Tag Archives: Short Stories

What Bears Do in the Woods: A Review of The Ursus Verses

The Ursus Versus by Nathan Waddell book cover. Image on cover is of a cartoon bear standing behind a tree stump, peeking out, and waving. Title: The Ursus Versus

Author: Nathan Waddell

Publisher: Self-Published

Publication Date: October 29, 2020

Genres: Science Fiction, Fantasy, Young Adult

Length: 66 pages

Source: I purchased it.

Rating: 5 Stars

Blurb:

Do you like bears and black holes and squid monsters and dragons and cowboy dragon slayers and riding your bike all around town looking for something to do? Because that’s what I like and this is my chapbook which captures that spirit of fun and terror and the comfort of a good fun book.
This is the first in a series of chapbooks containing poetry and flash fiction and short stories with themes ranging from those mentioned above to deeper explorations of humanity. But honestly the themes mentioned already are all about that too.

Review:

Now is the perfect time for lighthearted science fiction.

Ordinarily, I’ll pick out a few short stories, poems, or essays from collections like these and share my thoughts about them. There were so many funny themes covered here that I thought it was best to allow other readers to discover them for yourselves without spoilers, especially since the later entries often referenced earlier ones.  All you need to know is that this is heavily based on science, science fiction, fantasy, and mythology. Start at the beginning, relax, and enjoy.

This is the sort of young adult science fiction that easily crosses over into adult audiences. The humour in it is tongue-in-cheek and does rely on a certain amount of understanding of the types of scientific concepts generally taught in high school, but it explains most of them well enough to appeal to preteens who haven’t taken Biology yet or older adults who might have last thought about the Paleozoic era half a century ago. In other words, don’t spend too much time thinking about whether you’re “Young Adult” enough for this collection. If you’re interested, there will almost certainly be something here that appeals to you.

Some of my favourite sections were the ones that relied on puns and jokes. Yes, there were the usual quips about what bears do in the woods, but that was the only the beginning of the many reasons to laugh while reading this collection. Honestly, what could be better than finding the humour in speculative fiction no matter which branch of it the narrator happens to be visiting at the moment? I sure can’t think of many things.

Be sure to read the author’s explanations of why he wrote select pieces of this collection. The explanations are all located at the very end, and it was really interesting to read their backstories.

I’m looking forward to reading the rest of this series. Everything published here was first written about twenty years ago, and Mr. Waddell’s writing style has evolved quite a bit since then. If you want to follow along as he shares that journey, The Ursus Versus the perfect place to start.

Solitary Fear: A Review of Christmas Eve on a Haunted Hulk

Christmas Eve on a Haunted Hulk by Frank Cowper. Image on cover is of a sinking ship and a ominous skull in the sky watching it. The telling or reading of ghost stories during the Christmas season was once a tradition in Victorian England. This series of books seeks to revive this tradition. Beginning this year, I hope to review all of them during the month of December for as many years as it takes to finish this project. 

Title: Christmas Eve on a Haunted Hulk – A Ghost Story for Christmas (Seth’s Christmas Ghost Stories)

Author: Frank Cowper

Publisher: Biblioasis

Publication Date: 1925 and 2018

Genres: Paranormal, Historical

Length: 64 pages

Source: I borrowed it from the library.

Rating: 5 Stars

Blurb:

Reading a ghost story on Christmas Eve was once as much a part of traditional Christmas celebrations as turkey, eggnog, and Santa Claus.

When he finds an abandoned duck punt on Christmas Eve, a hunter rows out into the marsh and comes across a shipwreck. He climbs aboard to explore—and finds himself trapped when a surge snaps the mooring line and his punt floats away. Sleep eludes him, and soon he discovers that he’s not the only one trapped on the derelict ship.

Review:

Content warning: claustrophobic setting. I will not be discussing this in my review.

This tale was set in an era when the social classes were much more divided than they are these days. That is to say, it was a terrible faux pas to befriend people from lower or upper classes. Since the lonely, financially secure main characters lived in an economically depressed area, this essentially meant that they could hire their neighbours to work for them but could never invite them over for something sociable like dinner.

I love being near all sorts of bodies of water, but they can be melancholy places in disagreeable weather. The thought of purposefully going out exploring in a chilly, watery environment on Christmas Eve made me shake my head and wonder what on Earth the protagonist was thinking.

With that being said, the protagonist’s impulsivity and willingness to take unnecessary risks was exactly what this plot needed to push it forward. He was someone I soon grew to like quite a bit even while shaking my head at his total disregard for his own safety.

