Tag Archives: Mystery

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.

 

Overdue Consequences: A Review of The Swell

The Swell by Adam Vine book cover. Image on cover shows reflection of child standing on a pier and looking into a mostly-still body of water. There are a few ripples of water around the wooden columns holding the pier up. 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 trace but a single, cryptic message directing their parents to the sea…

Review:

Content warning: Death of children. I will not discuss this in my otherwise spoiler-free review.

Even the brightest day at the beach can hide some dark secrets.

One of the most interesting scenes happened in the beginning when Ana first realized her son Dana was missing. She briefly argued with her next-door neighbours about which of their missing children was a worse influence on the other one. I thought that moment was a great chance to get to know her better and a realistic look at the sorts of things a worried parent would bicker about while frantically looking for their child.

The narrator discovered hints here and there, but the brief explanations for how those things were connected only made my confusion about this storyline stronger. This is something I’m saying as a reader who prefers stories that expect their audiences to put work into figuring out a tricky mystery or subtle plot development. I have no problem with open-ended final scenes or not having all of my questions answered, but I really struggled to figure this one out or connect to it despite my strong interest in the beginning.

I enjoyed the way the message of this story was shared with the audience. Normally, I’m not a big fan of tales that are written as a warning for their readers, but I thought this one struck a good balance between pushing the plot forward and making its point. It was short and matter-of-fact on the issue it wanted to bring our attention which is always a good thing in my opinion.

If you love dark fantasy, The Swell might be right up your alley.

Sweet Sleuthing: A Review of Junkyard

Junkyard by Lindsay Buroker book cover. Image on cover is of a spaceship flying above a forest and below a large moon above the planet. Title: Junkyard (a Fractured Stars Novella) 

Author: Lindsay Buroker 

Publisher: Self-Published

Publication Date: January 5, 2019

Genres: Science Fiction, Mystery

Length: 81 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author.

Rating: 3.5 Stars

Blurb:

McCall Richter works as a skip tracer, tracking down criminals, con men, and people who stop making payments on their fancy new spaceships. 

Her job description says nothing about locating vast quantities of stolen maple syrup, but thanks to her helpful new android employee, she finds herself tramping through a “sugar house” on a frosty moon full of suspicious characters. The only witness to the crime? The junkyard dog next door.

Junkyard is a stand-alone novella set two years before Fractured Stars.

Review:

Talk about a sticky situation! 

It only took me a few scenes to find McCall endearing. She was an independent person who knew exactly what she wanted out of life. I was intrigued by the quirkier aspects of her personality, too, and was eager to get to know her better. The short introduction to her was more than enough to whet my appetite for more from this character and series. 

I would have liked to see more time spent developing the mystery elements of the plot. The basic structure of it was there, but it was so simplistic that I didn’t have to put much effort into sorting everything out at all. There was a lot of space here to add nuance to the question of what happened to the maple syrup and who might have been responsible for the theft of it. This was the only thing preventing me from giving this tale a higher rating. 

Some of my favourite scenes were the ones that showcased McCall’s relationships with Scipio and the other non-human creatures she spent a lot of time around, especially given how much she struggled to relate to other humans at times. It was marvellous to see her relax and enjoy the company of a select few companions who understood her so well. I’d love to see more of this later on in this series if it happens to be included there. 

Junkyard would be a good read for fans of both the science fiction and mystery genres. 

The Last-Chance Mission: A Review of Project Hail Mary

Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir book cover. Image on cover shows an astronaut floating through space while tethered to their ship. There is a large sun or planet in the background. Title: Project Hail Mary

Author: Andy Weir

Publisher:  Ballantine Books

Publication Date: May 4, 2021

Genres: Science Fiction, Mystery

Length:476 pages

Source: I borrowed it from my local library.

Rating: 5 Stars

Blurb:

Ryland Grace is the sole survivor on a desperate, last-chance mission—and if he fails, humanity and the earth itself will perish.

Except that right now, he doesn’t know that. He can’t even remember his own name, let alone the nature of his assignment or how to complete it.

All he knows is that he’s been asleep for a very, very long time. And he’s just been awakened to find himself millions of miles from home, with nothing but two corpses for company.

His crewmates dead, his memories fuzzily returning, Ryland realizes that an impossible task now confronts him. Hurtling through space on this tiny ship, it’s up to him to puzzle out an impossible scientific mystery—and conquer an extinction-level threat to our species.

And with the clock ticking down and the nearest human being light-years away, he’s got to do it all alone.

Or does he?

An irresistible interstellar adventure as only Andy Weir could deliver, Project Hail Mary is a tale of discovery, speculation, and survival to rival The Martian—while taking us to places it never dreamed of going.

Review:

Content warning: Death and serious bodily injuries. I will not be discussing these things in my review.

Failure isn’t an option here if humanity is to survive.

There were multiple sections of this book that went into great detail about the physics and math behind the experiments Ryland ran as he attempted to solve the scientific mystery that was threatening to drive humanity to extinction. This was most definitely a work of hard science fiction. I suspect that people who have university-level degrees in math, science, or technology will get the most out of those passages, but I did understand what the main character was saying. Keep pushing through those passages if you struggle with them. They’re important for the plot, but the narrator will often explain them again in other ways later on if you need a refresher.

