Category Archives: Science Fiction and Fantasy

Restless History: A Review of How Fear Departed the Long Gallery

How Fear Departed the Long Gallery by E.F. Benson book cover. Image on cover is of a drawing of a frightened woman.The telling or reading of ghost stories during the Christmas season was once a tradition in Victorian England. This series of books seeks to revive this tradition. As I did in 2020 and 2021, I will continue reviewing several of them each December until I’ve reached the end of this series. 

Title: How Fear Departed the Long Gallery – A Ghost Story for Christmas (Seth’s Christmas Ghost Stories)

Author: E.F. Benson

Publisher: Biblioaisis

Publication Dates: 1911 and 2017

Genres: Paranormal, Historical

Length: 32 pages

Source: I borrowed it from the library.

Rating: 4 Stars

Blurb:

Biblioasis is thrilled to continue this series of beautifully illustrated, collectible, classic Christmas ghost stories designed and illustrated by world-famous cartoonist Seth.

In How Fear Departed the Long Gallery, for the Peverils, the appearance of a ghost is no more upsetting than the appearance of the mailman at an ordinary house. Except for the twin toddlers in the Long Gallery. No one would dare be caught in the Long Gallery after dark. But on this quiet and cloudy afternoon, Madge Peveril is feeling rather drowsy . . .

Review:

Content warning: death of children. I will not be discussing this in my review.

The past and present can be connected in more ways than you’d think.

One of the things I liked the most about this story had to do with how the Peveril family reacted to the many ghosts who haunted their family estate. Since they were related to all of the spirits, seeing the vast majority of them was more akin to unexpectedly spending time with an eccentric or slightly irritating relative instead of anything spooky. These relaxed relationships were a wonderful contrast to how everyone reacted to the dangerous toddler spirits who occasionally appeared in the Long Gallery.

It would have been nice to have fewer clues about what was going to happen next. As much as I enjoyed this tale, it was a little disappointing to see how quickly and accurately I predicted what was going on with the ghostly children and why they were the only spirits this family feared. I’m the sort of reader who enjoys being challenged, and I would have given this a higher rating if it had expected more of its audience.

With that being said, the ending was an immensely satisfying and uplifting. Some of the other stories in this series could be fairly dark at times. It was nice to see a haunting that turned out to be surprisingly positive despite its grimmer moments earlier on in the plot. I also appreciated the main character’s ability to think quickly in an emergency. Knowing that she was so smart and capable definitely gave this a lighter tone than it would have otherwise had.

How Fear Departed the Long Gallery is something I’d especially recommend reading aloud tonight or sometime soon. It’s perfectly suited for anyone who likes ghost stories during the holiday season.

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.

 

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.

A Review of The Story of Sigurd the Dragonslayer

The Story of Sigurđ the Dragonslayer (Tales From the Volsunga Saga Book 2) Kindle Edition by Liam G. Martin Book cover. Image on cover shows Norse runes arranged in a circular yellow pattern in the centre of the cover. Title: The Story of Sigurd the Dragonslayer (Tales from the Volsunga Saga Book 2)

Author: Liam G Martin

Publisher: Self-Published

Publication Date: January 24, 2022

Genres: Fantasy, Adventure, Historical

Length: 35 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author.

Rating: 5 Stars

Blurb:

The Story of Sigurđ the Dragonslayer is part of The Tales from the Volsunga Saga series which retells some of the stories from the Volsunga Saga. The Volsunga saga is a legendary old Norse text that was written in Iceland around 1250 AD.

In The Story of Sigurđ the Dragonslayer, you’ll read about the early life of Sigurđ, one of the greatest heroes of Norse mythology.

Review:

Content Warning: death of parents and a murder. All of the deaths were described briefly and without graphic details included in them.

Becoming a hero includes plenty of hard work. Nothing is guaranteed for anyone.

Mythology has always expected a lot of its audience. Not only did the author take his time explaining who certain characters were, the narrator shared lessons about perseverance, duty, honour, and vengeance that the audience was expected to digest for themselves. Sigurd had far too much on his plate to spell things out simply for us, but that’s exactly what I always hope to find in the stories I read. If people of different ages can interpret the same scenes in somewhat different ways, that means that it will take a long time for anyone to fully understand the ideas that thrive there.

Like many traditional myths, this one never had a good stopping point. I finished the last page wishing the author had written more even though Sigurd was technically an adult at that point and the narrator no longer had the excuse of describing this character’s early life in order to keep things going. This is the sort of reaction I always love to discover in myself. Leaving the audience yearning for the next scene is an excellent way to keep readers coming back for another instalment, after all.

The conflict and violence was handled beautifully. While this isn’t a sanitized and twenty-first century myth, it also didn’t include any gratuitous violence. The deaths that occurred were necessary in order for the plot to move forward, and those scenes were written tactfully and simply. Sigurd’s adventures were what really mattered, so I was pleased to see how steadily that portion of his life remained the focus of the plot. Creating this balance in retellings of tales from eras of human history when the expectations for family entertainment were quite different isn’t easy, and I commend the author for pulling it off so well.

It’s helpful, but not strictly necessary, to have a basic familiarity with Norse mythology before reading this book. The important stuff will be explained eventually, but recognizing the major gods and other figures in these tales will help to speed up the process for anyone who prefers to figure out who everyone was immediately.

