Anthology-Twisted Sacrament

These stories are dark, dark, dark, dark, and even darker than that. There are no happy anythings here, there’s no light. There’s nothing that will bring you any kind of hope. I’d say abandon all hope, but even just abandoning it isn’t enough. You have to completely scour any kind of hope from your soul. You have to erase the word hope from your memory. Then you might, just possibly might, be ready to read Twisted Sacrament. Consider yourself warned.

The anthology consists of 7 authors who write dark anyway, but then they got let off the leash. Not only that, they were given the brief of writing the most sacrilegious and blasphemous story possible. And let me tell you, SJ Cole, Zoe Blake, Addison Cain, Jennifer Bene, Celia Aaron, Ashleigh Giannoccaro, and Alta Hensley fucking delivered. These 7 stories are depraved, twisted, desolate, full of mindfucks, horrifying, and darker than fuck. They are disturbing. And yet. And yet, I couldn’t stop reading them. I couldn’t get enough of them. I loved everyone one of them, even the ones that left me shaking at the end. (I’m looking right at you, Jennifer.)

They are all short stories, none of them much longer than 30 minutes to read. I wouldn’t recommend reading them at night before bed though. You might not sleep well. But because they are short, you’re only going to get my reactions, as is my usual practice in this situation. I got ARCs for 4 of them, but like I said, they are short, so I had no problems reading the rest of them.

Addison Cain-She Came Before God

There is a period of Catholic and Italian history where the high ranking clergy weren’t as… celibate as they should’ve been. During that time, Rodrigo Borgia became Pope. There are all kinds of rumors about orgies in the Papal palace while he was there, and it is historical fact that he had children, born when he was a cardinal. You know, when he wasn’t supposed to be dicking around. Lucrezia Borgia, who you may have heard about as a poisoner, was one of his children. So, what does this have to do with Addison’s story? Well, her story involves a pope and some fucking.

Addison’s story really just was straight up horrifying. Our poor little heroine learns that she’s part of a horrible family tradition, and everything that she thought was true isn’t. This story stuck with me. I mean, I dreamt about it. Even days later, I’m still trying to get a total handle on certain things. I really wanted to scream at the end of it, and maybe sit and cry in despair.

Zoe Blake-Lilith’s Revenge

Lilith comes out of Jewish mythology. She’s generally considered to be Adam’s first wife, but when she wouldn’t behave the way that they wanted, she was kicked out of Eden and Eve came in in her place. Lilith then went on to become the mother of demons. In her demon partying and fucking days, she fucked everyone she wanted to, including some angels.

In Zoe’s story, she is back in her demon party girl aspect, tempting a priest. Now, here’s the thing. She and her priest get it on in all kinds of ways and do all kinds of depraved things, but… The question is, is what they are doing real, or is the priestly part real, or is anything real? Zoe has written an incredibly mindfuck and my mind is still fucked from it. I don’t know what’s real and what isn’t and what was going on in the story. I have theories as to what’s going on, but they vary from minute to minute.

I recommend following Zoe’s instructions when it comes to her story.

Alta Hensley-Last Rites

I personally think that the end of the world is going to be some kind of plague. In this jet-setting world, it’s going to be too easy for something to be across the world before anyone gets diagnosed with it in the first place. Why do I mention this? Because Alta destroys the world with The Itch, an illness that makes people want to scratch their skin off, makes their blood foam, and makes them pretty fucking crazy. There are rumors of a safe place for women to go (and only women), where they won’t be exposed to The Itch.

This is so disturbing. It’s short, it’s brutal, and it’s dark as fuck. I kind of wanted to take a very, very hot shower after reading this one. And maybe scrub for about 30 hours.

Jennifer Bene-Baptism in Eden

If you look at my GR/Zon review, it says “Oh my fucking god. That is all.” Yeah, that’s about all I could say about this one on there. Jennifer writes dark at the best of times, but let her off the leash, she’s simply dazzling. And dazzle she does.

