Too Much Noise in a Empty House: A Review of The Estate Guards

Book cover for The Estate Guards by Kenny Wayne. Image on cover shows a three-story house that has lights shining through nearly every window. It is dark outside and lighting is striking the land behind the house and temporarily illuminating the sky. What a stormy night it is. Title: The Estate Guards

Author: Kenny Wayne

Publisher: Self-Published

Publication Date: October 1, 2023

Genres: Paranormal, Contemporary

Length: 29 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author.

Rating: 3 Stars

Blurb:

Kenny Wayne’s short ghost story, The Estate Guards, is the humorous tale of two brothers who can’t seem to keep from running afoul of ghosts.

Harley and younger brother James are providing security for an estate company at an eerie, old mansion whose elderly owners recently died in a tragic accident.

For the straightforward, down to earth, older brother Harley, it’s just a job. For younger brother James, who wants to be just like his older brother, it’s not so simple. Even though he would quickly say he doesn’t believe in ghosts, secretly he’s not so sure.

But after this particularly long night, any uncertainty he had about the existence of ghosts will be removed. The weird noises in the attic, and those upstairs bedroom lights that keep turning on and off by themselves are only the beginning. It’s the other strange late night occurrences that strips the last bit of doubt from James’ mind.

This night there will be strange enough occurrences to make even Harley a believer.

Review:

Dealing with ghosts is all in an honest day’s work, right?

The relationship between Harley and James was interesting, and I found myself wishing there had been more attention paid to the differences between them. It’s interesting to me to think about how wildly different siblings can be even though they were born to the same parents and more or less experienced the same sort of events growing up. Genetics are important, but they certainly can’t predict or explain anything as new readers will soon discover in this story.

I struggled to get to know all of the characters in this short story, especially since two of them were given most of the dialogue, but it was important to remain connected to everyone in order to understand the ending. There simply wasn’t enough space to develop everyone well enough for me to feel emotionally invested in what would happen to them. This is something I’m saying as a reader who normally loves both haunted house and humorous tales.

The humour took a little while to show up, but it was well worth the wait. I think this will be most appealing to readers who either come from a working class background or know a lot about such subcultures in some other way as the jokes weren’t always the sort of things generally included in funny tales about, say, doctors or lawyers. This was about salt of the earth sort of folks who quietly keep the world humming along without expecting or generally receiving any recognition of the myriad of things they do that ensure everyone has a safe and healthy life. The characters were hardworking and matter-of-fact which were exactly the traits they needed in order to make the ghosts believable and the twists worth a chuckle.

The Estate Guards made me smile.

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Wednesday Weekly Blogging Challenge: Funny Things I’ve Googled

Hosted by Long and Short Reviews.

Click here to read everyone else’s replies to this week’s question and to read everyone else’s replies to this week’s question and here to see the full list of topics for the year.

A distinguished little Yorkshire Terrier is lying on a white surface. The puppy is wearing black glasses and a black and yellow striped scarf. There is an opened book in front the puppy, and he is looking up as if we’ve just interrupted his reading. Here is a quick snapshot into the funny sorts of things I look up online.

This post is making me miss the search engines from years ago. I feel like the results these days are so tainted by ads and content written by chat bots that it’s much harder than it used to be to find genuine content, especially from non-commercial sites like blogs or small, quirky websites about hobbies, local news, favourite authors, and the like. May that change someday soon!

 

What I Asked:  Why are some people so argumentative online?

Why I Asked It: I’m a peacekeeper by nature, so it’s odd to me to run across folks online who not only seem to enjoy getting into arguments about often inconsequential matters but also actively seek them out. Sharing cool nature photos or telling Dad jokes seems like a much more amusing way to spend your free time in my opinion, but I accept the fact that not everyone is wired the way I am.

With that being said, I also reserve the right to step away from fruitless conversations about, say, what the best condiment in the world is.

 

What I Asked: Do pigeons hold grudges?

Why I Asked It: Toronto has a pigeon problem. They are so well-fed and have so few predators that their population is much larger than it would be if the land up here was all still swamps, meadows, and forests. This means that not every interaction a pigeon has with a person, a dog, or another pigeon is necessarily going to be a positive one.

