Tag Archives: Contemporary

A Review of The Reluctant Familiar’s Guide to Christmas Tree Defence 

Book cover for The Reluctant Familiar’s Guide to Christmas Tree Defence by Bethany Hoeflich. Image on cover is a photoshopped picture of a cat wearing a Santa hat and sitting next to a Christmas treeTitle: The Reluctant Familiar’s Guide to Christmas Tree Defence

Author: Bethany Hoeflich

Publisher: Self-Published

Publication Date: December 20, 2020

Genres: Fantasy, Contemporary

Length: 19 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author.

Rating: 5 Stars

Blurb:

After a traumatizing pumpkin spice candle accident, Mr. Fluffykins is looking forward to a quiet night curled up under his Christmas tree.

Unfortunately, life has other plans . . .

Review:

What could be better than a cat spending time with his beloved Christmas tree?

The world building was excellent. At one point I paused and tried to figure out if this was part of a series because of how intricately everything was explained to the reader during the fast-paced and exciting plot. While I didn’t find evidence of other books set in this world, I was delighted by how much effort the author put into layering everything together. She couldn’t have done a better job of placing her characters in a setting that was filled with tantalizing details about how it worked that were all filtered through the discerning mind of a cat who loved his humans but was only occasionally interested in the minutia of their magical abilities.

I adored this book’s sense of humour. It was slightly irreverent at times in exactly the way anyone might expect to find from a feline narrator who had strong opinions about how the world should work. I couldn’t stop chuckling as I read it, especially once Mr. Fluffykins was left at home to his own devices and realized his evening wasn’t going to be the restful one he’d been hoping for. His reaction to that scene was as perfectly cat-like as it was just plain hilarious.

Mr. Fluffykins was a relatable and amusing protagonist who I began rooting for immediately. The worse his predicament became, the more I hoped  he’d figure out a way to resolve his conflict peacefully and get back to the catnap he’d been looking forward to all day. Some of my favourite scenes were the ones that made perfect sense in his mind as they were unfolding but that I knew his humans were going to be completely confused about once they returned home. The author did a wonderful job of showing how the same event can be interpreted so differently depending on which point of view one takes. This is even more true during the holidays when many folks are busier than usual!

The Reluctant Familiar’s Guide to Christmas Tree Defence was utterly delightful from the first scene to the final one.

No Space of Regret: A Review of A Covid Christmas Carol

Book cover for A Covid Christmas Carol by Evan Sykes. image on cover shows a Christmas tree wearing a mask and some googly eyes. Title: A Covid Christmas Carol

Author: Evan Sykes

Publisher: Junco Books (Self-Published)

Publication Date: December 19, 2020

Genres: Fantasy, Holiday, Paranormal, Retelling, Contemporary

Length: 88 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author.

Rating: 5 Stars

Blurb:

 

The 2020 Holiday Season might have been cancelled by this year’s super-villain, Covid-19, but fear not! Good cheer is at hand in this hilarious, satirical retelling of one of the season’s most loved stories: A Covid Christmas Carol.

Mr. Anatole Gasper and Dickens’ Scrooge have a lot in common: Both their business partners are dead; both are curmudgeonly, solitary and mean; and both get their wake-up call in a series of wild, haunted dreams on Christmas Eve. For Gasper—as the year is 2020—these dreams include a huge, orange, Covid-spreading turkey that tweets, a doddering phantom riding a decrepit blue donkey without direction, and Santa, of course, whose red-nosed reindeers for once shed an unwelcome light over the festivities.

There’s nothing more heartening than seeing a dyed-in-the-wool grouch change into a merry, old soul, and Gasper’s ghostly dreams promise to do just that.

So, while this Holiday Season might be like no other, spend an hour in the company of this modern Scrooge and let the festive cheer flow!

Review:

Content Warning: Heart attack and Covid-19.

Don’t let the cover of this book fool you. This is just as much a Thanksgiving tale as it is a Christmas one, and the lessons in it can be applied to many other winter holidays as well!

I appreciated the author’s light touch on the social messages he included in this tale. Mr. Dickens writing style worked well for the nineteenth century, but the modern approach to gently nudging readers in certain directions in this retelling was perfect for the twenty-first century. Mr. Sykes’ decision to write it this way was an excellent one. While this wasn’t my only reason for choosing a five-star rating, it certainly influenced it heavily.

It’s rare for me to come across speculative fiction stories that occur during Thanksgiving, so I was excited to read this one. Some of my favourite scenes were the ones that showed what Thanksgiving was like for Gasper when he was a child. They went a long way in explaining how and why he’d become such a greedy and socially isolated man as an adult. I simultaneously wanted to hug the person he was as a child and encourage his adult self to seek professional help for his often dysfunctional behaviour. The mixture of emotions he stirred up in me made me want to learn more about him, too. He was a complex and interesting character for sure.

I loved the way the author included Covid-19 in the storyline as well. While I can’t go into much detail about that without giving away spoilers, it felt perfectly natural. The foreshadowing for it was subtle and well done. It had a timeless feeling to it as well. This could have been set at nearly any time during the pandemic due to how carefully it was written, and I think it will also age nicely over the next few years at bare minimum, too.

