Tag Archives: Mystery

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

Blurb:

 

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 …

Review:

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.

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

Blurb:

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.

Review:

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.

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

Blurb:

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.

Review:

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.

Gently Combing the Sea: A Review of Hildie at the Ghost Shore


Hildie at the Ghost Shore by Paula Cappa book cover. Image on cover his a painting of a very foggy shore by a body of water. You can see almost nothing but the tiniest glimmer of blue water in the distance. Title
: Hildie at the Ghost Shore

Author: Paula Cappa

Publisher: Self-Published

Publication Date: May 17, 2015

Genres: Fantasy, Paranormal, Mystery, Historical

Length: 22 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author.

Rating: 3 Stars

Blurb:

We are in Old Belgium. Hildie the lace maker, Mistress of Runecraft, knows the secret spells of the runes from the wind-god Odin. When a mysterious old sailor visits her attic workroom, he requests a reading. Hildie agrees. During the casting of the runes, Hildie conjures the Ship of the Dead, Loki the trickster, and flame-eyed ravens. Who will survive this adventure in a land beyond the ghost shore? Hildie at the Ghost Shore is a quiet little mystery (Kindle Single) with a dash of Norse mythology evoking the magic of the Runes. This story was originally published at Fiction365.

Review:

Content Warning: Murder.

Danish mysteries abound on this quiet shore.

The poetic and etherial style of this short story made it impossible for me to stop reading. It was my first experience with Ms. Cappa’s work, and I was immediately impressed by how smooth and beautiful her writing style was. She excelled at drawing this reader into the storyline and making me never want to leave it. Reading this felt like the literary equivalent of stepping into a light, airy fog on a mostly-deserted beach on a chilly late winter or early spring day. That is to say, I felt as if I’d stepped into another world or some alternative version of our own world whose rules of physics were just different enough to make it impossible for me to guess what remarkable things I might discover a few moments in the future. It was a truly delightful experience that made me eager to discover what else the author has written.

I would have loved to see more plot and character development. There was very little of the former and almost none of the latter which struck me as unusual for something that went on for twenty-two pages.  It would have made sense for flash fiction, and the premise could have been shrunken down to accommodate a much shorter interpretation of it. Unfortunately, it felt out of place for a longer work that did seem to have more than enough room to include both of these elements.

By far my favourite portion of this tale was the final scene. This was when the plot grew as thick and substantial as it ever would, and it explained some things that keen readers might have kept tucked in the back of their minds as half-formed questions since they first began reading it. I should note that I’m not very familiar with Norse Mythology, so I also appreciated the quick explanations of certain key terms and figures from it. Perhaps readers who are already well-versed on that topic could expound upon it in greater detail, but I was perfectly satisfied with it as is. Yes, I know I’m being vague here! Why share spoilers when you can allow other readers the thrill of surprise instead?

Hildie at the Ghost Shore was a dreamy, wistful reading experience that I cheerfully recommend saving for the next time the weather outside is too foggy, snowy, or drizzly to venture forth outdoors.

Be Careful: A Review of Dead Voices

Dead Voices by Katherine Arden book cover. Image on cover is a drawing of a car driving up to a ski lodge at night. One large cloud above the lodge looks like the ghostly face of a person. Title: Dead Voices

Author: Katherine Arden

Publisher: Puffin Books

Publication Date: June 30, 2020

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

Length: 272 pages

Source: I borrowed it from the library.

Rating: 5 Stars

Blurb:

Having survived sinister scarecrows and the malevolent smiling man in Small Spaces, newly minted best friends Ollie, Coco, and Brian are ready to spend a relaxing winter break skiing together with their parents at Mount Hemlock Resort. But when a snowstorm sets in, causing the power to flicker out and the cold to creep closer and closer, the three are forced to settle for hot chocolate and board games by the fire.

Ollie, Coco, and Brian are determined to make the best of being snowed in, but odd things keep happening. Coco is convinced she has seen a ghost, and Ollie is having nightmares about frostbitten girls pleading for help. Then Mr. Voland, a mysterious ghost hunter, arrives in the midst of the storm to investigate the hauntings at Hemlock Lodge. Ollie, Coco, and Brian want to trust him, but Ollie’s watch, which once saved them from the smiling man, has a new cautionary message: BEWARE.

With Mr. Voland’s help, Ollie, Coco, and Brian reach out to the dead voices at Mount Hemlock. Maybe the ghosts need their help–or maybe not all ghosts can or should be trusted.

Dead Voices is a terrifying follow-up to Small Spaces with thrills and chills galore and the captive foreboding of a classic ghost story.

Review:

Content Warning: Orphanages and child abuse. I will be briefly referencing these topics in my review.

Not everyone is trustworthy.

Once again, the author played around with the audience’s expectations about how characters should behave. I can’t go into a lot of detail about this without giving away spoilers, but I was pleasantly surprised by how some of the plot twists revealed themselves once I realized that my assumptions about certain characters was completely off base. Some of them genuinely surprised me, and even the ones I saw coming were still a great deal of fun to observe as they fully unfolded and once again changed the courses of these characters’ lives. This was my second experience reading Ms. Arden’s work, and it was even better than my first. I can’t wait to see what else she’s written!

One of the biggest changes in the second instalment of this series was that both Ollie and Coco narrated it. That wasn’t something I was expecting to see happen, and it was wonderful to get to know Coco a little better. She was an intelligent and brave girl who went above and beyond all of my expectations of what it would be like to see the world from her perspective. Having two narrators was more than enough for this fast-paced adventure, but I’m hoping that Brian will have a chance to be a narrator later on in this series. While I totally understood why there wasn’t space for a third narrator here, he should have a chance to shine like his two best friends already have. My fingers are crossed that this will happen in for them.

I liked the way Ms. Arden approached the backstories of the ghosts these characters encountered, especially when it came to the orphaned girls who had been mistreated when they were alive and the Hemlock Lodge had operated as an orphanage. The plot didn’t dwell on their pasts, but it did share enough details about their lives and deaths to pique my interest. Given how quickly the storyline was moving, it made perfect sense to me for the narrators to learn the basics about the ghosts they were trying to help. Readers can always fill in the blanks for ourselves if we wish by making some educated guesses, although I was content to accept what we were told and move onto the action.

This is the second book in the Small Spaces Quartet. I strongly recommend reading Small Spaces first as the sequel assumes the reader remembers certain facts about the beginning of this series. Some key scenes in Dead Voices will only make sense if you’re already familiar with these characters and the world they live in.

Dead Voices was a delightfully spooky paranormal mystery.

You’d Better Run Faster – A Review of Small Spaces

Title: Small Spaces Author: Katherine Arden Publisher:  Puffin Books Publication Date: July 9, 2019 Genres: Middle Grade, Fantasy, Paranormal, Mystery, Horror, Contemporary Length: 256 pages Source: I borrowed it from the library. Rating: 4 Stars Blurb: After suffering a tragic loss, eleven-year-old Ollie who only finds solace in books discovers a chilling ghost story about… Read More

The Mysterious Noise: A Review of The Echo in the Valley

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… 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

Sweet Sleuthing: A Review of Junkyard

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… Read More

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

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… Read More