Review of If I Die Before We Meet by Derra Sabo

Short Story Reviews

If I Die Before We Meet appears in Derra Sabo’s short story collection Anomaly. It’s a very short piece that reads like a cross between a poem and a journal entry. And in the end, it’s a beautiful piece of writing.

The narrator dreams of their mate, and wonders about the idyllic life they might have together. These musings have more to say about the narrator’s actual life than any future life they will have. The writing is brimming with a deep longing, one that a former version of myself strongly identifies with. I simply want to reach into the story and give the speaker a hug.

In what is ultimately a love letter to a future self, Derra creates this beautiful life that surrounds the speaker, but does not include her. I wish I knew why, but I’m also happy with the mystery. I did not like the inclusion of colloquialisms such as “nerding out” and “rocking out”. The rest of the piece is so beautifully written that these turns of phrase seem beneath the writing. I found they interrupted the flow and the magic.

The centered format and stanza-like paragraphs confused me at first, as the collection is billed as short story. Combine that with the rhythmic, lyrical flow of the words and If I Die Before We Meet truly exists in the grey area between poetry and prose.

But, lest ye worry, this is not some overblown, angsty version of The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. Derra delivers a strong character who, while perhaps lonely, is also wildly hopeful. He or she is looking toward the future at a happiness they are almost certain resides there. This is truly a moving piece!

Check out If I Die Before We Meet in Anomaly by Derra Sabo!

Official Kristine’s BRF Rating:

Photo courtesy of Debby Hudson via Unsplash.

July 23, 2019

Review of I’ll Put A Spell On You by Mark McInturff

Short Story Reviews

Like this review is going to be, I’ll Put A Spell On You by Mark McInturff is short, sweet, simple and to the point. Mark posts a new short story to his website nearly daily, with this one appearing on June 26th, 2019.

This story falls under the category of flash fiction, clocking in at probably about 1,000 words (I didn’t actually count) and easily takes less than 5 minutes to read (the website says 3 minutes but I’m not sure it would even take that). It’s an excellent example of the “snapshot” short story that I tend to write, where you’re not meant to know more. In the short length, Mark delivers a complete story arc with simple story telling, and leaves the wonderful implications of the story for us to imagine on our own.

I struggled to find areas in need of improvement in this story. There were a couple of grammatical/punctuation oversights, and one sentence that stood out that I would rewrite for flow, but other than that, this is a wonderful example of easy, no-frills, fun, drive-by writing! Great job, Mark!

Check out Mark McInturff’s I’ll Put A Spell On You and other works right here!

Official Kristine’s BRF rating:

Photo courtesy of Mervyn Chan via Unsplash.

July 22, 2019

Review of Niflheim by Maureen Stevenson

Short Story Reviews

You can’t have a story called Niflheim and have it go unnoticed. The title alone drew me in and captivated me! I love it and all the wonders it could possibly contain. Sadly, the title is the first and last time you’ll read the word. But that’s okay, because there’s plenty more to discover in Maureen Stevenson’s short story.

Niflheim takes place at least 494 years in the future, in a world that has been consumed by evil. Three saviors are born, and with their individual powers and their animal familiars, they are responsible for restoring balance to the World. We don’t know if this world is Earth or some other realm.

Maureen adds her own take to the classic tale of the battle between good and evil. In this short story she clearly builds a world of myths and magic, inspired by elements from such stories as The Hunger Games, The Divergent Series, Harry Potter, Labyrinth, Arthurian legend and much more. The characters are interesting, their mission is adventurous, and the action starts right on the first page, exactly as a short story of this nature should.

There are some challenges while reading the story. I found myself struggling with incomplete sentences, formatting choices that I would have made differently, inconsistent tense, and choppy transitions. The action seems to jump from one incident to another. During battle scenes we seem to experience the action along with the narrator, while in-between scenes are being told to us by the narrator. This feels like it’s in a middle round of editing rather than the finalized version.

