Tag Archives: 2020s

Looking Back, Moving Forward: A Review of Ghost Stories for Christmas

Ghost Stories for Christmas by Shane Brown Book cover. image on cover shows a painting of a small, rural community in the 1800s. There is a thick layer of snow on the dirt road with two brown tracks through it. A church and some houses in the distance are snow-covered, too, and people are walking on the snowy sidewalk all bundled up as well. Title: Ghost Stories for Christmas

Author: Shane Brown

Publisher: Self-Published

Publication Date: December 3, 2021

Genres: Paranormal, Holiday, Historical, Contemporary

Length: 105 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author.

Rating: 4 Stars

Blurb:

Five ghost stories set during the Christmas period to add an extra chill to the festive season! In “Houses Never Forget,” a man returns to the village he grew up in, only to find that a house hasn’t forgiven him for something he did as a boy. “The Philatelist” tells the story of two brothers, one good and one bad – but even the good might want revenge from beyond the grave. “Breaking Up is Hard to Do” is the tale of a man who is forced to repeat a tragic evening from his student days every year, but what happens when he tries to break the cycle? A university professor rents a remote cottage on the grounds of a former school in order to write up his research in “The Stranger in the Snow,” but, when the snow falls, he finds he’s not alone. Finally, “The Gift” is the heart-warming tale of an old man who is given an unusual gift by a department store Father Christmas. From the author of “The Pied Piper,” “The School Bell,” and “The Successor.” 

Review:

Content Warning: arson, death of parents, hypothermia, possession, grief, widowerhood, infertility, homophobia, mental illness, someone getting beat up, car accident, murder, and references to the Covid-19 pandemic. One minor character died of Covid-19 before the tale they were in began. I will not discuss these topics in my review.

Christmas is the perfect time to reflect on the past for the living and the dead alike.

Here’s an interesting tidbit of information for you as I get this review started: all of these stories are set in the same village, Brandley. Keep that in mind as you read them.

The unnamed protagonist in “Houses Never Forget” was someone who rarely thought about his rash childhood decision that that angered the house in his village so much. I can’t go into a lot of detail about what he did without giving away spoilers, but I thought this was an intelligent sketch of a character who would be easy to villanize but whose decision was also one that many other folks make every single day without realizing just how corrosive small town gossip can be.

Joshua, the bad son in ”The Philatelist,” was a violent troublemaker who never showed signs of empathy for anyone. I was intrigued by how the adults around him reacted to him when he destroyed property and physically harmed others. He was the sort of person I’d never want to cross paths with, and yet I couldn’t help but to wonder what had made him behave the way he did and why he enjoyed bullying his younger brother so much. It would have been helpful if the narrator had explained the origins of his behaviour because of how erratic and violent he was, but I also recognize that there are people like him walking around in real life whose decisions are just as difficult to understand. The plot of this one was straightforward, so I was glad to have some character development to ponder while I read.

After the heaviness of the previous story, “Breaking Up Is Hard to Do” was a nice change of pace. I think we all probably have at least one thing in our pasts we wish we could go back and change. When that isn’t possible and there’s a ghost involved who insists on repeating the same evening over again on the anniversary of her death every December, what’s the next best option? Other readers should discover the answer to that question for themselves, but I thought this was a thought-provoking look at the unhelpful patterns people can find themselves in when they’re unwilling to face their pasts. If only the narrator had dove more deeply into the topic. There seemed even more that could have been said about it, and I would have gone for a full five-star rating if a few minor things like this had been adjusted in this collection.  The final scene made me wish for a sequel, too, given all of the hints in it about what was about to happen to the main character next.

Everyone needs peace and quiet sometimes. Paul thought he’d found it in “The Stranger in the Snow” until the snowstorm hit. His compassionate response to the visitor who appeared after it had been snowing for a while told me everything I needed to know about him. I enjoyed seeing how they interacted and quietly waited for an explanation of why someone would be out in a snowstorm alone without enough layers to keep them warm. The ending, too, was my favourite of all of the endings in this collection. I held my breath as it was announced and wished I could dive back into the opening scene to warn Paul about what was to come.

”The Gift“ had such a cynical beginning that I honesty wasn’t sure what to think of that protagonist. Was Arnold this grumpy about everything, or was it only Christmas that he thought had been irrevocably ruined? Luckily, I didn’t have to wait long to get my answer, and when it arrived it softened my opinion of him immediately.  One never knows what others are quietly struggling with, and I wiped away a few tears as Arnold slowly shared more of his past with the audience. This was such a beautiful and heartwarming way to close off this collection.

Ghost Stories for Christmas made me smile.

