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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 girl encounters a bad-tempered dwarf. Enter within, where magic is found alongside the ordinary, and things aren’t always what they seem. Where curiosity leads to a nightmare. Where ashes have the power to transform. And where stolen mortals are doomed to be forever lost in the forest.


This is a collection of ten short stories that are all firmly rooted in the fantasy genre. One of the coolest things Joy did with them was to briefly explain where her ideas for them came from after the conclusion of each story. I always enjoy learning where writers find inspiration for their work, so I was excited to have a sentence or two of explanation before beginning the next tale.

The most effective way I’ve found to review anthologies like this one is to pick about three of the stories in them that most accurately represent the over-arching themes and writing style in my opinion, describe their plots in a spoiler-free sentence or two, and then share my impressions of them. If any of these mini-reviews grab your attention, I’d heartily recommend checking out the whole book.

The Forest of the Others

Grace’s father and younger brother had wandered into a mysterious, forbidden forest and never come home again in “The Forest of the Others.” Three years after their disappearances, Grace ignored her mother’s warning to stay away from those trees and went into the forest to see if she could find out what happen to them.

I sure would have liked to see better communication between Grace and her mom. These woods were such an irresistible place in this universe that I think Grace would have still gone into them even if her mother had been more clear about how dangerous they were. It felt a little odd to me for someone who had already lost two relatives to what should have been an innocuous patch of land to be so vague about what she thought happened to them or why Grace should never break this rule.

This is something I’m saying as someone who loved everything else about this story. The dialogue was fresh and crisp. Grace’s character development was handled wonderfully. Her experiences in the woods made me shudder, although I’ll leave it up to future readers to discover why. The world-building was really nicely done, too, especially when it came to the mixture of emotions Grace had about the forest she wasn’t supposed to visit. All I needed was for Grace to know exactly why that area was forbidden before she decided to break that rule anyway.

Stranger at the Crossroads

Some of the tales in this collection were so short and filled with plot twists that I need to be pretty careful what I say about them for fear of wandering into spoiler territory.  “Stranger at the Crossroads” was one of them. In it, a woman who was walking down the road with her donkey met a stranger who wasn’t at all what he appeared to be.

Does this sound like a mystery or possibly something from the horror genre? Well, it wasn’t. The main character was such a brave and kind soul that her reaction to the unnerving stranger at the crossroads was as pleasantly surprising as it was creative. I enjoyed this entire anthology, but I must say that she was my favourite character of them all. I couldn’t have asked for a better protagonist on that particular day and in that specific time and place.

An Unlikely Friendship

In “An Unlikely Friendship,” a young girl named Meg met a grumpy dwarf in the middle of the woods one day while she was out searching for edible plants to feed her family. Meg’s friendship with Nev, the dwarf, was unexpected but a nice distraction from the grinding poverty she, her widowed mother, and two older sisters had struggled with for years.  Yes, this story was one of the ones mentioned in the blurb!

Meg’s personality was nicely written. She’d been taught to be kind to everyone she met. That’s a common trope in the fantasy and fairy tale genres, so I won’t go into much detail about it here. What was refreshing about this particular take on that lesson was how Meg reacted when it appeared that her kindness was not only going to be taken for granted but could very well lead her into a worse predicament than she’d been in when she was only poor and hungry.

This is the sort of twist to a genre that makes me want to come back for more.


Wednesday Weekly Blogging Challenge: Books I Keep Meaning to Read (But Haven’t)

Hosted by Long and Short Reviews.

I’m hoping to find plenty of interesting things to read in all of your lists this week! Mine was a lot of fun to put together.

Title and AuthorEchoes: The Saga Anthology of Ghost Stories by Ellen Datlow
What It’s About: The title says it all.
Why I Haven’t Read It Yet: Halloween is my favourite holiday, so I want to wait until we’re closer to that time of year before reading about spirits and hauntings.

Title and Author: In West Mills by De’Shawn Charles Winslow
What It’s About: The lives of various members of an extended and sometimes overly-close family between the years of 1941 and 1987.
Why I Haven’t Read It Yet: The library list for it has been ridiculously long. I’m nearly at the top of it now, though!

Migraine: A History by Katherine Foxhall

Title and Author: Migraine: A History by Katherine Foxhall
What It’s About: The title says it all.
Why I Haven’t Read It Yet: The release date for the library copies of this book keeps getting pushed back!  I’m on the waitlist for it, so I will have it eventually.

Title and Author: Becoming by Michelle Obama
What It’s About: The former First Lady’s life from birth to present day.
Why I Haven’t Read It yet: I actually have read some of it! I’ve been reading this memoir so slowly over the last few months because I want to savour every last word of it. Mrs. Obama is a wonderful storyteller.

Title and Author: Daughters of the West Mesa by Irene I. Blea
What It’s About: The murders and burial of eleven women and one fetus. This novel is based on a real case from Albuquerque, New Mexico. It was recommend to me by a fellow WWBC participant.
Why I Haven’t Read It Yet: My local library doesn’t have a copy of it. I’ve sent a request in that they buy it and am waiting for a response before I decide if or when to get my own copy of it.

