Tag Archives: Speculative Fiction

Spring Surprises: A Review of The Red Tree

Book cover for The Red Tree by Dave Williams. Image on cover shows a photo of a leafless deciduous tree whose branches are oddly red. This looks like a photo taken with one of those cameras that plays around with which sorts of lights on the light spectrum to reveal. That is, they take snapshots of items without using the visible light spectrum and instead show infrared or what have you. Title: The Red Tree

Author: Dave Williams

Publisher: Self-Published

Publication Date: March 25, 2020

Genres: Speculative Fiction, Contemporary

Length: 32 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author.

Rating: 3 Stars


While rain falls for weeks, the Engler family invites friends over for an evening of dealing with cabin fever together. And when the spring sun arrives, the Englers celebrate by walking in a wooded park, where they encounter a red tree away from the trail. Guesses abound as to why the tree is red when none of the other trees are. Life returns to normal for most of the Englers. The father, Calvin, decides the red tree was a sign for him to make changes in his life and property. Changes the family and neighbors don’t quite understand. But some family members can be eccentric, and others learn to roll with it. A novelette about family, experiencing the mysterious, and letting your imagination loose.


April showers can bring so many things as the weeks march into May. The old rhyme about them barely scratches the surface.

Calvin was an interesting and memorable protagonist. As the father of two kids who sounded like they were just beginning to reach the preteen stage of life, he wanted to soak up the last moments of childhood with them while also encouraging his sons to pursue more mature interests like camping or hiking that adults also commonly enjoy. Transitions aren’t always easy for kids or parents, but this also provided a nice parallel to Calvin’s own transformation after his experience discovering the red tree in the forest he was walking through with a group of friends in one of the earliest scenes.

I had mixed feelings about how to rate this book. The writing was thoughtful and beautiful for the first ninety percent of it, but the ending was so vague that I didn’t feel justified going for the four or five-star rating I would have given it up until that point. It sadly fizzled out instead of clearly pursuing the themes that it did so well exploring in the beginning and middle. That was a disappointing experience for me as a reader, and I wish I’d known to expect it from the very first sentence so I could have tempered my expectations.

With that being said, I am still glad I gave Mr. Williams a try. This was my first taste of his work. His gentle but vivid descriptions and high expectations of his audience have whetted my appetite for more of his stories. He is a talented storyteller who is especially adept at creating a world that feels just like our own ninety-nine percent of the time only to fill me with a sense of wonder as I discover that small sliver of something unexplainable that ties everything together.

The Red Tree surprised me.

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A Review of What Love Survives & Other Stories

Book cover for What Love Survives & Other Stories by DB MacInnes. Image on cover is a snapshot of someone in a cheerful yellow sweater walking away from their cozy little stone cottage outdoors next to a lake in the evening. There are mountains in the distance and the sky is overcast. The land where they are walking is grassy, flat, and brown as this appears to be late autumn. It looks a little chilly given how the wind is blowing the grass around and how tightly the person has their weather wrapped around them. This feels a little desolate but also quiet and peaceful. I get the impression this person loves being out in nature alone at this time of day as night approaches and knows exactly how to get back home safely before nightfall as they will have their home in full view and only about a five minute walk away at most once they turn around. Title: What Love Survives & Other Stories

Author: DB MacInnes

Publisher: Balfour & Breck Press

Publication Date: February 15, 2022

Genres: Speculative Fiction, Paranormal, Contemporary, Historical

Length: 61 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author.

Rating: 5 Stars


Lovers in a room overlooking the North Sea, a missing boy on an island in the Hebrides, an itinerant saw-miller’s tragic accident in the forests of Argyle, these short stories–often with a historical and sometimes speculative flavour–offer a glimpse into a Scotland of magic and mystery. First published in literary magazines such as New Writing Scotland and Gutter, they have now been brought together in this haunting anthology.


Content Warning: Missing children, cancer, child being sent to orphanage, child being raised by a relative after the parents’ death, death of a child, divorce, job loss, disability, accidental injuries and deaths, alcoholism, and an affair.

Even quiet towns are filled with secrets if one listens long enough.