Seeing them fight over dropped food or fly away in a burst of energy when an untrained dog lunges at them makes me wonder if they remember who bothered them in those moments and if they feel a little grumpy the next time they see that particular pigeon or dog in the future.

(So far as I could tell, pigeons are not like crows in this regard).

 

What I Asked: Why does Google think everything is a symptom of a terminal illness?

Why I Asked It: The first time I googled a minor symptom and this happened, I was a little nervous. Now I just roll my eyes and try to find results for a hangnail, headache, runny nose or other temporary annoyances that don’t assume the worst. You’d think the algorithm would choose the most likely answers, though, instead of focusing on the tiny percentage of people who might be far sicker than they think they are.

 

What I Asked:  How can I stop dreaming about stressful high school math and science tests?

Why I Asked It: I was curious because I keep having dreams about surprise math, biology, or chemistry tests I am in no way prepared to take despite the fact that I graduated from high school quite a while ago. (I was an average student in math and science, but they were not my favourite subjects by any means). Brains can come up with such vivid dreams sometimes, although sadly there doesn’t seem to be any scientific answers about why we dream about the things we do.

 

What I Asked:  Do pets know that they are adorable?

Why I Asked It: Because this is obviously critical information that all animal lovers must know. Also, I was curious to find out if other people’s dogs understand it when I tell them they’re cute and wonderful little creatures. I hope they do.

 

What I Asked:  Will the United States ever take over Canada? Will they enjoy poutine if they do?

Why I Asked It: Your population is about ten times larger than ours, after all, and we do have large swaths of land in Northern Canada that are filled with fresh water lakes and wildlife but are only very sparsely populated by humans due to how cold it is up there. With droughts happening in so many parts of the world and growing seasons lengthening in colder areas now due to climate change, it makes me wonder if the U.S. is going to decide that 50 Nifty United States isn’t enough for them.

As for the poutine question, all of the Americans I’ve known who have tried it have loved it. But I promise you can enjoy it without invading us. 😉

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Top Ten Tuesday: Quotes About Science


Hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl

A male Asian scientist wearing a face mask and peering through a microscope at something on a slide. Perhaps he is looking at a highly infectious disease?While all of my book reviews on this blog are about the speculative fiction genre, I read many other genres as well.

Nonfiction is a particular favourite of mine. It’s exciting to learn about everything from prehistory to astronomy to the latest medical breakthroughs in books.

Here are ten bookish quotes about science.

“We are just an advanced breed of monkeys on a minor planet of a very average star. But we can understand the Universe. That makes us something very special.”
Stephen Hawking

 

“The problem, often not discovered until late in life, is that when you look for things in life like love, meaning, motivation, it implies they are sitting behind a tree or under a rock. The most successful people in life recognize, that in life they create their own love, they manufacture their own meaning, they generate their own motivation. For me, I am driven by two main philosophies, know more today about the world than I knew yesterday. And lessen the suffering of others. You’d be surprised how far that gets you.”
Neil deGrasse Tyson

 

The scientist is not a person who gives the right answers, he’s one who asks the right questions.”
Claude Levi-Strauss

 

“Not only is the Universe stranger than we think, it is stranger than we can think.”
Werner Heisenberg, Across the Frontiers

 

“Questions you cannot answer are usually far better for you than answers you cannot question.”
Yuval Noah Harari, 21 Lessons for the 21st Century

 

“We can only see a short distance ahead, but we can see plenty there that needs to be done.”
Alan Turing, Computing machinery and intelligence

 

“I penetrated the outer cell membrane with a nanosyringe.”
“You poked it with a stick?”
“No!” I said. “Well. Yes. But it was a scientific poke with a very scientific stick.”
Andy Weir, Project Hail Mary

 

“In what terms should we think of these beings, nonhuman yet possessing so very many human-like characteristics? How should we treat them? Surely we should treat them with the same consideration and kindness as we show to other humans; and as we recognize human rights, so too should we recognize the rights of the great apes? Yes.”
Jane Goodall

 

“The more clearly we can focus our attention on the wonders and realities of the universe about us the less taste we shall have for the destruction of our race. Wonder and humility are wholesome emotions, and they do not exist side by side with a lust for destruction.

