Tag Archives: 2020s

What Bears Do in the Woods: A Review of The Ursus Verses

The Ursus Versus by Nathan Waddell book cover. Image on cover is of a cartoon bear standing behind a tree stump, peeking out, and waving. Title: The Ursus Versus

Author: Nathan Waddell

Publisher: Self-Published

Publication Date: October 29, 2020

Genres: Science Fiction, Fantasy, Young Adult

Length: 66 pages

Source: I purchased it.

Rating: 5 Stars

Blurb:

Do you like bears and black holes and squid monsters and dragons and cowboy dragon slayers and riding your bike all around town looking for something to do? Because that’s what I like and this is my chapbook which captures that spirit of fun and terror and the comfort of a good fun book.
This is the first in a series of chapbooks containing poetry and flash fiction and short stories with themes ranging from those mentioned above to deeper explorations of humanity. But honestly the themes mentioned already are all about that too.

Review:

Now is the perfect time for lighthearted science fiction.

Ordinarily, I’ll pick out a few short stories, poems, or essays from collections like these and share my thoughts about them. There were so many funny themes covered here that I thought it was best to allow other readers to discover them for yourselves without spoilers, especially since the later entries often referenced earlier ones.  All you need to know is that this is heavily based on science, science fiction, fantasy, and mythology. Start at the beginning, relax, and enjoy.

This is the sort of young adult science fiction that easily crosses over into adult audiences. The humour in it is tongue-in-cheek and does rely on a certain amount of understanding of the types of scientific concepts generally taught in high school, but it explains most of them well enough to appeal to preteens who haven’t taken Biology yet or older adults who might have last thought about the Paleozoic era half a century ago. In other words, don’t spend too much time thinking about whether you’re “Young Adult” enough for this collection. If you’re interested, there will almost certainly be something here that appeals to you.

Some of my favourite sections were the ones that relied on puns and jokes. Yes, there were the usual quips about what bears do in the woods, but that was the only the beginning of the many reasons to laugh while reading this collection. Honestly, what could be better than finding the humour in speculative fiction no matter which branch of it the narrator happens to be visiting at the moment? I sure can’t think of many things.

Be sure to read the author’s explanations of why he wrote select pieces of this collection. The explanations are all located at the very end, and it was really interesting to read their backstories.

I’m looking forward to reading the rest of this series. Everything published here was first written about twenty years ago, and Mr. Waddell’s writing style has evolved quite a bit since then. If you want to follow along as he shares that journey, The Ursus Versus the perfect place to start.

A Review of Fangs & Fairy Dust

Fangs & Fairy Dust by Melissa Monroe book cover. Image on cover is a cartoon image of a vampire wearing a maid's uniform and holding a fairy in the palm of her right hand Title: Fangs & Fairy Dust

Author: Melissa Monroe

Publisher: Self-Published

Publication Date: October 14, 2020

Genres: Fantasy, Mystery, Contemporary, Historical

Length: 63 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author.

Rating: 3 Stars

Blurb:

A vampire baker —before she opened shop — sinks her teeth into a local mystery.

If you love paranormal witch cozy mysteries, you’ll love this book!

Review:

Content warning: kidnapping. I will not be discussing it in my review.

Not every vampire is a villain.

Most of the vampire fiction I read is firmly rooted in the horror genre, so it was refreshing to read about a vampire who had a strict code of ethics and stuck to it. I didn’t always agree with the decisions Priscilla, the main character, made, but I knew she’d stick to her deeply-held beliefs about what was right and wrong. She was principled like that, and I admired her for it.

There wasn’t much character development in this tale at all. I understand that this was the beginning of a new series, but I still would have liked to see Priscilla change in some way as a result of her earliest experiences with her fairy godmother. She had plenty of opportunities to do so. Seeing her end up the same person as she was in the beginning dampened my enthusiasm to keep going with her adventures.

It was nice to see a mystery wrapped up so quickly. Priscilla wasted no time in trying to figure out what was really happening with it. No, I can’t go into details about what was going on there without giving away spoilers due to the short length of this story and what a small role it played in the plot, but I can say that I appreciated her determination to get to the truth no matter what.

I also would have liked to see more attention paid to the plot development. Once again, I wouldn’t expect a novella to be as well-developed as something full length, but there was so much more the author could have done with a vampire who remembered life in the 1600s and could tell people about it in the present day.