I thought I should give everyone reading this a heads up that these tales dabbled lightly with speculative fiction and paranormal themes. Most of their scenes could easily happen in our world, some could be explained with either supernatural or scientific perspectives depending on how you interpret certain key sentences, and a few were deeply rooted in the speculative fiction with no other rational way to interpret them. This is a writing style I happen to deeply enjoy, but it’s something I think should be shared in advance as not everyone feels the same way about stories that move so fluidly between genres.

The main character and his wife Clare struggled to look after their adult son, Jack, who was severely disabled in “What Loves Survives.” Many stories about children with disabilities focus on the early years, so I was intrigued to get a glimpse of what this can be like once a child grows up and ages out of so many of the governmental support systems that exist for those under the age of eighteen. It’s difficult to talk about the plot twists in this one without giving away spoilers, but I appreciated the protagonist’s realistic assessment of what his life was going to be like as well as the hope he cultivated while trying to do the best he could for his family.

One of the biggest strengths of this collection had to do with how the same themes popped up repeatedly. “The Boy Who Vanished” was the second-to-last instalment, and it reminded me so much of what I’d already read in a good way. Once again there was an innocent person in danger, a town that knew more than you might assume, and an ending that matched the beginning nicely. As the title so strongly alluded to, this was about a boy named Duncan who disappeared one snowy day and the people who still remembered him years later. The flow of the dialogue was especially smooth here as the characters discussed who this child was and what happened to him. It genuinely felt like I was eavesdropping on a real conversation and it made me want to read an entire book written from these characters’ kind and honest perspectives.

“The Sawmillers” began with a child accidentally getting lost in the woods on a chilly night. He was not quite old enough to think clearly in that situation, especially as the sun set and it grew even colder outside. I was intrigued by his predicament and wondered how he was going to get out of it as the adults in his life didn’t know where he was or even that he was in danger yet. While there were no grand plot twists in this tale, that didn’t matter. The journey and how clearly it was described to readers was what mattered, and I couldn’t stop reading until I knew how everything turned out.

What Love Survives & Other Stories was a fantastic introduction to this author’s work. I look forward to reading more.

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Enough Time to Think: A Review of Sands of Time

Book cover for Sands of Time: A collection of thought-provoking stories by Beatrice C. Snipp. Image on cover shows a patchwork assortment of squares in all seven colours of the rainbow. The colours are arranged randomly, and a few squares have exclamation points or question marks written on them. Title: Sands of Time – A Collection of Thought-Provoking Stories

Author: Beatrice C. Snipp

Publisher: Self-Published

Publication Date: May 21, 2020

Genres: Science Fiction, Contemporary

Length: 40 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author.

Rating: 3 Stars


To anyone who might read this book. These few short stories are not written to entertain or pass away a short train journey. They are written to make your little grey cells work (Hercule Poirot). Hopefully they might make you think a little longer after reading. On time, space and human companionship to name but a few.


Content Warning: An accident resulting in blindness, secondary infertility, death, and murder. I will not discuss any of these topics in my review.

If you love stories that have morals attached to them, keep reading.

The blind protagonist in “The Smell of Death” discovered that they could smell death and predict in advance when someone was going to die. Just when I thought I had the entire storyline figured out, Ms. Snipp added a plot twist that made everything even better. While I can’t go into detail about it without sharing spoilers, I can say that it involved the main character discovering a new facet of their power and trying to decide what to do with it. What a wild ride this was, and I enjoyed every moment of it.

While I appreciated the brevity of them all, some of these tales were confusing to me due to how little time the author had to explain what was happening in them and what lessons she hoped the readers would take away from them. “Death So Near But So Far,” which followed four friends who reunited after the funeral of a fifth friend, was one such example of this. I would have loved to have more information about what was going on in their lives and how they had all lived to such ripe old ages.

As soon as I read the title of “Xenolith,” I knew I was in for a treat. That term refers to fragments of other types of rock that find themselves embedded in igneous rocks to which they should not be part of. I must be careful about how much information I share about the plot twists as this was a short piece, but seeing how the storyline quickly shifted to a talkative man named Eric who kept sharing nature facts with people who were terribly bored by that monologue made me curious to see what would happen next. The connection between the opening paragraph and the rest of it was as interesting as it was unexpected.

