D is for Dinosaur by Rhonda Parrish

D is for Dinosaur by Rhonda Parrish (editor)
Publisher: Poise and Pen Publishing
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Horror, Contemporary, Historical
Length: Full Length (373 pages)
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

For the fourth installment of Rhonda Parrish’s Alphabet Anthologies, contributors were challenged to write about dinosaurs. The resulting twenty-six stories contain widely different interpretations of the dinosaur theme and span the spectrum from literal to metaphoric.

Within these stories — set in alternative histories, far-flung futures and times just around the corner — dinosaurs whimper and waste away or roar and rage. People can be dinosaurs, as can ideas, fictions and flesh. Knitted dinosaurs share space with ghostly, genetically engineered and even narcotic ones.

Teenagers must embrace their inner dinosaurs in order to find peace and belonging, a dying woman duels a God in a far future city that echoes aspects of our past, an abused wife accompanies her husband on a hunt for an ancient power and finds more than she could ever have imagined and a girl with wonderful magical powers stumbles across the bones of a giant long-dead lizard. And so much more!

Everyone has a hidden side to themselves. Only time will tell if those unexplored parts of anyone’s personality, past, or future will be revealed.

In “B,” Brontë was a teenage girl who was bullied by classmates during the day and who had vivid dreams of being a raptor at night. When she decided to confront the meanest bully, these two worlds collided in unexpected ways. What I enjoyed the most about this tale was how much time the narrator spent planning her revenge. It made me eager to see what would happen next, and it also fit Brontë’s stubborn personality perfectly.

Once again, Ms. Parrish compiled a collection that I didn’t want to stop reading. Every single one of them had something that appealed to me, and there were very few missteps. “K” was one of the few stories that could have used more development. It was about two men named Gunnar and Brynjar who had recently survived a shipwreck and were trying to figure out how they might live on a deserted island. When one of them spotted another ship on the horizon, they had to decide if they’d rather signal for help or rough it alone. While I really enjoyed the premise, the ending was abrupt. I would have preferred to see more time spent on their dilemma before the twist was revealed. There was still so much material to explore before they made their choice.

“H” followed an ancient race that was capable of living both on land and in the sea. When their existence on one was threatened, they’d switch to fins or legs and live in the other one for a few millenia. This was one of my favourite selections because of how beautiful Ms. Engelhardt’s writing style was. She knew exactly how to capture a single moment and share it with her audience using every single sense a human is capable of perceiving. I didn’t want her storytelling to end, and I would love to read a sequel to this if she ever decides to write one.

I’d wholeheartedly recommend D is for Dinosaur to anyone who is a fan of any part of the modern science fiction or fantasy genres. There is something here for everyone!

C is for Chimera by Rhonda Parrish, editor

C is for Chimera by Rhonda Parrish, editor
Publisher: Poise and Pen Publishing
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Paranormal, Horror, Historical, Contemporary
Length: Full Length (259 pages)
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

This installment of Rhonda Parrish’s alphabet anthology series asks skilled storytellers to write around the theme of chimera. The resulting tales are part fable, part poem, part dream. But like any chimera, the parts make up a greater whole.

Blend reality with fantasy. Mesh science fiction with mystery. Mix history with what should have been. They are all chimera.

A shadow tells a tale of schoolyard bullies. A long-vanished monster returns from the cold dark. Make-up makes up a life. Alchemy, Atlantis, and apocalypse. These 26 tales bring both chaos and closure to dark and elusively fantastic geographies.

Contributing authors include:

~ Alexandra Seidel ~ KV Taylor ~ Marge Simon ~ Pete Aldin ~ Michael M. Jones ~ Simon Kewin ~ BD Wilson ~ Gabrielle Harbowy ~ Sara Cleto ~ Megan Engelhardt ~ Michael Fosburg ~ Megan Arkenberg ~ Lilah Wild ~ Laura VanArendonk Baugh ~ Milo James Fowler ~ Brittany Warman ~ Michael B. Tager ~ L.S. Johnson ~ Beth Cato ~ C.S. MacCath ~ Sammantha Kymmell-Harvey ~ Steve Bornstein ~ Suzanne van Rooyen ~ Michael Kellar ~ Jonathan C. Parrish ~ Amanda C. Davis ~

These chimeras came in every shape and size I could imagine and even a few I never would have dreamed of.

