Tag Archives: Short Story

Too Much Noise in a Empty House: A Review of The Estate Guards

Book cover for The Estate Guards by Kenny Wayne. Image on cover shows a three-story house that has lights shining through nearly every window. It is dark outside and lighting is striking the land behind the house and temporarily illuminating the sky. What a stormy night it is. Title: The Estate Guards

Author: Kenny Wayne

Publisher: Self-Published

Publication Date: October 1, 2023

Genres: Paranormal, Contemporary

Length: 29 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author.

Rating: 3 Stars

Blurb:

Kenny Wayne’s short ghost story, The Estate Guards, is the humorous tale of two brothers who can’t seem to keep from running afoul of ghosts.

Harley and younger brother James are providing security for an estate company at an eerie, old mansion whose elderly owners recently died in a tragic accident.

For the straightforward, down to earth, older brother Harley, it’s just a job. For younger brother James, who wants to be just like his older brother, it’s not so simple. Even though he would quickly say he doesn’t believe in ghosts, secretly he’s not so sure.

But after this particularly long night, any uncertainty he had about the existence of ghosts will be removed. The weird noises in the attic, and those upstairs bedroom lights that keep turning on and off by themselves are only the beginning. It’s the other strange late night occurrences that strips the last bit of doubt from James’ mind.

This night there will be strange enough occurrences to make even Harley a believer.

Review:

Dealing with ghosts is all in an honest day’s work, right?

The relationship between Harley and James was interesting, and I found myself wishing there had been more attention paid to the differences between them. It’s interesting to me to think about how wildly different siblings can be even though they were born to the same parents and more or less experienced the same sort of events growing up. Genetics are important, but they certainly can’t predict or explain anything as new readers will soon discover in this story.

I struggled to get to know all of the characters in this short story, especially since two of them were given most of the dialogue, but it was important to remain connected to everyone in order to understand the ending. There simply wasn’t enough space to develop everyone well enough for me to feel emotionally invested in what would happen to them. This is something I’m saying as a reader who normally loves both haunted house and humorous tales.

The humour took a little while to show up, but it was well worth the wait. I think this will be most appealing to readers who either come from a working class background or know a lot about such subcultures in some other way as the jokes weren’t always the sort of things generally included in funny tales about, say, doctors or lawyers. This was about salt of the earth sort of folks who quietly keep the world humming along without expecting or generally receiving any recognition of the myriad of things they do that ensure everyone has a safe and healthy life. The characters were hardworking and matter-of-fact which were exactly the traits they needed in order to make the ghosts believable and the twists worth a chuckle.

The Estate Guards made me smile.

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A Review of Giving Up the Ghost

Book cover for Giving Up the Ghost by Dean Rasmussen. Image on cover shows a drawing of a ramshackle old house just after sunset. The sky above is cloudy and quickly turning black as the sun slips beyond view. One of the windows in the house has a red light glowing menacingly in it. Title: Giving Up the Ghost

Author: Dean Rasmussen

Publisher: Dark Venture Press

Publication Date: June 28, 2021

Genres: Paranormal, Contemporary

Length: 26 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author.

Rating: 3 Stars

Blurb:

A gripping paranormal thriller to rattle your nerves…

A protective nurse pays a visit to an elderly dementia patient as a hurricane arrives, but discovers she can’t leave after getting caught up in the patient’s delusions.

Hanging House: An Emmie Rose Haunted Mystery thriller author Dean Rasmussen presents a terrifying new supernatural suspense tale.

His books will leave you gasping for breath and craving for more!

Review:

Content Warning: A character who has dementia and is on hospice care. Brief references to trauma. A small amount of blood. A stabbing. Murder. Suicide. Hurricane. I will only discuss the trauma in my review, and I will not share any details about what caused it.

Time can’t heal all wounds.

