Tag Archives: short stories

A Librarian in Sin City

…A popular artist is murdered in his own gallery.

…A pagan fertility ritual at an isolated goddess sanctuary goes terribly wrong.

…A school group’s excursion to a desert wildlife refuge reveals that the most dangerous predators walk on two legs.

There’s more to life in Sin City than casinos, bright lights, and showgirls. Just ask recently divorced librarian Elinor Gray. Her day job coordinating special events for the Las Vegas-Clark County Library District isn’t all that exciting. Except Elinor has a knack for stumbling—sometimes literally—over dead bodies and into the arms of Detective Guillermo “Guy” Villanueva. Too bad his ex-stripper little sister is the slut who ruined Elinor’s marriage.

Death Times Three is a mini-collection (two stories and a novella) of short mysteries that prove what happens in Vegas can be fatal.

Buy on Amazon

The All-Important First Line

While I don’t know if I’d go as far as science fiction author Madeleine L’Engle, who believed that the opening of every book should hold at least the seed of its resolution, first lines do give writers a chance to “hook” readers with a compelling mood, a unique voice, or a startling image. For me, the first line of a novel or story is also my own doorway into the piece, even if, as so often happens, it doesn’t survive past the rough draft.

So here’s the first line of “Blondes From Pasadena,” a story I’ve just drafted. Since I initially work long-hand, and then revise at least a little as I type the chicken scratch into a Word document, this actually at the “second draft” stage. Whether it will continue to hold the honored position of first line through future incarnations…who knows?

“Lulu Esquival’s eighteen years of training in lyrical dance had given her grace, poise and excellent posture, none of which rescued her during her first shift frying fish bits at The Happy Clam.” 

P.S. If you’d like to learn more about the late Madeleine L’Engle, a prolific author of speculative fiction from middle-grade through adult, here’s her website http://www.madeleinelengle.com/

I also dedicated all of Issue #24 of Carrie’s Notebook, my newsletter, to Madeleine L’Engle, her work, and her influence on me as a reader and a writer. You can find that issue HERE.

Author Madeleine L’Engle, 1918-2007

Review: THIRTEEN

There is nothing predictable about this collection of strange tales.

Thirteen: a collection of odd tales by B. A. Spicer

Thirteen: a collection of odd tales by B. A. Spicer

The stories in THIRTEEN: A COLLECTION OF ODD TALES run the gamut from speculative fiction with a scientific edge to Gothic fiction to darkly humorous detective fiction. Nor are Spicer’s characters any easier to pin down. They live in ambiguity and don’t behave or react in the ways we might expect, like the loving mother in “Angels” whose grief leads her to the unthinkable, or the young lover in “The Visit” who, on a weekend holiday with a fascinating woman, somehow dreams every moment of their getaway before it happens.

A couple of the stories go past “odd” into truly dark places. “Night Caller” had me checking that my windows and doors were locked tight. I couldn’t stop squirming as I read “Flashforward”. I kept hoping that somehow a last-minute miracle would reverse what we know from page one can never be undone.

Taken as a whole, the tone of the collection is meditative, exploratory. It’s almost as if Spicer set each story loose in its own glassed-in habitat and stepped back to see what would happen. What results is a wonderfully imaginative collection that never quite shows you its true face.

Review: MANTEQUERO

An overweight school teacher spends her Christmas holidays in Spain where she meets a mysterious man and and even more mysterious fate.

Mantequero

Mantequero

As this paranormal story is quite short, there isn’t too much I can say without spoiling it for you. June is a teacher with no social life to speak of. Fed up with being taken for granted by her slimmer sisters and needy mother, she takes off for Spain in a kind of glorious rebellion. The tiny village is just what she wanted, and she settles in for what she expects will be a relaxing and uneventful stay. Then, while losing track of time during an evening walk, she meets a gentlemen whose courtly behavior and obvious interest in her raises the possibility of romance. But this Don Juan is much more than he seems.

Twist’s writing is solid. In roughly 36 pages, she manages to make June believable and likable, and she does a wonderful job with her settings. Both June’s life in England and her time in Spain seemed real to me. Twist’s pacing is perfect. There’s just enough suspense to keep you turning the pages until that shocking final image hits you in the gut.

Though this is the first story in a series, I wouldn’t call the ending a cliffhanger. The kindle version I read included the opening of the next story. The transition between the first and second installments is smooth, and the timeline is maintained, which helps keep you oriented.

MANTEQUERO is a short, entertaining horror story that leaves you eager for more.

Review: A Werewolf for Christmas

A young doctoral student recovering from setbacks in her career and love life is pursued by a werewolf who resents that she’s his natural mate.