But that’s not a judgement of Maureen’s talent. There are a number of passages where Maureen’s writing shines beautifully and brilliantly. Without giving anything away, my favorite line was “The Demon King laughed and I could feel it deep in the unknown places of my soul.” Wonderful writing here! I also really enjoyed the theme of accepting and trusting your inner self. I found that really insprirational!

Check out Niflheim by Maureen Stevenson right here!

Official Kristine’s BRF Rating:

July 22, 2019

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

Short Story Review

Short Story Reviews

Hello! I’ve gone in a slightly different direction this week. Rather than review an entire novel, I’ve read two short stories. Why? Because I love short stories, both reading and writing. And I think this will be a lovely way to shake up my blog. So, without further ado, here are the stories I’ve chosen. Both of these stories come from my 2009 edition of The Pen/O. Henry Prize Stories edited by Laura Furman.

Tell Him About Brother John by Manuel Muñoz

Mr. Muñoz offers us a glimpse into the life of a man who has chosen to move away from his family and neighborhood, and all the complications that go along with returning for a visit. Much of the story revolves around the character known as “Brother John”, a child that a neighbor ostensibly adopted when the child’s parents disappear. Brother John becomes a child of the community and a person whom the narrator, whose name we do not know, is obligated to visit during his stay.

We learn a lot about the narrator’s family: a father who has suffered a divorce, brothers and sisters who appear ungrateful for their father’s supervision of their children, a hoard of nephews who are at the age where the words that come out of their mouth never move through a filter. It’s background information that serves to inform us that while this entire trip is obligatory, it’s not exactly a comfortable or welcome one.

And then there’s Brother John. The narrator takes him out to lunch and is bestowed with a story that says more about the narrator’s own choices and shortcomings than it does about the experience Brother John is relating. The entire exchange is devastating and revealing, and finally offers the context the reader is missing from this square-peg-in-a-round-hole feeling that pervades the story. Now we know why things are weird, awkward, uncomfortable, and mostly, unspoken.

This story is an exercise in subtext. Some writers attempt this in their stories and wind up with a sense of cloying innuendo or simply an air of unfinished work. Mr. Muñoz hits the nail on the head here, acing subtext and using it as delicately as a master writer to make us feel what the narrator feels, and help us identify with what it means to go back home.

Official Kristine’s BRF Rating:


This is Not Your City by Caitlin Horrocks

Daria is a Russian woman living in Finland with her “match made” husband, Paavo. She is lonely, has no job, and barely speaks Finnish. And her daughter Nika is missing.

Caitlin Horrocks offers a domestic suspense/mystery wrapped in the tale of a desperate immigrant woman. This story has layers upon layers, and the further we delve into the why and the how of Daria’s situation, the closer we come to the dramatic conclusion. Not the conclusion of what happened to Nika, although that is answered by the end of the story. The true conclusion in this story addresses the themes of cause and effect, the lengths that a woman would go to in order to provide for her child, and the choices many women are forced to live with in exchange for security.

Some might read this as a feminist piece, though I don’t think it’s meant to be. Others will see it as a very well written mystery, which it most definitely is. And still, some might view it as a parable, that perhaps the “sins” of the past never truly leave you, and that the truth may not always set you free. In a dark sort of way, this story comes full circle in that Daria makes a less than ideal choice to protect herself and ensure her daughter does not have to subject herself to the same choice. In the end, though, we see that what happens to Nika may be considered worse than anything that happened to Daria, and that the choices Nika will have to make will have much deeper and possibly disastrous repercussions through out her life. And the subtle truth that Daria comes to in the end, that perhaps none of this would have happened if Daria had taken a different route, is truly heartbreaking.

An excellent blend of multiple genres, this story offers something for everyone, no matter how deeply you read into it. Please note, though this review is vague to preserve the experience of the story and avoid spoilers, in the end there are no scenes of violence, sexual or otherwise.

Official Kristine’s BRF Rating:

July 5, 2019