Tag Archives: 2010s

Awkward Phases: A Review of The Usual Werewolves

The Usual Werewolves by Adam Bertocci book cover. Image on cover shows two people wearing thick black glasses looking shy and awkward as they stand in front of a full moon. The woman has red hair and the man is wearing a black and white checkered sweater. Title: The Usual Werewolves

Author: Adam Bertocci

Publisher: Self-Published

Publication Date: October 1, 2012

Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult, Romance, Paranormal, Satire, Contemporary

Length: 39 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author.

Rating: 3 Stars

Blurb:

Finally, a paranormal romance for people who hate paranormal romance.

Bookish outcast Serena is in love with the hottest guy in Holmwood High—a brooding young vampire who she just can’t get to bite.

Then on Halloween night she falls in with a new crowd. Nerds. Dorks. Werewolves. Soon she’s in for one long, crazy night, filled with all the pleasures of teenage life: dancing, talking, driving around, unexpected friendships and falling in love.

Award-winning writer and filmmaker Adam Bertocci has been praised by Entertainment Weekly, USA Today, The New Republic, GQ, The Wall Street Journal, The Guardian, Back Stage, Broadway World, E!, Maxim, IGN, Wired, Film Threat and more. In this touching and hilarious short story, he brings nostalgia, satire, emotion and wit to the most beloved genre in literary history.

Review:

Content Warning: Bullying.

Falling in love is the most important part of the high school experience…right?

Some of the most amusing scenes were the ones that leaned heavily into the teenage angst. Puberty is a confusing time, and that’s even more true for characters who are stuck in a paranormal romance and must decide whether they will live happily ever after with a vampire or a werewolf. Mr. Bertocci did an excellent job of showing how life-changing something like an unrequited crush feels for some high schoolers and well as how those same experiences are reinterpreted when someone is an adult. After all, teens are experiencing emotions like romantic love for the first time and therefore can’t yet compare them to previous relationships. Of course such a powerful and new experience will be all consuming! Who could ever expect anything less?

The ending was the only thing holding this short story back from getting a much higher rating from me. After a witty and sharp beginning and middle, I was disappointed by how quickly everything was wrapped up. There simply wasn’t the closure I needed in order to feel satisfied by this tale, especially when it came to Serena’s character development. She showed the audience a glimpse of the adult she could become only to ignore that character development in the final scene.

With that being said, I did appreciate the messages about bullying, friendships, and fitting in. Being a teenager is difficult, especially for teens who are having trouble making friends or figuring out where they belong. The narrator had quite a bit to say about these topics without ever sounding preachy about it. They simply acknowledged that these problems exist for many kids and nudged the readers gently into the direction of some tools that may help.

The Usual Werewolves was a fun riff on the paranormal romance genre.

 

Canadian Tidbits: A Review of Northern Gothic Stories

Northern Gothic Stories by Helena Puumala and Dale Olausen book cover. Image on cover shows green and yellow Northern Lights in the sky at night over a flat plain. There are a few mountains in the distance, too. Title: Northern Gothic Stories

Author: Helena Puumala and Dale Olausen

Publisher: Dodecahedron Books

Publication Date: December 19, 2012

Genres: Science Fiction, Fantasy, Mystery, Horror, Historical, Contemporary

Length: 123 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the authors.

Rating: 3 Stars

Blurb:

Do you like stories featuring aliens, legendary monsters, psychic children, mysterious disappearances, gamblers, cheats, murderers and perhaps old Beelzebub himself? Of course you do – who could resist?

Join two story tellers, a husband and wife team, while they spin pairs of yarns with similar themes and premises, but diverging and surprising plots. Which will you prefer? Take the plunge into the icy world of Northern Gothic Stories and find out for yourself.

Our first pair of stories, “The Magnetic Anomaly” and “The Boathouse Christ” involve tranquil northern lakes and the paranormal mysteries lurking below placid surfaces.

Our second set, “Beyond the Blue Door” and “A Dark Horse” feature mysterious disappearances, which might be natural, but more likely supernatural.

Our final set, “Take me out to the Ballgame” and “The Stalkers” deal with decidedly natural horrors – serial killers, their victims, and third parties who might be one or the other.

Though our stories have northern locales, they might happen anywhere; perhaps even in your quiet town.

Please note that these stories may contain scenes that some readers might find disturbing.

The six stories are each about 6000 words, for a total of about 36000 words. Each can be read in about 20 minutes to half an hour.

Review:

Content Warning: murder, blood, stigmata, emotional abuse, rape, incest, and references to the crucifixion of Christ. I will briefly discuss the sexual and emotional abuse in my review but will not go into graphic detail about them. I will not mention the rest of these topics.

Now is the perfect time to dig into Canadian stories.

In “The Magnetic Anomaly,” a geophysicist named Alex was flown to a remote location in the Barren Lands of the Northwest Territories for twelve weeks in order to take a magnetic survey with a small group of fellow experts and investigate something odd that was happening up there. I was surprised by how much foreshadowing was included here, and I wondered why the characters didn’t pay closer attention to it. With that being said, this was still an enjoyable read. The Canadian tundra was an excellent setting for such a mysterious experience.

