Tag Archives: Novellas

Keeping an Open Mind: A Review of The Watch

The Watch by P.A. Western-Pittard book cover. Image on cover shows a watch face that’s glowing yellow and green. It’s superimposed over a photo of some furniture draped in white sheets. Title: The Watch – An Upfallers Story

Author: P.A. Western-Pittard

Publisher: Self-Published

Publication Date: August 27, 2021

Genres: Fantasy, Humour, Contemporary

Length: 55 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author.

Rating: 3 Stars

Blurb:

A Hilarious longish-short story adventure for fans of Terry Pratchett and lovers of quirky fantasy scifi.

In the Temple City of Tarn, no one and nothing is who they seem…

When Julian, a down-on-his-luck acolyte, comes across an ancient watch, he thinks this is exactly what he needs to solve his money problems. But Julian always was an optimistic dreamer. What begins as a seemingly simple stroke of luck soon turns into an adventure where he must find the impossible, or literally die trying.

But considering Julian isn’t much a fan of either dying or trying, this is going to turn out to be harder than he thought.

A longish-short story involving Soap-Bubble-Temples, a quest for ancient warbots and the meanest gunrunner in town, The Watch is a riotous introduction to the world of the Upfallers series.

Review:

The fewer assumptions you make about this novella, the better.

I appreciated the way the narrator repeatedly broke or reimagined many of the most popular tropes of the fantasy genre. Yes, the plot included a quest, but even there the author was discerning about what happened to his character and how they reacted to it. There were multiple times when I was fairly certain I knew what might happen next due to how long I’ve been reading this genre. In most cases, I was completely wrong in a pleasant way. This was my first time reading Mr. Western-Pittard‘s work, so I don’t have anything else to compare it to yet. What I can say is that I was impressed with how he approached the concept of contemporary fantasy, and I’m curious to see if his other works might do the same thing.

Even though the blurb interested me quite a bit, I struggled to remain engaged with the slow pacing of this novella. It spent so much time setting up Julian’s backstory and strengthening the world building that I wished for more action and conflict. This was a pattern that repeated itself after Julian’s adventures with the talking watch began. It read more like the first chapter of a book instead of a self-contained story. I don’t want to make any assumptions about why it was written this way, but the style did interfere with my desire to learn more.

What saved the storyline for me was the wry personality of the watch. If I had to assign a personality to such an item, I would have gone with something much more serious and academic because for some reason my brain assumes that something that was created to keep track of time would probably be staid in general. This is only loosely related to what the author actually came up with, of course, but it was delightful to see how creatively Mr. Western-Pittard approached character development. Playing around with the audience’s assumptions and expectations always grabs my attention, and this is even more true when it’s done as joyfully as it was done here.

This seems to be the introduction to a series, and I believe it is where readers are supposed to begin meeting the characters. I can’t say if the later instalments can be read out of order as I haven’t picked them up yet.

The Watch – An Upfallers Story is a good pick if you’re in the mood for something humorous.

Autumn Adventures: A Review of The Neighbourhood Squirrel

The Neighbourhood Squirrel by Wilfredo Gonzalez book cover. Image on cover is a drawing of a dog waving at a squirrel sitting on a fire hydrant as a full moon shines above them at night. Title: The Neighbourhood Squirrel

Author: Wilfredo Gonzalez

Publisher: Self-Published

Publication Date: March 14, 2021

Genres: Middle Grade, Fantasy, Contemporary

Length: 67 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author.

Rating: 3 Stars

Blurb:

Every neighborhood has a neighborhood squirrel. This includes your neighborhood too. You have not known this because people don’t need to know, in most cases. The neighborhood squirrel has an occupation that is most important, as you shall see.

Review:

Content Warning: Bullying and fighting (between kids at a middle school). I will be discussing these things briefly in my review.

Have you ever wondered why some kids are so mean? If so, this tale might have a few answers for you.

I appreciated the nuanced approach this book took to the topic of bullying. It never shied away from the fact that Hector had harmed his classmates both physically and emotionally, but it didn’t demonize him for these choices. He had reasons for his behaviour that, while they weren’t framed as excuses for his terrible deeds in any way, did provide a satisfactory explanation for how someone so young could cause so much chaos at school. It was also cool to see how his peers reacted to the idea of bullying and what kept them from lashing out the same way he did. There were so many opportunities here for self-reflection for kids who may have bullied others in the past or refrained from standing up for classmates who were being mistreated.

It would have been helpful for me to see the narrator include more connections between the storyline about the intelligent talking squirrel who protected the neighbourhood and the uneasy relationship between Gonzalo and Hector. As excited as I was by the idea of animals taking note of the conflicts between children and trying to help them, it was tricky at times to understand why the squirrel was so interested in the affairs of humans. He could have easily lived a quiet life in the park and ignored them. I was glad he made such a noble choice, but from a reader’s perspective I did wish his motivation for getting involved was explored in greater detail. There was so much room here for exposition and world building.

