Category: Short Story

Short Story: Merry Christmas, Henry by Aubrey Wynne

Merry Christmas, Henry by Aubrey Wynne(Cover picture courtesy of Goodreads.)

Henry, a shy and talented artist, moonlights as a security guard at a museum and loses his heart to a beautiful, melancholy woman in a painting. As his obsession grows, he finds a kindred soul who helps him in his search for happiness. On Christmas Eve, Henry dares to take a chance on love and fulfill his dream.

[Full disclosure: I requested and received a free ebook in conjunction with the review tour in exchange for an honest review.]

Normally I’m not in the mood for Christmas books until at least December 20th.  However, I put my grumbling aside about having to review a Christmas story while it’s still warm out and decided to take a chance on Aubrey Wynne’s short story.  The blurb sounded interesting enough, so I figured I’d give it a go.

You know, in the end I was not disappointed in the least.  Aubrey Wynne somehow managed to give me that warm and Christmassy feeling in the middle of October, which is certainly a testament to her writing skill.  Yes, Merry Christmas, Henry is your typical heartwarming semi-sappy story about Christmas and the magic surrounding it, but I still loved it.  It’s nice to read a story where the good guy gets what he deserves and life improves for him after having a hard life.

Henry is a pretty three dimensional character, especially considering the fact that this is a short story.  He’s a shy and retiring artist who passionately loves his work at the museum.  One day he becomes obsessed with a woman in an obscure painting in the back of the gallery and can’t get her out of his head.  He visits her, talks to her and generally thinks of her as real.  As Christmas approaches, the pull becomes stronger and stronger.  I don’t want to give away any spoilers, but let’s just say that anything can happen on Christmas Eve in Aubrey Wynne’s world.

The plot was fairly fast-paced since it was a short story, but at the same time I feel like I knew the main characters intimately.  There was no one-time info dump, but rather an organic growth of Henry’s sad backstory and the events leading up to his getting a job in the museum.  By the end, you really do feel like you know him intimately and Aubrey Wynne spins such a beautiful tale that you can’t help but cheer for the heartwarming ending.

In short, it’s the perfect Christmas story.  Even in October.

I give this short story 5/5 stars.

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*No link because B&N is stupidly telling me I don’t have permission to access the requested search.  I know: huh?

Caesar’s Daughter: Julia’s Song by Alex Johnston

Caesar's Daughter Julia's Song by Alex Johnston(Cover picture courtesy of History and Other Thoughts.)

After serving Julius Caesar on assignments in Gaul and Alexandria, Marcus Mettius is finally back home in Rome. His work with Caesar had been lucrative, but dangerous. So you can imagine his trepidation when the Roman soldier Quintus shows up at the tavern where Marcus is drinking with yet another letter from Caesar.

You’ve got to admit, Caesar certainly had balls, asking Marcus for his help yet again. On his last two assignments, Marcus was arrested by a mad Egyptian Pharaoh, almost burnt at the stake, and nearly lynched by an angry mob.

But this time is different (you can almost hear the Fates chuckling with glee at THAT line!) All Caesar wants Marcus to do this time is to take a gift to his daughter, Julia, and have a little chat with her while he is there. Certainly no harm can come from that, right?

Well, the next thing you know, Marcus is all tangled up with the leading figures of late Republican Rome – Pompey, Cicero, the deposed King of Egypt, and, of course, the infamous Publius Clodius Pulcher, aedile and former Tribune of the Plebs.

Once again, Marcus’ life hangs in the balance, in ways he could scarcely have imagined. But he shouldn’t be surprised. After all, he’s Caesar’s Agent Man. And odds are he won’t live to see tomorrow. Join Marcus and his friends in the thrilling sequel to Caesar’s Emissary!

I previously read and reviewed the first book in Alex Johnston’s short story series about Marcus Mettius, Caesar’s Ambassador.  Well, I absolutely loved his funny take on Roman history through the eyes of a bit player.  I mean, how can you not love Marcus Mettius, the consummate salesman?

