Tag Archives: Anthologies

A Review of A Bit of Pickled Pumpkin and Other Short Horror Stories 

A Bit of Pickled Pumpkin and Other Short Horror Stories by B.A. Loudon book cover. Image on cover is of a pile of pumpkins.Title: A Bit of Pickled Pumpkin and Other Short Horror Stories

Author: B.A. Loudon

Publisher: Self-Published

Publication Date: September 12, 2019

Genres: Young Adult, Horror, Paranormal, Contemporary

Length: 45 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author.

Rating: 3.5 Stars

Blurb:

Review:

In this collection of stories, all is not what it seems…Broken promises have unexpected consequences.Going to space should be a day of celebration.A sunny disposition conceals a dark family secret.And why does a bit of pickled pumpkin have an entire neighbourhood on edge?

Content warning: mental illness, domestic abuse, cannibalism, postpartum depression, and murder. I will not be discussing these things in my review.

It’s never too early to start thinking about Halloween.

There were a surprisingly amount of short stories and flash fiction in this collection, so I’l only talk about a few of them in my review. Do check out the whole thing if any of this intrigues you.

The narrator in “Promises” was someone who grew up in a small town and desperately wanted to leave it. When they were finally given a chance to do just that, the person who took them far away from home wasn’t exactly what they were expecting. This was such a quick little tale that I can’t say much else about it, but I did find it interesting to learn what happened to the narrator after they left home.

In “A Bit of Pickled Pumpkin,” a grieving spouse must decide what to do with their wife’s massive collection of pickled foods after she died. The spouse had never learned to like the taste of pickled things and didn’t want all of her hard work to go to waste. This wasn’t a topic I was expecting to read about, but I liked reading the main character’s thoughts about how to tie up all of the loose ends of this part of their life.

“The Performance of a Lifetime” reminded me of how much stage fright I’ve had in the past much like the protagonist of this piece. As much as I enjoyed the beginning of this tale, the middle and ending of it seemed to come out of nowhere. It would have been nice to have more clues about what was about to happen and how the beginning was tied to what came after that. This was something that was repeated with many of the stories in this anthology. Their endings were well worth reading, but I wasn’t always entirely sure how they arrived there.

“Clean” was quite the read. At first it seemed like it was written for adults instead of teenagers because most teens aren’t permanently put in charge of cleaning their entire homes the way the mother is in many families. Yes, I wrote mother on purpose. The gendered aspects of who cleans and who keeps track of what should be cleaned next was written well. It actually turned out to be my favourite part of this tale as well as one of the best stories in this anthology.

If you’re counting down the days to Halloween and want to get into the spirit of it early this year, A Bit of Pickled Pumpkin and Other Short Horror Stories is a good place to start.

Dangerous Amusement: A Review of Summer’s Over

Book cover for Summer's Over by Em Leonard. Image on cover is a collage of various people, dinosaurs, and amusement park rides.

Title: Summer’s Over

Author: Em Leonard

Publisher: Self-Published

Publication Date: August 25, 2018

Genres: Horror, Paranormal

Length: 106 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author.

Rating: 4 Stars

Blurb:

The lure and curiosity of cheap amusements have always been a part of our psyche. We go to theme parks to explore worlds different from our own. They make us feel happy or free, dangerous even. We love them. Spend our money on them. Plan our vacations around them. And sometimes, things go so very wrong inside them.

Summer’s Over are five demented tales that take place within the five major theme parks in Southern California. This book is complete with a custom crafted picture to accompany each story, created by the author Em Leonard. It’s a top down creation from cover to cover…
-A deadly religion recruits members from Six Flags Magic Mountain
-Creepy stalkers waiting in line at Disneyland
-Paranormal activity inside Knott’s Berry Farm
-Dark experiments from Sea World
-An alternate reality at Universal Studios

This is an ode to the vacationer’s utopia that is Southern California. Please keep your hands and arms inside the car at all times…

Review:

Content warning: Cults and stalking. I will be briefly discussing the first item on that list in my review.

There’s something bittersweet about early September, don’t you think? It’s still hot, sunny, and humid where I live, and yet the promise of much colder and darker days is right around the corner.

Religious cults are the absolutely last thing I expect to find at amusements parks, but there was one in “Love and Loss at Six Flags.” I liked the way the author picked out some of the biggest red flags that an organization is a cult in ways that made sense for the setting, too. That must have taken a lot of work, but it sure did a great job of grabbing this reader’s attention.