{Speech accepting the John Burroughs Medal}”
Rachel Carson

 

“It takes a fearless, unflinching love and deep humility to accept the universe as it is. The most effective way he knew to accomplish that, the most powerful tool at his disposal, was the scientific method, which over time winnows out deception. It can’t give you absolute truth because science is a permanent revolution, always subject to revision, but it can give you successive approximations of reality.”
Ann Druyan

 

If you’ve read any great books about any branch of science lately, I’d love to hear about them!

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A Review of What Love Survives & Other Stories

Book cover for What Love Survives & Other Stories by DB MacInnes. Image on cover is a snapshot of someone in a cheerful yellow sweater walking away from their cozy little stone cottage outdoors next to a lake in the evening. There are mountains in the distance and the sky is overcast. The land where they are walking is grassy, flat, and brown as this appears to be late autumn. It looks a little chilly given how the wind is blowing the grass around and how tightly the person has their weather wrapped around them. This feels a little desolate but also quiet and peaceful. I get the impression this person loves being out in nature alone at this time of day as night approaches and knows exactly how to get back home safely before nightfall as they will have their home in full view and only about a five minute walk away at most once they turn around. Title: What Love Survives & Other Stories

Author: DB MacInnes

Publisher: Balfour & Breck Press

Publication Date: February 15, 2022

Genres: Speculative Fiction, Paranormal, Contemporary, Historical

Length: 61 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author.

Rating: 5 Stars

Blurb:

Lovers in a room overlooking the North Sea, a missing boy on an island in the Hebrides, an itinerant saw-miller’s tragic accident in the forests of Argyle, these short stories–often with a historical and sometimes speculative flavour–offer a glimpse into a Scotland of magic and mystery. First published in literary magazines such as New Writing Scotland and Gutter, they have now been brought together in this haunting anthology.

Review:

Content Warning: Missing children, cancer, child being sent to orphanage, child being raised by a relative after the parents’ death, death of a child, divorce, job loss, disability, accidental injuries and deaths, alcoholism, and an affair.

Even quiet towns are filled with secrets if one listens long enough.

I thought I should give everyone reading this a heads up that these tales dabbled lightly with speculative fiction and paranormal themes. Most of their scenes could easily happen in our world, some could be explained with either supernatural or scientific perspectives depending on how you interpret certain key sentences, and a few were deeply rooted in the speculative fiction with no other rational way to interpret them. This is a writing style I happen to deeply enjoy, but it’s something I think should be shared in advance as not everyone feels the same way about stories that move so fluidly between genres.

The main character and his wife Clare struggled to look after their adult son, Jack, who was severely disabled in “What Loves Survives.” Many stories about children with disabilities focus on the early years, so I was intrigued to get a glimpse of what this can be like once a child grows up and ages out of so many of the governmental support systems that exist for those under the age of eighteen. It’s difficult to talk about the plot twists in this one without giving away spoilers, but I appreciated the protagonist’s realistic assessment of what his life was going to be like as well as the hope he cultivated while trying to do the best he could for his family.

One of the biggest strengths of this collection had to do with how the same themes popped up repeatedly. “The Boy Who Vanished” was the second-to-last instalment, and it reminded me so much of what I’d already read in a good way. Once again there was an innocent person in danger, a town that knew more than you might assume, and an ending that matched the beginning nicely. As the title so strongly alluded to, this was about a boy named Duncan who disappeared one snowy day and the people who still remembered him years later. The flow of the dialogue was especially smooth here as the characters discussed who this child was and what happened to him. It genuinely felt like I was eavesdropping on a real conversation and it made me want to read an entire book written from these characters’ kind and honest perspectives.

“The Sawmillers” began with a child accidentally getting lost in the woods on a chilly night. He was not quite old enough to think clearly in that situation, especially as the sun set and it grew even colder outside. I was intrigued by his predicament and wondered how he was going to get out of it as the adults in his life didn’t know where he was or even that he was in danger yet. While there were no grand plot twists in this tale, that didn’t matter. The journey and how clearly it was described to readers was what mattered, and I couldn’t stop reading until I knew how everything turned out.

What Love Survives & Other Stories was a fantastic introduction to this author’s work. I look forward to reading more.

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Wednesday Weekly Blogging Challenge: Stories I Wouldn’t Revisit and Why

Hosted by Long and Short Reviews.

