Tag Archives: Book Reviews

Making Things Right: A Review of The Green Room

The Green Room A Ghost Story for Christmas (Seth's Christmas Ghost Stories) by Walter De La Mare book cover. Image on cover is a black and green drawing of a woman wearing spectacles. 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 last year, I will continue reviewing several of them each December until I’ve reached the end of this series. 

Title: The Green Room – A Ghost Story for Christmas (Seth’s Christmas Ghost Stories)

Author: Walter de la Mare

Publisher: Biblioasis

Publication Date: 1925 and 2018

Genres: Paranormal, Historical

Length: 98 pages

Source: I borrowed it from the library.

Rating: 4 Stars

Blurb:

Reading a ghost story on Christmas Eve was once as much a part of traditional Christmas celebrations as turkey, eggnog, and Santa Claus.

Behind the run-down bookstore is a private room for favoured customers, a strange little annex with a stranger atmosphere. The young man feels a wistful presence vying got his attention as he browses, and when he leaves, he knows he will return. Something has been asked of him, and he will answer.

Review:

Content warning: suicide. I will not be discussing this in my review.

Who says ghosts have to be scary?

Alan, the customer who saw the strange woman in the private book room, was someone I liked immediately. His strong sense of compassion for someone he knew virtually nothing about made me hope he’d find out what happened to her and then go on to live happily ever after himself. Most folks would have been frightened of her. The fact that he wasn’t speaks volumes about his character, and it encouraged me to keep reading.

I did have a minor quibble with the ending. It was well written, but it was also strangely abrupt. This reader would have appreciated a little more time spent developing it and explaining how it was meant to tie into the previous scenes. While I did figure it out, having more details about this sure would have been helpful.

Unlike many of the other stories in this series, this wasn’t intended to be frightening. The spirit remained restless for a specific reason that was mentioned later on in the plot, but she was never dangerous. This isn’t so common in modern ghost stories, and it was something I found refreshing. There are plenty of interesting things to do with ghosts that don’t involve them saying boo to anyone.

The Green Room made me smile.

 

 

No Space of Regret: A Review of A Covid Christmas Carol

Book cover for A Covid Christmas Carol by Evan Sykes. image on cover shows a Christmas tree wearing a mask and some googly eyes. Title: A Covid Christmas Carol

Author: Evan Sykes

Publisher: Junco Books (Self-Published)

Publication Date: December 19, 2020

Genres: Fantasy, Holiday, Paranormal, Retelling, Contemporary

Length: 88 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author.

Rating: 5 Stars

Blurb:

 

The 2020 Holiday Season might have been cancelled by this year’s super-villain, Covid-19, but fear not! Good cheer is at hand in this hilarious, satirical retelling of one of the season’s most loved stories: A Covid Christmas Carol.

Mr. Anatole Gasper and Dickens’ Scrooge have a lot in common: Both their business partners are dead; both are curmudgeonly, solitary and mean; and both get their wake-up call in a series of wild, haunted dreams on Christmas Eve. For Gasper—as the year is 2020—these dreams include a huge, orange, Covid-spreading turkey that tweets, a doddering phantom riding a decrepit blue donkey without direction, and Santa, of course, whose red-nosed reindeers for once shed an unwelcome light over the festivities.

There’s nothing more heartening than seeing a dyed-in-the-wool grouch change into a merry, old soul, and Gasper’s ghostly dreams promise to do just that.

So, while this Holiday Season might be like no other, spend an hour in the company of this modern Scrooge and let the festive cheer flow!

Review:

Content Warning: Heart attack and Covid-19.

Don’t let the cover of this book fool you. This is just as much a Thanksgiving tale as it is a Christmas one, and the lessons in it can be applied to many other winter holidays as well!

I appreciated the author’s light touch on the social messages he included in this tale. Mr. Dickens writing style worked well for the nineteenth century, but the modern approach to gently nudging readers in certain directions in this retelling was perfect for the twenty-first century. Mr. Sykes’ decision to write it this way was an excellent one. While this wasn’t my only reason for choosing a five-star rating, it certainly influenced it heavily.

It’s rare for me to come across speculative fiction stories that occur during Thanksgiving, so I was excited to read this one. Some of my favourite scenes were the ones that showed what Thanksgiving was like for Gasper when he was a child. They went a long way in explaining how and why he’d become such a greedy and socially isolated man as an adult. I simultaneously wanted to hug the person he was as a child and encourage his adult self to seek professional help for his often dysfunctional behaviour. The mixture of emotions he stirred up in me made me want to learn more about him, too. He was a complex and interesting character for sure.

I loved the way the author included Covid-19 in the storyline as well. While I can’t go into much detail about that without giving away spoilers, it felt perfectly natural. The foreshadowing for it was subtle and well done. It had a timeless feeling to it as well. This could have been set at nearly any time during the pandemic due to how carefully it was written, and I think it will also age nicely over the next few years at bare minimum, too.