The main character’s reason for visiting Disneyland so late in the season in “Never Talk to People While Waiting in Line at Disneyland” made me smile. You don’t see a lot of homeschooling families popping up in the horror or science fiction genres, especially as the protagonists. This was such a short tale that I can’t say much else about it without giving away spoilers, but the ending both made me shudder and wish for a sequel.

people riding a roller coaster at sunset“My Knott’s Berry Farm Solution” was set during the middle of winter which made the paranormal activity there even spookier. This was the scariest story in this collection for me because of how trusting the main character was. He had no idea how quickly his life was about to change when he convinced his son and daughter to visit Knott’s Berry Farm that day!

“A Sea World Story” was told from the perspective a man reliving his unusual childhood as the only child of a single father who preferred surfing to working. The fact that his father refused to talk about so many topics only made me more curious about what the truth might be about their life. I enjoyed the way the author gave the audience hints but also let us come up with our own theories about what was going on there.

The first day of work can feel overwhelming for man people, especially in “The Other Universal Studios Tour” where the public’s perception of Universal Studios in this universe isn’t necessarily the same as what the employees would say about it. There was a dreamlike quality to this one that made it a great deal of fun to read because I never knew how the main character’s perception of reality was going to shift next.

Picking a rating for this collection was quite difficult. I wanted more details about each story in particular, but I also realized that, like real amusement park rides, they’re really only designed to last a short period of time before you rush off to your next thrill. It’s best to enjoy them for what they are and not put too much thought into figuring out all of their intricacies.

If September makes you feel a little nostalgic for the season we’re leaving behind, Summer’s Over might be right up your alley.

Once Upon a Time: A Review of The Raven and Other Tales

 

Title: The Raven and Other Tales

Author: Joy V. Spicer

Publisher: Self-Published

Publication Date: 2019

Genres: Fantasy, Paranormal, Historical

Length: 132 pages

Source: I received a free copy from Joy

Rating: 4 Stars

Blurb: A raven appears on a cold winter’s night. An old woman helps a stranger find his way home. A young girl encounters a bad-tempered dwarf. Enter within, where magic is found alongside the ordinary, and things aren’t always what they seem. Where curiosity leads to a nightmare. Where ashes have the power to transform. And where stolen mortals are doomed to be forever lost in the forest.

Review:

This is a collection of ten short stories that are all firmly rooted in the fantasy genre. One of the coolest things Joy did with them was to briefly explain where her ideas for them came from after the conclusion of each story. I always enjoy learning where writers find inspiration for their work, so I was excited to have a sentence or two of explanation before beginning the next tale.

The most effective way I’ve found to review anthologies like this one is to pick about three of the stories in them that most accurately represent the over-arching themes and writing style in my opinion, describe their plots in a spoiler-free sentence or two, and then share my impressions of them. If any of these mini-reviews grab your attention, I’d heartily recommend checking out the whole book.

The Forest of the Others

Grace’s father and younger brother had wandered into a mysterious, forbidden forest and never come home again in “The Forest of the Others.” Three years after their disappearances, Grace ignored her mother’s warning to stay away from those trees and went into the forest to see if she could find out what happen to them.

I sure would have liked to see better communication between Grace and her mom. These woods were such an irresistible place in this universe that I think Grace would have still gone into them even if her mother had been more clear about how dangerous they were. It felt a little odd to me for someone who had already lost two relatives to what should have been an innocuous patch of land to be so vague about what she thought happened to them or why Grace should never break this rule.

This is something I’m saying as someone who loved everything else about this story. The dialogue was fresh and crisp. Grace’s character development was handled wonderfully. Her experiences in the woods made me shudder, although I’ll leave it up to future readers to discover why. The world-building was really nicely done, too, especially when it came to the mixture of emotions Grace had about the forest she wasn’t supposed to visit. All I needed was for Grace to know exactly why that area was forbidden before she decided to break that rule anyway.

Stranger at the Crossroads

Some of the tales in this collection were so short and filled with plot twists that I need to be pretty careful what I say about them for fear of wandering into spoiler territory.  “Stranger at the Crossroads” was one of them. In it, a woman who was walking down the road with her donkey met a stranger who wasn’t at all what he appeared to be.

Does this sound like a mystery or possibly something from the horror genre? Well, it wasn’t. The main character was such a brave and kind soul that her reaction to the unnerving stranger at the crossroads was as pleasantly surprising as it was creative. I enjoyed this entire anthology, but I must say that she was my favourite character of them all. I couldn’t have asked for a better protagonist on that particular day and in that specific time and place.

