Tag Archives: Collections

Looking Back, Moving Forward: A Review of Ghost Stories for Christmas

Ghost Stories for Christmas by Shane Brown Book cover. image on cover shows a painting of a small, rural community in the 1800s. There is a thick layer of snow on the dirt road with two brown tracks through it. A church and some houses in the distance are snow-covered, too, and people are walking on the snowy sidewalk all bundled up as well. Title: Ghost Stories for Christmas

Author: Shane Brown

Publisher: Self-Published

Publication Date: December 3, 2021

Genres: Paranormal, Holiday, Historical, Contemporary

Length: 105 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author.

Rating: 4 Stars

Blurb:

Five ghost stories set during the Christmas period to add an extra chill to the festive season! In “Houses Never Forget,” a man returns to the village he grew up in, only to find that a house hasn’t forgiven him for something he did as a boy. “The Philatelist” tells the story of two brothers, one good and one bad – but even the good might want revenge from beyond the grave. “Breaking Up is Hard to Do” is the tale of a man who is forced to repeat a tragic evening from his student days every year, but what happens when he tries to break the cycle? A university professor rents a remote cottage on the grounds of a former school in order to write up his research in “The Stranger in the Snow,” but, when the snow falls, he finds he’s not alone. Finally, “The Gift” is the heart-warming tale of an old man who is given an unusual gift by a department store Father Christmas. From the author of “The Pied Piper,” “The School Bell,” and “The Successor.” 

Review:

Content Warning: arson, death of parents, hypothermia, possession, grief, widowerhood, infertility, homophobia, mental illness, someone getting beat up, car accident, murder, and references to the Covid-19 pandemic. One minor character died of Covid-19 before the tale they were in began. I will not discuss these topics in my review.

Christmas is the perfect time to reflect on the past for the living and the dead alike.

Here’s an interesting tidbit of information for you as I get this review started: all of these stories are set in the same village, Brandley. Keep that in mind as you read them.

The unnamed protagonist in “Houses Never Forget” was someone who rarely thought about his rash childhood decision that that angered the house in his village so much. I can’t go into a lot of detail about what he did without giving away spoilers, but I thought this was an intelligent sketch of a character who would be easy to villanize but whose decision was also one that many other folks make every single day without realizing just how corrosive small town gossip can be.

Joshua, the bad son in ”The Philatelist,” was a violent troublemaker who never showed signs of empathy for anyone. I was intrigued by how the adults around him reacted to him when he destroyed property and physically harmed others. He was the sort of person I’d never want to cross paths with, and yet I couldn’t help but to wonder what had made him behave the way he did and why he enjoyed bullying his younger brother so much. It would have been helpful if the narrator had explained the origins of his behaviour because of how erratic and violent he was, but I also recognize that there are people like him walking around in real life whose decisions are just as difficult to understand. The plot of this one was straightforward, so I was glad to have some character development to ponder while I read.

After the heaviness of the previous story, “Breaking Up Is Hard to Do” was a nice change of pace. I think we all probably have at least one thing in our pasts we wish we could go back and change. When that isn’t possible and there’s a ghost involved who insists on repeating the same evening over again on the anniversary of her death every December, what’s the next best option? Other readers should discover the answer to that question for themselves, but I thought this was a thought-provoking look at the unhelpful patterns people can find themselves in when they’re unwilling to face their pasts. If only the narrator had dove more deeply into the topic. There seemed even more that could have been said about it, and I would have gone for a full five-star rating if a few minor things like this had been adjusted in this collection.  The final scene made me wish for a sequel, too, given all of the hints in it about what was about to happen to the main character next.

Everyone needs peace and quiet sometimes. Paul thought he’d found it in “The Stranger in the Snow” until the snowstorm hit. His compassionate response to the visitor who appeared after it had been snowing for a while told me everything I needed to know about him. I enjoyed seeing how they interacted and quietly waited for an explanation of why someone would be out in a snowstorm alone without enough layers to keep them warm. The ending, too, was my favourite of all of the endings in this collection. I held my breath as it was announced and wished I could dive back into the opening scene to warn Paul about what was to come.

