Tag Archives: Young Adult

Home, Sweet Home: A Review of Christmas at Crownthorn Manor

Christmas at Crowthorn Manor - a Yuletide Ghost Story by Chris McGurk book cover. Image on cover shows a black and white photo of snow falling heavily on a cottage in the woods. There is a white car parked in front of the cottage.Title: Christmas at Crownthorn Manor – A Yuletide Ghost Story

Author: Chris McGurk

Publisher: Self-Published

Publication Date: December 19, 2019

Genres: Young Adult, Holiday, Paranormal, Contemporary

Length: 27 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author.

Rating: 3 Stars

Blurb:

Three brothers travelling home for Christmas become waylaid in a fierce snowstorm. Pulling up at an old manor house, they think they are in luck when the owners let them stay the night. But all is not as it seems at Crowthorn Manor on Christmas Eve… Reviving the much-loved tradition of the Christmas ghost story, Christmas at Crowthorn Manor will send shivers down your spine on your journey back home.

Review:

Content Warning: 1918 influenza pandemic, grief, death of children, World War I, prejudice, and suicide. I will mention the 1918 flu and Covid-19 in my review.

Christmas is supposed to be a happy time spent with loved ones. What happens to a Christmas that doesn’t meet these goals?

The 1918 flu is something I’ve been interested in since I was a kid, so I’m always happy to see it pop up in fiction. After the current pandemic began, I understood better why previous generations were often so reticent to discuss such things even years later. It can be painful to remember tragic stories about death, disability, grief, and suffering, and yet I think there’s something to be said for commemorating these topics in fiction when it’s appropriate to do so. Remembering the past is a way to honour the dead and to hopefully guide the decisions we make today to help everyone’s futures be healthier ones. The author sensitively included the societal, emotional, and medical effects of the 1918 flu here. They had excellent reasons for doing so that other readers should discover for themselves. These were some of my favorite passages in this short story, and I would have happily read more of them.

I did find myself wishing that more attention had been paid to how and when the author used the tropes of this genre. Anyone who is familiar with tales about characters who get lost on a snowy night and find themselves seeking shelter at a mysterious, old mansion will be able to figure out just about everything that is to come by the time they finish the first page. Yes, I know this was written for teenagers, but even with that taken into consideration I thought another round of editing would have made a difference. Tropes are good – or at least neutral – things in and of themselves, but they were utilized so heavily here that it negatively affected things like the character and plot development. I so badly wanted to give this a higher rating, and yet the predictability of it all was too much for me to do so.

With that being said, I loved the way the author incorporated modern technology and tools like cell phones, the Internet, and Google Maps into the storyline. It’s trickier for characters to get lost in believable ways these days due to all of the navigation and communication options we have in our phones when a road doesn’t lead to the place we thought it should, but these problems were all solved in logical ways here that worked well with the storyline and with what we already knew about the personalities of the main characters. This is something I always enjoy finding in fiction, and it has encouraged me to keep an eye out for what this author may write in the future.

Christmas at Crownthorn Manor – A Yuletide Ghost Story was a quick and spooky read.

 

Changing His Destiny: A Review of Well of Fate


Well of Fate - A When Ravens Fall Short Story by Savannah Jezowski book cover. Image on cover shows a drawing of a squirrel crawling through a dark corridor with a tiny bit of light streaming through the tree branches above. Title
: Well of Fate – A When Ravens Fall Short Story

Author: Savannah Jezowski

Publisher: Dragonpen Press (Self-Published)

Publication Date: July 31, 2018

Genres: Young Adult, Fantasy, Adventure, Historical

Length: 39 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author.

Rating: 4 Stars

Blurb:

Discontent with his life as a tale-spinner, Ratatosk the squirrel goes searching for the Well of Fate hoping he can change his destiny. But what he finds at Yggdrasil will test the very core of his resolve. When he faces the unexpected dangers beneath the great tree, Tosk will have to choose between saving himself or risking all to do the right thing. Changing his destiny proves harder than he ever imagined.For fans of “When Ravens Fall” and Norse mythology, reunite with old friends and meet new ones in this compelling short story about destiny and hard choices.

Review:

Courage comes in many forms…including small, fuzzy ones!