A Review of The Story of Sigurd the Dragonslayer

The Story of Sigurđ the Dragonslayer (Tales From the Volsunga Saga Book 2) Kindle Edition by Liam G. Martin Book cover. Image on cover shows Norse runes arranged in a circular yellow pattern in the centre of the cover. Title: The Story of Sigurd the Dragonslayer (Tales from the Volsunga Saga Book 2)

Author: Liam G Martin

Publisher: Self-Published

Publication Date: January 24, 2022

Genres: Fantasy, Adventure, Historical

Length: 35 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author.

Rating: 5 Stars

Blurb:

The Story of Sigurđ the Dragonslayer is part of The Tales from the Volsunga Saga series which retells some of the stories from the Volsunga Saga. The Volsunga saga is a legendary old Norse text that was written in Iceland around 1250 AD.

In The Story of Sigurđ the Dragonslayer, you’ll read about the early life of Sigurđ, one of the greatest heroes of Norse mythology.

Review:

Content Warning: death of parents and a murder. All of the deaths were described briefly and without graphic details included in them.

Becoming a hero includes plenty of hard work. Nothing is guaranteed for anyone.

Mythology has always expected a lot of its audience. Not only did the author take his time explaining who certain characters were, the narrator shared lessons about perseverance, duty, honour, and vengeance that the audience was expected to digest for themselves. Sigurd had far too much on his plate to spell things out simply for us, but that’s exactly what I always hope to find in the stories I read. If people of different ages can interpret the same scenes in somewhat different ways, that means that it will take a long time for anyone to fully understand the ideas that thrive there.

Like many traditional myths, this one never had a good stopping point. I finished the last page wishing the author had written more even though Sigurd was technically an adult at that point and the narrator no longer had the excuse of describing this character’s early life in order to keep things going. This is the sort of reaction I always love to discover in myself. Leaving the audience yearning for the next scene is an excellent way to keep readers coming back for another instalment, after all.

The conflict and violence was handled beautifully. While this isn’t a sanitized and twenty-first century myth, it also didn’t include any gratuitous violence. The deaths that occurred were necessary in order for the plot to move forward, and those scenes were written tactfully and simply. Sigurd’s adventures were what really mattered, so I was pleased to see how steadily that portion of his life remained the focus of the plot. Creating this balance in retellings of tales from eras of human history when the expectations for family entertainment were quite different isn’t easy, and I commend the author for pulling it off so well.

It’s helpful, but not strictly necessary, to have a basic familiarity with Norse mythology before reading this book. The important stuff will be explained eventually, but recognizing the major gods and other figures in these tales will help to speed up the process for anyone who prefers to figure out who everyone was immediately.

This is also part of a series, but it functioned perfectly nicely as a standalone work.

The Story of Sigurd the Dragonslayer was a wild ride that I wish I’d taken sooner.

A Review of Samantha, 25, on October 31

Samantha, 25, on October 31 by Adam Bertocci book cover. Image on cover show a young red haired woman wearing a witches hat and cloak. She looks surprised as the wind attempts to blow her pointy hat off of her head. Title: Samantha, 25, on October 31

Author: Adam Bertocci

Publisher: Self-Published

Publication Date: October 12, 2021

Genres: Fantasy, Contemporary

Length: 50 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author.

Rating: 5 Stars

Blurb:

Samantha hates her job, her debt and her general circumstances, and if that weren’t enough, her first post-pandemic Halloween isn’t shaping up to be any fun. Unenthused about the prospect of another day (and week and month and year) stuck working in a boring health food store, Samantha hopes that dressing as a witch will help recapture the magic in her life… or at least conjure up a little Halloween fun.

But when a mysterious black cat crosses her path, Samantha’s holiday hijinks take a turn for the weird, culminating in a spooky confrontation with the scariest horror of all: her own future.

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. This wistful-yet-witchy short story explores the mysteries of improvised cat care, growing up, and what’s really important in life.

Review:

Content Warning:  Witches and witchcraft. This is also set during the Covid-19 pandemic and contains a few references to things like social distancing, proper hand washing, and wearing a face mask in public. No one caught Covid during the storyline, though.

Halloween magic is for everyone.

This novella captured the frustration of working in retail or other dead-end jobs perfectly. Even though she was grateful to have work when so many others were laid off during the Covid-19 pandemic, Samantha was bored and restless at Esterbrook’s Natural Market. Her history degree hadn’t panned out the way she hoped they would, and she couldn’t see how her circumstances would change for the foreseeable future. I had a lot of sympathy for her and was curious to see if her dreams would finally come true. This wasn’t something I was expecting to find in a spooky Halloween read, but it fit the themes perfectly.

