The Disappearing Shore by Roberta Park

The Disappearing Shore by Roberta Park
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Length: Short Story (94 pages)
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Inspired by the discovery that many leading environmentalists now believe we’ve passed the point of no return, Roberta Park set out to write her own account of our fears and responsibilities at this extraordinary point in human history. But instead of taking the usual nonfiction route, she chose to examine our deep moral quandary in an enigmatic three-part novella.

The Disappearing Shore imagines what might happen if the nice environmentalist next door finally snapped and started telling the truth—the real truth about his overwhelming guilt, rage, and fear. From there it gives voice to others who join him in a desperate bid to save their corner of the world, while providing an account of our recklessness for those destined to pick up the pieces.
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From the confessions of today’s unlikely heroes—full of candour and dark humour—The Disappearing Shore depicts a much different tomorrow, and the struggle of those determined to continue the human story.

Life on Earth will be very different for our descendants than it was for us.

There’s something fascinating about trying to predict what the world will be like 50 or 100 years from now. This was heavily alluded to in the first portion as people from many different walks of life gave monologues on how our planet has changed and what they think will happen in the coming decades. This part almost felt more like a non-fiction essay than anything in the science fiction genre but that would change rapidly once the story unfolded further.

I was confused by the large number of narrators. It jumped around between them so often that I never got to know more than the absolute basics about any of them. Even then, I had some trouble remembering which details about their occupations and backgrounds belonged to which narrators. They would have made sense in a full-length novel, but including all of them in something of this length made it feel crowded to me.

By far my favorite section was the one that jumped ahead to the future to see which predictions, if any, were true and what life was really like for young folks who were born long after our planet’s ecosystem and environment were permanently altered by pollution and the overuse of fossil fuels. It reminded me of the differences between the accounts of people who actually lived through life-changing historical events like World War II and the recollections about it their descendants chose to keep passing down through the family tree. The specific details of the future generations are best left up to new readers to discover for themselves, but the generation gap aspect of it was extremely well done.

I’d recommend The Disappearing Shore to anyone who is concerned about climate change and what it might mean for the lives of future generations.

Bad Dogs and Drag Queens by Julie Lynn Hayes

Bad Dogs and Drag Queens by Julie Lynn Hayes
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Genre: Action/Adventure, Contemporary, Suspense/Mystery
Length: Short (140 pgs)
Other: M/M, Anal Play/Sex
Rating: 4.5 Stars
Review by Dryas

Vinnie Delarosa and Ethan Thorne are partners—on and off the clock. Federal undercover detectives, they’re part of a covert task force designed to promote goodwill between the feds and local authorities. They lend an unobtrusive helping hand wherever it’s needed. No credit required.

Vinnie and Ethan work primarily in the Southeast region of the United States and live together in Richmond, Virginia. A mugger problem brings them to Roanoke, where Vinnie is thrown out as bait to catch the man who’s been snatching purses in a city park, but they end up with more than they bargained for. Why is Vinnie always the one who has to wear the dress? Ethan says it’s because Vinnie looks much prettier in a skirt. How can he argue with that?

Expecting to return to Richmond afterward, Vinnie and Ethan find themselves assigned a new case instead. They are to go undercover at The Stroll, one of the biggest gay nightclubs in Roanoke. Someone is terrorizing both the customers and the performers. Could they be dealing with a hate crime? Someone has to protect the drag queens of Roanoke, so it’s Vinnie and Ethan to the rescue!

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This is a fun story that pulled me into the plot right away. It’s funny, yet suspense filled at the same time with great characters you can’t help but love. Ethan Thorn and Vinnie Delarosa, partners in both a special task force and in their personal life, are madly in love. It’s shown in every action they take, along with their wonderful lovemaking and they aren’t hesitant to tell each other just how much they love each other.

Vinnie is a rather sarcastic individual, tired of being the one that always has to dress in drag for missions that require it. He lets Ethan know in no uncertain words that he’s angry and it’s more than time for Ethan to take the position of the woman for once. Unfortunately, as we read through the novel, we do get to see that he is rather a diva and as much as he denies it, he doesn’t hate dressing in drag, just finds it humiliating. I love when we get to meet them for the first time, helping the local police catch a purse snatcher in a local park. Poor Vinnie was dressed in drag “again”, and was the bait.

