), but it wasn’t until a recent subscription to Kindle Unlimited that I finally got around to reading her work. (Sorry, Nat!)

From my interactions with Natalie over the years, I had high expectations for The Deep Beneath. I’m pleased to say that I was not disappointed. As with many stories revolving around secret government off-book projects, the administrators of said project were a bit clichéd. It’s an easy trope, and authors (including myself) often fall back on the megalomaniacal villain who has to save the world by destroying innocents. After all, the good of the many outweigh the needs of the few or the one.

Those that have read my reviews the last few years know that I grok sci-fi. It’s just my bag. The Deep Beneath is an easy sci-fi adventure. The premise is often repeated: An alien or alien hybrid escapes the machinations of a government facility, meets a young girl or boy who is at a potential crossroads in his or her life, and the two of them fall in love, but their love is not meant to be because the alien has to return to save the one they love. There is often an impossible pursuit where the powerful alien and crafty, but underestimated human outsmart the government thugs that brainlessly pursue the young couple because of duty or orders.

That pretty much describes all of alien YA sci-fi. It’s not a criticism of Ms. Wright’s work, or even the genre, but an acknowledgement that the trope exists. When an author tackles a common trope like this, it’s the quality of the writing, and unique insights by the author that make a story rise above the rest. Natalie uses her life in Arizona to bring realistic environmental descriptions to her writing. As someone who has been to most of the locations described in The Deep Beneath, and who is a military veteran, I found all the settings believable. The actions of the government thugs, however, were a little hard to swallow.

Military personnel are so often portrayed as mindless robots, serving their generals and commanders. These generals and commanders are often portrayed as iron-fisted oligarchs with absolute impunity and able to administer extreme non-judicial punishments. Punishments so severe that everyone is afraid of their commander. If this were the case, why would we even have a volunteer military? If I were so mistreated by a commanding officer, I’d bail, and never look back. But, this trope is so common, that I too, end up writing it. Which is a disappointment, because these wonderful men and women in the armed forces deserve to be accurately portrayed.

I did find the formatting of the dialog confusing in which people referred to the alien as “H.A.L.F. 9.” I couldn’t tell if characters were calling him “half-nine,” or “H-A-L-F-Nine.” I’m also not a fan of small numbers not being spelled out, but it’s a stylistic choice. Overall, I enjoyed the read. I’m a sucker for sci-fi. Although The Deep Beneath didn’t bring anything new to the table, reading a familiar trope in a familiar environment (a location that is often overlooked) was so easy, and fun. I plan to read the other two H.A.L.F. books next year, and look forward to interacting with Natalie Wright at future events. I’m going to call it 3.5 stars, and bump that to four since Amazon and Goodreads don’t allow fractional star ratings.

Natalie is the author of the multiple award-winning H.A.L.F. series and the young adult fantasy series, The Akasha Chronicles. She lives in the high desert in Tucson, Arizona with her husband, teen daughter and two cat overlords. When not writing, reading or gaming, Natalie appears on panels and exhibits at book festivals, comic cons and Sci-Fi/Fantasy conventions throughout the western US. She enjoys walking in the desert, snorkeling in warm waters, and sharing excellent food and conversation with interesting people. She was raised an Ohio farmgirl, lives in the suburbs, and dreams of living where she can hear the ocean. She graduated from The Ohio State University and practiced law for twenty years, but now happily spends her days making things up.