The writing style was descriptive but never flowery. It gave me the exact right amount of details about the characters and settings. I could picture all of them clearly in my mind, but the formation of them never interrupted the fast-paced storyline. Once again, the author’s homage to Mr. Dickens style was undeniable, and his attempt to modernize such a familiar old tale couldn’t have been done any better. I was quite impressed by all of the work Mr. Sykes put into this and will be keeping an eye out for more of his stories in the future.

A Covid Christmas Carol was a thought-provoking read that is as relevant today as it was in 2020. I will end this review with a quote from both the original Christmas Carol as well as this retelling of it: “no space of regret can make amends for one life’s opportunity missed.”

Too Old for Santa: A Review of Christmas Presence

Book cover for Christmas Presence by Tony Bertauski. Image on cover is a closeup of a man who has a white beard and moustache and is  wearing a wool hat.Title: Christmas Presence

Author: Tony Bertauski

Publisher: Self-Published

Publication Date: October 31, 2019

Genres: Science Fiction, Fantasy, Young Adult, Holiday

Length: 25 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author

Rating: 3 Stars

Blurb:

Worst Christmas ever.

Christmas was about traditions. Currently, Zay and her mom had about five traditions, things like gingerbread cookies and tree decorating. Not going to work.

Zay has to stay home. On Christmas. Alone.

Mom said her boss felt real bad about the whole thing so he was sending a nanny. It just keeps getting worse. She’s fourteen years old. She doesn’t need a nanny. But then the nanny shows up. She’s not really a she. Or a he.

More of an it.

The nanny shows her that it’s not really magic that makes Christmas special. It’s the adventure. And when it’s all over, she’ll never forget.

The best Christmas ever.

Review:

Teenagers don’t believe in magic, right?

Fourteen is a tough age. Zay was too old to truly get into many of the Christmas traditions she enjoyed as a little kid, but she was also a bit too young to understand why some adults get so excited to keep them going. Mr. Bertauski did a wonderful job of capturing this confusing stage of life and how it can affect not only the teenagers going through it but also everyone around them as well. I had compassion for Zay as she decided how to respond to her mother’s love of the Christmas holidays.

This short story was marketed as an introduction to a new series about retelling of classic holiday legends. Even though it was the first instalment of this series so far as I could tell, I still struggled to understand what was going on at times. There was never quite enough information about the nanny who showed up to entertain Zay or why he was so different from what she was expecting. While I did understand some parts of this universe, other portions were never quite clear to me.  I would have happily gone with a much higher rating if these things had either been explained in greater detail or if the blurb had been clear that this wasn’t necessarily something that was supposed to be a standalone read.

I was a huge fan of the author’s reinterpretation of Santa Claus as an individual as well as a mythical figure. This was where the science fiction elements of the storyline shone the brightest. They made me perk up and wonder how everything worked, especially once Santa began to reveal a little bit more about himself. There was so much creativity in these passages. I’ll definitely be keeping an eye out for what the author comes up with next based on how much effort he put into rethinking this classic character.

Christmas Presence was a lighthearted read that I’d recommend to anyone who is either currently a teenager or who has a teenaged loved one in their life.

A Review of the Last Photograph of John Buckley

The Last Photograph of John Buckley by T.J. Brown book cover. Image on cover shows a man’s bandaged face as he’s lying down. Only his eyes are visible. Title: The Last Photograph of John Buckley

Author: T.J. Brown

Publisher: Self-Published

Publication Date: August 10, 2016

Genres: Horror, Paranormal, Historical

Length: 34 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author.

Rating: 5 Stars

Blurb:

When a photographic retoucher is commissioned to fix the abnormalities on a Great War portrait, he finds his own past and that of the subject beginning to connect. Are his personal nightmares returning, or is it something more? A short ghost story in the M.R. James tradition, The Last Photograph of John Buckley is a dark tale of past crimes and unfinished business.

Review:

Content Warning: Trauma, mental illness (including mentions of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder), murder, and vivid descriptions of the horrors of war. I will be briefly mentioning trauma and mental illness in my review.

Is pushing through the pain a smart idea?

Mr. Brown had a poetic writing style that rapidly pulled me into the storyline. Sometimes I felt as though I were standing beside the main character and discovering new clues with him instead of reading about his experiences. The author included so many small details that made his characters and the eras they lived in come alive in my imagination. This was my first experience with his work. It made me yearn to explore the rest of his oeuvre in good time.

The character development was strong and believable. Even though the protagonist’s name wasn’t revealed until much later on in the storyline, I quickly got to know him for who he truly was as well as who he had been before the traumatic events of World War II reshaped his mind and personality for the worse.  It was exciting to learn so much about someone without having access to such an ordinary piece of information about him. I totally understood why the author wrote it this way and thought it fit the protagonist’s exceedingly cautious and frightened nature perfectly.

Speaking of trauma, this tale had a lot to say on that topic. It was also filled with strong opinions about how the limited understanding of mental health concerns during the first and second World Wars affected not only the soldiers who fought in them but also everyone from their closest loved ones to members of their communities who experienced the echoes of those old wounds without necessarily knowing why they existed. While I cannot go into detail about this without sharing spoilers, it was especially poignant for me as someone who comes from an extended family that included people whose mental health was permanently damaged by these wars. As much attention has already been paid to the war is hell trope, this tale managed to find a fresh way to explore it that never once backed down from all of the terrible ways in which traumatic memories of the battlefield can harm a community for multiple generations.

