Tag Archives: Contemporary

Vengeance: A Review of Ceremony of Ashes

Ceremony of Ashes - A Horror Novella of Witchcraft and Vengeance by Jayson Robert Ducharme book cover. Image on the cover is of a silhoutte of someone holding a large staffTitle: Ceremony of Ashes – A Horror Novella of Witchcraft and Vengeance

Author: Jayson Robert Ducharme

Publisher: Self-Published

Publication Date: May 1, 2020

Genres: Fantasy, Horror, Contemporary

Length: 135 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author.

Rating: 3 stars

Blurb:

Something wicked descends upon Leinster Village
Adrian Holloway’s life is turned upside down after receiving a disquieting phone call. His sister and niece have gone missing, and his mother is in shambles.
Something malicious is lurking in his old hometown. Children are going missing and their mothers are turning up dead. People are afraid to go out. Rumors spread from house to house. Blood. Ritual murder. Sacrifice and mutilation.
Sins of the past become unearthed. A woman, whose powers are beyond imagination, is soon to extract her vengeance on the entire town. She can make the dead talk, breathe fire, and turn a man into an animal.
Only Adrian and a young female constable know the truth. Only they can stop her.
CEREMONY OF ASHES is a 135 page novella about witchcraft, vengeance, and how our destinies are sometimes forged before we are even born.
Fans of Stephen King, Ray Bradbury and Nikolai Gogol are in for a treat with this fast-faced, violent and uncompromising novella of terror.

Review:

Content warning: blood, ritual murder, sacrifice, and mutilation. I will briefly discuss these things in my next paragraph but will not go into detail about them.

Many of the items in that list happened before or after new scenes occurred. While this was firmly rooted in the horror genre for sure and did include some gory scenes, I was glad that so much of the rest of it was left up to the reader’s imagination.Filling in those moments for yourself can be so much scarier than having them all spelled out.

There’s more to Halloween than costumes and trick-or-treating in Leinster Village village this year.

Reading this novella was like eating a chocolate bar in the very best sense of that metaphor. I digested it quickly and enjoyed it for what it was without searching for a deeper meaning to it or anything like that. This was something that didn’t require analyzation or interpretation. It was simply a nice, scary distraction from everything going on the real world. Sometimes that’s exactly what a reader needs!

There were times when I had trouble keeping the dozens of characters straight. Some of them played pretty minor roles in the plot, so when they popped up again it often took me a while to remember who they were and how they might have been connected to the characters who were featured more prominently.

Small town life was captured nicely here. The characters I was able to keep good track of were connected to each other in multiple ways in many cases. I liked the way the many ways their lives overlapped was slowly revealed. It reminded me a lot of my own experiences living in small towns and how closely everyone’s lives end up intersecting regardless of whether they’re relatives of some sort or genetically unrelated to each other.

I would have liked to see more time spent on character development. While this was a heavily plot-driven tale and I certainly wouldn’t have expected it to be as introspective as something character-driven, it still would have been nice to get to know the main characters on a deeper level. They tended to be boxed into specific roles. While this isn’t necessarily a bad thing in moderation, it happened so much in this particular story that I didn’t get to know the characters as individuals like I wanted to.

The witchcraft aspect was handled well. One thing I look for in speculative fiction books that include this topic is a sense that the author has put some thought into why they chose a witch as their antagonist. Rest assured there were excellent reasons for this decision that will be revealed later on in the storyline.

I’d recommend Ceremony of Ashes – A Horror Novella of Witchcraft and Vengeance to anyone who loves the dark side of the horror genre.

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.

Endless Memories: A Review of The Deep

Book cover for The Deep by Rivers Solomon. Image on cover is of a mermaid swimming past a whale.

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. Their past, too traumatic to be remembered regularly, is forgotten by everyone, save one—the historian. This demanding role has been bestowed on Yetu.

Yetu remembers for everyone, and the memories, painful and wonderful, traumatic and terrible and miraculous, are destroying her. And so, she flees to the surface, escaping the memories, the expectations, and the responsibilities—and discovers a world her people left behind long ago.

Yetu will learn more than she ever expected to about her own past—and about the future of her people. If they are all to survive, they’ll need to reclaim the memories, reclaim their identity—and own who they really are.

Inspired by a song produced by the rap group Clipping for the This American Life episode “We Are In The Future,” The Deep is vividly original and uniquely affecting.