I laughed at the commentary between the two while Vinnie does his best to look like a hopeless woman, with a gun stuck in his waistband. The funniest part was, while Vinnie was being distracted by a cute little dog that appeared out of nowhere, the purse snatcher appeared. Imagine his surprise when the ‘woman’ is a lot stronger than he thought, finding himself in a wrestling match. Ethan came to his rescue and Vinnie was pouting about his slight injuries and hurting feet, which I think all woman in the world can relate to. Those high heels can be killers.

After cuffing their suspect and handing him over to the local police, the end up taking the dog with them to the hotel not knowing what to do with the poor thing. They had called the number on his tag with no answer. They end up naming him Benny, already smitten with him. They find out that the dog actually belonged to the purse snatcher so they end up adopting him.

Ethan is a down to earth character, but he adores Vinnie and Benny. He’ll do anything to keep them safe. He also tends to be protective and at times babying Vinnie when he needs it. For example, he’ll give a foot rub after wearing the heels. Ethan and Vinnie have a relationship that many would love. They have each other’s back no matter what, in their police work or in life. Their love is expressed in their lovemaking; it’s hot but sweet along with comfort as needed. It’s them against the world.

I enjoyed the main plot where poor Vinnie is forced, yet again, to dress in drag. This time he has to infiltrate a club called The Stroll which is experiencing accidents to the drag queens and those who frequent the club are being blackmailed. This club is well known for their entertainment of the drag queens dancing and they also mixed with the customers. Each ‘woman’ has her own stage name such as Afternoon Delight, and Sparkles. Vinnie’s stage name is Boom-Boom Sanchez and Ethan goes undercover as a bartender so both could watch and listen for any clues. Vinnie was an instant success, to his consternation.

This is a fun, entertaining, and suspenseful book that kept me entertained from start to finish. A wonderful plot filled with great and exotic characters that allows the reader to get a peek in the drag queen society. I would recommend this to anyone that has an open mind and enjoys a mystery with great characters who don’t take themselves too seriously.

An Angel for Daddy by Lucy Eden

An Angel for Daddy by Lucy Eden
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Contemporary
Length: Short Story (136 pages)
Heat level: Spicy
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Ginger

Ruby Hayes is intelligent, beautiful, great at her job and loves her students. She’s not too fond of me because despite moving to this small coastal California town only a month ago, I’ve managed to get on her bad side by consistently arriving late to pick up my daughter, Nina. It’s probably for the best. Between my job and adjusting to raising a little girl by myself, adding romance to the equation isn’t something I have time for.

Spencer Jones is successful, handsome, a doting father and terrible at reading a clock. His daughter, Nina also happens to my favorite student. Getting involved with the parent of a student is bad idea, no matter how witty and charming they might be. It’s probably for the best. Between my job, taking care of my dad and climbing out debt, a new relationship is the last thing I need.
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Who needs a dating app when five-year-old Nina Jones is the perfect matchmaker?

I thought it a sweet gesture that at such a young age, Nina has the foresight to look out for her father. I admired Nina for her being mature enough to understand her deceased mother’s request.

Nina and Ruby both share being daddy’s little girl in common. Ruby has to stay late with Nina because Nina’s father is constantly late picking up her up. Securities analyst Spencer Jones recently lost his wife, and decided to get a fresh start away from his family so the responsibility of his daughter is solely up to him. This is a quick and enjoyable read that didn’t have any drama or heartbreak. My preference is not for romance but for some reason I felt the need to read something kind, loving and where something good happens and this book gave me just that. This is a delightful and well written story about the power of love, commitment and family.

There is an immediate attraction between Ruby and Spencer, but neither is ready for a relationship. Ruby has a full time job and when she’s not working she’s taking care of her ailing father.

I enjoyed the relationship between Ruby and Spencer. There are adult scenes included but to me they were not needed to enhance the book. I do have to admit the passion between the two and the love scenes were hot. There is a hostage situation mentioned at Spencer’s job but no details of the situation were mentioned. All of the characters are likable and I am glad there was a happy ending for all.