Sands of Time – A Collection of Thought-Provoking Stories was interesting.

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A Review of Not Eligible for Rehire – A Cruise Ship Story

Not Eligible for Rehire: a Cruise Ship Story by Glenn McGoldrick book cover. Image on cover shows a close-up of dark blue ocean waves that look a little choppy. Title: Not Eligible for Rehire – A Cruise Ship Story

Author: Glenn McGoldrick

Publisher: Self-Published

Publication Date: October 25, 2018

Genres: Speculative Fiction, Contemporary

Length: 19 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author.

Rating: 2 Stars


A day in the life of a Casino Manager, working on a cruise ship in 2011.

Introducing Not Eligible for Rehire, a short story with a twist set on-board a cruise ship.

Brought to you by award winning author Glenn McGoldrick, creator of the Dark Teesside series.


Content Warning: drug use (marijuana). I will briefly mention it in my review.

Summer fun can have an eerie side to it.

Cruise ships are fascinating places. Hundreds or even thousands of strangers cram into them for a week or two only to go their separate ways and probably never see each other again after their trip ends. The only constant presence a cruise ship has is its crew members, and they rarely if ever share their stories with guests. The narrator did an excellent job of capturing what it must feel like to witness so many strangers on vacation and repeat the same patterns of entertainment, dining choices, and ports of call over and over again. I found myself wishing this was a full-length novel so I could follow Jack, a Casino Manager onboard one of these ships, through an entire season of work.

There were two issues that lead me to choose such a low rating for this short story. First, it had an abrupt ending that I found jarring. Second, that it hinted at a possibly paranormal or other speculative fiction explanation for what was going on here, but all of the hints were so vague I was never certain they were how the author actually intended readers to interpret those scenes. The writing was otherwise well done, so it was disappointing to have to give so few stars for it. I would have eagerly gone with a much higher rating if I had a better idea of what was actually happening.

With that being said, I enjoyed seeing how Jack reacted to a report of possible drug use among his employees. It was obvious to me that he cared about his crew members quite a bit but also had high standards for their behaviour and expected everyone to follow the rules. His disappointment at this news was palpable, and I felt plenty of empathy for him as he regretfully followed protocol.

Not Eligible for Rehire – A Cruise Ship Story made me wonder what really goes on behind the scenes on cruise ships.


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Wednesday Weekly Blogging Challenge: Favourite Book Genre and Why

Hosted by Long and Short Reviews.

Click here to read everyone else’s replies to this week’s question and here to see the full list of topics for the year.

A stack of about a dozen books sitting next to a white wall. All of the book’s spines are facing away from the viewer so we don’t know their topics or authors. The best I could do was to narrow my answer to this week’s prompt down to two different answers.

I’ve loved the speculative fiction genre since I was a little kid. Whether it was paranormal, science fiction, fantasy, or something similar to one of these categories, I adore stories about things that aren’t actually possible in our world.

Some of the oldest speculative fiction stories out there have predicted things like travelling to the moon or cell phones that were the stuff of dreams during their eras but are now perfectly possible and even ordinary in certain cases.

On the other side of the spectrum, I’ve grown to love nonfiction as an adult.

Biographies and memoirs give us intimate glimpses into the lives of others and often include insight into how they surmounted even the most difficult circumstances.

History class was often a little boring when I was a kid, so it was thrilling to grow up and learn about the many historical figures and events that my teachers either never talked about at all or only went into scantest details about before moving on to yet another war or royal dynasty. (Kudos to those of you who enjoy reading about royalty and/or war, of course! They’re simply not my cup of tea).

I try to keep Wednesday Weekly Blogging Challenge posts brief, so I’ll only mention one other type of nonfiction that excites me. It’s marvellous to learn about new scientific discoveries and advancements in any number of fields as well.

Sometimes books are written about archeological discoveries, medical advancements, or distant celestial bodies that we’re still gathering information about. Occasionally, a scientist might write an entire book about a species like eels or earthworms that we’ve recently discovered a whole bunch of fascinating information about.