I loved the foreshadowing. Yes, it was a little more heavy handed than what I’d typically expect to find in this genre, but given the complex and technical nature of most of the problems Ryland needed to solve I think that was the best choice for most people who will be reading this.

The hopeful nature of the storyline was delightful, so don’t be fooled by the urgent and sad vibe of the first couple of scenes. There were so many wonderful plot twists after that point, some of which I didn’t see coming and found quite relieving once they did arrive. As much as I want to go into vivid detail here, I keep my reviews spoiler-free and want you all to discover these moments for yourselves.

Ryland was a well-developed character whose wry sense of humour often made me chuckle. I enjoyed seeing how quickly and (usually) calmly he came up with new ideas when he was in a crisis and his previous solutions didn’t pan out. He honestly reminded me a bit of Mark Watney from Weir’s earlier book, The Martian. While these characters lived in different universes, I enjoyed comparing and contrasting them. Some of Ryland’s strengths were things that Mark probably would have found difficult, so that was an extra layer of amusement for anyone who is already familiar with this author and his previous works.

Project Hail Mary was an amazing adventure that I heartily recommend to anyone who loves hard science fiction.

Risky Wanderings: A Review of Leprechaun Luck

Leprechaun Luck: A Witch of Mintwood Short Story by Addison Creek book cover. Image on cover shows silhouette of a witch holding a broom over her head. She's standing outside by a village and the moon is shining down on her at night. Title: Leprechaun Luck – A Witch of Mintwood Short Story

Author:Addison Creek

Publisher: Self-Published

Publication Date: March 1, 2021

Genres: Fantasy, Mystery, Paranormal, Contemporary

Length: 48 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author.

Rating: 3 Stars

Blurb:

It’s St. Patrick’s Day and Lemmi, Charlie, and Liam are determined to have some fun before going to watch the guys play baseball. What happens next is unexpected, to say the least, but Lemmi and Charlie are determined not to miss the baseball game. Now if only the leprechaun would tell them where Liam is . . .

Review:

It’s always a smart idea to beware of deals that seem too good to be true.

Lemmi had wonderful conflict resolution skills. It was refreshing to see how she responded to challenging moments and how hard she worked to find solutions that were agreeable to everyone. This is something I’m always pleased to find in stories, especially mysteries. We need more characters like her around to set good examples of how to solve problems that can quickly escalate if they’re not handled swiftly.

There were some things about the character development in this story that never quite made sense to me. Lemmi and her friends were described as people who appeared to have a good deal of experience with magic and the supernatural world. It came as a surprise to me to see how trusting they were in unfamiliar situations that clearly had magical or supernatural origins. While they did mention the danger they might face briefly, they didn’t seem to take them seriously or think critically about the decisions they were about to make. I really wish more time had been spent exploring why this was the case as it didn’t make sense to me.

The dialogue made me chuckle. Not only did all of the main characters have great senses of humour, they were also skilled at using a comment a friend made as a jumping-off point for more jokes. It’s always delightful to see that level of banter among a group of characters who clearly appear to know each other well and genuinely enjoy everyone’s company.

This short story was part of a series, but I had no problem at all jumping into it as someone who wasn’t at all familiar with this universe. All of the necessary backstories were provided for us new readers.

Leprechaun Luck is a good pick for a lighthearted St. Patrick’s Day read.

A Review of Fangs & Fairy Dust

Title: Fangs & Fairy Dust Author: Melissa Monroe Publisher: Self-Published Publication Date: October 14, 2020 Genres: Fantasy, Mystery, Contemporary, Historical Length: 63 pages Source: I received a free copy from the author. Rating: 3 Stars Blurb: A vampire baker —before she opened shop — sinks her teeth into a local mystery. If you love paranormal… Read More

Suburban Gothic: A Review of The House on Abigail Lane

Title: The House on Abigail Lane Author: Kealan Patrick Burke Publisher: Elderlemon Press (Self-Published) Publication Date: June 17, 2020 Genres: Science Fiction, Mystery, Horror, Paranormal, Historical, Contemporary Length: 68 pages Source: I bought it. Rating: 3.5 Stars Blurb: From the outside, it looks like an ordinary American home, but since its construction in 1956, people… Read More

Love and Regret: A Review of The Curse of La Llorona

Content warning: deaths of children. I will be discussing this in my review.  The Curse of La Llorona is an American 2019 supernatural horror film set in 1973 about a mother who tries to save her children from a malevolent spirit who is trying to keep them for herself. La Llorona, or The Weeping Woman, is… Read More

A Review of Dollar Tales from the Morbid Museum: Creatures

Title: Dollar Tales from the Morbid Museum: Creatures Author: James Pack Publisher: Self-Published Publication Date: April 23, 2019 Genres: Science Fiction, Horror, Paranormal, Mystery, Contemporary Length: 49 pages Source: I received a free copy from the author. Rating: 4 Stars Blurb: Welcome to the Creatures Exhibit. Visitors to the Morbid Museum seek the dark and twisted… Read More

Military Science: A Review of 1NG4

Title: 1NG4: A Long Short Story Author: Berthold Gambrel Publisher: Self-Published Publication Date: January 11, 2019 Genres: Science Fiction, Mystery, Young Adult Length: 51 pages Source: I received a free copy from the author Rating: 5 Stars Blurb: Gunnar is part of a team studying a powerful new energy source aboard the seaborne platform Ryojin.… Read More