Tag Archives: Short Story

Making the Best of Things: A Review of The Burning Land

Book cover for The Burning Land by Jeff Brackett. Image on cover is a painting of a wooden ship sailing on a sea that is bathed in yellow light. Title: The Burning Land

Author: Jeff Brackett

Publisher: Self-Published

Publication Date: October 3, 2016

Genres: Science Fiction

Length: 26 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author.

Rating: 4 Stars

Blurb:

Arik is Kapin of “The Serpent”, a sailing ship on a far-away world of green skies and orange seas. And though technically the leader of their expedition, he knows the true power on board lies in the hands of his only passenger – the Seer, Uson Grogor. Arik and Uson lead the crew across the vastness of the ocean, risking the lives of the crew as they sail past the point at which their supplies might still get them home, all based on the visions of the old Seer.

Review:

Content Warning: Pregnancy, deaths from animal attacks, and a fatal spaceship accident.

Failure is a stepping stone to success.

Now this is an example of how to write a memorable dual-perspective story! I don’t want to give away too many details about how a ship sailing across the ocean could be related to a spaceship travelling through space to a new planet, but I loved the way the author connected these two storylines. The parallels between them were evident almost immediately, and I only became more curious about how they might intersect as I  grew closer to the conclusion.

I would have liked to see more character development. While I wouldn’t expect to see as much of it in something this size as I would in a full-length novel,  it would have been nice to have more examples of how the characters grew and changed as a result of their experiences. This is something I’m saying as a reader who otherwise loved this tale and would have given it a five-star rating if I knew the characters better and could point out their personal development over time in clearer ways.

The world building was exciting and well done.  I learned more than information about the Earth-like world the explorers landed on in order to picture it clearly in my mind, but I also found myself wishing the author would write a sequel to explore things in even greater detail. The differences in the flora and fauna in this world made me smile, and that’s not even to mention the many different ways people reacted to these new life forms.

The Burning Land made me yearn for more.

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A Review of Wilhelmina Quigley – Monkey See, Monkey Do

Book cover for Wilhelmina Quigley - Monkey See, Monkey Do by Liese Sherwood-Fabre. Image on cover shows a drawing of a blue and green stuffed toy monkey sitting on a jack-o-lantern. The monkey is wearing a black scarf and a black witch’s hat that has a gold buckle on it. Its left arm is raised as if to wave a friendly hello to the audience. Title: Wilhelmina Quigley – Monkey See, Monkey Do

Author: Liese Sherwood-Fabre

Publisher: Little Elm Press (Self-Published)

Publication Date: June 5, 2023

Genres: Middle Grade, Fantasy, Contemporary

Length: 32 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author

Rating: 3 Stars

Blurb:

A young witch with unpredictable powers. A complex transformation spell. What could possibly go wrong?

Following a magical mishap, Wilhelmina Quigley accidentally transforms her classmate, Fynn, into a monkey. With a frightened Fynn running from those who could help him, Wilhelmina sets off on an extraordinary adventure to recapture and transform the monkey back to a boy. From incantation blunders to misfired spells, each step along the way brings laughter, surprises, and valuable lessons about self-discovery.

“Wilhelmina Quigley: Monkey See, Monkey Do” is a captivating short story that will whisk readers away to a realm where anything is possible and where the most important lessons are learned when you believe in your own abilities. Join Wilhelmina on her extraordinary quest and prepare to be spellbound by the enchantment that unfolds page after page.

If you enjoy humorous fantasy stories about young witches, get this story now.

Review:

Embarrassment is part of life.

Wilhelmina was a well-written and amusing protagonist. She talked and behaved exactly how a kid her age should, and some of the things she did made me shake my head as I remembered my own middle school blunders that were horribly embarrassing at the time but that I can now find the humour in. It can be difficult to capture that awkward, in-between stage of life accurately, so I have to commend Ms. Sherwood-Fabre for pulling it off.

I would have loved to see more world building in this short story. For example, Wilhelmina‘s teacher struck me as a rather exasperated and impatient person. Was this because the teacher was having a bad day, the magical society they lived in was not very forgiving of honest mistakes due to the high stakes of misused magic, or that bad moods were a side effect of spells going horribly wrong? I could see arguments for any of these explanations and a few more besides them, but the text never explained what was going on here. Having that answer could have helped fill in some holes for me about how their culture was different from all of the non-magical ones out there.

