Tag Archives: Mystery

Small Town Woes: A Review of The Curse of Three

Book cover for Makepeace and Grimes: The Curse of Three: A Gaslamp Gothic Mystery of Victorian England by Kevin Partner. Image on cover shows a photograph of a middle-aged white man who has salt and pepper hair standing in a graveyard at night. He’s looking straight at the viewer with a serious expression on his face as if he just heard something strange there and wants to see if you heard it, too. He’s wearing a late 1900s-style hat that had a wide brim and is raised a little over his head. Title: The Curse of Three (Makepeace & Grimes Book 1)

Author: Kevin Partner

Publisher: Self-Published

Publication Date: March 4, 2021

Genres: Fantasy, Mystery, Historical

Length: 49 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author.

Rating: 3.5 Stars


Who would you choose to investigate the disappearance of three children?

A man and a vampire. Of course

It’s 1872.

Ichabod Grimes, mysterious defender of humanity, and his vampire friend Valentina, travel to a quiet village in Essex to find the missing children.

They uncover a sinister three hundred year plot that will see the return of a long forgotten evil.

Who is Ichabod Grimes? Find out now.


Content Warning: Kidnapping, a few mildly racist remarks,  and a few references to blood.

Rural doesn’t always mean peaceful.

One of the best things about this tale was how it explored life in a small village in 1872 and allowed readers to quietly compare it to how people behave in contemporary times. Obviously, there have been a lot of societal changes between then and now, but human nature has more or less remained the same. I smiled and shook my head as certain villagers showed fear and distrust of outsiders as the same thing continues to happen in many communities to this day. This pattern repeated itself a few times more and I continued to take note of how similar small towns – and people in general – often are to the way things were more than a hundred and fifty years ago.

I would have liked to see more clues included given the fact that it was a mystery (among other genres). While it’s certainly tougher to do so in the short story format given the limited amount of space an author has to work with, there weren’t enough hints about what was going on for me to come up with theories about who might have kidnapped the children or what they were planning to do with them. This meant that I wasn’t as emotionally invested in the ending as I could have been, although I did still enjoy seeing how Ichabod went about interviewing everyone and trying to piece things together. There is a sequel to this, so my hope is that it and any future instalments will dive much more deeply into the mystery storylines as I liked everything else about this universe.

This was my first introduction to Mr. Partner’s work, and I immediately liked his straightforward and sensible writing style. He seems to be the sort of writer who only describes people and things in detail if those descriptions push the plot forward in some way or if they’re otherwise necessary in order to understand what’s going on. While I do appreciate more flowery writing styles on occasion as well, this minimalist choice suited this particular tale nicely. Something tells me that Ichabod would have approved of a no-nonsense account of his first mystery as well. Perhaps this is one thing that the protagonist and the author share in common? At any rate, it worked and I’m glad it was written this way.

The Curse of Three was a quick, fun read.

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A Review of Neuro Noir

Book cover for Neuro Noir by Al Hess. Image on cover shows a drawing of about a dozen different eyes that all have black irises and sclera. the one in the centre is red instead!

Title: Neuro Noir

Author: Al Hess

Publisher: Self-Published

Publication Date: January 1, 2022

Genres: Science Fiction, Mystery, Romance, LGBTQ+

Length: 42 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author.

Rating: 5 Stars


Prominent council member. Omniscient custodian of City Entry. Mystery book aficionado. As the oldest A.I. Steward existing within the network of Salt Lake City, Lysander has seen most everything.

When a death in the overcrowded and chaotic subway leaves fellow Steward Beatrice distraught and imploring Lysander to find a way to lessen the odds of it happening again, he’s happy to do what he does best: advise, console, and achieve solutions. But doing so means working with the human council member he absolutely, most assuredly does not have feelings for – no matter how perceptive and charming said council member is. And something about the issue in the subway is giving Lysander the itchy sort of dread he gets when reading his mysteries.

But Lysander’s life isn’t an impartial story plucked from his “to read” pile. As he closes in on the source of Beatrice’s problems, he realizes the situation is far more personal than he’s prepared for. If he isn’t careful, even the wisest and most experienced of Salt Lake’s Stewards will miss the clues, putting himself – and those he cares for – in danger.

This is a 10k word prequel novelette to the queer and cozy wasteland road trip romance, World Running Down.


