Tag Archives: Christmas

Big Dreams to Achieve: A Review of Oli the Old Owl

Oli the Old Owl by Lee Keene book cover. Image on cover shows a drawing of a young boy standing in a forest behind two houses. He’s looking at an owl that’s sitting in a tree whose leaves are gone. It’s winter and snow covers the ground. Title: Oli the Old Owl

Author: Lee Keene

Publisher: Self-Published

Publication Date: October 29, 2021

Genres: Children’s, Fantasy, Contemporary

Length: 10 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author.

Rating: 3 Stars

Blurb:

A story of loneliness and fantasy.

Imagination transmogrifying into Reality!

A secret memory that only the little boy will know!

A quaint memory that will stay with the little Sanford.

The Winter of 1998.

December.

Manchester, Tennessee.

7-year old Sanford ambles about….

An active imagination that takes him far and wide!

Questions for which physically, he will probably never get answers to……probably.

Could Sanford encounter a woeful creature with thoughts and abilities to share?

His imagination leads him amongst the bucolic grounds of Coffee County…..

Stories of the Old Owl, who woefully wasted his life, while wishing and thinking.

This Old Owl named Oli.

Oli hides high amongst the trees.

His fears have bedeviled him, and crushed his vim and vigor.

Oli wanted something that very few will achieve, but refused to change.

His insecurity enwreathed him mentally, and would not leave him!

How long can Oli hide?

If Sanford and Oli were to meet, what thoughts might transmogrify?

Review:

Winter is the perfect time to reflect on the past.

I admired the author’s willingness to experiment with children’s fiction. Just about every other book I’ve ever seen that was written for this age groups was a picture book, but this one contained no pictures at all other than the one illustrating the cover. It was also fascinating to meet a character who had not achieved the goal he set so many years before. Stories written for this age groups usually show characters succeeding at whatever they put their minds to do even if they have to fail a few times in the process. These were only two of the ways in which the author purposefully broke the rules, and I found his choices intriguing and refreshing. There is definitely something to be said for modelling emotionally healthy ways to fail to such a young audience.

There wasn’t a great deal of plot development or conflict in this tale. Sanford and Oli spent a great deal of time talking about their feelings and comparing Sanford’s plans for his life with Oli’s disappointment at how things had turned out in his own life. As much as I appreciated seeing male characters talk about their feelings so openly and freely, I did find myself feeling restless with how slowly everything was turning out. It would have been helpful if these two characters had faced an obstacle either together or separately that reinforced their earlier conversations. When combined with the lack of pictures, the slow pace would make me reluctant to read this to young children who haven’t recently dealt with a failure of some kind.

The fantasy elements of the plot were subtle and gentle. They made it all feel like a fable at times, although it didn’t actually seem to be based on any pre-existing fables or legends so far as I could tell. This pattern repeated itself with the handful of Christmas references that were thrown into the storyline but never expounded upon. While this wasn’t a Christmas story per se, it also reminded me of the many different types of tales that are told during and about that season. There is definitely something to be said for leaving so much room up for interpretation as this was something I could see myself recommending to people who don’t celebrate Christmas or generally read the fantasy genre. The little hints of those elements were enough to appeal to those of us who enjoy reading about such topics  but not so much as to dissuade other audiences from giving it a try in my opinion.

Oli the Old Owl was a thought-provoking read.

Dire Warnings: A Review of The Signalman

The Signalman by Charles Dickens book cover. Image on cover is of a signalman holding a lantern and sending near a train station.

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 Signalman – A Ghost Story for Christmas (Seth’s Christmas Ghost Stories)

Author: Charles Dickens

Publisher: Biblioasis

Publication Dates: and 2016

Genres: Paranormal, Historical

Length: 28 pages

Source: I borrowed it from the library.

Rating: 3.5 stars

Blurb:

A gentleman discovers the black mouth of a railway tunnel. To his amazement, deep in the gorge before the tunnel, he sees an ancient signal-man, who invites him down to a lonely shack. It’s there that we learn the signal-man’s horrifying secret: he’s haunted by a figure who foretells a catastrophe soon to befall that very stretch of the tracks.

Review:

Not every accident can be prevented. Or can they?

This story didn’t waste any time in getting things started, and I loved that. Literally the first scene was about the main character being flagged down by the mysterious signalman. Given the short length of it, this was a great way to grab the audience’s attention and immediately pull me into the plot.

I wish the plot had been developed more thoroughly. The bare bones of it were there, but it was all so skimpy on the details that I had some problems remaining interested in what might happen next. I simply didn’t feel an emotional connection to any of the characters despite the danger they were in.

It wasn’t until I started researching Dickens’ life while working on this post that I realized he was once a passenger on a train that crashed. After the accident, Dickens was one of the people who looked after injured and dying passengers while waiting for help. There was a strong sense of urgency and foreboding in this tale that I can only assume came from his personal experiences on that day. This made for quite the harrowing read even though I would have liked to see more time spent working on the storytelling itself.

I’d recommend The Signalman to anyone who likes trains.

A Review of The Reluctant Familiar’s Guide to Christmas Tree Defence 

Book cover for The Reluctant Familiar’s Guide to Christmas Tree Defence by Bethany Hoeflich. Image on cover is a photoshopped picture of a cat wearing a Santa hat and sitting next to a Christmas treeTitle: The Reluctant Familiar’s Guide to Christmas Tree Defence

Author: Bethany Hoeflich

Publisher: Self-Published

Publication Date: December 20, 2020

Genres: Fantasy, Contemporary

Length: 19 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author.

Rating: 5 Stars

Blurb:

After a traumatizing pumpkin spice candle accident, Mr. Fluffykins is looking forward to a quiet night curled up under his Christmas tree.

