Book Review: Dead Over Heels by Arden Steele

I’m a little early for New Year’s resolutions, and I also don’t make New Year’s resolutions, but I guess I’m trying to be more flexible by reading Dead Over Heels. I usually hate straying from series reading order, though since the books in the Blackhaven Manor series are connected yet about different characters I made an exception. This was the perfect time to read too since it takes place over the winter holidays.

Quick Summary: A troubled loner finds a fresh start in a magical town. Meeting his fated mate helps, but running into an unexpected ghost does not. Oh yeah, he sees dead people.

My thoughts: What a great winter/holiday novel about fated mates who suddenly find themselves living together during the Christmas season. The book is full of sweet romance, domestic ups and downs, and just a touch of heat.

Fictional Rating System: 4.5 tiny cat sweaters out of 5

Keywords and tags: Paranormal romance, holidays, age gap, werewolf, medium, ghosts, fated mates, cranky cats, crankier spirits, fluffy, finding home, acceptance

Characters and Story (and Curtains?)

Fritz, called this for many technical malfunctions in real life, is a sweet, clumsy guy who is used to annoying people and occasionally hurting himself with his klutzy mishaps. Adding in medium abilities only makes matters worse. Even though supernatural beings are known, he thinks he’s just a regular guy who happens to see ghosts and never stays in one place too long because people will ask questions or he’ll overstay his welcome.

Until he arrives at Blackhaven manor. He’s looking for a job, and they instead send him to the sheriff’s office. Said sheriff rightly assumes this is a set up because the manor literally hires everybody, they even have a job which is basically Official Opener and Closer of Curtains. This isn’t at all related to the plot, but it’s a detail I remember when writing this, and I still find it amusing.

Vander is the sheriff, who indeed hires Fritz. It would be kind of rude to not give his fated mate a job. But before they can get to know each other better, Fritz accidentally touches some evidence and gets saddled with a ghost. A nasty one. Vander doesn’t know what’s happening, but realizes he needs to tread carefully to make his mate comfortable and get him to open up. So what follows is Vander low-key wooing his mate while Fritz tries to handle his uninvited ghostly house-guest.

Sweeter Than Sugar Cookies

While most shifters are apparently not huge fans of sweets, this book is filled with sugary goodness as the pair live together and fall in love. All while dealing with enthusiastic family members, a touch of demonic possession (or close enough), and hilariously feisty animals.

Honorable character mentions go to the hellbeast/nice kitty they babysit and the formidable goose who battles a werewolf and wins.

Honestly this wasn’t exactly my cup of tea. It’s an enjoyable book I didn’t really fall in love with, but I still recommend because of excellent writing and such fun, silly scenes that are sure to be memorable. I think there are lots of people who would love this novel when looking for seasonal reads, romantic comedies, and sweet love stories with relatively low angst.

Book Quote

Dead Over Heels by Arden Steele

It’s been twelve years since the Awakening. Otherlings are out of the paranormal closet. The whole world knows that creatures like vampires, werewolves, and witches exist. So, seeing dead people barely even rates on the freaky scale. Right?

Wrong.

Fritz Tolliver figures he must have done something terrible in a previous life to be afflicted with such a curse. In fact, every bad thing that has ever happened to him can be traced back to his unwanted ability. So, when a stupidly hot werewolf who’s way out of his league claims to be his mate, he should be thrilled. And he probably would have been if he hadn’t gone and gotten himself haunted by a nasty spirit on the same day.

When a human male strolls into the station asking for a job—and promptly spills an entire Americano on him—Sheriff Vander Hale has a feeling it’s going to be a bad day. Then, the door opens, the wind shifts, and suddenly, his whole world changes. There’s nothing he wouldn’t do for his mate, no battle he wouldn’t wage, even if his enemy is technically already dead. Unfortunately, there’s just one problem with his plan.

He’d go to hell and back for Fritz, but how is he supposed to fight something he can’t see?

Series Info: Blackhaven Manor

Purrfect Harmony

Night and Fae

Dragon It Out

Pixie Little Liar

Dead Over Heels

Silent Knight

New Novel Characters

Ready to meet the main characters of my new M/M contemporary romance? Hopefully, because that’s what this post is about. The novel is called The Boy Next Door, featuring a shy artist who works up the nerve to confess his feelings for the boy next door, only to have his love note fall into the wrong hands.

This is a Kindle Vella novel, and the first three chapter are free, or available without spending any tokens. And if you haven’t checked out Vella yet, you should, because you can claim some free tokens to get started. (Right now Vella is just for US audiences.)

