Beyond Mortal Bounds – Memoir of a Ghost by Gina Easton

Beyond Mortal Bounds – Memoir of a Ghost by Gina Easton
Publisher: Touch Point Press
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Paranormal, Romance, Contemporary, Historical
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Heather Radcliffe, a successful author, is approached by Fiona, a ghost, to write Fiona’s memoir. What follows is a tale of love, betrayal, madness and the quest for atonement. It is the story of two women—one living, one dead—and the man they both love . . . and the issue of love’s ability to endure beyond death itself.

Death is the beginning, not the end.

The dialogue was smooth and believable. Often I could tell who was speaking before I finished the sentence because of how uniquely the two main characters were written. As much as they had in common, there were important differences between them that influenced how they spoke. It takes a lot of work to pull something like this off, so I must acknowledge the effort there and share my gratitude for it. This is the sort of flourish in a story that makes reading even more enjoyable than it already is.

I was surprised by how quickly Heather believed the ghosts who approached her for help. As much as I liked her innocent and trusting personality, there were times when I wondered why she didn’t make any efforts to verify what she was told and only spent a small amount of time trying to protect herself from anything in the spirit world that might try to attach itself to her. There was one scene that described a ritual she went through after talking to spirits in order to discourage them from sticking around. This reader was fascinated by that process and wished that the protagonist had spent more time describing it as well as taking additional precautions to protect herself from spirits she was still getting to know.

Some of the most memorable moments in my opinion were the ones that explored Heather’s previous lifetimes and how they helped to explain why her personality clicked so well with certain people she met in her most recent body. Reincarnation is an interesting explanation for why this happens, especially when it is explored in fiction that shows how those individuals knew each other in previous lives and why their fates have remained so tightly entwined. This is a trope I’m always happy to discover in books, and I thought Ms. Easton made good use of it here.

Beyond Mortal Bounds: Memoir of a Ghost was satisfying.

Movie Review: Know Fear

Know Fear
Director: Jamison M. LoCascio
Writers: Adam Ambrosio & Jamison M. LoCascio
Starring: David Alan Basche, Amy Carlson and Mallory Bechtel
Rated: 5 Stars (10 stars on IMDB)
Review by: Astilbe

After the possession of his wife, Donald Capel and his family activate a dangerous ritual in a book used to identify and banish demons, a ritual forcing each member of the family to communicate with the demon in their own unique way: to see it, hear it, or speak to it.

If you’ve ever wondered what weird or even terrifying things the previous owners of a house might have gotten up to, this might be right up your alley.

I enjoyed the fast, plot-based storyline. All of the characters were given just enough time to introduce themselves to the audience before mysterious things began happening. The quick pace also helped to explain why the characters remained in a house that was possessed by such a dangerous entity. They simply didn’t have the time to consider other options, especially once things really began to escalate.

One of the many reasons why I chose a perfect rating for this film had to do with how it handled the demon. It left no room for doubt about just how malicious this creature was or how much peril all of the characters were in while it still remained in our world. There were a few scenes I had to watch out of the corner of my eye because of how much they made me shudder. That’s exactly what I love to see in the horror genre, and I only wish I could go into much more detail about it without giving away spoilers!

The ending couldn’t have been better. Not only did it tie all of the loose strings left over from earlier scenes together nicely, it made me go back to some earlier scenes and think carefully about how they were shared with the audience. Yes, many of the twists and turns were tropes that most fans of this genre would expect to see, but they were combined in ways that made them feel fresh again. It takes a lot of hard work to pull something like that off, and I tip my cap to the cast and crew for doing so well with it.

For readers who are sensitive to blood or gore, there were a few scenes that included both of them. I liked the fact that most of the focus was placed on the demon itself, but the storyline did need those elements to thrive.

Know Fear was deliciously scary.

Omnis 1: Beginnings – Comienzos by Nelda Bedford Gaydou

Omnis 1: Beginnings – Comienzos by Nelda Bedford Gaydou
Publisher: Progressive Rising Phoenix Press
Genre: Middle Grade (8 – 12 y.o.), Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Contemporary
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

A graphic bicultural and bilingual experience.