Unfortunately, life has other plans . . .

Review:

What could be better than a cat spending time with his beloved Christmas tree?

The world building was excellent. At one point I paused and tried to figure out if this was part of a series because of how intricately everything was explained to the reader during the fast-paced and exciting plot. While I didn’t find evidence of other books set in this world, I was delighted by how much effort the author put into layering everything together. She couldn’t have done a better job of placing her characters in a setting that was filled with tantalizing details about how it worked that were all filtered through the discerning mind of a cat who loved his humans but was only occasionally interested in the minutia of their magical abilities.

I adored this book’s sense of humour. It was slightly irreverent at times in exactly the way anyone might expect to find from a feline narrator who had strong opinions about how the world should work. I couldn’t stop chuckling as I read it, especially once Mr. Fluffykins was left at home to his own devices and realized his evening wasn’t going to be the restful one he’d been hoping for. His reaction to that scene was as perfectly cat-like as it was just plain hilarious.

Mr. Fluffykins was a relatable and amusing protagonist who I began rooting for immediately. The worse his predicament became, the more I hoped  he’d figure out a way to resolve his conflict peacefully and get back to the catnap he’d been looking forward to all day. Some of my favourite scenes were the ones that made perfect sense in his mind as they were unfolding but that I knew his humans were going to be completely confused about once they returned home. The author did a wonderful job of showing how the same event can be interpreted so differently depending on which point of view one takes. This is even more true during the holidays when many folks are busier than usual!

The Reluctant Familiar’s Guide to Christmas Tree Defence was utterly delightful from the first scene to the final one.

A Wanted Haunting: A Review of Afterward

Book cover for Afterward by Edith Wharton. Image on cover shows a man and a woman peering out of their upstairs window at a man staring at them and standing on the ground below. 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: Afterward – A Ghost Story for Christmas (Seth’s Christmas Ghost Stories)

Author: Edith Wharton

Publisher: Biblioasis

Publication Date: 1910 and 2016

Genres: Paranormal, Historical

Length: 53 pages

Source: I borrowed it from the library.

Rating: 4.5 Stars

Blurb:

A newly rich American couple buy an ancient manor house in England, where they hope to live out their days in solitude. One day, when the couple are gazing out at their grounds, they spy a mysterious stranger. When her husband disappears shortly after this eerie encounter, the wife learns the truth about the legend that haunts the ancient estate.

Review:

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

Sometimes the presence of at least one ghost is the biggest selling point of them all for a crumbling estate that’s for sale.

The thought of purposefully seeking out a haunted house to live in made me laugh out loud when I read the first scene of this story. Mary and Edward Boyne didn’t want to buy any old house. It had to be haunted! I was so amused by their approach to this that I couldn’t wait to find out why they wanted to live with a ghost and what they hoped to get out of the arrangement.

There were times when I found the pacing slow, especially in the beginning when the main characters first moved into their new home. With that being said, Ms. Wharton had excellent reasons for writing her tale this way. While I did still wish for a snappier beginning, the twist ending more than made up for that.

The character development was well done. Mary and Edward were both restless, creative souls who honestly seemed to have more time and energy on their hands that was good for them. I shook my head at some of their attempts to get enough mental stimulation out of life, but I was also fascinated by the fact that neither member of this couple was at all satisfied by what seemed to me to be a pretty stable place for the creative endeavours (painting and writing) they were hoping to pursue.

I’d heartily recommend this short story to anyone who doesn’t mind a dark plot.

Bad Decisions: A Review of The Diary of Mr. Poynter

The Diary of Mr. Poynter - A Ghost Story for Christmas (Seth's Christmas Ghost Stories) by M.R. James. Image on cover is of a furry monster. 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 Diary of Mr. Poynter – A Ghost Story for Christmas (Seth’s Christmas Ghost Stories)

Author: M.R. James

Publisher: Biblioasis

Publication Date: 1919 and 2016.

Genres: Paranormal, Historical

Length: 38 pages

Source: I borrowed it from the library.

Rating: 2 stars

Blurb:

While engrossed in an ancient account of the sinister death of a student obsessed with his own hair, a man leans down to absently pet his dog — oblivious of the true nature of the creature crouching beside him. Seth’s newly illustrated version of M.R. James’ classic Christmas ghost story is a spooky holiday delight.

Review:

It turns out there is such a thing as being too engrossed in a book.

Out of all of the things in the world one could get excited about, a fabric sample is honestly pretty far down on my list. The fact that something as ordinary as this could change the lives of the people who found it in ways they never would have imagined made for a creative read.

The pacing of this story was slow and included many rambling details and asides that didn’t seem that relevant to pushing the plot forward. As interested as I was in the premise, I struggled to remain interested in the storyline because of these issues.

I’m not normally a fan of tales that include morality lessons, but this one was nice and subtle which is something I appreciate in that genre. The reader is mostly left to their own devices when it comes to deciding what the mistakes of the characters might have been and how they could have made better choices.

If you don’t mind a little sermonizing in your ghost stories, this is an interesting read.

Wednesday Weekly Blogging Challenge: What I Thought of Santa as a Kid

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. As I’ve mentioned here before, my parents were pastors when I was a child. Many of our Christmas traditions revolved around the religious aspects of that… Read More

Making Things Right: A Review of The Green Room

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… Read More

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

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… Read More

Too Old for Santa: A Review of Christmas Presence

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… Read More

Solitary Fear: A Review of Christmas Eve on a Haunted Hulk

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. Beginning this year, I hope to review all of them during the month of December for as many years as it takes to finish this project.  Title: Christmas… Read More