Tag Archives: Canadian Authors

The Healer: A Review of Sweet Basil

Sweet Basil by Lea Doué book cover. Image on cover shows a young woman wearing a black cloak and touching her Hans as she walks through a deserted forest on a slightly foggy day. TitleSweet Basil – A Firethorn Chronicles Short Story

Author: Lea Doué

Publisher: Butterwing Publishing (Self-Published)

Publication Date: August 30, 2021

Genres: Fantasy, Historical

Length: 24 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author

Rating: 3 Stars

Blurb:

Hiding from sorcerer hunters, Marisol travels in search of those she can help with her dangerous gift of healing. With every life she saves comes the risk of being discovered, but only if her secret doesn’t destroy her first.

Sweet Basil is a stand-alone short story set in the world of The Firethorn Chronicles, a series drawn from The Twelve Dancing Princesses and other fairytales.

Review:

Content Warning: Pain and  life-threatening illnesses. I will not mention them in my review.

Would you continue using your powers for good even if doing so put you in terrible danger?

I’d never read a tale about a magical tattoo, and the idea excited me as soon as it was introduced in one of the very first scenes. The person who had that tattoo knew that it was something incredibly special that not everyone around them would understand, so they had to take measures to prevent others from noticing that their tattoo could do things like move around of its own accord. I’m dancing around this subject a little to avoid spoilers, but I was impressed by how creatively the author explained this portion of the plot. It made me think about tattoos in an entirely new light, and I was pleasantly surprised by how much this item affected the course of the storyline.

It would have been helpful to have more world building. No, I didn’t expect the author to explain everything, especially since it was a prequel that was primarily meant to whet the appetites of new readers for more. With that being said, there were a few scenes I found confusing because of how little time was spent explaining what the rules of magic are in this universe and how someone can reasonably expect a magical object to behave when it is used. I simply didn’t know enough about those matters to tell if items like the tattoo were acting out of the ordinary or not.

One of my favorite things about this story was how it depicted Marisol and Renzo’s friendship. Many storytellers, especially in the fantasy genre,  immediately assume that any two characters who are single and who share compatible sexual orientations must end up in a relationship together no matter how much this may or may not make sense for their individual character arcs or for the plot as a whole. Given this trope, it was refreshing to see how the author handled their friendship and where she took it. Her decisions made sense for for what I know thus far about the characters and the plot. Obviously, I can’t say how the rest of the series will develop from here as I haven’t read it yet, but I appreciated what’s been done with it up until this point.

This is a prequel to a series. It can be read as a standalone work.

Sweet Basil – A Firethorn Chronicles Short Story made me smile. 

Canadian Tidbits: A Review of Northern Gothic Stories

Northern Gothic Stories by Helena Puumala and Dale Olausen book cover. Image on cover shows green and yellow Northern Lights in the sky at night over a flat plain. There are a few mountains in the distance, too. Title: Northern Gothic Stories

Author: Helena Puumala and Dale Olausen

Publisher: Dodecahedron Books

Publication Date: December 19, 2012

Genres: Science Fiction, Fantasy, Mystery, Horror, Historical, Contemporary

Length: 123 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the authors.

Rating: 3 Stars

Blurb:

Do you like stories featuring aliens, legendary monsters, psychic children, mysterious disappearances, gamblers, cheats, murderers and perhaps old Beelzebub himself? Of course you do – who could resist?

Join two story tellers, a husband and wife team, while they spin pairs of yarns with similar themes and premises, but diverging and surprising plots. Which will you prefer? Take the plunge into the icy world of Northern Gothic Stories and find out for yourself.

Our first pair of stories, “The Magnetic Anomaly” and “The Boathouse Christ” involve tranquil northern lakes and the paranormal mysteries lurking below placid surfaces.

Our second set, “Beyond the Blue Door” and “A Dark Horse” feature mysterious disappearances, which might be natural, but more likely supernatural.

Our final set, “Take me out to the Ballgame” and “The Stalkers” deal with decidedly natural horrors – serial killers, their victims, and third parties who might be one or the other.

Though our stories have northern locales, they might happen anywhere; perhaps even in your quiet town.

Please note that these stories may contain scenes that some readers might find disturbing.

The six stories are each about 6000 words, for a total of about 36000 words. Each can be read in about 20 minutes to half an hour.

