Tag Archives: Book Reviews

Keeping an Open Mind: A Review of The Watch

The Watch by P.A. Western-Pittard book cover. Image on cover shows a watch face that’s glowing yellow and green. It’s superimposed over a photo of some furniture draped in white sheets. Title: The Watch – An Upfallers Story

Author: P.A. Western-Pittard

Publisher: Self-Published

Publication Date: August 27, 2021

Genres: Fantasy, Humour, Contemporary

Length: 55 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author.

Rating: 3 Stars

Blurb:

A Hilarious longish-short story adventure for fans of Terry Pratchett and lovers of quirky fantasy scifi.

In the Temple City of Tarn, no one and nothing is who they seem…

When Julian, a down-on-his-luck acolyte, comes across an ancient watch, he thinks this is exactly what he needs to solve his money problems. But Julian always was an optimistic dreamer. What begins as a seemingly simple stroke of luck soon turns into an adventure where he must find the impossible, or literally die trying.

But considering Julian isn’t much a fan of either dying or trying, this is going to turn out to be harder than he thought.

A longish-short story involving Soap-Bubble-Temples, a quest for ancient warbots and the meanest gunrunner in town, The Watch is a riotous introduction to the world of the Upfallers series.

Review:

The fewer assumptions you make about this novella, the better.

I appreciated the way the narrator repeatedly broke or reimagined many of the most popular tropes of the fantasy genre. Yes, the plot included a quest, but even there the author was discerning about what happened to his character and how they reacted to it. There were multiple times when I was fairly certain I knew what might happen next due to how long I’ve been reading this genre. In most cases, I was completely wrong in a pleasant way. This was my first time reading Mr. Western-Pittard‘s work, so I don’t have anything else to compare it to yet. What I can say is that I was impressed with how he approached the concept of contemporary fantasy, and I’m curious to see if his other works might do the same thing.

Even though the blurb interested me quite a bit, I struggled to remain engaged with the slow pacing of this novella. It spent so much time setting up Julian’s backstory and strengthening the world building that I wished for more action and conflict. This was a pattern that repeated itself after Julian’s adventures with the talking watch began. It read more like the first chapter of a book instead of a self-contained story. I don’t want to make any assumptions about why it was written this way, but the style did interfere with my desire to learn more.

What saved the storyline for me was the wry personality of the watch. If I had to assign a personality to such an item, I would have gone with something much more serious and academic because for some reason my brain assumes that something that was created to keep track of time would probably be staid in general. This is only loosely related to what the author actually came up with, of course, but it was delightful to see how creatively Mr. Western-Pittard approached character development. Playing around with the audience’s assumptions and expectations always grabs my attention, and this is even more true when it’s done as joyfully as it was done here.

This seems to be the introduction to a series, and I believe it is where readers are supposed to begin meeting the characters. I can’t say if the later instalments can be read out of order as I haven’t picked them up yet.

The Watch – An Upfallers Story is a good pick if you’re in the mood for something humorous.

Suburban Sorcery: A Review of My Evil Mother

My Evil Mother by Margaret Atwood book cover. image on cover shows a 1970s style casserole dish that’s yellow, covered in witchy symbolism like moons and a hand, and has a white lid. Title: My Evil Mother

Author: Margaret Atwood

Publisher: Amazon Original Stories

Publication Date: April 1, 2022

Genres: Fantasy, Historical, Contemporary

Length: 32 pages

Source: I bought it.

Rating: 5 Stars

Blurb:

A bittersweet short story about mothers, daughters, and the witches’ brew of love—and control—that binds them, by the #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Handmaid’s Tale and The Testaments.

Life is hard enough for a teenage girl in 1950s suburbia without having a mother who may—or may not—be a witch. A single mother at that. Sure, she fits in with her starched dresses, string of pearls, and floral aprons. Then there are the hushed and mystical consultations with neighborhood women in distress. The unsavory, mysterious plants in the flower beds. The divined warning to steer clear of a boyfriend whose fate is certainly doomed. But as the daughter of this bewitching homemaker comes of age and her mother’s claims become more and more outlandish, she begins to question everything she once took for granted.

Review:

How do you spot a witch in the suburbs, and what do you do with her if you find her?

I adored the playfulness of this short story. When we first met her, the main character was a teenage girl living in a single-parent home in the 1950s and desperately trying to be normal. Sometimes her mother toed the line of what a woman was supposed to be like in that era, and sometimes she subverted those expectations in the most unusual ways. Was the girl’s mother really a witch? I’ll leave other readers to come up with their own theories about the answer to that question, but do solidify your decision before you move forward in the story. No matter what your answer is, it will be important to understanding what happens once the girl reached adulthood.

The plot twists were fabulous, and there were a surprising number of them in thirty-two pages. No sooner was I pretty sure I knew what was going to happen next than Ms. Atwood once again surprised me. This is one of the many reasons why she’s one of my favourite authors. There is definitely something to be said for anticipating the audience’s expectations and then playing around with them while pushing the plot in directions that many storytellers wouldn’t think to explore.

