Category Archives: Science Fiction and Fantasy

Second Chances: A Review of The Ghost of Beth’s Mother

The Ghost of Beth's Mother by Twylla Johnson book cover. Image on cover shows ghostly female apparition with a silk sheet blowing against her body. Title: The Ghost of Beth’s Mother

Author: Twylla Johnson

Publisher: Self-Published

Publication Date: February 20, 2021

Genres: Fantasy, Paranormal, Historical

Length: 12 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author.

Rating: 3 Stars

Blurb:

Beth was a homely little misfit girl who lived at the Maudlin Mary Magdeline Orphanage. She claimed her mother, who had passed away a year before, was constantly with her. A wealthy widow named Mrs. Stone decided to adopt her. Does Mrs. Stone get more than she bargained for? Is Beth and her mother a package deal?

Review:

Content warning: car accident, adoption, and references to the death of a parent. I will not be discussing these things in my review.

Every child deserves a loving home.

It’s rare for me to read a ghost story that genuinely makes me shudder, but this one accomplished that. I really enjoyed Ms. Johnson’s take on why spirits decide to haunt the living, what they’re capable of, and what happens if the living don’t take the wishes of the dead seriously. She put such a creative spin on these topics, and I’m saying that as someone who has read this genre regularly for many years.

There was very little character development in this tale. While the main characters were all briefly described to the audience, I didn’t get to know them well and never really saw many indications of them growing and changing as a result of their experiences. That’s obviously not easy to do in only a dozen pages, but I would have happily gone with a higher rating if the author had put as much work into this as she did with the unique plot itself.

The final scene was nicely written. It tied up all of the most important conflicts of the plot, but it also left plenty of space for the reader to imagine what might happen to Beth and the widow who adopted her next. My hope is that the author will someday write a sequel to it. If that doesn’t happen, I’ll also be perfectly content to return to this world through rereads and quietly thinking about these characters’ possible futures.

If you’ve been missing truly scary paranormal fiction, The Ghost of Beth’s Mother may be right up your alley.

Corporate Space Race: A Review of Loss Leader

Loss Leader by Simon Haynes book cover. Image on cover shows a woman's face superimposed on space rocks orbiting a planet.Title: Loss Leader

Author: Simon Haynes

Publisher: Bowman Press

Publication Date: May 1, 2010

Genres: Science Fiction

Length: 45 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author.

Rating: 2 Stars

Blurb:

After many delays and last-minute setbacks, the first colony ship leaves planet Earth for a distant star. Join the crew as they discover all is not as it seems…

Review:

Anything can happen during cryostasis.

The descriptions of how cryostasis worked in this universe were well done. That’s one science fiction trope that simultaneously fascinates me and freaks me out a little, so I liked reading about how these machines were designed to keep people alive during their long journey.

I had a hard time keeping track of and getting to know the various characters. There were only about half a dozen of them, yet the narrator spent such scant time exploring their personalities and interests that I’d struggle to explain what any of them were like outside of their willingness to take risks and possibly have an adventure. I definitely don’t expect the same level of character development in a short story as I do in a full-length novel, but I sure would have liked to get to know them better than I did here.

The foreshadowing at the beginning was handled well. It was obvious enough for the audience to quickly begin wondering what was happening behind the cheerful scene of the launch of the Glory. With that being said, it was also subtle enough for me to understand why the characters were able to brush certain danger signs aside and prepare for their mission. They certainly had other explanations for what was going on that wouldn’t have alarmed them in the least.

As excited as I was about the premise of this story, the plot holes were too numerous and serious to ignore. I won’t say what the twist was, only that it was something that required the cooperation of a large number of people in order to have any hope of happening. The storyline was also inconsistent about explaining how the technology in this futuristic world worked, who had access to it, and what they were and weren’t capable of doing with it.  These were all things that were imperative not only for the storyline but for the genre as well. The premise itself was a fantastic one, but the execution of it would have benefitted from a much stronger emphasis on how it would all logically fit together.

The ending left plenty up to the imagination. It was never quite clear to me if the author intended this to be read as a serial or simply wanted his audience to have a chance to imagine what happened next for ourselves. I personally like being left to my own devices after a certain point in the plot, so it was cool to close my eyes and picture what might have happened next.

I’d recommend Loss Leader to die-hard fans of this genre.

A Muddy Quest: A Review of The Storm

The Storm by Alex Cross book cover. Image on cover shows lightning and wind near a grove a trees during a violent thunderstorms.

Title: The Storm

Author: Alex Cross

Publisher: Self-Published

Publication Date: January 2, 2021

Genres: Fantasy, Historical

Length: 10 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author.

Rating: 5 Stars

Blurb:

A storm rages in the night. A dark and perilous journey through the southern forest. Doran races against time. Will he make it or will he be too late? The night is filled with danger, but Doran must drive on in order to succeed. He must succeed. If he doesn’t, then who would he really be?

Review:

Content warning: kidnapping, murder, theft, and blood. I will not be discussing these things in my review.

A forest isn’t generally the best place to be during a heavy thunderstorm, but there’s an exception to every rule.

Doran’s character development was excellent. Due to his profession, my first impression of him was of someone who was incredibly skilled at what he did but whose personality was a little flat. While it took a little while to get to know him better, I couldn’t have been more wrong about that! There were so many layers to his personality that weren’t apparent at first. I’m glad I kept reading and got to know him better.

Intellectually, I knew that wandering around in a forest during a thunderstorm is dangerous, but I’d never spent much time thinking of the many reasons why this is true. It was fascinating to read the long list of reasons why Doran’s travelling through this rough terrain so carefully even though he was at the peak of his physical and mental fitness. These facts were shared in so much detail for reasons I’ll leave up to other readers to discover for themselves.

