Tag Archives: Novellas

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

Book cover for Summer's Over by Em Leonard. Image on cover is a collage of various people, dinosaurs, and amusement park rides.

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 from our own. They make us feel happy or free, dangerous even. We love them. Spend our money on them. Plan our vacations around them. And sometimes, things go so very wrong inside them.

Summer’s Over are five demented tales that take place within the five major theme parks in Southern California. This book is complete with a custom crafted picture to accompany each story, created by the author Em Leonard. It’s a top down creation from cover to cover…
-A deadly religion recruits members from Six Flags Magic Mountain
-Creepy stalkers waiting in line at Disneyland
-Paranormal activity inside Knott’s Berry Farm
-Dark experiments from Sea World
-An alternate reality at Universal Studios

This is an ode to the vacationer’s utopia that is Southern California. Please keep your hands and arms inside the car at all times…

Review:

Content warning: Cults and stalking. I will be briefly discussing the first item on that list in my review.

There’s something bittersweet about early September, don’t you think? It’s still hot, sunny, and humid where I live, and yet the promise of much colder and darker days is right around the corner.

Religious cults are the absolutely last thing I expect to find at amusements parks, but there was one in “Love and Loss at Six Flags.” I liked the way the author picked out some of the biggest red flags that an organization is a cult in ways that made sense for the setting, too. That must have taken a lot of work, but it sure did a great job of grabbing this reader’s attention.

The main character’s reason for visiting Disneyland so late in the season in “Never Talk to People While Waiting in Line at Disneyland” made me smile. You don’t see a lot of homeschooling families popping up in the horror or science fiction genres, especially as the protagonists. This was such a short tale that I can’t say much else about it without giving away spoilers, but the ending both made me shudder and wish for a sequel.

people riding a roller coaster at sunset“My Knott’s Berry Farm Solution” was set during the middle of winter which made the paranormal activity there even spookier. This was the scariest story in this collection for me because of how trusting the main character was. He had no idea how quickly his life was about to change when he convinced his son and daughter to visit Knott’s Berry Farm that day!

“A Sea World Story” was told from the perspective a man reliving his unusual childhood as the only child of a single father who preferred surfing to working. The fact that his father refused to talk about so many topics only made me more curious about what the truth might be about their life. I enjoyed the way the author gave the audience hints but also let us come up with our own theories about what was going on there.

The first day of work can feel overwhelming for man people, especially in “The Other Universal Studios Tour” where the public’s perception of Universal Studios in this universe isn’t necessarily the same as what the employees would say about it. There was a dreamlike quality to this one that made it a great deal of fun to read because I never knew how the main character’s perception of reality was going to shift next.

Picking a rating for this collection was quite difficult. I wanted more details about each story in particular, but I also realized that, like real amusement park rides, they’re really only designed to last a short period of time before you rush off to your next thrill. It’s best to enjoy them for what they are and not put too much thought into figuring out all of their intricacies.

If September makes you feel a little nostalgic for the season we’re leaving behind, Summer’s Over might be right up your alley.

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