Review of Goodnight by Jason Nadler


Short Story Reviews

A couple having a late night conversation, reminiscing about their adventures through a life of love. Goodnight is a beautiful piece written by a talented author.

Goodnight by Jason Nadler was a competition piece of flash fiction, for which he won 2nd place. And it’s clear why. The complete story arc is beautifully delivered via a late night conversation. Without spoiling anything, I will say there is a deeper layer as to who the two characters are, but even if there wasn’t this would be a standout piece.

There is a single line, spoken by the male character, that I felt could have used more work. When “he” (he has a name, but again, I don’t want to spoil anything), is recalling the memory that the female character is discussing, the line he delivers feels out of place. The entire story is a conversation, and this single line stood out as not feeling natural to the dialogue. It just didn’t feel like how the character would talk.

Regardless, this story is well-written, beautiful and a little sad. Goodnight by Jason Nadler is flash fiction done right! If you need a quick break, read Goodnight right here!

Official Kristine’s BRF Rating:

Photo courtesy of Jeroen Andel via Unsplash.

September 18, 2019

Review of The Spider’s Spinning by Marian L Thorpe


Short Story Reviews

A man is inexplicably drawn to an architectural wonder of a house, only to discover that it’s foundation – both physical and metaphysical – hold darker secrets than anyone knows.

The Spider’s Spinning, by Marian L. Thorpe and published at BewilderingStories.com, starts with the promise of something creeping and uncomfortable. It’s a warning of sorts, both for other characters in the story and for the reader. The narrator seems to be begrudgingly telling his tale, knowing what is to come, hoping for the best but truly expecting the worst.

I thought Ms. Thorpe did a wonderful job of setting the initial tone. It was delicately created and I was forced to ask myself where she was going with this. I loved that the opening allowed for a number of directions, and I was immediately drawn in.

What follows in the bulk of the The Spider’s Spinning seems to be an education in architecture. It’s clear that Ms. Thorpe has extensive knowledge on the subject, and I liked that it was incorporated so integrally into the story. However, I was somewhat disappointed that, while the detail was impeccable, the tone and atmosphere was smothered with the weight of it. Rather than the house becoming a character in the story, driving that initial sense of foreboding, it seemed as mildly interested in itself as the narrator seemed to become. There were some definitely creepy elements to the structure being discussed in the story, elements that I would have loved to see developed and focused on, but they seemed to become regarded by the characters as pieces of passing wonder rather than features to be wary of.

I like the idea that the narrator is unable to stay away from the house, giving up everything in the end for it, almost like a toxic lover. It reminded me of Stephen King’s Rose Red, or The Haunting. This piece has wonderful potential, and I think making a stronger connection between the architectural elements and the feelings they are meant to provoke will take this story to the next level.

Check out The Spider’s Spinning by Marian L. Thorpe, right here.

Official Kristine’s BRF Rating:

September 16, 2019

Review of The Back Pew by Mallory Kelly


Short Story Reviews

Crazed killers dressed as clowns are terrorizing a town. Detectives Shirley Adoms and Dan Carter are on their trail, but the killers seem to be one step ahead. And innocent bystanders are paying the price.

Such is the premise of The Back Pew, book three in Mallory Kelly’s Clown Conspiracy  short story series. And there are no secrets here. Based on the title of this book and series, you’re going to get exactly what you’d expect. And you won’t be disappointed.

The first paragraph of The Back Pew sets the tone for the whole piece. It’s dreary and ominous. I dare say it’s gothic. Despite the fact that the first scene is supposed to be a fundraiser party for the church where the bulk of the action takes place, nothing can wipe away the sense of impending doom. It’s an excellent start that grips you from the very first sentence.

Ms. Kelly never lets up on the reader. Even in the brief moments of hope sprinkled in, the story never lets the reader believe that the last moment of horror was the truly the last. There’s more to come, and Ms. Kelly delivers each time.

Extra points for creativity where the murders are concerned. Creepy clown killers are quite in style right now, but Ms. Kelly imbues the pastiche with unique twists, interesting plot lines, and, best of all, gruesome and terrifying slayings. This story evoked every clown nightmare I’ve ever had, then pumped them full of steroids. This is horror done right.

This is the third story in a series, and I have not read the first two stories, though now I’m going to. What’s wonderful about this is that I don’t feel as though I’ve missed anything by not reading the first two installments. The Back Pew establishes quite effectively what the detectives are doing and what the situation is, and Ms. Kelly gives us the background information that we need with an expert hand. There was never a moment where I felt like I was missing something.

