Tag Archives: Book Reviews

A Review of Dollar Tales from the Morbid Museum: Creatures

Dollar Tales from the Morbid Museum- Creatures by James Pack book cover. Image on cover is of two lights shining in a dark forest. Are they eyes or headlights? Title: Dollar Tales from the Morbid Museum: Creatures

Author: James Pack

Publisher: Self-Published

Publication Date: April 23, 2019

Genres: Science Fiction, Horror, Paranormal, Mystery, Contemporary

Length: 49 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author.

Rating: 4 Stars

Blurb:

Welcome to the Creatures Exhibit. Visitors to the Morbid Museum seek the dark and twisted corners of the world. They are both terrified and intrigued by the unknown. Tales of killers, monsters, and madmen are curated by the Master of Death, Mr. Siris Grim. Mr. Grim collects the darkness that everyone attempts to hide and displays it within the corridors of his gruesome gallery. Who will be next to purchase a ticket and walk the halls of the Morbid Museum?

Review:

Horror fans, I have something special for you today!

As I mentioned in my review of An Imperfect Crime, Mr. Pack excels at taking perfectly ordinary characters and throwing them into situations they never could have anticipated. I love that plot device and was excited to see what he came up with this time.

There were a few tags I left off of this post for spoiler reasons. None of them were things that are commonly known to be sensitive topics, but I’ll happily discuss them privately with anyone who wants to verify if this is the right book for them. There were four stories in this collection, so I’ll give each one it’s own chance to shine in this review.

“The Harpy of Miller Road” began with a 911 call about a naked woman down the middle of a road. The fascinating thing about this emergency was how the 911 operator reacted to it. There’s so much more I want to say about this tale. It really captured the author’s writing strengths beautifully, especially when it comes to expecting his audience to do some of their own legwork to put all of the pieces together.

A man named Peter was questioned by the police after accidentally killing a stranger in “Disengagement.” I’m not normally the sort of reader who sympathizes with murderers, so it came as a bit of a pleasant shock to me to see how much I liked him and hoped the detective in charge of this case would somehow exonerate him. Did the facts seem to be turning against him quickly? Yes! Did that matter? No, not at all. Finding out what really happened and if Peter was as innocent as I hoped he would be made it impossible to stop reading this.

There’s honestly not much I can say about “The Hearing” without giving away the plot twists in it. Obviously, it’s about a hearing that will decide someone’s fate. David, the man in the centre of it all, was one of the friendliest folks you could imagine. The discrepancy between what he was accused of doing and how he behaved reminded me of “Disengagement.” There were so many similarities between the two that I did wish they could have been split into separate collections to keep readers from comparing them, especially since they were right next to each other in the page count. They’re both good stories. I just found it a little tricky to think about them without comparing them.

I’ll admit to being confused by “The Fall of the Foot” at first. There were a ton of characters running around in it and I didn’t immediately catch the cultural reference that was embedded in those scenes because it wasn’t something I knew much about growing up. That quickly changed once I caught up and realized just how cool it was to see these characters in a whole new light. Oh, how I wish I could tell you all who they were. Let’s just say that you’ll probably recognize them much faster than I did and that their adventures were well worth checking out.

If you enjoy this collection, I definitely recommend checking out the rest of the Dollar Tales.  Everything that I’ve read so far from this universe works perfectly well as standalone stories, but they’re even better when understood as a group.

Hopeful Science Fiction: A Sun Will Always Sing

Click on the tag “hope” at this bottom of this post to read about all of my suggestions for hopeful science fiction. If you have recommendations for future instalments of this series, I’d sure like to hear them. Leave a comment below or send me message about it on Twitter.

Earlier this year I discovered the Better Worlds series, a science fiction anthology of short stories and films about hope that was published at The Verge in 2018. This is the seventh story from this anthology I’ve covered here, and I will eventually blog about all of them.

A Sun Will Always Sing

You might be able to guess what the cargo is already. It wasn’t something that was intended to be a twist ending, although I’ll still refrain from saying specifically what it was in this review.

I liked the fact that nobody dwelled on the environmental damage done to Earth. It was something only briefly hinted at, but everyone had already had ample time to accept the fact that climate change was real and that humans were responsible for it. The two major reactions people had to it were things I think all of you should discover for yourselves. Yes, they were both hopeful, so no worries there.

With that being said, I found the terminology in this tale to be confusing at times. Some words were references to real things in our world, while others were created entirely for this universe to explain how society had evolved. It wasn’t always easy to tell those two apart which made figuring out what was going on tricky when the narrator didn’t explain themselves fully.

Keep a search engine handy when you read this and look up any word you can’t figure out from context clues. The spoilers for future plot twists are minimal to non-existent in most cases, and they’ll make it all easier to understand if you get stuck.

I still enjoyed the storytelling quite a bit, however. The narrator wasn’t human, so their understanding of our species could be humorous at times. I would have loved to hear what else they had to say about us and our idiosyncrasies in a longer version of this tale, although we really did get everything we needed from what the author wrote.

