Tag Archives: Contemporary

Home, Sweet Home: A Review of Christmas at Crownthorn Manor

Christmas at Crowthorn Manor - a Yuletide Ghost Story by Chris McGurk book cover. Image on cover shows a black and white photo of snow falling heavily on a cottage in the woods. There is a white car parked in front of the cottage.Title: Christmas at Crownthorn Manor – A Yuletide Ghost Story

Author: Chris McGurk

Publisher: Self-Published

Publication Date: December 19, 2019

Genres: Young Adult, Holiday, Paranormal, Contemporary

Length: 27 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author.

Rating: 3 Stars

Blurb:

Three brothers travelling home for Christmas become waylaid in a fierce snowstorm. Pulling up at an old manor house, they think they are in luck when the owners let them stay the night. But all is not as it seems at Crowthorn Manor on Christmas Eve… Reviving the much-loved tradition of the Christmas ghost story, Christmas at Crowthorn Manor will send shivers down your spine on your journey back home.

Review:

Content Warning: 1918 influenza pandemic, grief, death of children, World War I, prejudice, and suicide. I will mention the 1918 flu and Covid-19 in my review.

Christmas is supposed to be a happy time spent with loved ones. What happens to a Christmas that doesn’t meet these goals?

The 1918 flu is something I’ve been interested in since I was a kid, so I’m always happy to see it pop up in fiction. After the current pandemic began, I understood better why previous generations were often so reticent to discuss such things even years later. It can be painful to remember tragic stories about death, disability, grief, and suffering, and yet I think there’s something to be said for commemorating these topics in fiction when it’s appropriate to do so. Remembering the past is a way to honour the dead and to hopefully guide the decisions we make today to help everyone’s futures be healthier ones. The author sensitively included the societal, emotional, and medical effects of the 1918 flu here. They had excellent reasons for doing so that other readers should discover for themselves. These were some of my favorite passages in this short story, and I would have happily read more of them.

I did find myself wishing that more attention had been paid to how and when the author used the tropes of this genre. Anyone who is familiar with tales about characters who get lost on a snowy night and find themselves seeking shelter at a mysterious, old mansion will be able to figure out just about everything that is to come by the time they finish the first page. Yes, I know this was written for teenagers, but even with that taken into consideration I thought another round of editing would have made a difference. Tropes are good – or at least neutral – things in and of themselves, but they were utilized so heavily here that it negatively affected things like the character and plot development. I so badly wanted to give this a higher rating, and yet the predictability of it all was too much for me to do so.

With that being said, I loved the way the author incorporated modern technology and tools like cell phones, the Internet, and Google Maps into the storyline. It’s trickier for characters to get lost in believable ways these days due to all of the navigation and communication options we have in our phones when a road doesn’t lead to the place we thought it should, but these problems were all solved in logical ways here that worked well with the storyline and with what we already knew about the personalities of the main characters. This is something I always enjoy finding in fiction, and it has encouraged me to keep an eye out for what this author may write in the future.

Christmas at Crownthorn Manor – A Yuletide Ghost Story was a quick and spooky read.

 

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 Samantha, 25, on October 31

Samantha, 25, on October 31 by Adam Bertocci book cover. Image on cover show a young red haired woman wearing a witches hat and cloak. She looks surprised as the wind attempts to blow her pointy hat off of her head. Title: Samantha, 25, on October 31

Author: Adam Bertocci

Publisher: Self-Published

Publication Date: October 12, 2021

Genres: Fantasy, Contemporary

Length: 50 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author.

Rating: 5 Stars

Blurb:

Samantha hates her job, her debt and her general circumstances, and if that weren’t enough, her first post-pandemic Halloween isn’t shaping up to be any fun. Unenthused about the prospect of another day (and week and month and year) stuck working in a boring health food store, Samantha hopes that dressing as a witch will help recapture the magic in her life… or at least conjure up a little Halloween fun.

But when a mysterious black cat crosses her path, Samantha’s holiday hijinks take a turn for the weird, culminating in a spooky confrontation with the scariest horror of all: her own future.

Award-winning writer and filmmaker Adam Bertocci has been praised by Entertainment Weekly, USA Today, The New Republic, GQ, The Wall Street Journal, The Guardian, Back Stage, Broadway World, E!, Maxim, IGN, Wired, Film Threat and more. This wistful-yet-witchy short story explores the mysteries of improvised cat care, growing up, and what’s really important in life.