Though it was longer than I was expecting to devote to a story this afternoon (short story is a bit of a misnomer – I’d place this squarely in the realm of novella), I simply couldn’t put this down. I had to know what happened. I tend to want thriller/suspense/horror stories to be made either shorter or longer (usually longer), but in this case I think Ms. Kelly did an excellent job with length. It’s short enough to read in one sitting (it took me about 90 minutes to read, while also doing some chores), but long enough to feel really satisfying. If you’re into creepy clown killers, The Back Pew, and I suspect all the books in Mallory Kelly’s Clown Conspiracy series, is not to be missed. Check out The Back Pew right here.

Official Kristine’s BRF Rating:

Photo courtesy of Robert Zunikoff via Unsplash.

September 10, 2019

Review of The King’s Mask by Melody Wingfield


Short Story Reviews

A man learns that a just king comes at a price.

That’s all I have to say about the plot of The King’s Mask by Melody Wingfield. This is a wonderful short piece that pays a bit of homage to The Man in the Iron Mask, though with a different twist. Ms. Wingfield deftly uses symbolism and double-speak to set up an atmosphere that is both creepy and a tiny bit hopeful. The setting of frivolity at the royal ball adds the perfect antithetic setting for what is to come.

But I think the best part of the whole story is the system of politics that the “first king” set in place. I won’t spoil it, but Ms. Wingfield developed a fantastic system that is both simple and elegant. This system defines the story and brilliantly sets the stage for each character’s motives. I thought this was wonderfully well done!

The only element that I wish had been a little more developed is the scene where the main character receives his mask. The first section of the story spends a fair amount of time detailing that the main character’s appearance is, at best, plain, but is probably much worse, given the emphasis that is placed on his voice (he’s a minstrel). When he receives the mask, a glorious and beautiful piece, I would have liked to have seen more contrast between the mask and the face, and a little more ceremony in the main character putting the mask on. This moment, which feels like it should be very meaningful, feels glossed over in a short paragraph. Admittedly, there could have been a word count limit, as this piece was entered in a competition (taking 3rd place, great job!!) so I’m inclined to believe this was less an oversight and more a difficult decision Ms. Wingfield had to make – a choice I’m not unfamiliar with. Given that I’m not sure anything else in the story could have been cut, I can live with this part.

This was a wonderful piece! I think everyone should give it read – it’s quick and enthralling. Check out The King’s Mask by Melody Wingfield right here.

Official Kristine’s BRF Rating:

Photo courtesy of Serkan Turk via Unsplash.

September 10, 2019

Review of I Have Seen Our Future by LJ Thomas


Short Story Reviews

A reconnaissance mission goes horribly awry when the soldier is accidentally launched into the future. How far into the future is unknown, but it is a future that does not look hopeful. Before the main character can figure out what’s happened, so that it can be prevented, the error is corrected and she is transported back to her present time with nothing but the visions of what is to come.

I Have Seen Our Future is not long, and it’s plot line is simple and easy to enjoy. It’s the implications that hit you in the teeth. And as you reflect on the story you wind up with more questions than answers. At least I did.

As always, I want to know more! I want to know the background and the intention of time travel. Is it for military purposes? Economic? Political? All of them? Is it something that’s available to every person, or a service earmarked and priced for the elite? What is the nature of the society that uses this technology? And why couldn’t whatever cataclysm that has darkened the future be seen and prevented? This is not an exhaustive list.

I truly enjoyed this story. It’s thought provoking and engaging, and is a fun story to experience. That’s not to say I Have Seen Our Future is not without it’s faults. With so much potential in the story and in the world created, I found I was disappointed that I did not know more, and a little distracted by my questions. As with many short stories, the ending is unclear. At the very least, I would have liked some consequence for the inciting error.

Ms. Thomas includes an author’s note which I read prior to reading the story. Don’t do this. Go in blind (or as blind as you can after reading this review) and enjoy the discovery and freshness of the story. Read the note after. Each of the links provided in this review goes straight to the story, skipping the note.

Ms. Thomas has created an expansive and rich world, filled with problems that we are already familiar with as well as with challenges we have yet to conceive. I hope that this is the prelude to a much longer work, because this story has me thinking, and I can’t wait to see what else she comes up with. Check out I Have Seen Our Future right here.

Official Kristine’s BRF Rating:

August 27, 2019

Review of Some Assembly Required by Victor H. Rodriguez


Short Story Reviews

Pitched as a “cyberpunk noir” story, Some Assembly Required by Victor H. Rodriguez reads like a parable on the dangers of celebrity and power. Betrayal and murder are the order of the day, and Victor does not pull any punches when relating the details. From mildly uncomfortable to positively gruesome, Some Assembly Required is a visceral treat for those who enjoy that kind of story.

For me, this pushed the limits of my boundaries. I’m not a huge fan of violence and gore in stories (I’m a sensitive murder mystery writer, what can I say?). But I feel that Victor has used it appropriately to tell his story. There’s a shock value, which I appreciated. And while it was explicit and, for lack of a better word, gross, it was not gratuitous. The violence and destruction made sense within the context of the story. Reader beware, Victor does a fantastic job of making the scenes vivid and impactful.