We all have pieces of our pasts that we’d rather not think about too much for a wide variety of reasons. One of the strengths of this short story had to do with how it framed Edith’s past and explained the many quiet ways it continued to shape her personality even now that was at the end of her lifespan. Trauma can haunt someone for decades.  While I will leave it up to other readers to discover what it is about this character’s past that she has never been able to forget, these scenes were interestingly written and made me wish for a sequel that could dive into this topic even more deeply.

I struggled with many of the decisions Jennifer made, especially given that she was a nurse who presumably had a lot of experience working with patients who have dementia and reacting quickly in emergency situations. She did not seem to know how to stay calm or to think critically about the facts in a crisis. Yes, she was going through something frightening,  and I am not saying I’d expect anyone to always make the right choices when under so much stress. This would have made more sense to me as a reader if her occupation had been something that should not have been an asset under these circumstances.

With that being said, I enjoyed Edith’s character development quite a bit. It’s rare to find books about frail, elderly, dementia patients, so I was incredibly curious to see how she responded to what was happening during the hurricane as Jennifer continued to make poor decisions. Not only was she in a completely different stage of life than her nurse was, her emotional and intellectual responses were equally refreshing and surprising. I don’t want to give away any spoilers about what happened to Edith, but I will say that this portion of the storyline played around with many audience expectations and made me curious to read more from this author soon.

Giving Up the Ghost was thought provoking.

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Paranormal Business: A Review of Ghosted

Book cover for Ghosted - A Short Story by H.L. Burke. Image on cover shows a a drawing of the silhoutte of a black cat who is standing on a brick wall with its back arched under the light of a full moon. You can also see the branch of a nearby tree hanging over the cat. The branch has several leaves on it. Title: Ghosted – A Short Story

Author: H.L. Burke

Publisher: Self-Published

Publication Date: October 15, 2020

Genres: Fantasy, Paranormal, Contemporary

Length: 18 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author.

Rating: 5 Stars

Blurb:

Ghosts thrive on fear, but Maisie just isn’t delivering. In fact, Lazarus isn’t even sure she realizes she’s being haunted.

When expert haunter, Lazarus Bently, receives a cry for help from a fellow ghost, he rushes to the chaotic cottage of eccentric artist Maisie. If Ghost HQ finds out Lazarus couldn’t get a rise out of this little old lady, he’ll never live it down.

With his professional pride on the line, can Lazarus get through to this unshakable woman? Or will this unbeaten scarer be the one quaking in his boots?

Review:

You don’t have to be a big fan of being scared to enjoy this one!

Artists aren’t easy to scare…especially someone as independent and creative as Maisie. I adored the descriptions of how she worked on her paintings and drawings in her cluttered and messy but also warm and inviting home. She was the sort of antagonist that I can’t help but to root for because she genuinely didn’t realize she was annoying her resident ghost at all. After all, who has time to worry about the spirit world and what it wants from the living when there are countless ideas out there to try to commit to paper or canvas? Her self-absorption was understandable given how quirky she was in general, and it also matched the ghosts’ frantic attempts to frighten her beautifully.

The world building was amazing as well. The author only had about eighteen pages to work with here, so it was impressive to see just how many descriptions of paranormal society and how the dead were expected to interact with the living she managed to pack into such a small space. While I would have happily read another few hundred pages about the complexities of it all, I was also content with what I was given and finished the last scene with a chuckle.

Speaking of the ending, it couldn’t have been better. This piece played around a lot with everyone’s expectations, including the ghosts, Maisie, and even those of us who participated in it simply by reading. I don’t want to share too many details and accidentally give away spoilers, but what I can say is that Ms. Burke is clearly well-versed in both the fantasy and paranormal genres and knew exactly how to tweak her plot twists to bring out the funniest aspects of being a ghost, being haunted, and even of wanting to read about a haunting gone terribly wrong in a silly, not tragic, sense of that phrase.

Ghosted – A Short Story was cozy, sweet, and hilarious.  If you need a palate cleanser between checking out more serious works, I highly recommend starting here.

