Tag Archives: Book Reviews

A Review of Beyond Death – Tales of the Macabre

Beyond Death - Tales of the Macabre by Sophie Duncan and Natashan Duncan-Drake book cover. Image on cover is of silhouette of woman's face at dusk. She's standing in front of a house that has a few lights on in it's ground floor. But the second floor is dark. Title: Beyond Death – Tales of the Macabre

Author: Natasha Duncan-Drake & Sophie Duncan

Publisher: Wittegen Press (Self-Published)

Publication Date: 2019

Genres: Fantasy, Horror, Paranormal

Length: 27 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the authors.

Rating: 4 Stars

Blurb:

Two tales that look past death into the terror beyond.
The Cup Runneth Over by Natasha Duncan-Drake
You have been tempted into places unknown and there are things lurking in the shadows.
The Promise by Sophie Duncan
When a person makes a commitment, they should stick to it. Carol is determined to stick to hers no matter how scary it may become.

Review:

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

February is the perfect time to read something scary.

“The Cup Runneth Over” followed an unnamed narrator who was given a few odds and ends as a reward for helping their aunt pack up boxes in anticipation of a big move. One of the items they took home was an antique gold-inlaid book. The plot twists from this point forward made it hard for me stop reading. I was intensely curious to find out what the narrator had found and why it was so out of the ordinary.

It’s hard to discuss what happened next without spoiling anything. What I can say is that Ms. Duncan-Drake kept me guessing until the end. There were a couple of different times when I thought I had the next scene figured out only to be surprised by what actually happened. The author was certainly aware of the tropes in the genres she was writing in, but she used them sparingly in the very best sense of that term.

One thing I would have liked to see done differently in this tale had to do with the identity of the narrator. Not only was their name hidden from the reader, all other other identifying details like gender or race were skirted around as well. It would have been nice to know at least one or two of these facts about them. It was obviously impossible to imagine what they looked like in the absence of any details about their physical appearance whatsoever.

Carol made a promise while handing out treats at a Halloween party to the children of the community she’d recently moved to in “The Promise.” I thought it was quite interesting to see how the narrator juxtaposed the innocence of a children’s party with the darker hints about what was happening in this community. It was easy to leap from logical explanations for all of these weird coincidences to theories that required a strong belief in things that science can’t explain.

While I did come up with a fairly accurate guess about where this story was going, I still had a wonderful time following Carol’s adventures as she chaperoned the children. She was genuinely concerned about making a good impression on her new neighbours and helping the little ones have a spooky – but not too scary – Halloween. I liked her quite a bit and didn’t want it to end.

This was a short but satisfying collection that horror aficionados should try for themselves.

Endless Memories: A Review of The Deep

Book cover for The Deep by Rivers Solomon. Image on cover is of a mermaid swimming past a whale.

Title: The Deep

Author: Rivers Solomon

Publisher: Saga Press

Publication Date: 2019

Genres: Science Fiction, Afrofuturism, Contemporary, Historical

Length: 175 pages

Source: I borrowed it from the library.

Rating: 4 Stars

Yetu holds the memories for her people—water-dwelling descendants of pregnant African slave women thrown overboard by slave owners—who live idyllic lives in the deep. Their past, too traumatic to be remembered regularly, is forgotten by everyone, save one—the historian. This demanding role has been bestowed on Yetu.

Yetu remembers for everyone, and the memories, painful and wonderful, traumatic and terrible and miraculous, are destroying her. And so, she flees to the surface, escaping the memories, the expectations, and the responsibilities—and discovers a world her people left behind long ago.

Yetu will learn more than she ever expected to about her own past—and about the future of her people. If they are all to survive, they’ll need to reclaim the memories, reclaim their identity—and own who they really are.

Inspired by a song produced by the rap group Clipping for the This American Life episode “We Are In The Future,” The Deep is vividly original and uniquely affecting.

Content warning: Death of a parent and death of a child. I will not be discussing these things in my review. The quotes below were taken from the book.

Some types of pain echo through many generations.

Yetu was an amazing protagonist. Her struggles with acting as the Historian for her community made perfect sense. That burden had been placed on her shoulders at a tender age, and it honestly wasn’t something she was prepared to handle. While I can’t go any further into her backstory without giving away spoilers, I appreciated all of the work that had clearly been put into describing her personality, why she was given this role, and how it affected her both mentally and physically.

“Living without detailed long-term memories allowed for spontaneity and lack of regret, but after a certain amount of time had passed, they needed more.”