Content Warning: mild profanity, threats of violence, and death

Customer service is the most important part of the job…even if you’re not exactly human.

To be perfectly honest, it took me a little while to figure Lysander out because of how different some of his thought processes were from the humans he protected on public transit and at certain entrances and exits every day. This was an excellent thing, though, because of course artificial intelligence wouldn’t react to certain stimuli like we would! Once I figured out why he was more bothered by stuff that many humans would ignore, his thoughts about his role as a Steward became much clearer to me. The process of sorting out his ideas was a rewarding one, and it endeared me to him. On a more personal note, I also enjoyed his reactions to the customer service elements of his position, especially when dealing with people who were not always necessarily kind or rational when dealing with him.

The romance was handled beautifully, and that’s something I’m saying as someone who doesn’t spend much time in that genre. I loved the way this storyline was slowly allowed to build up before it began playing a larger role in the plot. It suited the characters involved in it nicely and gave me plenty of time to understand why they were interested in each other and why they might make a good match.

I was also thrilled with the world building. Obviously, a short story isn’t going to have as much time for this as a full-length novel would, but the author did an excellent job making use of all forty-two pages to show what a city protected, maintained, and even run  to a certain extent by artificial intelligence might look like behind the scenes. It made me curious to see what World Running Down might be like, so the author did a great job of giving this reader a taste of his world here.

Neuro Noir was a wild ride that made me wish it wouldn’t end.


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Winter Worries: A Review of Driving in the Dark

Book cover for Driving in the Dark by Jack Harding. Image on cover shows a dark country road from the perspective of someone driving on it at night. You can just barely make out the road, the pine trees on either side of the road, and the starry night sky above. It is all very, very dark as if this is set in a very rural area where few people drive. Title: Driving in the Dark

Author: Jack Harding

Publisher: Self-Published

Publication Date: December 6, 2021

Genres:  Psychological Horror, Paranormal, Holiday, Mystery, Contemporary

Length: 24 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author.

Rating: 3 Stars


It’s the most wonderful time of the year, and 29 year old analyst Riley Coupland has just wrapped-up work for 12 whole days. There’s something in his bag. Something silver, something shiny and glittering with hopes and dreams of a bright and beautiful future. The only thing standing between him and his soon to be fiancée Emma is his arduous, mind-numbing drive home.

But something isn’t right. His phone, his hearing, the music, the traffic, everything just seems out of sync and off, and Riley can’t quite put his finger on it.

All he has to do is keep his eyes on the road…

All he has to do is take it slow…

In this brooding and deeply moving short story by Jack Harding, buckle up and settle down for a journey that will stir your senses and pull on your heart strings, keeping you guessing right until the end of the road.


Content Warning: Car accident.

There’s no better feeling than finally getting to rest after weeks of hard work.

Riley’s character development was handled nicely. There were times when I connected with him and other scenes when I was irritated by how distractible he could be. Yes, it’s understandable to lose focus on a long drive home after working all day, but as an experienced driver he knew that this was one of his faults and that a cold winter night is not the best time for daydreaming. Characters don’t have to be perfect to be memorable, though, and I’ll certainly remember him for a long time.

I thought there were too many clues about what was going on during Riley’s long, lonely ride home as his Christmas vacation began. Anyone who is already familiar with certain horror tropes will probably figure out the twist pretty early on. As that was a major part of what made this story so interesting, I would have loved to been challenged to figure it out with less foreshadowing. This was especially true near the beginning when there was a throwaway line that all but told the audience exactly what to expect.

With that being said, this was a great example of why psychological horror can be so effective at frightening its audience. Sometimes all you need to feel fear is to imagine driving down a quiet winter road at night when hardly anyone else is out and the night sky looms overhead menacingly. There are plenty of ways such a journey can go wrong without any classic horror antagonists showing up, and I though the author did a good job of showing how sometimes the most ordinary experiences in life can also be the most horrifying ones.

Driving in the Dark was chilling.


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Bunny Business: A Review of War Bunny

 Thank you to Berthold Gambrel for reviewing this book and recommending it to me. You were right, Berthold. This is my sort of book for sure.