 

This post was edited on March 31, 2024 to include a link to Berthold Gambrel’s review of it. He was inspired to try it by reading this post! 

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Persistence: A Review of Ghost Coach

Book cover for Ghost Coach by Amanda Linehan. Image on cover is a closeup photo of some white satin or silk sheets on a bed. The sheets are a little rumpled. Title: Ghost Coach

Author: Amanda Linehan

Publisher: Self-Published

Publication Date: January 10, 2015

Genres: Paranormal, Contemporary

Length: 15 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author.

Rating: 3 Stars

Blurb:

Sarah hasn’t been sleeping well. Turns out, she has a ghost in her house. But this ghost has a problem.
And only Sarah can solve it.

Review:

Content Warning: brief reference to blood, a dead animal, and a ghost with a severe head injury. I will not discuss these things in my review.

Even ghosts need a little tutoring sometimes.

I adored the fact that Sarah was oblivious at first to the ghost’s attempts to scare her. She had such a logical and calm personality that the spirit of a dead person was the last thing she ever would have suspected to be the cause of the fluctuating temperatures in her bedroom. This was a nice change of page from the sorts of characters who generally populate this genre, and I found myself wishing for just a few more scenes with her in them so I could get to know her even better.

The beginning and middle of this tale did not quite match the ending due some references to blood and gore in the last few scenes. While other style could have worked for this piece, I have to say that I preferred the lightheartedness of the first two-thirds of it to the more violent – albeit still sort of humorous – tones at the end and wish that the author had stuck to one style or the other for the entire thing. Some readers will love both, of course, and that’s totally normal and okay, but in my experience these two approaches do tend to attract different audiences whose interests may not overlap here as much as the author might hope they would. Sticking to one lane would have made this a more effective and memorable story in my opinion.

There are only so many things someone can do after death to amuse themselves. It made perfect sense to me that the ghost would eventually want to interact with the living in order to get some sort of mental stimulation and socialization, as one-sided as those experiences could often be depending on who they were haunting and how that person reacted to suddenly having their covers pulled away or their television turned on in the middle of the night.

Ghost Coach was a funny, playful, and occasionally a somewhat dark take on the haunted house genre.

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Small Town Woes: A Review of The Curse of Three

Book cover for Makepeace and Grimes: The Curse of Three: A Gaslamp Gothic Mystery of Victorian England by Kevin Partner. Image on cover shows a photograph of a middle-aged white man who has salt and pepper hair standing in a graveyard at night. He’s looking straight at the viewer with a serious expression on his face as if he just heard something strange there and wants to see if you heard it, too. He’s wearing a late 1900s-style hat that had a wide brim and is raised a little over his head. Title: The Curse of Three (Makepeace & Grimes Book 1)

Author: Kevin Partner

Publisher: Self-Published

Publication Date: March 4, 2021

Genres: Fantasy, Mystery, Historical

Length: 49 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author.

Rating: 3.5 Stars

Blurb:

Who would you choose to investigate the disappearance of three children?

A man and a vampire. Of course

It’s 1872.

Ichabod Grimes, mysterious defender of humanity, and his vampire friend Valentina, travel to a quiet village in Essex to find the missing children.

They uncover a sinister three hundred year plot that will see the return of a long forgotten evil.

Who is Ichabod Grimes? Find out now.

Review:

Content Warning: Kidnapping, a few mildly racist remarks,  and a few references to blood.

Rural doesn’t always mean peaceful.

One of the best things about this tale was how it explored life in a small village in 1872 and allowed readers to quietly compare it to how people behave in contemporary times. Obviously, there have been a lot of societal changes between then and now, but human nature has more or less remained the same. I smiled and shook my head as certain villagers showed fear and distrust of outsiders as the same thing continues to happen in many communities to this day. This pattern repeated itself a few times more and I continued to take note of how similar small towns – and people in general – often are to the way things were more than a hundred and fifty years ago.

