Roberta Writes – Reviews of novella: The Hay Bale, I Wouldn’t Be Surprised, and Handprints

The Hay Bale by Priscilla Bettis

The Hay Bale by [Priscilla Bettis]

What Amazon says

Contemporary Southern Gothic meets weird horror in this new novelette from Priscilla Bettis.

Professor Claire Davenport yearns to be a mother. After suffering four miscarriages, the university microbiologist tries and fails to qualify as an adoptive mother. Then Claire’s husband leaves.

Alone and emotionally wounded, Claire takes a summer sabbatical from her microbiology classes and escapes to rural Virginia to heal. There, she meets local farmers with strange agricultural practices.

Claire moves into the historic manor house she rented for the summer, and an abandoned child greets her. Is the child real, an answer to her prayers? Or is he a figment of her tormented emotions? Perhaps the tight-knit locals are playing a trick on the science lady from the city.

Whatever the boy’s origin, Claire is determined to find the truth, but the truth may be bloody.

My review

The Hay Bale is one of the best horror short stories I’ve read in along time. It is clever and creepily disturbing with a climax that will have you wondering about it for a long time after you’ve finished reading the last page. For me, it was a bit reminiscent of Children of the Corn by Stephen King with it’s remote rural setting and deviant cult-like community beliefs and behaviours. The author created and maintained the same breath-holding tension.

Claire is a successful career microbiologist who has had four miscarriages and had to face the realisation that she cannot control her own biology. An unsuccessful attempt at adoption due to her unstable mental condition has led to the complete breakdown of her relationship. In an effort to pull herself together and get back on her feet, Claire has rented an old farmhouse in a remote location. She plans to rest and come to terms with her losses and future path.

Soon after her arrival, Claire starts to hear strange scratching sounds. She also meets the peculiar minister of the local church who warns her to keep away from a seemingly diseased hay bale. Are the two tied together, and if so, how?

The story is well written and fast paced with good tension throughout. If you like good horror and are not feint hearted, you will enjoy this dark short tale. 

Purchase The Hay Bale

Amazon US

I Wouldn’t Be Surprised: A Short Story by D.L. Finn

I Wouldn't Be Surprised: A Short Story by [D.L. Finn]

What Amazon says

Do you ever wish you could take back your words? Janice and Dale Hart sat around the dinner table laughing at silly “I wouldn’t be surprised” jokes that included UFOs, Bigfoot, hand-delivered food, and serial killers. A week later, an innocent plate of food is left on Dale’s truck in the middle of the night. That’s only the beginning, and the presents go from harmless to life-threatening. Will the Harts find help in time to survive an evil bearer of “gifts”? Find out in this paranormal thriller.

My review

This is an entertaining short story about a couple who amuse themselves over dinner one evening by playing a game of ‘what if’. The following day, Janice finds a plate of bread in her husband, Dale’s, truck. None of the likely people they know gave them the bread and Janice cannot work out who the giver is from the security camera footage.

The circumstances of Janice’s life become even stranger as the days pass and, to make matters worse, her dog is also jumpy and behaving strangely. It seems as if the game she and Dale played that night is coming true in a weird and frightening way.

This is a nicely written story with a good interest factor and a unique plot . There is an interesting twist at the end of the book.

Purchase I Wouldn’t Be Surprised: A Short Story

Amazon US

Handprints by Wanda Adams Fischer

Handprints by [Wanda Adams Fischer]

What Amazon says

After their husbands commit them to a state mental institution in Massachusetts, two women become friends. Were they–and the other women who filled the place–even mentally ill? Anne was eccentric, to be sure, and her Boston fireman husband decided it was more than he could bear. Edna loved to read and write poetry; her husband said she wasn’t “a good wife,” so he called the constable and had her taken away to the state mental hospital. She craved companionship and found Anne during her first night at the place. Edna called Anne “Anne of Green Gables”; she told everyone who’d listen that she was Edna St. Vincent Millay. This novella looks at the way they cope with spending the rest of their lives in a state mental institution with humor and Anne’s visitors from the outside world–and how they make a Christmas surprise visit to the site of the old mental hospital as spirits after their deaths.

