Tag Archives: Contemporary

The Mysterious Noise: A Review of The Echo in the Valley

Book cover for The Echo in the Valley by Zak Standridge. Image on cover is a black-and-white photo of a woman in a white dress sitting on a horse at the edge of a large forest. The woman’s head is shaped like a ram and has two large horns curling out of it. Title: The Echo in the Valley

Author: Zak Standridge

Publisher: Self-Published

Publication Date: March 28, 2021

Genres: Fantasy, Mystery, Paranormal, Contemporary

Length: 33 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author.

Rating: 3 Stars

Blurb:

“What about you? Long after sunset and way past midnight, when you gaze into that dark forest… have you ever seen a light?”

Review:

Content Warning: Murder. I will not be discussing it in my review.

Some questions are so big even the Internet can’t answer them.

It’s fairly rare to watch characters age from childhood to adulthood in a short story, so I was thrilled to keep meeting the protagonists over and over again beginning with who they were in their preteen and early adolescent years. There were all sorts of wonderful little hints about how they’d grown and changed over time. Kel and Tim always retained those parts of their personalities that made them unique, though, and and I loved seeing how their true selves stuck around no matter how much everything else around them changed.

There was too much foreshadowing in this tale in my opinion. I figured out the twist in it pretty early on due to all of the hints that were provided about it. Since that twist was such a central part of the plot, I would have preferred to either work a little harder at piecing everything together as I read or have some other conflict to occupy my mind for the last two-thirds of the storyline instead. This is something I’m saying as someone who enjoyed this piece quite a bit and would recommend it to anyone who enjoys these genres.

I adored the open-ended final scene. While it included a basic explanation of what was happening in the woods every year on April 22 that so terribly confused everyone in their small, rural community in the Ozarks, it also left plenty of space for the audience to come up with our own interpretations about what this phenomenon meant and why it happened. This was the perfect approach to something that so easily defied any logical explanation. There was room for a sequel if the author ever decides to write one, but I also found myself quite satisfied with how all of the most important things were tied together in the end.

If you like  paranormal stories, The Echo in the Valley might be right up your alley.

 

Whispers from the Past: A Review of Ghost of the Mountain

Ghost of the Mountain by Elvira Dahl book cover. Image on cover shows a hazy ghost walking down a black and white path. Title: Ghost of the Mountain

Author: Elvira Dahl

Publisher: Self-Published

Publication Date: November 5, 2019

Genres: Horror, Fantasy, Paranormal, Contemporary

Length: 65 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author.

Rating: 4 Stars

Blurb:

“Some parts of the earth are not meant to be disturbed.”

Oscar Brandt’s career as operating technician at one of Sweden’s biggest IT companies is going exactly as planned. Thanks to a new big-shot client, the company’s rock shelter facilities are to be expanded with a new server hall. And Oscar is up for the promotion of his career. But while blasting away inside the mountain, a tragic accident occurs that open the gates to the underworld. Suddenly, a ghost from Oscar’s past starts haunting him, and he soon finds himself in a familiar, dark place he might not escape from again.

Ghost of the Mountain is a tale of caves, underground server halls and abandoned mines. Of the mythic creatures that guard the deep. And of two kids with Gameboys, bonding in the darkest of places.

Review:

Content Warning: Blood and devil worship. I will not be discussing them in my review.

Quiet places aren’t always peaceful ones.

To be perfectly honest, I was somewhat confused by the flashbacks at first. They didn’t seem to have anything to do with Oscar’s current life, so I was curious to see what the connection there might be. Be patient if you have the same reaction to these scenes because they do pay off in the end. I can’t go into much further detail about them other than to say that the author knew what she was doing here. As soon as I figured out what was going on, I grinned. The payoff was so worth it in the end!

I would have liked to see more attention paid to the folklore in this novella. The characters shared tantalizing hints about what they might be dealing with here, but there wasn’t quite enough of it for me to go for a full five-star rating due to how many unanswered questions I had about the legend they mentioned and how it was related to what happened to Oscar. This was my only criticism of something that was otherwise well-written and fascinating.