In mid-pandemic, the Martins move from one continent to another, and the four siblings face challenges and obstacles, especially at their new school. See them receive very unexpected help and undergo an amazing transformation.

A little kindness goes a long way.

All four of the Martin siblings were memorable characters. I enjoyed learning about their interests, from books to fashion to painting and so much more. The author didn’t have a great deal of time to spend introducing them, but she used every moment of it to her advantage. I felt like I got to know these characters as well as I should have in their introduction to the world, although I’m also looking forward to seeing how they grow if or when their adventures continue.

It would have been helpful to have more information about the origins of the superpower mentioned in this graphic novel, especially since it could be interpreted in multiple ways. I’m saying this as someone who loved the concepts it described to the audience and is excited to read more. They were simply a little bit too abstract for the age group they were written for in my opinion. If the fantasy portions of the storyline had been developed more clearly, I would have happily chosen a higher rating.

One of my favorite portions had to do with the message it sent about how we should treat others. It’s difficult to move to a new school, especially when that school is located in another country and a kid must leave behind nearly everything that’s familiar to them in the process. I can’t say much else about this without giving away spoilers, but I appreciated the points the author made about how everyone has the ability to make their little corner of the world a better place.

While being bilingual is definitely not a requirement to enjoy this tale, I speak some Spanish and had a wonderful time picking out the words and phrases I understood in the Spanish portions of the text. I recommend doing the same if you know any amount of this language at all.

Omnis 1: Beginnings – Comienzos was a heartwarming read.

The Runaways by Brenda Barnes Clark

The Runaways by Brenda Barnes Clark
Publisher: RBC Books
Genre: Middle Grade (8 – 12 y.o.), Paranormal, Action/Adventure, Historical
Rating: 5 Stars
Review ed by Astilbe

What if Penny, an abused pony at a 1946 West Virginia county fair, runs away to eleven-year-old Billie Rose Tackett?

What if, through “think-speak,” Penny tells Billie that she was stolen and did not belong to the carnival or the horrible, terrible pony ride keeper? How can Billie prove the theft when no one in their right mind would believe that a horse speaks? In her quest to save Penny, Billie and Penny show amazing courage and tenacity to overcome seemingly impossible, life-threatening situations. In this fast-paced adventure story, Billie grows in confidence as she deals with prejudice, disability, bullying, family loss, compassion, and forgiveness while doing whatever it takes to save the runaway pony.

Empathy makes the world a better place.

The pacing was perfect. I ended up reading far longer than I was intending to because I couldn’t tear my eyes away from the page or wait to see what happened next. There simply wasn’t a good time to take a break. That’s the sort of writing I love to see, and it makes this first-time reader eager to see what Ms. Barnes Clark might come up with next. She couldn’t have made a better first impression with me.

Billie lost some of her hearing as a result of an infection she had as a child. The scenes describing her memories of that illness and how it affected her life as well as the lives of her mother and sister were written beautifully, and I’m saying that as someone who lives with a person who is hard of hearing. It’s rare to find characters who have partial hearing loss but who can still hear certain tones, so I was thrilled to see this topic covered here.

Some of my favorite scenes were the ones that included the mind reading between Billie and Penny. The paranormal elements of their adventures were subtle but unmistakable. That suited these characters nicely, and I enjoyed coming up with my own theories about why they could communicate telepathically. Not everything needs to be fully explained in a tale like this one, especially when there was so much else going on in their lives simultaneously.

I appreciated how descriptive this book was about everything from the physical appearances of the characters to what their homes, barns, gardens, and other settings looked like. The author did a wonderful job of fleshing out the world she was describing, and I found it easy to close my eyes and picture everything in my mind. What made this even better was how seamlessly she included all of the details in the storyline. The pacing of the plot never needed to slow down in order for her to describe all of the little but important details that created such a memorable read.