With that being said, the humor and low stakes here were delightful. So many of the fantasy and Halloween stories I review have high stakes and bloody battles that it was refreshing to sit back and see how a young witch learned from her mistakes and tried to make them right again. Not everything has to be about saving the world, after all! Sometimes trying to turn a classmate back into a kid again before the school day ends  is all the tension one needs to enjoy a plot.

Wilhelmina Quigley – Monkey See, Monkey Do was a gentle little Halloween-themed tale that both kids and adults can enjoy.

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A Review of Literally Life

Title: Literally Book cover for Literally Life - Solara and the Talking Tree by Hiago Furtado. Image on the cover shows a young, white woman with straight hair twirling around in a tutu in front of a blindingly white light. She looks as thought she may be performing on stage due to her dancing en pointe in ballet slippers and with her arms outstretched in a ballerina pose. Life – Solara and the Talking Tree

Author: Hiago Furtado

Publisher: Self-Published

Publication Date: July 23, 2023

Genres: Young Adult, Fantasy

Length: 54 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author.

Rating: 3 Stars

Blurb:

Review:

In a farm, far from the kingdom’s eyes, Solara, a lonely little girl who proclaims herself an enchanted princess, brings a nearby tree to life, even though her mother had previously forbidden her from using her powers, fearing they would label her as a witch. The tree, nicknamed by the girl as Mr. Tree, will have to discover its role in the world while maintaining a secret friendship with the little girl. Despite having enchanting powers, its disturbing origin and lack of control over them will bring forth various challenges.

And Solara, embittered by her mother’s disappearance, will try to have fun with Mr. Tree, telling him both epic and mind-bending stories, as well as tragic and macabre ones, in order to help him and teach him about his magical nature. In this chaotic journey, where unknown entities control nature and magical beings are persecuted by prejudice, the two will seek to discover if there is truly a place for fantasy in a world where their mere existence is considered a crime.

Content Warning: Death.

Magic isn’t a toy.

Some of my favourite scenes were the ones that compared Solara’s and Mr. Tree’s innocent wonder. They had far more in common with each other than one might originally think, and it was fun to take note of the myriad of ways in which a roughly ten-year-old human child and a tree that has only recently become sentient will have the same reaction when confronted with something new. I love picking out the commonalities between character who are otherwise quite different from each other, and I had plenty of opportunities to do that here.

The world building was confusing to me. Since Mr. Tree had a limited perspective on things due to him being a tree who couldn’t physically move around and who didn’t always understand human culture, his understanding of how magic worked in this world didn’t always translate well for me as a reader. I sometimes struggled to understand the logic of his thought processes or why certain scenes played out the way they did. As much as I wanted to give this a higher rating, I couldn’t due to how many times I had to stop and try to figure out what this character was describing.

With that being said, I enjoyed the creative risk Mr. Furtado took by making his main character a plant whose mind was quite different from the mind of the average person. It gave this tale a memorable twist and made me look at everything from chickens to fences to dreaming in new ways. This was my second time reading his work, and I’ll be keeping an eye out for what he might come up with next due to how much effort he puts into writing imaginative stories.

Literally Life – Solara and the Talking Tree made me smile.

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In Pursuit of Knowledge: A Review of Know Not

Book cover for Know Not by Joshua Scribner. Image on cover shows the numbers 1 and 0 written in binary code in a green font on a black screen. The numbers are fuzzy as if they’re being shaken up. Title: Know Not

Author: Joshua Scribner

Publisher: Self-Published

Publication Date: January 26, 2021

Genres: Science Fiction, Paranormal, Contemporary

Length: 10 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author.

Rating: 3 Stars

Blurb:

A brilliant scientist’s vocabulary is now limited to a few words. His daughter wants to know why. Doctors can’t tell her. Maybe someone else can.

Review:

Content Warning: Religion and brain damage that leaves someone unable to communicate.

Everything happens for a reason…right?

Marie’s relationship with her dad made me smile. Their personalities were incredibly similar, and they clearly loved each other quite a bit. It’s always nice to meet characters who have stable, close families, and that foundation only made her father’s medical emergency more heartbreaking for me as a reader. I held my breath as I waited to see if the doctors could tell them why her intelligent and scholarly dad was suddenly unable to do something as simple as have a conversation about his feelings.

I found myself wishing for more details when the explanation was shared at the end of this short story. Yes, it made some sense given the world building that had happened earlier, but there were plot holes regarding how certain characters had this knowledge and how they knew it to be true that were never filled in. I know I’m being vague here, but it’s hard to give specific examples without sharing spoilers. My reaction to the final scene simply wasn’t what I hoped it would be. If only there had been a few more pages that dove more deeply into the conclusion.