The ending was quite satisfactory. I was originally expecting a completely different conclusion to it all, so I once again had the opportunity to rethink my assumptions and pick out the clues that the author had left in earlier scenes about where she was going with this piece. Yes, I know I’m being more vague than usual in this review, but this really is the sort of tale that works best if new readers know as little about certain plot twists as possible in advance. Just know that there are answers coming and they’re well worth the wait!

Ghost of the Mountain made me shudder. It’s a great pick for anyone who loves spooky stories, especially as Halloween season approaches.

Overdue Consequences: A Review of The Swell

The Swell by Adam Vine book cover. Image on cover shows reflection of child standing on a pier and looking into a mostly-still body of water. There are a few ripples of water around the wooden columns holding the pier up. Title: The Swell

Author: Adam Vine

Publisher: Self-Published

Publication Date: March 1, 2021

Genres: Fantasy, Paranormal, Mystery, Contemporary

Length: 11 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author.

Rating: 2 Stars

Blurb:

Ana Barrington’s son is missing – and so is everyone else’s child. Every kid in Santa Cruz has vanished, leaving no trace but a single, cryptic message directing their parents to the sea…

Review:

Content warning: Death of children. I will not discuss this in my otherwise spoiler-free review.

Even the brightest day at the beach can hide some dark secrets.

One of the most interesting scenes happened in the beginning when Ana first realized her son Dana was missing. She briefly argued with her next-door neighbours about which of their missing children was a worse influence on the other one. I thought that moment was a great chance to get to know her better and a realistic look at the sorts of things a worried parent would bicker about while frantically looking for their child.

The narrator discovered hints here and there, but the brief explanations for how those things were connected only made my confusion about this storyline stronger. This is something I’m saying as a reader who prefers stories that expect their audiences to put work into figuring out a tricky mystery or subtle plot development. I have no problem with open-ended final scenes or not having all of my questions answered, but I really struggled to figure this one out or connect to it despite my strong interest in the beginning.

I enjoyed the way the message of this story was shared with the audience. Normally, I’m not a big fan of tales that are written as a warning for their readers, but I thought this one struck a good balance between pushing the plot forward and making its point. It was short and matter-of-fact on the issue it wanted to bring our attention which is always a good thing in my opinion.

If you love dark fantasy, The Swell might be right up your alley.

A Review of Lux Terra – An Origin Story

Lux Terra an Origin Story by Zachary Hagen book cover. Image on cover shows a young man wearing a letter jacket and jeans staring straight ahead at the audience. Title: Lux Terra – An Origin Story

Author: Zachary Hagen

Publisher: Self-Published

Publication Date: March 9, 2021

Genres: Young Adult, Fantasy, Contemporary

Length: 10 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author.

Rating: 3 Stars

Blurb:

This is a prequel and origin story for the world of Lux Terra featured in the upcoming novel, Eternity’s Well, set to release August 2021. Please enjoy this look into the lives of Elior, Eliam, and their mother on a rainy morning in their home.

Review:

Rainy days were made for telling folktales.

The warm, positive relationship between the main characters and their mother as they drank tea and listened to her stories was refreshing. Too often parents in the young adult genre are either no longer present in their children’s lives due to death or abandonment or are wildly out-of-touch with what their kids are getting up to. It’s always nice to see authors break these tropes, and I hope Mr. Hagen will continue to do so as Elior and Eliam have further adventures.

While I certainly wouldn’t expect an origin story to contain as much conflict as the books that are meant to come after it, I did have some trouble paying attention as I was reading because of how little conflict was present here. It would have been helpful for this reader if Elior, Eliam, and their mom Emily needed to face some sort of obstacle or disagreement as they decided how to spend their time while the summer storm raged on outside.

I enjoyed the author’s measured writing style. He always seemed to know exactly when to describe something in great detail versus giving the audience the basic gist of it and then expecting us to fill in the rest with our own imaginations. Fantasy is one of those genres that can really benefit from expecting the audience to do some of their own legwork in imagining fantastical places in my opinion, so this was a great choice.

Lux Terra – An Origin Story is a good pick if you’d like a sneak peek at a new fantasy series.