Sam Bell is the main character. He’s made a lot of progress since he was a young boy suffering from crippling anxiety. He’s now a high school senior who isn’t sure if he wants to pursue art or something else in college. Despite the eccentricities of his teacher, he’s excited to be in an honors art class and thinks now might finally be the right time to confess his love for his sweet neighbor Dylan.

Dylan Cruse is popular, good-looking, and almost certainly the love of Sam’s life. Even if the other guy doesn’t know it yet. While nice and easy to talk to, Sam and Dylan don’t have a ton in common. But they are both in photography club and grew up together as next door neighbors.

Quote: The school doors open, light from outside hitting him just right and making his blue eyes sparkle. And his hair color, a rich chestnut brown, is new and makes my knees weak.

Hunter Cruse is Dylan’s older brother. He’s nearly 21 and left home years ago in order to move to the West Coast and become a huge rock star. Now the drummer is back and just as mysterious and superior as ever. Sam’s afraid Hunter is going to stand in his way when it comes to Dylan. And he’s right. Because when Sam confesses his feelings in a note, Hunter intercepts the message and thinks it’s for him.

Quote: Hunter dyed his hair black as night practically as soon as he reached preteen years. The blonde fringe falling in his eyes now reminds me of the cherubic golden curls that framed his face when we met. His angelic appearance duped me into trusting him and he pushed me into the pond when I couldn’t even swim.

The Boy Next Door

Kindle Vella is a thing now. Authors write episodic stories and post over time instead of delivering a whole novel at once. Which is pretty cool, and a fun challenge for me to write on a schedule and keep producing stuff.

While not totally released, one of the novels I have on Kindle Vella is finished. It’s all uploaded on the site and will be out by the end of October.

Yay! Now that I’m actually finished with my latest novel, I should talk about it here.

In The Boy Next Door, a shy artist struggles to show his passions on and off the canvas. Confessing his feelings to the boy of his dreams is a good start. But when his crush’s older brother gets his love note by mistake, life takes an unexpected turn.

This is a young adult contemporary romance featuring an ill-fated message in a bottle, sexy neighbors, and an enemies-to-lovers M/M couple.

My basic idea for this story was a John Hughes/classic romcom vibe but much gayer. So of course, the main character is crushing hopelessly on his sweet friend, and a crazy misunderstanding means a guy he hates gets his love note by mistake, but when they’re thrown together, sparks fly? Yes, they do.

When I said this is my year and nothing will stop me? I figured I’d get over my own tied tongue and confess my love for Dylan, whether shouting or mumbling how I felt. Any other obstacles were fictitious. I certainly wasn’t imagining Hunter Cruse, the asshole older brother of my crush. Did I mention he hates me?

Yeah, he can stand in my way.

–from The Boy Next Door

New Cover for One Little Lie

For self-published authors like me, hiring a cover designer is crucial. Unless I want to make everything myself with my questionable design skills. I do not want this in the slightest, but I’ve paid various prices for results of varying quality and sometimes it’s very hit and miss.

So some of my covers are unfortunately made by me. But I’ve found a designer I like and am slowly updating my catalogue. This is the new cover for One Little Lie, and there’s also an excerpt from the book that is probably more appealing than my brief discussion of cover woes.

And here’s a small hint that you may want to buy this book now. You may want to buy this book now. Hint, hint. Because with this spiffy cover and an upcoming box set, I’ll eventually change the price back to $2.99. Once the box set for the first four books in this series is out, this one is going back to regular price. Though I guess you could also wait and get the boxset. Because then you get more books for less. You have options, I guess that’s the point.

Here’s the new cover:

In this scene, boyfriends Ryan and Luke are getting ready for a double date.

Ryan

Luke acted like a contestant in a beauty pageant, obsessing over his outfit.

He faced away from me but glared through the mirror in front of him. “Ryan, stop laughing and tell me which one of these shirts makes my eyes pop!”

I giggled helplessly while Luke directed his gaze to the two shirts in question. He held them up to his chest one at a time while deciding.

“Baby, you look good in anything.” Sure, my tone still sounded at least 20% sarcastic but that was my baseline.

He scoffed, unimpressed with my answer. “Stop being a weirdo.”

“I’m a weirdo for you,” I cooed. Teasing was the only option to avoid combusting into a puddle of hormones and fondness.

“You do realize this might be the only time I ask you for fashion advice?”

Well played. “Wear the red one.”

Luke frowned. “Are you sure?”

“Yes, moron, I’m sure.”

Hey, could moron be Luke’s pet name?

He held the chosen shirt up in front of the mirror and nodded decisively. “Thank you.” A serious look crossed his face and he turned to me. “Your pet name for me is not going to be moron.” He turned towards the mirror again to fuss with his hair.