With that being said, I enjoyed the characters’ determination to find an alternative explanation for the health problems Marie’s dad was experiencing once the medical establishment ran out of possibilities. Reaching the end of current medical knowledge is an incredibly frustrating experience, especially for someone who became as disabled as her dad did. I understood why they turned to religious leaders for advice as a last-ditch effort, and I thought it made the storyline stronger to show why some people make that decision under such circumstances.

Know Not was thought provoking.

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The Past Remembers: A Review of A Ghostly Assignment

Book cover for A Ghostly Assignment by Rosalind Minnet. Image on cover shows an old-fashioned, small stone cottage near a large, still lake on a foggy autumn day. The trees are bare and you can’t see the sun because of how thick the fog and clouds are. Title: A Ghostly Assignment

Author: Rosalind Minett

Publisher: Self-Published

Publication Date: December 31, 2014

Genres: Fantasy, Horror, Mystery, Paranormal, Contemporary, Historical

Length: 35 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author.

Rating: 4 Stars

Blurb:

When journalism students, Jake and Sara, investigate reports of a ghost, they’re cynical. They assume a village myth and fanciful gossip. In the dark of night near the local lake they begin their watch. They are standing together yet their weird experiences are separate, even in time. Shocked to the core, they return to normal life only to discover the lasting effect of their first assignment, one no-one could have predicted.

Review:

Content Warning: A witch trial, murder, and children being orphaned.

Future generations may mostly forget an atrocity, but the land remembers every detail.

Don’t worry if horror isn’t a genre you generally like. This was quite scary, but it wasn’t gory or gross in any way. It’s one of those transcendent horror stories that I’d recommend to anyone who loves history, mysteries, folklore, ghosts, or justice. I smiled and nodded along as I took note of the ways the current residents of this rural area dealt with a shameful and terrible chapter of their history. That’s a problem that many communities have, after all, and it can be great fodder for fiction. I enjoyed the way the author revealed what happened while still grounding the first section in scenes that felt true to life. It was important to establish that realism before jumping into the frightening paranormal events that were soon to follow.

This tale either involved some possible time travel or the main character’s mind being so overwhelmed with someone else’s memories that she thought she was the person performing those actions.  I loved both of these possibilities, but I wished the author had been more clear about which interpretation we were supposed to think was probably the right one. While I generally don’t mind ambiguity in what I read, this was one of those cases when the audience really needs to know how trustworthy a character’s memory is of a specific incident because of how important it is to everything that comes before and after it. If this had been made more clear, I would have happily gone with a full five-star rating.

It was interesting to see how Ms. Minett connected the actions of superstitious villagers from a few hundred years ago to the lives of people living in this universe today. I can’t go into much detail about that without giving away spoilers, but I appreciated what she was doing there and thought there was something to be said for showing how much someone can be affected by the past even if they don’t know anything about it.

A Ghostly Assignment made me shudder.

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A Review of The Red Pencil

Book cover for The red pencil by Shawna Reppert. Image on cover shows a red pencil lying on an opened spiral notebook. Title: The Red Pencil

Author: Shawna Reppert

Publisher: Self-Published

Publication Date: September 26, 2015

Genres: Fantasy, Contemporary

Length: About 19 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author

Rating: 4 Stars

Blurb:

A young girl learns to be careful what she wishes for. . .and as an adult decides that some things are worth the cost. Contemporary fantasy by an award-winning author.

Although this story is inspired in part by the author’s childhood in Pennsylvania and her Pennsylvania Dutch heritage, it is contemporary fantasy/magical realism, not memoir. The magic in the book is entirely the author’s invention, although inspired by archetypes from several cultures. It is in no way meant to represent the Pennsylvania Dutch hex tradition.

Review:

Content Warning: Two brief descriptions of animal abuse and one brief description of a dead pet cat.

Everyone needs the right tools for their education.

Childhood isn’t always a fun experience. It was interesting to see how Mari coped with her jealousy over a classmate who seemed to live a charmed life. Those sorts of emotions can be intense, especially when the ordinary scuffles of recess spill over into other parts of life. Getting to know the main character was even more rewarding than it had already been once she shared how she handled her feelings and how the red pencil helped her learn an important life lesson at such a tender age.

I would have loved to see more world building in this short story, especially when it came to Mari’s relationship with the Huckster. He was such a mysterious figure that I would have loved to know how they first met and how he knew she was the right person to give the red pencil to. There was space to expand this world here, and I would have gone with a full five-star rating if the author had done that.

