Tag Archives: LGBT

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 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.

Cottagecore Horror: A Review of On Sundays She Picked Flowers

On Sundays She Picked Flowers by Yah Yah Scholfield book cover. Image on cover shows a drawing of a black woman’s head surrounded by blue water. She may be swimming and is looking out to the right with a serene expression on her face.Title: On Sundays She Picked Flowers

Author: Yah Yah Scholfield

Publisher: Oni House Press Corp

Publication Date: February 20, 2022

Genres: Fantasy, Horror, Paranormal, Historical

Length: 142 pages

Source: I borrowed it from my local library.

Rating: 3 Stars

Blurb:

“It took Judith thirty-four years to realize that if she wanted to be free of her mother, she was going to have to do the freeing herself.”

On Sundays, She Picks Flowers is about a woman named Judith who finally escapes her mother to the countryside of Georgia. There she makes a home for herself in a cottage given to her by a relatively kind innkeeper. And it’s there she begins her Sunday routine. And it’s there she learns of the beings in the woods. And it’s also there she meets Nemoira, the woman who changes her life in ways Judith never even thought of. This novel is an exploration of transformation, of metamorphosis, closure, retribution, nature, and healing.  In this southern gothic tale, you will see Judith become undone, redone, and become in incredible ways that is human and more than human. It’s a rollercoaster of emotion, dealings of familial trauma, love, and mystery. On Sundays, She Picked Flowers is a fascinating story that will keep you on your toes and make you fall in love.

Review:

Content Warning: Physical abuse, emotional abuse, gore, cannibalism, injury, murder, parent death, death, animal death, self harm.

Healing can be a messy and prolonged process.

Most people would be frightened by the idea of living in the middle of nowhere in a haunted cottage, but Judith was running away from something much worse than that when she moved into this violent little home sweet home. Her reaction to it happened within the first chapter or two, and it solidified my opinion of her as someone I wish I could meet in real life. Simply put, she acknowledged that it was odd for a house to throw furniture around or fiddle with the heating system in an attempt to get rid of its newest inhabitant, but she wasn’t about to let any of that silliness keep her from settling down and trying to make a happy new life for herself.

There were multiple grammatical errors that became more prevalent later on in this work. I’m the sort of reader who can overlook one or two of them, but they happened so regularly that they affected my star rating and made me feel obligated to mention them in my review. Another round of editing would have gone a long way in convincing me to choose a higher rating as there were so many other things I enjoyed about this book.

I’d like to strike a balance between encouraging people to read this novella while also warning you all that it is not for the faint of heart. Judith was painfully honest with the audience about the abuse she experienced in the first chapter or two, and some of those passages were difficult to read. Other disturbing scenes popped up later in the storyline, but nearly all of them served an important purpose for the plot and character development. The fear and suffering helped to explain why Judith was so haunted by her past even well into middle age and how she found a way to slowly move forward with her life.

My second reason for choosing a three star rating had to do with how awkwardly the ending fit into the themes that had been established earlier on. This was especially true when it came to the gorier aspects of the plot. It was never quite clear to me why some of those scenes were necessary when Judith had spent so much time distancing herself from her past and working to create a better future for herself. I would have loved to see some more exposition explaining the characters’ and author’s thought patterns here as there was never quite enough information for me to understand why the storyline veered off into the direction it did. These are things I’m saying as someone who genuinely wanted to choose a  higher rating but who had too many questions to ultimately do so.

One of my favorite themes involved the character arcs of physical objects. I can’t go into much detail about this without giving away spoilers, but the personal development of these objects was almost as satisfying as seeing how Judith rested and healed in a haunted and traumatized plot of land that most folks would probably run away screaming from. I’ve read a lot of horror, but I’ve never seen anything quite like this. The author excelled at digging into the thought processes and emotional lives of objects and other things that are normally not given much attention at all in these genres.

On Sundays She Picked Flowers was thought provoking.

Mending Fences: A Review of A Prayer for the Crown-Shy

A Prayer for the Crown-Shy by Becky Chambers book cover. Image on cover is a close-up painting of a covered wagon travelling through a forest. Title: A Prayer for the Crown-Shy

Author: Becky Chambers

Publisher: Tor Books

Publication Date: July 12, 2022

Genres: Science Fiction, Utopia

Length: 160 pages

Source: I borrowed it from my local library.

Rating: 5 Stars

Blurb:

After touring the rural areas of Panga, Sibling Dex (a Tea Monk of some renown) and Mosscap (a robot sent on a quest to determine what humanity really needs) turn their attention to the villages and cities of the little moon they call home.

They hope to find the answers they seek, while making new friends, learning new concepts, and experiencing the entropic nature of the universe.

Becky Chambers’s new series continues to ask: in a world where people have what they want, does having more even matter?

Review:

Content Warning: Theology and religion, but they share little in common with any theologies or religions of our world. I will discuss these topics in my review.

What could be more cozy or wholesome than a Tea Monk and a robot going on a road trip in a utopian world?

I am once again going to need to tread carefully in my review in order to avoid spoilers, but I did want to talk about the theological discussions and religious practices in this universe. Ms. Chambers created such a gentle framework for those beliefs that I was quickly able to relax and follow the characters’ thought processes as they compared beliefs and asked intelligent questions of those who disagreed with them. You should know that Sibling Dex loves and accepts everyone. Their beliefs are sacred to them, but they would never use them against those who have other beliefs or no beliefs at all. Don’t be nervous about reading this if you’re like me and generally avoid stories about religion or theology based on previous negative experiences with those topics in our world. It was important part of the plot for sure, but there wasn’t a single ounce of unkindness in Sibling Dex’s worldview.