Wow, had we become so in sync we thought alike? Maybe we developed a psychic connection. Probably the first one. Just to be sure, I should double check.

I concentrated on thoughts of Luke’s ass. “What am I thinking about?”

“My ass,” he answered without hesitation.

“You are psychic,” I marveled.

“I can feel and see you staring at my ass.” He met my eyes in the mirror with a laugh.

Another failed love story?

Luke has some important choices to make when it comes to the fate of his relationship in One Big Decision. This is the hilarious and heartwarming final novel in the One More Thing series which follows a small-town couple as they navigate fake relationships, first loves, high school, and making everything more difficult than it needs to be.

If you aren’t aware, Luke is a high school senior who is dating a loudmouth he loves, but they aren’t sure where their relationship is heading. Especially when… well, this is a romance novel, so there’s conflict and secrets. In this part, he’s trying to decide whether to walk away or not.

What’s Luke going to decide? I can’t tell you that, obviously, but here’s what he’s thinking about.

Luke

Ryan could become a footnote, a point of reference, the first guy I ever dated or was even attracted to. I might not even remember what went wrong, only that we went our separate ways for college. Our saga would end at the point where all failed loved stories did, the part where we loved each other and it wasn’t enough.

Maybe the question wasn’t what should I do, what would be best for both of us, or should we give this another chance. Did I want it to end here? That’s the question. Did I want him to become my past?

Best Laid Plans

The road to where is paved with good intentions? Probably somewhere awesome. This is relevant to the quote I have to share with you today. As high school seniors, Ryan and Luke have been putting off discussing the future until they’re ready. This is supposed to save them from freaking out and causing a huge mess. Does it work? Maybe. But probably not.

In this excerpt from One Big Decision, Ryan is discussing what senior year means for him and his relationship.

In our relationship, panicking and freaking out has historically caused anything from a mild inconvenience to a cataclysmic event that ended the dinosaurs. When discussing the future, we decided not to start the chaos early. Not worrying about it until the time came was great, but it couldn’t last forever unfortunately.

Soon high school ended. College beckoned with its new opportunities and limitless potential. Living in this rural, fairly small community all my life, I’d probably been looking forward to college since grade school. The only opposite silver-lining was all the things that might happen to a high school relationship once high school ends…

For the love of a good man

Ryan is a brainy overachiever. He imagines becoming a brilliant scientist who makes grand discoveries and is only a little mad. Being a mad scientist isn’t required for some chemists, doctors, and whatnot, but a little insanity is non-negotiable for Ryan. Here’s an excerpt where he talks about his plans and what he wants for his relationship with Luke. This possibly relates to how love, and a little insanity, can turn anyone into a fool.

The post is to celebrate the release of a new contemporary gay romance from me. One Big Decision is the hilarious and heartwarming final novel in the One More Thing series which follows a small-town couple as they navigate high school.

Ryan

I wanna do great things. I wanna discover answers to nature’s mysteries. Help people, save lives, be great. And I wanna be happy too. In the grand scheme? One man’s happiness is the least important concern. When you’re living it, it matters so much. The impossible dream is to have everything and love too, especially love.

So if you tell a few lies, burn a few bridges to get everything, you can still probably sleep at night. Even if it’s not right, you behaved poorly for the same reason geniuses turn into fools, kings lose their kingdoms, people with everything gratefully give it all away and accept nothing. For the love of a good man.

God, if I can just have this, if I can have him, I’ll never want anything else again. Yeah, it’s a lie. One more potent than a trick of the light because the kicker is, it’s real in the moment. It’s the only truth you know. For a little while.

What else could I do? I followed my heart.

first lines

First lines are always important because they are, you know, what the reader reads first. And if they don’t like it, they might stop the novel and you don’t get another chance to make a first impression. So it’s good to spend more time than I spent writing this when working on the first line. So while almost no though whatsoever went into this paragraph, I did devote more time to the beginning of Black Cats and Bad Luck.

I’m sharing the opener of this M/M paranormal romance with you today. As a feline familiar, Horatio is connected to magic. That link is strained when he gives up his magical side to become human for a shot at love.

The Ward house rarely held such quiet. Sound always existed, from the voices of humans to the low hum of magic. Even the pixies in the garden were silent. Perhaps this warranted investigation.

Laying in a column of sunlight in the master bedroom, the cat raised its head to investigate— creatures such as him always stretched, just a little, past their limits. Seeing not only what there was, but what could be. Seeing with more than the eyes, reaching out to touch the swirling cosmos and twinkling stars, to—then again, it would be such a shame to waste this lazy afternoon on anything other than a nap. The cat rested its head back on the hardwood floor.