With that being said, I thought Ms. Reppert did a fabulous job of explaining the allure and danger of the red pencil. Some of the most memorable scenes for me were the ones that explored Mari’s relationship with what she originally thought was a perfectly ordinary gift from an acquaintance. I’ll leave it up to other readers to discover what was actually going on there, but this is the sort of magical touch to a plot that leaves me wanting more.

The Red Pencil was a thoughtful back-to-school read.

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No Ordinary River: A Review of Badwater

Book cover for Badwater by Travis Liebert. Image on cover shows a green scary face emerging out of vines that otherwise look like normal plants. The face has bright white eyes and looks fearsome. Title: Badwater

Author: Travis Liebert

Publisher: Self-Published

Publication Date: November 8, 2019

Genres: Horror, Paranormal, Contemporary

Length: 27 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author.

Rating: 3 Stars

Blurb:

Review

“I’ve been a search and rescue diver for twelve years. We see a lot of strange and disgusting things. But what I saw last week has me questioning both my job and reality.”

There’s a place in the river where not even search and rescue divers are supposed to go. It’s called Badwater.

But when Joseph Albright dives into this forbidden region, he discovers something beyond comprehension.

Intent on solving a mystery as old as the earth itself, he comes into contact with forces beyond fathom.

Get this riveting new horror story and learn of the terrors that pervade our world.

Content Warning: Drowning and body horror.

A strong current might drown you in this river, but even if that happens it will be the least of your worries.

Joseph was a sympathetic and memorable protagonist. I appreciated how cautious he was around water and how seriously he took his work as a search and rescue diver. These were important things to establish early on in order to explain his later behaviour. They also endeared me to him as a character because I knew how knowledgable he was about safely enjoying the water and how drowning can happen to even the strongest swimmer. If the author ever writes a sequel, I’d sure like to learn more about this world and the other people in it.

My only reason for choosing a three star rating had to do with a plot hole that the narrator never closed. It involved what the powers of the character who controlled Badwater actually were and how far they could be stretched or pushed back against. In some scenes, this character seemed nearly all-powerful, while in others there appeared to be loopholes to the rules. I would have loved to see this clarified as it was the only thing that prevented me from choosing a much higher rating. Everything else about this tale was deliciously scary.

The folklore elements of the storyline were top-notch. They shared enough information for this reader to know what was happening but also left plenty of little details up to my imagination. I also enjoyed taking note of the slight differences in how various characters reacted to the legends about Badwater and why no one was ever supposed to go there. Not only did this make everything feel realistic, it encouraged me to keep reading so I could come up with my own theories about which versions made the most sense to me.

Badwater was a spooky summer read.

 

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No Easy Way Out: A Review of Take Care of Your Body

Book cover for Take Care of Your Body by Elton Gahr. Image on cover shows two mostly-leafless trees that have been trimmed to look like two faces looking at each other. A few leaves are flowing from one tree to the next against a cloudy winter sky. Title: Take Care of Your Body

Author: Elton Gahr

Publisher: Self-Published

Publication Date: March 2, 2022

Genres: Science Fiction, Contemporary

Length: 18 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author.

Rating: 3 Stars

Blurb:

Frank is a new kind of personal trainer. The kind that switches bodies with the ultra rich so they can get the benefits of working out without the effort. But his new client has done the unthinkable, escaping with Frank’s body while leaving Frank to answer for his crimes.
Now Frank has to track down his own body and force his client to return it before the FBI can catch him.

Review:

Shortcuts can make life easier…if all goes well.

Some of my favourite scenes were the ones that described how careful Frank was when exercising in other people’s bodies. Exercise is one of those things that can be a great deal of fun, a terribly dull chore, or something in-between those two extremes depending on the person involved and what types of movement they actually enjoy doing. Observing Frank’s reaction to his work was fascinating. He respected his clients and did everything he could to help them slowly become stronger and healthier while he was in control of their bodies. It was nice to see how much he cared about perfect strangers.

I had some trouble understanding what was happening in the final scene and needed to read it over again a couple of time to make sure I understood what the author was trying to say. Part of this was due to a character who wasn’t very good at thinking through the logical conclusions of his actions. While he was an interesting person who needed to be written that way for other portions of the storyline to flow nicely, I did find myself wishing for a clearer description of what was happening in that last scene so that both he and I could figure out what was going on there.

The world building was well done. There wasn’t a great deal of time to explain how this mysterious conscious-swapping technology worked given that the author only had eighteen pages to work with, but he explained enough about it for me to understand the basics. Honestly, that was all that was needed before Frank’s dilemma began, so I was happy to quickly move on to how he was going to get his stolen body back before it was too late.