The Runaways was an exciting adventure that I’d wholeheartedly recommend to adults just as much as to the middle grade audience it was originally intended for!

Stick and Stone – Best Friends Forever by Beth Ferry

Stick and Stone – Best Friends Forever by Beth Ferry
Publisher: Clarion Books
Genre: Children’s (0 – 6 y.o.), Action/Adventure, Contemporary
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Stick has always wanted to find his family tree. It’s probably big and beautiful! Is it an oak? A maple? What other sticks might he meet?

Stone is happy to accompany his friend on the journey to find the tree he comes from—until it gets dark, and a bit scary in the forest . . .

With bright, engaging illustrations from best-selling creator Tom Lichtenheld, Beth Ferry’s story explores the importance of learning about our roots, as well as the ability of friends and found family to help us grow strong in heart and mind.

Everyone should know where they come from.

I mentioned wanting more plot development in my review of the first book in this series, so I was thrilled to see how much more was happening in this sequel. The characters dealt with multiple conflicts and plot lines at once. They were simple enough for the smallest readers to understand, but it was delightful to have those extra layers of meaning for older readers to think about as well.

With that being said, I wish the adoption subplot had been given more space to grow. Stick had such a strong yearning to know where he came from and what sort of tree he was. There was a lot of space here to explore his origins and how he felt about them. If only he’d had the opportunity to do so! I hope that the author will consider revisiting these themes in the future as I was disappointed by how all of this was resolved.

As always, the friendship between Stick and Stone was wonderful. They both genuinely loved each other and would have done anything to help one another. That’s the sort of friendship everyone should have whether they’re a preschooler or a senior citizen! Ms. Ferry’s best moments were the ones that showed all of the little ways in which friends can make each other’s lives richer and happier.

This is the second instalment of a series. I strongly recommend reading Stick and Stone first in order to fully understand the characters’ backstories.

Stick and Stone: Best Friends Forever was a heartwarming adventure.

The Adventures of Dagobert Trostler by Balduin Groller

The Adventures of Dagobert Trostler by Balduin Groller
Publisher: Kazabo Publishing
Genre: Suspense/Mystery/Thriller, Historical
Rating: 4.5 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Dagobert Trostler is the Sherlock Holmes of Vienna . . . with a twist. Like Holmes, he’s the most famous private investigator in Vienna. Unlike Holmes, he’s a bit of a party animal. While he loves a good mystery, he also loves good food, good company and a good time. He’s a bon-vivant and right at home in the brilliant social scene of Vienna in the heyday of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

These stories, written by Balduin Groller and published in Vienna between 1889 and 1910, are a glimpse into the sparkling, forgotten world of turn-of-the-century Vienna. Hugely popular in the German-speaking world, they are now available in English for the first time exclusively from Kazabo Publishing. If you love Sherlock Holmes, you need to read these stories!

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Dagobert’s character development was well done. To be perfectly honest, I wasn’t quite sure what I thought of him at first because of his willingness to sweep certain facts under the rug in order to prevent the people he was investigating from being socially embarrassed. It was rewarding to get to know him better and understand why he made these allowances for certain people as he investigated various cases. He had excellent reasons for the decisions he made.

This was such an introspective book. While I did need a little bit of time to adjust to its somewhat slow but always steady pace in the beginning, the reward for doing so was well worth my effort. Dagobert and the many interesting people he knew lived in a society that valued taking one’s time and thinking about a problem from every angle before coming to any conclusions about it.

The world building made it hard for me to stop reading. There were so many nuances to the social interactions in Dagobert’s society that even the briefest conversation could reveal things about his era to me that I hadn’t picked up on before. For example, showing gratitude needed to be done in subtle ways in certain instances due to the social pecking order and what business and personal relationships were like between the upper and middle classes. I deeply enjoyed getting to know the ins and outs of everything he had to think about while he was gently prying for clues about what really happened in the cases people brought to him.

Anyone who loves old-fashioned mysteries should give The Adventures of Dagobert Trostler a chance.