”The Gift“ had such a cynical beginning that I honesty wasn’t sure what to think of that protagonist. Was Arnold this grumpy about everything, or was it only Christmas that he thought had been irrevocably ruined? Luckily, I didn’t have to wait long to get my answer, and when it arrived it softened my opinion of him immediately.  One never knows what others are quietly struggling with, and I wiped away a few tears as Arnold slowly shared more of his past with the audience. This was such a beautiful and heartwarming way to close off this collection.

Ghost Stories for Christmas made me smile.

A Review of Sail away, sail away, sail away: Nautical Ghost Stories

Sail Away, Sail Away, Sail Away - Nautical Ghost Stories by William Macmillan Jones book cover. Image on cover shows the sea crashing into a rocky shore. Title: Sail Away, sail away, sail away – Nautical Ghost Stories

Author: William Macmillan Jones

Publisher: Red Kite Publishing Ltd

Publication Date: March 21, 2022

Genres: Paranormal, Contemporary

Length: 32 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author.

Rating: 4 Stars

Blurb:

The sea has always fascinated me, and I grew up with a weakness for sea stories. I have always enjoyed ghost stories too, and the sea and the uncanny are wonderful bedfellows. Here are two stories about yachts that meet inclement weather where the Bristol Channel meets the Irish Sea and the Atlantic Ocean – with very different results.

Review:

Content Warning: Dysfunctional marriage, drowning, medical emergency (broken arm). I will briefly mention these topics in my review.

Never turn your back on the ocean.

Charles was a reluctant sailor in “Sail away, sail away, sail away.” Ellen, his wife, was passionate about the sport and insisted he go sailing with her regularly. What I found most rewarding about this tale was exploring their deeply dysfunctional and enmeshed relationship. Charles struggled with setting boundaries and saying no, while his wife had a difficult time accepting the word no, respecting boundaries, or listening to others. This all came to a head one day when they went sailing in the Bristol Channel and encountered much rougher waters than Charles had been expecting to find. The plot unfolded in a rather expected direction from there, but this wasn’t something that required zany plot twists to work well. Seeing how the characters dealt with conflict and the results of an accident was more than enough to keep me interested. I was simultaneously satisfied with how it ended and curious about what might happen next if the author ever decides to write a sequel.

In “Storm Front,” a sailor named Simon chose not to check the forecast and was unexpectedly caught in a violent storm while attempting to sail to Milford Sound alone. Due to how much time was spent explaining Simon’s knowledge of sailing and the precautions he took when packing for a voyage, I was surprised by the fact that he didn’t check the weather the morning of his trip. Were readers supposed to think he was less experienced than all other signs pointed to or that he made an honest mistake that day? I wish I’d been given an answer to this question as the rest of this story was delightful. I shuddered when Simon accidentally broke his arm in the first scene and wondered how he was going to survive such a dangerous storm now that he only had one arm that was capable of maneuvering the sails, steering his cutter, and performing other necessary tasks.

Sail Away, sail away, sail away – Nautical Ghost Stories was a memorable summer read.

A Review of Apeiorn – Tales of an Argonaut 1

Apeiron - Tales of an Argonaut 1 by M.P. Cosmos book cover. Image on cover shows person reading a book in a blue bubble in outer space next to the milky wayTitle: Apeiron – Tales of an Argonaut 1

Author: M.P. Cosmos

Publisher: Self-Published

Publication Date: November 28, 2020

Genres: Science Fiction 

Length: 25 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author. 

Rating: 3.5 Stars

Blurb:

“It’s the 20th millennium.

Humankind has extended throughout the galaxy fighting against alien species to earn its place.

Millennium after millennium, humans managed to conquer almost all the Milky Way.

Much time has passed since the golden age of humanity; even though some colonies retain their splendour, most live in isolation.

Backward and unaware of having others like them through a galaxy that they once possessed.

I’ve been wandering from planet to planet since the beginning of time;

observing the magnificence and the horrors of this galaxy.

Watching over humanity until the time of action is upon me.”

