Tag Archives: Short Stories

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.

A Review of No Good Deed: A Sourdough Tale

Book cover for No Good Deed by Angela Slatter. Image on cover is a drawing of a white skull wearing a flower wreath on the top of it’s skull.Title: No Good Deed – A Sourdough Tale

Author: Angela Slatter

Publisher: Brain Jar Press

Publication Date: February 17, 2021

Genres: Fantasy, Paranormal, Historical

Length: 35 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author.

Rating: 3 Stars

BlurbAngela Slatter’s No Good Deed is a dark fantasy tale of magic, ghosts, and marriage set in her World Fantasy Award-winning Sourdough universe.

Isobel assumed her wedding would be the grandest day of her life, but when she wakes in a ghost-filled tomb still wearing her bridal veil, it’s clear events have taken an unexpected turn.

With the assistance of a vengeful spirit Isobel escapes her imprisonment, but her new husband Adolphus will not be pleased to discover his wife is alive. As Isobel comes to understand her husband’s darkest secret, the newlyweds begin a deadly dance that only one will survive.  

This chapbook presents a stand-alone Sourdough story that does not appear in any of the three mosaic collections devoted to Slatter’s world of myth and magic, plus a chronology for all the publications that have appeared thus far.

Review:

Content Warning: Murder and revenge. I will be briefly discussing these things in my review.

Sometimes justice is a battle cry.

Isobel was a delightfully contradictory character. Sometimes I shook my head at the foolish choices she made because I could think of several safer options for her that would have taken the exact same amount of brain power to come up with and time to accomplish. In other scenes, I felt a wave of sympathy for how scary it must have been for such a young and vulnerable woman to wake up in her own grave. Getting to know her was a real treat, and I appreciated how many different facets of her personality were displayed here.

It would have been helpful to have more world building in this short story. I understand that it was a prequel to a series, and I certainly wouldn’t expect something of this length to be as well-developed as I’d hope to see in a full-length novel. With that being said, there were many aspects of this world and how magic worked in it that I struggled to figure out. It was frustrating for me at times to see how often the narrator took these details for granted instead of giving the audience a quick explanation of what was going on, especially since the blurb described it as a stand-alone work.

I valued what this book had to say about how women and other vulnerable people are so often mistreated by people who are in positions of power over them. Isobel lived in a time when women had few social and legal protections from those who wished to harm them, so her predicament was even more dire than it would otherwise be. While I’ll leave it up to other readers to discover exactly what the narrator thinks of cultures and families who turn a blind eye to suffering for the sake of tradition or social convention, I was quite pleased with the message myself. It was subtle enough to fit the storyline perfectly but also blunt enough to get its point across for anyone who might think they have a good reason for participating in such things.

No Good Deed – A Sourdough Tale was a satisfying read I’d recommend to anyone who like dark fantasy.

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.

 

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! 

Book cover for Bounty Hunter Stex by Vesa Turpeinen. Image on cover shows a gunslinger and cowboy pointing a pistol while standing in front of a space ship on a dusty plain. Title: Bounty Hunter Stex

Author: Vesa Turpeinen

Publisher: Self-Published

Publication Date: April 1, 2021

Genres: Science Fiction

Length: 23 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author.

Rating: 3 Stars

Blurb:

Bounty Hunter Stex crashes his small plane hundreds of miles away from civilization while transporting a prisoner.

Stex and his prisoner end up face to face with an ancient evil as they look for shelter from a godforsaken ghost town in the middle of a desert.

This story is written by the award-winning author of the Amazon best-selling Pilot Career Series, Vesa Turpeinen. While he is widely recognized in the non-fiction world, this is his first attempt at writing fiction ”” and it won’t leave you cold!

The story combines science fiction, western, and magic, plus a little bit of Stephen King-style horror. It’s only about a 10-minute read and distributed for free. Enjoy!

Review:

Content Warning: Blood and murder. I will not be discussing these things in my review.

The less you know about this tale in advance, the better!

I adored the creative plot twists. As mentioned above, this is one of those stories that works best if you avoid all spoilers for it ahead of time. That’s going to make it a little tricky to discuss and critique here, but I’m always up for  a challenge. The coolest things about these plot twists were how often they happened and how many different genres they invited into the storyline in order to make everything tie together. I was surprised on a few different occasions, but everything was tied up beautifully together in the end.

This would have benefitted from another round of editing. The typos and punctuation errors happened often enough for me to give this a much lower rating than I otherwise would have chosen. It was distracting to pause and read those sections again to make sure I understood what the narrator was trying to communicate. With that being said, the plot itself was excellent. I am hoping to read more from this author in the future as his writing style was otherwise delightful.

The dialogue was nicely written. None of the characters were the sorts of folks who stand around shooting the breeze. I quickly learned that all of them had a strong preference to get to the point and then immediately figure out what to do next, so it made perfect sense that they’d keep their conversations to a minimum and plainly say what they were thinking when they did decide to speak up. Writing it that was a sensible decision, and I honestly wouldn’t have wanted those parts of their personalities to be communicated in any other way.

Bounty Hunter Stex was a wild romp through multiple genres. Do give it a shot if you love westerns, science fiction, or simply being surprised by clever storytelling.

 

Stex Freeman – MC. Bounty Hunter.

Lucas the Slayer – bad guy he just captured and is taking in.

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

A Calculated Risk: A Review of Go Outside

Title: Go Outside Author: Adam Vine Publisher: Self-Published Publication Date: March 1, 2021 Genres: Science Fiction Length: 8 pages Source: I received a free copy from the author. Rating: 4 Stars Blurb: Cal has the opportunity to travel across the stars to the world of the enigmatic and enlightened Hosts… but doing so will mean… Read More

Second Chances: A Review of The Ghost of Beth’s Mother

Title: The Ghost of Beth’s Mother Author: Twylla Johnson Publisher: Self-Published Publication Date: February 20, 2021 Genres: Fantasy, Paranormal, Historical Length: 12 pages Source: I received a free copy from the author. Rating: 3 Stars Blurb: Beth was a homely little misfit girl who lived at the Maudlin Mary Magdeline Orphanage. She claimed her mother,… Read More