Tag Archives: Book Reviews

Vengeance: A Review of Ceremony of Ashes

Ceremony of Ashes - A Horror Novella of Witchcraft and Vengeance by Jayson Robert Ducharme book cover. Image on the cover is of a silhoutte of someone holding a large staffTitle: 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 down after receiving a disquieting phone call. His sister and niece have gone missing, and his mother is in shambles.
Something malicious is lurking in his old hometown. Children are going missing and their mothers are turning up dead. People are afraid to go out. Rumors spread from house to house. Blood. Ritual murder. Sacrifice and mutilation.
Sins of the past become unearthed. A woman, whose powers are beyond imagination, is soon to extract her vengeance on the entire town. She can make the dead talk, breathe fire, and turn a man into an animal.
Only Adrian and a young female constable know the truth. Only they can stop her.
CEREMONY OF ASHES is a 135 page novella about witchcraft, vengeance, and how our destinies are sometimes forged before we are even born.
Fans of Stephen King, Ray Bradbury and Nikolai Gogol are in for a treat with this fast-faced, violent and uncompromising novella of terror.

Review:

Content warning: blood, ritual murder, sacrifice, and mutilation. I will briefly discuss these things in my next paragraph but will not go into detail about them.

Many of the items in that list happened before or after new scenes occurred. While this was firmly rooted in the horror genre for sure and did include some gory scenes, I was glad that so much of the rest of it was left up to the reader’s imagination.Filling in those moments for yourself can be so much scarier than having them all spelled out.

There’s more to Halloween than costumes and trick-or-treating in Leinster Village village this year.

Reading this novella was like eating a chocolate bar in the very best sense of that metaphor. I digested it quickly and enjoyed it for what it was without searching for a deeper meaning to it or anything like that. This was something that didn’t require analyzation or interpretation. It was simply a nice, scary distraction from everything going on the real world. Sometimes that’s exactly what a reader needs!

There were times when I had trouble keeping the dozens of characters straight. Some of them played pretty minor roles in the plot, so when they popped up again it often took me a while to remember who they were and how they might have been connected to the characters who were featured more prominently.

Small town life was captured nicely here. The characters I was able to keep good track of were connected to each other in multiple ways in many cases. I liked the way the many ways their lives overlapped was slowly revealed. It reminded me a lot of my own experiences living in small towns and how closely everyone’s lives end up intersecting regardless of whether they’re relatives of some sort or genetically unrelated to each other.

I would have liked to see more time spent on character development. While this was a heavily plot-driven tale and I certainly wouldn’t have expected it to be as introspective as something character-driven, it still would have been nice to get to know the main characters on a deeper level. They tended to be boxed into specific roles. While this isn’t necessarily a bad thing in moderation, it happened so much in this particular story that I didn’t get to know the characters as individuals like I wanted to.

The witchcraft aspect was handled well. One thing I look for in speculative fiction books that include this topic is a sense that the author has put some thought into why they chose a witch as their antagonist. Rest assured there were excellent reasons for this decision that will be revealed later on in the storyline.

I’d recommend Ceremony of Ashes – A Horror Novella of Witchcraft and Vengeance to anyone who loves the dark side of the horror genre.

A Review of Terror Beneath Cactus Flats

Book cover for Seth Tucker's Terror Beneath Cactus Flats. Image on cover is of a desert with mountains in the backgroundTitle: Terror Beneath Cactus Flats (A Weird Western)

Author: Seth Tucker

Publisher: Self-Published

Publication Date: January 25, 2013

Genres: Science Fiction, Horror, Western

Length: 43 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author.

Rating: 3 Stars

Blurb:

Jed, the fresh faced deputy Marshall of Cactus Flats, finds himself put to the test as an unknown evil besieges the small town. In order to save the townsfolk, Jed will have to venture into the old abandoned mines and confront the evil awaiting within.

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

Some tags were left off of this post for spoiler reasons.

The west isn’t always as simple as it may seem to be.

There are so many things I want to say about the evil lurking in the abandoned mines, but I really need to leave those details up to you to discover for yourselves as brand new readers of this tale. This device works best when someone has no idea what Jed’s about to find or why it’s so dangerous. Honestly, that’s one of my favourite types of horror. There’s something even scarier than usual about wandering into a storyline with no idea of what is to come in it.

I would have liked to see more time spent on the world building. Mr. Tucker introduced some fascinating concepts, but they weren’t fleshed out like they could have been. Obviously, I wouldn’t expect a short story to include as much world building as a full-length novel, but there was a lot of room here to explain everything more clearly.

Jed was such a likeable guy. He was from a time and place that had strict rules governing everyone’s roles in society. Sometimes those roles poked through the plot in ways that were important to the plot but might also go against the sensibilities of some readers. Seeing how he reacted to them made a great deal of sense. Of course the culture he grew up in affected the way he thought about others, but I also sensed a great deal of compassion and courage in him that had a big impact on how I interpreted those scenes.