Take Care of Your Body was a wild ride.

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A Review of The Life and Lies of Danny Diaz


Book cover for The Life and Lies of Danny Diaz by Andy Paine. Image on cover shows the title written in a font that’s orange on the left and gradually fades to yellow as you move further to the right of the page. This was all written against a black background. Title
: The Life and Lies of Danny Diaz

Author: Andy Paine

Publisher: Self-Published

Publication Date: January 21, 2021

Genres: Fantasy, Contemporary

Length: 46 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author

Rating: 5 Stars

Blurb:

An ageing rocker, a journalist, and a small, seemingly inconsequential object. This is the tale of the greatest musical theft in history.

Such a small, seemingly inconsequential object. Yet for ageing rocker Danny Diaz, journalist Henry Lapthorne, and indeed the entire population, it is an object that has aided in the greatest musical theft in history, forever altering the historical landscape of music as we know it.

After years of wilful deceit, Danny’s life has come full circle as he reaches out to the one man who forever doubted him, intent on telling his story, and finding peace with his past. For Henry, it is the story of a lifetime, an unbelievable tale of addiction, regret, and redemption. But can it possibly be true? Or is it just another ruse? Is this tale the fulfilment of Henry’s career, or yet another deception in the decades long animosity between two men who know each other so well, and yet not at all.

Review:

Content Warning: Theft, suicide, and deceit. The suicide was mentioned briefly and with no details at all about how it was accomplished.

There’s no such thing as a free lunch…or a free song.

The character development was excellent. Danny was never unlikeable, but he certainly was naive and a little selfish when I first met him. It was rewarding to get to know his personality better and see how the object he carried around for years changed him in all sorts of ways. Without giving away spoilers, this transformation of his was the best part of the entire plot because of how he reacted to it and what he did once he realized how much power he possessed.

I adored the ambiguous corners of this story. The things Danny didn’t know about the small object in his possession were somehow just as intriguing as the many other things he was sure about. After I finished the final paragraph, I sat back and came up with my own theories about the subjects he had partial to no knowledge of. Discovering the limits of Danny’s understanding somehow made him feel both more relatable and more interesting. After all, many of us readers are living with little mysteries every day that we won’t ever fully solve either!

Another memorable thing about this short story was the uneasy relationship between Danny and the narrator who was a reporter who hoped to interview such an important musician. The reporter and Danny both had understandable reasons to be a little wary of each other, so it was rewarding to see them gradually let their guards down and connect with each other as fellow human beings. This was something that was gently hinted at in the first scene, so do keep an eye out for it as the plot progresses.

The Life and Lies of Danny Diaz was a thought-provoking and thrilling read.

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Local Legends: A Review of Come in the Water

Book cover for Come in the Weater by K.C. Hastings. image on cover shows the sun setting over a lake. There is a pool of water on the beach and a portion of the sand that shows marks from something heavy being dragged into the water. In the distance, you can see something tentacle-like poking out of the water. Title: Come in the Water

Author: K.C. Hastings

Publisher: Self-Published

Publication Date: October 19, 2020

Genres: Fantasy, Horror, Contemporary

Length: 11 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author.

Rating: 3 Stars

Blurb:

There’s something in the lake, and I don’t mean the giant catfish.

Review:

Content Warning: Murder, drowning, a small amount of blood.

Beware what the locals say. Sometimes they know more than anyone else.

One of the biggest strengths of this short story was how arrogant and yet still likeable the unnamed protagonist was. While I certainly wouldn’t want to live with her, I was intrigued by how certain she was that she had everything figured out. Her confidence was admirable even if it sometimes lead her into some pretty dangerous decisions. It can be easier to write a kind and sweet character than one who had such a major personality flaw, so I tip my cap to the author for pulling this off so nicely.

Given how unfamiliar the main character seemed to be with Oklahoma, I was surprised by how quickly she brushed off the scary legends the locals shared with her in the first scene. I would have understood if she didn’t believe every detail of them, but it struck me as odd for her not to be willing to listen to their warnings at all. If only the narrator had given more clues about why she behaved this way. Even if the string of recent deaths all had natural causes, shouldn’t she at least taken heed of how dangerous swimming could be in that area? I wish this had been explored as it would have gone a long way to provide some additional character and plot development.

The horror elements of the plot were deliciously scary and well done. Even the nicest lakes can feel a little eerie even on a clear sunny day when you stare into their murky depths, and that’s even more true for lakes that have disturbing legends attached to them.

Come in the Water is making me think twice about going swimming in a lake this summer!

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