Some of my favourite passages were the ones that described how the world changes from the beginning to the end of autumn. A warm September day is generally nothing at all like a chilly December one when winter is around the corner. Mr. Gonzalez did a wonderful job of describing this process in detail. Not only was it important for the plot, it was just plain fascinating to read about all of the things that children and maybe even your neighbourhood squirrel might think about as the leaves fall and the first few snowflakes tremble with anticipation in the sky.

The Neighbourhood Squirrel was a thought-provoking read.

Whispers from the Past: A Review of Ghost of the Mountain

Ghost of the Mountain by Elvira Dahl book cover. Image on cover shows a hazy ghost walking down a black and white path. Title: Ghost of the Mountain

Author: Elvira Dahl

Publisher: Self-Published

Publication Date: November 5, 2019

Genres: Horror, Fantasy, Paranormal, Contemporary

Length: 65 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author.

Rating: 4 Stars

Blurb:

“Some parts of the earth are not meant to be disturbed.”

Oscar Brandt’s career as operating technician at one of Sweden’s biggest IT companies is going exactly as planned. Thanks to a new big-shot client, the company’s rock shelter facilities are to be expanded with a new server hall. And Oscar is up for the promotion of his career. But while blasting away inside the mountain, a tragic accident occurs that open the gates to the underworld. Suddenly, a ghost from Oscar’s past starts haunting him, and he soon finds himself in a familiar, dark place he might not escape from again.

Ghost of the Mountain is a tale of caves, underground server halls and abandoned mines. Of the mythic creatures that guard the deep. And of two kids with Gameboys, bonding in the darkest of places.

Review:

Content Warning: Blood and devil worship. I will not be discussing them in my review.

Quiet places aren’t always peaceful ones.

To be perfectly honest, I was somewhat confused by the flashbacks at first. They didn’t seem to have anything to do with Oscar’s current life, so I was curious to see what the connection there might be. Be patient if you have the same reaction to these scenes because they do pay off in the end. I can’t go into much further detail about them other than to say that the author knew what she was doing here. As soon as I figured out what was going on, I grinned. The payoff was so worth it in the end!

I would have liked to see more attention paid to the folklore in this novella. The characters shared tantalizing hints about what they might be dealing with here, but there wasn’t quite enough of it for me to go for a full five-star rating due to how many unanswered questions I had about the legend they mentioned and how it was related to what happened to Oscar. This was my only criticism of something that was otherwise well-written and fascinating.

The ending was quite satisfactory. I was originally expecting a completely different conclusion to it all, so I once again had the opportunity to rethink my assumptions and pick out the clues that the author had left in earlier scenes about where she was going with this piece. Yes, I know I’m being more vague than usual in this review, but this really is the sort of tale that works best if new readers know as little about certain plot twists as possible in advance. Just know that there are answers coming and they’re well worth the wait!

Ghost of the Mountain made me shudder. It’s a great pick for anyone who loves spooky stories, especially as Halloween season approaches.

The Loyal Companion: A Review of The Origins of Constantine


Book cover for The Origins of Constantine by D.C. Gomez. Image on cover is of a cat hovering above a pyramid. Title
: The Origins of Constantine

Author: D.C. Gomez

Publisher: Self-Published

Publication Date: February 27, 2019

Genres: Young Adult, Fantasy, Contemporary

Length: 87 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author.

Rating: 4 Stars

Blurb:

When the god Anubis needed a friend, the universe sent him the most unlikely companion: a feisty little cat.

Discover how the infamous five-thousand-year-old talking cat, Constantine of the Intern Diaries, became a permanent fixture in the life of Death.

This fast-paced, action-packed Novella will have you turning the page and falling in love with the most unlikely of duos.

Review:

Content Warning: Tuberculosis and the death of a pet. I will not be discussing these things in my review.

Even Death himself can get lonely sometimes.

The character development was handled nicely for everyone from the protagonist to the kind friends he relied on as he adjusted to being the right hand cat of Death himself. I enjoyed peeling back all of the layers of the characters I met. My first impressions of many of them were quickly adjusted as I learned new things about them that I wouldn’t have necessarily guessed in advance. Other characters were more forthcoming with their personalities, but I still had a wonderful time finding additional examples of their kindness, courage, and other positive traits as time went on.

I would have liked to see a little more time spent on the world building. The author provided tantalizing hints about this version of ancient Egypt that I kept hoping would be explored in greater depth than they were. It did make me wonder if the full-length novels in this series had the space to dive further into this time and place, though, and it was a minor criticism of a novella I otherwise really liked. Based on my first taste of this world, I’m definitely curious to learn more about it!