The ending was immensely satisfying. It reminded me of how hopefully Star Trek episodes would end during The Original Series or The Next Generation to give a fair comparison that won’t share any hints about what actually happened in the final scene.

This is feel-good science fiction at its best. I had no idea a pandemic was coming when I first began the Hopeful Science Fiction series, but it’s such a positive thing to focus on at the moment. May you all find as much peace in this and every instalment of it as I do.

Oh, and this story was also made into a short film. It contains spoilers, but it’s a good option for anyone who found the terminology a bit confusing like I did or who prefers visual storytelling. 

Happily Ever After: A Review of A Tale of Two Princes

Book cover for A Tale of Two Princes. Image on the cover is of a young woman lying in a bed with a frog sitting on her chest and shoulder.Title: A Tale of Two Princes

Author: Victoria Pearson

Publisher: Self-Published

Publication Date: January 1, 2014

Genres: Fantasy, Romance, Contemporary

Length: 36 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author.

Rating: 3.5 Stars

Blurb:

Sleeping Beauty meets The Frog Prince in this short but perfectly formed modern fairytale re-telling.
Doctor Prinze is happy in his secretive job at a very unusual hospital. He takes pride in asking unfussed questions however strange the patient seems when they get wheeled through his door, and he is content going home to his gadgets and uncomplicated quiet.
His simple life is turned upside down when Dr Prinze is asked to make room on his ward for some potentially contagious visitors, and everything changes forever.

Review:

Now is the perfect time for a fairy tale romance.

Both of the narrators had clear, well-defined voices. I could always tell who was speaking which is crucial when you have two narrators sharing limited space in a short story. This is definitely a good example of how to pull that sort of writing off successfully!

One thing I did want to note about this tale had to do with how the adult male characters reacted to a fifteen-year-old girl they found attractive. To be fair, traditional fairy tales are often filled with material like this, there were discussions about the inappropriateness of their interest in her, and she was never harmed. But this is still something I thought I should note in my review in a non-critical manner so that readers who are sensitive to this topic can decide for themselves whether it’s the right choice for their reading lists.

The plot twists were well done. There were references to several different fairy tales in the storyline, and they were all honoured while still giving a modern approach to how their adventures would play out in our era. I especially liked the way the Doctor Prinze and the rest of the hospital staff tried to find scientific explanations for the magical events that changed their patients’ lives. If only I could say more about that without giving away spoilers.

I would have liked to see more attention paid to how this hospital acquired new patients. Yes, Doctor Prinze was under strict confidentiality orders, so I could understand why that would prevent him from sharing certain world building details with the readers. With that being said, it did feel a little odd to me to suddenly hear about new patients coming to his facility without having any idea  how they were discovered or who sent them there. Even a couple of paragraphs explaining how this worked would have been enough for me to bump it up by a star.

The ending was as logical as it was satisfying. I was the sort of kid who always had a million questions about why certain fairy tales ended the way that they did, especially when it came to Sleeping Beauty. The fact that the author seemed to have similar questions about the original only made her version of it better.

A Tale of Two Princes could be a good place to start if you’re looking for something that is simultaneously light and fluffy while also remaining surprisingly true to traditional forms of storytelling for this genre.

Hopeful Science Fiction: The Burn

Click on the tag “hope” at this bottom of this post to read about all of my suggestions for hopeful science fiction. If you have recommendations for future instalments of this series, I’d sure like to hear them. Leave a comment below or send me message about it on Twitter.

Earlier this year, I discovered the Better Worlds series, a science fiction anthology of short stories and films about hope that was published at The Verge two years ago. This is the sixth story from this anthology I’ve covered here, and I will eventually blog about all of them.

There are mild spoilers in this post. There were also a few tags I had to leave off of this review due to major spoiler reasons. Rest assured that this wasn’t part of the horror genre or anything like that.

The Burn

Blue flames against a black backgroundPeter Tieryas’ The Burn told the tale of a mass hallucination called “The Burn” that affected 95 people simultaneously from every corner of the globe.

No matter what language they spoke, everyone who experienced it talked about a blue flame that was burning up the entire world.

The protagonist was a digital artist whose brother, Tommy, was one of the people affected by it. This lead the main character to take a job developing an augmented reality device that would  replicate what these folks were seeing so that psychiatrists could hopefully find a treatment or cure for this illness.

All of this happened in the first couple of scenes. There are plenty of plot twists I’m leaving out, but I had to reveal the beginning in order for my review to make sense to anyone who hasn’t read it yet.

Yes, there was an excellent reason why this random group of people were seeing the same thing at the same thing. This was the sort of science fiction story that starts with an attention-grabbing hook and then actually explains things in a satisfactory manner. (I enjoy open-ended stuff, too, but wanted to make it clear that this isn’t something that will leave anyone scratching their head and wondering what in the world just happened by the final scene).

The relationship between the protagonist and Tommy was mostly revealed in the lengths they went to protect him. They really loved each other, and that’s something I always appreciate reading about. It’s nice to read science fiction about people who have happy, healthy relationships with their relatives.

