Tag Archives: Book Reviews

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.

One Look Back: A Review of During the Dance

 

During the Dance by Mark Lawrence book cover. Image on cover is a silhoutee of a ballet dancer with two arms and one leg up in the air.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 child with a gift for seeing past the world.

Review:

Content warning: Death of a child. I will not be discussing it in my review.

Memories are the gateway to the past.

The writing itself was lovely. Without wandering into spoiler territory as it would be easy to do for something of this length, this was set in the narrator’s past as well as his present. He glided between them effortlessly, and his descriptions of his early childhood memories in a low-income but nurturing family often made me smile. There were some hints about exactly when this was set, but I appreciated the fact that the author left the precise decade up to interpretation. That along with the poetic framing of the scenes made it feel timeless in the best possible interpretation of that word.

Unfortunately, there were several tantalizing and important clues that were never developed. While I’d certainly understand if some of them were left up to the reader’s imagination due to how young the narrator was when the earliest events of this tale took place, it was confusing for me as a reader to not have enough information to put everything together. I spent most of these nine short pages convinced that the things the child was seeing were a warning or threat of some kind because of how often they seemed to appear right before something bad happened. It was perplexing to never get confirmation or denial that this theory might be the right one.  This would be a great jumping-off point if the author ever decides to write a sequel.

I appreciated what this story had to say about grief and loss. While the first pangs do tend to ebb with time, there is no expiration date on those emotions. Sometimes they can pop up again years later when something unexpectedly stirs up an old, half-forgotten memory. Mr. Lawrence did well at showing how suddenly these moments can happen and how they affect someone who wasn’t planning to spend their day reliving the past.

Yes, this review is a bit vaguer than my usual fare, but During the Dance really is something that should be leapt into without any spoilers in advance. If anything I wrote here tickles your fancy, I’d recommend reading it for yourself and coming up with your own conclusions.

Placid Revelations: A Review of The Lake

The Lake by Tananarive Due book cover. Image on cover is of lightning striking a lake in the middle of the night. 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 of today’s hottest supernatural writers, featuring stories from the monster’s point of view.

In THE LAKE, Abbie LeFleur, a lifetime Bostonian, who hides her scales, webbed feet, and an incredible hunger for people, has relocated to Graceville to start her life anew when she sets her eyes on a young student in her English class.

Review:

Every town has its own unique way of doing things.

Abbie’s character development was well done, especially given the short length of this piece. I loved picking out new clues about how she was changing as she adjusted to her new job and home. Sometimes they were subtle, but they always made sense given who she’d been in the beginning.

There was one small thing I never understood about this story, and it had to do with the way the citizens of Graceville reacted to a new person moving there. In my experience, secrets are nearly always quickly exposed in small towns whether they belong to the newcomer or those who were born there. It didn’t make sense to me that Abbie could have lived there for as long as she did without anyone stopping by to welcome her and give her advice. Whether or not this character would heed their warning was an entirely different manner, but I struggled to understand why it was never given in the first place.

The ending made me shudder. While this was firmly rooted in the horror genre, but it wasn’t bloody or gory at all. Instead, the author relied on hints about what might happen next to frighten her audience. I love this sort of horror and had a wonderful time imagining what a sequel might be like. If the author ever writes it, I’ll read it for sure!

The Lake is a solid summer read for anyone who enjoys psychological horror.

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. 

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

A Quiet Life: A Review of The Retirement

Title: The Retirement Author: Keith Minnion Publisher: White Noise Press Publication Date: January 4, 2021 Genres: Horror, Paranormal, Contemporary Length: 9 pages Source: I received a free copy from the author. Rating: 3 Stars Blurb: Charles Midwich, a recent retiree, decides to move to a new state, a new town, an entirely new life and… 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