All I Want For Christmas is a Werewolf (Changeling Encounters, #3)

All I Want For Christmas is a Werewolf

This story is the third entry in J.S. Scott’s Changeling Encounters paranormal series. It’s the most developed of the three. Both Faith and Gavin have back stories weighing on them. The romance isn’t simply a matter of the werewolf convincing the human that they are meant to be. Gavin thought he’d found his mate once before and it ended in heartache. So he hates romance and he hates Christmas.

Faith’s last lover stabbed her in the back by stealing her research and using it to get the job she wanted. Her feelings–anger, pain, distrust–are realistic. Unfortunately, Scott undermined my suspension of disbelief by not filling the situation in better. First of all, there’s no explanation of how Faith’s research was stolen. Every PhD student has an adviser and a committee overseeing their work from well before the research begins. Perhaps an adviser could steal research. But another student? Also, this “job” Faith lost out on is never specified. PhD students don’t compete for “jobs.” They battle for prestigious research fellowships, grants, and university teaching positions.

This may seem like I’m quibbling, but we’re supposed to believe this bright young woman with an advanced education is now scratching to survive. So the reason behind her problem needs to be convincing.

A good book, but a bit more research would have turned this four-star short into a five star.

“As Above, So Below”

Egyptian poet and short story writer Nada Adel Sobhi has a gorgeous blog Nadaness In Motion where she posts her work, book reviews and some of the most creative writing prompts I’ve run into. Takkayal, Arabic for “imagine,” is the name of her picture prompt series. I’ve been admiring the images for months and never took the plunge. Well, her current prompt captured my imagination and I had to give it a try. So here’s the image and my contribution. Does this painting awaken anything for you? If so, head on over to Nada’s site and add your comment here.

"As Above, so Below"

Takhayyal (writing prompt) 15 from Nadaness in Motion. Artist unknown.

 

As Above, so below

That’s what they told her.

As within, so without.

She’d understood this once. How everything is everything else, however much your eyes and ears tell you otherwise.  Your senses? They’ll try to fool you.

Remember, child, the key to the door with no lock.

She’d giggled at them then watched her laughter rise in waves of golden light, blowing here and there. Everywhere.

Of course, she’d remember. How could she ever forget?

“Melody Winters, pay attention!”

Melody gasped. Her eyes snapped open to meet Mrs. Tate’s glare. The teacher stood at the front of the classroom, geometry lesson scrawled on the board behind her. “Well? Care to explain yourself?”

Albert, who sat behind Melody, hissed in her ear. “You’re in for it now, Mousy Mel. The mean hag will double your homework.”

Melody took a deep breath. “I’m sorry, Mrs. Tate…I…”

“Had your head in the clouds? Again? Well, we must help you with that. Mustn’t we?” The teacher’s red-painted lips stretched into an unfriendly smile.

Double homework alright. And a note to take to her parents. They’d have to sign it and send it back to Mrs. Tate. So unfair, Melody thought, as the cold November air bit through her thin coat. All around her the press of people, the cars with their loud horns and gritty exhaust  that stung her nose and throat, it all closed in on her. Melody reached the corner of her street and ran the rest of the way to her building, and then up five flights of steps. Slamming the apartment door behind her, she pressed her back against it, listened to her lungs fill and empty, fill and empty as she caught her breath. Her parents didn’t close their bookshop until seven. A short reprieve.

Melody changed out of her school clothes and padded to the kitchen. She toasted a slice of bread, spread it with butter, and climbed out the kitchen window onto the fire escape. Too cold, really, to be out here. And it’s getting dark. But this was her place, high above noise and crowds and snickering boys and teachers who glared.

Nibbling at her toast, Melody looked up at the darkening sky and…There…right there…at edge of her mind…a flicker… But it was like catching sight of something from the corner of her eye. Only no matter how fast she turned her head, she could never catch it. What is wrong me? Mousy Mel. Silly little girl with her head in the clouds. The endless clouds. In an endless sky.

Five stories below Melody, the first streetlamps flickered to life. One then another and another. Glowing golden amber. Illuminated jewels that extended down the girl’s street to the next and the next and the next.

Review: FALLING IN (Vol. 4)

A short story focused on the development of secondary characters Saint and Jeanette in Riley’s Taking the Fall series.

Falling In: Vol 4

Falling In: Vol 4

Saint and Jeanette added a lot to the first three volumes of the Taking the Fall series, so I was glad to hear the author had penned an installment that delved into their relationship. We get a new perspective on both characters. Saint is still lovable, but his submissive behavior in this installment made me a little queasy at times. I know he was just giving Jeanette the control she craved after escaping her ex, but even there the logic was wobbly. We learn that most of the horrible things her ex did was to OTHER women before and after Jeanette. He was controlling, sure, but there was only one real episode of violence and it led to Jeanette running away.