Click here to read everyone else’s replies to this week’s question and to read everyone else’s replies to this week’s question and here to see the full list of topics for the year.

A closeup photo of about a dozen DVD cases, including cases for Friends, Pulp Fiction, Django, and several other films that don’t have English titles. The original topic for this week asked about books, films, and TV shows that I wouldn’t revisit. I’ve decided to pick one answer from each category.

Book

The Lord of the Rings trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien

Why? 

As much as I enjoyed seeing how everything ended, the pacing of this trilogy was too slow for me to ever revisit it. The long, flowery descriptions of the landscapes, settings, and characters painted a vivid picture in my mind, but they were also so numerous that I did find them a little tedious after a while given how much writing styles have evolved since this series was published.

(The films are still cool, though).

Film

Any action film ever.

Why? 

I do not enjoy this genre. On the rare occasion I watch one, it is usually to make my spouse happy instead of out of any innate desire to see a character break the laws of physics and defy the limits of human anatomy as often as tends to happen in these sorts of stories.

 

TV Show

Old sitcoms.

Why? 

The sexist and homophobic jokes in them. What may have been acceptable 30+ years ago doesn’t always age well in modern times. I do not judge others who can look past those things, by the way. I simply don’t find that sort of humour amusing and would rather watch something else instead.

 

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Top Ten Tuesday: Books About Dandelions


Hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl

When I was a child, it used to irritate me when people tried to prevent dandelions from growing or said negative things about this flower. Dandelions were the perfect flower in my mind for three reasons:

Photo of dozens of pretty little dandelions growing in a grassy meadow. 1) They are hardy and strong. In many parts of North America you can find them growing everywhere without any intervention or pampering needed by humans: ditches, rock gardens, by the side of the highway, in neglected yards, and anywhere else that had the bare minimum amount of soil, sunshine, and water.

2) They are nutritious. You can eat them, turn them into beverages like dandelion wine, or use them as medicine.

3) They are beautiful. I loved every stage of their development, from  unobtrusive little green shoots in the spring soil to friendly specks of yellow in a sea of grass to irresistible white puffs of seeds that would be blown off by the wind if people didn’t do it first.

There is something wonderful about plants that thrive under a wide variety of conditions and that have so many uses.

Here are ten books about dandelions.

1. Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury

2. Dandelion and Quince: Exploring the Wide World of Unusual Vegetables, Fruits, and Herbs by Michelle McKenzie

3. The Dandelion’s Tale by Kevin Sheehan

4.An Island in a Green Sea by Mabel Esther Allan

5. Andersen’s Fairy Tales / Johnny Crow’s Garden by Hans Christian Andersen

6. Dandelion, The Extraordinary Life of a Misfit by Sheelagh Mawe

7. Wicket and the Dandelion Warriors: An Ewok Adventure by Larry Weinberg

8. Ta by John Robert Russell

9. Little Dandelion Seeds the World by Julia Richardson

10. Barney Bipple’s Magic Dandelions by Carol Chapman

 

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A Review of Giving Up the Ghost

Book cover for Giving Up the Ghost by Dean Rasmussen. Image on cover shows a drawing of a ramshackle old house just after sunset. The sky above is cloudy and quickly turning black as the sun slips beyond view. One of the windows in the house has a red light glowing menacingly in it. Title: Giving Up the Ghost

Author: Dean Rasmussen

Publisher: Dark Venture Press

Publication Date: June 28, 2021

Genres: Paranormal, Contemporary

Length: 26 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author.

Rating: 3 Stars

Blurb:

A gripping paranormal thriller to rattle your nerves…

A protective nurse pays a visit to an elderly dementia patient as a hurricane arrives, but discovers she can’t leave after getting caught up in the patient’s delusions.

Hanging House: An Emmie Rose Haunted Mystery thriller author Dean Rasmussen presents a terrifying new supernatural suspense tale.

His books will leave you gasping for breath and craving for more!

Review:

Content Warning: A character who has dementia and is on hospice care. Brief references to trauma. A small amount of blood. A stabbing. Murder. Suicide. Hurricane. I will only discuss the trauma in my review, and I will not share any details about what caused it.

Time can’t heal all wounds.