What I liked the most about this story was the way it played with the audience’s expectations. I genuinely thought it might be part of the horror genre when I first started reading it based on how seriously people were mentally affected by The Burn. The fact that I was completely wrong about this was delightful. There is definitely something to be said for leaving things so ambiguous in the beginning, especially when the payoff at the end was so strong.

This felt incredibly modern to me in a good way. As in, all of the technological references made it crystal clear that this was set in the present day. It will be interesting to see how this tale ages, but I suspect it will be just as hard to put down in five, ten, or twenty years.

In short, go read this story if you need a pick-me-up! It was filled with the very best sort of surprises that I wish I could list in this post without ruining the ending for all of you.

Military Science: A Review of 1NG4

Book cover for 1NG4. Image on cover is of a metal structure that has been photographed just after dusk.Title: 1NG4: A Long Short Story

Author: Berthold Gambrel

Publisher: Self-Published

Publication Date: January 11, 2019

Genres: Science Fiction, Mystery, Young Adult

Length: 51 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author

Rating: 5 Stars

Blurb:

Gunnar is part of a team studying a powerful new energy source aboard the seaborne platform Ryojin. But their work is interrupted, first by mysterious attackers, and then by a visitor from the sea even stranger than the new technology…

Review:

Strap in for a wild ride!

The world building was well done. This was set at some unspecified time in the future when climate change melted so much ice at the polar ice caps that sea levels flooded many formerly inhabitable areas. I’ll leave it up to other readers to discover how this changed not only the Earth itself but also human society and the expectations of the average person of what their life can or should be like. What I can say is that it was well thought out and logical. I wanted to know more, but I was also satisfied with what was presented to us.

One of the most interesting things about this tale was how much it relied on the audience to come up with our own theories about what it means and what it was trying to say about human nature. There were a couple of times in the beginning when I wished it was a little clearer about which interpretation, if any, was actually the most reasonable one. Be patient while reading this because it really does gel together beautifully in the final scene for reasons that I’d better not so much as hint at to avoid any semblance of spoilers.

I’m honestly not that well acquainted with military science fiction, but I really liked how this example of it was written. The plot focused on a scientist working on the Ryojin, a vessel that had strong ties to a futuristic version of the military in a world where war seemed to be less common than it is today.

With that being said, there were the sorts of battles you’d expect to find in this subgenre. What I liked the most about those scenes was how smoothly they set up the rest of the storyline.

This story was labelled as something written for the 16-18 age level on Amazon. I agree with that age range, but I also think it’s something that will appeal just as much to adult readers. I read a ton of young adult and science fiction novels, and I think it incorporated both of those genres nicely. Although it did lean much more heavily in the science fiction direction, so don’t let the young adult label scare you off if that’s not typically something on your bookshelf! There’s something here for everyone.

In the end, 1NG4: A Long Short Story was an incredibly satisfying read that I highly recommend.

Safe Haven: A Review of Everfair

Title: Everfair Author: Nisi Shawl Publisher: Tor Books Publication Date: 2016 Genres: Fantasy, Alternate History, Steampunk Length: 384 pages Source: I borrowed it from the library. Rating: 3 stars Blurb: From noted short story writer Nisi Shawl comes a brilliant alternate-history novel set in the Belgian Congo. What if the African natives developed steam power… Read More

A Review of Beyond Death – Tales of the Macabre

Title: Beyond Death – Tales of the Macabre Author: Natasha Duncan-Drake & Sophie Duncan Publisher: Wittegen Press (Self-Published) Publication Date: 2019 Genres: Fantasy, Horror, Paranormal Length: 27 pages Source: I received a free copy from the authors. Rating: 4 Stars Blurb: Two tales that look past death into the terror beyond. The Cup Runneth Over by… Read More

Endless Memories: A Review of The Deep

Title: The Deep Author: Rivers Solomon Publisher: Saga Press Publication Date: 2019 Genres: Science Fiction, Afrofuturism, Contemporary, Historical Length: 175 pages Source: I borrowed it from the library. Rating: 4 Stars Yetu holds the memories for her people—water-dwelling descendants of pregnant African slave women thrown overboard by slave owners—who live idyllic lives in the deep.… Read More

Haunting Secrets: A Review of The Lost Ones

Title: The Lost Ones Author: Anita Frank Publisher: HQ (Harper Collins) Publication Date: 2019 Genres: Fantasy, Mystery, Gothic, Horror, Paranormal, Historical Length: 400 pages Source: I borrowed it from the library Rating: 3.5 Stars Blurb: Some houses are never at peace. England, 1917   Reeling from the death of her fiancé, Stella Marcham welcomes the… Read More

Sleeping Beauty Retold: A Review of The Spellbound Spindle

Title: The Spellbound Spindle Author: Joy V. Spicer Publisher: Self-Published Publication Date: 2018 Genres: Fantasy, Fairy Tale, Retelling, Historical Length: 345 pages Source: I received a free copy from the author. Rating: 4.5 Stars Blurb: A misguided elf curses a baby to die on her sixteenth birthday. Gem elves alter the curse to one of… Read More