My review

Handprints is a haunting short story about an ordinary woman, who believes herself to be poet, Edna St. Vincent Millay, with whom she shares a first name. Edna’s husband has her committed to a state hospital for the insane in Mattapan, Massachusetts. At the hospital, Edna becomes friends with another woman, whom she calls Anne of Green Gables. Anne has also been committed to the mental institution by her husband. The time frame is 1940 and it was quite easy for a man to have his wife declared insane, and institutionalised, at that time. The ladies were committed for life and led limited lives where they were treated like young children and given the same clothing and even the same haircuts.

Edna is completely abandoned by her husband and has no visitors. She is desperately lonely and seeks to befriend Anne’s three grandchildren. They are left alone in their mother’s car for a short period, when she collects Anne for Sunday lunch every week. Edna attempts to make contact with the children by placing her hand on the window, hoping one of them will return the gesture. None of them ever do.

This story is beautifully written and certainly makes you think as the narrator is unreliable and you can’t distinguish the truth from her imaginings. It is not possible to determine whether Edna has been committed under false pretenses by her husband who just wants to be free of her, or whether Edna truly is mentally unbalanced. In my personal opinion, the narration leans towards Edna being mentally ill. Her strange behaviour, namely, her conviction that she is a famous poet, and recitals of the poet’s poems at unexpected times, could also have been the result of the suppression by life of an active mind and imagination, in other words, complete boredom due to an unfulfilling and mundane life.

This is an interesting short story and definitely worth reading. 

Purchase Handprints

Amazon US

58 thoughts on “Roberta Writes – Reviews of novella: The Hay Bale, I Wouldn’t Be Surprised, and Handprints

  1. I’ve read The Hay Bale and I Wouldn’t Be Surprised, and really enjoyed them both. The cover of Handprints is stunning and it sounds like a most unusual tale. Congratulations to all three authors. Great reviews, Robbie!

    Liked by 4 people

  2. Thank you, Robbie, for including The Hay Bale in your wonderful reviews! I’m glad you liked it. I’ve read I Wouldn’t Be Surprised, fun story with an imaginative premise. But I haven’t heard of Handprints. I’m intrigued. It sounds like something I’d love.:-)

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Hi Priscilla, I enjoyed The Hay Bale very much. I was very Stephen Kingy and there are certainly worse authors to be reminiscent off. You do have your own style though, it is just that it reminded me of The Raft. Handprints is a good story, I enjoyed it very much.


  3. These all sound good. Handprints, I am especially drawn to. That sort of imprisonment used to happen and there was little the victim could do. How to cope with a life lived in that manner is an interesting question.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Hi Jacqui, the topic for Handprints drew me to it too. I have read other stories in this vein and actually featured this in my book, A Ghost and HIs Gold, when Estelle’s uncle has her committed to a mental institution. A very unfair and tragic practice from the past.


  4. These are great reviews, Robbie. I have The Hay Bale already but am giving serious thoughts to buying these other two books as well after your comments about them.

    Liked by 3 people

  5. Thank you Robbie for including I Wouldn’t be Surprised:) I’m happy you liked it…there’s a bit of truth in there. I loved The Hay Bale and have Wanda’s short on my TBR list.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Congratulations to all of these fine authors! I have been hearing some great things about, “The Hay Bale” and I really like the idea behind Denis’s book . . . being a bit superstitious myself in that way. “I Wouldn’t be Surprised” looks like a fun read. Thank you for your reviews and support of fellow authors, Robbie. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Wonderful reviews, Robbie. Thank you for sharing. I loved The Hay Bale and will definitely check out Denise’s and Wanda’s books. Congratulations to all!!

    Liked by 2 people

  8. I read the first two stories and happily recommend them. The third sounds heartbreaking and powerful. Such a sad time for women, and what a tragic life many were forced into. Thanks for sharing all three. Best wishes to the authors.

    Liked by 2 people

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