Tag Archives: Coronavirus

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.”

Top Ten Tuesday: Halloween Picture Books

Hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl

Candies made to look like a pumpkin and a ghost. Happy Halloween to those of you who celebrate it! If you live in a country where it is a big deal, I hope you find some amazing Halloween candy for sale on November 1.

I will be on the lookout for a bag or two of it myself in the near future. Do you think I’ll be successful?

As I’ve mentioned here before, Halloween is my favourite holiday of the year! Normally, I’d be sharing something like free horror stories, or spooky urban legends from Toronto, or free ghost stories.

This darn pandemic has sharply reduced my interest in anything that’s more than about 1% scary, however, so this year I’m going to stick to the light and fluffy side of this holiday by sharing some cute Halloween-themed picture books instead.

Hopefully, my response to this prompt next year will be closer to my usual patterns.

Behind the Mask by Yangsook Choi Book cover. Image on cover shows an Asian child wearing a mask.

1. Behind the Mask by Yangsook Choi

 

Ghosts in the House! by Kazuno Kohara Book cover. image on cover is a drawing of several ghosts flying out and around a house. There is a young girl and a cat standing in front of the house smiling slightly.

2. Ghosts in the House! by Kazuno Kohara

 

You Are My Pumpkin by Joyce Wan Book cover. Image on cover is a drawing of a smiling pumpkin.

3. You Are My Pumpkin by Joyce Wan

 

The Wolves in the Walls by Neil Gaiman Book cover. Image on cover is a drawing of a child drawing on a wall.

4. The Wolves in the Walls by Neil Gaiman

 

 

Halloween by Salina Yoon Book cover. Image on cover shows a pumpkin with the word Halloween carved as its mouth.

5. Halloween by Salina Yoon

 

Be Brave, Baby Rabbit by Lucy Bate book cover. Image on cover shows a drawing of two rabbits wearing costumes and going trick or treating.

6. Be Brave, Baby Rabbit by Lucy Bate

 

Mouse and Mole: A Perfect Halloween by Wong Herbert Yee Book cover. Image on cover shows forest mice dressed as ghosts and other spooky creatures going trick or treating in the woods.

7. Mouse and Mole: A Perfect Halloween by Wong Herbert Yee

 

Candy Corn! by Bea Sloboder Book cover. Image on cover is a drawing of a bag filled with candy corn.

8. Candy Corn! by Bea Sloboder

 

Celie and the Harvest Fiddler by Valerie Flournoy Book cover. Image on cover is a drawing of a girl dancing in a field near a fence. A drawing of a man playing the fiddle is superimposed on top of her.

9. Celie and the Harvest Fiddler by Valerie Flournoy

 

Halloween ABC by Jannie Ho book cover. Image on cover shows various Halloween monsters sharing a bag of candy.

10. Halloween ABC by Jannie Ho

 

 

Wednesday Weekly Blogging Challenge: Scariest Books I’ve Ever Read

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.

Drawing of man wearing a business suit and lookign scared
The least scary horror image I could find.

I read a lot of horror before the Covid-19 pandemic began, but that changed as the reality of it sunk in.   Maybe someday I’ll be able to dive back into this genre again?

In the meantime, here are some of the scariest tales I’ve read and my (non-spoiler-y) reasons why I found them so frightening.

Cujo by Stephen King

Why It’s Scary: Rabies is a horribly real disease, and just about everything in this book could actually happen in real life. I was bitten without provocation by a (non-rabid) dog many years ago, so there’s also the added horror of knowing how unpredictable some animals can be.

 

The Lottery by Shirley Jackson

Why It’s Scary: The link above will direct you to a free pdf of this tale. It started off so gently that I had no idea what was coming, but the ending made me shudder. I actively look for the good in everyone and assume the best of their intentions, but some can be persuaded to do terrible things under certain circumstances.

 

Annihilation (Southern Reach, #1) by Jeff VanderMeer

Why It’s Scary: These characters entered area X knowing that communication with the outside world would be severed and that the rules of physics and biology in that area were wildly unpredictable at best. I would be terrified to explore a place like that, but it did make for a fantastic book and film.

 

We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver

Why It’s Scary: Not only is everything in this book entirely possible, similar things have happened to other school/mass shooters before. There’s something about realistic stories that makes them a thousand times more frightening.

Haunted in Quarantine: A Review of Safer at Home

Safer at Home a Ghost Story by Zoe Cannon book cover. Image on cover is an eerie photo of an abandoned home taken at night while the sickly green-yellow moon shines down upon it. 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 pandemic, Ben is locked down in his brand-new house, with nothing to keep him company but his chessboard and the boxes he still hasn’t unpacked. Or so he thinks.

But he’s not alone. Before this was Ben’s house, it was hers. And the dark spirit will do whatever it takes to keep him inside. If he doesn’t find a way out, Ben will stay locked down… forever.

But which is more dangerous? The ghost in the house… or the virus outside?

This short story is 14,000 words long, or approximately 40 pages. It is a companion story to Second Wave. These stories stand alone and can be read in any order.

Review:

Content Warning: Covid-19, domestic violence, murder, and blood. I will be discussing these things briefly in my review.

Sometimes the only thing scarier than Covid-19 is staying home to avoid it.