I devour all of these these books with gusto. The real world can be just as filled with wonder and excitement as any imaginary one in a faraway magical land  if you pay close attention!


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Murky Moments: A Review of Fragments

Fragments - A Collection of Short Stories by Jachrys Abel book cover. Image on cover shows a purple fragment of glass drawn on a grey background Title: Fragments – A Collection of Short Stories

Author: Jachrys Abel 

Publisher: Self-Published

Publication Date: November 21, 2020

Genres: Literary Fiction, Science Fiction, Paranormal, Contemporary, Historical, Futuristic 

Length: 40 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author 

Rating: 3.5 Stars


Fragments explores various facets of humanity through eight short stories—each of different subject matter, but with a shared undercurrent of what can best be described as honest humanness. 

There’s a gravedigger’s uptake of a small favor for his brother, a young boy teaching his friend how to survive in a haunted house, and a valiant king’s attempt to escape the clutches of death. There’s also the arduous endeavor of a nameless boy to prove his existence, and a young girl’s tortured wait for her partner’s return home. The daughter of a scientist uncovers why exactly the ocean waves, while a defunct human does penance for calculated murder. The collection then ends off with a rework of the author’s first ever published short which first appeared in literary magazine, Catch The Moment: a tale of how an invalid flees when his home is sieged, dragging along with him the village leader and her trusted advisor. 

Fragments is Jachrys’ first self-published collection of short stories. His other works have appeared in numerous literary publications, of which include A Philosopher’s Stone; Humanity Dawns; Catch The Moment; The Writing Cooperative; The Ascent; The Bad Influence; Storymaker; and Literally Literary.


Content warning: abuse and murder. I will not be discussing these things in my review.

Sometimes a single moment in time is all a character needs to reveal their true selves. 

I will briefly discuss a few of the pieces of this collection in my review. If any of them are interesting to you, do check out this book in its entirety. 

The title of “A Gravedigger’s Tale” tells the readers most of what we need to know about it right away. The gravedigger in question had been doing this job for a decade and knew all of the tricks to avoid rousing the dead when digging a new grave or taking care of the grounds. Simple things like name and gender identity were never made clear, and yet I felt like I knew them well because of how much time they spent explaining their life’s work to the audience and giving hints about the latest grave they were digging and why it was such an important one. 

There were a couple of stories in this collection that I thought could use a bit more development. Yes, they were fragments of fiction and therefore not meant to be as well fleshed out as, say, a novella or longer short story, but I would have enjoyed them more if their narrators had gone into a little more description about their plots and meanings. “The King’s Escape from Death” was a good example of this. After the king received word of something terrible that was to happen to him at a specific time, he ran away from home for the evening to avoid it. I was intrigued by his plan and sure would have liked to see him explain how he thought it ought to work in greater detail, especially since the warning he received was such a vague one. 

“Why the Ocean Waves” made me smile. It followed a conversation between a young girl named Aleandra and her father about why waves exist. After hearing his scientific explanation for it and finding it unsatisfying, she shared her own theories about why waves exist and what they mean for humans. It was heartwarming to see how he paid attention to her as she thought through her answer carefully .

Fragments gently drifted between literary and speculative fiction. It should be read by anyone who appreciated the numerous grey areas between genres.

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Life After The Handmaid’s Tale: A Review of The Testaments

Title: The Testaments (The Handmaid’s Tale #2)

Author: Margaret Atwood

Publisher: Nan A. Talese

Publication Date: 2019

Genres: Speculative Fiction, Dystopia

Length: 432 pages

Source: I bought it.

Rating: 4.5 Stars

Blurb: More than fifteen years after the events of The Handmaid’s Tale, the theocratic regime of the Republic of Gilead maintains its grip on power, but there are signs it is beginning to rot from within. At this crucial moment, the lives of three radically different women converge, with potentially explosive results.
Two have grown up as part of the first generation to come of age in the new order. The testimonies of these two young women are joined by a third voice: a woman who wields power through the ruthless accumulation and deployment of secrets.
As Atwood unfolds The Testaments, she opens up the innermost workings of Gilead as each woman is forced to come to terms with who she is, and how far she will go for what she believes.