We all have pieces of our pasts that we’d rather not think about too much for a wide variety of reasons. One of the strengths of this short story had to do with how it framed Edith’s past and explained the many quiet ways it continued to shape her personality even now that was at the end of her lifespan. Trauma can haunt someone for decades.  While I will leave it up to other readers to discover what it is about this character’s past that she has never been able to forget, these scenes were interestingly written and made me wish for a sequel that could dive into this topic even more deeply.

I struggled with many of the decisions Jennifer made, especially given that she was a nurse who presumably had a lot of experience working with patients who have dementia and reacting quickly in emergency situations. She did not seem to know how to stay calm or to think critically about the facts in a crisis. Yes, she was going through something frightening,  and I am not saying I’d expect anyone to always make the right choices when under so much stress. This would have made more sense to me as a reader if her occupation had been something that should not have been an asset under these circumstances.

With that being said, I enjoyed Edith’s character development quite a bit. It’s rare to find books about frail, elderly, dementia patients, so I was incredibly curious to see how she responded to what was happening during the hurricane as Jennifer continued to make poor decisions. Not only was she in a completely different stage of life than her nurse was, her emotional and intellectual responses were equally refreshing and surprising. I don’t want to give away any spoilers about what happened to Edith, but I will say that this portion of the storyline played around with many audience expectations and made me curious to read more from this author soon.

Giving Up the Ghost was thought provoking.

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Wednesday Weekly Blogging Challenge: Villains I’d Root for Instead of the Protagonists

Hosted by Long and Short Reviews.

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A topiary that’s been trimmed to look like a person. It has a big, round head and broad shoulders. Sometimes antagonists are more interesting than protagonists. I suspect it’s because, at least for some writers, villains have more freedom to say and do whatever they wish than characters who are supposed to set a good example for everyone.

Here are some villains that I liked better than the protagonists I was supposed to be rooting for in these stories and why I enjoyed them so much.

Spike from the Buffy the Vampire Slayer. 

He was a creative, emotionally intelligent, and hilarious bad guy. I also enjoyed seeing his character development over the seasons as he slowly learned how to be a slightly better vampire than he’d been before thanks to the time he spent with humans he liked among other reasons.

 

Gollum/Smeagol from J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings novels

As critical as it was for his gold ring to eventually end up in other hands for plot reasons, I felt terrible for Gollum when he was separated from his Precious. He’d lost everything else important to him in life, and the magical effects of the ring had warped his mind and body beyond repair over the many years he spent with it. The poor guy.

 

Wile E. Coyote from the 1950s children’s cartoon Looney Tunes 

I never wanted the roadrunner to be eaten, but I did wish that Wile E. could catch him just once!

 

The Blair Witch from the film The Blair Witch Project 

Think about it. The Blair Witch went off deep into the woods to live alone and would have been perfectly content to not have any contact with the outside world at all until the protagonists of this film decided to invade her territory and steal her possessions. This happened after the main characters had been warned by local townspeople to stay out of the woods, so it’s not like they were unaware they were wandering into danger.

While I certainly didn’t want anyone to get hurt, everyone would have been better off if this camping trip never happened. There was never any need for the Blair Witch’s privacy to be invaded, and I would have been annoyed, too, if I were in her shoes!

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Top Ten Tuesday: Petty Reasons You’ve DNF’d a Book Or Reduced Its Rating


Hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl

The phrase Game Over is written in bright neon lights.

I will not be sharing the names of any authors or titles in this post as I don’t want to make anyone feel bad.

1. They didn’t know the difference between hay and straw. 

Straw is used for animal bedding while hay is used for animal feed. If an author tries to feed nothing but straw to their cows, the poor creatures will not receive the nutrients they need to survive and I will not continue reading that tale!

 

2. They introduced way too many characters in the first chapter. 

I get overwhelmed by these things. By all means have dozens of characters if needed, but give me some time to take note of who they are before bringing more folks into the fold.

 

3. There is a terribly judgemental protagonist.

Realistically flawed main characters are so much more interesting to read about than perfect ones, but I quickly lose interest in protagonists in most cases if their main flaw is harshly judging other people. This is true even if I happen to agree that X is generally a good thing to do or that Y is generally not a good thing to do.

I’d rather have more love and acceptance in the world and in fiction.

