Review of Flammable by Cathleen Maza

Short Story Reviews

A woman made of straw and a man made of fire. An underdog love story for the ages. Or is it?

In FlammableCathleen Maza creates a beautiful world where love conquers all when Lillian, a straw woman, goes to great lengths to be with Jared, the man of fire she has fallen in love with. He is everything she isn’t supposed to have. And she is all that he could destroy. But what is life without taking a few risks, especially in the name of love?

I absolutely love the idea of being drawn to something so very bad for you. Stories like this are always chock-full of action-consequence, and watching these choices be made can be truly delightful. And Cathleen does a wonderful job of creating that impending sense of doom that we think might come. Does it, in FlammableYou’ll have to read it to find out!

There were two elements in this story that I wish had been done differently. The first is that I wish Cathleen had edited out some of the language that hedges the sentences. Rather than say “he found her intoxicating” she says “he found her almost intoxicating”, or “For seemingly the first time in their relationship…” rather than “For the first time in their relationship…”. I found myself wondering why, when the rest of the writing is so strong, so definitive, Cathleen hedged on these sentences.

The other point that got me is that Flammable is found in a collection of short stories called Same Problems, Other WorldsIt’s a wonderful collection and I highly recommend giving it a read. However, about three quarters of the way through the story, one of the characters is travelling to Europe, which unequivocally sets the narrative directly on Earth. Up until that point, I was very much enjoying the idea of these very human problems being experienced by an alien race.

Overall, this story is a fable about love, choices, and consequences. And if you choose to read further, you may find a statement about the role women play in society, which I thought was a nice touch and was delicately delivered. Check out Cathleen Maza’s Flammable in the collection Same Problem, Other Worldsright here.

Official Kristine’s BRF Rating:

Photo courtesy of Michal Grabolus via Unsplash.

July 16, 2019

Review of Watch for the Lights by Kaliann Brill

Short Story Reviews

An old man spinning a yarn at a bar, a story that almost no one believes. A tale which causes the other patrons to roll their eyes. Michael was one of those patrons, one who resigns himself to listening Jack and his story. But once Jack begins, Michael is helpless but to be drawn in, the sheer horror and tragedy of the story impossible to resist. And we, the reader, are drawn in too.

Kaliann Brill’s Watch for the Lights, is a Stephen King-esque short horror story. It’s not blood and guts and gore. It’s more creeping, more look-over-your-shoulder, more hair-on-the-back-of-your-neck. It’s these kinds of horror stories, the ones that  make me feel like I’m being watched, that I truly enjoy. This was delightfully eerie and ominous, the way a good horror story should be.

There are some big writing issues here. It’s a little difficult to figure out who is talking in the first couple of paragraphs. There are repeated words and phrases – which is somewhat of a pet peeve of mine, particularly in short stories. There are typos and awkward phrases. However, the story itself is impossible to resist. It’s takes an excellent concept and a delicate hand to write a horror story that does not exist in obvious cliches, and Kaliann has the chops for it. This story is in need of a strong editing, but it’s worth checking out because the story is that entertaining.

I really wish I could give Watch for the Lights a better official rating. But I can’t discount the typos and errors despite how much I loved the story. Check out Kaliann’s story here, and leave her some love!

Official Kristine’s BRF rating:

Photo courtesy of Rodion Kutsaev via Unsplash.

July 15, 2019

Review of Desertion by Andrew Pullins

Short Story Reviews

An elfish soldier walks in on a horrific act of violence perpetrated by his fellow soldiers. He must choose the next course of action: one will surely see him promoted, the other will save his soul.

Andrew Pullins’ Desertion is, at its heart, an exercise in morality. It forces the reader to contemplate the value of a human life, and what it means to choose right, even at sacrifice. It’s a well told story, set in a fantasy world, but riddled with real-life problems.

Andrew’s writing is good. The story moves at a steady, clipped pace and is complete in its story arc. There are words that could use synonyms, with more than one paragraph containing repeated words. And the end feels a little spoon-fed. I think the ending would have been a little more satisfying if the consequences of the main character’s actions weren’t explicitly explained to me.

