Tag Archives: Novella

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 Tales from Monarch Bay: First Memories

Tales from Monarch Bay - First Memories by J.M. Acosta book cover. Image on cover shows a frozen river of some sort that’s either covered in snow or a large flock of birds. Title: Tales from Monarch Bay – First Memories

Author: J.M. Acosta

Publisher: Self-Published

Publication Date: April 12, 2021

Genres: Fantasy, (mild) Horror, Paranormal, Contemporary

Length: 55 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author.

Rating: 3 Stars

Blurb:

All it took for Rien was to touch his old Rio player and a sudden rush of memories from High School came flooding back. To when he first moved to Monarch Bay and met The Keeper. When he had to stop the faceless man and save the world from an ancient threat. But are these really memories he wants to relive?

Review:

Content Warning: Vomiting and a little blood.  I will not discuss them in my review.

Everything in life has its own rhythm if you pay enough attention to it.

One of the biggest strengths of this novella in my opinion had to do with the way it explored old, half-forgotten memories. I think that just about all of us have had the experience of discovering such a memory after being exposed to something that reminds of us of the past. I was fascinated by how the narrator reacted to everything his mind dredged up, whether they were of happy times or terrible ones. It can be quite a jarring experience, and that aspect of it was captured just as nicely as the many other emotions the narrator felt as he relived that portion of his teenage years.

I had trouble keeping track of the plot and the world building. Some of their most important moments were described so rapidly and in such little detail that I wasn’t always sure what was happening. This was a technique that made sense in the beginning when Rien first discovered the MP3 player and had no idea what it was capable of doing, but I wasn’t quite sure why it was used later on once the stakes were higher. As much as I would have loved to give this a higher rating, I simply couldn’t do it due to these issues.

Beaches are such liminal spaces that it made perfect sense for so much of this tale to happen on and near them. It was interesting to take note of all of the connections the author made between the existence of ordinary beaches in our world and the otherworldly places they described that were every bit as transitory and filled with uncertainty. What made this portion of the storyline even better was how it was even more deeply explored in the ending, but that’s all I can say about that topic. If you want to learn more, you’ll simply have to go read it for yourself.

Tales from Monarch Bay – First Memories was a thought-provoking read.

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. 

A Review of Fangs & Fairy Dust

Fangs & Fairy Dust by Melissa Monroe book cover. Image on cover is a cartoon image of a vampire wearing a maid's uniform and holding a fairy in the palm of her right hand 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 witch cozy mysteries, you’ll love this book!

Review:

Content warning: kidnapping. I will not be discussing it in my review.

Not every vampire is a villain.

Most of the vampire fiction I read is firmly rooted in the horror genre, so it was refreshing to read about a vampire who had a strict code of ethics and stuck to it. I didn’t always agree with the decisions Priscilla, the main character, made, but I knew she’d stick to her deeply-held beliefs about what was right and wrong. She was principled like that, and I admired her for it.

There wasn’t much character development in this tale at all. I understand that this was the beginning of a new series, but I still would have liked to see Priscilla change in some way as a result of her earliest experiences with her fairy godmother. She had plenty of opportunities to do so. Seeing her end up the same person as she was in the beginning dampened my enthusiasm to keep going with her adventures.

It was nice to see a mystery wrapped up so quickly. Priscilla wasted no time in trying to figure out what was really happening with it. No, I can’t go into details about what was going on there without giving away spoilers due to the short length of this story and what a small role it played in the plot, but I can say that I appreciated her determination to get to the truth no matter what.

I also would have liked to see more attention paid to the plot development. Once again, I wouldn’t expect a novella to be as well-developed as something full length, but there was so much more the author could have done with a vampire who remembered life in the 1600s and could tell people about it in the present day.

The punchy dialogue kept making me smile. There were some clever one liners thrown about, and they were pretty evenly distributed among the main characters. It’s nice when the spotlight can be shared among multiple characters like that. No, the dialogue didn’t match the way people actually spoke in 1665, but I assumed Priscilla translated all of the thees and thous into modern, conversational English for the sake of her twenty-first companion who was hearing about the beginning of her relationship with her fairy godmother for the first time.

Fangs & Fairy Dust was a quick, lighthearted read that I’d recommend to anyone who is in the mood for such a thing.