I would have liked to see more clues included given the fact that it was a mystery (among other genres). While it’s certainly tougher to do so in the short story format given the limited amount of space an author has to work with, there weren’t enough hints about what was going on for me to come up with theories about who might have kidnapped the children or what they were planning to do with them. This meant that I wasn’t as emotionally invested in the ending as I could have been, although I did still enjoy seeing how Ichabod went about interviewing everyone and trying to piece things together. There is a sequel to this, so my hope is that it and any future instalments will dive much more deeply into the mystery storylines as I liked everything else about this universe.

This was my first introduction to Mr. Partner’s work, and I immediately liked his straightforward and sensible writing style. He seems to be the sort of writer who only describes people and things in detail if those descriptions push the plot forward in some way or if they’re otherwise necessary in order to understand what’s going on. While I do appreciate more flowery writing styles on occasion as well, this minimalist choice suited this particular tale nicely. Something tells me that Ichabod would have approved of a no-nonsense account of his first mystery as well. Perhaps this is one thing that the protagonist and the author share in common? At any rate, it worked and I’m glad it was written this way.

The Curse of Three was a quick, fun read.

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A Review of Who’s Haunting Whom

Book cover for Who’s Haunting Whom: A Ghost Story by Kenny Wayne. Image on cover shows two figures standing outdoors at night in front of an eerie blue-green light. The figures are wearing hooded cloaks and appear to be bending over to look at something, but it’s too dark to tell who or what they may be inspecting. Title: Who’s Haunting Whom

Author: Kenny Wayne

Publisher: Self-Published

Publication Date: January 30, 2020

Genres: Paranormal, Contemporary

Length: 20 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author.

Rating: 3 Stars

Blurb:

Paranormal investigators, with years of experience, are called to the scene of a haunting. That’s their job and they do it well, but this time they’re just not sure Who’s Haunting Whom.

Fred Madison once experienced a life changing event… a haunting. That one event changed the course of his life. He now owns the Madison Paranormal Investigations Agency. His mission in life is to gather irrefutable evidence of the existence of ghosts and to help those that are being tormented by hauntings.

Harley Stinson has been around the block a few times himself. He has had his own experiences with ghosts and has worked with Fred ever since his first sighting.

Experienced as they both are, they have never experienced anything like the case they are about to undertake.

What if the homeowners that hired them aren’t whom they appear to be? What if the ghosts they’re supposed to remove aren’t whom they appear to be?

You’ll enjoy this short ghostly tale as you follow along with the investigators in their attempt to determine exactly what’s going on.

Review:

Content Warning: accidental death

Without trust they’ll have almost nothing at all.

I enjoyed the way this tale played around with the reader’s expectations of what was going on. Anyone who is well-read in the paranormal genre will probably be able to figure out what was happening early on, but putting those clues together was only the first step. Knowing why certain characters behaved the way they did was even more important and it took extra effort to untangle. People are endlessly interesting, and they were what made this worth reading in my opinion.

Linda Morgan, one of Fred and Harley’s clients, had a phobia that overshadowed the first scene but then was never mentioned again. I was confused by why something like this would be included if it wasn’t actually relevant to what was happening in that strange little house. There was a lot of space here to flesh out both her character as well as the storyline itself, so it was disappointing to me as a reader when it fizzled out instead.

The relationships between Fred and his employees was also well worth exploring. He seemed to have subconsciously arranged them in a particular order that did not always line up with how useful I thought they might be as he attempted to figure out what was actually happening with this case. As much as I would have liked to dive more deeply into the assumptions he made about which people would be most helpful, I also thought that leaving those moments the way they were revealed a lot about Fred’s character in both positive and negative ways. On the one hand, he was a decisive person, while on the other he was someone who could be too quick to brush an employee off if they didn’t fit his mental image of who he thought should be exploring that home. If the author ever decides to write a sequel, this would be a great mixture of traits to explore even more deeply.