The book starts off with us hearing about the most feared slave since Spartacus: Vinus, Marcus’ wine slave who writes critical reviews of wine throughout Italy that can make or break a vineyard.  He’s not that important in the scheme of things but it certainly sets the tone as Marcus decides Vinus really doesn’t understand how the whole master-slave relationship works out because Vinus tends to dictate to him and not the other way around.  This isn’t just meaningless joking, though.  It serves to tell us a lot about the aftermath of Spartacus’ rebellion and how the First Triumvirate are faring currently (despite the rogue Clodius terrorizing all of Rome).

One thing about Alex Johnston’s writing that I really appreciate is his obvious deep love and respect for Roman history.  You can really tell that he loves it but at the same time is able to create some rather irreverent versions of famous historical characters like Cicero and Pompey Magnus.  He uses modern dialogue and slang to convey the idea that while obviously not accurate, Romans had their own sort of slang and ways of speaking rather than the usual dry dialogue I find in historical fiction.  They had crude language (Latin is a beautiful language to swear in), the younger generation’s version of rap, etc.  He really captures that sort of turning point in Roman culture as the Republic is failing and although some events are changed a little for the story Caesar’s Daughter it’s actually very historically accurate.

Add on top of all this awesomeness the fact that Alex Johnston is a truly hilarious writer.  I was in stitches, literally laughing out loud half of the time.  There are some jokes where you have to know Roman history to truly appreciate but the majority of them are hilarious non-insider jokes.  You really can’t get a better take on history that’s funny, historically accurate and yet not historically accurate at all.  The only thing I can really criticize is the overuse of capitals when characters are exclaiming things excitedly.  They lose their effect after a while.

Although I’m kind of in a mixed up order for the series right now I’m really looking forward to reading the second short story Caesar’s Emissary some day.  I’d recommend giving Alex Johnston’s short stories a try for pretty much everyone, even if you’re not a big Roman history buff.

I give this short story 4.5/5 stars.

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Short Story: Feyland: The First Adventure by Anthea Sharp

Feyland; The First Adventure by Anthea Sharp(Cover picture courtesy of Anthea Sharp’s Wattpad.)

High-tech gaming and ancient magic collide when a computer game opens a gateway to the treacherous Realm of Faerie.

Jennet Carter never thought hacking into her dad’s new epic-fantasy sim-game would be so exciting… or dangerous. Behind the interface, dark forces lie in wait, leading her toward a battle that will test her to her limits and cost her more than she ever imagined.

[Full disclosure: Unlike with her other works, I was not provided this short story by Anthea Sharp.  I downloaded it for free off Amazon so (as usual) my review is completely honest.]

While we caught flashes of Jennet’s first forays into Feyland in The Dark Realm, we never really saw the level of detail that’s revealed in this short story.  We learn a little more about the Queen’s plot to bring Jennet to her, Jennet’s first quests and her character flaws.  After meeting the selfless person Jennet became in The Twilight Realm it’s a little hard going back to her old spoiled self, but it makes perfect sense.

A lot of prequels don’t really add anything to the established universe but this one does.  It’s not necessary for understanding the story, but it gives you a much clearer picture of the events leading up to Jennet asking Tam Lin to be her champion.  There’s also a little more detail about Jennet’s life and her rather rocky relationship with her single father.

The plot was fast-paced and interesting even though I knew what was going to happen.  The characters were believable and I loved the dynamic between Jennet and her father that explains a lot of her actions later on in the series.  So overall, The First Adventure is a pretty good short story.  If you read it and like it (it’s free on all major ebook platforms) I can’t recommend the rest of the trilogy enough.

I give this short story 5/5 stars.

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Short Story: Cursed by Treachery by Luciana Cavallaro

Accursed Women by Luciana CavallaroAll Medousa wanted was a life of love and acceptance but one fateful night it changed. While she’s alone in the Temple of Athene tending to the sacred fire, Poseidon pays a visit. No human can stop an immortal from taking what they want.

[Full disclosure: As a thank you for reviewing her four previous short stories, Luciana Cavallaro sent me the paperback Accursed Women as a thank you.  I was not expected to review Cursed by Treachery and as always this review is honest.]

The thing I like most about all of Luciana Cavallaro’s short stories is the level of detail she goes into.  She doesn’t just rehash the common re-tellings of myths that we’ve all heard here in the Western hemisphere.  She actually goes to different source material and tells quite a refreshing version of famous Greek myths.  In this story, for example, Medousa is the daughter of Titans.  That’s not a detail you find in the more common version of this myth.