Samantha was a likeable and intelligent protagonist. She was the sort of person I’d love to be friends with in real life.  I enjoyed seeing how one of her biggest flaws, her tendency to ramble on when other people were hoping she’d give them a clear yes or no as a response, changed the course of her destiny. It’s always nice to see characters who are given genuine challenges to overcome and whose weaknesses make a meaningful difference to the plot.

One of the biggest reasons why I chose a five-star review had to do with how the fantasy elements of the plot were handled. Yes, I know that sentence is a vague one, but I need to be careful how I word this in order to avoid spoilers, but Mr. Bertocci did a marvellous job of playing around with the audience’s expectations of how witches should behave and how a fantasy story should unfold. He clearly knew this genre well and wasn’t afraid to turn certain tropes upside down in order to keep me guessing. Bravo for that!

Samantha, 25, on October 31 was perfect.

A Review of Judith – A Triorion Universe Story

Judith - A Triorian Universe Story by L.J. Hachmeister book cover. Image on cover shows the sun breaking through the clouds over a hill that has a bare tree on it. Title: Judith – A Triorion Universe Story

Author: L.J. Hachmeister

Publisher: Source 7 Productions (Self-Published)

Publication Date: February 1, 2020

Genres: Science Fiction, Contemporary

Length: 19 Pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author.

Rating: 3.5 Stars

Blurb:

With a broken heart and the resurgence of cancer, Judith Derns’ life comes to a halt. Some odds just can’t be beaten. But when she encounters a strange being in her countryside home, she discovers a chance to do something more than just survive another day. With a dying body and the military invading her home, Judith taps into a strength she didn’t know she had, and with a single decision, unleashes the greatest power of all.

Review:

Content Warning: Cancer, pregnancy, infertility, grief, death, and car accident. I will not discuss these topics in my review.

Bad days happen to everyone eventually.

Judith had been through so much in her life! I raised my eyebrows when the narrator described the many losses she’d already endured, and it made me curious to see how she’d react to yet another piece of terrible news. She seemed like the sort of person who knew how to take things one day at a time and who would reserve her true feelings about her diagnosis for when she arrived safely at home and had no one around to interrupt her. I liked her as a person and found myself wishing she could finally catch a break after such a long string of bad luck.

I would have liked to see more conflict and character development in this tale. So much time was spent focusing on Judith’s reaction to her diagnosis that there wasn’t much space left over for her to explore the bizarre activity on her property or come to terms with what her life was going to be like after she arrived home. This also left me a little confused about the meaning of the final scene, especially as it pertained to Judith’s future. While I totally understand leaving space for additional plot and character development in later instalments, there unfortunately wasn’t enough of either of these things for me to choose a higher rating even thought I was intrigued by the main character and wanted to know more about her.

With that being said, the science fiction twist added a jolt of excitement to the plot. I was curious to see how it would tie into her cancer diagnosis and who she would decide to trust. She didn’t seem to know anyone who was on her property, so I couldn’t begin to guess how she’d react to their competing requests from her. This was one of those cases where I quickly developed an opinion on what a character should do but didn’t know if she’d actually follow through or if my gut instinct about what was happening was correct. It was amusing to get an answer to this question.

This is part of a series, but it can be read as a standalone work.

Judith – A Triorion Universe Story piqued my curiosity.

Cottagecore Horror: A Review of On Sundays She Picked Flowers

On Sundays She Picked Flowers by Yah Yah Scholfield book cover. Image on cover shows a drawing of a black woman’s head surrounded by blue water. She may be swimming and is looking out to the right with a serene expression on her face.Title: On Sundays She Picked Flowers

Author: Yah Yah Scholfield

Publisher: Oni House Press Corp

Publication Date: February 20, 2022

Genres: Fantasy, Horror, Paranormal, Historical

Length: 142 pages

Source: I borrowed it from my local library.

Rating: 3 Stars

Blurb:

“It took Judith thirty-four years to realize that if she wanted to be free of her mother, she was going to have to do the freeing herself.”

On Sundays, She Picks Flowers is about a woman named Judith who finally escapes her mother to the countryside of Georgia. There she makes a home for herself in a cottage given to her by a relatively kind innkeeper. And it’s there she begins her Sunday routine. And it’s there she learns of the beings in the woods. And it’s also there she meets Nemoira, the woman who changes her life in ways Judith never even thought of. This novel is an exploration of transformation, of metamorphosis, closure, retribution, nature, and healing.  In this southern gothic tale, you will see Judith become undone, redone, and become in incredible ways that is human and more than human. It’s a rollercoaster of emotion, dealings of familial trauma, love, and mystery. On Sundays, She Picked Flowers is a fascinating story that will keep you on your toes and make you fall in love.