Book cover for War Bunny by Christopher St. John. Image on cover shows a drawing of a rabbit looking over its left shoulder. The rabbit’s body is comprised of a pink and green floral pattern that looks like wallpaper. Title: War Bunny

Author: Christopher St. John

Publisher: Harvest Oak Press

Publication Date: June 3, 2021

Genres: Fantasy

Length: 422 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author.

Rating: 5 Stars



In a post-apocalyptic world where humans are extinct and animals thrive, a young rabbit starts to wonder why rabbits must accept their status as prey animals. She asks pointed questions of the warren elders, and gets exiled for it.

Without a warren, she’s enormously vulnerable, but she reaches out to others in desperate straits. Soon, she’s locked in a ferocious battle for survival—and maybe even freedom.

Part naturalistic adventure, part modern-day fable, War Bunny is a fast-paced story about friendship, honor, standing up for yourself, and coming of age.


Content Warning: Blood, death, an infertile rabbit, pregnant rabbits, religious themes (from a rabbit religion that is vaguely similar to Christianity but heavily filtered through the perspective of a prey species).

Fables are for everyone.

This book had a large cast of characters that were well developed and memorable. I kept a list of who was who because I do that with every novel I read, but there were plenty of context clues included in the scenes to jog my memory as well. It’s difficult to strike the right balance between helping readers remember how characters are connected and pushing the storyline forward, so I commend Mr. St. John for his hard work here. He did an excellent job of differentiating everyone and making it easy for me as a reader to connect with all of the characters.

Some of my favourite portions were the ones that explored philosophical questions about the tension between nature and technology, the ethics of self-defence, how religious texts can be used and misused depending on the intentions of the rabbit reading them, and more. This is something I’m saying as someone who generally shies away from philosophical discussions, but they were appealing to me when wrapped up in an exciting and unique storyline that allowed readers to come to our own conclusions about what the right decision might be in each scenario.

The world building was as complex as it was creative. I should note that it did take me a couple of chapters to fully settle into the plot because of how much was happening and how the narrative perspective kept shifting from one character to the next. There were perfectly understandable reasons why the author wrote it this way, though, so I’d encourage other readers to stick with it for at least a few chapters before deciding if this is the right book for you. There was still a lot to enjoy in the beginning, and everything gelled together beautifully once I’d gotten to know the main characters and had the chance to use context clues and footnotes to figure out what certain terms mean in the rabbit’s language and how their society was structured. Think of this like enjoying multiple courses of food at a fancy dinner party. Each one is unique, but they all pull together to reinforce the same themes by the time dessert arrives (or, in this case, the grand finale).

I also loved the subplot about what happened to humanity. Rabbits are aware that people used to exist in this universe, but the reasons why we disappeared weren’t so clear to them. Clues about this topic were gradually shared as the storyline intensified, and I was intrigued by how the characters interpreted the ones that were well outside the experience of  anything rabbits have known before. The more I learned, the deeper I wanted to wade into both the truth and how the animals who inherited Earth would interpret that data based on their own experiences.

War Bunny was a breath of fresh air.


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The Past Remembers: A Review of A Ghostly Assignment

Book cover for A Ghostly Assignment by Rosalind Minnet. Image on cover shows an old-fashioned, small stone cottage near a large, still lake on a foggy autumn day. The trees are bare and you can’t see the sun because of how thick the fog and clouds are. Title: A Ghostly Assignment

Author: Rosalind Minett

Publisher: Self-Published

Publication Date: December 31, 2014

Genres: Fantasy, Horror, Mystery, Paranormal, Contemporary, Historical

Length: 35 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author.

Rating: 4 Stars


When journalism students, Jake and Sara, investigate reports of a ghost, they’re cynical. They assume a village myth and fanciful gossip. In the dark of night near the local lake they begin their watch. They are standing together yet their weird experiences are separate, even in time. Shocked to the core, they return to normal life only to discover the lasting effect of their first assignment, one no-one could have predicted.


Content Warning: A witch trial, murder, and children being orphaned.

Future generations may mostly forget an atrocity, but the land remembers every detail.

Don’t worry if horror isn’t a genre you generally like. This was quite scary, but it wasn’t gory or gross in any way. It’s one of those transcendent horror stories that I’d recommend to anyone who loves history, mysteries, folklore, ghosts, or justice. I smiled and nodded along as I took note of the ways the current residents of this rural area dealt with a shameful and terrible chapter of their history. That’s a problem that many communities have, after all, and it can be great fodder for fiction. I enjoyed the way the author revealed what happened while still grounding the first section in scenes that felt true to life. It was important to establish that realism before jumping into the frightening paranormal events that were soon to follow.