The punchy dialogue kept making me smile. There were some clever one liners thrown about, and they were pretty evenly distributed among the main characters. It’s nice when the spotlight can be shared among multiple characters like that. No, the dialogue didn’t match the way people actually spoke in 1665, but I assumed Priscilla translated all of the thees and thous into modern, conversational English for the sake of her twenty-first companion who was hearing about the beginning of her relationship with her fairy godmother for the first time.

Fangs & Fairy Dust was a quick, lighthearted read that I’d recommend to anyone who is in the mood for such a thing.

The Day Before Christmas Eve: A Review of The Yule Cat

The Yule Cat - a Christmas Short Story by Eldritch Black book cover. Image on coer shows drawing of a blue cat sitting in the snow outside of a village at night. The cat is staring ahead at the reader. Title: The Yule Cat – a Christmas Short Story

Author: Eldritch Black

Publisher: Self-Published

Publication Date: October 25, 2020

Genres: Young Adult, Fantasy, Holidays

Length: 46 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author.

Rating: 3 Stars

Blurb:

Strange, scary rumors are flying about the tiny, snowy town below the mountains. Some say a tiger sprang loose from a circus train and roams the snowy meadows. Some say it stalks in the wintry forests. Some say it’s a monster. 

But feisty Maisie Crompton knows that can’t be true. Such things never happen in their sleepy alpine village. 
Or do they?

For soon, Maisie finds herself crossing the path of a spine-chilling legend. The Yule Cat; a fearsome mythical beast collecting snacks for his winter feast. And should Maisie fail in the cat-and-mouse hunt that follows, she might well become the next morsel on his menu…

From the author of Krampus and The Thief of Christmas, The Yule Cat is a short Christmas story brimming with magic, trolls, spooky mythology, and fun and festive chills for readers of all ages

Review:

Be careful what you wish for.

If only I could read that introduction to this review to Maisie! Her envious attitude in the first scene certainly gave me a strong impression of her. I sympathized with her frustration over having to count every last cent so carefully. The holidays are a tough time to be poor, especially for a kid who is watching her best friend show off an expensive new coat. I know the narrator probably wanted us to hope Maisie would learn a valuable lesson about gratitude for what one has. While I had those thoughts as well, I also hoped she’d get a wonderful Christmas gift that matched all of her dreams.

There were a few things about the climax of this story that didn’t quite make sense to me, especially when it came to exactly what Jólakötturinn (The Yule Cat) was capable of. It was never clear to me exactly what the limits of his powers were. Sometimes he seemed capable of things that he hadn’t been a scene before, so I was never sure what to expect from him. It would have been nice to have a firmer understanding of this creature as he was definitely a scary one!

The world building was handled nicely. I appreciated the fact that the author explained a little bit about the backstory of Jólakötturinn for anyone who wasn’t already familiar with that. That attention to detail continued on with the descriptions of the other characters, too. All of their histories were important in order to fully understand how Maisie ended up in such a dangerous predicament on December 23.

Let me end this review with my favourite quote from this tale. It captured the themes of it all nicely.

“He grows when he senses fear, and shrinks when he’s content.”

On Finding Scope for Imagination During Uncertain Times

“Isn’t it splendid to think of all the things there are to find out about? It just makes me feel glad to be alive—it’s such an interesting world. It wouldn’t be half so interesting if we knew all about everything, would it? There’d be no scope for imagination then, would there?” – Anne of Green Gables by Lucy M. Montgomery

Anne Shirley has been on my mind recently. When I was a kid, I only ever read the first three books in the Anne of Green Gables series. It wasn’t until I became an adult that I discovered what happened to her in Windy Poplars and beyond, so her childhood to teen years made the biggest impression on me.

She was an imaginative girl who often flipped between bubbly enthusiasm and being in the “depths of despair” depending on what sort of trouble she might have accidentally found herself in.

stylized black and white drawing of woman in white dress touching butterflies the size of large owls. the blue, green, orange, and pink butterflies are the only splashes of colour in this scene.
This isn’t Anne, but I think she would have found scope for imagination in this sketch.

I’m fortunate to live in a walkable neighbourhood, so I can get nearly anything I need here without stepping onto the subway. This has been wonderful during the pandemic as I can walk by a nearby shop and see how busy it is before deciding whether I should buy groceries and other necessary supplies now or wait a day or two when there are fewer people there. photo of man walking down steps. Upper half of photo shows him walking upside down and up a pair of steps. image might be mirrored or something?

It also means that the days bleed into each other. I’m being so conscientious about where I go that I tend to see the same trees, shops, strangers, and even pigeons that I did last week, last month, and approximately a million years ago in March when the first wave of this pandemic hit Toronto.