All of the short stories in the Accursed Women anthology are unique in the way they’re told.  In Cursed by Treachery we see things from Perseus’ viewpoint and that’s interrupted by flashes of Medousa’s life as a Gorgon and her old life as a priestess in Athena’s temple.  It’s a fascinating way to tell Medousa’s tragic story and you would think it would be confusing but it isn’t.  We slowly learn how Medousa came to be a priestess in Athena’s temple and the horrible events that led to Athena cursing her for something that was hardly her fault.

Was Medousa’s tale my absolute favourite story in the whole anthology?  Not really.  But it’s a testament to the strength of Luciana Cavallaro’s writing that I still enjoyed it while learning something new.  It’s a well-written short story with interesting subject matter and a very interesting ending.  What more can you ask for?

I give this short story 5/5 stars.

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Short Story: Lost in the Seven Worlds by Petronela Ungureanu

Lost in the Seven Worlds by Petronela Ungureanu(Cover picture courtesy of Goodreads.)

Lost in the Seven Worlds is the debut work of Petronela Ungureanu, an avante-garde Romanian writer.

When a young woman finds herself captive in another world, she makes the mistake of falling for one of the disgraced beings. In the name of love, she is confronted with a most disturbing demand and faces a crucial decision. Will she remain lost in the Seven Worlds, or will she accept the challenge of a love beyond mortality?

[Full disclosure: I was given a free ebook copy of this short story by the author in exchange for an honest review.]

Petronela Ungureanu has one of the more beautiful, unique writing styles that I’ve encountered of late.  It’s wonderfully descriptive in an old-fashioned sort of way and you really feel like you’re immersed in her fantasy world.  In a longer piece than Lost in the Seven Worlds it would drag down the plot, but in a short story it just enhances the world she’s created.

From what little I could gather the world-building in this story is much more complex than could be contained in a short story.  I would love to learn more about the Daevas and their customs but short stories are, well, just too short.  The details that were included were all relevant to the story and were interesting but there just weren’t enough to make a fully realized world.

This is a great short story, it truly is.  The only problem is the story itself is far too complex for the medium.  In all honesty, this would be a great novel.  However, I have to judge it based on its format.  And the truth is, Lost in the Seven Worlds was more than a little confusing, especially at the end.  There was a huge twist at the end and although I read the story through a couple of times I still don’t understand it.  It’s nice to end on a bit of a cliffhanger but readers have to also understand what’s going on.

Overall, I think this short story was decent.  It’s just that the ending was a little too rushed.

I give this short story 3.5/5 stars.

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Anthology: Forbidden Future by The Masquerade Crew

Forbiden Future by The Masquerade Crew(Cover picture courtesy of Masquerade Tours.)

What becomes of mankind in the future? Is life better or worse?

Forbidden Future by James Wymore
When a time machine technician working the graveyard shift gets divorce papers from his wife, he decides it’s time to take the machine for a ride—no matter the consequences.

Jump by Jon Bradbury
Jesse Kendall thinks he’s seen it all. He’s about to see more.

Road Trip by Matt Mitrovich
Four friends drive to a college party and take an unexpected detour into the future.

Cacotopia by James Lauren
Kayne Adamson went into suspension to await a cure, but never imagined how long his sleep would last or the world he would awaken into. Is it really the utopia it first appears to be?

Society by Terra Harmony
Take a ride on the Energy of the Future where society gets a fresh, clean start—no matter who they have to leave behind.

The Mountains Haven’t by Kade Anderson
Something is very wrong in the downtrodden town of Dignity and only the town’s Watcher, Julia, can see what it is.

Between Utopias by Michael Trimmer
After being saved from a fatal heart attack by being transported to the future, David must choose from two opposite utopias.

[Full disclosure: I have had a close working relationship with The Masquerade Crew and its leader, Mark Lee, for a year.  I was going to become one of the editors of this anthology until circumstances not under my control interfered and I had to drop out.  With that said, this review is, as always, honest.]

I’m not a big anthology reader, but I really did love this one.  For one, I love science fiction and secondly I do love a good short story.  And believe me, there are some awesome short stories in here.

