short stories

Review of ‘Grandpa’s Horse and Other Tales

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Grandpa’s Horse and Other Tales by Ed Lehner is an eclectic collection of short stories that combine humor, nostalgia, and profound philosophical thought in one volume that’s a memoir of sorts that could very well be snippets from the author’s life growing up in Iowa.

From ‘Grandpa’s Horse,’ a short-short story about the author’s grandfather and a new horse that needed to be taught who was boss, to ‘Dana’s Story,’ about a woman coming to terms with her sexuality. Each story could stand alone but the collective is a complete treat and advisable if you’re looking for a few hours of pleasant diversion that will be at the same time uplifting.

I received a complimentary review copy of this book and once I started reading, I couldn’t put it down. I give this one five stars without hesitation.

I’m in a new short story collection

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It’s been a while since I wrote a short story. So, when I was asked to do one for a tribute volume to western author Scott Harris, I jumped at the chance. Believe it or not, my story was selected to open the book – how neat is that.  A new offering from Dusty Saddle Publishing, and it’s quite a deal at only 99 cents.

Scott Harris US Marshal

Kindle version available at:


Review of ‘Brutal Bedtime Stories’

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If you like your horror raw and uncensored, you’ll love Brutal Bedtime Stores: A Supernatural Horror Story Collection. An anthology of dozens of cutting-edge, macabre stories by David Maloney, Tobias Wade, Ha-yong Bak, and Kyle Alexander that will curl the hairs on your arm and send chills up and down your spine. These are stories of psychopaths, ghosts, and ghouls, the work of some really twisted minds; not for the sensitive or faint-hearted—you’ll love it.

I give this collection five stars.

Review of ‘Spilt Milk’

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Spilt Milk by D. K. Cassidy is a collection of twelve short stories about characters that are droll, unusual, all of whom make pivotal choices that affect not just them, but those around them. Stories are droll, and in some cases chilling, each distills a key moment in the character’s life.

Well written with fully-fleshed characters, these stories will keep you reading, and keep you awake at night looking over your shoulder and flinching at noises. A great read. I give it five stars.

Review of ‘Green Grow the Rashes’

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Transplanted Scot, William Meikle—now residing in Canada—is, in my view, the 21st century version of Edgar Allan Poe. No, he’s not a drug addict, at least not as far as I know, but the stories he churns out would make a drug addict quit cold turkey. Even when he writes humor, his stuff is downright scary. The collection of short stories in Green Grow the Rashes is no exception. From a down-at-the-heels singer who sees a green ghost, to the ‘thing’ hiding in the banana boat, Meikle conjures up some of the weirdest, scariest, and absolutely entertaining scenarios. If you like your short fiction with an edge, check this one out. I give this collection four stars.

Review of ‘Corliss and Other Award Winning Stories’

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Corliss and Other Award Winning Stories is a collection of short stories by Heather Haven. This collection of murder, mystery and suspense has the common thread of humanness throughout, from the title story of Corliss, a young woman who must go to great lengths to protect her future, to Jemma, a bulldog who is more human than most of the humans in the stories in this outstanding collection.

Haven writes with a steady and accomplished hand, packing a ton of suspense into a very tight space. The results of this skill are an inevitable explosion at the end of each story. This is short story writing at its best. You’ll want to re-read all of these stories many, many times.

Five of five stars.

Review of ‘It Ain’t Easy’

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Life is seldom easy for a teenager, and when that teen has to grow up in Washington, DC, life can be hell. In It Ain’t Easy, a collection of short stories by Kesia Alexandra, the reader is shown what life is like in that part of the city that’s not monuments and government buildings—from the gritty streets of some of the poorest parts of the city to the privileged halls of its prestigious private schools.

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for my review. The author writes with amazing insight for one so young, with gritty dialogue that takes you into the mind and heart of the subject. From a young woman, a single mother, caught up in a tax cheating scam to get by to a scholarship student in an upscale private school embroiled in the he said, she said turmoil of allegations of sexual misconduct, she shows us the part of Washington that definitely ‘Ain’t Easy.’

Despite a few formatting glitches and grammatical and spelling gaffes, this is a delightful collection that showcases a young writer with promise. I give it three and a half stars.

Review of ‘Four Mothers’

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You might think you understand motherhood, but after reading R.J. Crayton’s Four Mothers: Four Short Stories Focused on Mothers in Crises you’ll probably have second thoughts. The author gives us four stories about mothers and the different way they deal with crisis in their lives—women, who the author says, make parenting decisions that have significant consequences for their children.

