Category Archives: Science Fiction and Fantasy

One Look Back: A Review of During the Dance

 

During the Dance by Mark Lawrence book cover. Image on cover is a silhoutee of a ballet dancer with two arms and one leg up in the air.Title: During the Dance

Author: Mark Lawrence

Publisher: Self-Published

Publication Date: July 4, 2014

Genres: Fantasy, Paranormal, Contemporary, Historical

Length: 9 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author.

Rating: 2.5 Stars

Blurb:

A story of love, loss, and the dance in between. Absolutely not a romance.
A short story about a child with a gift for seeing past the world.

Review:

Content warning: Death of a child. I will not be discussing it in my review.

Memories are the gateway to the past.

The writing itself was lovely. Without wandering into spoiler territory as it would be easy to do for something of this length, this was set in the narrator’s past as well as his present. He glided between them effortlessly, and his descriptions of his early childhood memories in a low-income but nurturing family often made me smile. There were some hints about exactly when this was set, but I appreciated the fact that the author left the precise decade up to interpretation. That along with the poetic framing of the scenes made it feel timeless in the best possible interpretation of that word.

Unfortunately, there were several tantalizing and important clues that were never developed. While I’d certainly understand if some of them were left up to the reader’s imagination due to how young the narrator was when the earliest events of this tale took place, it was confusing for me as a reader to not have enough information to put everything together. I spent most of these nine short pages convinced that the things the child was seeing were a warning or threat of some kind because of how often they seemed to appear right before something bad happened. It was perplexing to never get confirmation or denial that this theory might be the right one.  This would be a great jumping-off point if the author ever decides to write a sequel.

I appreciated what this story had to say about grief and loss. While the first pangs do tend to ebb with time, there is no expiration date on those emotions. Sometimes they can pop up again years later when something unexpectedly stirs up an old, half-forgotten memory. Mr. Lawrence did well at showing how suddenly these moments can happen and how they affect someone who wasn’t planning to spend their day reliving the past.

Yes, this review is a bit vaguer than my usual fare, but During the Dance really is something that should be leapt into without any spoilers in advance. If anything I wrote here tickles your fancy, I’d recommend reading it for yourself and coming up with your own conclusions.

Placid Revelations: A Review of The Lake

The Lake by Tananarive Due book cover. Image on cover is of lightning striking a lake in the middle of the night. Title: The Lake

Author: Tananarive Due

Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin

Publication Date: August 11, 2011

Genres: Science Fiction, Horror, Contemporary

Length: 21 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author.

Rating: 4 Stars

Blurb:

A free short story taken straight from the pages of THE MONSTER’S CORNER, an all original anthology from some of today’s hottest supernatural writers, featuring stories from the monster’s point of view.

In THE LAKE, Abbie LeFleur, a lifetime Bostonian, who hides her scales, webbed feet, and an incredible hunger for people, has relocated to Graceville to start her life anew when she sets her eyes on a young student in her English class.

Review:

Every town has its own unique way of doing things.

Abbie’s character development was well done, especially given the short length of this piece. I loved picking out new clues about how she was changing as she adjusted to her new job and home. Sometimes they were subtle, but they always made sense given who she’d been in the beginning.

There was one small thing I never understood about this story, and it had to do with the way the citizens of Graceville reacted to a new person moving there. In my experience, secrets are nearly always quickly exposed in small towns whether they belong to the newcomer or those who were born there. It didn’t make sense to me that Abbie could have lived there for as long as she did without anyone stopping by to welcome her and give her advice. Whether or not this character would heed their warning was an entirely different manner, but I struggled to understand why it was never given in the first place.

The ending made me shudder. While this was firmly rooted in the horror genre, but it wasn’t bloody or gory at all. Instead, the author relied on hints about what might happen next to frighten her audience. I love this sort of horror and had a wonderful time imagining what a sequel might be like. If the author ever writes it, I’ll read it for sure!

The Lake is a solid summer read for anyone who enjoys psychological horror.