This tale either involved some possible time travel or the main character’s mind being so overwhelmed with someone else’s memories that she thought she was the person performing those actions.  I loved both of these possibilities, but I wished the author had been more clear about which interpretation we were supposed to think was probably the right one. While I generally don’t mind ambiguity in what I read, this was one of those cases when the audience really needs to know how trustworthy a character’s memory is of a specific incident because of how important it is to everything that comes before and after it. If this had been made more clear, I would have happily gone with a full five-star rating.

It was interesting to see how Ms. Minett connected the actions of superstitious villagers from a few hundred years ago to the lives of people living in this universe today. I can’t go into much detail about that without giving away spoilers, but I appreciated what she was doing there and thought there was something to be said for showing how much someone can be affected by the past even if they don’t know anything about it.

A Ghostly Assignment made me shudder.

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A Review of The Trip to Nowhere

Book cover for The Trip to Nowhere by Stephanie Shaw. Image on cover is a photograph of someone walking alone down an incredibly foggy road lined with trees at either dusk or dawn. Only weak light can filter through the dense fog, and everything looks blurry and out of focus because of how much fog there is. Even the trees are just bare outlines of trees due to it. Title: The Trip to Nowhere

Author: Stephanie Shaw

Publisher: Self-Published

Publication Date: May 14, 2022

Genres: Paranormal, Mystery, Contemporary

Length: 59 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author.

Rating: 3 Stars


A broken marriage,
A lost love,
And nothing to lose.
When his wife confesses that she’s pregnant for Cole’s business rival, the news throws him into a downward spiral. Unable to face his life, he decides to go on a road trip alone. In the process, he uncovers the truth about a missing woman, an unborn child and a shocking family secret. He realizes too late that sometimes the past needs to be left in the past.


Content Warning: Pregnancy and murder.

Save this one for the next time there’s a foggy day in your area.

The setting tickled my imagination. Foggy days can make the world feel a little softer and more magical in general, especially if you have a long, quiet drive ahead of you and plenty of time to think. The author captured this feeling beautifully, and I smiled as she found ways to incorporate those drives into her plot twists as well. Her imagination took Cole into some places that were as surprising for him as they were entertaining for me as a reader.

I struggled to understand Cole’s behaviour. He was given multiple hints about what was really happening as he drove down those foggy, isolated roads, and I shook my head every time he brushed yet another one aside and kept pushing on towards his goal. While I believe this may have been written to show how his faults had terribly distorted his thinking over the years, it would have been helpful to have this theory confirmed or denied. Leaving it the way it was written made it hard for me to connect to him because of how obtuse he seemed to be about some things that could have been easily straightened out in the first scene.

With that being said, I loved Ms. Shaw’s clean and crisp writing style. She did an excellent job of painting vivid pictures of her characters and the setting without slowing down the storyline or using a single word more than was necessary. This is a delicate and impressive balance to strike, especially in the short story format when the author also needs to juggle so many other elements of good storytelling simultaneously. I will definitely be keeping an eye out for what she comes up with next.

The Trip to Nowhere was an atmospheric read.


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A Review of Vespasian Moon’s Fabulous Autumn Carnival

Vespasian Moon’s Fabulous Autumn Carnival - A Long Short Story by Berthold Gambrel book cover. Image on cover is a drawing of a large yellow full moon with a black bat flying near the top of it in the sky. There are two jack o lanterns at the bottom of the cover near the title. Title: Vespasian Moon’s Fabulous Autumn Carnival – A Long Short Story

Author: Berthold Gambrel

Publisher: Self-Published

Publication Date: October 18, 2019

Genres: Paranormal, Mystery, Romance, Holiday, Humour

Length: 54 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author.

Rating: 5 Stars


Federal Agent Jane Raczyck is tired of her job. So is Sheriff Sixtus Davis, the head law enforcement officer in the town of Turpin’s Gulch. But when Raczyck’s agency sends her to work with Davis on combating the drug epidemic in the small Appalachian hamlet, the two are compelled to investigate the local carnival and its mysterious impresario… even though they’d much rather be doing other things together.