Review:

Content Warning:  Witches and witchcraft. This is also set during the Covid-19 pandemic and contains a few references to things like social distancing, proper hand washing, and wearing a face mask in public. No one caught Covid during the storyline, though.

Halloween magic is for everyone.

This novella captured the frustration of working in retail or other dead-end jobs perfectly. Even though she was grateful to have work when so many others were laid off during the Covid-19 pandemic, Samantha was bored and restless at Esterbrook’s Natural Market. Her history degree hadn’t panned out the way she hoped they would, and she couldn’t see how her circumstances would change for the foreseeable future. I had a lot of sympathy for her and was curious to see if her dreams would finally come true. This wasn’t something I was expecting to find in a spooky Halloween read, but it fit the themes perfectly.

Samantha was a likeable and intelligent protagonist. She was the sort of person I’d love to be friends with in real life.  I enjoyed seeing how one of her biggest flaws, her tendency to ramble on when other people were hoping she’d give them a clear yes or no as a response, changed the course of her destiny. It’s always nice to see characters who are given genuine challenges to overcome and whose weaknesses make a meaningful difference to the plot.

One of the biggest reasons why I chose a five-star review had to do with how the fantasy elements of the plot were handled. Yes, I know that sentence is a vague one, but I need to be careful how I word this in order to avoid spoilers, but Mr. Bertocci did a marvellous job of playing around with the audience’s expectations of how witches should behave and how a fantasy story should unfold. He clearly knew this genre well and wasn’t afraid to turn certain tropes upside down in order to keep me guessing. Bravo for that!

Samantha, 25, on October 31 was perfect.

Running to Safety: A Review of One Dark Hallow’s Eve

One Dark Hallows Eve by Eldritch BlacI book cover. Image on cover shows a drawing of two sinister glowing jack-o-lanterns sitting at the bottom of a hill on the night of a full moon. A house and a leafless tree sit at the top of the hill. Title: One Dark Hallow’s Eve

Author: Eldritch Black

Publisher: Self-Published

Publication Date: October 22, 2015

Genres: Middle Grade, Fantasy, Paranormal, Horror, Contemporary, Historical

Length: 43 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author.

Rating: 3 Stars

Blurb:

Beware it’s Halloween and the Pumpkin Men are coming.

It’s All Hallow’s Eve and Owen Weeks is not having a good day. Something’s stirring in the lake by his house, the dead leaves beneath this shoes crunch like bones, and even the brambles seem to twitch when he’s not looking.

Nothing’s right.

But things get a lot worse as Owen discovers a terrifying stranger hiding in an abandoned farmhouse. A dark spell is cast. Old magic, magic that raises a terrifying horde of nightmarish creatures.

As the monsters descend upon the village, Owen realizes there’s only one place left to go…across the lake. But can he survive the horror of the legends said to live below its muddy waters?

The clock’s ticking toward midnight, and soon it will be the hour of the Pumpkin Men and ancient terrors from a distant land.

One Dark Hallow’s Eve is a lost tale from Eldritch Black’s The Book of Kindly Deaths. Read it now and slip into a timeless world of dark fantasy and Halloween horror.

Review:

Content Warning: Skeletons and pumpkins who can walk.

Get ready for a gentle scare.

Twelve is an awkward age, especially on Halloween. You’re not a little kid anymore, but you’re not yet old enough for the parties that teenagers or adults sometimes attend that weekend either. I enjoyed the way this short story captured the weirdness of this in-between stage in life and how kids deal with the realization that what worked for them on previous Halloweens maybe isn’t quite what they should be doing this year. It’s not something I’ve seen covered very often in the horror genre, so it was refreshing to find here.

There were times in the plot when certain elements didn’t fit together, and yet the characters accepted all of the twists and turns without a second thought. I wish more time had been spent explaining what the characters were thinking and why no one questioned why their town was suddenly overwhelmed with monsters. Even a simple explanation would have nudged me to bump my rating up half a star or so, and a deeper one would had positively affected my rating even more.

The world building was well done. Obviously, the author didn’t have a lot of space here to go into great detail, but he made good use of every page he did have to work with to ensure that all of his readers knew the basics of what was going on and how this world was different from our own. I was both satisfied with his explanations and curious to know more. That’s a good sign in my opinion, and I will keep an eye out for what the author comes up with next!

This is part of a series, but it can be read as a standalone work.

One Dark Hallow’s Eve was a quick and spooky read.