The Art of Space Travel by Nina Allan

The Art of Space Travel by Nina Allan
Publisher: Tor Books
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Length: Short Story (44 pages)
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

“The Art of Space Travel” by Nina Allan is a science fiction novelette. In 2047, a first manned mission to Mars ended in tragedy. Thirty years later, a second expedition is preparing to launch. As housekeeper of the hotel where two of the astronauts will give their final press statements, Emily finds the mission intruding upon her thoughts more and more. Emily’s mother, Moolie, has a message to give her, but Moolie’s memories are fading. As the astronauts’ visit draws closer, the unearthing of a more personal history is about to alter Emily’s world forever.

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The world building was incredibly well done. I honestly wasn’t quite sure what to expect from a science fiction story that was set in a hotel of all places, but I was impressed with how real it felt beginning with the very first scene. From the mundane moments that happen when a housekeeper is cleaning hotel rooms to the excitement a whole country can feel when they’re about to send astronauts to colonize Mars, every single scene felt like it happened in real life.

There were so many characters in this story that I had trouble keeping track of all of them. While the protagonist was described in detail, the same couldn’t be said for many of the hotel’s visitors and other staff members. Since some of the supporting characters also happened to have similar names, I often mixed them up in my mind while I was reading. As much as I loved the premise, it was distracting to spend so much time trying to remember who was who.

I was a huge fan of Emily’s character development. She was a complex and intriguing woman who only grew more interesting as I got to know her better. There were a few conflicts going on in her life that she struggled to resolve while she was working at the hotel. I liked the fact that she persisted even when the things she wished she could change didn’t have any obvious or easy solutions. Seeing her change as a result of these experiences only increased my already-high opinion of her. It was nice to see such solid personal growth from her!

The Art of Space Travel should be read by anyone who has ever wondered what it might be like to live in a futuristic world where living on Mars was possible.

The Last Novelist (or a Dead Lizard in the Yard) by Matthew Kressel

The Last Novelist (or a Dead Lizard in the Yard) by Matthew Kressel
Publisher: Tor Books
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Length: Short Story (27 pages)
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

“The Last Novelist (or A Dead Lizard in the Yard)” by Matthew Kressel is a science fiction story about a dying writer who is trying to finish one final novel on the distant planet he settles on for his demise. His encounter with a young girl triggers a last burst of creativity.

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Reuth’s friendship with Fish, the creative little girl he met after settling into his new home, was charming. Despite the large age gap and other differences between them, I was surprised by how much these two new friends had in common. They were both creative people who were misunderstood by most of the folks around them. Stubbornness was another trait they shared in common, although neither of them would have ever admitted it. The more similarities they discovered, the stronger I hoped that Reuth would live much longer than his doctors had predicted so they’d have plenty of time to inspire each other on future projects.

I would have liked to see more attention paid to the world building in this tale. Ardabaab sounded like an interesting place when Reuth first mentioned it, but I never really got a sense of how this planet was different from Earth. Everything from the wildlife to the climate seemed pretty similar to what someone would find here based on the main character’s descriptions, and even those details were only mentioned briefly.

The ending fit the tone of the story nicely. There was exactly enough foreshadowing of what was about to occur. While I did catch onto those hints early on, they weren’t strong enough to spoil the final scene or make me feel like I already knew everything that was going to happen. It was precisely what it needed to be, and I appreciated that.

The Last Novelist (or a Dead Lizard in the Yard) was a bittersweet tale I’d recommend to anyone who has ever wondered what their own legacy might be after they die.

Marvelry’s Curiosity Shop by John Brhel and J. Sullivan

Marvelry’s Curiosity Shop by John Brhel and J. Sullivan
Publisher: Cemetery Gates Media
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Suspense/Mystery, Horror, Paranormal, Contemporary
Length: Full Length (156 pages)
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Retired stage magician Dr. Marvelry prefers to stock his antique store with strange and occult items. He has always enjoyed meeting odd people and hearing their stories, the legends attached to mysterious objects. A phonograph that seemingly replays a tragedy. Fertility dolls that are more than decoration. A bedeviled mannequin. These are just some of the relics this eccentric shopkeeper has collected over the years.