Some Assembly Required (a very clever title) is told from the point of the view of a waiter, who bore witness to the events that transpired. Ultimately, it is told from the first person, however that’s not exactly how the story starts. The first several paragraphs come across as third person, with a POV shift in the form of breaking the fourth wall. I wasn’t a huge fan of that. I would rather have had the first person POV from start to finish, with no direct contact between the narrator and me.

I think the best part of this story is the satire of it all. Some Assembly Required is incredibly layered, and can be read as the cyberpunk noir it’s billed as, as a statement on the nature of politics and business as bedfellows, or, as I chose to read, a dark comedy on the false promises of power and wealth. While nothing in the story is funny, it’s the irony of the razor thin veil between real life and fiction that made me chuckle and say, “I see what you did there.”

Check out Some Assembly Required by Victor H. Rodriguez, featured in Years Best Transhuman Sci-Fi 2017 Anthology, edited by C.P. Dunphey.

Official Kristine’s BRF Review:

Photo Courtesy of Valentin Salja via Unsplash.

August 19, 2019

Review of Where The Grass Is Greener by Sam Wilkes


Short Story Reviews

Two privileged, white teenagers decide to track down an old friend from the wrong side of the tracks. One is looking for weed and an adventure. The other is looking for forgiveness. What they both find is a kind of truth about themselves and each other that excites one and terrifies the other.

Sam Wilkes’ Where The Grass Is Greener is a superb piece of writing that attacks with unyielding honesty the often delicate topics of race and racism, socio-economics, and the effects that parents’ beliefs have on their children. The first line hits you like a freight train. It’s put into context a few sentences later, but the tension it creates never, ever lets up.

Ward is character you aren’t meant to like. From the first moment we meet him we know him to be a callous and bored young man who has no concept of the word consequence. He is ignorant, childish, and has a certain perspective on life that belies his wealthy upbringing. I found him to be the scariest character in the story, as he comes across to me as the kind of person who is capable of unspeakable actions, particularly as a reaction to not getting what he wants. Spoiled brat does not even begin to describe him.

Daniel, his counterpart, is a much more nuanced character. He is also privileged, but he has an awareness about that privilege that allows him to feel compassion, understanding, and remorse. He appears to be at a philosophical cross roads in his life, a point where, for the first time, he is about to discover something very important about himself. If he can only disentangle himself form Ward’s oppressive influence.

My only critique here would be that it took me longer that I would have liked to figure out that Ward and Daniel were from families of wealth. It’s obvious by the end of the first section, but they refer to another character as “another trust fund kid” without establishing first that they are from the same class. Knowing their background ahead of that line would snap that passage into clarity.

In Where The Grass Is GreenerSam provides an atmosphere of anticipation that can be challenging to create. Throughout the story, there is this undercurrent of tension just waiting to snap. But the interesting thing is that I think everyone who reads it will experience that tension differently. Just like Ward and Daniel have a certain perspective on the events of the story, so too will readers based on their own life experiences.

Read Where The Grass Is Greener by Sam Wilkes, featured in Deep South Magazineright here.

Official Kristine’s BRF Rating:

Photo courtesy of Alif Caesar Rizqi Pratama via Unsplash.

August 14, 2019

Review of Gloria and the Angel by Rebecca F. Kenney


Short Story Reviews

It’s Christmas time and Gloria is in dire straits. Raising two very small girls as a widow is difficult. And she won’t even touch the emotions tied to her husband’s untimely death during World War II. Gloria’s only concern is how she is going to manage next week’s bills. It’s a sad and desperate time. But the challenges she faces are about to get very complicated.

After Gloria saves her youngest daughter, Mary, from a creature of unholy provenance, a man in red delivers her oldest, Ellie, from certain death. The man is divine, and speaks of magic and belief like they’re resources Gloria has access to. When he casts his angelic sights on her, she is nearly powerless to resist. But the truth about who he is and where he comes from is too much for Gloria to overlook, despite the Christmas miracle she is about to receive.

Gloria and the Angel is beautiful. Richly told and engrossing, it’s a short story that I just wanted more of! Lucky for me, and all of you, it’s a companion piece to Rebecca Kenney’s larger Secrets of the Fae series. This story stands completely on its own, and delivers the magic of the Fae world without overpowering you with it. With accessible and relatable characters, the plot moves quickly and keeps you engaged. And Rebecca did a wonderful job editing the story for flow and ease of reading.

I think my only wish for this story (I can’t even call it a criticism) is that I wanted a bigger climax. The man in red is certainly not of a holy nature, but he isn’t exactly evil either. And when Gloria finds out who he is, I wish there had been a bigger struggle, more fireworks, a more protracted confrontation. But seeing as I couldn’t help but sympathize with the man in red anyways, his actions don’t seem out of character for him specifically (other’s like him would have taken much different action, I’m certain of that). The effect, though, is undeniable. I want to read more. I want to know more about this universe. And I desperately hope that these characters appear in the series.