My review of A Psalm for the Wild-Built gently criticized the loose plot structure of that book. I’m happy to report that the plot was thicker in this one. Yes, it retained it’s meandering philosophical and religious discussions that are so important to Sibling Dex and Mosscap’s character development, but they faced more conflicts and obstacles to their goals this time around as well. It was fascinating to me to see how they handled abrupt changes to their travelling plans and interactions with other living things that didn’t always go as predicted. This was exactly what they both needed to in order to show the audience how they’d changed as a result as their earlier adventures.

It was exciting to see how the world building was expanded. I finally learned more about how the villages and cities in this world are connected to each other and what their relationships with one another are like. Yes, I wanted to dive even deeper into this topic, but it made sense to stop where we did. I mean, it’s not like I welcome friends to Canada by going on a long monologue about my country’s history, culture, or social customs before asking if they want to try poutine. The important parts are shared as they come up in conversation, so it made total sense for the author to do the same here.

The character development was once again handled beautifully. Sibling Dex and Mosscap changed in all sorts of interesting ways as a result of their journey and their friendship. I chuckled as their assumptions about what humans or robots should be like occasionally bumped up against realities that bore little resemblance to what either of these individuals thought was going to happen. While I did find myself wishing the last scene had been given a little more time to flourish, I’m betting that it was written that way on purpose in order to set up whatever comes next.

This is the second instalment in the Monk & Robot series. I strongly recommend reading it all in order as there were several important scenes in A Psalm for the Wild-Built that are critical to understanding the character development.

A Prayer for the Crown-Shy made me yearn for more.

Gentle Science Fiction: A Review of A Psalm for the Wild-Built

Note: I’m (finally) reviewing the first book in the Monk & Robot series today and will review the sequel next week. Stay tuned! 

A Psalm for the Wild-Built by Becky Chambers book cover. Image on cover shows a drawing of a robot, a person pedaling their travelling home, many plants, and winding paths on it. Title: A Psalm for the Wild-Built (Monk & Robot #1)

Author: Becky Chambers

Publisher: Tor Books

Publication Date: July 13, 2021

Genres: Science Fiction, Utopia

Length: 160 pages

Source: I borrowed it from the library.

Rating: 4 Stars

Blurb:

In A Psalm for the Wild-Built, Hugo Award-winner Becky Chambers’s delightful new Monk and Robot series gives us hope for the future.

It’s been centuries since the robots of Panga gained self-awareness and laid down their tools; centuries since they wandered, en masse, into the wilderness, never to be seen again; centuries since they faded into myth and urban legend.

One day, the life of a tea monk is upended by the arrival of a robot, there to honor the old promise of checking in. The robot cannot go back until the question of “what do people need?” is answered.

But the answer to that question depends on who you ask, and how.

They’re going to need to ask it a lot.

Becky Chambers’s new series asks: in a world where people have what they want, does having more matter?

Review:

Content Warning: Theology. It is nothing like the religions or theologies of our world, though, which I will explain in my review.

If peaceful science fiction is your thing, look no further.

Sibling Dex was one of the most unusual characters I’ve met in a long time. They were an agender tea monk who had already changed their occupation several times and were still not satisfied with it. The desire to learn more about the world was relentless in them even though humanity had created a utopian existence in which half of the land was reserved for wildlife sanctuaries and the other half was carefully managed to provide for everyone’s basic needs. I was intrigued by how this character reacted the changes they brought upon themselves as well as the ones they never could have predicted.

You may have noticed that I haven’t discussed the plot itself in this review. I’m purposefully writing this very carefully in order to avoid any spoilers, but I also want potential readers to know that the plot wasn’t as well-formed as I would have liked it to be. Sibling Dex went on a journey into the wilderness to find answers to their existential questions, but that storyline never quite coalesced in the way I hoped it would. As this appears to be the beginning of a series, I’m hoping that the sequel or sequels will be more assertive in seeking out answers for this character and giving them more conflict to deal with. I loved meeting them and having such a gentle introduction to their unique world, but I was a bit disappointed by how everything suddenly ended for them in the final scene with so many questions still left unanswered.

This story includes numerous references to religion and philosophy, but they bear little if any resemblance to what people in our world think of when they use those terms. Yes, Sibling Dex was a monk as I mentioned earlier, but their religious beliefs and practices were almost wholly centred on their own behaviour as opposed to worrying about what others did. You will find no threats of eternal punishment, long lists of rules to follow, or harsh judgements of non-believers here. That wasn’t how Sibling Dex behaved about at all, and I found it incredibly refreshing. They simply wanted to be the best monk they could be, and their journey was in part related to how their faith and their understanding of philosophy might be able to help them figure out what to do next with their restless soul.

A Psalm for the Wild-Built was a breath of fresh air.

A Review of Dare vs. The Doll

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?… 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

Top Ten Tuesday: LGBT+ Book Quotes

Hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl Pride month is just around the corner. Since all in-person events for Toronto’s Pride events have been cancelled again this year thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic, I decided to start the celebration a little early here instead. May it be safe for us to celebrate in person next year!… Read More

In Pursuit of Justice: A Review of The Gest of Robyn Hode & Little Joan According to Alaina of Dale

Title:The Gest of Robyn Hode & Little Joan According to Alaina of Dale Author: T J Therien Publisher: Self-Published Publication Date: May 30, 2019 Genres: Young Adult, Fantasy, Historical Length: 83 pages Source: I received a free copy from the author. Rating: 3 Stars Blurb: The story as you know it is a lie. Discover… Read More

Hopeful Science Fiction: Machine of Loving Grace

Click on the tag “hope” at this bottom of this post to read about all of my suggestions for hopeful science fiction. If you have recommendations for future instalments of this series, I’d sure like to hear them. Leave a comment below or send me message about it on Twitter. Last winter I discovered the… Read More