This is a collection of 4 ten minutes stories.

Review:

Does human nature change? That is the eternal question. 

I’ll briefly review all four of the stories in this collection. The same narrator was present in all of them which provided a nice link between worlds and characters that would otherwise never have reason to be mentioned in the same place. 

In “The Price of Regret,” a scientist name Scaf and his wife worked for years to design robotic bodies for themselves that would never age or grow sick. As soon as Scaf figured out how to get his idea to work, he transferred his consciousness over to his artificial form without delay. This tale was interesting, but the ending puzzled me. I never quite did figure out what was happening with it, much less what the fates of the characters might have been. It would have been helpful to have a clearer understanding of what was going on there. 

The planet Koinon had transitioned into a state of global winter after a global war in “The Rise of the Machines.” As a result, all of the living things that survived that conflict now lived deep underground. The society humans built on this badly damaged planet was a fascinating one, especially when it came to how people handled the practicalities of doing everything they needed to not only survive but thrive so many miles below the surface. This could have easily been expanded into a full-length novel. It certainly had enough conflict for one, and the basic facts I learned about evolution of human society over time in this world only made me yearn for more information about it. 

“The Barrier” took place on a planet called Xatanvi where a man named Andrew had to decide whether to continue donating part of his meagre wages to help update a planet-wide barrier that not every human agreed was cost-effective or even necessary anymore. Humans can be good at minimizing the risks of things they haven’t personally experienced, so I was curious to see what he’d decide to do and how his personal decision might affect the lives of everyone around him. 

Last but not least, “The Thing Lurking” was about a man named Clotho lived on a feudal planet called Zoi. He was a simple farmer who dreamed of a more exciting life. When a mysterious stranger offered him a deal too good to be true, he decided to take it without a second thought. While I did find the plot twists in this one to be pretty predictable, I still enjoyed finding out what happened to Clotho. 

If you’ve ever wondered what humanity’s distant future might look like, Apeiorn – Tales of an Argonaut 1 could be right up your alley. 

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

The Ursus Versus by Nathan Waddell book cover. Image on cover is of a cartoon bear standing behind a tree stump, peeking out, and waving. 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 for something to do? Because that’s what I like and this is my chapbook which captures that spirit of fun and terror and the comfort of a good fun book.
This is the first in a series of chapbooks containing poetry and flash fiction and short stories with themes ranging from those mentioned above to deeper explorations of humanity. But honestly the themes mentioned already are all about that too.

Review:

Now is the perfect time for lighthearted science fiction.

Ordinarily, I’ll pick out a few short stories, poems, or essays from collections like these and share my thoughts about them. There were so many funny themes covered here that I thought it was best to allow other readers to discover them for yourselves without spoilers, especially since the later entries often referenced earlier ones.  All you need to know is that this is heavily based on science, science fiction, fantasy, and mythology. Start at the beginning, relax, and enjoy.

This is the sort of young adult science fiction that easily crosses over into adult audiences. The humour in it is tongue-in-cheek and does rely on a certain amount of understanding of the types of scientific concepts generally taught in high school, but it explains most of them well enough to appeal to preteens who haven’t taken Biology yet or older adults who might have last thought about the Paleozoic era half a century ago. In other words, don’t spend too much time thinking about whether you’re “Young Adult” enough for this collection. If you’re interested, there will almost certainly be something here that appeals to you.

Some of my favourite sections were the ones that relied on puns and jokes. Yes, there were the usual quips about what bears do in the woods, but that was the only the beginning of the many reasons to laugh while reading this collection. Honestly, what could be better than finding the humour in speculative fiction no matter which branch of it the narrator happens to be visiting at the moment? I sure can’t think of many things.

Be sure to read the author’s explanations of why he wrote select pieces of this collection. The explanations are all located at the very end, and it was really interesting to read their backstories.

I’m looking forward to reading the rest of this series. Everything published here was first written about twenty years ago, and Mr. Waddell’s writing style has evolved quite a bit since then. If you want to follow along as he shares that journey, The Ursus Versus the perfect place to start.

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

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… Read More