Review:

Content Warning: Physical abuse, emotional abuse, gore, cannibalism, injury, murder, parent death, death, animal death, self harm.

Healing can be a messy and prolonged process.

Most people would be frightened by the idea of living in the middle of nowhere in a haunted cottage, but Judith was running away from something much worse than that when she moved into this violent little home sweet home. Her reaction to it happened within the first chapter or two, and it solidified my opinion of her as someone I wish I could meet in real life. Simply put, she acknowledged that it was odd for a house to throw furniture around or fiddle with the heating system in an attempt to get rid of its newest inhabitant, but she wasn’t about to let any of that silliness keep her from settling down and trying to make a happy new life for herself.

There were multiple grammatical errors that became more prevalent later on in this work. I’m the sort of reader who can overlook one or two of them, but they happened so regularly that they affected my star rating and made me feel obligated to mention them in my review. Another round of editing would have gone a long way in convincing me to choose a higher rating as there were so many other things I enjoyed about this book.

I’d like to strike a balance between encouraging people to read this novella while also warning you all that it is not for the faint of heart. Judith was painfully honest with the audience about the abuse she experienced in the first chapter or two, and some of those passages were difficult to read. Other disturbing scenes popped up later in the storyline, but nearly all of them served an important purpose for the plot and character development. The fear and suffering helped to explain why Judith was so haunted by her past even well into middle age and how she found a way to slowly move forward with her life.

My second reason for choosing a three star rating had to do with how awkwardly the ending fit into the themes that had been established earlier on. This was especially true when it came to the gorier aspects of the plot. It was never quite clear to me why some of those scenes were necessary when Judith had spent so much time distancing herself from her past and working to create a better future for herself. I would have loved to see some more exposition explaining the characters’ and author’s thought patterns here as there was never quite enough information for me to understand why the storyline veered off into the direction it did. These are things I’m saying as someone who genuinely wanted to choose a  higher rating but who had too many questions to ultimately do so.

One of my favorite themes involved the character arcs of physical objects. I can’t go into much detail about this without giving away spoilers, but the personal development of these objects was almost as satisfying as seeing how Judith rested and healed in a haunted and traumatized plot of land that most folks would probably run away screaming from. I’ve read a lot of horror, but I’ve never seen anything quite like this. The author excelled at digging into the thought processes and emotional lives of objects and other things that are normally not given much attention at all in these genres.

On Sundays She Picked Flowers was thought provoking.

Caution is a Virtue: A Review of Veiled Threats

Title: Veiled Threats Author: Erin Jackson Publisher: Ringtail Press (Self-Published) Publication Date: February 9, 2022 Genres: Fantasy, Mystery, Contemporary Length: 74 pages Source: I received a free copy from the author Rating: 4 Stars Blurb:   This is a short prequel story that takes place before Diabolical Sword, book 1 in The Charm Collector urban… Read More

Dreaming of Happily Ever After: A Review of Somewhere in Time

Title: Somewhere in Time Author: Fizza Younis Publisher: Self-Published Publication Date: October 31, 2020 Genres: Fantasy, Paranormal, Contemporary, Historical Length: 34 pages Source: I received a free copy from the author. Rating: 3 Stars Blurb: It’s a fairy tale retelling of the classic Sleeping Beauty, set between the twentieth and the twenty-first centuries, the story… Read More

Rooting Out Evil: A Review of Secrets of the Under Market

Title: Secrets of the Under Market Author: Krysten Harlow Publisher: Self-Published Publication Date: May 4, 2021 Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult, Paranormal, Contemporary Length: 73 pages Source: I received a free copy from the author. Rating: 3 Stars Blurb: Mortal Instruments meets Hellboy in this riveting urban fantasy series that is a prequel to the Visions… Read More

Reasonable Assumptions: A Review of The Interview

Title: The Interview Author: Liz Tuckwell Publisher: Green Griffin Books (Self-Published) Publication Date: August 6, 2021 Genres: Fantasy, Contemporary Length: 22 pages Source: I received a free copy from the author. Rating: 4 Stars Blurb:   Melissa’s being interviewed … for a job she never applied for … and she doesn’t know the name of… Read More

Making Their Moves: A Review of Empty Smiles

Title: Empty Smiles (Small Spaces #4) Author: Katherine Arden Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers Publication Date: August 9, 2022 Genres: Middle Grade, Fantasy, Mystery, Horror, Contemporary Length: 256 pages Source: I borrowed it from the library. Rating: 3 Stars Blurb: New York Times bestselling author Katherine thrills once again in the finale… Read More