Content warning: Death of a parent and death of a child. I will not be discussing these things in my review. The quotes below were taken from the book.

Some types of pain echo through many generations.

Yetu was an amazing protagonist. Her struggles with acting as the Historian for her community made perfect sense. That burden had been placed on her shoulders at a tender age, and it honestly wasn’t something she was prepared to handle. While I can’t go any further into her backstory without giving away spoilers, I appreciated all of the work that had clearly been put into describing her personality, why she was given this role, and how it affected her both mentally and physically.

“Living without detailed long-term memories allowed for spontaneity and lack of regret, but after a certain amount of time had passed, they needed more.”

One of the things that I wish the blurb had made clearer was how the Wanjinru processed memories, especially since the plot wasn’t shared in a chronological order. Their minds didn’t work exactly the same as a human mind does for reasons that I’ll leave for future readers to discover, so Yetu often needed to repeat things to the audience as she remembered them again or thought of a detail she hadn’t included before. I liked this device a lot, but it wasn’t something I was expecting when I started reading.

The character development was quite well done. This was even more impressive given how Yetu’s memory worked. It’s definitely not easy to show someone growing and changing when they forget certain details over time, but the author pulled it off beautifully.

“We are not Wanjiru if being Wanjiru means distancing ourselves from pain.”

I do wish this book had been longer so that more time could have been spent on the world-building. Yetu both experienced and remembered some amazing events, but she needed to spend so much time repeating certain memories and making sure they were told in the right order that she simply didn’t have as much time as she needed in order to explain those events the way I wish they’d been shared with the audience. Another 50-100 pages of writing would have given me the clues I needed.

“Forgetting was not the same as healing.”

This is also something that could easily be fixed with a sequel if the author ever decides to revisit all of the incredible characters she created here. My fingers are crossed that this might happen one day.

With that being said, the ending couldn’t have been written more beautifully. I adored the way all of the important loose ends of the storyline were tied together while still leaving room for either a sequel or lots of fodder for the the imaginations of everyone who reads it. 

I’ve decided to end this review with a link to the song referenced in the blurb. Comparing its version of events with what happened in the book was fascinating, especially since the song came first!  It does contain spoilers, so keep that in mind while deciding when to listen to it if you’re like me and prefer to avoid spoilers.

 

The Deep by Clipping

Glimpses of Horror: A Review of Regretfully Invited

Book cover for Regretfully Invited by Jan L. Mayes. There is a skull, books, candles, a quill pen, and a page filled with writing on the cover.Title: Regretfully Invited: 13 Short Horror Stories

Author: Jan L. Mayes

Publisher: Self-Published

Publication Date: 2018

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

Length: 86 pages

Source: I received a free copy from Jan.

Rating: 3.5 Stars

Blurb:

Find out the answer to this question and more with this 13 story bundle of creepy, horror micro-stories and flash fiction.

No zombies, vampires, or werewolves.

Delve into disturbingly haunting quick tales of murder, madness, and mayhem. Contained in a menacing atmosphere where all is not right in the world.

Included in this bundle:

Double Vision
Based on real events, where midnight visitors could be sinister or a quirk of vision.

Tubsy & The Trauma of Oz
Based on real life hideously shocking consequences of letting a girl’s favourite dolly perform in the school play.

The Grave of Gelert
Based on a visit to the real Gelert’s Grave in Wales, a tribute to the memory of when hasty deadly action brought sorrow.

Mary Annette
Based on the most terrifying teleporting real life marionette ever rejected by a child.

Tinnitus Study 421: Rotary
A 50 word flash fiction experiment that inspired the optimistic psychopath Doctor Bell.

Regretfully Invited
When an audiologist knows too much about Doctor Bell’s tinnitus cure experiments, he takes an unorthodox approach to eliminating them as a witness.

Disembodied
Inspired by real events where left feet keep washing ashore in the Pacific Northwest, but police have no idea who they belong to or where they came from.

Dreams of Debbie
Based on real events after the death of a sister, when a dream may be more than a dream.

Eye Eclipse
A father uses a rare solar eclipse for revenge, inspired by real events when a bystander videos a fatal accident instead of trying to save the child.

Ladykiller
Based on nightmares of an alien apocalypse, where oversleeping has deadly consequences.

Dad’s Death Bells
Based on real events after the death of a father, who might have ghosted back to give a murderous message or last good-bye.

Cofveve Pie
A Mom’s desperate plan to prevent her daughter’s wedding by serving the fiancé a “special dessert”, inspired by real events and the mystery of what cofveve means.