This is also part of a series, but it functioned perfectly nicely as a standalone work.

The Story of Sigurd the Dragonslayer was a wild ride that I wish I’d taken sooner.

Changing His Destiny: A Review of Well of Fate


Well of Fate - A When Ravens Fall Short Story by Savannah Jezowski book cover. Image on cover shows a drawing of a squirrel crawling through a dark corridor with a tiny bit of light streaming through the tree branches above. Title
: Well of Fate – A When Ravens Fall Short Story

Author: Savannah Jezowski

Publisher: Dragonpen Press (Self-Published)

Publication Date: July 31, 2018

Genres: Young Adult, Fantasy, Adventure, Historical

Length: 39 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author.

Rating: 4 Stars

Blurb:

Discontent with his life as a tale-spinner, Ratatosk the squirrel goes searching for the Well of Fate hoping he can change his destiny. But what he finds at Yggdrasil will test the very core of his resolve. When he faces the unexpected dangers beneath the great tree, Tosk will have to choose between saving himself or risking all to do the right thing. Changing his destiny proves harder than he ever imagined.For fans of “When Ravens Fall” and Norse mythology, reunite with old friends and meet new ones in this compelling short story about destiny and hard choices.

Review:

Courage comes in many forms…including small, fuzzy ones!

Ratatosk was a brave and assertive squirrel who refused to take no for an answer. I haven’t read many books that have squirrels as protagonists and so had no preconceptions of what he would be like. It was delightful to get to know him, especially once I realized why he was so eager to find the Well of Fate and what he hoped to accomplish there.  I’ll leave it up to other readers to discover for themselves what he was looking for and if he found it, but his adventurous spirit was perfect for this setting. He might be a little miffed at this comparison since they’re not the same species, but fellow fans of C.S. Lewis’ The Voyage of the Dawn Treader might also be quickly reminded of a character in that book that acts a lot like Ratatosk and would happily go on adventures with him if they lived in the same universe.

It would have been nice to see more attention paid to the conclusion. While I know this was meant to be a teaser for a full-length series, the writing in that scene felt a bit abrupt to me, especially for those of us who were being introduced to the characters and setting for the first time in this short story.  I wanted to give this a full five-star rating and would have done so if this tale had been given a chance to wrap everything up more satisfactorily. Everything else about it was well done!

The world building was handled nicely. Obviously, there wasn’t a lot of space here to explain how everything worked or what was going on with certain backstories, but I received enough information to understand why Ratatosk’s quest was so important to him and what dangers he may face along the way. An air of mystery about the rest of it is a good thing in my opinion. It kept this reader feeling intrigued and asked questions that I can only assume will be fully answered later on.

You do not need to have an in-depth understanding of Norse mythology in order to appreciate this short story, but knowing a few basic facts like the names of their most important gods would be helpful.

Well of Fate – A When Ravens Fall Short Story was a wild ride. 

A Review of Vespasian Moon’s Fabulous Autumn Carnival

Title: Vespasian Moon’s Fabulous Autumn Carnival – A Long Short Story Author: Berthold Gambrel Publisher: Self-Published Publication Date: October 18, 2019 Genres: Paranormal, Mystery, Romance, Holiday, Humour Length: 54 pages Source: I received a free copy from the author. Rating: 5 Stars Blurb: Federal Agent Jane Raczyck is tired of her job. So is Sheriff… Read More

A Review of Samantha, 25, on October 31

Title: Samantha, 25, on October 31 Author: Adam Bertocci Publisher: Self-Published Publication Date: October 12, 2021 Genres: Fantasy, Contemporary Length: 50 pages Source: I received a free copy from the author. Rating: 5 Stars Blurb: Samantha hates her job, her debt and her general circumstances, and if that weren’t enough, her first post-pandemic Halloween isn’t… Read More

Running to Safety: A Review of One Dark Hallow’s Eve

Title: One Dark Hallow’s Eve Author: Eldritch Black Publisher: Self-Published Publication Date: October 22, 2015 Genres: Middle Grade, Fantasy, Paranormal, Horror, Contemporary, Historical Length: 43 pages Source: I received a free copy from the author. Rating: 3 Stars Blurb: Beware it’s Halloween and the Pumpkin Men are coming. It’s All Hallow’s Eve and Owen Weeks… Read More

A Review of Judith – A Triorion Universe Story

Title: Judith – A Triorion Universe Story Author: L.J. Hachmeister Publisher: Source 7 Productions (Self-Published) Publication Date: February 1, 2020 Genres: Science Fiction, Contemporary Length: 19 Pages Source: I received a free copy from the author. Rating: 3.5 Stars Blurb: With a broken heart and the resurgence of cancer, Judith Derns’ life comes to a… Read More

Cottagecore Horror: A Review of On Sundays She Picked Flowers

Title: On Sundays She Picked Flowers Author: Yah Yah Scholfield Publisher: Oni House Press Corp Publication Date: February 20, 2022 Genres: Fantasy, Horror, Paranormal, Historical Length: 142 pages Source: I borrowed it from my local library. Rating: 3 Stars Blurb: “It took Judith thirty-four years to realize that if she wanted to be free of… Read More