The main character in Michael M. Jones’ “E” was a spirit who was trapped in a high school after losing her own body. At first she spent her time shadowing the students there, but she soon found herself drawn to a lonely girl named Madeline. There weren’t many clues about what was going on, but the ones that were provided were irresistibly fascinating. I also loved how clearly the spirit’s personality was described. Even though I had no idea what she looked like, I could still picture her in my mind because of how much I knew about her habits, interests, and flaws. While I would have loved to know what happened after the final scene, this did work really well as a short story.

What originally attracted me to this collection was the thought of reading so many tales about chimeras. I was curious to see how twenty-six different writers would approach the same idea, and in many cases their twists on the topic were incredibly creative and memorable. With that being said, this anthology was uneven in places. Milo James Fowler’s “O” was one of the stories that could have used more polishing. The plot showed what happened when the surrounding community discovered what Dr. Horstmann had been experimenting with in his spare time. While I was intrigued by the premise, everything happened so quickly that I had trouble figuring out what it was the doctor had been doing or why the people who lived nearby were so alarmed by his work. There simply wasn’t enough time to explore the storyline the way it needed to be explored.

Megan Arkenberg’s “L” grabbed my attention when the narrator confessed to murder before the end of the first sentence. Immediately I wanted to know more about who the main character was and why she’d killed someone. It was the last thing I would have expected to encounter in a quiet, rural, nineteenth-century setting. Figuring out what was happening only made me curious to learn more, although I can’t say anything else about the plot without giving away spoilers. Like “E,” this could have easily been expanded into something full length. The fact that I’m so eager to know what happened next for both of them is a sign of how well written they were.

I’d recommend C is for Chimera to anyone who enjoys smart science fiction anthologies.

B Is For Broken Anthology

B Is For Broken Anthology
Edited by Rhonda Parrish
Publisher: Poise and Pen Publishing
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Horror, Paranormal, Contemporary, Historical, Action/Adventure
Length: Full Length (296 pages)
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Broken people, broken promises, broken dreams and broken objects are just some of the ways these 26 fantastic stories interpret the theme of ‘Broken’. From science fiction to fantasy, horror to superheroes the stories within these pages cover a vast swath of the genres under the speculative fiction umbrella.

Featuring original fiction by:

~ Brittany Warman ~ Milo James Fowler ~ C.S. MacCath ~ Sara Cleto ~ Samantha Kymmell-Harvey ~ Megan Arkenberg ~ Gary B. Phillips ~ Alexandra Seidel ~ Jonathan C. Parrish ~ Simon Kewin ~ Beth Cato ~ Cory Cone ~ Cindy James ~ Alexis A. Hunter ~ Michael M. Jones ~ Steve Bornstein ~ BD Wilson ~ Michael Kellar ~ Damien Angelica Walters ~ Marge Simon ~ Michael Fosburg ~ Suzanne van Rooyen ~ L.S. Johnson ~ Pete Aldin ~ Gabrielle Harbowy ~ Lilah Wild ~ KV Taylor ~

Science fiction has a creepy side. You can read about it here.

The titles of these tales give away major spoilers about what happens in them. Ms. Parrish used this same creative technique in her previous anthology, A Is For Apocalypse. Once again I will be referring to the author’s name in this review instead of the titles of their contributions so that other readers will remain just as surprised as I was by what happens in them.

Ms. Cleto caught my attention immediately. It was fun to figure out what a Snow Queen with a rare, magical gift could possibly have in common with an ordinary teenage girl like Gwyn. I enjoyed jumping back and forth between their timelines as I attempted to piece all of the clues together. The ending worked particularly well for the short story form due to how quickly the plots were sketched out.