Some of the problems with the plot may have to do with so much story being squished into so few pages. It felt rushed. It didn’t help that the epilogue (as unnecessary here as it was in the earlier parts) steals space from the main narrative.

This fourth volume didn’t deliver what I was hoping for based on the first three.

Two Alexa Riley Erotic Shorts

OWNING HER INNOCENCE

A sexy older bachelor give into his longstanding attraction for his closest friend’s daughter.

Owning Her Innocence

Owning Her Innocence

I’ve read most of Alexa Riley’s books. This one was a bit flimsy compared to the others. I think it was her first, which might explain why it doesn’t quite match the others in character development and plot complexity.

Haley and William are both likable characters, and they share a spark, especially in the erotic scenes.

I found the story arc way off. There’s no time given to character development. Even a short piece like this can offer a little something in terms of character. The potential is there, but the final result is rushed. Also, William’s initial overtures are creepy and a non-sexy kind of predatory. Haley has some promise at first, but she gets too baby-talky. It edged past role playing and became off putting. She seems dopey rather than innocent and sheltered.

It’s a quick read with some good moments.

OWNING THE BEAST

An orphan has no idea what she’s gotten herself into when she agrees to marry a reclusive bachelor sight unseen.

Owning the Beast

Owning the Beast

OWNING THE BEAST is a retelling of BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, but the plot is somewhat more complex than the classic story. Annabella (Belle) Blanca is alone in the world. She thinks she’s signing on for an arranged marriage when she’s unwittingly fallen into high-class prostitution. Griffen Stone is a beast in more than looks. He’s truly unpleasant at first. He thinks Belle’s his latest order from an obliging madam. Then he thinks her arrival was a mix-up. It isn’t. There’s a villain in the background who made sure Belle was sent there.

It took me a while to warm up to Griffen. This dude does not like women. It’s clearly a “reject them before they reject me” situation. His eventual attitude adjustment is a tad too abrupt. I would have preferred a more gradual softening. Still, he’s a sexy thing. Very snarly and masterful.

The story logic is rough in spots. Mostly when it comes to the villain and his motives. We come to understand what this bad guy wants, but there’s no credible reason for him to think that Belle in particular would be a good way to get to Griffen. There’s some sense that Belle reminds him of someone he cared for (can’t say more or I’ll spoil the story). And, sure, she’s not his standard tart. But every tart starts somewhere, right? That she might provide a way to hurt Griffen isn’t made plausible enough for me. Despite this, the climax is full of suspense and had me biting my nails.

If you can set your brain’s logic meter on “pause” for the duration, you’ll enjoy this erotic take of the classic fairy tale.

 

Review: MATE OF THE ALPHA

I’ve reviewed a few Marie Mason’s shifter novellas here and here.

Very short paranormal romance about a shifter businessman whose reluctance to claim his mate comes back to haunt him when she’s attacked by a gang of rogues.

Mate of the Alpha

Mate of the Alpha

Marie Mason manages to pack a lot of action and a decent amount of character development into thirty-five pages.

Hero Ethan Scott is a good mix of sensitivity and strength. His main problem is that he isn’t convinced that Lily Reynolds, who he believes is his fated mate, is prepared for life with a wolf shifter. By not claiming her, he’s left her fair game for the less savory elements of shifter society.
I’m not sure I buy Mason’s logic here. Rogues are outcasts. They don’t belong to or recognize wolf shifter social structure. So, I don’t see how Ethan claiming Lily would have put them off attacking her. Seems to me that at least the nastiest among them would’ve been even more eager to hurt her if she “belonged” to the alpha.

But this is supernatural fiction.

The scene where Ethan faces down the rouges is scary and will make me think twice about entering a deserted parking garage.

A quick and entertaining story.

Review: ON YOUR OWN by Jonathan Miller

A collection of short stories focused on individuals coming to grips with their inherent isolation–even from those they love.

On Your Own

On Your Own

The stories here are filled with flawed characters led astray by their own illusions and failure to connect with the people around them. They generally fall into two categories. First, there are generally good people gobsmacked by an unkind, inflexible world. Second, there are those who do wrong though they know better and often want to be better. All of Miller’s characters seem trapped by their own misconceptions and miscalculations. They either cannot attain intimacy or they cannot accept the restraints that intimacy imposes on them.

Miller’s writing is sharp and accomplished, and he has a good grasp on the emotional nuances that make for realistic characters. The world view presented in this volume is a bit grim, but that is literary short fiction for you, moody and leaning toward the pessimistic. Nevertheless, there are some lighter moments. “Mrs. Dumont and the Aroused Tenant” had me on the floor laughing. Also, “The Last Week of Summer” is full of a sharp-edged humor as a mini-war between two brothers clouds a much anticipated visit to their grandparents.

A thoughtful, nicely balanced collection.