First, Do No Harm: A Review of Restore

Book cover for Restore Stories of Singularity #1 by Susan Kay Quinn. Image on cover is of a white robot staring off into the distance. Title: Restore – Stories of Singularity #1

Author: Susan Kaye Quinn

Publisher: Self-Published

Publication Date: May 2, 2015

Genre: Science Fiction 

Length: 42 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author.

Rating: 2.5 Stars

Blurb:

Restorative Human Medical Care Unit 7435, sentience level fifty, is happiness level five out of ten to serve and heal the human master it loves. But Unit 7435 finds there is a price to be paid for love… and for failing in its primary mission. 

Restore  is a standalone short story that takes place in the world of the Singularity novels. 

Start the novel series with The Legacy Human (Singularity 1).

Review:

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

A happy medical care unit is a productive medical care unit.

I liked the fact that Restorative Human Medicine Care Unit 7435 had such a distinct personality. This wasn’t something I was expecting to find, especially based on my first impression of this bot who originally came across as someone who followed strict protocols with no room from deviation. This changed once 7435 decided to identify as female for the day and began receiving commands that were in direct opposition to her programming. (Medical care units in this universe can alter their gender presentation and preferred pronoun based on what makes their patient most comfortable)

With that being said, I struggled with the thin plot. It was difficult to remain interested when so little was happening, especially since 7435 had such a limited understanding of anything other than the various types of psychological and physical medical care she was programmed to provide to her patients. She was an interesting protagonist for sure, but developing a well-rounded storyline from someone whose perspective is naturally so limited is tough.

The world building was otherwise well done. My curiosity was piqued by the differences between legacy and ascender humans in this universe. The narrator knew just enough about this topic to keep me wondering why humanity decided to branch off in these ways and what other ways the two groups might be distinct from each other that a medical bot wouldn’t necessarily be aware of.

I’d recommend Restore to anyone who is a big fan of stories about artificial intelligence. 

Bedroom Battle: A Review of The Teddy Bear’s War

The Teddy Bear's War by Alex Cross book cover. Image on cover is a drawing of a teddy bear holding a sword. Title: The Teddy Bear’s War

Author: Alex Cross

Publisher: Self-Published

Publication Date: January 17, 2021

Genres: Young Adult, Fantasy, Contemporary

Length: 9 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author.

Rating: 5 Stars

Blurb:

Every little kid is afraid of the dark in some way. The unknown scares us all to some extent. John is no exception. Is there a monster under the bed? A ghost in the closet? Or something else…something we don’t even have a name for? Luckily for John, he has someone looking out for him. When the thing in John’s closet goes bump in the night, it has to go through a Teddy Bear first.

Review:

Bedtime is anything but restful for this bear.

Teddy Bear was an incredibly brave toy. While John slept, he was responsible for protecting the boy from anything that might cause him harm. The reasons why Teddy Bear had taken on this role and what would happen if he failed were fascinating and well developed. I can’t go into more detail about them than that for spoiler reasons, but I was thrilled with how the author explained it all.

I also adored this story’s explanations for where nightmares come from and why they can be so terrifying, especially for kids. Not only did they make perfect sense for the plot, they made me wish that our world worked this way as well.

While I enjoyed every word of this story, the ending was particularly meaningful. It resolved all of the most important plot points while also leaving plenty of room for a sequel if the author ever decides to write one. I loved getting to know these characters and would be first in line to revisit them if we ever get a chance to see what John and Teddy Bear get up to as John grows older and Teddy Bear grows even wiser than he already is.

I can’t recommend The Teddy Bear’s War highly enough! It made my heart sing.

Hidden in Plain Sight: A Review of The Fact of the Matter

The Fact of the Matter by Madeleine L'Engle book cover. Image on cover is a stylized design of a plant that is just about to bloom.

Title: The Fact of the Matter

Author: Madeleine L’Engle

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

Publication Date: April 21, 2020

Genres: Fantasy, Paranormal, Horror, Historical

Length: 21 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author.