The book has a nice ending that added a sentimental touch and a sweet closure. If you enjoy reading a happy, and upbeat story this is a story that you will enjoy.

The Golden Age of Flippin Everything by Richard Moore

The Golden Age of Flippin Everything by Richard Moore
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Length: Short Story (47 pages)
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

One billion years in the future, Ritch Speerat seeks psychological help for his nightmares. On his way to his therapist, he meets The Hortboy. Ritch shares with The Hortboy his love of ancient history, specifically an age one billion years in the past which he calls the ‘golden age of flippin everything’. The Hortboy is charmed by this age and shares it with everyone he knows. It goes viral.

Ritch’s therapist informs him that he can end his nightmares by using The One True Law Of The Universe on his cannibal family. Ritch must retrieve The One True Law, overcoming many obstacles, and expose the source of his nightmares to its justice. Maybe his unique knowledge of the ‘golden age of flippin everything’ will help him.

On his journey, Ritch encounters giant pizza-delivering rodents, enchanted roadways, weird spells, strange magic items, golden skyscrapers, a singing/dancing army, ghastly demons, villainous cannibals, multiple One True Laws, a pot smoking dragon, and a group of frat boys, all of which come together like water in a flippin funnel.
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The Golden Age Of Flippin Everything juxtaposes: mature psychological issues with sophomoric humor, emotional abandonment with serendipitous friendship, girl parts with boy parts; you get the flippin idea.

Written with the structural vigor of a sonnet, the calculated efficiency of a computer program, and the offbeat humor of a freak, The Golden Age Of Flippin Everything is sure to enhance the golden age that is your flippin life.

What will your descendants be doing in a billion years?

The world building was marvelous. I truly felt like I’d traveled into the distant future and was attempting to understand what our descendants were like countless generations from now. Be sure to pay close attention to the footnotes, especially in the beginning. They’ll make it easy to understand everything that’s going on and slip into a world that is nothing at all like our own.

With that being said, I would have liked to see the same amount of effort put into the plot. The characters spent a lot of time cracking jokes and talking about their surroundings, but they didn’t put as much effort into pursuing their goals as I would have liked to see. While there were things they were trying to accomplish, this wasn’t necessarily the focus of their adventures. I would have gone for a higher rating if it had been.

This was a hysterical read, however! The author drew out a lot of the humor in his scenes by describing outlandish scenarios in such precise detail that I could picture them perfectly in my mind. No sooner would I adapt to one of his images than other one that was even wackier would pop up to take its place. There were no limits to what was possible in this magical world, and that made it an unforgettable experience.

The Golden Age of Flipping Everything should be read by everyone who enjoys tongue-in-cheek humor.

Stalked by Sam Crescent

Stalked by Sam Crescent
Publisher: Evernight Publishing
Genre: Contemporary
Length: Short story (44 pages)
Other: M/F
Rating: 3 stars
Reviewed by Xeranthemum

James Stork has been watching Emily Miller for over two years now. She’s twenty years his junior and has dealt with so much loss. Her life was thrown upside down, and staying in the background, he’s tried his hardest to help guide her. He gave her a job, made sure her apartment was paid for, and everyone knows to keep an eye on her, but not to get too close.

She belongs to him.

For Emily, she has a crush on her much older boss. He makes her ache and yearn for things she didn’t think she could ever want. When James makes it clear he wants the same things she does, falling into bed with him—falling for him—is all too easy.
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But when she discovers how much James has done for her, she’s shocked, surprised, and a little scared. He’s not given her a chance to be free. Is she ungrateful? Mean? Is there really anything to forgive? He was taking care of her when she needed it most. Can she get past the manipulation to still love the man himself?

This story almost reminds me of Cinderella, except the heroine has a fairy godfather instead of a godmother. The only magic is money, brute strength, and determination. Her stalker has a reputation as a mover and shaker, and as a man who makes things happen. The reason for his stalkerish behavior is simple – love.