Ratatosk was a brave and assertive squirrel who refused to take no for an answer. I haven’t read many books that have squirrels as protagonists and so had no preconceptions of what he would be like. It was delightful to get to know him, especially once I realized why he was so eager to find the Well of Fate and what he hoped to accomplish there.  I’ll leave it up to other readers to discover for themselves what he was looking for and if he found it, but his adventurous spirit was perfect for this setting. He might be a little miffed at this comparison since they’re not the same species, but fellow fans of C.S. Lewis’ The Voyage of the Dawn Treader might also be quickly reminded of a character in that book that acts a lot like Ratatosk and would happily go on adventures with him if they lived in the same universe.

It would have been nice to see more attention paid to the conclusion. While I know this was meant to be a teaser for a full-length series, the writing in that scene felt a bit abrupt to me, especially for those of us who were being introduced to the characters and setting for the first time in this short story.  I wanted to give this a full five-star rating and would have done so if this tale had been given a chance to wrap everything up more satisfactorily. Everything else about it was well done!

The world building was handled nicely. Obviously, there wasn’t a lot of space here to explain how everything worked or what was going on with certain backstories, but I received enough information to understand why Ratatosk’s quest was so important to him and what dangers he may face along the way. An air of mystery about the rest of it is a good thing in my opinion. It kept this reader feeling intrigued and asked questions that I can only assume will be fully answered later on.

You do not need to have an in-depth understanding of Norse mythology in order to appreciate this short story, but knowing a few basic facts like the names of their most important gods would be helpful.

Well of Fate – A When Ravens Fall Short Story was a wild ride. 

Awkward Phases: A Review of The Usual Werewolves

The Usual Werewolves by Adam Bertocci book cover. Image on cover shows two people wearing thick black glasses looking shy and awkward as they stand in front of a full moon. The woman has red hair and the man is wearing a black and white checkered sweater. Title: The Usual Werewolves

Author: Adam Bertocci

Publisher: Self-Published

Publication Date: October 1, 2012

Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult, Romance, Paranormal, Satire, Contemporary

Length: 39 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author.

Rating: 3 Stars

Blurb:

Finally, a paranormal romance for people who hate paranormal romance.

Bookish outcast Serena is in love with the hottest guy in Holmwood High—a brooding young vampire who she just can’t get to bite.

Then on Halloween night she falls in with a new crowd. Nerds. Dorks. Werewolves. Soon she’s in for one long, crazy night, filled with all the pleasures of teenage life: dancing, talking, driving around, unexpected friendships and falling in love.

Award-winning writer and filmmaker Adam Bertocci has been praised by Entertainment Weekly, USA Today, The New Republic, GQ, The Wall Street Journal, The Guardian, Back Stage, Broadway World, E!, Maxim, IGN, Wired, Film Threat and more. In this touching and hilarious short story, he brings nostalgia, satire, emotion and wit to the most beloved genre in literary history.

Review:

Content Warning: Bullying.

Falling in love is the most important part of the high school experience…right?

Some of the most amusing scenes were the ones that leaned heavily into the teenage angst. Puberty is a confusing time, and that’s even more true for characters who are stuck in a paranormal romance and must decide whether they will live happily ever after with a vampire or a werewolf. Mr. Bertocci did an excellent job of showing how life-changing something like an unrequited crush feels for some high schoolers and well as how those same experiences are reinterpreted when someone is an adult. After all, teens are experiencing emotions like romantic love for the first time and therefore can’t yet compare them to previous relationships. Of course such a powerful and new experience will be all consuming! Who could ever expect anything less?

The ending was the only thing holding this short story back from getting a much higher rating from me. After a witty and sharp beginning and middle, I was disappointed by how quickly everything was wrapped up. There simply wasn’t the closure I needed in order to feel satisfied by this tale, especially when it came to Serena’s character development. She showed the audience a glimpse of the adult she could become only to ignore that character development in the final scene.

With that being said, I did appreciate the messages about bullying, friendships, and fitting in. Being a teenager is difficult, especially for teens who are having trouble making friends or figuring out where they belong. The narrator had quite a bit to say about these topics without ever sounding preachy about it. They simply acknowledged that these problems exist for many kids and nudged the readers gently into the direction of some tools that may help.