Andrew does well to create a complex and dangerous scene. I would have liked to see more of the fantasy world come into play, rather than fantastical creatures being the main characters. The fantasy aspect felt secondary.  But there is beautiful imagery in the story as well. My favorite description was “eyes as cold as the steel in his hands’. This was evocative both of the danger of the man’s weapon and the hardness of his heart.

I will say, reader beware. The act of violence that sets this story in motion is of a sexual nature. I don’t believe it is an author’s responsibility to give “trigger warnings”, but as a reviewer who does not overwhelmingly care for such scenes, I’ll give you the heads up.

One last note: the link provided leads to a blurb page summarizing the story. To actually access the story, click on the link for the Google Doc. Check out Andrew Pullins’ Desertion here.

Official Kristine’s BRF Rating:

Photo courtesy of Mark Boss via Unsplash.

July 13, 2019

Review of The Last Hour by Barbara Avon

Short Story Reviews

Two people waiting on a bench. It’s the basis of so many stories, and yet, each one is rife with possibilities. And Barbara Avon dives right in with The Last Hour.

In The Last HourBarbara creates the very snapshot of an everyday moment that roils with suspense and possibility. When two lives collide over a mundane experience – like waiting for something – there is every possibility that nothing will happen. But then again, there’s always the equal chance that something will happen. And it’s in that process of discovering which way the story will go, that we, the reader, get to experience the joyful agony of waiting along with the characters.

To create the suspense of the moment, elements of the story, and particularly of one of the characters, are left vague. In fact, I felt as though I was missing a key element of the story – namely, why the protagonist was there and why her journey (no spoilers!) was so important to her. I felt that this part of the story could have been developed a little more for clarity. But ultimately it is this vagueness, which admittedly at times feels a little too deliberate, which imbues the story with the creeping sensation that that mystical something is burbling beneath the surface. Originally I was left unimpressed by the parts of the story I didn’t know. But as I thought more and more about it, I think it’s that feeling of still waiting that is the brilliant aspect in Barbara’s story.

There are a few passages that were slightly less than graceful, and the story could use one last pass for those errant awkward sentences, but all in all The Last Hour is a fine outing that contains some very beautiful, powerful, and foreboding imagery. Without giving anything away, I particularly enjoyed the images of a passing neighborhood child dropping his ice cream, bare legs stuck to a plastic bench, and my favorite, a breath of hot air as the consolation prize for the lack of a desperately needed breeze.

A short and enjoyable read, check out Barbara Avon’s The Last Hour by clicking here.

Official Kristine’s BRF Rating:

Photo courtesy of Thomas Le via Unsplash

July 11, 2019

Review of A Long Day at Work by Jesse Pohlman

Short Story Reviews

Happy Short Story Month! I’ve received a ton of stories via Facebook, Twitter and my website – so many, in fact, that not only am I going to have to do way more than one post a week (looking at at least one a day!) I’m going to extend beyond the one month! I’m so excited and so grateful to everyone who submitted (and keep ’em coming!). So lets jump in!

Today’s review is of A Long Day at Work by Jesse Pohlman.

Manuel is a contract IT technician in a not-necessarily-post-apocalyptic but definitely dystopian near future where religion has mutated into the worship of our eventual overlords – technology. Does that make Manuel a prophet? Not in his opinion. But he is the only one who can restore network connectivity.

I like the world Jesse builds in the first few paragraphs. People flock to these houses of worship to experience “heaven”, an exaggerated statement about the technology addiction that plagues us today. In fact, the entire story makes a statement about religion, society, and technology as a whole, and I love that Jesse has combined these elements into a future that may be more reality than fiction.

The ending felt a tiny bit rushed to me. Without spoiling anything, I think a couple more paragraphs to describe the dire consequences of losing Wi-Fi would have helped raise the stakes even more, building a little more suspense and making Manuel’s job and his opinion of his job stand out that much more.

I loved this story. It’s entertaining, it’s a quick read, and it’s so layered that there’s something for just about everyone in it. And it’s witty to boot! Check out Jesse Pohlman’s story A Long Day at Work over at his website (I shortened the link for clarity, but the link goes directly to the story).

Official Krisitne’s BRF Rating:

Photo courtesy of Michael Prucha via Unsplash (click photo for link!)

July 10, 2019