In a way, it makes sense that James could do all he did. He is older, established and of an age where he knows exactly what he wants when he sees it, and is able to do something about it. Namely, protect her, watch over her and love Emily from afar. I credit the character for waiting while she got over the grief of losing her parents. Making sure she knew her own mind and had healed emotionally allowed me to respect the hero’s restraint.

The well-written eroticism covers James finally making a move on Emily. He introduces her to many firsts and the heroine is more than ready to participate because feelings for James had been growing for quite some time. His being her teacher was sexy. James was commanding and sure and his focus is on making sure Emily knows what he feels for her though his touch and actions and some spicy dialogue.

Naturally, the fly in the ointment was finding out just how far reaching James’ reach is. Emily’s reaction was, as expected, anger. However, it’s not the over-the-top screech-fest I expected. Then again, her outbursts weren’t very impressive as they were short lived. I thought she forgave him too easily. Perhaps that’s due to pacing required of a short story. At least where they stood in their relationship is made clear.

Stalked has a really nice happy ever after ending that culminated in the epilogue. It proved what I thought, James is a very virile man, and Emily might be all his, but he is absolutely all hers.

This little romance is well-balanced between being erotically sexy and roughly romantic. It’s amazing what lengths a man will go to when he’s in love. Read Stalked and find out.

Endgame by Aisha Tritle

Endgame by Aisha Tritle
Publisher: Kyanite Publishing
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Suspense/Mystery
Length: Short story (67 pages)
Rating: 3.5 stars
Reviewed by Fern

When Leigh, a young and successful lawyer, is left by her boyfriend of two years for an Instagram model, she enters into a daily cycle of excessive alcohol and first dates in a virtual reality dating app called “The Game”.

Then she meets the enigmatic Alexei and it’s different. He’s beautiful, just her type, and into her. But when Leigh is trapped in The Game during a Gatsby-themed gala and forced to catch a hacker who’s using the app to set up crimes in the real world, she realizes there’s a far more dangerous game being played…
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And Alexei might be the death of her.

Leigh lives in the future and after a nasty break up spends a lot of her free time on an exceedingly safe and popular virtual reality program “The Game”. There, she meets Alexei and is instantly smitten. Is everything really as it seems?

I found this to be an interesting short story set not too far into the future. Told in the first person I was intrigued in that there is enough future-type of tech to make this feel a bit of a Sci-Fi story but yet still remain close enough to the present to not stretch readers who usually wouldn’t delve into the realms of Sci-Fi stories. While it took quite some time (almost half the short story) for the mystery/suspense aspect of the plot to really get going I thought that it was well thought out. Although initially I found the plot a little murky and hard to understand I was pleased that this quickly smoothed out and it became a lot clearer and the pace picked up. Readers who enjoy futuristic thrillers should find this an interesting and quick read.

I thought Leigh and Alexei’s characters were interesting and I thoroughly enjoyed that neither of them were as simple or straight-forward as I expected. I really wish the story had a bit more time to flesh out both of their characters and give a more solid grounding to their actions. A few times I had to pause and go back to re-read as I didn’t fully comprehend why they sometimes acted as they did. I feel if the author had spent a bit more time rounding out both Alexei and Leigh’s characters and showing us the reasons and thinking behind their actions then this would have allowed me as the reader to more fully understand each of their motivations.

That said I think the fast pace of the story helped sell the action aspect to the story and helped make the reader feel that this was a roller coaster that had simply gone out of control. While I personally found there was a solid lead-up to Leigh’s final actions and they were explained quite well, I’m not certain all readers will feel the same way. Such a polarizing action will likely split many readers and while many will find them justified I think many equally will feel that Leigh crossed a line.

Futuristic and yet far too believable, this is an interesting Sci-Fi story with a good, solid mystery aspect to it. A quick and heart-pounding read I feel it should appeal to a wide range of readers.