This doesn’t happen very often when I read anthologies, but I enjoyed every single selection in this book. Some of them would have worked much better as novellas or full-length novels, though, due to their complicated plots. Ms. Simon and Mr. Fosbury’s piece of fiction was a good example of this. It showed what happened to a village midwife named Hessura after she made a difficult choice for one of the pregnant women she had helped. The premise was fascinating, but the plot simply didn’t have quite enough time to fully develop.

As soon as I started reading Mr. Phillips’ entry, I couldn’t wait to discover out what happened next. He described a little girl named Adina who born with an unusual birth defect. Her mother soon figured out how to turn this anomaly into a steady source of income for the family. The character development was incredible, especially considering how quickly the author needed to work in order to pull everything together. I never wanted to stop listening to what Adina had to say.

I’d recommend B Is For Broken to anyone who loves contemporary science fiction as much as I do. There is a lot of great material to explore in this collection!

A is for Apocalypse by Rhonda Parrish, editor

A is for Apocalypse by Rhonda Parrish, editor
Publisher: Poise and Pen Publishing
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Horror, Contemporary, Paranormal, Holiday
Length: Full Length (295 pages)
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

What do you get when you take twenty-six amazing writers, randomly assign them a letter of the alphabet and give them complete artistic freedom within a theme?

A is for Apocalypse

A is for Apocalypse contains twenty-six apocalyptic stories written by both well-known and up-and-coming writers. Monsters, meteors, floods, war–the causes of the apocalypses in these tales are as varied as the stories themselves.

Some apocalypses can be predicted ahead of time. Others not so much.

The reason why I’m not mentioning any titles in my review is that they all give away gives major spoilers about what kind of apocalypse to expect from them. The introduction explains why Rhonda Parrish decided to create such a unique collection, and I highly recommend reading it first. In order to avoid confusion, I’ll use the names of the authors who wrote them instead.

I didn’t have a clue what Ms. Cato was doing at first. Rick, her protagonist, is paying close attention to every beep from his dosimeter, but his reasons for doing so with such a calm demeanour aren’t immediately apparent. He remained a fascinating character to me even after I figured out why he wasn’t panicking due to how well this behavior fits in with the rest of his personality. It’s impossible for me to pick a favourite in this collection, but I recommend beginning with Ms. Cato’s entry to anyone who likes skipping around.

When I first started this book I thought I knew more or less what to expect from it because I read so much science fiction and horror. The authors’ imaginative twists on common apocalyptic themes genuinely caught me by surprise, and that isn’t an easy thing to do! With that being said, certain apocalypses would have worked much better as novellas or full-length novels due to how many characters they required or the complexity of their plots.

Ms. Taylor’s tale is a good example of this. In it Dr. Surya Johansson is studying the remnants of human civilization for reasons that are gradually revealed as the plot continues. Figuring out the doctor’s background and motivation for travelling from one tattered colony to the next kept me guessing, but so many characters were introduced that I had trouble keeping track of all of them. It would have also been helpful to have more information about the events that led Dr. Johansson to conducting this study. The tidbits sprinkled throughout the plot provided tantalizing clues about the backstory, but some of them never quite gelled together for me.

Mr. Aldin’s story begins with a flashback to the narrator’s childhood. Eric’s parents always reassured him that monsters aren’t real, but they were dead wrong. For a long time Eric believed that he was the last human left alive on earth, but when he finds evidence of a woman travelling through his terrority he knows he has to do anything he can to meet her. The character development in this piece was well done, especially once Eric’s risk-taking tendencies begin to show up. I had an inkling of what might be happening with this character, but seeing everything unfold through his first-person perspetive made the rest of the plot even better.

A is for Apocalypse is a clever anthology that I’d recommend to anyone who is a fan of hard science fiction.