Tag Archives: Christmas

Home, Sweet Home: A Review of Christmas at Crownthorn Manor

Christmas at Crowthorn Manor - a Yuletide Ghost Story by Chris McGurk book cover. Image on cover shows a black and white photo of snow falling heavily on a cottage in the woods. There is a white car parked in front of the cottage.Title: Christmas at Crownthorn Manor – A Yuletide Ghost Story

Author: Chris McGurk

Publisher: Self-Published

Publication Date: December 19, 2019

Genres: Young Adult, Holiday, Paranormal, Contemporary

Length: 27 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author.

Rating: 3 Stars

Blurb:

Three brothers travelling home for Christmas become waylaid in a fierce snowstorm. Pulling up at an old manor house, they think they are in luck when the owners let them stay the night. But all is not as it seems at Crowthorn Manor on Christmas Eve… Reviving the much-loved tradition of the Christmas ghost story, Christmas at Crowthorn Manor will send shivers down your spine on your journey back home.

Review:

Content Warning: 1918 influenza pandemic, grief, death of children, World War I, prejudice, and suicide. I will mention the 1918 flu and Covid-19 in my review.

Christmas is supposed to be a happy time spent with loved ones. What happens to a Christmas that doesn’t meet these goals?

The 1918 flu is something I’ve been interested in since I was a kid, so I’m always happy to see it pop up in fiction. After the current pandemic began, I understood better why previous generations were often so reticent to discuss such things even years later. It can be painful to remember tragic stories about death, disability, grief, and suffering, and yet I think there’s something to be said for commemorating these topics in fiction when it’s appropriate to do so. Remembering the past is a way to honour the dead and to hopefully guide the decisions we make today to help everyone’s futures be healthier ones. The author sensitively included the societal, emotional, and medical effects of the 1918 flu here. They had excellent reasons for doing so that other readers should discover for themselves. These were some of my favorite passages in this short story, and I would have happily read more of them.

I did find myself wishing that more attention had been paid to how and when the author used the tropes of this genre. Anyone who is familiar with tales about characters who get lost on a snowy night and find themselves seeking shelter at a mysterious, old mansion will be able to figure out just about everything that is to come by the time they finish the first page. Yes, I know this was written for teenagers, but even with that taken into consideration I thought another round of editing would have made a difference. Tropes are good – or at least neutral – things in and of themselves, but they were utilized so heavily here that it negatively affected things like the character and plot development. I so badly wanted to give this a higher rating, and yet the predictability of it all was too much for me to do so.

With that being said, I loved the way the author incorporated modern technology and tools like cell phones, the Internet, and Google Maps into the storyline. It’s trickier for characters to get lost in believable ways these days due to all of the navigation and communication options we have in our phones when a road doesn’t lead to the place we thought it should, but these problems were all solved in logical ways here that worked well with the storyline and with what we already knew about the personalities of the main characters. This is something I always enjoy finding in fiction, and it has encouraged me to keep an eye out for what this author may write in the future.

Christmas at Crownthorn Manor – A Yuletide Ghost Story was a quick and spooky read.

 

The Dare: a Review of The Toll House

The Toll House by W.W. Jacobs book cover. Image on cover is drawing of a man wearing a top hat standing in the doorway of a house. His body is in silhoulette against the moonlight. 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. This will be the last book in this series that I review unless my local library decides to buy more of them. Thank you for reading my reviews of them in 2020, 2021, and 2022. 

Title: The Toll House – A Ghost Story for Christmas (Seth’s Christmas Ghost Stories)

Author: W. W. Jacobs

Publisher: Biblioasis

Publication Date: 1907 and October 31, 2017

Genres: Paranormal, Historical

Length: 42 pages

Source: I borrowed it from the library.

Rating: 3 Stars

Blurb:

The Toll-House has a long and terrible history as a place of death. But Jack Barnes doesn’t believe in spirits. His travelling companions, Messrs. Meagle, Lester, and White, wager that he might be convinced otherwise if they all spend a night together in the house. Four men go in, but will four come out?

Review:

Are ghosts real? Is that your final answer?

The beauty of this story is that how little the initial reactions of the reader to the existence (or non-existence) of the spirits of dead people make a difference. Whether you’re convinced one way, the other, or in no particular way at all, there is food for thought here for every reader. It takes creativity to write for so many different audiences simultaneously, and I commend the author for doing so.

What lead me to go with a three star rating had to do with the lack of character development. Barnes, Meagle, Lester, and White were scarcely described at all, and what little I learned about them in the beginning honestly didn’t seem to matter at all by the end. They could have been replaced by four other characters from any corner of the globe and the plot would have played out exactly the same. While I certainly wouldn’t expect something so plot-driven to dive deeply into characterization or character development, it was disappointing to have such forgettable protagonists in an otherwise thought-provoking adventure.

The plot itself was a clever one, however. I found myself changing my opinion of what was really happening to the characters during the course of the evening as new information was revealed and the stakes of the dare the characters agreed to grew even higher. There were so many different ways to interpret each clue that I could have used most of them to argue for and against just about any perspective.

Anyone who loves open-ended stories should give The Toll House a read.

Memories of Evil: a Review of The Empty House

The Empty House by Algernon Blackwood book cover. Image on cover is a drawing of a farmhouse after dark. Only one room in the house has any light coming from it, and it's a room on the second story. 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: The Empty House – A Ghost Story for Christmas (Seth’s Christmas Ghost Stories)

Author: Algernon Blackwood

Publisher: Biblioasis

Publication Date: 1906 and October 31, 2017

Genres: Paranormal, Historical

Length: 58 pages

Source: I borrowed it from the library.

Rating: 3 Stars

Blurb:

Aunt Julia, an elderly spinster with a mania for psychical research, has the keys to the haunted house on the square. She invites her nephew to accompany her on a midnight investigation into what really happened a hundred years ago when a servant girl fell to her death. But the house may not be as empty as it seems . . .

Review:

Content warning: murder. I will be discussing this in in my review.

As one of the earliest paragraphs in this story says, “certain houses, like certain people, manage somehow to proclaim at once their character for evil.”

Jim and his Aunt Julia were the kinds of characters that make me shake my head. Their courage often crossed the line into foolhardiness, especially when it came to their reactions to a few frightening encounters with what was lurking in this haunted house so late at night. Sensible people would have run away shrieking the first time they encountered something that couldn’t be explained, and yet I did come to admire their stubborn insistence on finding out the truth about why no one could bear to live at this residence longterm. This investigation wouldn’t have discovered anything at all if they’d been quicker to run at the first sign of trouble.

The ending was disappointing to me because of how many unanswered questions it left with the readers. Without going into spoilers here, there was foreshadowing in the beginning and middle of this tale that was ignored in the last scene to the detriment of the plot. It was just starting to get really good when it suddenly ended! I wish the author had wrapped up those subplots the way he so strongly hinted at earlier. If he’d done this, I would have gone with a much higher rating.

With that being said, I did enjoy gleaning the few facts that were shared about the sudden death of a servant girl a century beforehand. This was a part of the storyline that didn’t need to be embellished upon much at all. Violent deaths like these often take on a life of their own – no pun intended – as future generations reimagine what must have happened, so it made sense to me to leave room here for the audience to participate in the retelling of the events of that terrible night.

The Empty House was one of those ghost stories that deserves to be read and discussed in detail with a small group of likeminded fans of these genres. If that’s the sort of analysis you love doing, this might be right up your alley.

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

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… Read More

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

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!… Read More

Dire Warnings: A Review of The Signalman

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… Read More

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

Title: 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… Read More

A Wanted Haunting: A Review of Afterward

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… Read More