If you love big plot twists, Terror Beneath Cactus Flats might be right up your alley!

A Review of Dollar Tales from the Morbid Museum: Creatures

Dollar Tales from the Morbid Museum- Creatures by James Pack book cover. Image on cover is of two lights shining in a dark forest. Are they eyes or headlights? Title: Dollar Tales from the Morbid Museum: Creatures

Author: James Pack

Publisher: Self-Published

Publication Date: April 23, 2019

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

Length: 49 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author.

Rating: 4 Stars

Blurb:

Welcome to the Creatures Exhibit. Visitors to the Morbid Museum seek the dark and twisted corners of the world. They are both terrified and intrigued by the unknown. Tales of killers, monsters, and madmen are curated by the Master of Death, Mr. Siris Grim. Mr. Grim collects the darkness that everyone attempts to hide and displays it within the corridors of his gruesome gallery. Who will be next to purchase a ticket and walk the halls of the Morbid Museum?

Review:

Horror fans, I have something special for you today!

As I mentioned in my review of An Imperfect Crime, Mr. Pack excels at taking perfectly ordinary characters and throwing them into situations they never could have anticipated. I love that plot device and was excited to see what he came up with this time.

There were a few tags I left off of this post for spoiler reasons. None of them were things that are commonly known to be sensitive topics, but I’ll happily discuss them privately with anyone who wants to verify if this is the right book for them. There were four stories in this collection, so I’ll give each one it’s own chance to shine in this review.

“The Harpy of Miller Road” began with a 911 call about a naked woman down the middle of a road. The fascinating thing about this emergency was how the 911 operator reacted to it. There’s so much more I want to say about this tale. It really captured the author’s writing strengths beautifully, especially when it comes to expecting his audience to do some of their own legwork to put all of the pieces together.

A man named Peter was questioned by the police after accidentally killing a stranger in “Disengagement.” I’m not normally the sort of reader who sympathizes with murderers, so it came as a bit of a pleasant shock to me to see how much I liked him and hoped the detective in charge of this case would somehow exonerate him. Did the facts seem to be turning against him quickly? Yes! Did that matter? No, not at all. Finding out what really happened and if Peter was as innocent as I hoped he would be made it impossible to stop reading this.

There’s honestly not much I can say about “The Hearing” without giving away the plot twists in it. Obviously, it’s about a hearing that will decide someone’s fate. David, the man in the centre of it all, was one of the friendliest folks you could imagine. The discrepancy between what he was accused of doing and how he behaved reminded me of “Disengagement.” There were so many similarities between the two that I did wish they could have been split into separate collections to keep readers from comparing them, especially since they were right next to each other in the page count. They’re both good stories. I just found it a little tricky to think about them without comparing them.

I’ll admit to being confused by “The Fall of the Foot” at first. There were a ton of characters running around in it and I didn’t immediately catch the cultural reference that was embedded in those scenes because it wasn’t something I knew much about growing up. That quickly changed once I caught up and realized just how cool it was to see these characters in a whole new light. Oh, how I wish I could tell you all who they were. Let’s just say that you’ll probably recognize them much faster than I did and that their adventures were well worth checking out.

If you enjoy this collection, I definitely recommend checking out the rest of the Dollar Tales.  Everything that I’ve read so far from this universe works perfectly well as standalone stories, but they’re even better when understood as a group.

Hopeful Science Fiction: A Sun Will Always Sing

Click on the tag “hope” at this bottom of this post to read about all of my suggestions for hopeful science fiction. If you have recommendations for future instalments of this series, I’d sure like to hear them. Leave a comment below or send me message about it on Twitter.

Earlier this year I discovered the Better Worlds series, a science fiction anthology of short stories and films about hope that was published at The Verge in 2018. This is the seventh story from this anthology I’ve covered here, and I will eventually blog about all of them.

A Sun Will Always Sing

You might be able to guess what the cargo is already. It wasn’t something that was intended to be a twist ending, although I’ll still refrain from saying specifically what it was in this review.

I liked the fact that nobody dwelled on the environmental damage done to Earth. It was something only briefly hinted at, but everyone had already had ample time to accept the fact that climate change was real and that humans were responsible for it. The two major reactions people had to it were things I think all of you should discover for yourselves. Yes, they were both hopeful, so no worries there.

With that being said, I found the terminology in this tale to be confusing at times. Some words were references to real things in our world, while others were created entirely for this universe to explain how society had evolved. It wasn’t always easy to tell those two apart which made figuring out what was going on tricky when the narrator didn’t explain themselves fully.

Keep a search engine handy when you read this and look up any word you can’t figure out from context clues. The spoilers for future plot twists are minimal to non-existent in most cases, and they’ll make it all easier to understand if you get stuck.