Who’s Haunting Whom was a fun twist on the paranormal genre.

 

 

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A Review of Is Neurocide the Same As Genocide? And Other Dangerous Ideas

Book cover for Is Neurocide the Same as Genocide? And Other Dangerous Ideas (Spiral Worlds) by Alexandra Almeida. Image on cover shows what at first appears to be a closeup photo of cells under the magnification of a microscope. The cells are shaded pink, orange, yellow and red depending on where you look at them. They are crowded close together and the six on the outside are the usual, blobby cell shape and have a few of the structures of their insides visible due to the “staining” as well. The cell on the nside is about a third the size of the others and comprised of a few dozen squares that have been arranged into the shape of a heart. It looks boxy and like something out of Minecraft. Title:  Is Neurocide the Same As Genocide? And Other Dangerous Ideas (Spiral Worlds)

Author:Alexandra Almeida

Publisher: Self-Published

Publication Date: November 28, 2023

Genres: Science Fiction

Length: 19 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author.

Rating: 4 Stars

Blurb:

In a world grappling with the ethics of advanced technology and the haunting shadows of past genocides, “Is Neurocide the Same as Genocide? And Other Dangerous Ideas,” emerges as a thought-provoking short story set in 2068.

This story is a compelling blend of science fiction, historical reflection, and ethical debate. It challenges readers to confront a moral dilemma pondering the implications of new technology on human morality and the timeless struggle between power and empathy.

Note: this short story does not require previous knowledge of the Spiral Worlds series. If you have not started the series, you may start here. If you have started the series, read this story after Parity, Book 2.

SPIRAL WORLDS is a literary, sci-fi series for the fans of Becky Chambers’s A Closed and Common Orbit, Alex Garland’s DEVS and Ex Machina, and Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror. Weaving near-future sci-fi elements with social commentary and queer romantic suspense, the SPIRAL WORLDS series explores the nature of consciousness and how it’s connected to a not-so-secret ingredient—story. As AI consumes the world, intelligence is nothing but the appetizer; the human heart is the main course.

Review:

Content Warning: mass murder, war, mental illness, child soldiers, brief references to rape (but no rapes are actually described).

Hurt people hurt people.

It was a little tricky for me to decide how many storyline details to share in this review without wandering too far into spoiler territory as the blurb could be vague at times. What I can say is that this is written from the perspective of a dead person, Gentille, who has been temporarily resurrected by her granddaughter, Estelle, in order to discuss a pressing ethical issue in 2068 that was created by the development of a new technology that could identify people with a specific and severe mental illness very early in life. Estelle wanted to know how this technology should be used and she hoped her grandmother would have some wisdom to share. I was immediately intrigued by the thought being able to talk to the dead and predict how a small child’s brain would develop decades in the future. These are both developments that could radically change human society for the better or the worse, and I kept pausing to consider the many different ways they could be used depending on who had access to them and what the intentions of those people might be.

While I understand that this is part of a series and that not everything can necessarily be included in one small instalment of it, I did find myself wishing that the narrator had spent more time on the world building given how important it was for how the plot would advance. There were times when I was slightly confused about how a specific machine worked or how certain details were intended to fit together. Having more context about life in 2068 would have gone a long way to help me understand it all and feel comfortable going for a full five-star review.

This tale started off in a rather grim place as is the case for a lot of – but certainly not all –  modern science fiction. Technology is a double-edged sword, and it only takes a handful of people to figure out how to misuse even the most brilliant tool. If the first few scenes make you want to stop reading, let me encourage you to keep going.  There are surprises to be found later on that turn much of the early imagery upside down. Knowing how terrible things were for Gentille as a young girl is imperative in order to understand why her mind works the way it does after her death. In the end, I was glad I stuck around to see what happened to her next.