 

4. The plot includes a love triangle.

I’m completely burnt out on this trope.

 

5. Character names are difficult to pronounce due to inconsistent spelling or pronunciation rules

If their names have been spelled or pronounced in ways that do not make sense or vary a lot from one name to the next, that is not the book for me unless the author is doing it on purpose and clearly explains why there are no consistent rules about such things in that universe. This is something that happens most often in the fantasy genre in my experience. I wish it didn’t happen so often.

 

6. Driving or walking distances are wildly unrealistic

If your character plans to drive from one side of Toronto to the other in a couple of hours, especially during rush hour or a blizzard when traffic is painfully slow and driving time can be much, much longer than that, I will shake my head and decline to read any further. There is no world in which this happens unless you’re writing a Star Trek novel and there’s a transporter involved.

Toronto is huge and full of congestion and construction projects for most of the year. The rest of time, it is almost always snowing, sleeting, or raining heavily. Characters who wish to speedily reach their destination through my city should either travel at two in the morning in January when there is zero precipitation or avoid this part of the world altogether.

 

7.  Anyone other than an antagonist is rude to someone to the service industry.

There are plenty of other ways to show a character is having a bad day and not being themselves when necessary. Rudeness, especially to folks who are often treated unkindly in real life and who make far too little money for all of their hard work, is not something I want to read about.

 

8. The pet dies.

Fictional pets should be immortal if you ask me!

 

9. Too many sex scenes.

It’s totally fine to include them if they’re an integral part of the storyline.

I’d prefer to replace the rest of them with scenes that are funny, dramatic, or propel the plot forward. Alternatively, the book could also be just a little shorter and that would be perfectly okay.

 

10. Text talk.

Unless there’s an excellent reason for a character to write or speak this way, I’d prefer them to communicate in full sentences or something close to that. They can use as much slang as the author wishes (although that can make a book feel dated pretty fast if you’re not careful), I just want them to speak or write in a way that doesn’t substitute numbers for letters or shorten words for no logical reason.

 

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Enough Time to Think: A Review of Sands of Time

Book cover for Sands of Time: A collection of thought-provoking stories by Beatrice C. Snipp. Image on cover shows a patchwork assortment of squares in all seven colours of the rainbow. The colours are arranged randomly, and a few squares have exclamation points or question marks written on them. Title: Sands of Time – A Collection of Thought-Provoking Stories

Author: Beatrice C. Snipp

Publisher: Self-Published

Publication Date: May 21, 2020

Genres: Science Fiction, Contemporary

Length: 40 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author.

Rating: 3 Stars

Blurb:

To anyone who might read this book. These few short stories are not written to entertain or pass away a short train journey. They are written to make your little grey cells work (Hercule Poirot). Hopefully they might make you think a little longer after reading. On time, space and human companionship to name but a few.

Review:

Content Warning: An accident resulting in blindness, secondary infertility, death, and murder. I will not discuss any of these topics in my review.

If you love stories that have morals attached to them, keep reading.

The blind protagonist in “The Smell of Death” discovered that they could smell death and predict in advance when someone was going to die. Just when I thought I had the entire storyline figured out, Ms. Snipp added a plot twist that made everything even better. While I can’t go into detail about it without sharing spoilers, I can say that it involved the main character discovering a new facet of their power and trying to decide what to do with it. What a wild ride this was, and I enjoyed every moment of it.

While I appreciated the brevity of them all, some of these tales were confusing to me due to how little time the author had to explain what was happening in them and what lessons she hoped the readers would take away from them. “Death So Near But So Far,” which followed four friends who reunited after the funeral of a fifth friend, was one such example of this. I would have loved to have more information about what was going on in their lives and how they had all lived to such ripe old ages.

As soon as I read the title of “Xenolith,” I knew I was in for a treat. That term refers to fragments of other types of rock that find themselves embedded in igneous rocks to which they should not be part of. I must be careful about how much information I share about the plot twists as this was a short piece, but seeing how the storyline quickly shifted to a talkative man named Eric who kept sharing nature facts with people who were terribly bored by that monologue made me curious to see what would happen next. The connection between the opening paragraph and the rest of it was as interesting as it was unexpected.

Sands of Time – A Collection of Thought-Provoking Stories was interesting.

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