One of the benefits of setting this story during the first wave of the Covid-19 pandemic in early 2020 had to do with how it affected Ben’s reaction when he realized that others had been telling the truth when they warned him about his new home being haunted. This is a typical weak spot in the average paranormal tale in my experience. Most characters should have a reasonable chance of finding other accommodations upon learning something like this, but Ben genuinely had no where else to go due to the lockdown order as well as some other excellent reasons that I’ll allow other readers to discover for themselves. I appreciated seeing how his options were logically whittled down as he worked through all of the possible means of escape.

Some of my favourite scenes involved Ben’s reactions to common tropes in the paranormal and horror genres. His self awareness was a breath of fresh air, especially when he took the time to puzzle out why certain actions were so dangerous and what alternatives, if any, he might have while battling a violent ghost alone in a mostly-empty house. He was an intelligent and resourceful character whose decisions generally made a great deal of sense. That’s something I always like to see in this genre.

The domestic violence subplot was well done. It pushed this tale much further into the horror genre than it probably would have otherwise gone, but I totally understood the author’s reasons for going there and going into as much detail about the physical and emotional damage that abusers do to their victims. I liked the fact that the author made his point subtly on this topic. He definitely had a strong message to send about this topic, but he did so in a way that fit the tone of his tale smoothly and gave the audience plenty of opportunities to put the pieces of what he had to say together for ourselves. There was no sermonizing here or anything like that which was refreshing.

Safer at Home – a Ghost Story is the perfect paranormal read for anyone who loves spooky fiction.

A Photo Essay Update on Damaged Toronto Trees

Last year I shared photos from one of the parks in Toronto once a month to show my readers what our landscape looks like throughout the year. This is an update to two trees in that series that were badly damaged in a winter storm in early 2020.

Click on February, MarchAprilMayJune, July, August, September, October, November, and December, and January to read the earlier posts and see what the park is like throughout the year.

Welcome back to this photo essay series! This post will be shorter than previous instalments in it since I’m only focusing on the two damaged trees that some readers requested an update on after the winter of 2020-2021 ended.

Photo of a damaged tree whose branches are curving downward.

Let’s begin with the tree that lost a third of its leaves in that storm last year.

Look at how nearly all of its branches continue to bend down. You rarely see anything like that here.

 

A large branch that has fallen off of a sick tree.

A week or two ago, I noticed a branch that was taller than me lying on the ground next to it. I suspect that it fell off during a recent storm due to the lack of cut marks on it and the way the bark was peeled off, but I can’t say for certain.

A large bare tree branch lying on the ground.

On a more recent visit, I saw this. I thought it was the same branch but also couldn’t confirm it.

A possibly rotting trunk of a tree.

The trunk looks like it’s beginning to split open, and something appears to be growing inside of it. Maybe it’s mould or a fungus of some sort?

I worry about the survival of this tree as well as the possibility of someone getting hurt if a large branch falls on them while they’re standing near it.

Closeup of a tree that lost half of it's branches.

In happier news, the tree that originally lost half of its branches and a good chunk of its trunk is not showing any signs of mould (or whatever that stringy stuff was) growing in it. The wound on its drunk appears to be dry. There are no deep cracks in the wood, and all of it’s branches are as straight as the branches on healthy trees nearby. Landscape shot of a tree that lost half of it's branches in a storm in 2020. It's just beginning to bud again.

And to think I originally assumed this tree had been killed in that storm! Nature is full of surprises.

Side view of tree that lost half of it's branches in a 2020 storm. The branches that still remain are just beginning to sprout many new leaves.

 

May it stick around for many years to come.

I’ll continue to keep an eye on these trees and will provide another update in this series if either one of them experiences a dramatic change in health for the better or the worse. My hope is that any future update in this series will only contain good news, but we’ll have to see what happens.

If you’ve ever seen trees in your area go through similar injuries, I’d love to hear about your experiences there.

My reduction in blogging time will continue on for now. As much as I miss interacting with all of you more often, I’m enjoying the quieter schedule and using that writing time to focus on my speculative fiction.

On Finding Scope for Imagination During Uncertain Times

“Isn’t it splendid to think of all the things there are to find out about? It just makes me feel glad to be alive—it’s such an interesting world. It wouldn’t be half so interesting if we knew all about everything, would it? There’d be no scope for imagination then, would there?” – Anne of Green… Read More

A Photo Essay of Toronto in September

Each month I share photos from one of the parks in Toronto to show my readers what our landscape looks like throughout the year. This is the eighth instalment of this series. Click on February, March, April, May, June, July, and August to read the earlier posts. It was  13 Celsius (55 Fahrenheit) and slightly cloudy during this… Read More

Why I’m Starting My Light Therapy Sessions Earlier This Year

I am not a doctor, and this post is not intended to be taken as medical advice. Please talk to your healthcare provider to see if light therapy lamps are right for you. Last winter I talked about how much light therapy helps me with my winter blues. When I stopped using it during our… Read More

5 Homeschooling Tips From a Homeschooler

I recently read that there has been a surge of families interested in homeschooling thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic. As someone who was homeschooled for several years, I have some tips to share for anyone who is planning to or thinking about homeschooling their kids this year. Before we dive into the meat of this… Read More