The title of ”The Boathouse Christ” grabbed my attention immediately. Imagine finding a wooden image of Christ in a boathouse of all places! Terese, the 14-year-old daughter of the couple who had recently purchased the boathouse, prayed to the image which I thought was an intrigued touch given how that scene was used later on. There was a fairly large cast of characters in this tale, but they all played important roles in both the storyline as well as the author’s wholesome point about what a “real” Canadian in Northern Ontario should look and sound like. It was well worth the time I took to get to know all of them even though I was a little overwhelmed at first. I loved seeing so many perspectives on why some Canadian immigrants don’t feel like they fit in here at first, too.

I have previously reviewed ”A Dark Horse“ and so will not repeat my thoughts about it here.

Jenny was a lonely girl growing up in an emotionally and sexually abusive home in “Beyond the Blue Door” who vividly imagined stepping through a blue door to cope with her trauma. I must be honest here and say this was a tough read due to the subject matter. There was nothing I wanted more than to step into her world and help her escape it. Anyone who is able to read about such terrible things will discover a wonderful surprise at the end, though, so don’t give up if the beginning is difficult.

As soon as Reggie spotted Alison jogging past him in ‘Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” he was intrigued by her. I could see where this story was headed early on. Due to how easy it was to predict what would happen next and how disturbed I was by the content, I did not enjoy this piece. It was also hard for me to understand why certain characters did not pick up on red flag behaviour much earlier on in the storyline. This did not seem to fit their previous patterns of behaviour and so it confused me.

It was a dark and stormy night when Steve, a Toronto security guard, began planning his next murder in “The Stalkers.” I was wary of where this tale was going due to my dissatisfaction with the previous one that shared a similar theme. While this storyline included more plot twists, I still found myself wishing that more attention had been paid to how some of the characters reacted to unexpected events. The earlier descriptions of them once again didn’t match their later behaviour. Just like with “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” it  would have been helpful to have more character development so that I could tell if they were behaving in ways that were out of the ordinary for them or if these were simply parts of their personalities that hadn’t been revealed yet.

Northern Gothic Stories was an interesting mixture of Canadian fiction.

Changing Luck: A Review of Foreign Objects

Foreign Objects by Joshua Scribner book cover. Image on cover shows a well made of clay and covered in mostly-dead branches of a bush.Title: Foreign Objects

Author: Joshua Scribner

Publisher: Self-Published

Publication Date: February 24, 2015

Genres: Fantasy, Contemporary

Length: 7 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author.

Rating: 3 Stars

Blurb:

A young outcast, his struggles to survive, and the crucial objects that come into his life.

Review:

Content Warning: Bullying, physical abuse of a child by another child, violence, attempted kidnapping, attempted murder, murder. I will make allusions to them in my review.

Paying attention can be the difference between life and death.

Joel, the main character, had a difficult childhood to say the least. When I first met him, I was a little concerned by how negatively he spun everything, but I soon learned he had a good reason for reacting the world that way. Terrible things kept happening to him for reasons that neither he nor the audience understood. Of course anyone would learn to become suspicious under those circumstances! Given these facts, it made sense for him to behave the way he did, although I never gave up hope that he’d have easier days to come.

The fantasy elements of the plot were subtle and were not revealed until very late in the game. I found myself wishing that the author had been a little more straightforward about where he was going with this portion of Joel’s life. It played such an important role in his development that I would have loved to see it explained better even though I understood why certain details really did need to be saved for the end. From the perspective of a reader who wasn’t entirely sure what I’d gotten myself into, though, I would have given this a much higher rating if a clue or two about the ending had been dropped in one of the first few scenes. Obviously, I don’t expect the same amount of world building in seven pages of fantasy as one would find in seventy or seven hundred, but a little more would have gone a long way.

I must admit to having mixed feelings about the beginning and middle of this story because of how violent it was. It took a little bit for the narrator to explain why he was sharing so many traumatic events from his life, but once he did everything clicked into place for me. I appreciated the way he reframed his memories after the revelation at the end, and I’d be quite curious to read a sequel if one is ever written.

Foreign Objects was a wild ride.

A Review of Not Eligible for Rehire – A Cruise Ship Story

Not Eligible for Rehire: a Cruise Ship Story by Glenn McGoldrick book cover. Image on cover shows a close-up of dark blue ocean waves that look a little choppy. Title: Not Eligible for Rehire – A Cruise Ship Story

Author: Glenn McGoldrick

Publisher: Self-Published

Publication Date: October 25, 2018

Genres: Speculative Fiction, Contemporary

Length: 19 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author.

Rating: 2 Stars

Blurb:

A day in the life of a Casino Manager, working on a cruise ship in 2011.

Introducing Not Eligible for Rehire, a short story with a twist set on-board a cruise ship.

Brought to you by award winning author Glenn McGoldrick, creator of the Dark Teesside series.

Review:

Content Warning: drug use (marijuana). I will briefly mention it in my review.

Summer fun can have an eerie side to it.

