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Better Days to Come: A Review of The Merry Christmas Ghost

The Merry Christmas Ghost - a Happy Holidays Horror Story by Dennis Warren book cover. Image on cover shows a closeup of a Christmas tree covered in tinsel and various Christmas ornaments. Title: The Merry Christmas Ghost

Author: Dennis Warren

Publisher: Self-Published

Publication Date: December 22, 2019

Genres: Horror, Paranormal, Holiday

Length: 10 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author.

Rating: 3 Stars

Blurb:

A haunted apartment. A very lonely woman. A violent criminal. All three have one thing in common: The Merry Christmas Ghost! Get into the Christmas spirit with this haunting tale of holiday cheer!

Review:

Content Warning: robbery, assault, battery, and loneliness.

Even horror can be wholesome during the Christmas season.

The holidays can be difficult for all sorts of different reasons, so I wasn’t surprised to see things begin on such a dour note. The protagonist had recently found permanent housing after being homeless, but it wasn’t a particularly safe or welcoming place for a single, vulnerable woman to live in. She had no money, friends, family, or hope for a cheerful Christmas. These details alone were enough for me to wish that her luck would turn around very soon, especially once she began showing the audience glimpses of her kind and gentle personality. I think it’s important to take note of why some people struggle even more than usual during the holiday season, and Mr. Warren certainly accomplished that with this character.

This story would have benefited from including more details in it. For example, I would have loved to know the main character’s name and more details about why she’d been homeless before she moved into her shabby apartment. Sharing information like this would have also made it easier on me when the narrators were switched as all of the pronouns that weren’t attached to specific names were confusing at times. With another round of editing and more clarification, I would have happily added at least another star to my final rating.

I loved the messages this tale had to share about the importance of families of all shapes and sizes and of remaining hopeful no matter what one’s circumstances may be. This family was no doubt a little unusual, but the love that shone through it made me smile. These aren’t themes one typically finds in the horror genre, so it was refreshing to be surprised by them here. It’s always nice to see an author take risks with what they write about, especially when they seem to understand why they’re doing so and how it will affect their characters. Good job to the author for doing just that. I look forward to reading more from him in the future.

The Merry Christmas Ghost was a creative take on holiday horror.

 

Wednesday Weekly Blogging Challenge: Overused Character Stereotypes

Hosted by Long and Short Reviews.

Click here to read everyone else’s replies to this week’s question and here to see the full list of topics for the year.

While there are authors out there who can take the most well-worn character stereotypes and making something new and fresh with them, I still think these stereotypes should be given a long period of rest before being used again.

 

Two Brown wooden bunny figurines. One adult and one child. Dead Parents 

This is something I’ve seen most often in the Young Adult genre. Why must so many young protagonists have dead or dying parents?

It made more sense a century or two ago when it was more common for kids to lose one or both parents to diseases, illnesses, or accidents that modern medicine can now easily treat. These days, it is rare for a parent to die before their child reaches adulthood.

I would love to see more Young Adult books about kids whose parents are still alive and well.

 

A row of yellow smiley face people. There is one grey person among them who isn’t smiling, and the magnifying glass is focused on that person. Not Like Other Girls 

Once again, this is something I see a lot of in the Young Adult genre.  but it can be found in many other places, too. A character might say something like, “I’m not like other girls…I like sports!” or “I’m not like other girls…I hate makeup and fashion!”

I deeply dislike the idea that certain hobbies and interests are inherently better than other ones. It’s also ridiculous to me to perpetuate the idea that being a girl (or a member of any other group) means you must automatically enjoy X and be uninterested in Y.

Why not just let characters enjoy whatever appeals to them?

 

Sweaty female boxer looking ahead at the camera with annoyance as one hand is on her hip. The Dumb Athlete

I am an intelligent person who loves reading, learning about science and history, and visiting as many museums as I can find.

I am also an athletic person who loves lifting weights, going swimming, doing yoga, and taking long, brisk walks.

It irks me to see (some) writers assume someone must belong to just one of these groups or that there must always be animosity between them.

Let your football players also love math or poetry and your scientists run marathons in their free time without anyone batting at eye at it.

Characters should be just as well-rounded as any given person walking down the street in my opinion, and real people generally can’t be sorted into such constrictive little boxes about what they should or shouldn’t enjoy doing.