The Usual Werewolves was a fun riff on the paranormal romance genre.

 

Rooting Out Evil: A Review of Secrets of the Under Market

Secrets of the Under Market by Krysten Harlow book cover. Image on cover shows a glowing yellow coin with yellow lights orbiting it and some sort of archaic writing on it. Title: Secrets of the Under Market

Author: Krysten Harlow

Publisher: Self-Published

Publication Date: May 4, 2021

Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult, Paranormal, Contemporary

Length: 73 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author.

Rating: 3 Stars

Blurb:

Mortal Instruments meets Hellboy in this riveting urban fantasy series that is a prequel to the Visions of Darkness Trilogy.”

He was born into a rare demon-hunting lineage…

All his life, Max Damiano has trained with his family and waited for his arcane talent to awaken. On the morning of his fourteenth birthday, his wish is granted: he is a telekinetic.

Now he can fully take part in the family’s Work of keeping the world safe from demons, remnants of a long-gone universe, the Qlippoth, whose very existence is inimical to our world’s reality. His first assignment? To investigate the disappearance of a dozen children in the New York City area. In the center of the disappearances is the New York Under Market, a market for the arcane community run by the transglobal Underwood Corporation.

Concerned that their Market is at the center of these alarming disappearances, the Underwood Corporation hires Max and two of his siblings, Tom and Sadie, to investigate. Will they be able to catch the demonic malefactor in time?

One thing is for sure, it will not go quietly.

Review:

Content Warning: spiders, the kidnapping of human children, and the killing and dismemberment of demons. I will not mention these topics in my review.

Never underestimate a demon.

Character development is one of those writing things that can be trickier to display in a relatively short work like this one than it would be in a full-length novel. I mentioned this first so that my next sentence would have some context to it. Seeing how Max changed as a result of his adventures was delightful. He behaved just like any fourteen-year-old should as far as his emotional and cognitive development went, but I also saw exciting glimpses of the adult he would soon become. Honestly, that’s all that’s needed in the beginning of a series. I’m glad the author included them while still leaving plenty of room for further development in future instalments.

I would have preferred to see a faster pacing in this novella. There were times when my interest in it wavered because of how long it took for the next action-heavy scene to appear. Introducing the characters and setting was obviously important, but I did find myself wishing that those descpritons and conversations had been broken up more often by conflicts with demons or similar events. The author had plenty of material to work with, and I would have happily gone with a much higher rating if the pacing had been sped up.

The world building in this novella was extensive and impressive. I actually stopped reading a few chapters in to confirm that I hadn’t accidentally started halfway through the series. There was so much attention paid to the countless little details that make a fictional world come to life in my imagination that it was hard to believe this was the introduction, and I mean that in the best possible way. This isn’t an easy thing to accomplish in a prequel by any means. Ms. Harlow should be proud of how seamlessly she wove everything together.

Secrets of the Under Market made me smile.

Hidden in Plain Sight: A Review of A Terrifying Fact About Ants

A Terrifying Fact About Ants - Science Fiction Short Story by Adam Leon book cover. Image on cover shows a colony of ants crawling on each other and on some red soil. Title: A Terrifying Fact About Ants – Science Fiction Short Story

Author: Adam Leon

Publisher: Self-Published

Publication Date: March 11, 2022

Genres: Science Fiction, Young Adult, Horror, Contemporary

Length: 24 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author.

Rating: 3 Stars

Blurb:

Review:

“I discovered a strange relation between ants and another fascinating insect; spiders. Specifically, the Myrmarachne formicaria; the spider that looks exactly like an ant that was discovered by researchers back in 2001.

How strange it must have been to be the researcher suddenly noticing their colony of ants becoming cannibalistic. The Myrmarachne formicaria’s evolutionary convergence had the primary purpose of mimicking their prey to allow the creature to invade anthills without being attacked, allowing the creature to burrow deep into their homes and devour the larvae of their undeveloped children, and then walking away as if nothing ever happened. Terrifying, yet unbelievably fascinating.

Not only would the spider have to evolve to look exactly like the ant, but the species would also have to understand the simple psychology of ants, matching pheromones, behaviors, antennae communication etc. just to pull off this horrifying heist. How could random evolution be responsible for such deliberate manipulative complex action?