Click here to read everyone else’s replies to this week’s question. The image below is the list of upcoming prompts for this blog hop.

Top Ten Tuesday: Books On My TBR I’m Avoiding Reading and Why

Hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl

I honestly don’t have much to say in the introduction to this post this week, so let’s jump straight into my list.

Title and Author: Networking for People who Hate Networking: A Field Guide for Introverts, the Overwhelmed, and the Underconnected by Devora Jack
What It’s About: The title says it all.
Why I’m Avoiding It: Most of the reason why I haven’t read this book yet is because there’s a long list for it at the library. I’m also a little worried about it being one of those “just pretend like you’re not an introvert and magically don’t get nervous!” sort of books.

Title and Author: Tell It to the Bees by Fiona Shaw
What It’s About: Two women falling in love in the 1950s in a rural British town.
Why I’m Avoiding It: I had major issues with certain plot twists in the film. I don’t know if the book followed the same path, so I’m a little hesitant to give it a try.

Title and Author: The Ministry of Truth: the Biography of George Orwell’s 1984 by Dorian Lynskey
What It’s About: Why George Orwell wrote the famous novel, 1984.
Why I’m Avoiding It: I’m trying to take a long break from the dystopian genre as a whole. I know I’m going to enjoy this book once I’m in the right frame of mind for it. Right now, I need lighter, fluffier tales.

Title and Author: Haben: The DeafBlind Woman Who Conquered Harvard Law by Haben Girma
What It’s About: The title explains it all.
Why I’m Avoiding It: As I said earlier, these days I’m more into short, fluffy reads. I’m saving this book for when I’m ready for something serious and thought-provoking again.

Title and Author: Suzanna by Irene I. Blea
What It’s About: Child marriage, desperate loneliness, and what I think may turn out to be an emotionally abusive relationship.
Why I’m Avoiding It: This book sounds like a powerful read, but I don’t think I can handle such heavy themes at the moment.

Title and Author: Wilder Girls by Rory Power
What It’s About: A F/F romance, a deadly disease raging through an isolated school, and the mystery of what might lie beyond the fence the students have been forbidden from walking past.
Why I’m Avoiding It: Just about everyone loves it. I’m simultaneously excited to read it and worried that it won’t live up to the hype for me.

If you’ve read any of these books, please do share your thoughts on them.

Should I Bring Back the Reader Questions Series?

Years ago, I occasionally answered reader questions about all sorts of topics. This is something I originally began doing because a friend of mine started doing it first.

The post that began this series on his site as well as some of the entries in it are no longer online so far as I can tell, but reading his answers to all of the questions people have sent in over the years has been fascinating.

My friend blogs about all sorts of topics: his chronic health issues, raising a (now-adult) child who has Down syndrome, photography, memories of his youth, U.S. politics, and the many theological and other changes his family has been through over the decades. The questions his followers send to him generally fit into one of these buckets, although sometimes people throw wild cards into the mix that probe parts of his mind he generally doesn’t share with the world.

Reason #1

One of the things I really like about my friend is how open he is to discussing just about anything with his readers. While I completely respect the wishes of some bloggers to stick to specific topics or to keep a firm line drawn between their online and offline selves, I think it’s interesting when they’re willing to open up to their audiences and talk about random things occasionally.  This is the first reason why I’m considering answering questions again.

Reason #2

This site has grown and changed so much since the last question in my series was published in 2015.

I know that most of my current readers weren’t following this site four years ago. With all of the new followers who have shown up over the last six months to a year, answering questions you come up with instead of what I think my readers are most interested in checking out might be a fun way for you to get to know me a little better.

What could we talk about?

  • Meditation (and how not to fall asleep during it)
  • Reading habits
  • Genres I love like science fiction
  • Genres I generally avoid and why
  • Stories from my life as a preacher’s kid
  • Life as an immigrant and dual-citizen
  • The writing process
  • Self-publishing
  • Demisexuality
  • Bisexuality
  • Polyamory
  • Fitness for people who aren’t athletic or good at team sports

Or anything else you’ve wondered about while reading my posts.

I’m a little nervous about sharing the link to some of my old reader question posts because of how much my writing style and choice of topics have evolved over the years, but click here or do a search for the term mailbag if you want to look through what people have asked in the past.

Reason #3

Change can be a good thing. As much as I want to go back and revamp some of my old posts, I’m proud of how willing I’ve always been to try new things and see what works. There have been times when certain types of posts flopped when I expected them to succeed. At other times, a post I didn’t think would do well still continues to draw in readers years later.

The Internet can be an unpredictable place at times. I’m ready to roll the dice again and see who is interested in reviving this series with me.


If you have questions, I’ll have answers. Leave them as a response to this post, fill out the contact form, or email them to interviews AT lydiaschoch DOT com.