 

Two people wearing hoodies and facing a brown wall. One person has a black hoodie and one has a white hoodie. Ugly or Deformed Villains

I wish that villains were identified by their behaviour instead of by things like congenital defects or simply not being born beautiful. Some of the people I care about have health conditions that negatively affect their physical appearance. It bothers me to see how often disability and birth defects are used as shorthand for someone the audience should automatically mistrust.

No, this doesn’t mean I want every villain to start being described as the most beautiful or handsome person in the room either.

One’s physical appearance has nothing to do with their character or personality. Let’s stop relying on looks as an indicator of anything.

 

Community Spokesperson 

A prairie dog wearing a hat and holding a microphone. Okay, so this one might take a little bit of explaining.

I find it wearisome when a character who is black, gay, disabled, Buddhist, a woman, or <insert any other minority group here> is assumed to be the spokesperson for their entire community.

Just because I believe hiking is one of the best ways to pass an afternoon if you want to improve your emotional and physical health doesn’t mean that every other woman in the entire world feels the same way or wants me to speak for all 3.99 billion of us.

I like stories that allow their characters to have opinions on everything from the merits of Hawaiian pizza* to much more serious issues without requiring any of them to officially speak for whatever communities they are part of.

*It is delicious, for the record. 😉

Top Ten Tuesday: Ten Reasons I’m Thankful for Books


Hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl

A white plate covered with a grey napkin that has a sprig of red and brown berries and a card that says “thankful.”Credit for this Thankful freebie blogging idea goes to Rain City Reads who blogged about it in 2019.  It was a great idea for a post, and I’m grateful to use it today.

I will be mentioning the Covid-19 pandemic briefly in this post.

1) Meeting Likeminded Folks

Life can feel isolating and lonesome sometimes. There is nothing like getting to know a character, author, or fellow reader who shares your identity, or your diagnosis, or any other number of labels and realizing that you are not alone. Other people have been through X, too, understand even the parts of it that can be difficult to explain to those who haven’t had those same experiences.

 

2) Answering Common Questions about Group X

I’m the sort of person who is shy about asking people questions about the differences between us because I don’t want to be the tenth person to ask them that question this week or to make them feel uncomfortable. I’d much rather read a variety of perspectives about that topic so that I’ll at least have a framework of what is and isn’t appropriate to ask someone who may be from a completely different religion or culture (or what have you) than mine.

 

3) Providing an Education 

No one is ever too old or too young to learn new things. I think books are an excellent way to learn about so many different topics, from dark matter to math to the stories that I never learned in history class. In 2020, I found comfort in reading about the 1918 Flu of all things. Seeing how people dealt with that pandemic helped me figure out some good coping skills for this one.

 

4) Making Me Laugh

I know I talk about my love of humorous books a lot here, but I’ll say it again. Humour is an important part of life, and I think there’s value in seeking it out as often as you reasonably can.

 

5) Distracting Readers

This is related to #4, but we all need distractions from the troubles of this world after we’ve done what we can to reduce suffering and push things in a fairer and more peaceful direction. Reading something spectacular is one of the tools in my toolbox when I need to rest.

 

6) Showing a Better Future

Not to sound like a Pollyanna, but I think there’s something to be said for dreaming of the way things could be changed for the better in the future. People need hope, and stories can be a wonderful place to replenish that feeling if we read the right sorts of books.

 

7) Meeting Folks Who Are Nothing Like Me 

Whether they’re found in biographies or fiction, I think there’s a lot of merit to purposefully seeking out stories about people who might appear to have nothing in common with you at all at first glance. You can learn all sorts of interesting and useful things about them if you quietly listen to what they have to say.

 

Closeup of pages fanning up and out from an opened book. 8) Finding Good Quotes

I have not always been that reliable at writing down meaningful quotes from books, but I’m striving to be better at it. Quotes come in handy for all sorts of things, from reminding you about key moments in a story to providing motivation in difficult times and more.

 

9) Having Something Interesting to Talk About

This pandemic has made every day bleed into the last for me because of how repetitive so much of it has been as I dodged germs and avoided in-person socialization for most of it. There are only so many conversations I can have about the weather before I feel the urge to talk about something else, and books are a great place to start if the other person is at all bookish or interested in fiction.

 

10) Enjoying Some Non Screen Time

No, I’m not going to be putting down television, smart phones, or the film industry here. I think it’s silly to pit them against books as if one is better than the others.

Sometimes I watch TV or films. I surf the Internet a lot, too.  At other times, reading appeals to me more. I’m grateful for all of these forms of entertainment and how they’ve gotten us all through the past few years.

