Tag Archives: Self-Published

Rolling the Dice: A Review of A Dark Horse


A Dark Horse by Dale Olausen book cover. Image on cover shows silhouette of horse standing on a hill at dusk on an overcast day. Title
: A Dark Horse – A Gothic Tale

Author: Dale Olausen

Publisher: Dodecahedron Books

Publication Date: October 16, 2016

Genres: Horror, Paranormal, Mystery, Historical

Length: 40 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author.

Rating: 3 Stars

Blurb:

Just what might a gambler give up, to go on the winning streak of his life? Even he can’t know for sure. Christopher Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus legend is given a Damon Runyon spin, in this short story.

Review:

Content warning: Gambling and gambling addiction. I will be discussing them in my review.

Every gambler is bound to run out of luck eventually, right?

By far my favourite type of horror is psychological horror. I was quite pleased with how Mr. Olausen frightened his audience without spilling a single drop of blood or so much as hinting at anything gory. He knew exactly what hints to drop for us that made us deliciously dread the next scene simply by throwing out hints about who or what the dark horse might actually represent. This is the kind of stuff I love getting scared by, especially as Halloween approaches.

It would have been helpful to have more character development in this short story. While I certainly wouldn’t expect to see as much time spent on this as I would for a full-length novel, I did have trouble connecting to the main characters due to how little I knew about them and how much their personalities seemed to remain the same no matter what happened to them. If not for this issue, I would have felt comfortable choosing a much higher rating as the plot itself was well done.

I must admit to not knowing much about gambling at all, so I appreciated the brief explanations the narrator shared about how placing bets works and why some people have so much trouble walking away from a bet. While I will leave it up to experts on these topics to say how accurate everything was, I did enjoy learning more about the main character’s addiction and what he hoped to gain from betting on just one more game or race. It gave me a stronger sense of empathy for folks in his position.

A Dark Horse – A Gothic Tale was a deliciously chilling story for the Halloween season and beyond.

Haunted in Quarantine: A Review of Safer at Home

Safer at Home a Ghost Story by Zoe Cannon book cover. Image on cover is an eerie photo of an abandoned home taken at night while the sickly green-yellow moon shines down upon it. Title: Safer at Home – a Ghost Story

Author: Zoe Cannon

Publisher: Self-Published

Publication Date: July 4, 2020

Genres: Paranormal, Horror, Contemporary

Length: 41 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author.

Rating: 5 Stars

Blurb:

 

Quarantined in a haunted house…​

March 2020. With the world in the grip of a deadly pandemic, Ben is locked down in his brand-new house, with nothing to keep him company but his chessboard and the boxes he still hasn’t unpacked. Or so he thinks.

But he’s not alone. Before this was Ben’s house, it was hers. And the dark spirit will do whatever it takes to keep him inside. If he doesn’t find a way out, Ben will stay locked down… forever.

But which is more dangerous? The ghost in the house… or the virus outside?

This short story is 14,000 words long, or approximately 40 pages. It is a companion story to Second Wave. These stories stand alone and can be read in any order.

Review:

Content Warning: Covid-19, domestic violence, murder, and blood. I will be discussing these things briefly in my review.

Sometimes the only thing scarier than Covid-19 is staying home to avoid it.

One of the benefits of setting this story during the first wave of the Covid-19 pandemic in early 2020 had to do with how it affected Ben’s reaction when he realized that others had been telling the truth when they warned him about his new home being haunted. This is a typical weak spot in the average paranormal tale in my experience. Most characters should have a reasonable chance of finding other accommodations upon learning something like this, but Ben genuinely had no where else to go due to the lockdown order as well as some other excellent reasons that I’ll allow other readers to discover for themselves. I appreciated seeing how his options were logically whittled down as he worked through all of the possible means of escape.

Some of my favourite scenes involved Ben’s reactions to common tropes in the paranormal and horror genres. His self awareness was a breath of fresh air, especially when he took the time to puzzle out why certain actions were so dangerous and what alternatives, if any, he might have while battling a violent ghost alone in a mostly-empty house. He was an intelligent and resourceful character whose decisions generally made a great deal of sense. That’s something I always like to see in this genre.

The domestic violence subplot was well done. It pushed this tale much further into the horror genre than it probably would have otherwise gone, but I totally understood the author’s reasons for going there and going into as much detail about the physical and emotional damage that abusers do to their victims. I liked the fact that the author made his point subtly on this topic. He definitely had a strong message to send about this topic, but he did so in a way that fit the tone of his tale smoothly and gave the audience plenty of opportunities to put the pieces of what he had to say together for ourselves. There was no sermonizing here or anything like that which was refreshing.

Safer at Home – a Ghost Story is the perfect paranormal read for anyone who loves spooky fiction.

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.

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

Book cover for The Echo in the Valley by Zak Standridge. Image on cover is a black-and-white photo of a woman in a white dress sitting on a horse at the edge of a large forest. The woman’s head is shaped like a ram and has two large horns curling out of it. 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 you ever seen a light?”

Review:

Content Warning: Murder. I will not be discussing it in my review.

Some questions are so big even the Internet can’t answer them.

It’s fairly rare to watch characters age from childhood to adulthood in a short story, so I was thrilled to keep meeting the protagonists over and over again beginning with who they were in their preteen and early adolescent years. There were all sorts of wonderful little hints about how they’d grown and changed over time. Kel and Tim always retained those parts of their personalities that made them unique, though, and and I loved seeing how their true selves stuck around no matter how much everything else around them changed.

There was too much foreshadowing in this tale in my opinion. I figured out the twist in it pretty early on due to all of the hints that were provided about it. Since that twist was such a central part of the plot, I would have preferred to either work a little harder at piecing everything together as I read or have some other conflict to occupy my mind for the last two-thirds of the storyline instead. This is something I’m saying as someone who enjoyed this piece quite a bit and would recommend it to anyone who enjoys these genres.

I adored the open-ended final scene. While it included a basic explanation of what was happening in the woods every year on April 22 that so terribly confused everyone in their small, rural community in the Ozarks, it also left plenty of space for the audience to come up with our own interpretations about what this phenomenon meant and why it happened. This was the perfect approach to something that so easily defied any logical explanation. There was room for a sequel if the author ever decides to write one, but I also found myself quite satisfied with how all of the most important things were tied together in the end.

If you like  paranormal stories, The Echo in the Valley might be right up your alley.

 

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

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.… Read More

A Hard Day’s Work: A Review of Bounty Hunter Stex

Every Thursday I share a list of free spectulative fiction books on Twitter. Last April, My friend Berthold Gambrel reviewed one of the books I mentioned, and now I’m reviewing it as well! Thank you for reviewing this book and nudging it closer to the top of my to-read list, Berthold!  Title: Bounty Hunter Stex… 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

Chasing Victory: A Review of The Sea Witch

Title: The Sea Witch Author: Bethany Hoeflich Publisher: Self-Published Publication Date: February 21, 2021 Genres: Fantasy, Historical Length: 30 pages Source: I received a free copy from the author. Rating: 3 Stars Blurb: For years, Ula has been content to hide behind her reputation as the sea queen’s quirky, loner sister. Isolation and mistrust are… Read More

A Review of Lux Terra – An Origin Story

Title: Lux Terra – An Origin Story Author: Zachary Hagen Publisher: Self-Published Publication Date: March 9, 2021 Genres: Young Adult, Fantasy, Contemporary Length: 10 pages Source: I received a free copy from the author. Rating: 3 Stars Blurb: This is a prequel and origin story for the world of Lux Terra featured in the upcoming… Read More