Monday, February 19, 2024

Book Review: Queen Hazel and Beloved Beverly

Queen Hazel and Beloved Beverly by Mary E Lowd

Published by Deep Sky Anchor Press on December 8th, 2023.

A cozy portal fantasy with special attention to family bonds and childhood memories and letting go. I could see this being okay for any age group but feels directed at an adult who misses reading piles of middle grade portal fantasy books, who grew up expecting to be transported into some other world but never had that quite happen yet...

Recommended. Easy read with a good pace. The metaphors are excellent, especially the extended one about threads and memories. The story hooks surprisingly well, perhaps due to careful balance between emotion and more grounding emotion. A bunch of nostalgic tie-ins to the 80s-90s.

The opening was pretty bland for me, but the story quickly moved past that into the story itself. After that, the story dropped us into the fantastical without letting up, which was great. The raccoon and her wolf companion were awesome, and I wanted more of them. I would love to read more in that realm, or wherever those two go, whether Beverly joins them or not...

Once we got into the fantasy, I wanted the author to slow down more and give us more description of these fantastical characters and locations that we rush through. It's fitting due to the protagonist's distrust of their reality, but still, it was often frustrating at how quickly I was pulled through the reading experience. I'm one of those readers that always complain about a lack of deeper language and description, so this is an inevitable comment I'd make on many stories out there. But essential moments, like meeting the queen and saying farewell, and other such, rush by so fast, that I can't help but feel there was more depth and story I needed there to be fully satisfied.

That criticism aside, I was curled up on my couch, glued to this read, and pumped up on nostalgia for 80s-90s life and longing for fantasies come real. Such a primary mesh of emotions driving the story that I loved it by the end. This was such a light read but had me begging for more.

I received an advance review copy for free, and I am leaving this review voluntarily. Thanks to Book Sirens and Mary E. Lowd for allowing me the opportunity to get drawn into this novella's portal.

Author's website:

Buy the book from Amazon:

My review on Goodreads:

Book Review: Idolatry

Idolatry by Aditya Sudarshan
Published by Flame Tree Press on January 9th, 2024 

Idolatry is an SF social commentary novel set in India and following how Shrine Tech influences society to gradually increasing levels of domination. As with my previous review, I'll give the good, neutral, and bad. I did have pretty mixed reactions to the novel, even though it was a good read and recommended.

There are a ton of observations about job loss, awful economies, poverty, etc. -- very welcome in our current era, and the protagonist's service of the central product of Shrine Tech takes us readers through all that to greater or lesser success. A quote without spoilers from early in the book that expresses how this pressure of money affects the protagonist:  "Suddenly, an immense weariness came upon Saionton, like rocks being rolled over him. Money, you need the money. The thought pressed home, implacably, along with the tremor of the contrast between his impoverishment (and that of so many others, not that he had time to care for any others), and the fantastic, soaring riches of the Company and its bosses. He forced a smile and opened his eyes wider."

-Fascinating look at how the shrine tech brings self-love and religious love and love of money together in mostly horrifying ways. Serves as a dark mirror of the various idols that entangle in people's lives and lead them about for better or worse.
-The commentary on advertising is spot on.
- Drops us into some beautiful observations and ugly commentary and unsettling moments of horror.
-Some lovely comparisons, metaphors, observations made by the central characters that make it worth reading. Like the kitten one at the end

-3rd person omniscient with limited jumping around. Basically, uses that POV to serve the first character, Saionton, and his job's encounter with various people, which for the purposes of the story each are introduced from their own viewpoints then jumped into at later random points of the story to overall success, though sometimes to eyerolls from this reader.

-The ending just didn't work for me; sometimes felt like the story leaned too much on plot to get through certain spots…
-Frustrating central character, partially because of his inability to make his own decisions, but also just his ugliness in how he views others, though of course that fits the context. He does grow toward the end, but still, ugh, that guy.
-Overall, I wanted the story to move past tropes and social commentary more. I felt like I was trying to reach for more as a reader here…because my favorite parts were where the characters really settle into these moments connecting to the world, where the story releases control briefly…but those moments didn't keep going enough to be mind-blowing.

Again, I do recommend giving it a read. It's a pretty fast one with an interesting central social SF object in question, Shrine Tech. I received an advance review copy for free, and I am leaving this review voluntarily. Thanks to Book Sirens and the author for giving me the opportunity to dip into Shrine Tech.

