Tag Archives: Romance

A Review of Vespasian Moon’s Fabulous Autumn Carnival

Vespasian Moon’s Fabulous Autumn Carnival - A Long Short Story by Berthold Gambrel book cover. Image on cover is a drawing of a large yellow full moon with a black bat flying near the top of it in the sky. There are two jack o lanterns at the bottom of the cover near the title. Title: Vespasian Moon’s Fabulous Autumn Carnival – A Long Short Story

Author: Berthold Gambrel

Publisher: Self-Published

Publication Date: October 18, 2019

Genres: Paranormal, Mystery, Romance, Holiday, Humour

Length: 54 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author.

Rating: 5 Stars

Blurb:

Federal Agent Jane Raczyck is tired of her job. So is Sheriff Sixtus Davis, the head law enforcement officer in the town of Turpin’s Gulch. But when Raczyck’s agency sends her to work with Davis on combating the drug epidemic in the small Appalachian hamlet, the two are compelled to investigate the local carnival and its mysterious impresario… even though they’d much rather be doing other things together.

Review:

Content Warning: References to drug abuse, multi-generational poverty, and some of the negative consequences of living in an insular community like prejudice against and a deep distrust of outsiders. I won’t discuss these subjects in my review, and they were a minor part of an otherwise pretty lighthearted plot.

Small towns are supposed to be sleepy, peaceful little places where nothing weird ever happens….right?

The main characters were a hoot. Neither of them seemed all that emotionally invested in carrying out the roles in society that they were supposed to be fulfilling. Even when Jane behaved like a federal agent and Davis took his job as head law enforcement officer in Turpin’s Gulch seriously, there was still always an faint undercurrent of restlessness and snark in their personalities that always made me wonder how they’d break the unwritten rules of how they were supposed to act next based on their occupations and gender identities. This was exactly what the setting needed in order to thrive, and it made me wish I’d ignored my overflowing to be read list and jumped ahead to this tale when it first came out.

I loved seeing how the narrator broke the fourth wall and spoke directly to the audience when necessary. For example, this was how Jane was described: “Now, because standards of beauty vary greatly, let me simply say that she had whatever you consider to be the most attractive hair color and style, atop whatever you think is the ideal face shape, with skin colored in the precise shade of pigment you like the best,” and it made me laugh out loud when I read it. Of course the audience’s preconceptions and tastes matter when describing a beautiful woman, and it tickled my funny bone to see that addressed so openly.  Do keep an eye out for other unexpected moments like this while reading because i can’t possibly list them all in this review.

The paranormal elements of the plot were beautifully understated. Many of these scenes that included them could be explained away with rational alternatives to what some characters assumed was happening there. I love ambigious stuff like that, especially when it’s followed up with scenes that gently nudge the reader in the particular direction the author wants you go while still leaving room for other interpretations for those who wish to hang onto their own ideas about the origins of previous spooky moments. Yes, I’m being vague in this paragraph on purpose. If you want to know more, you’ll have to read this book!

While no prior knowledge of Appalachian culture is required to understand the storyline, readers who are from that culture or who have knowledge of it in other ways will find some gems here. I nodded and chuckled as I read certain passages because of how much they reminded me of certain people I knew when I was a kid or of cultural references that I rarely see mentioned in fiction.

Vespasian Moon’s Fabulous Autumn Carnival was everything I was hoping it would be and more.

Awkward Phases: A Review of The Usual Werewolves

The Usual Werewolves by Adam Bertocci book cover. Image on cover shows two people wearing thick black glasses looking shy and awkward as they stand in front of a full moon. The woman has red hair and the man is wearing a black and white checkered sweater. Title: The Usual Werewolves

Author: Adam Bertocci

Publisher: Self-Published

Publication Date: October 1, 2012

Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult, Romance, Paranormal, Satire, Contemporary

Length: 39 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author.

Rating: 3 Stars

Blurb:

Finally, a paranormal romance for people who hate paranormal romance.

Bookish outcast Serena is in love with the hottest guy in Holmwood High—a brooding young vampire who she just can’t get to bite.

Then on Halloween night she falls in with a new crowd. Nerds. Dorks. Werewolves. Soon she’s in for one long, crazy night, filled with all the pleasures of teenage life: dancing, talking, driving around, unexpected friendships and falling in love.

Award-winning writer and filmmaker Adam Bertocci has been praised by Entertainment Weekly, USA Today, The New Republic, GQ, The Wall Street Journal, The Guardian, Back Stage, Broadway World, E!, Maxim, IGN, Wired, Film Threat and more. In this touching and hilarious short story, he brings nostalgia, satire, emotion and wit to the most beloved genre in literary history.

Review:

Content Warning: Bullying.

Falling in love is the most important part of the high school experience…right?