Of course, in recent years, it’s been understood that the Myrmarachne formicaria is not alone in its formation, countless other spider species have mimicked ants so well that researchers were only able to recently discover their existence through the use of DNA testing.

I started to wonder if a similar case could be applicable to human beings. Are there people among us who are not people? Are there psychological manipulators camouflaged as their prey so expertly, for the sole purpose of devouring our young and bleeding the public dry as if we were nothing more than livestock? And I’m not just talking about politicians here.

Be careful who you trust.

I have two quick notes to share about this short story before I jump into my review. First, be sure to read the introduction. It contains some important information that readers will need in order to understand what’s happening. Second, I also wanted to mention that the original Spanish version of this story is happily included in this version, too, for readers who understand that language.

Antonio, the protagonist, and John, the gringo who had recently moved to the area, had a relationship that made me chuckle. Both of these individuals made assumptions about each other that may not have been as accurate as they assumed. I was also amused by how Antonio’s gentle and trusting personality was matched by John’s fierce independence and unwillingness to trust anyone with even the smallest scraps of information about his life until he’d known them for a long time.

The implications of what John had to say about why he left the Anglo world for such a remote Hispanic community were chilling, but I found myself wishing he’d shared more details about what his life had been like before the events that drove him so far away from his original home. I’m saying this as someone who loves analogies and solving the riddles authors sometimes share in their works. It simply would have been easier for me to emotionally connect with John if I knew some basic details about his past like the names of his loved ones or the precise location of English-speaking country he’d left behind.

Some of my favorite scenes were the ones that explored the cultural differences between Antonio and John. For example, John thought he should pay for help by the hour while Antonio thought it made more sense to pay by the task so that workers would finish the job as soon as they could. These sorts of cultural misunderstandings can lead to all sorts of amusing miscommunications that work so well in otherwise serious works like this one. The fact that their personalities were also so different from each other as I mentioned earlier only made this aspect of it even more memorable. They had so little in common, and yet I loved seeing how both of them worked together as John built up the courage to share a small sliver of his past.

A Terrifying Fact About Ants made me shudder.

Small Town Secrets: A Review of Haunted Love

Title: Haunted Love Author: Cynthia Leitich Smith Publisher: Candlewick Press Publication Date: December 13, 2011 Genres: Young Adult, Paranormal, Fantasy, Contemporary Length: 33 pages Source: I received a free copy from the author. Rating: 3 Stars Blurb: Spirit, Texas, is a town of secrets, and as the new owner of the local haunted movie theater,… Read More

Too Old for Santa: A Review of Christmas Presence

Title: Christmas Presence Author: Tony Bertauski Publisher: Self-Published Publication Date: October 31, 2019 Genres: Science Fiction, Fantasy, Young Adult, Holiday Length: 25 pages Source: I received a free copy from the author Rating: 3 Stars Blurb: Worst Christmas ever. Christmas was about traditions. Currently, Zay and her mom had about five traditions, things like gingerbread… Read More

Quiet Lessons: A Review of Foresight

Title: Foresight Author: Matilda Scotney Publisher: Off the Planet Books (Self-Published) Publication Date: February 21, 2021 Genres: Science Fiction, Young Adult Length: 61 pages Source: I received a free copy from the author Rating: 4 Stars Blurb:   Starlight, star bright, The very first star I see tonight, I wish I may, I wish I… Read More

Family Business: A Review of Inheritance 

Title: Inheritance – A Halloween Urban Fantasy Short Story Author: Zoe Cannon Publisher: Self-Published Publication Date: October 23, 2020 Genres: Young Adult, Fantasy, Paranormal, Contemporary Length: 20 pages Source: I received a free copy from the author.  Rating: 4 Stars Blurb: Lena’s grandmother defended her small town against the supernatural. So did her mother. Lena… Read More

The Loyal Companion: A Review of The Origins of Constantine

Title: The Origins of Constantine Author: D.C. Gomez Publisher: Self-Published Publication Date: February 27, 2019 Genres: Young Adult, Fantasy, Contemporary Length: 87 pages Source: I received a free copy from the author. Rating: 4 Stars Blurb: When the god Anubis needed a friend, the universe sent him the most unlikely companion: a feisty little cat.… Read More