Tag Archives: 2020s

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.

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.

Unsettling Art: A Review of 300 Down

300 Down by Keith Minnion book cover. Image on cover is a black and white photo of a narrow strip of grass.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 lurid green dress. He already owns two others, all different paintings, all by different artists, but the subject, the redhead in a green dress, is the same. Why is Arthur so compelled to seek out more paintings, more portraits, of her? The most important question, however, is: why is she haunting him?

Review:

Content warning: Infidelity and suicide. I will not be discussing these things in my review.

If you love unsettling art, keep reading.

There’s nothing like staring at a painting of what appears to be ordinary scene only to feel a chill run down your spine as you gaze upon it. Arthur’s obsession with the paintings of the red-haired woman wearing a green dress he kept finding only intensified over time. The more it bothered him, the stronger my curiosity grew to find out what it was about this woman that made it impossible for him to ignore her.

This is a minor criticism of something I otherwise enjoyed reading quite a bit, but I did wonder why Arthur kept collecting paintings that were clearly causing him emotional distress. Given his employment in the art industry, it seemed like it would have been pretty easy for him to sell them and therefore not have to see them every day. There were a few tantalizing hints about why he decided not to go this route. I do wish he’d been more straightforward about his reasoning there.

The ending was perfect. Without giving away spoilers, I loved the way the audience was expected to come up with some of our own theories about what happened next while still providing enough resolution for the conflict that I felt satisfied by how it was all wrapped up. Arthur struck me as the sort of man who expected those around him to do their own fair share of mental work like analyzing clues, so I was glad to see this pattern continue until the final scene. I will keep hoping for a sequel, though!

300 Down made me shudder in a good way.

The Last-Chance Mission: A Review of Project Hail Mary

Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir book cover. Image on cover shows an astronaut floating through space while tethered to their ship. There is a large sun or planet in the background. Title: Project Hail Mary

Author: Andy Weir

Publisher:  Ballantine Books

Publication Date: May 4, 2021

Genres: Science Fiction, Mystery

Length:476 pages

Source: I borrowed it from my local library.

Rating: 5 Stars

Blurb:

Ryland Grace is the sole survivor on a desperate, last-chance mission—and if he fails, humanity and the earth itself will perish.

Except that right now, he doesn’t know that. He can’t even remember his own name, let alone the nature of his assignment or how to complete it.

All he knows is that he’s been asleep for a very, very long time. And he’s just been awakened to find himself millions of miles from home, with nothing but two corpses for company.

His crewmates dead, his memories fuzzily returning, Ryland realizes that an impossible task now confronts him. Hurtling through space on this tiny ship, it’s up to him to puzzle out an impossible scientific mystery—and conquer an extinction-level threat to our species.

And with the clock ticking down and the nearest human being light-years away, he’s got to do it all alone.

Or does he?

An irresistible interstellar adventure as only Andy Weir could deliver, Project Hail Mary is a tale of discovery, speculation, and survival to rival The Martian—while taking us to places it never dreamed of going.

Review:

Content warning: Death and serious bodily injuries. I will not be discussing these things in my review.

Failure isn’t an option here if humanity is to survive.

There were multiple sections of this book that went into great detail about the physics and math behind the experiments Ryland ran as he attempted to solve the scientific mystery that was threatening to drive humanity to extinction. This was most definitely a work of hard science fiction. I suspect that people who have university-level degrees in math, science, or technology will get the most out of those passages, but I did understand what the main character was saying. Keep pushing through those passages if you struggle with them. They’re important for the plot, but the narrator will often explain them again in other ways later on if you need a refresher.

I loved the foreshadowing. Yes, it was a little more heavy handed than what I’d typically expect to find in this genre, but given the complex and technical nature of most of the problems Ryland needed to solve I think that was the best choice for most people who will be reading this.

The hopeful nature of the storyline was delightful, so don’t be fooled by the urgent and sad vibe of the first couple of scenes. There were so many wonderful plot twists after that point, some of which I didn’t see coming and found quite relieving once they did arrive. As much as I want to go into vivid detail here, I keep my reviews spoiler-free and want you all to discover these moments for yourselves.

Ryland was a well-developed character whose wry sense of humour often made me chuckle. I enjoyed seeing how quickly and (usually) calmly he came up with new ideas when he was in a crisis and his previous solutions didn’t pan out. He honestly reminded me a bit of Mark Watney from Weir’s earlier book, The Martian. While these characters lived in different universes, I enjoyed comparing and contrasting them. Some of Ryland’s strengths were things that Mark probably would have found difficult, so that was an extra layer of amusement for anyone who is already familiar with this author and his previous works.

Project Hail Mary was an amazing adventure that I heartily recommend to anyone who loves hard science fiction.

A Review of Curse of the Nain Rouge: The Legend of Detroit’s Red Devil

Curse of the Nain Rouge: The Legend of Detroit’s Red Devil by Michelle Nunley book cover. Image on cover is of a red, black, and white drawing of a devilish character. Title: Curse of the Nain Rouge: The Legend of Detroit’s Red Devil

Author: Michelle Nunley

Publisher: Self-Published

Publication Date: October 20, 2020

Genres: Fantasy, Middle Grade 

Length: 5 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author. 

Rating: 3 Stars

Blurb:

There are many urban legends of hauntings throughout Michigan. Some tell of an ominous white ghost, others of mysterious dog-headed creatures. But none is quite as haunting as that of the curse placed on the city of Detroit by a small red devilish-looking creature . . .  The Nain Rouge.

A short 1200 word story that tells the tale of Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac, founder of Detroit, and a curse placed on the city by a small red, sharp toothed devilish looking creature. Detroiter’s call him the Nain Rouge. Based on encounters and sightings throughout history, it is said the creature appears before every disaster throughout the city’s history and long list of misfortunes.

Review:

Some curses exist for good reasons. 

I was surprised in a good way by fact that Antoine was such an unlikeable protagonist. There’s something interesting about seeing how such a selfish, egotistical man reacted to a threat to his city that he didn’t believe in or think should be taken seriously. We all have our own blind spots, of course, but Antoine’s blind spots much bigger and more dangerous than most. 

This story could have used a little more character development. I had trouble empathizing with Antoine because nearly everything I learned about him was negative. Yes, he was a villain, and arguably even more so than the Nain Rouge itself, but even the worst person in the world is bound to have some good in him or herself. While I understand that this isn’t the strong suite of most folktales, there was definitely room here to humanize him a tad before he met up with his nemesis. 

My favorite part of this tale was the ending. It tied up the most important plot strings but also explained why this legend continues to be shared three hundred years after it was said to begin. I couldn’t help but the turn the unresolved portions of the storyline over and over in my mind to see if I could think of a good way to resolve them. There’s something to be said for a legend that could still yet have more chapters added to it!

 Curse of the Nain Rouge was a thought-provoking tale that I enjoyed reading. 

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

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

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,… Read More

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