You may think of Eden as paradise, but Jennifer’s Eden is as far away from paradise as you can possibly get. It’s so dark and so twisted. I know I’m saying that a lot, but there aren’t words in the English language to describe it. But the fact remains that this story is Stygian. It’s also a very Jennifer Bene story. If I were given all the stories in this book and asked to pick out which one Jennifer had written, this would be the one that I choose. When I was done reading it, I was literally sitting on the couch and shaking. I had to go read something else to calm down. I may be traumatized.

Celia Aaron-Communion

I know that I’ve raved about Celia on here before. She totally deserves every good thing I have ever said about her.

I loved this story. It wasn’t quite as dark as some of the others, but it’s by no means light. I love the byplay between Cate and Ted. It is very interesting to see how Ted talks to her and what goes on. I feel like this is very topical too. I have to wonder how much Celia was influenced by what’s going on in the world right now, because it really feels like there was some serious influencing going on. Frankly, I think it makes it better.

Ashleigh Giannoccaro-Say Yes

I’ve only read one other Ashleigh Giannoccaro book, but I own a couple of more. My TBR is totes ridic and one day I’ll get to them.

Ashleigh takes us for a tour through a cult. A very, very creepy cult. A very creepy cult that says men have to have 2 wives or they can’t get into Heaven. OK, I grew up Mormon, and there has always been the whole polygamy thing surrounding the church, and then the FLDS church around, which are a polygamous cult, so this one felt really close to home, if you know what I mean. I don’t know how much Ashleigh took from there, how much came from other cults, and how much came straight out of her head, but it was a fascinating read. It also looks like it’s setting up for a new series, so I’ll be all over that one.

SJ Cole-I’m Better Than You

SJ Cole is Stevie J. Cole writing under a new name. And OMG, her heroine is totally cuckoo for coco puffs. I mean, the cheese not only done slipped her cracker, it left the room, the house, the zip code, the state, and the country. Then it changed its name, cut its hair, and got plastic surgery. The cheese wants to have absolutely nothing to do with Violet anymore, and I don’t blame it. I wouldn’t want to have anything to do with her either. I can totally get why she’s upset, but damn, girl takes it to another level. She’s creepy as fuck. She’s crazy as fuck. SJ says there’s more to the story, and I’m going to have to read it. Can’t fucking wait. I like creepy and crazy.

OK, there are my reactions to each of these 7 stories. I loved this book. But, trust me, don’t look for light. Don’t look for happy. Don’t look for hope. Don’t look for this book to last long. I recommend you go buy it soon if anything I talked about sounded good, because anthologies don’t tend to last very long and then the rights revert back to the authors.

No spoilers, but a picture I thought was great for this.

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Alta Hensley & Maggie Ryan-Kings and Sinners

Oh, Alta and Maggie, how I love thee. Kings and Sinners is a box set of 3 of their books, Maddox, Stryder, and Anson. I think that Maddox might’ve been the first Maggie Ryan book that I read, and it was close to the first book of Alta’s I read. I got it through a freebie, a newsletter or Instafreebie back in the day, but it’s been a while, so don’t quote me on that.

The books can all be read as standalones, but they are all related. Maddox, Stryder, and Anson are brothers, who work with their father Drake Steele. They help out people in the underground and help protect innocents. Their ranch is a working ranch, but it’s also a safe house of sorts. The house is built with the back right up to a mountain, which allows them to have control rooms and a *ahem* playroom down in safe areas. They all live together in the house with their housekeeper Jennie, who is basically their surrogate mother, as well as a hippie vegetarian who keeps her boys healthy and happy, and keeps them away from meat.

Jennie is a pretty awesome character. She dances with bees and the bees seem to like it. She has this kind of all-mother vibe around her. She just makes everyone happy and if they are scared, she helps them feel better. I really like her.

Now, remember how I said that Maddox, Anson, and Stryder are all brothers? Well, they aren’t brothers by blood. Drake is Maddox’s father, but there was an incident in which the rest of their family was murdered. Anson and Stryder both came to be parts of the family in different ways, but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t any less Drake’s child than Maddox is. They are definitely family and they all love each other fiercely.

Maddox.