Don’t be scared off by the horror tag if you’re not generally into that genre. There were a couple of short scary scenes in this book, but it was never gory or gross. Instead, the narrator quietly crafted a thoughtful work about grief, trauma, and the after-effects of war that was as poignant as it was honest. Anyone who is closely acquainted with this sort of tale may be able to spot the plot twists coming in advance, but it always came across to me as something that was intended to mindfully explore each moment in the protagonist’s life rather than shock the audience with a twist we weren’t supposed to see coming. It was something that I liked as a veteran reader in this genre but that also seemed like it  could easily appeal to audiences who don’t have a lot of experience with the horror genre in general.

The Last Photograph of John Buckley was one of the best ghost stories I’ve ever read. I can’t recommend it enthusiastically enough!

Quiet Lessons: A Review of Foresight

Book cover for Foresight by Matilda Scotney. Image on cover is a planet with rings around it and three golden moons in orbit around it. Title: Foresight

Author: Matilda Scotney

Publisher: Off the Planet Books (Self-Published)

Publication Date: February 21, 2021

Genres: Science Fiction, Young Adult

Length: 61 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author

Rating: 4 Stars

Blurb:

 

Starlight, star bright,
The very first star I see tonight,
I wish I may, I wish I might
Have the wish, I wish tonight.

A metaphysical tale…

Review:

Not only are there two sides to every story, sometimes there are far more sides than that!

The subtlety of the first scene made me smile. There are precious few tales out there that are set in December but are purposefully not about Christmas, New Year’s Eve, or any other holiday that occurs during that month. I was impressed by the way the author captured the beauty that can be found at the end of the year, from the crisp, clear skies to the sharp nip of the wind as autumn slowly turns into winter. These descriptions might not seem to be related to the themes of later scenes at first glance, but give them time to grow. They have a message to share with any reader who is patient enough to keep going and to avoid making assumptions about what might happen next.

I would have liked to see more character development in this short story. It included such a large number of characters that it was difficult to get to know anyone well, much less to spend enough time with them to take note of the ways in which they were changing as a result of their experiences with the alien vessels. There was so much more space here to explore all of their personalities and backstories. If that had happened, I would have happily gone with a full five-star rating.

With that being said, I was delighted by the wide variety of perspectives the author included. I can’t say much about the alien vessels the characters were discussing without giving away spoilers, but it was fascinating to see how differently everyone reacted to them. Some characters viewed them as a threat while others had much more creative reactions to the idea that humans might not be alone in the universe after all. Absorbing everyone’s reactions to them was just as interesting as listening to the the reasons they gave for believing these visitors were anything from a security threat to a muse for creative expression.

Foresight is a must-read for anyone who appreciates thoughtful science fiction.

Family Business: A Review of Inheritance 

Title: Inheritance – A Halloween Urban Fantasy Short Story Author: Zoe Cannon Publisher: Self-Published Publication Date: October 23, 2020 Genres: Young Adult, Fantasy, Paranormal, Contemporary Length: 20 pages Source: I received a free copy from the author.  Rating: 4 Stars Blurb: Lena’s grandmother defended her small town against the supernatural. So did her mother. Lena… Read More

Rolling the Dice: A Review of A Dark Horse

Title: A Dark Horse – A Gothic Tale Author: Dale Olausen Publisher: Dodecahedron Books Publication Date: October 16, 2016 Genres: Horror, Paranormal, Mystery, Historical Length: 40 pages Source: I received a free copy from the author. Rating: 3 Stars Blurb: Just what might a gambler give up, to go on the winning streak of his… Read More

Haunted in Quarantine: A Review of Safer at Home

Title: Safer at Home – a Ghost Story Author: Zoe Cannon Publisher: Self-Published Publication Date: July 4, 2020 Genres: Paranormal, Horror, Contemporary Length: 41 pages Source: I received a free copy from the author. Rating: 5 Stars Blurb:   Quarantined in a haunted house…​ March 2020. With the world in the grip of a deadly… Read More

A Review of No Good Deed: A Sourdough Tale

Title: No Good Deed – A Sourdough Tale Author: Angela Slatter Publisher: Brain Jar Press Publication Date: February 17, 2021 Genres: Fantasy, Paranormal, Historical Length: 35 pages Source: I received a free copy from the author. Rating: 3 Stars Blurb: Angela Slatter’s No Good Deed is a dark fantasy tale of magic, ghosts, and marriage set… Read More

Autumn Adventures: A Review of The Neighbourhood Squirrel

Title: The Neighbourhood Squirrel Author: Wilfredo Gonzalez Publisher: Self-Published Publication Date: March 14, 2021 Genres: Middle Grade, Fantasy, Contemporary Length: 67 pages Source: I received a free copy from the author. Rating: 3 Stars Blurb: Every neighborhood has a neighborhood squirrel. This includes your neighborhood too. You have not known this because people don’t need… Read More