Content Warning: References to drug abuse, multi-generational poverty, and some of the negative consequences of living in an insular community like prejudice against and a deep distrust of outsiders. I won’t discuss these subjects in my review, and they were a minor part of an otherwise pretty lighthearted plot.

Small towns are supposed to be sleepy, peaceful little places where nothing weird ever happens….right?

The main characters were a hoot. Neither of them seemed all that emotionally invested in carrying out the roles in society that they were supposed to be fulfilling. Even when Jane behaved like a federal agent and Davis took his job as head law enforcement officer in Turpin’s Gulch seriously, there was still always an faint undercurrent of restlessness and snark in their personalities that always made me wonder how they’d break the unwritten rules of how they were supposed to act next based on their occupations and gender identities. This was exactly what the setting needed in order to thrive, and it made me wish I’d ignored my overflowing to be read list and jumped ahead to this tale when it first came out.

I loved seeing how the narrator broke the fourth wall and spoke directly to the audience when necessary. For example, this was how Jane was described: “Now, because standards of beauty vary greatly, let me simply say that she had whatever you consider to be the most attractive hair color and style, atop whatever you think is the ideal face shape, with skin colored in the precise shade of pigment you like the best,” and it made me laugh out loud when I read it. Of course the audience’s preconceptions and tastes matter when describing a beautiful woman, and it tickled my funny bone to see that addressed so openly.  Do keep an eye out for other unexpected moments like this while reading because i can’t possibly list them all in this review.

The paranormal elements of the plot were beautifully understated. Many of these scenes that included them could be explained away with rational alternatives to what some characters assumed was happening there. I love ambigious stuff like that, especially when it’s followed up with scenes that gently nudge the reader in the particular direction the author wants you go while still leaving room for other interpretations for those who wish to hang onto their own ideas about the origins of previous spooky moments. Yes, I’m being vague in this paragraph on purpose. If you want to know more, you’ll have to read this book!

While no prior knowledge of Appalachian culture is required to understand the storyline, readers who are from that culture or who have knowledge of it in other ways will find some gems here. I nodded and chuckled as I read certain passages because of how much they reminded me of certain people I knew when I was a kid or of cultural references that I rarely see mentioned in fiction.

Vespasian Moon’s Fabulous Autumn Carnival was everything I was hoping it would be and more.


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Caution is a Virtue: A Review of Veiled Threats

Veiled Threats by Melissa Erin Jackson book cover. Image on cover shows two teens wearing tshirts and jeans smiling slightly as they lean up against each other. There is a light green circle glowing behind them. 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



This is a short prequel story that takes place before Diabolical Sword, book 1 in The Charm Collector urban fantasy series.

Camila Fletcher has made a career out of finding missing people. Despite being a full-blooded human, she’s often contacted by members of the fae population hiding amongst mundanes. When a young fae girl asks for help finding her sister, Camila is thrust into an investigation that involves much more than one missing girl …


Content Warning: kidnapping of a human child, pregnancy, and one brief, mildly bloody scene that included a dead chicken. I will not discuss any of these topics in my review.

Critical thinking is just as important as any spell or weapon.

Camila was a warm and likeable protagonist. She was the sort of person I’d love to meet in real life because of how kind she was, although I’ll leave it up to other readers to discover all of the little things she did when she thought no one was looking that made her so endearing. I also appreciated how much common sense she had. She thought carefully about every move she made beforehand and always had a backup plan in case something went awry. There are plenty of fantasy stories out there about characters who rush into situations without thinking about what they’re doing, so it was nice to meet one who broke that mould.

It would have been nice to have a little more world building in this tale. While I wouldn’t expect it to go into as much detail about how The Collective operates or why some humans are aware of the magical societies that overlap human ones, it sure would have been helpful to have a little more information about these topics as I was getting to know Camila and her husband Nelson. As interested as I was in the characters and plot, there were a few times when I was confused about how the human and magical societies intersected and whether average folks were aware of the various non-human species walking amongst them.

This novella has a wry, subtle sense of humour that I truly enjoyed. One of the best examples of it that I can share in this review without giving away too many spoilers had to do with Camila’s suspicious reaction to a handsome and mysterious teenage boy who had won the hearts of many of the other students at his high school. She knew immediately that there was something strange about him, and she wasn’t shy about voicing her opinions of the romantic feelings he stirred up in teenagers. That’s really all I can say about that interaction, but it made me chuckle and want to read more.