It’s obviously Maddox’s story, but it’s also the story of Adira. The book starts out with a horse auction in Dubai that Adira’s father is putting on. Maddox and Drake are there to bid on horses, but that’s not the only reason that they are there. They owe Hadi, Adira’s grandfather, a life debt and he has asked them to come and save his family because they are threatened. Sadly, the only member of his family they are able to save is Adira, and only because they manage to pull her out of the Persian Gulf after a yacht with her entire family on it blows up. They manage to smuggle her out of Dubai and into Texas, where she and Maddox start to come together while they are figuring out who wanted all of her family dead.

Adira is strong, feisty, and really smart. Her family was celebrating her graduation with her doctorate. However, she’s also been fairly sheltered because she hasn’t been able to go anywhere without security. She knew that her father and grandfather were into the darker side of the law, but she didn’t know exactly what, and she really didn’t want to know. Maddox is definitely protective and kind of Domly. He’s really good for Adira, I think, because she needed someone steady and protective as she was trying to deal with what happened to her family. And if he paddled her ass, tied her down, and made her come, she wasn’t going to argue with that.

Stryder

This one starts out in very cold Moscow. Using information that they got while looking for the culprits behind what happened to Adira’s family, Stryder and Anson are there to track down a Russian who is involved in human trafficking. They get two tickets to an auction where the evil man is selling off women. When Stryder sees Zoya on the dais about to be sold, he knows that he has to be the one to have her. He needs to save this poor young Russian woman who had spent her whole life on the farm before she came to Moscow and ended up abducted so that she could be sold. After Stryder buys her, and before they can leave, he has to whip her. Luckily, he’s a genius with a whip and he and Anson whisper to her to scream and make it look like it hurts while Stryder whips her gently, but makes it look like he’s doing it hard. The Steele boys smuggle her out of Russia and into Texas, where she settles into life in the Steele household.

I thought that Zoya was pretty awesome. I mean, she’s able to use her art skills in order to help out all the other women who Poplov had kidnapped and sold off. It couldn’t have been easy for her to remember everything that she had been through, but she was bound and determined to do it. Zoya sees things that happened to her and the people who were involved in what happened in one particular way, which is only normal, I would too. But Stryder has a different perspective, and it makes it hard for Zoya sometimes. But, the Steele family are all there and all willing to help the two of them out.

Anson

Anson, working from Zoya’s art and his computer research is in Argentina, searching out Natalia, who was Zoya’s friend, and who has been sold to Juan Montez at the same auction where Zoya was sold. He’s pretty much nose-to-nose with a fer de lance snake when the book opens, so there’s that. But he’s there to get Natalia, and he’s not going to let that snake stop him. Meanwhile, Natalia is dealing with her own snake, only it’s not nearly as lively as the one Anson sees. Montez may have bought her for a sex slave, but he can’t get it up. That doesn’t stop him from doing other things to her. But, she has a plan. Montez destroyed her entire family, and she’s going to take him down. She spent a lot of years training in nasty ways so that she could kill him and at the auction, she did what she could to get his attention to get him to buy her. Eventually, Anson and Natalia manage to help each other and they escape out into the jungles of Argentina. Of course, it’s not as easy as it sounds. Natalia doesn’t want to be rescued because she wants to kill Montez and Anson doesn’t want to not rescue her.

All three of the women in these books are strong, but I kind of think that Natalia is the strongest. Yes, Adira lost all her family too, and Zoya was also sold off as a sex slave, but Natalia had a plan. She had revenge on her mind and everything she did for years was for her revenge. Plus, she had to actually go through months and months of brutalization that Zoya was saved and Maddox was right there for Adira. Natalia went through all that without the hope of someone being there to help her out and get her safe, anyone other than herself, and that, to me, makes her really strong. I felt sorriest for Anson for having to deal with her stubborness, but that same stubborn comes in handy, later in the book.

I really enjoyed reading this series and each of the books. I think that Anson is my favorite of the brothers. I can’t tell you why that’s true, but it is. It’s nice to have the whole series in one handy place, making it easy for me to read. Go check them out! Happy reading! No spoilers today, but have a pretty picture of a horse.