The Beta’s Spitfire by Gale Stanley

The Beta’s Spitfire by Gale Stanley
Publisher: Changeling Press
Genre: Contemporary, Paranormal
Length: Short Story (63 pages)
Other: M/F
Rating: 3 stars
Reviewed by Fern

Samson: Levi and I have always been best friends. Now he’s the pack Alpha and I’m his beta, a.k.a. the man who cleans up after his shit storms. This one is a doozy. He dumped his intended bride, and now it’s my job to take care of her while he goes off to find his soulmate. Delilah is beautiful, a real spitfire, and completely off limits. But she ignites a fire that makes my wolf sit up and howl.
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Delilah: I was meant to be the mate of an Alpha, so l accepted an arranged marriage with Levi. But the arrogant jerk dumped me right before the wedding. I’m no damsel in distress, so I took off for New York to live a life of independence. Along the way, I was kidnapped and my situation became desperate. When Samson came to my rescue, I never expected him to claim me for himself.

Delilah might be the Alpha’s daughter, but she had her own opinions, her own plans and she was nothing close to a submissive, stay at home and follow orders woman. When the arranged marriage her father organized fell through, Delilah wasn’t heartbroken and she had no plans to return to her family home. She was determined to live life on her own terms and that included a career and her independence. Samson might be the Beta to Delilah’s ex-fiance, but the attraction he feels for her is strong and when his instincts say she’s in trouble nothing can stop Samson from trying to help, no matter the cost.

I found this to be an interesting short story. I thought the plot was very well written – although a few of the medical aspects to the story when Delilah was kidnapped didn’t appeal to me, personally. While not graphic or overly intense, I usually tend to stay away from those sorts of stories as they don’t appeal to me. I thought the pace of the plot moved really well – fast enough to keep me turning the pages but with enough detail and layers to remain consuming and keeping my attention. I feel this aspect of the story should appeal to most readers. I thought the romance between Delilah and Samson took a bit of a back seat to the plot. On the one hand it helped me show that Samson’s feelings for Delilah were real and deep, but it took me quite a while to feel Delilah really reciprocated those feelings since she couldn’t see or understand Samson’s connection to her.

Delilah is a complicated character and at times I felt her independence and self-assurance came across as arrogance. I was both pleased and relieved when Delilah stepped back from that slippery slope of being judgmental and cold, but I felt the story lost a lot of the romance when Delilah refused to acknowledge her feelings. Thankfully due to the shortness of the story this didn’t last long – which made it less believable to me but also helped keep the pace of the romance moving along. When Delilah and Samson finally both got onto the same page the sex between them was hot and steamy and I feel a lot of erotica readers will find it satisfying.

With lots of plot and action this is a good story with a strongly paranormal world.

Stracciatella Gelato: Melting Time by Marilyn Baron

Stracciatella Gelato: Melting Time by Marilyn Baron
Publisher: The Wild Rose Press
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Paranormal, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (42 pages)
Heat Level: Sensual
Rating: 5 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Kate Buckthorn, a sixty-something woman in a predictable marriage, takes a day trip to Florence, Italy, to relive the months she spent there as a college art history student. After visiting all the familiar sights, she returns to her favorite gelato shop where she tosses some coins into the plastic cup of a Roma looking for change. And change is what she gets, literally. After enjoying her triple-scoop gelato, she leaves the shop, magically transformed into her twenty-three-year-old self.

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Second chances don’t come along every day.

Kate was such a likeable protagonist. She’d spent her entire life making responsible choices that gave her the highest chances of success. Her emotional stability and commitment to always doing the right thing only made her decisions in Florence more intriguing. Seeing a side of her personality that no one had caught a glimpse of in over forty years made me eager to find out how her adventures would end. There’s something so special about getting to know a protagonist this well, especially when they have good reasons for keeping certain parts of themselves tucked away somewhere private for so long.

The magical realism in the plot was handled beautifully. This was one of those stories that was perfectly poised in the intersection between the romance and fantasy genres. I couldn’t begin to pick only one of them to best describe it, so it only made sense that both of them mixed together into something that can’t be easily classified. Anyone who generally reads only one of these genres but is curious to try the other one should definitely consider starting here.

I loved the ending. Not only did it suit Kate’s personality perfectly, it left plenty of room for readers to come up with their own theories about the portions of the storyline that weren’t tied up neatly by the final scene. There were so many different ways to interpret it that I was delighted by the thought that I could pick the one that I thought best fit what we learned about the main character and the magical things she’d experienced during her trip.