The eerie thing about this haunting was that it happened in total darkness after the main character accidentally got trapped on the abandoned ship. Imagine hearing frightening sounds, having no way to discover what was making them, and not being able to move out of fear of walking the wrong way and falling through rotten, gap-filled lumber into a freezing sea!

That imagery alone was what earned this story a horror rating. It wasn’t gory at all, but it sure was horrifying.

 

The Day Before Christmas Eve: A Review of The Yule Cat

The Yule Cat - a Christmas Short Story by Eldritch Black book cover. Image on coer shows drawing of a blue cat sitting in the snow outside of a village at night. The cat is staring ahead at the reader. Title: The Yule Cat – a Christmas Short Story

Author: Eldritch Black

Publisher: Self-Published

Publication Date: October 25, 2020

Genres: Young Adult, Fantasy, Holidays

Length: 46 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author.

Rating: 3 Stars

Blurb:

Strange, scary rumors are flying about the tiny, snowy town below the mountains. Some say a tiger sprang loose from a circus train and roams the snowy meadows. Some say it stalks in the wintry forests. Some say it’s a monster. 

But feisty Maisie Crompton knows that can’t be true. Such things never happen in their sleepy alpine village. 
Or do they?

For soon, Maisie finds herself crossing the path of a spine-chilling legend. The Yule Cat; a fearsome mythical beast collecting snacks for his winter feast. And should Maisie fail in the cat-and-mouse hunt that follows, she might well become the next morsel on his menu…

From the author of Krampus and The Thief of Christmas, The Yule Cat is a short Christmas story brimming with magic, trolls, spooky mythology, and fun and festive chills for readers of all ages

Review:

Be careful what you wish for.

If only I could read that introduction to this review to Maisie! Her envious attitude in the first scene certainly gave me a strong impression of her. I sympathized with her frustration over having to count every last cent so carefully. The holidays are a tough time to be poor, especially for a kid who is watching her best friend show off an expensive new coat. I know the narrator probably wanted us to hope Maisie would learn a valuable lesson about gratitude for what one has. While I had those thoughts as well, I also hoped she’d get a wonderful Christmas gift that matched all of her dreams.

There were a few things about the climax of this story that didn’t quite make sense to me, especially when it came to exactly what Jólakötturinn (The Yule Cat) was capable of. It was never clear to me exactly what the limits of his powers were. Sometimes he seemed capable of things that he hadn’t been a scene before, so I was never sure what to expect from him. It would have been nice to have a firmer understanding of this creature as he was definitely a scary one!

The world building was handled nicely. I appreciated the fact that the author explained a little bit about the backstory of Jólakötturinn for anyone who wasn’t already familiar with that. That attention to detail continued on with the descriptions of the other characters, too. All of their histories were important in order to fully understand how Maisie ended up in such a dangerous predicament on December 23.

Let me end this review with my favourite quote from this tale. It captured the themes of it all nicely.

“He grows when he senses fear, and shrinks when he’s content.”

Completing the Set: A Review of The Crown Derby Plate

Book cover for Marjorie Bowen's "The Crown Derby Plate- A Ghost Story for Christmas." Image on cover is of a ghost, tombstone, and house.The telling or reading of ghost stories during the Christmas season was once a tradition in Victorian England. This series of books seeks to revive this tradition. Beginning this year, I hope to review all of them during the month of December for as many years as it takes to finish this project. 

Title: The Crown Derby Plate – A Ghost Story for Christmas (Seth’s Christmas Ghost Stories)

Author: Marjorie Bowen

Publisher: Biblioasis

Publication Date: 1931 and 2016

Genres: Paranormal, Holiday, Historical

Length: 56 pages

Source: I borrowed it from the library

Rating: 3.5 Stars

Blurb: An antique collector hears of an ancient woman with a large collection of china. Hoping to complete a particular set, the collector pays a visit to the woman’s ramshackle house, where she makes a terrifying, ghostly discovery.

Review:

One of the first things that intrigued me about this short story was that was written about a single woman who was a senior citizen. The speculative fiction genre is sadly pretty short on protagonists who fit that demographic, so I’m always in the market for writers who buck that trend.

Martha, the antique collector, was the character who greedily went off in search of a Crown Derby Plate that was the only piece missing from her prized collection. She struck me as the sort of person who has memorized all of the etiquette rules and social niceties while also having a deep understanding of how to use them to quietly get exactly what she wants. While I’d never want to befriend her, I did find the combination of her impeccable manners and selfish motives to be fascinating.

The paranormal elements of the plot were ridiculously easy to figure out in advance. I’d suspect that anyone who has read more than one ghost story in their life would know where this piece was going as soon as Martha set off to visit her neighbour’s dilapidated estate.  It would have been nice to have fewer clues about what was happening there.