Ms. Gomez had a playful sense of humour that worked perfectly for this setting and these characters. There were multiple times when the dialogue made me chuckle out loud, especially when Constantine made another one of his wry comments. Her characters knew exactly how to gently goad each other into doing the right thing even if it wasn’t always necessarily for the right reason. The juxtaposition of their occasionally mixed motivations and their often surprisingly wholesome life choices was delightful. I love meeting nuanced characters like these who can find the funny side of even the most serious topics.

This is part of a series, but you don’t have to be familiar with the previous works to enjoy it. I had no trouble jumping straight into this world as a brand new reader.

I’d recommend The Origins of Constantine to any teen or adult who likes alternate history.

 

 

What a great sense of humour this book has.

 

CHARACTERS

Constantine – the cat. Five-thousand-years old and right hand man of Death (Anubis or Anpu, although he hates the latter name). Also the guardian/trainer of all the Interns that worked for Death.

Bob – his human in present day

Isis Black – Bob’s friend who saved him from being sacrificed by volatile witches. Can see the dead.

 

Camaro – aka the bumblebee.

 

Constantine grew up in Memphis, the first capital of the United Kingdom of Egypt in 3100BC. It was the pride of Menes, the king who united Upper and Lower Egypt.

 

3140 B.C. Is exactly when this tale is set.

 

Cats were worshipped in the Hiku-Ptah or the Inbu-Hedj (city where Constantine lived).

Ammon – head of the house. Took in kitten Constantine saved.

Saqqara – the necropolis of the Inbu-Hedj.Where Constantine went to escape the roaming gangs of cats looking for him.

 

Bastet – another god.

Moses – kitten Ammon took in and saved.

Pilis – Ammon‘s best friend. An orphan. Spends most of his days with Ammon and his sister and mom.

 

Taweret – god of healing.

 

”You are too obsessed with this god of death thing. We need to work on your identity.”

 

 

Searching for Answers: A Review of Remote Control

Remote Control by Nnedi Okorafor book cover. Image on cover shows a photo of a young Afrian woman superimposed on a tree and some robotic gear on her torso.Title: Remote Control

Author: Nnedi Okorafor

Publisher: Tor Books

Publication Date: January 19, 2021

Genres: Fantasy, Science Fiction, Contemporary

Length: 156 pages

Source: I borrowed it from the library.

Rating: 4.5 Stars

Blurb:

The day Fatima forgot her name, Death paid a visit. From here on in she would be known as Sankofa­­—a name that meant nothing to anyone but her, the only tie to her family and her past.

Her touch is death, and with a glance a town can fall. And she walks—alone, except for her fox companion—searching for the object that came from the sky and gave itself to her when the meteors fell and when she was yet unchanged; searching for answers.

But is there a greater purpose for Sankofa, now that Death is her constant companion?

Review:

Content warning: Violence, blood, menstruation, death of parents, death of a child. I will not be discussing these things in my review.

There’s never been a meteor shower quite like this one before.

This novella freely wandered between genres and settings. It was a folk tale set in the modern day. The dreamy fantasy elements of the plot sometimes wandered into science fiction territory. It had drones and cell phones, but it also had possibly magical creatures who followed Sankofa around everywhere. I’ve never read anything quite like it, and I was often left guessing what might happen next.

Occasionally, I wished Sankofa would have been more straightforward about the connection between the strange seed that fell from the sky during a meteor shower and her becoming the adopted daughter of Death itself. Getting to know her better eventually changed my mind on this topic. Sankofa was quite young when these events happened, so it made sense that she didn’t explain them the same way an adult would. I won’t stop hoping for a sequel that might dive deeply into this part of the world building, but the way it was explained ultimately did make sense given who Sankofa was and what she’d been through.

Some of my favourite scenes were the ones that explored what the main character learned during the course of her travels. Her experience with the seed gave her magical powers that even many adults would struggle to understand, and there was no one around to teach her how to use or control them. Seeing Sankofa gradually figure out the rules of her abilities was nearly as satisfying as watching her learn to accept what had happened to her and begin to take the first confident steps into adulthood.

Remote Control was a wonderful novella that should be read by new and old fans of Okorafor’s work alike.

Dangerous Amusement: A Review of Summer’s Over

Title: Summer’s Over Author: Em Leonard Publisher: Self-Published Publication Date: August 25, 2018 Genres: Horror, Paranormal Length: 106 pages Source: I received a free copy from the author. Rating: 4 Stars Blurb: The lure and curiosity of cheap amusements have always been a part of our psyche. We go to theme parks to explore worlds different… Read More

Vengeance: A Review of Ceremony of Ashes

Title: Ceremony of Ashes – A Horror Novella of Witchcraft and Vengeance Author: Jayson Robert Ducharme Publisher: Self-Published Publication Date: May 1, 2020 Genres: Fantasy, Horror, Contemporary Length: 135 pages Source: I received a free copy from the author. Rating: 3 stars Blurb: Something wicked descends upon Leinster Village Adrian Holloway’s life is turned upside… Read More