Tucked underneath the inventive storytelling and the humour were some serious messages about motherhood, girlhood, the complexity of family life, and how society slowly evolves over time in ways that older generations may not always fully understand and younger generations may take for granted. It’s difficult to discuss these things without wandering into spoiler territory. All you need to know is that there is plenty of substance beneath the fluffy exterior of certain scenes, and it’s well worth exploring after you’ve enjoyed the silly moments for what they are.

My Evil Mother was the perfect read for anyone who has ever wondered what’s really going on behind the scenes on quiet, unremarkable streets.

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


Hildie at the Ghost Shore by Paula Cappa book cover. Image on cover his a painting of a very foggy shore by a body of water. You can see almost nothing but the tiniest glimmer of blue water in the distance. 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 runes from the wind-god Odin. When a mysterious old sailor visits her attic workroom, he requests a reading. Hildie agrees. During the casting of the runes, Hildie conjures the Ship of the Dead, Loki the trickster, and flame-eyed ravens. Who will survive this adventure in a land beyond the ghost shore? Hildie at the Ghost Shore is a quiet little mystery (Kindle Single) with a dash of Norse mythology evoking the magic of the Runes. This story was originally published at Fiction365.

Review:

Content Warning: Murder.

Danish mysteries abound on this quiet shore.

The poetic and etherial style of this short story made it impossible for me to stop reading. It was my first experience with Ms. Cappa’s work, and I was immediately impressed by how smooth and beautiful her writing style was. She excelled at drawing this reader into the storyline and making me never want to leave it. Reading this felt like the literary equivalent of stepping into a light, airy fog on a mostly-deserted beach on a chilly late winter or early spring day. That is to say, I felt as if I’d stepped into another world or some alternative version of our own world whose rules of physics were just different enough to make it impossible for me to guess what remarkable things I might discover a few moments in the future. It was a truly delightful experience that made me eager to discover what else the author has written.

I would have loved to see more plot and character development. There was very little of the former and almost none of the latter which struck me as unusual for something that went on for twenty-two pages.  It would have made sense for flash fiction, and the premise could have been shrunken down to accommodate a much shorter interpretation of it. Unfortunately, it felt out of place for a longer work that did seem to have more than enough room to include both of these elements.

By far my favourite portion of this tale was the final scene. This was when the plot grew as thick and substantial as it ever would, and it explained some things that keen readers might have kept tucked in the back of their minds as half-formed questions since they first began reading it. I should note that I’m not very familiar with Norse Mythology, so I also appreciated the quick explanations of certain key terms and figures from it. Perhaps readers who are already well-versed on that topic could expound upon it in greater detail, but I was perfectly satisfied with it as is. Yes, I know I’m being vague here! Why share spoilers when you can allow other readers the thrill of surprise instead?

Hildie at the Ghost Shore was a dreamy, wistful reading experience that I cheerfully recommend saving for the next time the weather outside is too foggy, snowy, or drizzly to venture forth outdoors.

Unexpected Results: A Review of Untethered

Untethered by Nick Stephenson book cover. Image on cover show outer space. The top half of the stars are in a blue cluster and the bottom half are in a red cluster. Title: Untethered

Author: Nick Stephenson

Publisher: Self-Published

Publication Date: February 24, 2021

Genres: Science Fiction

Length: 20 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author.

Rating: 2 Stars

Blurb:

When a scientist discovers the secret to teleportation, he struggles to figure out what to do with it.

This short story is a love letter, of sorts, to what is commonly referred to as “The Golden Age” of science fiction – the heady days of the 1930s – 1960s where spaceflight had only just become more than a dream and the possibilities seemed endless. I hope you enjoy my take on it.

Review:

Content Warning: Deaths of lab animals.

Inventing can be tricky business.

Teleportation is one of those topics that used to be covered regularly in the science fiction genre but is rare enough to find these days that I always perk up when I read a blurb that references it. Some of the most memorable scenes were the ones that described how the protagonist and his assistant discovered how to transport living creatures across long distances in the blink of an eye. Their original theories about how to do it were solid, but it certainly took them a great deal of time to translate theories into something safe, effective, and profitable. I smiled as I read about the joy they shared when all of their hard work paid off. That scene was somehow by far the most relatable of them all even though teleportation isn’t actually possible in our world yet.

As intrigued as I was by the premise of this short story, were some massive plot holes in it. One of them involved the development of the teleportation machine the main character spent so much time talking about, and the other involved the twist ending. It struck me as odd for such an intelligent and passionate protagonist to gloss over how he expanded a small prototype into something that could be safely used on adult human beings. While I can’t say much about the ending for spoiler reasons, it also contained inconsistencies that seemed quite out of character for a protagonist who had devoted his life to scientific research. I really wish these portions of the storyline had been explained in greater detail as I desperately wanted to give this a higher rating!