This extremely well-written collection is actually five stories. It includes a bonus story, ‘Lynch Party,’ which is she claims is not about a mother’s decision, but in fact is. The only thing that sets Mrs. Lynch in this story apart from people such as Bitsy Wellsworth in ‘Almost Perfect’ is that she is not the focal point character. Nonetheless, her decision to include a lifelike figure as a piñata in her child’s birthday party has the potential to significantly impact not only her children, but everyone around her.

Some of these stories will give you the chills, others will bring tears, but all will have a profound emotional impact long after you stop reading. Crayton is a master of the short story and this collection of her work should be next on your to-read list. Five stars!

Review of ‘A Matter of Perception’

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A Matter of Perception is a fascinating collection of short stories by fantasy author Tahlia Newland. I received a free copy of this book for review.

While all of the stories in this collection are good, ‘Sacred Striptease’ is the one that really caught my eye.

‘Sacred Striptease’ takes us through an evening in the life of Lexie (Miss Electra), a stripper who works in a club frequented by mainly working class men stopping for a little entertainment before going home to their families. Told in the first person, the story shows the mental process of a woman who views what she does as art, not for titillation, but for entertainment. Lexie has a strong artistic connection and affection for the men who enjoy watching her perform, but is distressed by the presence of the Creep, a man who views her (in her view) not as a performer, but as a target for exploitation.

A profound treatment of subjects such as self-image, rape, and exploitation, this is a good short read that will entertain as much as Miss Electra’s artistic gyrations do. My only complaint is that the reader is never told why a former ballet dancer such as Lexie (not her real name we’re told) turned to stripping, and while the Creep is introduced and we’re led to believe he exerts a strong influence on Lexie (creating, we believe, a sense of fear and dread in her), he just disappears in the end with no real resolution to the tension, other than a slight surprise at the end, which I will not reveal so those who read the story can discover it for themselves.

Except for these two small weaknesses (in my personal opinion, I must stress), it’s a profoundly entertaining story, as are the others in this not-to-be-missed collection from an accomplished author. I give it four stars.

Review of ‘Chickens, Hawks and Grumpy Goats: Five Years on a Farm’

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Chickens, Hawks and Grumpy Goats by S.A. Molteni is a short book of short stories and essays based upon real life experiences on a hobby farm in Florida that the author shares with her spouse.

A delightful collection of tales, some from the point of view of the animals, that highlight the ups and downs of living on a hobby farm, this book could be three times longer and I’d still enjoy reading it. In fact, I think I’d like it even more if it was longer, because the stories are so well written and entertaining. The story of the aftermath of Chicken Little’s ‘sky is falling,’ episode, “Chicken Little in Therapy,” was my favorite. The opening story, ‘Surviving the Winter,’ had me fooled until the mid-point, when I realized that it was being told from the point of view of a Chicken Hawk, and even though it had a sad ending, I found myself chuckling wryly at parts. Others are nonfiction accounts of events that significantly affected the author, and she gets that impact across in her prose with great effect.

Molteni is a master story teller who conveys a sense of reality in her stories, even when the main character is an animal. After reading this book, you’ll find yourself wondering if maybe it wouldn’t be nice to have a little piece of the countryside to call your own – until you read the bonus story at the end, and realize that life in the country is not all bucolic scenery and laughs.

Kudos to the author for a fun read and four stars.

‘Awesome Allshorts: Last Days, Lost Ways’ Available Soon – an Awesome Anthology of Short Stories

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10624876_745543812159684_2965125530327861223_n What do you think happens when 21 authors, writers of different genres from all over the globe, collaborate to put together a collection of short stories? Magic – that’s what happens. Awesome Allshorts: Last Days, Lost Ways, was edited by acclaimed author Tahlia Newland, with the able assistance of Dixiane Hallaj and Richard Bunning, all three of whom contributed stories as well.

Published by AIA Publishing (part of the Awesome Indies family), this eclectic anthology has a little bit of everything. The diversity of the genres – from funny to far out – and the international nature of the authors, makes this a collection of short fiction that is unique. As it says in the introduction, “Awesome Indies listed fiction is often unique and sometimes ground-breaking. Our authors are the bold new voices in fiction . . .”

I got my start writing short stories, winning a national Sunday school short story writing competition when I was in my teens. For the past decade or so, I’ve concentrated on novel-length fiction and non-fiction, as well as blogging, but when I saw the call for stories for this volume, I decided to take a flyer.