With that being said, I loved the spooky atmosphere of the Hartley’s house. This is one of those things that can quickly make or break a ghost story, and it was done well in this case. Miss Lefain, the frail old woman who lived there, was not well enough to do even simple tasks like dusting, so Martha was in for quite a surprise when she saw how run-down the property was.

While it wasn’t specifically written for these groups, this is something that could be a fun story to read to kids or people learning English as a second language who are in the market for something short, simple, and scary.

An Alluring Trap: A Review of One Who Saw

Book cover for A.M. Burrage's One Who Saw. Image on cover is of a pair of green eyes with long eyelashes. The telling or reading of ghost stories during the Christmas season was once a tradition in Victorian England. This series of books seeks to revive this tradition. Beginning this year, I hope to review all of them during the month of December for as many years as it takes to finish this project. 

Title: One Who Saw – A Ghost Story for Christmas (Seth’s Christmas Ghost Stories)

Author: A.M. Burrage

Publisher: Biblioasis

Publication Date: 1931 and 2016

Genres: Paranormal, Historical

Length: 64 pages

Source: I borrowed it from the library

Rating: 5 Stars

Blurb:

A sensitive writer flees the clatter of London for a sleepy French city. After settling in at quiet hotel, he spies a ghostly, solitary young woman weeping in a walled garden, her features hidden from view. Compelled to see the woman’s face, he ventures forward…. Originally published on Christmas in 1931, “One Who Saw” is regarded as A.M. Burrage’s masterpiece.

Review:

Secondhand stories aren’t always correct, but in this case they just might be!

I was expecting Simon Crutchley to tell his tale to the audience directly. The fact that we learned about it through a group of his neighbours gossiping at a dinner party beginning with the opening scene came as a surprise to me, but it somehow made his experiences even more harrowing than they might have already been.

Humans are good at filling in the gaps when they have some information but not necessarily all of it. Simon’s reaction to his paranormal experience was so life-changing that it made sense his neighbours would speculate about it. While I would have loved to read this from his perspective, it did make sense that he wasn’t up for that given what his neighbours described happening to him.

Gardens aren’t supposed to be scary places, so I was intrigued by how much effort the author put into showing how a lack of sunlight can make what should be a cheerful place to sit and write into a spot that anyone looking for some peace and quiet would best avoid.

By far my favourite part of this story had to do with what happened to people who attempted to see the face of the ghost who was sitting in the sunless garden. This wasn’t something that hauntings typically include, and it added a twist to the plot that I appreciated.

One Who Saw was deliciously chilling. I’d recommend it to everyone who loves ghost stories.

Stained Property: A Review of The Red Lodge

The telling or reading of ghost stories during the Christmas season was once a tradition in Victorian England. This series of books seeks to revive this tradition. Beginning this year, I hope to review all of them during the month of December for as many years as it takes to finish this project.  Title: The… Read More

In Pursuit of Justice: A Review of The Gest of Robyn Hode & Little Joan According to Alaina of Dale

Title:The Gest of Robyn Hode & Little Joan According to Alaina of Dale Author: T J Therien Publisher: Self-Published Publication Date: May 30, 2019 Genres: Young Adult, Fantasy, Historical Length: 83 pages Source: I received a free copy from the author. Rating: 3 Stars Blurb: The story as you know it is a lie. Discover… Read More

Flickering Hope: A Review of Richard Rex & the Succubus of Whitechapel

Title: Richard Rex & the Succubus of Whitechapel Author: Seth Tucker Publisher: Self-Published Publication Date: January 25, 2013 Genres: Science Fiction, Horror, Paranormal, Historical Length: 27 pages Source: I received a free copy from the author. Rating: 5 Stars Blurb: A murder in Whitechapel is not uncommon, but the state of the body requires someone… Read More

Suburban Gothic: A Review of The House on Abigail Lane

Title: The House on Abigail Lane Author: Kealan Patrick Burke Publisher: Elderlemon Press (Self-Published) Publication Date: June 17, 2020 Genres: Science Fiction, Mystery, Horror, Paranormal, Historical, Contemporary Length: 68 pages Source: I bought it. Rating: 3.5 Stars Blurb: From the outside, it looks like an ordinary American home, but since its construction in 1956, people… Read More

5 Reasons to Read Short Stories

One of the most consistent aspects of my reading preferences since childhood is that I’ve always preferred short stories to full-length novels. Anyone who has paid close attention to what I review here may have already noticed that. For every 200-page novel that makes an appearance in my Thursday review slot, there are probably half… Read More