Tag Archives: Contemporary

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.

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.

The Tumultuous Lake: A Review of Dark Waters

Dark Waters by Katherine Arden book cover .Image on cover shows a gigantic fish swimming up to the surface of a lake as boats peacefully float on top of the water. 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 author Katherine Arden’s latest installment in the creep-tastic Small Spaces Quartet is sure to haunt.

Until next time. That was chilling promise made to Ollie, Coco and Brian after they outsmarted the smiling man at Mount Hemlock Resort. And as the trio knows, the smiling man always keeps his promises. So when the lights flicker on and off at Brian’s family’s inn and a boom sounds at the door, there’s just one visitor it could be. Only, there’s no one there, just a cryptic note left outside signed simply as —S.

The smiling man loves his games and it seems a new one is afoot. But first, the three friends will have to survive a group trip to Lake Champlain where it’s said Vermont’s very own Loch Ness monster lives. When they’re left shipwrecked on an island haunted by a monster on both land and sea, Brian’s survival instincts kick in and it’s up to him to help everyone work together and find a way to escape.

One thing is for sure, the smiling man is back and he wants a rematch. And this time Brian is ready to play.

Review:

Content Warning: Snakes, shipwreck, snake bite, and death of a parent. I will not be discussing these things in my review.

It was only supposed to be a short boat tour, but anything can happen out on the water.

In my review of the second story in this series, I mentioned yearning to read one of these adventures from Brian’s perspective. It was exciting to crack open this one and realize my wish had been granted. Brian’s parents were more protective of their son in certain ways than could be said for Ollie or Coco, so it was interesting to see how he balanced his parents’ expectations that he would be a studious kid who socialized most often with his family with his own desire to spend so much of his free time with his two best friends. This tension between him and his parents went a long way in explaining some of his personality quirks that I’d noticed earlier in the series. It was wonderful to get to know him better.

The abrupt ending caught me by surprise. It happened exactly when the storyline picked up speed and had reached its most exciting portion. While I think I understand what the author was trying to do here and hope it does pay off in the final instalment, it was jarring as a reader to transition from an adrenaline-surging scene to turning a page and realizing this book had suddenly ended. I was disappointed by the lack of closure for the conflicts that the characters were dealing with.

With that being said, there was a minor conflict involving bullying from Small Spaces that was finally resolved here. It wasn’t something I was expecting to see the characters bring up again, so it was nice to watch them work it out and come to an agreeable conclusion. This did give me hope that the author will do the same thing for the many conflicts that were introduced here but left hanging at the end. I will be reading the fourth and final book with high hopes that it will earn a much higher rating from me than this one did.

This is the third instalment in the Small Spaces Quartet. Be sure to read Small Spaces and Dead Voices first as there were references to those tales here that will only make sense to people who have read this series in order.

Dark Waters was an exciting nautical adventure.

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.

Be Careful: A Review of Dead Voices

Title: Dead Voices Author: Katherine Arden Publisher: Puffin Books Publication Date: June 30, 2020 Genres: Middle Grade, Fantasy, Mystery, Paranormal, Adventure, Horror, Contemporary Length: 272 pages Source: I borrowed it from the library. Rating: 5 Stars Blurb: Having survived sinister scarecrows and the malevolent smiling man in Small Spaces, newly minted best friends Ollie, Coco,… Read More

Learning to Be Good: A Review of The School for Good Mothers

Title: The School for Good Mothers Author: Jessamine Chan Publisher: Simon & Schuster Publication Date: January 4, 2022 Genres: Science Fiction, Dystopia, Contemporary Length: 336 pages Source: I borrowed it from the library. Rating: 3 Stars Blurb: In this taut and explosive debut novel, one lapse in judgement lands a young mother in a government reform program… Read More

Big Dreams to Achieve: A Review of Oli the Old Owl

Title: Oli the Old Owl Author: Lee Keene Publisher: Self-Published Publication Date: October 29, 2021 Genres: Children’s, Fantasy, Contemporary Length: 10 pages Source: I received a free copy from the author. Rating: 3 Stars Blurb: A story of loneliness and fantasy. Imagination transmogrifying into Reality! A secret memory that only the little boy will know!… Read More

Small Town Secrets: A Review of Haunted Love

Title: Haunted Love Author: Cynthia Leitich Smith Publisher: Candlewick Press Publication Date: December 13, 2011 Genres: Young Adult, Paranormal, Fantasy, Contemporary Length: 33 pages Source: I received a free copy from the author. Rating: 3 Stars Blurb: Spirit, Texas, is a town of secrets, and as the new owner of the local haunted movie theater,… Read More

You’d Better Run Faster – A Review of Small Spaces

Title: Small Spaces Author: Katherine Arden Publisher:  Puffin Books Publication Date: July 9, 2019 Genres: Middle Grade, Fantasy, Paranormal, Mystery, Horror, Contemporary Length: 256 pages Source: I borrowed it from the library. Rating: 4 Stars Blurb: After suffering a tragic loss, eleven-year-old Ollie who only finds solace in books discovers a chilling ghost story about… Read More