Tag Archives: Book Reviews

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

Book cover for Regretfully Invited by Jan L. Mayes. There is a skull, books, candles, a quill pen, and a page filled with writing on the cover.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 micro-stories and flash fiction.

No zombies, vampires, or werewolves.

Delve into disturbingly haunting quick tales of murder, madness, and mayhem. Contained in a menacing atmosphere where all is not right in the world.

Included in this bundle:

Double Vision
Based on real events, where midnight visitors could be sinister or a quirk of vision.

Tubsy & The Trauma of Oz
Based on real life hideously shocking consequences of letting a girl’s favourite dolly perform in the school play.

The Grave of Gelert
Based on a visit to the real Gelert’s Grave in Wales, a tribute to the memory of when hasty deadly action brought sorrow.

Mary Annette
Based on the most terrifying teleporting real life marionette ever rejected by a child.

Tinnitus Study 421: Rotary
A 50 word flash fiction experiment that inspired the optimistic psychopath Doctor Bell.

Regretfully Invited
When an audiologist knows too much about Doctor Bell’s tinnitus cure experiments, he takes an unorthodox approach to eliminating them as a witness.

Disembodied
Inspired by real events where left feet keep washing ashore in the Pacific Northwest, but police have no idea who they belong to or where they came from.

Dreams of Debbie
Based on real events after the death of a sister, when a dream may be more than a dream.

Eye Eclipse
A father uses a rare solar eclipse for revenge, inspired by real events when a bystander videos a fatal accident instead of trying to save the child.

Ladykiller
Based on nightmares of an alien apocalypse, where oversleeping has deadly consequences.

Dad’s Death Bells
Based on real events after the death of a father, who might have ghosted back to give a murderous message or last good-bye.

Cofveve Pie
A Mom’s desperate plan to prevent her daughter’s wedding by serving the fiancé a “special dessert”, inspired by real events and the mystery of what cofveve means.

Napkins
Inspired by a big brother who decides to take things into his own hands to protect his sister from Mother’s abuse, but things don’t turn out exactly as planned.

Review:

Book content warning: Murder, torture, cancer, and death of a pet. 

Sometimes it only takes a moment for someone’s destiny to change.

Since I wasn’t familiar with the legend that “The Grave of Gelert” was based on, I went into it with no pre-conceived ideas of what might happen next. This was one of the shortest tales in this collection, and yet it was also the most satisfying. It had a clear beginning, middle, and ending. The fact that the dog, Gelert, was the only character whose named was mentioned only made me more interested in finding out what happened after the king who owned him noticed that the infant prince was missing.

One of the things I noticed happening over and over again in this anthology were that many stories spent precious little time explaining what was happening in them. While I do understand that flash fiction and very short stories in general need to get straight to the point in order to stick to its word counts, there were several times when I had trouble understanding what happened in a scene or what an ending was supposed to mean because of how briefly everything was described. I loved the concepts behind all of them, but this confusion was what ultimately lead me to choose a lower rating than I would have otherwise gone with. This was something that was most noticeable with “Tinnutitus Study 421: Rotary” and “Tubsy & The Trauma of Oz.”

My favourite tale in this collection was “Dreams of Debbie.” It happened shortly after a woman named Debbie died from an aggressive form of breast cancer. Her grieving relatives were struggling to come to terms with her untimely death, and their healing process was not going well. I deeply enjoyed seeing how the plot developed from this point. It was simultaneously satisfying as well as something that made me desperately wish for a sequel.

If you love being scared senseless, Regretfully Invited: 13 Short Horror Stories may be the perfect book for you.

 

An Imperfect Crime: A Review of The Ghosts Inside

Dollar Tales from The Morbid Museum: The Ghosts Inside book cover. There is a fuzzy photo of an amphibious, bidedal creature on this cover. 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 Pack titled Morbid Museum. This Dollar Tale is called The Ghosts Inside and features the original and extended versions of the story. Go inside the mind of a man who believes he is saving children by ending their lives. Will he kill again or will someone stop him from taking young lives?

Review:

Content warning: child abuse and the murders of children. I will not be discussing these things in my review.

This e-book contains two versions of the same tale. I found the first draft too short for my preferences, so I’ll be reviewing the extended version.

Not every serial killer is an evil genius.

One of the things I liked the most about this story was the fact that the antagonist behaved like an ordinary person. (Well, other than the murders he committed, of course). He wasn’t the strongest, smartest, fastest, or most cunning person around. If not for his awful hobby, he would have struck me as a perfectly average man. That was refreshing.

I found it tricky to keep up with the multiple narrators. It would have worked really nicely in a novella or novel, but the roughly twenty-five pages that the extended version had to work with simply wasn’t enough space for everyone to show the audience who they were and what they were about. Focusing so intently on the killer in the first version was a smarter decision. As much as I enjoyed many of the other changes the author made to the storyline once it was expanded, I do wish this part of it had carried through.

There were so many hints about the killer’s personality that I was able to gently tease out of the things he said and did. It was interesting to figure out what made him tick. While he wasn’t someone I’d ever want to meet on a dark street or anywhere else, I did like the way the author tried to explain why someone would commit such unforgivable crimes. This only became more true as I realized what the killer’s biggest weakness was and why it appeared to be something that he himself wasn’t necessarily aware of. I’ll leave it up to other readers to put these pieces together for themselves, but they did make for a satisfying experience.

Dollar Tales from The Morbid Museum: The Ghosts Inside was much darker than what I typically read. I think it would be best suited for people who enjoy crime fiction or dark science fiction.

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

Once Upon a Time: A Review of The Raven and Other Tales

  Title: The Raven and Other Tales Author: Joy V. Spicer Publisher: Self-Published Publication Date: 2019 Genres: Fantasy, Paranormal, Historical Length: 132 pages Source: I received a free copy from Joy Rating: 4 Stars Blurb: A raven appears on a cold winter’s night. An old woman helps a stranger find his way home. A young… Read More