One Look Back: A Review of During the Dance

 

During the Dance by Mark Lawrence book cover. Image on cover is a silhoutee of a ballet dancer with two arms and one leg up in the air.Title: During the Dance

Author: Mark Lawrence

Publisher: Self-Published

Publication Date: July 4, 2014

Genres: Fantasy, Paranormal, Contemporary, Historical

Length: 9 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author.

Rating: 2.5 Stars

Blurb:

A story of love, loss, and the dance in between. Absolutely not a romance.
A short story about a child with a gift for seeing past the world.

Review:

Content warning: Death of a child. I will not be discussing it in my review.

Memories are the gateway to the past.

The writing itself was lovely. Without wandering into spoiler territory as it would be easy to do for something of this length, this was set in the narrator’s past as well as his present. He glided between them effortlessly, and his descriptions of his early childhood memories in a low-income but nurturing family often made me smile. There were some hints about exactly when this was set, but I appreciated the fact that the author left the precise decade up to interpretation. That along with the poetic framing of the scenes made it feel timeless in the best possible interpretation of that word.

Unfortunately, there were several tantalizing and important clues that were never developed. While I’d certainly understand if some of them were left up to the reader’s imagination due to how young the narrator was when the earliest events of this tale took place, it was confusing for me as a reader to not have enough information to put everything together. I spent most of these nine short pages convinced that the things the child was seeing were a warning or threat of some kind because of how often they seemed to appear right before something bad happened. It was perplexing to never get confirmation or denial that this theory might be the right one.  This would be a great jumping-off point if the author ever decides to write a sequel.

I appreciated what this story had to say about grief and loss. While the first pangs do tend to ebb with time, there is no expiration date on those emotions. Sometimes they can pop up again years later when something unexpectedly stirs up an old, half-forgotten memory. Mr. Lawrence did well at showing how suddenly these moments can happen and how they affect someone who wasn’t planning to spend their day reliving the past.

Yes, this review is a bit vaguer than my usual fare, but During the Dance really is something that should be leapt into without any spoilers in advance. If anything I wrote here tickles your fancy, I’d recommend reading it for yourself and coming up with your own conclusions.

Placid Revelations: A Review of The Lake

Title: The Lake Author: Tananarive Due Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin Publication Date: August 11, 2011 Genres: Science Fiction, Horror, Contemporary Length: 21 pages Source: I received a free copy from the author. Rating: 4 Stars Blurb: A free short story taken straight from the pages of THE MONSTER’S CORNER, an all original anthology from some… Read More

Bedroom Battle: A Review of The Teddy Bear’s War

Title: The Teddy Bear’s War Author: Alex Cross Publisher: Self-Published Publication Date: January 17, 2021 Genres: Young Adult, Fantasy, Contemporary Length: 9 pages Source: I received a free copy from the author. Rating: 5 Stars Blurb: Every little kid is afraid of the dark in some way. The unknown scares us all to some extent.… Read More

A Quiet Life: A Review of The Retirement

Title: The Retirement Author: Keith Minnion Publisher: White Noise Press Publication Date: January 4, 2021 Genres: Horror, Paranormal, Contemporary Length: 9 pages Source: I received a free copy from the author. Rating: 3 Stars Blurb: Charles Midwich, a recent retiree, decides to move to a new state, a new town, an entirely new life and… Read More

Lost but Not Alone: A Review of Boo and the Boy 

Title: Boo and the Boy – A Ghost Story Author: Wayne Barrett Publisher: Self-Published Publication Date: October 23, 2020 Genres: Middle Grade, Fantasy, Paranormal, Horror, Contemporary  Length: 24 pages Source: I received a free copy from the author.  Rating: 5 Stars Blurb: In the heart of the Mojave Desert, a little boy wanders, lost and… Read More

Murky Moments: A Review of Fragments

Title: Fragments – A Collection of Short Stories Author: Jachrys Abel  Publisher: Self-Published Publication Date: November 21, 2020 Genres: Literary Fiction, Science Fiction, Paranormal, Contemporary, Historical, Futuristic  Length: 40 pages Source: I received a free copy from the author  Rating: 3.5 Stars Blurb: Fragments explores various facets of humanity through eight short stories—each of different… Read More