Review:

Content Warning: murder, blood, stigmata, emotional abuse, rape, incest, and references to the crucifixion of Christ. I will briefly discuss the sexual and emotional abuse in my review but will not go into graphic detail about them. I will not mention the rest of these topics.

Now is the perfect time to dig into Canadian stories.

In “The Magnetic Anomaly,” a geophysicist named Alex was flown to a remote location in the Barren Lands of the Northwest Territories for twelve weeks in order to take a magnetic survey with a small group of fellow experts and investigate something odd that was happening up there. I was surprised by how much foreshadowing was included here, and I wondered why the characters didn’t pay closer attention to it. With that being said, this was still an enjoyable read. The Canadian tundra was an excellent setting for such a mysterious experience.

The title of ”The Boathouse Christ” grabbed my attention immediately. Imagine finding a wooden image of Christ in a boathouse of all places! Terese, the 14-year-old daughter of the couple who had recently purchased the boathouse, prayed to the image which I thought was an intrigued touch given how that scene was used later on. There was a fairly large cast of characters in this tale, but they all played important roles in both the storyline as well as the author’s wholesome point about what a “real” Canadian in Northern Ontario should look and sound like. It was well worth the time I took to get to know all of them even though I was a little overwhelmed at first. I loved seeing so many perspectives on why some Canadian immigrants don’t feel like they fit in here at first, too.

I have previously reviewed ”A Dark Horse“ and so will not repeat my thoughts about it here.

Jenny was a lonely girl growing up in an emotionally and sexually abusive home in “Beyond the Blue Door” who vividly imagined stepping through a blue door to cope with her trauma. I must be honest here and say this was a tough read due to the subject matter. There was nothing I wanted more than to step into her world and help her escape it. Anyone who is able to read about such terrible things will discover a wonderful surprise at the end, though, so don’t give up if the beginning is difficult.

As soon as Reggie spotted Alison jogging past him in ‘Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” he was intrigued by her. I could see where this story was headed early on. Due to how easy it was to predict what would happen next and how disturbed I was by the content, I did not enjoy this piece. It was also hard for me to understand why certain characters did not pick up on red flag behaviour much earlier on in the storyline. This did not seem to fit their previous patterns of behaviour and so it confused me.

It was a dark and stormy night when Steve, a Toronto security guard, began planning his next murder in “The Stalkers.” I was wary of where this tale was going due to my dissatisfaction with the previous one that shared a similar theme. While this storyline included more plot twists, I still found myself wishing that more attention had been paid to how some of the characters reacted to unexpected events. The earlier descriptions of them once again didn’t match their later behaviour. Just like with “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” it  would have been helpful to have more character development so that I could tell if they were behaving in ways that were out of the ordinary for them or if these were simply parts of their personalities that hadn’t been revealed yet.

Northern Gothic Stories was an interesting mixture of Canadian fiction.

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.

Stop That Infernal Racket! A Review of Drummer Boy

Drummer Boy by Nakia Cook book cover. Image on cover shows a series of five different types of drums lined up next to each other. 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 to wit’s end in this rhythmically haunting tale.

Review:

Content Warning: Car accident. I will not discuss it in my review.

Is there anything more irritating than living with a musician who thinks they need to practice all of the time?

I appreciated the simplicity of this tale. Yes, there were the requisite number of plot twists, but the narrator always stuck close to the original dilemma about living with someone who couldn’t stand the sound of drums being played. The storyline chugged along beautifully as it was, so I was glad to see the author give her characters so many opportunities to be their true selves. That was exactly the right decision to make in my opinion!

There was a minor plot hole involving the drums and why they existed in that particular house that I wished had been explained. As much as I want to go into detail about that issue, I’ll need to tread carefully here in order to avoid spoilers. Let’s simply say that I wondered why the characters had chosen such an unusual fate for them when I could think of several other practical solutions for it that seemed more likely than the one that was eventually revealed. This was the only thing holding me back from giving a five-star rating as everything else about it was well written.

This was my first time reading one of Ms. Cook’s stories, and it was a wonderful introduction to her imagination and writing style. She seemed to be the sort of writer who shared enough details for the reader to understand what is happening and then trusted us to fill in everything else for ourselves. For example, the physical appearances of the characters were barely mentioned at all, but their personalities shone through brightly. This pattern was repeated in other areas, too, like the ending that you’re all simply going to need to read for yourselves. I enjoyed coming up with my own explanations for everything she left unsaid and will keep an eye out for more of her work in the future.