One of the things that I wish the blurb had made clearer was how the Wanjinru processed memories, especially since the plot wasn’t shared in a chronological order. Their minds didn’t work exactly the same as a human mind does for reasons that I’ll leave for future readers to discover, so Yetu often needed to repeat things to the audience as she remembered them again or thought of a detail she hadn’t included before. I liked this device a lot, but it wasn’t something I was expecting when I started reading.

The character development was quite well done. This was even more impressive given how Yetu’s memory worked. It’s definitely not easy to show someone growing and changing when they forget certain details over time, but the author pulled it off beautifully.

“We are not Wanjiru if being Wanjiru means distancing ourselves from pain.”

I do wish this book had been longer so that more time could have been spent on the world-building. Yetu both experienced and remembered some amazing events, but she needed to spend so much time repeating certain memories and making sure they were told in the right order that she simply didn’t have as much time as she needed in order to explain those events the way I wish they’d been shared with the audience. Another 50-100 pages of writing would have given me the clues I needed.

“Forgetting was not the same as healing.”

This is also something that could easily be fixed with a sequel if the author ever decides to revisit all of the incredible characters she created here. My fingers are crossed that this might happen one day.

With that being said, the ending couldn’t have been written more beautifully. I adored the way all of the important loose ends of the storyline were tied together while still leaving room for either a sequel or lots of fodder for the the imaginations of everyone who reads it. 

I’ve decided to end this review with a link to the song referenced in the blurb. Comparing its version of events with what happened in the book was fascinating, especially since the song came first!  It does contain spoilers, so keep that in mind while deciding when to listen to it if you’re like me and prefer to avoid spoilers.

 

The Deep by Clipping

Haunting Secrets: A Review of The Lost Ones

Book Cover for The Lost Ones by Anita Frank. Cover shows white outline of woman at top of staircase. There is a large picture window behind her and stylized leaves decorating the rest of the cover.

Title: The Lost Ones

Author: Anita Frank

Publisher: HQ (Harper Collins)

Publication Date: 2019

Genres: Fantasy, Mystery, Gothic, Horror, Paranormal, Historical

Length: 400 pages

Source: I borrowed it from the library

Rating: 3.5 Stars

Blurb:

Some houses are never at peace.

England, 1917
 
Reeling from the death of her fiancé, Stella Marcham welcomes the opportunity to stay with her pregnant sister, Madeleine, at her imposing country mansion, Greyswick – but she arrives to discover a house of unease and her sister gripped by fear and suspicion.

Before long, strange incidents begin to trouble Stella – sobbing in the night, little footsteps on the stairs – and as events escalate, she finds herself drawn to the tragic history of the house.

Aided by a wounded war veteran, Stella sets about uncovering Greyswick’s dark and terrible secrets – secrets the dead whisper from the other side…

In the classic tradition of The Woman in Black, Anita Frank weaves a spell-binding debut of family tragedy, loss and redemption.

 

Review:

Content warning: Death of a child. 

Some secrets refuse to stay hidden.

As the blurb and the content warning mentioned, one of the subplots of this tale involved what happened to a house in the years following the sudden death of a child there. That child’s identity and reason for death were things that were revealed much later on in the plot, so I won’t go into any detail about them here. What I will say is that this tale spent a great deal of time exploring how grief not only changes over time but can stick with someone long after their loss. The family who experienced this loss weren’t the only ones who were grieving. I loved seeing how the other subplots involving grief were interwoven with this one. Not all of them were quite as dramatic, but they worked together beautifully.

What made me give this book a 3.5 star rating was the behaviour of the characters, especially Stella. She’d been intelligent enough to qualify as a nurse in World War I, and yet she continually made choices that I struggled to understand even while knowing that she’d suffered a terribly tragedy while abroad. Her lack of common sense astounded me at times, especially when it came to how she responded to phenomena that had no rational explanation. The occasional lapse of judgement is totally understandable, but there were times when I found it hard to take the plot seriously because of how often she rushed into dangerous situations without thinking things through first. This was a flaw that was repeated with some of the other characters as well, including ones that had lived at Greyswick long enough to that there was something dangerous lurking there.

The treatment of the female characters was handled nicely. We’re still a long ways off from ending sexism, but it was much more insidious in 1917. Women from every social class dealt with it, and there were very few laws to protect them from harmful stereotypes about what they were capable of and how they should be treated if they stepped outside of a narrow range of acceptable behaviours. This isn’t something that a lot of gothic novels address, so I was pleased to see it get so much attention here even though I also cringed at the way women’s hormonal states or “feeble” minds were used as an excuse to avoid getting to the bottom of what was causing so much havoc at Greyswick. It was historically accurate, though!