A Review of Judith – A Triorion Universe Story

Judith - A Triorian Universe Story by L.J. Hachmeister book cover. Image on cover shows the sun breaking through the clouds over a hill that has a bare tree on it. Title: Judith – A Triorion Universe Story

Author: L.J. Hachmeister

Publisher: Source 7 Productions (Self-Published)

Publication Date: February 1, 2020

Genres: Science Fiction, Contemporary

Length: 19 Pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author.

Rating: 3.5 Stars

Blurb:

With a broken heart and the resurgence of cancer, Judith Derns’ life comes to a halt. Some odds just can’t be beaten. But when she encounters a strange being in her countryside home, she discovers a chance to do something more than just survive another day. With a dying body and the military invading her home, Judith taps into a strength she didn’t know she had, and with a single decision, unleashes the greatest power of all.

Review:

Content Warning: Cancer, pregnancy, infertility, grief, death, and car accident. I will not discuss these topics in my review.

Bad days happen to everyone eventually.

Judith had been through so much in her life! I raised my eyebrows when the narrator described the many losses she’d already endured, and it made me curious to see how she’d react to yet another piece of terrible news. She seemed like the sort of person who knew how to take things one day at a time and who would reserve her true feelings about her diagnosis for when she arrived safely at home and had no one around to interrupt her. I liked her as a person and found myself wishing she could finally catch a break after such a long string of bad luck.

I would have liked to see more conflict and character development in this tale. So much time was spent focusing on Judith’s reaction to her diagnosis that there wasn’t much space left over for her to explore the bizarre activity on her property or come to terms with what her life was going to be like after she arrived home. This also left me a little confused about the meaning of the final scene, especially as it pertained to Judith’s future. While I totally understand leaving space for additional plot and character development in later instalments, there unfortunately wasn’t enough of either of these things for me to choose a higher rating even thought I was intrigued by the main character and wanted to know more about her.

With that being said, the science fiction twist added a jolt of excitement to the plot. I was curious to see how it would tie into her cancer diagnosis and who she would decide to trust. She didn’t seem to know anyone who was on her property, so I couldn’t begin to guess how she’d react to their competing requests from her. This was one of those cases where I quickly developed an opinion on what a character should do but didn’t know if she’d actually follow through or if my gut instinct about what was happening was correct. It was amusing to get an answer to this question.

This is part of a series, but it can be read as a standalone work.

Judith – A Triorion Universe Story piqued my curiosity.

Awkward Phases: A Review of The Usual Werewolves

Title: The Usual Werewolves Author: Adam Bertocci Publisher: Self-Published Publication Date: October 1, 2012 Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult, Romance, Paranormal, Satire, Contemporary Length: 39 pages Source: I received a free copy from the author. Rating: 3 Stars Blurb: Finally, a paranormal romance for people who hate paranormal romance. Bookish outcast Serena is in love with… Read More

Caution is a Virtue: A Review of Veiled Threats

Title: Veiled Threats Author: Erin Jackson Publisher: Ringtail Press (Self-Published) Publication Date: February 9, 2022 Genres: Fantasy, Mystery, Contemporary Length: 74 pages Source: I received a free copy from the author Rating: 4 Stars Blurb:   This is a short prequel story that takes place before Diabolical Sword, book 1 in The Charm Collector urban… Read More

Dreaming of Happily Ever After: A Review of Somewhere in Time

Title: Somewhere in Time Author: Fizza Younis Publisher: Self-Published Publication Date: October 31, 2020 Genres: Fantasy, Paranormal, Contemporary, Historical Length: 34 pages Source: I received a free copy from the author. Rating: 3 Stars Blurb: It’s a fairy tale retelling of the classic Sleeping Beauty, set between the twentieth and the twenty-first centuries, the story… Read More

Rooting Out Evil: A Review of Secrets of the Under Market

Title: Secrets of the Under Market Author: Krysten Harlow Publisher: Self-Published Publication Date: May 4, 2021 Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult, Paranormal, Contemporary Length: 73 pages Source: I received a free copy from the author. Rating: 3 Stars Blurb: Mortal Instruments meets Hellboy in this riveting urban fantasy series that is a prequel to the Visions… Read More

Reasonable Assumptions: A Review of The Interview

Title: The Interview Author: Liz Tuckwell Publisher: Green Griffin Books (Self-Published) Publication Date: August 6, 2021 Genres: Fantasy, Contemporary Length: 22 pages Source: I received a free copy from the author. Rating: 4 Stars Blurb:   Melissa’s being interviewed … for a job she never applied for … and she doesn’t know the name of… Read More