Looking Back, Moving Forward: A Review of Ghost Stories for Christmas

Ghost Stories for Christmas by Shane Brown Book cover. image on cover shows a painting of a small, rural community in the 1800s. There is a thick layer of snow on the dirt road with two brown tracks through it. A church and some houses in the distance are snow-covered, too, and people are walking on the snowy sidewalk all bundled up as well. Title: Ghost Stories for Christmas

Author: Shane Brown

Publisher: Self-Published

Publication Date: December 3, 2021

Genres: Paranormal, Holiday, Historical, Contemporary

Length: 105 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author.

Rating: 4 Stars

Blurb:

Five ghost stories set during the Christmas period to add an extra chill to the festive season! In “Houses Never Forget,” a man returns to the village he grew up in, only to find that a house hasn’t forgiven him for something he did as a boy. “The Philatelist” tells the story of two brothers, one good and one bad – but even the good might want revenge from beyond the grave. “Breaking Up is Hard to Do” is the tale of a man who is forced to repeat a tragic evening from his student days every year, but what happens when he tries to break the cycle? A university professor rents a remote cottage on the grounds of a former school in order to write up his research in “The Stranger in the Snow,” but, when the snow falls, he finds he’s not alone. Finally, “The Gift” is the heart-warming tale of an old man who is given an unusual gift by a department store Father Christmas. From the author of “The Pied Piper,” “The School Bell,” and “The Successor.” 

Review:

Content Warning: arson, death of parents, hypothermia, possession, grief, widowerhood, infertility, homophobia, mental illness, someone getting beat up, car accident, murder, and references to the Covid-19 pandemic. One minor character died of Covid-19 before the tale they were in began. I will not discuss these topics in my review.

Christmas is the perfect time to reflect on the past for the living and the dead alike.

Here’s an interesting tidbit of information for you as I get this review started: all of these stories are set in the same village, Brandley. Keep that in mind as you read them.

The unnamed protagonist in “Houses Never Forget” was someone who rarely thought about his rash childhood decision that that angered the house in his village so much. I can’t go into a lot of detail about what he did without giving away spoilers, but I thought this was an intelligent sketch of a character who would be easy to villanize but whose decision was also one that many other folks make every single day without realizing just how corrosive small town gossip can be.

Joshua, the bad son in ”The Philatelist,” was a violent troublemaker who never showed signs of empathy for anyone. I was intrigued by how the adults around him reacted to him when he destroyed property and physically harmed others. He was the sort of person I’d never want to cross paths with, and yet I couldn’t help but to wonder what had made him behave the way he did and why he enjoyed bullying his younger brother so much. It would have been helpful if the narrator had explained the origins of his behaviour because of how erratic and violent he was, but I also recognize that there are people like him walking around in real life whose decisions are just as difficult to understand. The plot of this one was straightforward, so I was glad to have some character development to ponder while I read.

After the heaviness of the previous story, “Breaking Up Is Hard to Do” was a nice change of pace. I think we all probably have at least one thing in our pasts we wish we could go back and change. When that isn’t possible and there’s a ghost involved who insists on repeating the same evening over again on the anniversary of her death every December, what’s the next best option? Other readers should discover the answer to that question for themselves, but I thought this was a thought-provoking look at the unhelpful patterns people can find themselves in when they’re unwilling to face their pasts. If only the narrator had dove more deeply into the topic. There seemed even more that could have been said about it, and I would have gone for a full five-star rating if a few minor things like this had been adjusted in this collection.  The final scene made me wish for a sequel, too, given all of the hints in it about what was about to happen to the main character next.

Everyone needs peace and quiet sometimes. Paul thought he’d found it in “The Stranger in the Snow” until the snowstorm hit. His compassionate response to the visitor who appeared after it had been snowing for a while told me everything I needed to know about him. I enjoyed seeing how they interacted and quietly waited for an explanation of why someone would be out in a snowstorm alone without enough layers to keep them warm. The ending, too, was my favourite of all of the endings in this collection. I held my breath as it was announced and wished I could dive back into the opening scene to warn Paul about what was to come.

”The Gift“ had such a cynical beginning that I honesty wasn’t sure what to think of that protagonist. Was Arnold this grumpy about everything, or was it only Christmas that he thought had been irrevocably ruined? Luckily, I didn’t have to wait long to get my answer, and when it arrived it softened my opinion of him immediately.  One never knows what others are quietly struggling with, and I wiped away a few tears as Arnold slowly shared more of his past with the audience. This was such a beautiful and heartwarming way to close off this collection.

Ghost Stories for Christmas made me smile.