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Alta Hensley-Filthy Fight

This is the second book in the Hot Hard & Dirty books. There are 5 or 6 more of them. Alta’s book focuses on a boxer, a boxing gym, and the Filthy Fight. About the title, it gets used several places in the book, and I really like that.

Juelp’s dad always told her that she was named after his favorite drink, the mint julep. It looked sweet and packed a punch. Julep has spent her life trying to live up packing a punch, and she does. Since her dad died, she and her brother Danny have been running the boxing gym that he started. Danny does the training, and she does pretty much everything else. So when Danny runs off their best chance at winning a heavyweight championship, again, it’s up to her to fix it. That’s what she does, along with keeping Danny from completely losing it. So she starts figuring out who to get to come fight for the gym. One thing she does is call her friend Lola, who is a sports writer, and who suggests that she go talk to Mateo, the boxer who was known as The Matador, but who has been out of boxing for a few years. Lola warns Julep that there was some kind of scandal there, so she will need to be careful.

Mateo loved to box. His father Cisco loved boxing and taught him to love it and how to box. But a few years ago, he did a stupid thing and caused his career to crash and burn. So when Julep rolls up to his house, looking all sweet, and asks him to come and try out at their gym for the heavyweight spot, he tells her no. But that doesn’t mean that he doesn’t really, really, really want to do it. Especially since he’s doing a shitty job with his welding company. His dad talks him into it, and away he goes to the open tryouts, where he dominates.

Danny is worried about taking a chance on him because he threw a fight. He doesn’t want Mateo to reflect badly on the gym, and if Mateo does it again, not only will it reflect poorly on them, it will be the end of the gym. But Julep convinces him to do it because she knows that he is their best choice. She’s positive that Mateo won’t do anything like that again and she’s sure that there was a really good reason that he did whatever it was he did. Mateo has never talked to anyone about it, and no one knows what he was thinking or his motives.

Danny is a total prick. I can say that without insulting pricks, I think. But seriously, everything is always Julep’s fault, even when it’s his fault, but when something goes well, it’s always because Danny planned it, or whatever. That kind of thing is really exhausting to have to deal with.

When I went into this book, I was all excited about a nice, filthy, forbidden boss/employee romance. And that’s there. But to me, this is about so much more than just that. You get a story about redemption, second chances at life, love, family, and picking yourself up after you fail. And that all wrapped around some hot sex and some fighting. I loved how Mateo’s story and his journey made me feel. There’s a lot of emotion there. And that’s what made this book so glorious, in my opinion.

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I personally think Nero and Danny had a little something going on in the background. I still don’t trust Danny at all. I know that kind of guy too well. Maybe Julep and Mateo can punch Danny around a little until he gets some sense in his head?

Oh man, Cisco’s whole storyline both makes me incredibly sad and incredibly happy. Sad that he was so sick, happy that he got to die the way he wanted to and where he wanted to. Not everyone gets that.

OK, that’s all that I have to say about this one. Go check it out! Happy reading!

Maggie Ryan & Alta Hensley-Bride to Keep

I’ve been looking forward to this one since like January. The release got pushed back for reasons, which meant I had to wait and wait and wait. But yay! It finally released today and we’re all happy. So, let’s talk about dark and sorta scary bad boys, the woman they take, and their sister in Bride to Keep, shall we

We have the 4 O’Shea brothers, Cal, Derrick, Nolan, and Rogan. (Pro-tip: always highlight the names of the guys in RH books so that you can keep them all straight.) They are connected with the Irish Mob, and they have just burned down everything that Dallas Callaghan has because he killed their parents and traumatized their beloved baby sister, Alana. Then they are off to the witch’s den so that they can confront her about their sister.

Monet is not a witch, but she is very much into natural healing, holistic healing, herbalism, and all that. She sells all of those things plus crystals and such in the tea shop she inherited from her grandmother. She knows that she’s not a witch, but the mystique and ambiance help her bottom line, so she will make people think that she’s a witch. The boys show up and warn her to stay away from Alana. They don’t want her to take advantage of their baby sister.

Alana was with her parents when their boat blew up. She was out on the waterskis while they pulled her around. When she came to after the accident, she was terribly devastated. When she woke up the next day, she was slightly less connected to the world. She was happy. She figured out a way to live in the world but not of the world. She found Monet’s shop by accident, but she kept going back because she loved it and Monet so much.