Rating: 3.5 Stars

Blurb:

Enjoy this free short story from award-winning author Madeleine L’Engle’s newest book, The Moment of Tenderness, a collection of 18 short stories, some never before published.

It was a frigid winter day when Old Mrs. Campbell stormed into the Franklins’ general store, decrying the devilish nature of her daughter-in-law-a sentiment that deeply disturbed Mrs. Franklin, considering the woman in question, Alicia, was oft described as “saintly” by everyone around her.

When she leaves the store in a huff, Mrs. Franklin thinks she’s done with Mrs. Campbell’s ravings for the day-until the woman calls her late in the night, urgently demanding to see her.

Blending elements of fantasy and horror, what transpires between the two women over the course of the evening will test the boundaries of reason, faith, and family-and prove that, in times of great danger, even strangers can come together to help one another in need.

For more stories by Madeleine L’Engle, read The Moment of Tenderness, available now.

Review:

Is Mrs. Campbell telling the truth or is she making up stories?

My first impression of this tale was that it might have been a character study of Mrs. Campbell. She had a strong personality that tended to command a great deal of attention from everyone around her. While she was definitely the most memorable character in this cast, what she believed was happening to her at home quickly became even more interesting than she herself was.

I was confused by the ending. Some parts of it were foreshadowed earlier on, but one of the most important aspects of it suddenly appeared out of nowhere. I can’t go into more detail about it than that without giving away spoilers, but I do wish it had been developed better. The parts I understood were delightful.

To be perfectly honest, the word in the blurb that grabbed my attention first was devilish. Was Mrs. Campbell using this term figuratively or literally? What was her daughter-in-law really like? There were so many different ways to interpret that one little word that I immediately needed to find out which one the narrator might discover as she got to know Mrs. Campbell better. I was completely satisfied with how this part of the plot was written.

Anyone who enjoys it when an author mixes several genres together should check out The Fact of the Matter.

Myths Come to Life: A Review of Ambush Predators

Title: Ambush Predators – a Post-Apocalyptic Urban Fantasy Short Story Author: Marina Ermakova  Publisher: Self-Published Publication Date: September 30, 2020 Genres: Science Fiction  Length: 18 pages Source: I received a free copy from the author.  Rating: 3 Stars Blurb: Mythical carnivores that prey on humans…and the researchers who study them. New graduate student Jordan begins… Read More

The Last Minute Decision: A Review of Clocking Time

Title: Clocking Time Author: Mark McClure  Publisher: JFR Publishers  Publication Date: October 31, 2020 Genres: Science Fiction, Young Adult  Length: 31 pages Source: I received a free copy from the author Rating: 4 Stars Blurb: Two teenagers share a secret superpower: clock jumping. Confined to his house by the authorities, remote viewer Briann enters into… Read More

A Review of Apeiorn – Tales of an Argonaut 1

Title: Apeiron – Tales of an Argonaut 1 Author: M.P. Cosmos Publisher: Self-Published Publication Date: November 28, 2020 Genres: Science Fiction  Length: 25 pages Source: I received a free copy from the author.  Rating: 3.5 Stars Blurb: “It’s the 20th millennium. Humankind has extended throughout the galaxy fighting against alien species to earn its place.… Read More

Lost but Not Alone: A Review of Boo and the Boy 

Title: Boo and the Boy – A Ghost Story Author: Wayne Barrett Publisher: Self-Published Publication Date: October 23, 2020 Genres: Middle Grade, Fantasy, Paranormal, Horror, Contemporary  Length: 24 pages Source: I received a free copy from the author.  Rating: 5 Stars Blurb: In the heart of the Mojave Desert, a little boy wanders, lost and… Read More

Murky Moments: A Review of Fragments

Title: Fragments – A Collection of Short Stories Author: Jachrys Abel  Publisher: Self-Published Publication Date: November 21, 2020 Genres: Literary Fiction, Science Fiction, Paranormal, Contemporary, Historical, Futuristic  Length: 40 pages Source: I received a free copy from the author  Rating: 3.5 Stars Blurb: Fragments explores various facets of humanity through eight short stories—each of different… Read More