Veiled Threats piqued my curiosity.


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Making Their Moves: A Review of Empty Smiles

Empty Smiles by Katherine Arden book cover. Image on cover shows a drawing of an evil running clown. Behind him are two children running away from him while carrying two blue balloons each. Title: Empty Smiles (Small Spaces #4)

Author: Katherine Arden

Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers

Publication Date: August 9, 2022

Genres: Middle Grade, Fantasy, Mystery, Horror, Contemporary

Length: 256 pages

Source: I borrowed it from the library.

Rating: 3 Stars


New York Times bestselling author Katherine thrills once again in the finale to the critically acclaimed, spook-tacular quartet that began with Small Spaces.

It’s been three months since Ollie made a daring deal with the smiling man to save those she loved, and then vanished without a trace. The smiling man promised Coco, Brian and Phil, that they’d have a chance to save her, but as time goes by, they begin to worry that the smiling man has lied to them and Ollie is gone forever. But finally, a clue surfaces. A boy who went missing at a nearby traveling carnival appears at the town swimming hole, terrified and rambling. He tells anyone who’ll listen about the mysterious man who took him. How the man agreed to let him go on one condition: that he deliver a message. Play if you dare.

Game on! The smiling man has finally made his move. Now it’s Coco, Brian, and Phil’s turn to make theirs. And they know just where to start. The traveling carnival is coming to Evansburg.

Meanwhile, Ollie is trapped in the world behind the mist, learning the horrifying secrets of the smiling man’s carnival, trying everything to help her friends find her. Brian, Coco and Phil will risk everything to rescue Ollie—but they all soon realize this game is much more dangerous than the ones before. This time the smiling man is playing for keeps.

The summer nights are short, and Ollie, Coco, Brian, and Phil have only until sunrise to beat him once and for all—or it’s game over for everyone.


Content Warning: Scary clowns, kidnapping, a sprained ankle, and a little blood (think the amount that can be staunched by what you’d find in the typical home first aid kit. It wasn’t gory).

Summer carnivals are supposed to be cheerful places, so why is this one so scary?

The character development was handled nicely. Coco and Brian were reluctant to tell the adults in their lives what was really happening during their previous encounters with the smiling man even when they were in terrible danger. I’ll leave it up to other readers to discover all of the details of how they responded, but I was pleased to see how seriously they took their safety this time around. It’s always nice to read stories about people who grow and change as a result of their past experiences. We all make mistakes sometimes, but there is something to be said for folks learning from the past and trying to improve the way they react to scary unexpected things.

One of the biggest unanswered questions in this series has been the smiling man’s motivation for everything he’s done to Coco, Brian, Ollie, and the other people he has interacted with. I started reading with high hopes that he’d explain why he chose these particular people as his victims and what he wanted to accomplish. Without giving away more than the mildest of spoilers, I was disappointed with the vague answer that was provided here. After spending four books getting to know him and coming up with my own theories about why he behaved the way he did, I was really hoping for more closure. If only the author had made her intentions clearer in this area. Was it a reference to how people in real life also do terrible things sometimes without anyone ever figuring out why? Am I expecting too much from something written for kids? Despite this being branded as a quartet, is there secretly a prequel on the way that will explain his origins and desires? I can only hope that prequel idea will really happen!

I have always enjoyed reading about the friendships between these characters. Their bonds were strengthened in this book in all sorts of wonderful ways, some of which included fun callbacks to their earlier adventures. It made me smile to read about characters who genuinely liked each other and would do anything to help their friends. I saw glimpses of the teens and adults they may become someday in the way they behaved at their current ages.

This is the fourth instalment in the Small Spaces quartet. Be sure to read Small SpacesDead Voices, and Dark Waters first as there were many references to those tales that will only make sense to people who are caught up on everything.

Empty Smiles was deliciously spooky.


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Canadian Tidbits: A Review of Northern Gothic Stories

Northern Gothic Stories by Helena Puumala and Dale Olausen book cover. Image on cover shows green and yellow Northern Lights in the sky at night over a flat plain. There are a few mountains in the distance, too. Title: Northern Gothic Stories

Author: Helena Puumala and Dale Olausen

Publisher: Dodecahedron Books

Publication Date: December 19, 2012

Genres: Science Fiction, Fantasy, Mystery, Horror, Historical, Contemporary

Length: 123 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the authors.