Cruise ships are fascinating places. Hundreds or even thousands of strangers cram into them for a week or two only to go their separate ways and probably never see each other again after their trip ends. The only constant presence a cruise ship has is its crew members, and they rarely if ever share their stories with guests. The narrator did an excellent job of capturing what it must feel like to witness so many strangers on vacation and repeat the same patterns of entertainment, dining choices, and ports of call over and over again. I found myself wishing this was a full-length novel so I could follow Jack, a Casino Manager onboard one of these ships, through an entire season of work.

There were two issues that lead me to choose such a low rating for this short story. First, it had an abrupt ending that I found jarring. Second, that it hinted at a possibly paranormal or other speculative fiction explanation for what was going on here, but all of the hints were so vague I was never certain they were how the author actually intended readers to interpret those scenes. The writing was otherwise well done, so it was disappointing to have to give so few stars for it. I would have eagerly gone with a much higher rating if I had a better idea of what was actually happening.

With that being said, I enjoyed seeing how Jack reacted to a report of possible drug use among his employees. It was obvious to me that he cared about his crew members quite a bit but also had high standards for their behaviour and expected everyone to follow the rules. His disappointment at this news was palpable, and I felt plenty of empathy for him as he regretfully followed protocol.

Not Eligible for Rehire – A Cruise Ship Story made me wonder what really goes on behind the scenes on cruise ships.

Sounding Like a Train: A Review of Voices in the Wind

Voices in the Wind by Joshua Scribner book cover. Image on cover shows a drawing of a tornado touching down on some land. Title: Voices in the Wind

Author: Joshua Scribner

Publisher: Self-Published

Publication Date: December 15, 2017

Genres: Paranormal, Horror, Contemporary

Length: 6 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author

Rating: 5 Stars

Blurb:

A paranormal flash fiction story.

Review:

Content Warning: death and a tornado. I will discuss the tornado in my review.

Tornado season is nothing to sneeze it.

Since the blurb didn’t describe anything inn much detail, let me say that this piece of flash fiction is about tornadoes and the havoc they wreak. Boyt, the protagonist, has experienced far too many tornadoes in his lifetime, and he’s fed up with it. His reaction to them was perfectly understandable. As someone who has seen too many of them myself, I thought Mr. Scribner captured the terror of those moments perfectly. There is nothing like hearing something that sounds like an approaching train or, as it gets closer, endless bombs going off to sear those moments into someone’s mind. Anyone who had a single lick of sense would be terrified by such an encounter.

The only thing I wish had been written differently here was how Boyt’s wife, Carol, reacted to the storm. Given how much she knew about his past experiences with them, I was a little surprised by how much less afraid she was of them than he was. If the author had gone into more detail about why this was so, I would have been thrilled to go with a full five-star rating as everything else about this tale was perfect.

I must be careful about how I word this paragraph because I’m writing about a piece of flash fiction here. There is only so much I can say without giving away spoilers, but the paranormal elements of the storyline were handled beautifully. They gave me such a strong sense of yearning as I read them. it was also worthwhile to ponder what they had to say about what it means to be human, especially as it is related to the difficult portions of life. As much as I want to expound on that idea, it’s really best for me to stop here so you can go discover everything for yourselves.

Voices in the Wind was as poignant as it was eerie.

Seeking Safe Haven: A Review of The Bruised Princess

Title: The Bruised Princess Author: A.G. Marshall Publisher: Avanell Publishing Publication Date: April 7, 2019 Genres: Fantasy, Historical Length: 31 pages Source: I received a free copy from the author. If you are not already familiar with The Princess and the Pea, read it for free at this link before reading this short story. Rating:… Read More

Gently Combing the Sea: A Review of Hildie at the Ghost Shore

Title: Hildie at the Ghost Shore Author: Paula Cappa Publisher: Self-Published Publication Date: May 17, 2015 Genres: Fantasy, Paranormal, Mystery, Historical Length: 22 pages Source: I received a free copy from the author. Rating: 3 Stars Blurb: We are in Old Belgium. Hildie the lace maker, Mistress of Runecraft, knows the secret spells of the… Read More

Small Town Secrets: A Review of Haunted Love

Title: Haunted Love Author: Cynthia Leitich Smith Publisher: Candlewick Press Publication Date: December 13, 2011 Genres: Young Adult, Paranormal, Fantasy, Contemporary Length: 33 pages Source: I received a free copy from the author. Rating: 3 Stars Blurb: Spirit, Texas, is a town of secrets, and as the new owner of the local haunted movie theater,… Read More

You’d Better Run Faster – A Review of Small Spaces

Title: Small Spaces Author: Katherine Arden Publisher:  Puffin Books Publication Date: July 9, 2019 Genres: Middle Grade, Fantasy, Paranormal, Mystery, Horror, Contemporary Length: 256 pages Source: I borrowed it from the library. Rating: 4 Stars Blurb: After suffering a tragic loss, eleven-year-old Ollie who only finds solace in books discovers a chilling ghost story about… Read More

Dire Warnings: A Review of The Signalman

The telling or reading of ghost stories during the Christmas season was once a tradition in Victorian England. This series of books seeks to revive this tradition. As I did last year, I will continue reviewing several of them each December until I’ve reached the end of this series.  Title: The Signalman – A Ghost Story for Christmas… Read More