Is Neurocide the Same As Genocide? And Other Dangerous Ideas was a thought-provoking introduction to this series. I look forward to reading more someday.

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Out of the Shadows: A Review of Apparition

Book cover for Apparition By Jacob Clawson. Image on cover is a black and white photo of a 1940s-style car sitting in an alleyway. Title: Apparition

Author: Jacob Clawson

Publisher: Self-Published

Publication Date: September 8, 2023

Genres: Paranormal, Historical

Length: 18 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author

Rating: 3 Stars

Blurb:

Creaks and cracks clattered, shattering the air. Breaking through the darkness; they were trying to say something. Were they a code? Perhaps a message to somewhere or something? If it was a warning, what did it mean?
The city of London danced in laughter, sounds flourished; how alive it was. Though obviously unaware of what lay beyond in the harbor; creeping slowly, a rusty ship waited. Gliding through the murky water it made no waves, no sound. Yellow lights flickered inside with no life.
Three smokestacks rose from a deck of darkness, two broken in half. Shattered glass shimmered inside abandoned dining rooms and hallways in the moonlight. Old collapsed beds slept quietly inside passenger rooms. The ship cried out as it passed under a bridge, lights from the cars and lamps a-top flared as it crawled. The air grew thin and cold around the ship, freezing the top of the water behind it, crunching and popping as it moved.

Review:

Content Warning: Murder, Death

Decay is a necessary stage in the life cycle, but it can also be incredibly dangerous.

Xenofiction is one of my favourite little corners of the speculative fiction universe, so this tale caught my attention quickly. It takes imagination and courage to write non-human characters that do not think or behave anything like a person would under the same circumstances. I’d like to tip my cap to the author for taking risks with is writing and imagining what it might be like to be the city of London, a rotting ship in a pier, and a mysterious creature that stumbled out of the ship to see what it could find in the wider world. All three of these characters were creative and compelling.

The author warned that this was his first short story and that readers might find this story confusing in his preface. I agree that this was a confusing read, and I did find myself wishing that the paranormal themes had been explained better. For example, was the creature a ghost who suddenly found him or herself feeling restless and wanting revenge for being forgotten? Or maybe it was created out of the raw loneliness and decay of the abandoned ship? There were so many possibilities here, and I wish Mr. Clawson had spent more time giving his readers hints about how he’d interpret it.

With that being said, I really liked this tale’s message about the danger of possessing one small sliver of the truth but believing you know it all. None of the characters were aware of everything that was going on, and that put all of them in danger of either being harmed or of harming someone else. Humility isn’t something that’s explored as often in modern fiction as it was at certain points of the past, but it’s just as important now as it ever was. No one is omniscient (unless some gods happen to read this review), and everyone has blind spots that could make their lives difficult under the right circumstances.

Apparition made me curious to read more from this author. I’d like to welcome him to the experience of being an author and hope he’ll keep honing his skills for many years to come!

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The Best of Intentions: A Review of Abductors

Book cover for Abductors by Joe Vasicek. Image on cover shows a flying saucer flying in the evening sky above a rocky landscape. Title: Abductors

Author: Joe Vasicek

Publisher: Self-Published

Publication Date: March 28, 2023

Genres: Science Fiction

Length: 16 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author.

Rating: 3 Stars

Blurb:

Ever wonder what an alien abduction looks like from the aliens’ point of view?

The human was never supposed to see the space ship, let alone be brought on board. But when the crew’s bumbling incompetence gets the human caught up in the engines’ back-blast, and no one knows how to revive him, the ship’s engineer has to take matters into his own… appendages.

Includes a bonus story written with ChatGPT!

Review:

Content Warning: an alien abduction and a rectal probing (for medical reasons).

Too much curiosity can be dangerous.