I’ll be totally predictable and say that my personal favourite was the anthology’s namesake: Forbidden Future.  The main character was well-developed and interesting and the future he was thrust into was somewhat believable.  And the ending was tragic and yet hilarious, but I can’t explain too much or that would spoil the awesome surprise.  I won’t critique each short story, but on the whole I could relate to the characters and the futures were interesting.  It’s hard to fit a whole new future into just a short story, but these authors were pretty awesome and managed to achieve it.  Some futures were fantastic, others terrifying.  There was a good balance in the selection of the stories because no two really predicted similar futures.

The one thing I had a gripe with was the editing.  This is The Masquerade Crew’s first anthology and some of the editing was, admittedly, a little rough.  There were basic typographical errors that should have been caught and I’m hoping they’ll be corrected in any subsequent editions.  I don’t think there were enough to really distract from the story, but they are there and they are noticeable.

There’s a little something for everyone in Forbidden Future.  There’s stories that get very technical for those fans of hard science fiction, but there’s also more character-driven stories for people like me who don’t necessarily understand a great deal of science.  Yet in all the stories the main characters are interesting and characterization certainly wasn’t sacrificed in the world-building process.  Each author had an unique voice and so did their characters.

Overall I’m pretty happy with the anthology.  It never really had a weak story that I just wanted to skip through; all of the stories here were pretty strong.  I look forward to future anthologies by The Masquerade Crew.  And with the anthology on sale on Amazon for $.99 until December 7th, where can you go wrong?

I give this book 4.5/5 stars.

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Short Story: Aphrodite’s Curse by Luciana Cavallaro

Aphrodite's Curse by Luciana Cavallaro(Cover picture courtesy of Goodreads.)

APHRODITE’S CURSE is about a dynasty’s fall from grace, unrequited love and retribution.

A powerful family is brought to ruin, the consequences unforeseen and irreparable. The trouble begins with King Mino who asks the gods for a bull to be sacrificed so that he may become ruler of Kretos and surrounding lands. Poseidon sends him a gift of a white bull and instead of sacrificing it, King Minos keeps it. Poseidon is angry by his supplicant’s actions and as punishment glamour’s the king’s wife, Pasiphae to lust after the bull.

The story is told by PHAEDRA, Theseus’ wife, who witnesses first-hand, the rise and fall of her family. She grows up in a privileged environment, a princess and daughter of King Minos. From a very early age she knows the power her father wields, but is also aware his actions may have precipitated the misfortunes that followed.

She reflects on the different and disturbing events from a detached perspective. Her tone can sometimes be one of a spoilt child, then at other times resigned and on occasion shows an uncanny insight. This retrospective musing comes from her sighting of Hippolytos, her husband’s son from a previous marriage. She falls in love with him and finds it difficult to contain this secret and eventually tells her nurse.

Phaedra asks for Aphrodite’s help, even builds a temple, however Hippolytos spurns her advances. Shamed by her actions and by his revulsion, she poisons herself, leaving a letter to her husband writing that Hippolytos had raped her.

[Full disclosure: I was never asked to review Aphrodite’s Curse like I was Luciana Cavallaro’s other books, but instead received it for free when I signed up for her newsletter.  As always, this review is honest.]

Out of all the women Luciana Cavallaro has written about, I liked Phaedra the least.  This is more of a matter of personal preference because I didn’t find her the least bit sympathetic.  But could I understand her motives and did I care about what she had to say?  Absolutely!

The fact that I didn’t like Phaedra but actually really enjoyed this story is a testament to Luciana Cavallaro’s skill as a writer.  Phaedra had believable motivations for what she did because of her personality, which we glimpse both through her reflective flashbacks as well as her present day commentary as she is dying.

I’m not exactly familiar with the myth of Phaedra because it was relatively minor in the scheme of things, but after a bit of research I find that I appreciate Aphrodite’s Curse even more.  It was well researched and the level of detail was enough to make me feel like I was there in Phaedra’s world.  I could see the handsome Hippolytos, the temples, Phaedra’s deathbed, etc.  The description wasn’t on par with the beautiful descriptions in The Curse of Troy, but it was certainly up there.

Really, Aphrodite’s Curse is what a short story should be: short and sweet but powerful.  The descriptions are great but they’re not overdone, the characters come to life and I felt like I was back in the time period the story took place in.

I give this short story 5/5 stars.

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