This was the second story I’ve read from this author so far, and I’m just as impressed with his work as I was the first time around. Mr. Cross has a knack for coming up with plot twists that are as exciting as they are clever. He has a marvellous imagination and knows exactly how to use it to surprise his audience. Based on how much I’ve enjoyed Mr. Cross’ work, I will definitely be keeping an eye out for more of his stuff in the future.

If you haven’t read any of Mr. Cross’ work yet, The Storm is the perfect place to start.

Sweet Sleuthing: A Review of Junkyard

Junkyard by Lindsay Buroker book cover. Image on cover is of a spaceship flying above a forest and below a large moon above the planet. Title: Junkyard (a Fractured Stars Novella) 

Author: Lindsay Buroker 

Publisher: Self-Published

Publication Date: January 5, 2019

Genres: Science Fiction, Mystery

Length: 81 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author.

Rating: 3.5 Stars

Blurb:

McCall Richter works as a skip tracer, tracking down criminals, con men, and people who stop making payments on their fancy new spaceships. 

Her job description says nothing about locating vast quantities of stolen maple syrup, but thanks to her helpful new android employee, she finds herself tramping through a “sugar house” on a frosty moon full of suspicious characters. The only witness to the crime? The junkyard dog next door.

Junkyard is a stand-alone novella set two years before Fractured Stars.

Review:

Talk about a sticky situation! 

It only took me a few scenes to find McCall endearing. She was an independent person who knew exactly what she wanted out of life. I was intrigued by the quirkier aspects of her personality, too, and was eager to get to know her better. The short introduction to her was more than enough to whet my appetite for more from this character and series. 

I would have liked to see more time spent developing the mystery elements of the plot. The basic structure of it was there, but it was so simplistic that I didn’t have to put much effort into sorting everything out at all. There was a lot of space here to add nuance to the question of what happened to the maple syrup and who might have been responsible for the theft of it. This was the only thing preventing me from giving this tale a higher rating. 

Some of my favourite scenes were the ones that showcased McCall’s relationships with Scipio and the other non-human creatures she spent a lot of time around, especially given how much she struggled to relate to other humans at times. It was marvellous to see her relax and enjoy the company of a select few companions who understood her so well. I’d love to see more of this later on in this series if it happens to be included there. 

Junkyard would be a good read for fans of both the science fiction and mystery genres. 

A Review of This Time Around – A Canadian Werewolf Story 

This Time Around - A Canadian Werewolf Story by Mark Leslie book cover. Image on cover shows a city skyline at night. Superimposed on that photo is a photo of a wolf's head that's superimposed on a maple leaf in front of a full moon.Title: This Time Around – A Canadian Werewolf Story

Author: Mark Leslie

Publisher: Self-Published

Publication Date: February 16, 2013

Genres: Fantasy, Contemporary

Length: 70 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author 

Rating: 3.5 Stars

Blurb:

Caught Between the Moon and New York City 

Being a werewolf isn’t all about howling at the moon.

Or running carelessly through boundless fields feeling the wind in your fur.

Not when you live in the most populous city in the US.

For Michael Andrews, a Canadian living in Manhattan and afflicted with lycanthropy, there are odd side effects to being a werewolf in the middle of a bustling metropolis.

Such as waking up naked in Battery Park with absolutely no memory of the night before as a wolf and trying to figure out why there is a bullet hole in his leg.

Just another day in the life of a man living with the odd side effect of his werewolf affliction.

(This 10,000 word short story is the original short story written by Mark Leslie that eventually inspired the full length Mark Leslie Novel: A Canadian Werewolf in New York)

Review:

Content warning: blood and brief violence. I will briefly mention the former in my review.

If you think you know what it’s like to be a werewolf, think again. 

Humour wasn’t necessarily something I was expecting to find when I began reading about Michael’s adventures here, but it was exactly what he and I both needed. Some of the scenes were subtly humorous in ways that nodded at Canadian culture. While they certainly had universal appeal as well, it was nice to see the author acknowledge his character’s background like that. 

The only thing that held this story back from a much higher rating were the typos in it. I can ignore the occasional grammatical or punctuation error, but they happened so often here that I felt compelled to mention them. With another round of editing, this would have easily been a five-star read for me. I loved everything else about it. 

This was such a unique take on werewolves. The plot showed how Michael coped after waking up naked and covered in blood in a park after spending his night in his wolf form. Obviously, that’s not the ideal way to start anyone’s day, and somehow things only became more complicated for him from that point. I was immediately sucked into his quest for clothing and, eventually, answers about what happened to him the night before. The author went into the perfect amount of detail about what this sort of experience is like for a shifter and how many different things they must consider as soon as they revert to their human form. 

If you enjoy lycanthropy fiction, definitely do check out This Time Around – A Canadian Werewolf Story.

Unsettling Art: A Review of 300 Down

Title: 300 Down Author: Keith Minnion Publisher: White Noise Press Publication Date: January 21, 2021 Genres: Fantasy, Paranormal, Contemporary Length: 11 pages Source: I received a free copy from the author. Rating: 4 Stars Blurb: Arthur Hubbard just purchased another painting for his NYC art gallery: an Expressionist portrait of a red-headed woman in a… Read More

One Look Back: A Review of During the Dance

  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… Read More

Placid Revelations: A Review of The Lake

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… Read More

First, Do No Harm: A Review of Restore

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… Read More

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

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.… Read More