Tag Archives: Fantasy

Too Old for Santa: A Review of Christmas Presence

Book cover for Christmas Presence by Tony Bertauski. Image on cover is a closeup of a man who has a white beard and moustache and is  wearing a wool hat.Title: Christmas Presence

Author: Tony Bertauski

Publisher: Self-Published

Publication Date: October 31, 2019

Genres: Science Fiction, Fantasy, Young Adult, Holiday

Length: 25 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author

Rating: 3 Stars

Blurb:

Worst Christmas ever.

Christmas was about traditions. Currently, Zay and her mom had about five traditions, things like gingerbread cookies and tree decorating. Not going to work.

Zay has to stay home. On Christmas. Alone.

Mom said her boss felt real bad about the whole thing so he was sending a nanny. It just keeps getting worse. She’s fourteen years old. She doesn’t need a nanny. But then the nanny shows up. She’s not really a she. Or a he.

More of an it.

The nanny shows her that it’s not really magic that makes Christmas special. It’s the adventure. And when it’s all over, she’ll never forget.

The best Christmas ever.

Review:

Teenagers don’t believe in magic, right?

Fourteen is a tough age. Zay was too old to truly get into many of the Christmas traditions she enjoyed as a little kid, but she was also a bit too young to understand why some adults get so excited to keep them going. Mr. Bertauski did a wonderful job of capturing this confusing stage of life and how it can affect not only the teenagers going through it but also everyone around them as well. I had compassion for Zay as she decided how to respond to her mother’s love of the Christmas holidays.

This short story was marketed as an introduction to a new series about retelling of classic holiday legends. Even though it was the first instalment of this series so far as I could tell, I still struggled to understand what was going on at times. There was never quite enough information about the nanny who showed up to entertain Zay or why he was so different from what she was expecting. While I did understand some parts of this universe, other portions were never quite clear to me.  I would have happily gone with a much higher rating if these things had either been explained in greater detail or if the blurb had been clear that this wasn’t necessarily something that was supposed to be a standalone read.

I was a huge fan of the author’s reinterpretation of Santa Claus as an individual as well as a mythical figure. This was where the science fiction elements of the storyline shone the brightest. They made me perk up and wonder how everything worked, especially once Santa began to reveal a little bit more about himself. There was so much creativity in these passages. I’ll definitely be keeping an eye out for what the author comes up with next based on how much effort he put into rethinking this classic character.

Christmas Presence was a lighthearted read that I’d recommend to anyone who is either currently a teenager or who has a teenaged loved one in their life.

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. 

A Review of No Good Deed: A Sourdough Tale

Book cover for No Good Deed by Angela Slatter. Image on cover is a drawing of a white skull wearing a flower wreath on the top of it’s skull.Title: No Good Deed – A Sourdough Tale

Author: Angela Slatter

Publisher: Brain Jar Press

Publication Date: February 17, 2021

Genres: Fantasy, Paranormal, Historical

Length: 35 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author.

Rating: 3 Stars

BlurbAngela Slatter’s No Good Deed is a dark fantasy tale of magic, ghosts, and marriage set in her World Fantasy Award-winning Sourdough universe.

Isobel assumed her wedding would be the grandest day of her life, but when she wakes in a ghost-filled tomb still wearing her bridal veil, it’s clear events have taken an unexpected turn.

With the assistance of a vengeful spirit Isobel escapes her imprisonment, but her new husband Adolphus will not be pleased to discover his wife is alive. As Isobel comes to understand her husband’s darkest secret, the newlyweds begin a deadly dance that only one will survive.  

This chapbook presents a stand-alone Sourdough story that does not appear in any of the three mosaic collections devoted to Slatter’s world of myth and magic, plus a chronology for all the publications that have appeared thus far.

Review:

Content Warning: Murder and revenge. I will be briefly discussing these things in my review.

Sometimes justice is a battle cry.

Isobel was a delightfully contradictory character. Sometimes I shook my head at the foolish choices she made because I could think of several safer options for her that would have taken the exact same amount of brain power to come up with and time to accomplish. In other scenes, I felt a wave of sympathy for how scary it must have been for such a young and vulnerable woman to wake up in her own grave. Getting to know her was a real treat, and I appreciated how many different facets of her personality were displayed here.

It would have been helpful to have more world building in this short story. I understand that it was a prequel to a series, and I certainly wouldn’t expect something of this length to be as well-developed as I’d hope to see in a full-length novel. With that being said, there were many aspects of this world and how magic worked in it that I struggled to figure out. It was frustrating for me at times to see how often the narrator took these details for granted instead of giving the audience a quick explanation of what was going on, especially since the blurb described it as a stand-alone work.

I valued what this book had to say about how women and other vulnerable people are so often mistreated by people who are in positions of power over them. Isobel lived in a time when women had few social and legal protections from those who wished to harm them, so her predicament was even more dire than it would otherwise be. While I’ll leave it up to other readers to discover exactly what the narrator thinks of cultures and families who turn a blind eye to suffering for the sake of tradition or social convention, I was quite pleased with the message myself. It was subtle enough to fit the storyline perfectly but also blunt enough to get its point across for anyone who might think they have a good reason for participating in such things.

No Good Deed – A Sourdough Tale was a satisfying read I’d recommend to anyone who like dark fantasy.

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

The Loyal Companion: A Review of The Origins of Constantine

Title: The Origins of Constantine Author: D.C. Gomez Publisher: Self-Published Publication Date: February 27, 2019 Genres: Young Adult, Fantasy, Contemporary Length: 87 pages Source: I received a free copy from the author. Rating: 4 Stars Blurb: When the god Anubis needed a friend, the universe sent him the most unlikely companion: a feisty little cat.… 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

Chasing Victory: A Review of The Sea Witch

Title: The Sea Witch Author: Bethany Hoeflich Publisher: Self-Published Publication Date: February 21, 2021 Genres: Fantasy, Historical Length: 30 pages Source: I received a free copy from the author. Rating: 3 Stars Blurb: For years, Ula has been content to hide behind her reputation as the sea queen’s quirky, loner sister. Isolation and mistrust are… 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