No two customers will have the same experience in his curiosity shop — some walk away satisfied, others are never heard from again. But one thing is certain – when you purchase an item at this store, you often get more than what you paid for.
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Follow Marvelry and his hexed objects through twelve tales of suspense, magic, terror, and transformation. Meet his new assistant, fellow illusionists, and some irregular characters along the way. Whatever macabre artifact of the human psyche you’re seeking – you’ll find something special in Marvelry’s Curiosity Shop.

Every antique has a story to tell if you know how to listen to it.

Brent and Kevin Buckley’s experiences in “The Victor Talking Machine” was a wonderful introduction to this collection. Their happy relationship contrasted sharply with the strange phonograph they’d just brought home. I enjoyed seeing how they reacted to all of the weird things going on around them. It made me curious to find out what would happen next, especially once both characters agreed that something needed to be done about their situation.

There were a few tales that would have benefited from having a little more attention paid to their endings. “The Letterbox” was one of them. Josh, the main character in it, accidentally found an antique letterbox that used to belong to his grandparents while browsing Marvelry’s shop. Since Josh had just purchased his grandparents’ old home, he was thrilled to begin outfitting the house with some of its former possessions. I was completely fascinated by what happened after the letterbox was installed in the same spot where it used to hang when the main character’s grandparents lived there. With that being said, I was a bit thrown off by how quickly the storyline ended. There was so much tension being built up that never had a chance to be fully resolved. If not for these missed moments in some scenes, I would have given this book a five star rating as it was otherwise a thrill to read.

In “The Painter’s Premonition,” an artist named Justin got more than he bargained for when he brought home an old easel. The foreshadowing was fantastic in this one. While I did have a pretty good guess about what the twist ending might be ahead of time, it was still a lot of fun to see the main character slowly move closer and closer to the conclusion. I also appreciated how much effort the author put into describing the paintings that Justin was making. Those details made me eager to know what he would paint next and if my guess about the meaning of his work was correct.

Marvelry’s Curiosity Shop was delightfully eerie. Give it a try if you’re in the mood for something spooky.

Tales from Valleyview Cemetery by John Brhel and J. Sullivan

Tales from Valleyview Cemetery by John Brhel and J. Sullivan
Publisher: Cemetery Gates Media
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Suspense/Mystery, Paranormal, Horror, Holiday, Contemporary, Historical
Length: Full Length (184 pages)
Heat Level: Sensual
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Welcome to Valleyview, where bodies lie buried but an ancient curse never sleeps. A father hears strange voices on his daughter’s baby monitor. A trio of gravediggers faces a swarm of supernatural creatures. A group of teenagers puts a mausoleum legend to the test. A husband and wife take a stroll through a corn maze that they’ll never forget.

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Death doesn’t always bring peace.

This isn’t your typical anthology. It was fascinating to see how all of the short stories were connected to each other. I liked the fact that I got to experience the same places and people from different points of view. Sometimes my opinions of them completely changed once they popped up in a new tale and showed me a new side of their personality or history, so it was really interesting to guess who I might meet again as I kept reading.

I would have liked to see more details included in this book. There were times when I had trouble imagining what the characters were experiencing because everything was described so quickly and sparsely. This was especially true when it came to what the ghosts and other supernatural creatures looked like. While I could picture some of them quite well, many others were harder to bring to mind because I had so few clues about how they looked or what they sounded like.

Some of the plot twists were extremely well done. “All Hallows Eve” was by far my favorite example of a great surprise from these authors. The characters in were a snooty, young couple who decided to mock everything they saw at a rural Halloween carnival. When they were invited to find their way through a corn maze, I was sure I knew how their night would end. The fact that I was wrong about what happened next only made me more curious to know their fate. If you’re planning to read this collection out of order, this would be a wonderful place to start.

Give Tales from Valleyview Cemetery if you’re in the mood for something spooky.