Buy the book from the publisher's website:

My review on Goodreads:

Monday, January 29, 2024

Book review: a quick, fun fantasy with dragons and queer relationships

The Chase Begins: Catastrophe Incoming Volume 1
by Aimee Donnellan

Published by Aimee Donnellan on June 24, 2023

The good:

-Character tensions.

-Grounding of the city the whole story is set in.

-The select details for major characters that help them stand out.

-The protagonist's identity and complicated relationship was greatly appreciated

-Fun, fast read; easy to read along with weightier tomes.

The not so good:

-Description and language too sparse for my taste (that may just be me though; I've found most writing that the fiction market wants is too sparse for my taste).

-Book one is short and limited to one place, which was just too simple overall. There seemed so much more there to explore. Still, a chase through the one city provided just enough complications to work, if not enough to send us into deeper exploration.

The promising:

-The teaser for Book Two was great and makes me excited to read it. Hoping the chaos promised within brings deeper explorations than Book One. The range of characters introduced was exciting to see, especially getting the two main characters from another angle.

I'll definitely be checking out Book Two. The book was a fun read, and number two looks to be even more fun.

I received an advance review copy for free, and I am leaving this review voluntarily. Thank you to Aimee Donnellan and Book Sirens for the opportunity.

Aimee Donnellan's website:

Buy the book:

My review on Goodreads:

Wednesday, January 10, 2024

My Stories Published in 2023

Happy New Year!

It's been a very slow start for me. I certainly enjoyed the brief break. Could use more...hah. Regardless, I'm trying to play catch-up now and pick up the pace for whatever awaits me this year.

First off, my stories published in 2023. Go give them a read, if you haven't yet, and let me know what you think. Would love any feedback. Really enjoyed what I heard from some readers so far. And if you want anything signed or whatnot, just ask.

If anyone is reading for any awards out there, stories 1 and 2 below are free to read online, and for stories 3 and 4, I can send you a review copy if requested.

1) The Healing Moment Assigned by HR Central Stacks, universe-traveling librarian just wants a long vacay with her wife but first must handle baggage from the past and tentacular patrons. SF, aliens, queer-positive, fantasy adventurers. DreamForge Anvil Issue 14, December 2023, read the story here, the entire issue here, buy in paperback, too.

2) Choose a Star to Mend the Heart, space narwhal and friendship, SF, Tales and Feathers Magazine, November 2023, read the story here.

3) Memo from the Jolly Overlords, reprint (first time in physical print), a dark fantasy horror flash fiction about how brutal work is for the holiday elves, Cursed & Creepy (The Horror Lite Anthologies) by Angelique Fawns, November 2023, purchase a copy from Amazon

4) Puff a Golem Up for Drudgery, a fantasy short story about the application of golems among royalty and their overworked lasses and lads available in the anthology Triangulation: Seven-Day Weekend, July 2023 (order from Amazon)

Final Statistics Report on Submissions during 2023

Hi there. I'd like to share my final statistics for work submitted in 2023. For comparison's sake, the total submissions for 2022 came to 129. This year was a bit more...

Total times work was submitted in 2023: 477 (108 flash/drabble, 248 short/novelettes, 3 novella, 102 poem, 10 reprint, 2 pitch, 4 acceptance)

Accepted pieces: 4 (2 short stories, 1 poem, 1 reprint)

Writers of the Future results: Q1 R, Q2 R, Q3 HM, Q4 SHM 

Pending submissions at end of 2023: 100 (23 drabble/flash, 57 short story/novelette, 0 novella, 20 poem, 0 reprint, 0 pitch)

Rejections (total received in 2023): 392 (85 drabbles or flash, 204 short stories or novelettes, 3 novella, 87 poems, 10 reprints, 2 pitches)

Rejections (for subs made in 2023): 374 (85 drabbles or flash, 191 short stories or novelettes, 3 novella, 82 poems, 10 reprints, 2 pitches)

Rejected (for subs made in 2022): 18 (13 short stories or novelettes, 5 poems)

I don't track new stories and poems written each year, nor the time spent brainstorming, researching, reading, writing fragments, revising or expanding stories started in previous years. But I took a glance at my folders to check and the stats for new work written and finished (as much as a piece is ever finished) appears to be about as follows:

New work (written and finished in 2023): 22 (11 drabble/flash, 9 short stories/novelettes, 2 poems)

As you can see, submissions have become an addiction, a habit I hope to continue while getting more work done. Here's to more publications forthcoming.

R.J.K. Lee