Science hasn’t always been used for wholesome purposes, especially when the original creators of a device, drug, or other work are no longer fully in control of who does and doesn’t have access to it. My favourite moment happened when the narrator realized some of the more sinister applications for his invention long after he lost the ability to have a say in how it was used. His reaction to that moment was a tiny slice of the resolution, but it made all of the portions of it I cannot discuss in my review even more poignant. One of the reasons why I enjoy science fiction so much has to do with how it can coax an audience to think about serious, real-world issues like these that we might otherwise not think about, and on that note the author’s message certainly thrived.

Untethered was a wild ride.

A Review of Tales from Monarch Bay: First Memories

Tales from Monarch Bay - First Memories by J.M. Acosta book cover. Image on cover shows a frozen river of some sort that’s either covered in snow or a large flock of birds. Title: Tales from Monarch Bay – First Memories

Author: J.M. Acosta

Publisher: Self-Published

Publication Date: April 12, 2021

Genres: Fantasy, (mild) Horror, Paranormal, Contemporary

Length: 55 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author.

Rating: 3 Stars

Blurb:

All it took for Rien was to touch his old Rio player and a sudden rush of memories from High School came flooding back. To when he first moved to Monarch Bay and met The Keeper. When he had to stop the faceless man and save the world from an ancient threat. But are these really memories he wants to relive?

Review:

Content Warning: Vomiting and a little blood.  I will not discuss them in my review.

Everything in life has its own rhythm if you pay enough attention to it.

One of the biggest strengths of this novella in my opinion had to do with the way it explored old, half-forgotten memories. I think that just about all of us have had the experience of discovering such a memory after being exposed to something that reminds of us of the past. I was fascinated by how the narrator reacted to everything his mind dredged up, whether they were of happy times or terrible ones. It can be quite a jarring experience, and that aspect of it was captured just as nicely as the many other emotions the narrator felt as he relived that portion of his teenage years.

I had trouble keeping track of the plot and the world building. Some of their most important moments were described so rapidly and in such little detail that I wasn’t always sure what was happening. This was a technique that made sense in the beginning when Rien first discovered the MP3 player and had no idea what it was capable of doing, but I wasn’t quite sure why it was used later on once the stakes were higher. As much as I would have loved to give this a higher rating, I simply couldn’t do it due to these issues.

Beaches are such liminal spaces that it made perfect sense for so much of this tale to happen on and near them. It was interesting to take note of all of the connections the author made between the existence of ordinary beaches in our world and the otherworldly places they described that were every bit as transitory and filled with uncertainty. What made this portion of the storyline even better was how it was even more deeply explored in the ending, but that’s all I can say about that topic. If you want to learn more, you’ll simply have to go read it for yourself.

Tales from Monarch Bay – First Memories was a thought-provoking read.

Stop That Infernal Racket! A Review of Drummer Boy

Title: Drummer Boy Author: Nakia Cook Publisher: Self-Published Publication Date: October 27, 2020 Genres: Fantasy, Paranormal, Folklore, Contemporary Length: 12 pages Source: I received a free copy from the author. Rating: 4 Stars Blurb: Something besides the drum kit in the attic is creating a disturbance in the house, and it’s driving Nadia and Adam… Read More

Visions in the Fog: A Review of Terror at Deventhier Bay

Title: Terror at Deventhier Bay Author: Eloise Molano Publisher: Self-Published Publication Date: July 24, 2021 Genres: Horror, Paranormal, Historical Length: 26 pages Source: I received a free copy from the author. Rating: 3 Stars Blurb: In a remote region of the north, in a huge bay was the town of Deventhier, the characteristic of this… Read More

The Tumultuous Lake: A Review of Dark Waters

Title: Dark Waters Author: Katherine Arden Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers Publication Date: August 10, 2021 Genres: Middle Grade, Fantasy, Mystery, Paranormal, Horror, Contemporary Length: 256 pages Source: I borrowed it from my local library. Rating: 3 Stars Blurb: An Indie Bestseller! Filled with chills and spooks galore, New York Times bestselling… Read More

Fixing Everything: A Review of Solaria

Title: Solaria  Author: Thomas Volz Publisher: Self-Published Publication Date: June 7, 2020 Genres: Science Fiction Length: 42 pages Source: I received a free copy from the author. Rating: 4 Stars Blurb: After encouraging his savant daughter to build a theoretical time machine, Eduardo Solmar scrambles to complete the project after Elishia mysteriously vanishes. His tampering… Read More

A Review of Dare vs. The Doll

Title: Dare vs. The Doll – A not-actually-scary horror short story Author: Si Clarke Publisher: White Hart Fiction Publication Date: March 30, 2021 Genres:  Horror, Parody, Humour, Romance, Contemporary Length: 31 pages Source: I received a free copy from the author. Rating: 3 Stars Blurb: Who expects a haunted doll to be such a nuisance?… Read More