Napkins
Inspired by a big brother who decides to take things into his own hands to protect his sister from Mother’s abuse, but things don’t turn out exactly as planned.

Review:

Book content warning: Murder, torture, cancer, and death of a pet. 

Sometimes it only takes a moment for someone’s destiny to change.

Since I wasn’t familiar with the legend that “The Grave of Gelert” was based on, I went into it with no pre-conceived ideas of what might happen next. This was one of the shortest tales in this collection, and yet it was also the most satisfying. It had a clear beginning, middle, and ending. The fact that the dog, Gelert, was the only character whose named was mentioned only made me more interested in finding out what happened after the king who owned him noticed that the infant prince was missing.

One of the things I noticed happening over and over again in this anthology were that many stories spent precious little time explaining what was happening in them. While I do understand that flash fiction and very short stories in general need to get straight to the point in order to stick to its word counts, there were several times when I had trouble understanding what happened in a scene or what an ending was supposed to mean because of how briefly everything was described. I loved the concepts behind all of them, but this confusion was what ultimately lead me to choose a lower rating than I would have otherwise gone with. This was something that was most noticeable with “Tinnutitus Study 421: Rotary” and “Tubsy & The Trauma of Oz.”

My favourite tale in this collection was “Dreams of Debbie.” It happened shortly after a woman named Debbie died from an aggressive form of breast cancer. Her grieving relatives were struggling to come to terms with her untimely death, and their healing process was not going well. I deeply enjoyed seeing how the plot developed from this point. It was simultaneously satisfying as well as something that made me desperately wish for a sequel.

If you love being scared senseless, Regretfully Invited: 13 Short Horror Stories may be the perfect book for you.

 

An Imperfect Crime: A Review of The Ghosts Inside

Dollar Tales from The Morbid Museum: The Ghosts Inside book cover. There is a fuzzy photo of an amphibious, bidedal creature on this cover. Title: Dollar Tales from The Morbid Museum: The Ghosts Inside

Author: James Pack

Publisher: VaudVil

Publication Date: 2019

Genres: Science Fiction, Horror, Contemporary

Length: 40 pages

Source: I received a free copy from James

Rating: 3.5 Stars

Blurb:

These Dollar Tales feature one or two short stories from the forthcoming collection of fiction by James Pack titled Morbid Museum. This Dollar Tale is called The Ghosts Inside and features the original and extended versions of the story. Go inside the mind of a man who believes he is saving children by ending their lives. Will he kill again or will someone stop him from taking young lives?

Review:

Content warning: child abuse and the murders of children. I will not be discussing these things in my review.

This e-book contains two versions of the same tale. I found the first draft too short for my preferences, so I’ll be reviewing the extended version.

Not every serial killer is an evil genius.

One of the things I liked the most about this story was the fact that the antagonist behaved like an ordinary person. (Well, other than the murders he committed, of course). He wasn’t the strongest, smartest, fastest, or most cunning person around. If not for his awful hobby, he would have struck me as a perfectly average man. That was refreshing.

I found it tricky to keep up with the multiple narrators. It would have worked really nicely in a novella or novel, but the roughly twenty-five pages that the extended version had to work with simply wasn’t enough space for everyone to show the audience who they were and what they were about. Focusing so intently on the killer in the first version was a smarter decision. As much as I enjoyed many of the other changes the author made to the storyline once it was expanded, I do wish this part of it had carried through.

There were so many hints about the killer’s personality that I was able to gently tease out of the things he said and did. It was interesting to figure out what made him tick. While he wasn’t someone I’d ever want to meet on a dark street or anywhere else, I did like the way the author tried to explain why someone would commit such unforgivable crimes. This only became more true as I realized what the killer’s biggest weakness was and why it appeared to be something that he himself wasn’t necessarily aware of. I’ll leave it up to other readers to put these pieces together for themselves, but they did make for a satisfying experience.

Dollar Tales from The Morbid Museum: The Ghosts Inside was much darker than what I typically read. I think it would be best suited for people who enjoy crime fiction or dark science fiction.

What It Means to be Human: A Review of Let’s Play White

A few months ago, Apex Publications invited me to be part of their Back Catalogue Blog Tour. I chose to write a book review for Chesya Burke’s Let’s Play White as my contribution to it. Other participants will be sharing author interviews and guest posts throughout this month, so click the link above to check… Read More