Rating: 3 Stars


Do you like stories featuring aliens, legendary monsters, psychic children, mysterious disappearances, gamblers, cheats, murderers and perhaps old Beelzebub himself? Of course you do – who could resist?

Join two story tellers, a husband and wife team, while they spin pairs of yarns with similar themes and premises, but diverging and surprising plots. Which will you prefer? Take the plunge into the icy world of Northern Gothic Stories and find out for yourself.

Our first pair of stories, “The Magnetic Anomaly” and “The Boathouse Christ” involve tranquil northern lakes and the paranormal mysteries lurking below placid surfaces.

Our second set, “Beyond the Blue Door” and “A Dark Horse” feature mysterious disappearances, which might be natural, but more likely supernatural.

Our final set, “Take me out to the Ballgame” and “The Stalkers” deal with decidedly natural horrors – serial killers, their victims, and third parties who might be one or the other.

Though our stories have northern locales, they might happen anywhere; perhaps even in your quiet town.

Please note that these stories may contain scenes that some readers might find disturbing.

The six stories are each about 6000 words, for a total of about 36000 words. Each can be read in about 20 minutes to half an hour.


Content Warning: murder, blood, stigmata, emotional abuse, rape, incest, and references to the crucifixion of Christ. I will briefly discuss the sexual and emotional abuse in my review but will not go into graphic detail about them. I will not mention the rest of these topics.

Now is the perfect time to dig into Canadian stories.

In “The Magnetic Anomaly,” a geophysicist named Alex was flown to a remote location in the Barren Lands of the Northwest Territories for twelve weeks in order to take a magnetic survey with a small group of fellow experts and investigate something odd that was happening up there. I was surprised by how much foreshadowing was included here, and I wondered why the characters didn’t pay closer attention to it. With that being said, this was still an enjoyable read. The Canadian tundra was an excellent setting for such a mysterious experience.

The title of ”The Boathouse Christ” grabbed my attention immediately. Imagine finding a wooden image of Christ in a boathouse of all places! Terese, the 14-year-old daughter of the couple who had recently purchased the boathouse, prayed to the image which I thought was an intrigued touch given how that scene was used later on. There was a fairly large cast of characters in this tale, but they all played important roles in both the storyline as well as the author’s wholesome point about what a “real” Canadian in Northern Ontario should look and sound like. It was well worth the time I took to get to know all of them even though I was a little overwhelmed at first. I loved seeing so many perspectives on why some Canadian immigrants don’t feel like they fit in here at first, too.

I have previously reviewed ”A Dark Horse“ and so will not repeat my thoughts about it here.

Jenny was a lonely girl growing up in an emotionally and sexually abusive home in “Beyond the Blue Door” who vividly imagined stepping through a blue door to cope with her trauma. I must be honest here and say this was a tough read due to the subject matter. There was nothing I wanted more than to step into her world and help her escape it. Anyone who is able to read about such terrible things will discover a wonderful surprise at the end, though, so don’t give up if the beginning is difficult.

As soon as Reggie spotted Alison jogging past him in ‘Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” he was intrigued by her. I could see where this story was headed early on. Due to how easy it was to predict what would happen next and how disturbed I was by the content, I did not enjoy this piece. It was also hard for me to understand why certain characters did not pick up on red flag behaviour much earlier on in the storyline. This did not seem to fit their previous patterns of behaviour and so it confused me.

It was a dark and stormy night when Steve, a Toronto security guard, began planning his next murder in “The Stalkers.” I was wary of where this tale was going due to my dissatisfaction with the previous one that shared a similar theme. While this storyline included more plot twists, I still found myself wishing that more attention had been paid to how some of the characters reacted to unexpected events. The earlier descriptions of them once again didn’t match their later behaviour. Just like with “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” it  would have been helpful to have more character development so that I could tell if they were behaving in ways that were out of the ordinary for them or if these were simply parts of their personalities that hadn’t been revealed yet.

Northern Gothic Stories was an interesting mixture of Canadian fiction.


Filed under Science Fiction and Fantasy