Stracciatella Gelato: Melting Time was a whimsical tale that made me smile.

A Winter Knight by Barbara Bettis

A Winter Knight by Barbara Bettis

Publisher: Self Published
Genre: Historical Romance
Length: Short (146 pgs)
Heat Level: Sweet
Rated: 4 stars
Review by Rose

He’s running from his past; she’s running from her future. But on a snowy winter night, they find each other and the surprising gift of love.

Sir Nicholas has given up on marriage. These days he’s content to captain his friend’s troops and avoid entanglements—until one winter night when he rescues a half-frozen woman from a snowstorm. Her irrepressible spirit and kindness to others reminds him that all ladies aren’t like his former intended, who wed his brother while Nick was on crusade. But he can’t open his heart to Lady Clare. She’s bound to another, and Nick won’t forfeit his honor. Even if she were free, he has nothing to offer but love, and this lady deserves everything.
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Lady Clare’s dying grandfather has arranged her betrothal, but the arrival of the man she’s to wed sends her fleeing into a snowstorm. Injured when her horse stumbles, she’s rescued by a mysterious knight. She recovers at his run-down manor, safe at last—until her betrothed tracks her down just days before Christmas. Trapped at home with the wedding imminent, she longs for the winter knight she’s come to love.

Only a miracle can bring Clare and Nick together. But at Christmas, anything is possible.

This is just a sweet story of a love that can transform a person. It’s part of a series, but can definitely be read as a standalone (though I would like to go back and read the first book in the series. I’m assuming it’s his friend’s story).

The characters are well drawn for such a short work (less than 150 pages and, if I had had the time I could have easily read it in one sitting). My favorite character, besides Nicholas and Clare, is Tom… what a wonderful character. I would love to see him get his own story..maybe a coming of age tale?

And, what can I say about Nicholas and Clare.. I fell in love with them both. I loved how the title aptly describes not only the season, but also Nicholas himself. His heart was certainly frozen due to being hurt previously.

If you are looking for a sweet romantic tale of two people finding each other, give this one a shot. I’ll definitely be on the lookout for more of this author’s works.

Imagination Vacation by Jami Gigot

Imagination Vacation by Jami Gigot
Publisher: Albert Whitman & Company
Genre: Childrens, Action/Adventure, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (32 pages)
Age Recommendation: 6+
Rating: 5 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Sam has a very busy family. Mom works late; Dad’s projects pile up. Even Sam’s younger sister Marla is always doing something. Everyone in Sam’s family has their own idea of what the perfect vacation would look like. But there’s one thing they all agree on: they just can’t get away right now. So Sam comes up with a different kind of getaway. With a little planning, a few supplies, and a touch of creativity, she finds that her family’s dream vacation wasn’t so far away after all.

Nobody needs a passport or plane ticket for these adventures!
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I adored Sam’s dedication to researching the places her family dreamed of visiting someday. She was such an intelligent and persistent kid. The fact that she imagined every detail of these trips and insisted on making them come true for her family only made me love her even more.

So many things in life can be made better if we approach them with the right attitude. This family wasn’t able to physically visit places like Paris, but that didn’t mean their imaginary trips were any less fun than the real ones. Seeing how they turned a negative situation into a positive one made me smile. There is definitely something to be said for looking for the good in the world and responding to it with gratitude.

Having a vivid imagination is a wonderful gift. There were so many things I enjoyed about these characters, but by far my favorite part of them had to do with how joyfully they mixed their imaginations into ordinary settings in their home and nearby places. Any place can be exciting if it’s viewed in the right light and allowed to shape shift into something truly special in the minds of everyone who is experiencing it.

To make things clear, this tale was written last year before the Covid-19 pandemic began. There were no references to it in the plot itself, but it could certainly be interpreted as a creative response to current travel restrictions by readers who wanted to discuss that topic with the children in their lives.

Imagination Vacation is the perfect picture book for anyone who wants to find new ways to see their old, familiar surroundings no matter what their reasons are for doing that.