I still enjoyed the storytelling quite a bit, however. The narrator wasn’t human, so their understanding of our species could be humorous at times. I would have loved to hear what else they had to say about us and our idiosyncrasies in a longer version of this tale, although we really did get everything we needed from what the author wrote.

The ending was immensely satisfying. It reminded me of how hopefully Star Trek episodes would end during The Original Series or The Next Generation to give a fair comparison that won’t share any hints about what actually happened in the final scene.

This is feel-good science fiction at its best. I had no idea a pandemic was coming when I first began the Hopeful Science Fiction series, but it’s such a positive thing to focus on at the moment. May you all find as much peace in this and every instalment of it as I do.

Oh, and this story was also made into a short film. It contains spoilers, but it’s a good option for anyone who found the terminology a bit confusing like I did or who prefers visual storytelling. 

Happily Ever After: A Review of A Tale of Two Princes

Book cover for A Tale of Two Princes. Image on the cover is of a young woman lying in a bed with a frog sitting on her chest and shoulder.Title: A Tale of Two Princes

Author: Victoria Pearson

Publisher: Self-Published

Publication Date: January 1, 2014

Genres: Fantasy, Romance, Contemporary

Length: 36 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author.

Rating: 3.5 Stars

Blurb:

Sleeping Beauty meets The Frog Prince in this short but perfectly formed modern fairytale re-telling.
Doctor Prinze is happy in his secretive job at a very unusual hospital. He takes pride in asking unfussed questions however strange the patient seems when they get wheeled through his door, and he is content going home to his gadgets and uncomplicated quiet.
His simple life is turned upside down when Dr Prinze is asked to make room on his ward for some potentially contagious visitors, and everything changes forever.

Review:

Now is the perfect time for a fairy tale romance.

Both of the narrators had clear, well-defined voices. I could always tell who was speaking which is crucial when you have two narrators sharing limited space in a short story. This is definitely a good example of how to pull that sort of writing off successfully!

One thing I did want to note about this tale had to do with how the adult male characters reacted to a fifteen-year-old girl they found attractive. To be fair, traditional fairy tales are often filled with material like this, there were discussions about the inappropriateness of their interest in her, and she was never harmed. But this is still something I thought I should note in my review in a non-critical manner so that readers who are sensitive to this topic can decide for themselves whether it’s the right choice for their reading lists.

The plot twists were well done. There were references to several different fairy tales in the storyline, and they were all honoured while still giving a modern approach to how their adventures would play out in our era. I especially liked the way the Doctor Prinze and the rest of the hospital staff tried to find scientific explanations for the magical events that changed their patients’ lives. If only I could say more about that without giving away spoilers.

I would have liked to see more attention paid to how this hospital acquired new patients. Yes, Doctor Prinze was under strict confidentiality orders, so I could understand why that would prevent him from sharing certain world building details with the readers. With that being said, it did feel a little odd to me to suddenly hear about new patients coming to his facility without having any idea  how they were discovered or who sent them there. Even a couple of paragraphs explaining how this worked would have been enough for me to bump it up by a star.

The ending was as logical as it was satisfying. I was the sort of kid who always had a million questions about why certain fairy tales ended the way that they did, especially when it came to Sleeping Beauty. The fact that the author seemed to have similar questions about the original only made her version of it better.

A Tale of Two Princes could be a good place to start if you’re looking for something that is simultaneously light and fluffy while also remaining surprisingly true to traditional forms of storytelling for this genre.

Hopeful Science Fiction: The Burn

Click on the tag “hope” at this bottom of this post to read about all of my suggestions for hopeful science fiction. If you have recommendations for future instalments of this series, I’d sure like to hear them. Leave a comment below or send me message about it on Twitter. Earlier this year, I discovered… Read More

Military Science: A Review of 1NG4

Title: 1NG4: A Long Short Story Author: Berthold Gambrel Publisher: Self-Published Publication Date: January 11, 2019 Genres: Science Fiction, Mystery, Young Adult Length: 51 pages Source: I received a free copy from the author Rating: 5 Stars Blurb: Gunnar is part of a team studying a powerful new energy source aboard the seaborne platform Ryojin.… Read More

Safe Haven: A Review of Everfair

Title: Everfair Author: Nisi Shawl Publisher: Tor Books Publication Date: 2016 Genres: Fantasy, Alternate History, Steampunk Length: 384 pages Source: I borrowed it from the library. Rating: 3 stars Blurb: From noted short story writer Nisi Shawl comes a brilliant alternate-history novel set in the Belgian Congo. What if the African natives developed steam power… Read More

A Review of Beyond Death – Tales of the Macabre

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… Read More

Endless Memories: A Review of The Deep

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.… Read More