Awareness hovered somewhere, an insubstantial thing, easily batted away like a stray strand of yarn. He stretched, black tail swishing once in the air, before getting comfortable again.

Photo by Helena Lopes on Pexels.com

An ordinary day can shift so quickly. After all, to go from idea to creation it only takes a spark. The being in the otherwise empty house who currently wore black fur and moved on four legs knew all about that. It was his purpose. Mostly. Except for the tiny piece of other. The call had been there for so long, a whisper echoing in his mind. He had never been able to answer. A force kept him in place, always with the same song he understood instinctively: not yet, not yet, not yet. A melody he’d long since grown accustomed to.

After a nap in the sun, the perfect next step was up and to the right. A nap atop the comfy pillow on the big bed. He moved, curling up on the softer surface. Perfectly content, he could stay there for-oh. Something was different.

Lifting his head, ears perking, no sound reached him from the still house beyond. Internally, no sound either.

The melody had stopped.

A noise… perhaps fingers snapping. A distant strike of lightning. The scent of jasmine lingered in the air. He felt a flicker of heat. The shift began.

-the rest of Black Cats and Bad Luck. is available for only 99 cents. It’s also available on Kindle Unlimited.

The world of magic

The course of true love may never be smooth, buts it’s especially bumpy when witches, familiars, and shadow monsters are at work. Here’s some info about the world of my magical fantasy novel, Black Cats and Bad Luck. This post is about how magic works.

How does magic work? Nobody knows! Magical is powerful. That much is sure. And like all powerful forces, it has the potential to be dangerous. Witches and warlocks can use magic, but things like the exact how, why, and what are something of a mystery.

Here’s two opinions about magic from main characters in this series, Horatio and Avery. As a human, Avery’s answer is more practical. As a magical being, Horatio’s answer is more abstract.

Avery explains the fundamentals of how magic is used:

The most common ways to bring about magickal manifestations included spells, potions, enchantments. Illusions and glamour as well, making a person perceive the world differently. Most of this? Limited time occurrences. Enchantments were the exception, many items would stay enchanted but need a charge after a while.

Glamours and illusions could create the appearance of anything for a short time. Spells and potions could make things happen that normally wouldn’t. Every spell and potion had its own rules and wore off after achieving the desired result.

Achieving any kind of permanency unintentionally would be extremely difficult. And while there weren’t official governing bodies, Pagan communities often policed themselves. With high priestesses like Miranda on the lookout and strongly advising against more extreme forms of the craft.

Horatio on magic:

Magic. The word did not do it justice. Humans labeled it impossible and unknowable and mystical because they could only grasp a tiny piece.

Magick created light but preferred to dwell in the shadows. Try for more, try to understand it and know it as a whole, well, it never led to success. Which was why seeing it in a pure form wasn’t easy. In early days, people thought the mystery might be hiding something nefarious. These days, most agreed it was the opposite. That knowing and understanding the root of magic, what it was or where it came from, was just too much power for any person to have. The temptation of using that knowledge for selfish reasons, for trying to control or change magic would be too great.

One might develop an affinity, a deeper sense after years of practicing. But familiars were tried and true. Familiars could sense and see magick in a way humans couldn’t. Though they didn’t wield it.

There were whispers in the circles I used to frequent, cautionary tales. The most whimsical, elusive force without a name, we call it magic. A being could know this power or use the power. Not both. Either option was a gift. All gifts came with a price.

Facts

In Black Cats and Bad Luck, Horatio broke or bent several rules when he changes forms from cat to man without a pause in between. As he adjusts to his new way of being, there’s a few things he knows for sure.

Underneath a tree with a teeming canopy of leaves stood a person. No, not just a person. Him.

How funny this human life could be. An ocean of words and data, yet it all fled his mind when they touched. There was a wild thing beating at the cage of his ribs like winged prey waiting to be caught.

There were unknown depths in the man’s eyes. The moment stretched at the seams, ready to rip, but strong arms steadied him and kept him right where he wanted to be. Horatio pressed their lips together.

A kiss seemed like the only way to express what he wanted to say. Hello, you most lovely thing. Isn’t the world so beautiful and wonderful? It is beautiful, but not as beautiful as you.

Heart. The thing in his chest was called a heart.

He had so many new words, but none could describe this. The closest he could come… Lungs breathe air. Hunters chase prey. Water flows, fire burns, and they should be kissing. Of all his new facts, he was most sure of the last.

Black Cats and Bad Luck