An Unlikely Friendship

In “An Unlikely Friendship,” a young girl named Meg met a grumpy dwarf in the middle of the woods one day while she was out searching for edible plants to feed her family. Meg’s friendship with Nev, the dwarf, was unexpected but a nice distraction from the grinding poverty she, her widowed mother, and two older sisters had struggled with for years.  Yes, this story was one of the ones mentioned in the blurb!

Meg’s personality was nicely written. She’d been taught to be kind to everyone she met. That’s a common trope in the fantasy and fairy tale genres, so I won’t go into much detail about it here. What was refreshing about this particular take on that lesson was how Meg reacted when it appeared that her kindness was not only going to be taken for granted but could very well lead her into a worse predicament than she’d been in when she was only poor and hungry.

This is the sort of twist to a genre that makes me want to come back for more.

 

What It Means to be Human: A Review of Let’s Play White

A few months ago, Apex Publications invited me to be part of their Back Catalogue Blog Tour. I chose to write a book review for Chesya Burke’s Let’s Play White as my contribution to it. Other participants will be sharing author interviews and guest posts throughout this month, so click the link above to check them out.

Title: Let’s Play White

Author: Chesya Burke

Publisher: Apex Publications

Publication Date: 2011

Genres: Science Fiction, Horror, Contemporary, Historical

Length: 200 pages

Source: I received a free copy from Apex Publications.

Rating: 4.5 Stars

Blurb:

White brings with it dreams of respect, of wealth, of simply being treated as a human being. It’s the one thing Walter will never be. But what if he could play white, the way so many others seem to do? Would it bring him privilege or simply deny the pain? The title story in this collection asks those questions, and then moves on to challenge notions of race, privilege, personal choice, and even life and death with equal vigor.

From the spectrum spanning despair and hope in “What She Saw When They Flew Away” to the stark weave of personal struggles in “Chocolate Park,” Let’s Play White speaks with the voices of the overlooked and unheard. “I Make People Do Bad Things” shines a metaphysical light on Harlem’s most notorious historical madame, and then, with a deft twist into melancholic humor, “Cue: Change” brings a zombie-esque apocalypse, possibly for the betterment of all mankind.

Gritty and sublime, the stories of Let’s Play White feature real people facing the worlds they’re given, bringing out the best and the worst of what it means to be human. If you’re ready to slip into someone else’s skin for a while, then it’s time to come play white.

Review:

Content Warning: racism, pregnancy, childbirth, deaths (including the death of a child), rape, domestic violence, and miscarriage. This will otherwise be a spoiler-free post, and I will not be going into detail about any of these topics in my review.

As much as I’d love to write a full-length review of all eleven stories in this anthology, doing so would have inflated this post to five or six thousand words at minimum because each one was set in its own unique universe. What I decided to do instead was to pick a few of the stories I enjoyed the most and talk about why I liked them so much. If any of these mini-reviews catches you attention, I highly recommend reading the whole anthology! It was well done and pretty interesting to read.

Purse

In “Purse,” a woman named Manyara battled anxious thoughts about the other passengers on the bus she was travelling on, especially when it came to a black man who was sitting near her. She was carrying thousands of dollars in her purse and worried she’d be robbed. This tale was filled with creative plot twists, so I’ll need to be mindful of what else I say about it.

What impressed me the most was how much effort I had to put in as a reader to figure out what was really happening on this bus ride. There was so much more going on with Manyara than she originally shared with the audience. This is something I’d recommend reading with as few assumptions about what is happening as your brain can handle.

What She Saw When They Flew Away

Grief doesn’t always end on a set schedule. Pearl, the main character of “What She Saw When They Flew Away,” had suffered a terrible loss before this tale began. Not only did she struggle to come to terms with it, she had even more trouble helping her daughter, Nayja, adapt to their new life together. Their sometimes-conflicting reactions to the same tragedy made me wonder what would happen by the final scene.

While I can’t say much else about their lives without giving away spoilers, I loved the metaphors Pearl used to explain how she was feeling even though I do wish she’d been given more time to show how they affected her life instead of simply telling the audience they were bringing up bittersweet memories.

Cue: Change

As the blurb mentioned, “Cue: Change” was set in a zombiepocalypse. These weren’t typical zombies, though, and their unpredictable effect on society was something I couldn’t have predicted ahead of time. I was fascinated by this twist on this monster. It was completely different from any other take on them I’ve read before, and it made me wish for more stories like this.

The humans also didn’t behave the way I’d normally expect them to in this sub-genre. Not only did they make calm, rational decisions, they stuck to their regular routines as much as they possibly could. This isn’t a common reaction to zombies, and it made me wish this was a full-length novel so I could get to know the characters even better than I did.