After sneaking off to see Monet again, Alana gets found out by her brothers. They come up with a plan. They’re getting ready to move to Ireland, so they’ll just kidnap Monet and take her with them so that Alana has a friend and more help to get their farm up and running.

OK, I have to say that I didn’t like the guys for a chunk of the book. I looked at my husband and told him that I thought they were dicks. But, I did love Monet and Alana, and they were more than worth getting through the boys’ prickishness and they do get better. And yeah, this is a RH romance, but that’s not all it is. There’s also the journey of friendship between Alana and Monet. Some of the stuff that Alana said just kind of sticks with you and makes you think, it’s really deep and really important. There were a couple of points where I cried. It was terribly sad and very sad. And I can almost guarantee that when I read the book again, I will cry again at those parts. But, it was a great book and the O’Shea boys won me over, so it’s all good.

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Alana! No! I do not accept this version of reality.

And those jerks. How dare they do what they did? I mean that was just a shitty thing to do after everything they’ve been through. Seriously, I liked them by that point, but I wanted to smack each and every one of them. Dicks.

OK, I loved this book. Go check it out. Happy reading!

Alta Hensley & Zoe Blake-Queen and the Kingsmen

Alta and Zoe have given us their third filthy fairy tale. And oh, my kittens, when I say filthy, I mean fillllllttthhhhy. Forget having to be over 18 to read this, you may have to be over 25 to read this one. It was definitely the dirtiest of the group. I think it was also the most playful.  So, on to Queen and the Kingsmen.

Alright, so this is somewhat based around the evil fairy from Sleeping Beauty and Maleficent. Not enough that you can point and say oh, that’s straight from X, but enough that it gives you the flavor. And that’s perfectly fine with me. I think it’s awesome, and it’s nice to see newer fairy tales being used.

So, our evil Queen Zelladine is taunting the piddling little mortal king and tells him that she’s never going to give him back the body of his dead daughter, Briar, and oh yeah, she curses the hell out of him. Well, King Dickbag isn’t about to let that stand, he’s going to do something about it. While Zelladine has gone home to make sure that all her people are safe, mostly done by sending them away to safety, he decides he’s going to put out his big guns, the Kingsmen. No one really knows who they are or much about them. Zelladine isn’t all that worried, she’s never met an impressive mortal man. Then again, she’d never met the Kingsmen.

The Kingsmen, Gripir, Sigmun, Troylus, and Regin, are tasked with finding Queen Zelladine and making her give Briar’s body back so her father can bury her. The thing is, that Zelladine is just as determined to not give them that information. She’s going to keep her mouth shut on that matter for as long as possible. The Kingsmen capture her and keep her in a tower where her magic was neutralized. They punish her in several different ways, but they still can’t break her. In fact, she likes what they are doing, and sees it as a game.

OK, the interactions between the Kingsmen and Zelladine are awesome. She is strong and stubborn and isn’t about to let the guys roll over her. She enjoys all the sex, she enjoys exasperating them, and she enjoys what they are doing to her. The guys get rather frustrated with her, but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t enjoying themselves as well. This is an awesome story and it does have appearances of characters from the other stories. It’s a short, hot, filthy read, and fabulous.

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Oh, I love the game of hide and seek at the end of the book. I also like how many times Zella manages to trick the guys. She was really three or four steps ahead of him most of the time, wasn’t she? It was lovely.

OK, that’s all I have to say for this one, so go read it. You’ll love it.

Alta Hensley & Zoe Blake-Red & the Wolves

Alta and Zoe have released Red and the Wolves, the second book of their 3 RH dark romance fairy tales. These are not fairy tales to read to your children. In fact, you might not even want to read them around your children. The steam rising off your Kindle might cause them some concern.

So, are you can probably guess, Red is the reimaging of Little Red Riding Hood. Only when the Big Bad Wolf wants to eat Red, he’s not thinking about dinner. And it’s more like Big Bad Wolves, 5 of them, and they all have designs on Red.