Drummer Boy was a particularly good read for musicians or anyone who has ever lived with one.

A Review of Dare vs. The Doll

Dare vs the Doll: A not-actually-scary horror short story Kindle Edition by Si Clarke author. Image on cover is a photo of a scruffy little dog looking up with alarm at someone standing next it in rain boots. 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?

When Dare’s dog discovers an abandoned doll on their doorstep, Dare assumes it’s nothing more than a lost toy… until it begins to talk.

After the doll offers up a string of bad suggestions and unhelpful advice, Dare is left wondering if the isolation of lockdown has finally proved too much.

Struggling to get rid of the bed-tempered toy, Dare has no idea that this not-quite-scary fiend will accidentally change everything.

With a dash of humour, this queer cosy-horror short story is a fun, quirky tale – perfect for readers who like the idea of being scared more than the reality of it.

Review:

Content Warning: One haunted doll. This was also technically set during a Covid-19 lockdown in 2020 or early 2021, but none of the characters were sick or anything during it.

Some problems are much easier to solve than you might think!

Dare was an amazing main character. I will leave it up to readers who have autism to comment on those aspects of this character, but I really enjoyed their matter-of-fact approach to any number of problems, from the sudden appearance of a rainstorm to the probably evil doll that they couldn’t seem to get rid of no matter what they tried. Honestly, Dare was exactly the sort of person I’d hope to have around in an emergency. If only all characters in Horror stories were this sensible and practical!

I would have liked to see the author spend more time on the parody elements of the plot, especially when it came to making fun of how many characters behave at the beginning of horror stories. Those were the best scenes in this short story in my opinion, and I would have loved to have more of them. The author did an excellent job of acknowledging the expectations of that genre while also showing a much more realistic reaction to learning that one’s dog has accidentally brought home a haunted doll. I simply needed more of these elements in order to give this a higher rating due to how important those themes were to the storyline.

The romantic plot twist was as unexpected as it was delightful. I rarely find stories that mix romance and horror together, especially if they’re about Queer characters. This is even more true when I narrow that list down to authors who have done so successfully for me as a reader. They are such wildly different genres that it’s pretty difficult to find the right balance between the lightheartedness of most romance and the heavier themes of most horror, so it was a great deal of fun to see how it happened here.

Dare vs. The Doll made me chuckle.

Sweet Sleuthing: A Review of Junkyard

Title: Junkyard (a Fractured Stars Novella)  Author: Lindsay Buroker  Publisher: Self-Published Publication Date: January 5, 2019 Genres: Science Fiction, Mystery Length: 81 pages Source: I received a free copy from the author. Rating: 3.5 Stars Blurb: McCall Richter works as a skip tracer, tracking down criminals, con men, and people who stop making payments on… Read More

A Review of This Time Around – A Canadian Werewolf Story 

Title: This Time Around – A Canadian Werewolf Story Author: Mark Leslie Publisher: Self-Published Publication Date: February 16, 2013 Genres: Fantasy, Contemporary Length: 70 pages Source: I received a free copy from the author  Rating: 3.5 Stars Blurb: Caught Between the Moon and New York City  Being a werewolf isn’t all about howling at the… Read More

What Bears Do in the Woods: A Review of The Ursus Verses

Title: The Ursus Versus Author: Nathan Waddell Publisher: Self-Published Publication Date: October 29, 2020 Genres: Science Fiction, Fantasy, Young Adult Length: 66 pages Source: I purchased it. Rating: 5 Stars Blurb: Do you like bears and black holes and squid monsters and dragons and cowboy dragon slayers and riding your bike all around town looking… Read More

Wednesday Weekly Blogging Challenge: Books Set in Ontario

Hosted by Long and Short Reviews. Click here to read everyone else’s replies to this week’s question and here to see the full list of topics for the year. Most people immediately think of Toronto when they hear the word Ontario. I love my city, but today I wanted to highlight the province as a whole.… Read More

My Favourite Canadian Books

Happy belated Canada Day! One of the most interesting parts of moving to Canada was getting to read some of the amazing books that have been written by Canadian authors over the years. From what I’ve observed, there seems to be a lot of Canadian literature that isn’t necessarily that well-known in the United States.… Read More