I’d been working on a piece for several months about a zombie – but, I was trying to write a different kind of zombie story. I’d read an interview with comic mogul Stan Lee in a magazine in my wife’s doctor’s office while waiting for her one day, in which Lee had told the interviewer he didn’t like zombie movies or stories because they were always portrayed as shuffling flesh eaters. His view was, if someone has been given another shot at life, even as a zombie, they’re more likely to want to make up for the things they didn’t do in their first life – and chasing people down to eat their flesh wasn’t one of them.

So, I’d been working on this story about a zombie that knows he’s dead, but not how or when he died. He finds himself stuck in a strange city and his impulse is to help the weak. He runs into this girl who is not freaked out by his zombie status, and – well, you can guess how it might go from there. I’d actually written two stories, the second being a sequel to the first. I submitted the first, and the response was, ‘it’s nice, but can you make it longer?’ So, I combined the two stories, and I had to admit, it did read better that way. What was really surprising to me – it was accepted for the anthology. ‘I, Zombie,’ became one of 26 stories by 21 authors to be included in Awesome Allshorts: Last Days, Lost Ways. It’s not kosher to review your own work, so I won’t tell you how fantastic I think ‘I, Zombie’ is. Instead, I’ll recommend ‘Cut Throat’ by Joan Kerr or ‘Clearing The Shed’ by Tahlia Newland. Hell fire, why don’t you just read the whole thing. It’s a surefire winner – you can take my word for it.

The e-Book version will launch at the end of October 2014, followed shortly by a paperback version. If you’re a fan of short fiction, and you’re looking for something awesome to curl up with as the days grow short and the temperature plummets, this book will warm you up like nothing else. Check it out – you won’t regret it.


Awesome Indies Site to Relaunch!

In addition to coming out with this amazing anthology, Awesome Indies will be re-launching it’s Web site November 1 – 2, with giveaways, contests, and lots of other interesting stuff. don’t miss it.



Review of ‘Dancing shadows, Tramping Hooves’

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Dancing Shadows, Tramping Hooves is an interesting collection of short stories by Diane Ascroft. An urban Canadian who has transplanted herself to rural Ireland, she writes of women in similar circumstances in six stories that will delight you. I received a free copy of this book in exchange for my review. Ascroft is an entertaining writer whose characters are as adventurous and feisty as I imagine she is. They face situations that you’ll fine quite believable, and deal with them in ways that are entertaining.

My only criticism of Ascroft is that she didn’t include more stories in this maiden voyage. I  hope she won’t disappoint and will set sail with more soon.

Four stars to Ascroft and Dancing Shadows.

Author Interview: Ninja Mom and Author R. J. Crayton

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Starting with this issue, I plan to periodically showcase outstanding Indie authors. R.J. Crayton, who describes herself as a Ninja Mom and author, and who has penned the ‘First Life’ series that can be found on Amazon and other retail book sites.  Rather than bore you with my ravings, though, let’s allow R.J. to introduce herself.


1. Tell us about yourself and what you write.

My name is RJ Crayton and I’m your typical All-American gal. I literally come from an All-American city (Peoria, IL, 4-time winner of the “All-America City” award).  so far I’ve been writing thrillers with a touch of romance. My first published novels are part of my Life First series. That book is set in a dystopian future whose society lives by the mantra of “Life first.” As such, they put the preservation of life as a whole, above any specific individual and mandated organ donation to needy patients. Kelsey is not game for giving up her kidney, when called upon and flees.

These books were a lot of fun to write, and in them, we really get to know Kelsey, her best friend Susan and Kelsey’s boyfriend Luke. I’m also about to release a short story collection, which is about four different mothers. It’s not really a thriller, but the stories all raise really interesting issues, just like Life First.  For example, one story in the collection looks at a woman facing a crisis of faith after her daughter nearly dies from choking, and another looks at a mother-child relationship when the child repeatedly doesn’t live up to the mother’s expectations.