(No, I’m not joking about the pigeons there. We have a flock of them that has chosen a specific area as their home and always returns to it after foraging elsewhere. I affectionally refer to them as our “pet” birds).

I used to find scope for imagination in things that I only saw and heard occasionally like attending specific street festival or planning an afternoon trip to a park in a different part of the city that requires one to ride the subway or take a streetcar with a multitude of strangers.

Now the only differences are changes in the weather and maybe the occasional new coat or pair of shoes a neighbour might want to show off if we pass each other on the street.

Like most of you, I’d imagine, my world is small, yet there is still scope for imagination here. The outside world might remain more or less the same from one day to the next, but that doesn’t mean your mind must do the same.

Even the smallest changes in a community can be attention grabbing now. The first autumn leaves that peeked out from a sea of green were prettier than they’ve been in years.

Bananas that are submerged in a bright yellow landscape.There are books to read and movies to watch that will take you anywhere you want to go, including places that weren’t accessible to mere mortals at all except through our imaginations!

Art museums themselves might be closed or scratched off many of our visiting lists, but art itself remains.

This is our new normal.

Someday future generations will ask what this time period was like.

I’m taking notes of my experiences. Some of them end up as blog posts here, while others have been scribbled down into a private journal I may pass down to my nephews someday.

Pretending to be a time traveller is another way to find scope for imagination. What is perfectly ordinary to us may be fresh and interesting to someone a century from now.

How would you explain the idiosyncrasies, irritations, and immeasurable moments of our era to them?

That one question in and of itself makes my mind tingle with possibilities.

Where have you all found scope for imagination recently?

Suburban Gothic: A Review of The House on Abigail Lane

Book cover for The House on Abigail Lane by Kealan Patrick Burke. Image on cover is of a house that has all of its windows illuminated by light on a dark night. It is sitting next to a garden filled with sunflowers, one of which has a human-like eye in the centre of it staring straight ahead at the reader. Title: The House on Abigail Lane

Author: Kealan Patrick Burke

Publisher: Elderlemon Press (Self-Published)

Publication Date: June 17, 2020

Genres: Science Fiction, Mystery, Horror, Paranormal, Historical, Contemporary

Length: 68 pages

Source: I bought it.

Rating: 3.5 Stars

Blurb:

From the outside, it looks like an ordinary American home, but since its construction in 1956, people have vanished as soon as they go upstairs, the only clues the things they leave behind: a wedding ring, a phone…an eye.

In its sixty-year history, a record number of strange events have been attributed to the house, from the neighbors waking up to find themselves standing in the yard outside, to the grieving man who vanished before a police officer’s eyes. The animals gathering in the yard as if summoned. The people who speak in reverse. The lights and sounds. The music. The grass dying overnight…and the ten-foot clown on the second floor.

And as long as there are mysteries, people will be compelled to solve them.

Here, then, is the most comprehensive account of the Abigail House phenomenon, the result of sixty years of eyewitness accounts, news reports, scientific research, and parapsychological investigations, all in an attempt to decode the enduring mystery that is…

…THE HOUSE ON ABIGAIL LANE.

Review:

Evil comes in many forms.

This short story was heavily plot driven. The mystery of why people from many different walks of life kept disappearing at Abigail House permeated every scene, and it didn’t give away any hints about what the answer may be at first. I liked the fact that the audience was left in the dark in the beginning. It made the last few scenes even more exciting.

While I definitely wasn’t expecting the characters to have quiet, introspective moments, I do wish I’d gotten to know them better. There were times when it was hard for me to emotionally connect with the latest poor soul who found themselves working, visiting, or living at this location because of how quickly the house cycled through its victims. No sooner were they introduced than many of them met their fates.

I’m saying that as someone who was deliciously terrified of this setting. Few things are more frightening to me than a place where horrible things happen for reasons that none of the characters have yet to figure out nd therefore have no way to predict or prevent. Had I been able to bond with at least some of the victims, this would have been the perfect read for this horror fan.

If there’s anything about the suburbs that gives you a gnawing sense of discomfort, The House on Abigail Lane might help to explain why.

Vengeance: A Review of Ceremony of Ashes

Title: Ceremony of Ashes – A Horror Novella of Witchcraft and Vengeance Author: Jayson Robert Ducharme Publisher: Self-Published Publication Date: May 1, 2020 Genres: Fantasy, Horror, Contemporary Length: 135 pages Source: I received a free copy from the author. Rating: 3 stars Blurb: Something wicked descends upon Leinster Village Adrian Holloway’s life is turned upside… Read More