Despite these issues, The Lost Ones was a deliciously chilling read that I’d recommend to anyone who loves Gothic literature or haunted houses and doesn’t mind suspending their disbelief for a while.

Sleeping Beauty Retold: A Review of The Spellbound Spindle

Book cover for Joy V. Spicer's The Spell Bound Spindle. The imagery on the cover is of a rose bush growing around the title and author name. Title: The Spellbound Spindle

Author: Joy V. Spicer

Publisher: Self-Published

Publication Date: 2018

Genres: Fantasy, Fairy Tale, Retelling, Historical

Length: 345 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author.

Rating: 4.5 Stars

Blurb:

A misguided elf curses a baby to die on her sixteenth birthday.
Gem elves alter the curse to one of sleep.

But, to break the curse, the elf must die.

Princess Lilyrose seems to have it all, a family who loves her and a betrothed who is also her trusted friend. As the passing years bring the fated birthday closer, as she secretly struggles not to give in to her fear of the curse, she’s determined to live a full life.

She learns to fight. She dares to love. She discovers her true heritage. But when she learns her betrothed’s life is also in danger, she knows she must face the elf and her dark magic to break the curse.

Review:

Some legends deserve to be revisited over and over again. This is one of them.

Sleeping Beauty was one of my all-time favourite fairy tales when I was a child, so I was excited to see how Ms. Spicer reinterpreted it. She found so many interesting takes on these familiar plot twists, from why anyone would want to harm Sleeping Beauty to what happened when a spell didn’t exactly turn out the way the magical being who cast it was expecting it to.

There were a few parts of the world building that I did wish had been explored in more detail. For example, the beginning showed how and why a few young characters were welcomed into families who knew nothing about their true origins. This included a child who was adopted by a royal family and chosen as their heir! I can think of so few examples of this happening in the fantasy genre that I did find myself wishing the narrator had spent more time explaining why this rule was changed. Was there something special about that society that made them unconcerned with where heirs came from? Were most people simply unaware that this child was adopted? Since this sort of thing was a pattern, I thought I should mention it in my review. While I loved the plot in general, a few small tweaks to the world building to explain stuff like this would have catapulted it into a five-star review in my opinion.

One of my favourite parts of the storyline had to do with how well-developed the antagonists were. Yes, they did awful things, but the reasons for those decisions were explained so clearly that I understood them even as I wished they would have made better choices. I’m not generally the sort of reader who sympathizes with villains, so it was a delightful surprise to realize just how much I liked them despite the terrible things they were responsible for. There are many tales out there about protagonists who feel real. While this book had plenty of examples of that as well, it was its treatment of the characters we’re not supposed to root for that was one of my biggest reasons for giving it such a high rating.

Be sure to pay close attention to the characters as they’re introduced. There were a lot of them in this book, and many of them popped up one after another in the first few scenes. Everything you need to know about them and how they’re connected to the other characters is explained if you read thoughtfully. I actually ended up jotting down notes about who everyone was and, in certain cases, what other names they went by. That list was amazingly helpful later on, and I’d recommend doing it for anyone else who wants to stay organized while they read.

Anyone who loves fairy tales or retellings of fairy tales should checkThe Spellbound Spindle out.

A Review of Delightfully Twisted Tales: Close Encounters of the Worst Kind (Volume One)

Delightfully Twisted Tales: Close Encounters of the Worst Kind (Volume One) book cover. Image on the cover is of two robots facing the viewer and reaching their arms out to us. Title: Delightfully Twisted Tales: Close Encounters of the Worst Kind (Volume One)

Author: Nicky Drayden

Publisher: Self-Published

Publication Date: 2011

Genres: Science Fiction

Length: About 20 pages (see note below).

Source: I received a free copy from the author.

Rating: 4 Stars

Blurb:

This collection of short stories contains 70% of your daily value for weirdness. If you’re still feeling deficient after reading these tales, stay tuned for Nicky Drayden’s forthcoming debut novel, THE PREY OF GODS from Harper Voyager, Summer 2017.

A shifty shapeshifter cons an intergalactic casino, a married robot couple moves to the burbs, punker space rhinos invade a small town in Colorado, and you, yes you, get to see firsthand what goes on in one of the strangest restrooms in the universe. This delightfully twisted collection of four short stories is easily devoured in one sitting and will leave you hungry for more.

Review:

If you love weird science fiction, keep reading.

Normally, I pick a few stories out of an anthology to highlight in my reviews. Since this collection only had four of them, I’ll talk about all of them.