2. What in your life most influences your writing?

They say to write what you know, so I think just everything that’s happened in my life goes into the mix when it comes to writing. Ideas for stories tend to pop into my mind as a kernel or nugget and if it sticks, it will slowly form into a story. My novel Life First was inspired by a news story I saw on a woman who refused to get a c-section because she didn’t want to get “gutted like a pig” and her baby died. There was lots of talk about whether doctors should have done the procedure anyway and the mental stability of the mother, and the like. For me, it led to the question of whose rights do we give precedence to when we’re asking one person to sacrifice their body integrity to save the life of another. Would we ask a man to slice open his body simply to save the life of his child? While the health of an in-utero child and mother are tied to each other, I think the broader question is still applicable. And I wondered what would a society look like if we demanded citizens slice open their bodies and be “gutted like pigs” to save the lives of others. So, Life First was inspired by a news story and my reaction to it. My reaction was probably based, in part, on my own pregnancy, which had some potentially life-threatening complications. Ethically speaking, pregnancy is a really interesting time, because doctors are always measuring the impact of what they do on the health of two people. As a related aside, I’ve been offered morphine twice in my life, and both times were while I was pregnant. Doctors felt my discomfort being alleviated outweighed any potential impacts morphine had on my in-utero baby (I was around 8 months at the time of the offer during each pregnancy). So, life in general impacts the way we process information and think about stories to write.

I’m actually publishing a short story collection next month, and the appendices will discuss my personal connection to each story. For short stories, I tend to write things that are emotionally meaningful to me, rather than riffing off the nugget of an idea I got after reading a news article.

 3. What do you enjoy most about writing? What is your biggest challenge?

Most? That’s a tough one to answer. I’ve always loved writing, so I think what I like most is just letting the ideas out, letting what’s in my head flow from me to the keyboard. It’s a nice release. The biggest challenge is editing. It’s always hard to look back over what’s come out and realize it’s not as awesome as it felt coming out. That said, editing is usually where the story starts to shine and really come into its own.

4. Do you outline, or do you just let it flow?

I’m more of a let it flow type. However, when I start a novel, I usually have a general idea of where I want the trajectory to go. I rarely just write without some type of end goal, even if it were to change somewhat by what is written.

 5. Where do the ideas for your stories come from?

Hopefully I didn’t misinterpret the earlier question, as I feel like this is touching the same area. But, my ideas tend to just come from life. I’ll just be doing something or reading something, and a thought will come to mind for a cool story.  The idea for Life First happened after reading a news article. I have been working on a young adult paranormal story, loosely titled Scented, and the idea came for that when my son (3 at the time) just walked up to me and told me I stank, though I didn’t. It was creepy and weird at the time–at least in my mind; and my mind is all that really matters for the purposes of my writing–and shortly thereafter, I started writing Scented. (Though, I put it aside to write other things; which is good, because it was another 4 years before the other main character in that story emerged in my imagination; That character was also based on a life event).

6. How do you market your work?

Marketing is tough, because it requires platform building and social media and other time-consuming things. I’d prefer to spend time writing, not marketing, but you don’t sell if you don’t market. So, the primary things I do are blog (my own and guests), author interviews, social media (tweeting, facebooking, pinning and recently, tumbling) and the occasional paid advertising. They say the best marketing is to write more books, so I’m trying to do that. It’s one of the reasons I thought I’d release a short story collection.

 7. What are you currently working on?

Right now, I’m in a major editing phase. I am editing the third book in the Life First series and I’m editing my short story collection. I need to finish both in the next two weeks. Once I do, I’m going to send my Life First finale (I have yet to give book 3 a name) to beta readers, and the short story collection (called Four Mothers) to an editor. After that, I need to finish writing Scented. I know what I want to happen. I just need to execute it.

8. Where do you see yourself, in terms of your writing, five years from now?

In five years, I hope to have at least 10 books published and to have amassed a good number of readers who enjoy my writing.

 9. Is there anything else you’d like to add?

I think you’ve covered a lot, Charles, so nothing to add by way of general content. However, my dad said it’s always good to close with a joke.  So, here’s one my daughter told me the other day. I thought it was cute.

Q: Why is it easy to weigh fish?

A: Because they come with their own scales.




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Review: “12 Months of A Soviet Childhood: Short Stories: by Julia Gousseva

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Happy New Year!
Happy New Year! (Photo credit: Rinoninha)

In Twelve Months of a Soviet Childhood: Short Stories, Julia Gousseva has written twelve captivating tales that capture a slice of life in the now-defunct Soviet Union. She begins with winter, the dreariest, yet the most colorful month in Moscow, with its New Year’s parties and colorful New Year trees. She then takes us, month by month, on a journey that she calls fictional, but must be in large part autobiographical. We see things through the eyes of a child, unvarnished and without adult filtering.

A captivating collection of tales, as I said; but, the book has some near-fatal flaws. First, the sans serif text is a bit on the difficult side to read. But, the ragged and inconsistent indentation of paragraphs is by far the most distracting. This is a potentially great collection of short fiction that could reach that greatness with a bit of judicious editing.

I’d love to give it four or five stars, but alas, the formatting flaws drop it down to really two and a half.

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