The dialogue was pretty funny. None of the characters were expecting a human to be around when they turned on their spaceship, much less to become accidentally injured when the engine fired up. Their panic was totally understandable, and their wildly different ideas about how to treat the injuries were as touching as they were amusing. They only had a limited amount of time to make a difference, so every single moment counted as they quickly flipped through their options and picked what they thought would be the most helpful one.

There was so much more the author could have done with this premise. I found myself wishing he had dove more deeply into the alien crew, their relationships with each other, and why they were studying a species that they seemed to be so disgusted by. This could have easily been a novella at least, and it would have been stronger for it given how much information Mr. Vasicek had to lightly touch on or skip over until order to get to his punchline. If he ever decides to expand on this universe, I’d be excited to read more about it.

Some of the best scenes in my opinion were the ones that explored the vast cultural and physiological differences between humans and aliens. Of course it would be almost impossible to take care of a creature who physiology is wildly different from yours and who has no idea what you’re trying to do to him. It reminded me of how hard it can be to convince a pet like a cat, dog, or rabbit to take medication when they’re ill, but multiply that by a thousand and erase every ounce of information you have about how this other creature’s body works, which parts of their anatomy are sensitive, and how they might react to standard medical treatments.

I did not enjoy the bonus story that was included about a man who met a stranger in a dream and was convinced she was a real person from somewhere. It felt dry to me, and I struggled to connect with the characters. I hope that Mr. Vasicek will not continue to play around with ChatGPT or other artificial means of creating stories in the future. He has plenty of his own talent to put to use!

Abductors was a humorous take on the subject of alien abductions.

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Reporting to Santa: A Review of Hellf on the Shelf

Book cover for Want to read Buy on Amazon CA Rate this book Hellf on the Shelf: A Christmas Short Story by Rumer Haven. Image on cover shows a ceramic toy elf looking up and over at a Christmas tree behind them.

(If anyone from the Top Ten Tuesday community is reading this, it’s a book I mentioned in a Top Ten Tuesday post last December. I saved it for this Christmas season to review!)

Title: Hellf on the Shelf

Author: Rumer Haven

Publisher: Self-Published

Publication Date: December 3, 2017

Genres: Fantasy, Holiday, Contemporary

Length: 17 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author

Rating: 5 Stars

Blurb:

‘Tis the season for Santa’s elves to deck the shelves, but this one’s on Mom’s naughty list.

No matter where or how she arranges the toy at night to surprise her sons in the morning, Mom wakes to find it just sitting on the shelf each and every time. Are the kids messing with her? Is her husband a traitor? Or is there more to the grinning elf on the shelf than its package advertised?

As Mom keeps trying to make spirits bright this season, she learns the true mystery and magic of Christmas.

Review:

Christmas magic is anything but effortless.

I adored the message of this short story. Too often the holidays are wonderful because women – and especially mothers – perform hours of invisible, unpaid work behind the scenes to ensure that the house is sparkling clean, the kitchen is stocked with plenty of delicious things to eat, invitations have been sent out for the parties organized by women, and there is a large pile of presents beneath the tree to suit everyone’s interests among countless other tasks. This isn’t to say this work is joyless. It can make amazing memories for everyone, but that doesn’t detract from the point that the labor is unevenly distributed and not always done happily. Keep this in mind while reading because it’s an important part of what plays out for one exhausted and confused mom as Christmas inches closer.

The unnamed family featured in this tale were genuinely nice people who loved each other and enjoyed spending time together. That’s not always present in what I read, so I sighed with relief when I realized that the twist had nothing at all do with anyone being unkind to each other. It was relaxing to get to know these characters better and wait to see what marvelous things might await them.

There was a gentle quality to the storyline that I appreciated as well. Yes, there were fantasy elements to it, but they all seemed like stuff that could occur at anyone’s house at this time of the year if that family believed in elves who watch over households and report back to Santa on what they find. I liked the ordinariness of the magical scenes and thought it blended in well with the sort of metaphorical magic that exists in our world.

Hellf on the Shelf was a breath of fresh air.

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