The only other note I’ll make about this book before diving into my review is about the page count. My ebook was divided into shorter pages than usual, so I estimated the total length for this collection based on how long I thought it would be if each page had the usual 250-300 words in it. At any rate, it was a quick read!

“Winning Streak” followed a shapeshifter named Traleel Az who aroused the suspicions of the casino owners after winning far more money from a slot machine than anyone was supposed to get from playing that game. I was mesmerized by all of the fantasy creatures who worked at and visited that establishment. It sounds like an incredible, if also possibly dangerous, place to visit, and I wanted to know more with every passing scene. This is a world I’d love to visit again sometime if the author ever decides to revisit it.

As mentioned in the blurb, “Memories and All That” was about newlywed robots who moved to the suburbs. Kath-090 and Bit-722 were so excited to make this change in their lives that I was curious to see how their organic neighbours would respond to them. The pacing for this tale felt a little off to me, especially in the beginning when the characters were talking about which possessions they’d brought with them on their move. This momentary slowdown of the plot was more than made up for by the final scene, though. I couldn’t stop giggling at it.

The thought of sharing a town with space rhinos was more than enough to make me want to read “The Pudding Master and I.” Rynoss was the name of this species. Since they acted quite a bit like Earth rhinoceroses, just imagine all of the chaos they caused when they moved into human neighbourhoods. Their understanding of Earth culture was yet another reason why I was fascinated by these creature. Let’s just say that there were plenty of misunderstandings along the way and that some of them were pretty funny. The only thing better than this part of the storyline were all of the plot twists that happened after it.

“Wrath of the Porcelain Gods” was one of the best short story titles I’ve seen in ages. The main character in it was an amateur anthropologist living onboard a space ship who was attempting to figure out how an alien species called the Asiphants used the washroom. I would have liked to see more attention spent on explaining why the protagonist was so fascinated by this topic. It seemed odd to me, especially since they’d described themselves as someone who had spent plenty of time working and living alongside other humanoid species. Surely they would have gotten used to things like this by now? While I still enjoyed reading it, having more information about that part of the plot would have made it a better experience for this reader.

This was the first book I’ve read from Nicky Drayden. Based on how much I enjoyed it, I’ll definitely be keeping an eye out for more from her!

Glimpses of Horror: A Review of Regretfully Invited

Title: Regretfully Invited: 13 Short Horror Stories Author: Jan L. Mayes Publisher: Self-Published Publication Date: 2018 Genres: Science Fiction, Horror, Paranormal, Historical, Contemporary Length: 86 pages Source: I received a free copy from Jan. Rating: 3.5 Stars Blurb: Find out the answer to this question and more with this 13 story bundle of creepy, horror… Read More

An Imperfect Crime: A Review of The Ghosts Inside

Title: Dollar Tales from The Morbid Museum: The Ghosts Inside Author: James Pack Publisher: VaudVil Publication Date: 2019 Genres: Science Fiction, Horror, Contemporary Length: 40 pages Source: I received a free copy from James Rating: 3.5 Stars Blurb: These Dollar Tales feature one or two short stories from the forthcoming collection of fiction by James… Read More

Surviving the Apocalypse: A Review of Patient Zero

Title: Patient Zero: Post-Apocalyptic Short Stories (Project Renova #0.5) Author: Terry Tyler Publisher: Self-Published Publication Date: 2017 Genres: Science Fiction, Post-Apocalyptic Length: 120 pages Source: I received a free copy from Terry Rating: 4 Stars Blurb: The year is 2024. A mysterious virus rages around the UK. Within days, ‘bat fever’ is out of control.… Read More

Choosing to Survive: A Review of Powdered Souls

Title: Powdered Souls, A Short Story: They Decided to Survive (Snow Sub Series Book 1) Author: Dixon Reuel Publisher: Self-Published Publication Date: 2019 Genres: Science Fiction, Post-Apocalyptic, Romance Length: 22 pages Source: I received a free copy from Dixon Rating: 3 Stars Blurb: People together in close quarters – fraternization naturally follows. A military VR trainer,… Read More

Life After The Handmaid’s Tale: A Review of The Testaments

Title: The Testaments (The Handmaid’s Tale #2) Author: Margaret Atwood Publisher: Nan A. Talese Publication Date: 2019 Genres: Speculative Fiction, Dystopia Length: 432 pages Source: I bought it. Rating: 4.5 Stars Blurb: More than fifteen years after the events of The Handmaid’s Tale, the theocratic regime of the Republic of Gilead maintains its grip on… Read More