Check out Gloria and the Angel by Rebecca F. Kenney right here!

Official Kristine’s BRF Rating:

Photo courtesy of Maria Mekht via Unsplash.

August 12, 2019

Review of Impetus of Faith (Chapter 1) by Alpana Chand


Short Story Reviews

To start, Impetus of Faith (Chapter 1) is not, in fact, a short story. It’s the first chapter of a book. There are at least 10 chapters, from what I could see on Ms. Chand’s website. That being said, I’ll go on, because I did find it to be self-contained enough to fit my fairly loose definition of a short story.

The story starts 10 months after some kind of tragedy. But the reader doesn’t really know this. The first words are simply “10 months later”. I struggle with this story telling technique because, while yes, it makes me want to keep reading to find out what happened 10 months ago, it also irritates me because I would be perfectly capable of understanding via the narrative that something happened in the past that lead to the scene I am reading. I feel this is a bit of spoon-feeding, and shows a lack of trust in the reader.

However, I forged ahead, and I’m so glad I did! This story details the aftermath of a tragedy that has befallen a couple. We meet Evelyn, the long-suffering woman who blames herself for the tragedy, though she does seem to be on the brink of self-revelation about the nature of what happened. I immediately sympathized with her, and there was no changing my mind after that.

Carter, the other half of this couple, seems all too content to let Evelyn take the blame. He arranges a therapy session for her, is unmoving despite Evelyn’s reticence at going, and is accusatory in his reasoning. “Someone has to be sane here,” and “You need a therapist,” are just two of the gems he uses, disguising his demand as care and worry for his partner. Instead, he is not only placing the responsibility of recovery solely on Evelyn, but is also absolving himself of any role he had in both the tragedy and the recovery. I do not like Carter.

Evelyn submits, and has a session with Dr. Avery. It is during this session that we learn what happened (which I won’t spoil), and we really come to terms with the idea that Carter is not a great person. We don’t know if what happened was intentional. But we, the objective reader, can see that the blame in the situation is unfairly placed on Evelyn.

All of this serves to create an interesting and vivid glimpse into a tragic situation. Ms. Chand does an excellent job of creating emotional turmoil and detailing scenes and interactions that make the reader feel viscerally uncomfortable. The tension, emotional and otherwise, is palpable. And then, there is the last line of the story. BOOM! I won’t say any more, but I will say I cannot wait to continue reading!

There are some grammatical and punctuation errors. The story seems like it could use a final line edit, and some of the setting descriptions fall flat. But the story is excellent. I’m drawn in, and I want you to be drawn in too. Check out Chapter 1 of Impetus of Faith right here.

Official Kristine’s BRF Rating:

Photo courtesy of Matus Hatala via Unsplash.

August 8, 2019

Review of Seeing at Night by Stephen Page


Short Story Reviews

At first blush, Seeing at Night by Stephen Page is a slice of life piece detailing a day in the life of Johnathan, a writer in a Spanish speaking country involved with a woman named Theresa. They have a housekeeper and a cook, and they have no children, but dote on the children of their household help.

For me, this sun-scorched piece carries something deeper, and perhaps darker. Though nothing in the story overtly points to anything other than a-day-in-the-life, there is a creeping feeling that something is lurking just around the corner. Or perhaps, just around the previous corner, out of sight but still lingering. Stephen creates a beautiful image of a sunny, somewhat lazy day, but to me, the image is bleached in a tragedy of which no one is speaking.

Imagery of new life pervades the story. There are children, baby owls, a calf, and saplings. But one of those saplings didn’t make it. The symbolism in the story, delicate though it is, seems to be screaming at me that the childless Johnathan and Theresa may not be childless by choice. Their interactions are halting, but whether that’s from a challenge in communication (both seem to struggle with each other’s native language) or because they are struggling to move on from something difficult, is unknown. Their lovemaking, though neither rough nor overly tender, is presented as almost obligatory. And the tense, sad eeriness, never addressed, is ever-present.

The story has some run on sentences, including a passage about Johnathan watering the garden that could have been described more elegantly. And there was some word repetition that I found a bit grating (thought it’s admittedly a pet peeve of mine). But there is a glossary included with the story to help those less familiar with the Spanish language to truly understand what is happening. I found that quite helpful, though having to check a glossary to look up words did sort of interrupt the flow for me.

The more I think about Seeing at Night, the better I think it is, and the more I like it. It reminds me of Hemingway’s Hills Like White Elephants, and I can’t help but ponder the implications. Check out Stephen Page’s Seeing at Night right here.

Official Kristine’s BRF Rating:

Photo courtesy of Glenn Carstens-Peters via Unsplash.

 

August 7, 2019