Some of the most amusing scenes were the ones that leaned heavily into the teenage angst. Puberty is a confusing time, and that’s even more true for characters who are stuck in a paranormal romance and must decide whether they will live happily ever after with a vampire or a werewolf. Mr. Bertocci did an excellent job of showing how life-changing something like an unrequited crush feels for some high schoolers and well as how those same experiences are reinterpreted when someone is an adult. After all, teens are experiencing emotions like romantic love for the first time and therefore can’t yet compare them to previous relationships. Of course such a powerful and new experience will be all consuming! Who could ever expect anything less?

The ending was the only thing holding this short story back from getting a much higher rating from me. After a witty and sharp beginning and middle, I was disappointed by how quickly everything was wrapped up. There simply wasn’t the closure I needed in order to feel satisfied by this tale, especially when it came to Serena’s character development. She showed the audience a glimpse of the adult she could become only to ignore that character development in the final scene.

With that being said, I did appreciate the messages about bullying, friendships, and fitting in. Being a teenager is difficult, especially for teens who are having trouble making friends or figuring out where they belong. The narrator had quite a bit to say about these topics without ever sounding preachy about it. They simply acknowledged that these problems exist for many kids and nudged the readers gently into the direction of some tools that may help.

The Usual Werewolves was a fun riff on the paranormal romance genre.

 

A Review of Dare vs. The Doll

Dare vs the Doll: A not-actually-scary horror short story Kindle Edition by Si Clarke author. Image on cover is a photo of a scruffy little dog looking up with alarm at someone standing next it in rain boots. Title: Dare vs. The Doll – A not-actually-scary horror short story

Author: Si Clarke

Publisher: White Hart Fiction

Publication Date: March 30, 2021

Genres:  Horror, Parody, Humour, Romance, Contemporary

Length: 31 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author.

Rating: 3 Stars

Blurb:

Who expects a haunted doll to be such a nuisance?

When Dare’s dog discovers an abandoned doll on their doorstep, Dare assumes it’s nothing more than a lost toy… until it begins to talk.

After the doll offers up a string of bad suggestions and unhelpful advice, Dare is left wondering if the isolation of lockdown has finally proved too much.

Struggling to get rid of the bed-tempered toy, Dare has no idea that this not-quite-scary fiend will accidentally change everything.

With a dash of humour, this queer cosy-horror short story is a fun, quirky tale – perfect for readers who like the idea of being scared more than the reality of it.

Review:

Content Warning: One haunted doll. This was also technically set during a Covid-19 lockdown in 2020 or early 2021, but none of the characters were sick or anything during it.

Some problems are much easier to solve than you might think!

Dare was an amazing main character. I will leave it up to readers who have autism to comment on those aspects of this character, but I really enjoyed their matter-of-fact approach to any number of problems, from the sudden appearance of a rainstorm to the probably evil doll that they couldn’t seem to get rid of no matter what they tried. Honestly, Dare was exactly the sort of person I’d hope to have around in an emergency. If only all characters in Horror stories were this sensible and practical!

I would have liked to see the author spend more time on the parody elements of the plot, especially when it came to making fun of how many characters behave at the beginning of horror stories. Those were the best scenes in this short story in my opinion, and I would have loved to have more of them. The author did an excellent job of acknowledging the expectations of that genre while also showing a much more realistic reaction to learning that one’s dog has accidentally brought home a haunted doll. I simply needed more of these elements in order to give this a higher rating due to how important those themes were to the storyline.

The romantic plot twist was as unexpected as it was delightful. I rarely find stories that mix romance and horror together, especially if they’re about Queer characters. This is even more true when I narrow that list down to authors who have done so successfully for me as a reader. They are such wildly different genres that it’s pretty difficult to find the right balance between the lightheartedness of most romance and the heavier themes of most horror, so it was a great deal of fun to see how it happened here.

Dare vs. The Doll made me chuckle.

Small Town Secrets: A Review of Haunted Love

Book cover for “Haunted Love” by Cynthia Leitich Smith. Image on cover shows a ticket with the words “Admit One” printed on it. The ticket is bathed in blood-red light. Title: Haunted Love

Author: Cynthia Leitich Smith

Publisher: Candlewick Press

Publication Date: December 13, 2011

Genres: Young Adult, Paranormal, Fantasy, Contemporary

Length: 33 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author.

Rating: 3 Stars

Blurb:

Spirit, Texas, is a town of secrets, and as the new owner of the local haunted movie theater, Cody Stryker is juggling more than his fair share. When a mysterious new girl comes to town and runs afoul of the ghost that lives in his theater, Cody’s caught in the middle and needs to figure out exactly who he can trust. HAUNTED LOVE is a short story by New York Times Bestseller Cynthia Leitich Smith— set in the same dark universe as her novels TANTALIZE, ETERNAL, and BLESSED. This story includes a sneak preview of Cynthia Leitich Smith’s latest novel, DIABOLICAL, which unites characters from the previous three novels in the Tantalize Series along with a fascinating cast of all-new characters for a suspenseful, action-packed clash between the forces of heaven and hell.

Review:

Content Warning: Child abuse and murder. I will not be discussing these topics in my review.