The village where Red is born and grows up is surrounded by a tall wall and thick forest. In that forest, there are 5 magical wolves. Back in the day, 500 years ago, the village elders used magic to create the wolves from some of the villagers. They were needed so that they could fight the darkness that threatened everyone. Every so often, the Blood Moon rises, and when the Blood Moon rises, the village sacrifices a villager to the wolves.

Red’s grandmother is a village elder. Too bad it had never been any kind of bonus for her. Her grandmother, the evil old hag, hated Red’s father and since her mother died at birth, it fell on the hag to raise Red. She made sure that not only did Red know how worthless to everyone she is, she also made sure that the village made her an outcast. It doesn’t help that Red stands out because of her very red hair either.

When the Blood Moon rises, the elders say that it’s time for a sacrifice. All the other sacrifices have been chosen from the oldest unmarried males in each household. This time, the hag manages to push through a change, it’s the oldest unmarried person from each household. In this case, Red would be in the group and is the only woman there. And we can guess what’s going to happen, otherwise, this would’ve been a really short book.

Red gets turned out of the village and is left to the tender mercies of the wolves, named Canis, Beo, Grimm, Rood, and Helm. Or, are they men?

OK, it’s time. I love, love, love the names of the guys. I picked up some of the references with the names, but I don’t know if all of them have some kind of significance. I love the books that do that. I love the books that don’t. I love the books. I just think it adds in an extra layer of fun to have various names of characters referring back to other things. Red is a very strong character and is willing to stand up for what she believes in, in my opinion. She doesn’t always listen well, but that’s part of the fun, isn’t it? The guys are very strict and very intense. There is some heavy dubcon going on here, IMO, at least at first. The book is swelteringly hot, with all the good stuff going on. Each of the guys has a distinct personality, and it’s interesting to get to know them. We also get a peek at Snow White and her guys.

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I love that Red wants to let the people of her village know the truth. The guys deserve to have the truth known. After all, theirs was the true sacrifice.

I wonder if they were to have babies, would they be able to shift back and forth from human to wolf? That would be such an awesome start to a werewolf legend.

OK, go check this one out. Happy reading!

Alta Hensley-Devils & Rye

Alta has some more top shelf booze for us to drink today. Today, we get to have Devils & Rye. This is the 4th book in the series and is just as good as the others. Harley Crow is still my favorite, because well, he’s awesome, but that doesn’t that this isn’t a great story. I enjoyed it a lot.

Alec is one of the founding and managing members of Spiked Roses, the premier gentlemen’s club of NOLA. He’s also a man who has run away from his past. There was a sneaky, nasty, gross secret society called the Iron Colt Brotherhood, that he walked away from because of what they did and what they stood for.

Alec’s best friend Rhett has a beautiful daughter named Makayla who is just shy of 21. After spending all her life locked up under her father’s thumb, he finally let her go to NOLA so that she could work at Spiked Roses. That would let Alec watch out for her. On Makayla’s very first day of work and what she thinks might be her new, normal life, Alec gets a letter from her father, begging him to take her away and hide her at their place, a house on the lake. She’s in danger, and Alec would know why. Rhett also sent a letter for him to give to Makayla so that she would know that she should do what Alec tells her to do. Of course, when Alec goes to give the letter to Makayla, she’s naked to the waist, with Tennessee trying to zip her into a red lace dress. That stops Alec in his tracks and makes him realize that little Makayla isn’t so little anymore.

OK, it’s that time. I’m going to go on and continue to drink this lovely glass of rye, you can choose which way you want to go. There are some very dark things that happen in this book. Not the darkest things I’ve ever read, but they are moving towards that way. I really do like the book, and I’m looking forward to more of the series.

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I have two words. Dildo. Bench. You’ll see.

I did kind of want to smack the crap out of Makayla because she went and made a supremely stupid choice right after Alec told her what was going on. I mean, who does that? I get loving your father, but she knew what was going to happen to her. As a parent, I would much prefer to see myself get hurt than to have my child in a position where something bad was definitely going to happen to them.

OK, that’s all I have to say about this. Go check out this one and all of Alta’s work. Happy reading!