Content warning: sexual assault, child abuse, torture, pregnancy, childbirth, and murder. I will only make a few vague reference to these things in my review. This will otherwise be a spoiler-free post.

Be sure to finish The Handmaid’s Tale before picking up The Testaments. I’d also recommend either watching the TV show based on this universe or doing a few hours of research on the characters, themes, and plot twists featured in the small screen version of it as well.

This is something best read by people who are intimately familiar with what has already happened in this tale, and I will be assuming that everyone who continues reading is already familiar with this universe.

I’ve included non-spoiler-y quotes from this book at key points in this review.

“You don’t believe the sky is falling until a chunk of it falls on you.”

Now that those things have been addressed, let’s jump straight into my review. I’m writing this as a hardcore fan whose expectations were sky high and who had been hotly anticipating this book. The only thing I knew going into it was that it was set long after the final scene in The Handmaid’s Tale and that it had three female narrators.

Aunt Lydia was originally introduced in the first book in this series. Her role in Gilead was to help keep the female sphere of that society running smoothly, especially when it came to training and disciplining the Handmaids. Witness 369A was a young girl who grew up in Gilead as the cherished only child of a wealthy commander and his wife. She was a true believer in her childhood faith. Finally, Daisy was a young woman who lived in Canada.

“You’d be surprised how quickly the mind goes soggy in the absence of other people. One person alone is not a full person: we exist in relation to others. I was one person: I risked becoming no person.”

My descriptions of the narrators may sound incomplete. They were written that way to purposefully avoid sharing spoilers, so be careful about what you read elsewhere online if you google them.

Gilead was a violent, abusive society wrapped in the shroud of (mostly) false piety. The Testaments went into more detail about how women were treated in many different layers of society than the novel version of the first book in this series did. Having three narrators from such different backgrounds made it easy for Ms. Atwood to explore parts of this universe that Offred couldn’t have known a thing about when she originally shared her tale.

What I found most interesting about it was how different groups of women were pitted against each other and divided into small groups: fertile women, fertile women who gave birth to living, healthy children, wives of lower-ranking Commanders, wives of higher-ranking Commanders, adoptive mothers, Marthas, Econowives, Handmaids, Aunts, and more.

“It was also shameful: when a shameful thing is done to you, the shamefulness rubs off on you. You feel dirtied.”

Everyone was competing for the same vanishingly small piece of status despite the fact that there was no safe position to take. Danger lurked everywhere no matter who you were or what you did because Gilead blamed women for things they had no control over and never wanted in the first place.

Yes, this could also be interpreted as a criticism of the way women are treated in modern society. Just like The Handmaid’s Tale, the sequel is firmly inspired by and a critique of real-world events. Dystopian novels work best for me when they draw parallels between what is happening in them and what the author wants his or her readers to understand about the real world. This is something Ms. Atwood has always excelled at, and I nodded in agreement when I read the sentences that gave hints about her opinions of the current political climate in Canada, the United States, and elsewhere. They were brief and never interfered with the plot itself, but they made her position on the rights of women, LGBT+ people, and minorities unmistakeable.

The one thing I wish had been a little better explained in this story has to do with Aunt Lydia’s character development. She’s an easy character to loathe in the book and television versions of The Handmaid’s Tale. I was fascinated by the descriptions of her life before and during the rise of Gilead. There were times when I sympathized with her despite all of the horrible things she did later on in life.

“As they say, history does not repeat itself, but it rhymes.”

Finally, what surprised me the most about this book were the conclusions it made about what to do if you find yourself locked into a world that seems impossible to escape.

The Handmaid’s Tale took a fairly passive approach to this dilemma. Any shred of hope that took root there would quickly be covered up before it was trampled.

The Testaments waters that hope, fertilizes the soil, and encourages the sun to shine just enough so that hope pushes its roots into the centre of the earth and flourishes.

Yes, history sometimes rhymes. No, that doesn’t mean that we’re powerless to change how the next sentence ends.

If for no other reason, this breath of fresh air is reason enough to read it.


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