Honestly, who wouldn’t want a beautiful old movie theatre to be revived by a new owner?

This tale was filled with creative plot twists. One of the things I liked the most about it was seeing how the author played around with the audience’s expectations as well as the tropes of paranormal vampiric romances. She was clearly well-versed in this genre and knew exactly how to acknowledge the reader’s expectations without necessarily giving us what we were expecting. That’s definitely something to take note of as I haven’t found a lot of authors who are willing to bend things quite as far as she does. Her flexibility made me curious to see what else she has up her sleeves.

There was very little character development in this story. Not only would I struggle to describe how the protagonist changed as a result of his experiences, it would also be difficult for me to talk about what his personality was like in general. I couldn’t even say if he were a shy or outgoing guy, much less anything deeper about who he was or what made him tick. This made it hard to connect with him and even more difficult to get to know the secondary characters who had even fewer opportunities to display their personalities and interests. Figuring these things out was crucial for understanding certain surprises later on, so this truly was a missed opportunity to help the audience bond with the characters and notice when certain individuals didn’t seem like themselves.

I was intrigued by the world building. Spirit, Texas was described as a place that seemed to have a lot of secrets. It was fascinating to begin to piece together who was aware of which secret, and there was still so much work left to be done here by the time I finished the final scene. Still, I was satisfied with what I’d learned about this little town while also intrigued by all of the hints that had been dropped but never pieced together in a way that made sense for all of them.

Haunted Love was an inventive pick for anyone who doesn’t mind a little spookiness in their romance.

Wednesday Weekly Blogging Challenge: Ways to Show Someone You Love Them

Hosted by Long and Short Reviews.

A red heart that’s been affixed to the other side of a windowpane that’s foggy and covered with rain. Click here to read everyone else’s replies to this week’s question and here to see the full list of topics for the year.

My comments on certain blogs do not seem to be going through for reasons I haven’t been able to ascertain. If you don’t see reciprocal comments on your site, that is why. I am doing my best each week to say hello to everyone! 

There are so many different ways to show someone you love them!

Here are a a few of my personal favourites. All of them are assuming that the person in question actually enjoys these things, so do tweak them as needed if, say, the people in your life prefer going to a basketball game to taking a hike or would be embarrassed if you praised them in front of other people!

 

  • Stop and truly listen to what they’re saying.
  • Cook or bake something you know they love.
  • Fix their broken cell phone (or leaky faucet, or squeaky door, or anything else you might know how to fix).
  • Change the oil in their vehicle for them.
  • Take them on a nature walk and picnic.
  • Compliment them on something you generally don’t think to mention.
  • Give them a big, warm hug.
  • Send them a funny Internet meme, article, or video about a topic they love.
  • Surprise them with a few uninterrupted hours of your time, and let them decide how you’ll spend those hours together.
  • Tell a heartwarming story about something wonderful they said or did.
  • Invite them out for coffee and a donut.

As an added bonus, most of these ideas are either very inexpensive or won’t cost you a single penny.

The Last Minute Decision: A Review of Clocking Time

Title: Clocking Time Author: Mark McClure  Publisher: JFR Publishers  Publication Date: October 31, 2020 Genres: Science Fiction, Young Adult  Length: 31 pages Source: I received a free copy from the author Rating: 4 Stars Blurb: Two teenagers share a secret superpower: clock jumping. Confined to his house by the authorities, remote viewer Briann enters into… Read More

Happily Ever After: A Review of A Tale of Two Princes

Title: A Tale of Two Princes Author: Victoria Pearson Publisher: Self-Published Publication Date: January 1, 2014 Genres: Fantasy, Romance, Contemporary Length: 36 pages Source: I received a free copy from the author. Rating: 3.5 Stars Blurb: Sleeping Beauty meets The Frog Prince in this short but perfectly formed modern fairytale re-telling. Doctor Prinze is happy… Read More

Hopeful Science Fiction: St. Juju

Click on the tag “hope” at this bottom of this post to read about all of my suggestions for hopeful science fiction. If you have recommendations for future instalments of this series, I’d sure like to hear them. Leave a comment below or send me message about it on Twitter. A few months ago, I… Read More

Unexpected Love: A Review of The Shape of Water

Content warning: racism, sexism, a few brief scenes involving blood, death of a pet, and sexual harassment. I will only mention the first three items in this list in my review. The Shape of Water is a dark fantasy romance about a lonely janitor who falls in love with an amphibious humanoid creature who is being… Read More

Choosing to Survive: A Review of Powdered Souls

Title: Powdered Souls, A Short Story: They Decided to Survive (Snow Sub Series Book 1) Author: Dixon Reuel Publisher: Self-Published Publication Date: 2019 Genres: Science Fiction, Post-Apocalyptic, Romance Length: 22 pages Source: I received a free copy from Dixon Rating: 3 Stars Blurb: People together in close quarters – fraternization naturally follows. A military VR trainer,… Read More