The writing style was descriptive but never flowery. It gave me the exact right amount of details about the characters and settings. I could picture all of them clearly in my mind, but the formation of them never interrupted the fast-paced storyline. Once again, the author’s homage to Mr. Dickens style was undeniable, and his attempt to modernize such a familiar old tale couldn’t have been done any better. I was quite impressed by all of the work Mr. Sykes put into this and will be keeping an eye out for more of his stories in the future.

A Covid Christmas Carol was a thought-provoking read that is as relevant today as it was in 2020. I will end this review with a quote from both the original Christmas Carol as well as this retelling of it: “no space of regret can make amends for one life’s opportunity missed.”

Family Business: A Review of Inheritance 

Inheritance - A Halloween Urban Fantasy Short Story by Zoe Cannon book cover. Image on cover is of a crow sitting on a pumpkin next to a lit candle. There is a bare tree in the background. Title: Inheritance – A Halloween Urban Fantasy Short Story

Author: Zoe Cannon

Publisher: Self-Published

Publication Date: October 23, 2020

Genres: Young Adult, Fantasy, Paranormal, Contemporary

Length: 20 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author. 

Rating: 4 Stars

Blurb:

Lena’s grandmother defended her small town against the supernatural. So did her mother. Lena should be next in line. But her autism makes that impossible. At least that’s what her mother has always said. Lena couldn’t even get through college—what makes her think she could wield a magical sword and banish the undead?

But now her mother is gone. And Lena’s little sister is in danger. It’s time for Lena to take up the role she was born for… or lose the last of her family forever.

This #ownvoices short story is 6,500 words long, or approximately 20 pages.

Review:

What better way is there to spend Halloween than trying to banish the dead? 

Halloween has many different meanings. In Lena’s case, her understanding of and response to it changed quite a bit over the years. I found it interesting to see how those things evolved as she grew older and was better able to communicate what she did and didn’t like about this holiday. She had excellent reasons for all of ways she reacted on Halloween over the years. 

There were quite a few time jumps in this story, and I occasionally found them confusing. No sooner would I get invested in one particular part of Lena’s life than the plot would suddenly jump to years before or after that event. While I understood why the author wanted to show this character at so many different points in her development, it would have been helpful to have more of these scenes in chronological order so I could understand them a little easier. 

Some of the most memorable scenes were the ones that explored Lena’s complicated relationships with her mother and younger sister. They both struggled to accept Lena’s autism at times, especially when it came to the ways this diagnosis shaped the course of the main character’s life. I liked the fact that this was an Own Voices story and that the characters were given so much time to work through their conflicts. 

Inheritance was a thought-provoking Halloween story that I deeply enjoyed and would recommend to anyone reading this review of it. 

Autumn Adventures: A Review of The Neighbourhood Squirrel

The Neighbourhood Squirrel by Wilfredo Gonzalez book cover. Image on cover is a drawing of a dog waving at a squirrel sitting on a fire hydrant as a full moon shines above them at night. Title: The Neighbourhood Squirrel

Author: Wilfredo Gonzalez

Publisher: Self-Published

Publication Date: March 14, 2021

Genres: Middle Grade, Fantasy, Contemporary

Length: 67 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author.

Rating: 3 Stars

Blurb:

Every neighborhood has a neighborhood squirrel. This includes your neighborhood too. You have not known this because people don’t need to know, in most cases. The neighborhood squirrel has an occupation that is most important, as you shall see.

Review:

Content Warning: Bullying and fighting (between kids at a middle school). I will be discussing these things briefly in my review.

Have you ever wondered why some kids are so mean? If so, this tale might have a few answers for you.

I appreciated the nuanced approach this book took to the topic of bullying. It never shied away from the fact that Hector had harmed his classmates both physically and emotionally, but it didn’t demonize him for these choices. He had reasons for his behaviour that, while they weren’t framed as excuses for his terrible deeds in any way, did provide a satisfactory explanation for how someone so young could cause so much chaos at school. It was also cool to see how his peers reacted to the idea of bullying and what kept them from lashing out the same way he did. There were so many opportunities here for self-reflection for kids who may have bullied others in the past or refrained from standing up for classmates who were being mistreated.

It would have been helpful for me to see the narrator include more connections between the storyline about the intelligent talking squirrel who protected the neighbourhood and the uneasy relationship between Gonzalo and Hector. As excited as I was by the idea of animals taking note of the conflicts between children and trying to help them, it was tricky at times to understand why the squirrel was so interested in the affairs of humans. He could have easily lived a quiet life in the park and ignored them. I was glad he made such a noble choice, but from a reader’s perspective I did wish his motivation for getting involved was explored in greater detail. There was so much room here for exposition and world building.

Some of my favourite passages were the ones that described how the world changes from the beginning to the end of autumn. A warm September day is generally nothing at all like a chilly December one when winter is around the corner. Mr. Gonzalez did a wonderful job of describing this process in detail. Not only was it important for the plot, it was just plain fascinating to read about all of the things that children and maybe even your neighbourhood squirrel might think about as the leaves fall and the first few snowflakes tremble with anticipation in the sky.

The Neighbourhood Squirrel was a thought-provoking read.

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

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… Read More

Overdue Consequences: A Review of The Swell

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… Read More

A Review of Lux Terra – An Origin Story

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… Read More

One Look Back: A Review of During the Dance

  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… Read More

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