Tag Archives: COVID-19

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.

Wednesday Weekly Blogging Challenge: A Unique Talent You Have

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.

A sketch of a heart in an otherwise blank notebook Not everything in our world is poetic or beautiful by any means, but my unique talent is finding the poetry and beauty in situations that at first glance do not seem to have a silver lining in them at all.

I’ll give you all a few examples of what I mean.

Years ago, I needed to go through some medical tests for a potentially life-threatening health condition that I was ultimately found not to have. While the technician was performing the ultrasound and taking notes of what she was finding, I quietly came up with pleasant thoughts about how the thump of my heart on the monitor sounded like something you’d expect to hear in a submarine as it dove deep into the calm, blue sea.

When my spouse and I went through financial trouble many years ago and had no money to spare for frivolities of any sort, I made taking long walks my chief form of entertainment and imagined that all of the trees were whispering delicious forest secrets to each other as the humans passed by unobtrusively below. It was honestly just was much fun as going to the movies or buying junk food and other things we couldn’t afford!

More recently, there were some protests here in Toronto earlier this year that clogged up some of our most important streets in the hospital district of the city. I imagined the sound of their angry voices on megaphones and the incessant beeping of their vehicles passing down the street while on their way to their destination were a warning from some future version of Toronto where such things were now commonplace.

This isn’t to say that i ignore the very real troubles we all go through or expect other people to think about scary life events the same way I do by any means. I simply find it easier to deal with them if I can make up whimsical stories about them in my head once I’ve done everything I can to change the situation.

Why worry excessively if there’s truly nothing else you can do in the moment? I think it’s better to look for the good in those moments if you can.

 

Top Ten Tuesday: 5 Reasons to Take a Reading Break


Hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl

A few years ago, I blogged about the general benefits of taking a reading break. Today I wanted to take a different approach to the topic and discuss some of the specific reasons why it can be a good idea to stop reading or to read less often for a while.

Reason #4 will mention grief and Covid-19, so feel free to skip that one if needed.

A beautiful park filled with large, healthy trees that are brimming with green leaves. 1. Enjoying Good Weather 

Southern Ontario is a humid and often stormy place. That humidity translates into chilly winters and stifling summers, so one quickly learns to take advantage of mild temperatures and clear skies when they occur.

To me, reading is an activity that makes more sense when it’s -30 Celsius (-22 Fahrenheit) or 40 Celsius (104 Fahrenheit) outside and it’s medically dangerous to be out there for long periods of time. If you’re lucky enough to have a balmy day in the15-20 Celsius (59-68 Fahrenheit) range, you’d better enjoy it while it lasts and go take a hike or enjoy a picnic or something.

2. Pursuing Other Interests 

I love my bookish and often nerdy interests, but that is not all that I am! It’s refreshing to switch between hobbies and interact with different social circles. Sometimes I also discover that there is more overlap between my various interests than I originally thought which is always cool to find.

3. Being More Physically Active

Yes, I know that some people listen to audiobooks while exercising, but that only works for me when I’m doing something like taking a brisk walk. I prefer to give my undivided attention to activities like weightlifting so that I can keep an eye on my form and stay focused on what I’m doing.

4. Resting My Mind 

This was especially true about eighteen months ago when a relative of mine caught Covid-19 and did not fully recover from it. (That is to say, they are still with us but have Long Covid now). Books can be a healthy distraction, but they can also be a little overstimulating when you’re waiting for news of even the smallest signs of improvement and do not necessarily get them.

5. Rediscovering the Excitment of Reading 

Nearly anything can begin to feel repetitive if I do it too often! As much as I love reading, taking breaks from it enables me to rediscover how exciting it is to crack open a book and once again anticipate what it will be like to discover all of its secrets.

 

 

 

 

A Review of Dare vs. The Doll

Dare vs the Doll: A not-actually-scary horror short story Kindle Edition by Si Clarke author. Image on cover is a photo of a scruffy little dog looking up with alarm at someone standing next it in rain boots. Title: Dare vs. The Doll – A not-actually-scary horror short story

Author: Si Clarke

Publisher: White Hart Fiction

Publication Date: March 30, 2021

Genres:  Horror, Parody, Humour, Romance, Contemporary

Length: 31 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author.

Rating: 3 Stars

Blurb:

Who expects a haunted doll to be such a nuisance?

When Dare’s dog discovers an abandoned doll on their doorstep, Dare assumes it’s nothing more than a lost toy… until it begins to talk.

After the doll offers up a string of bad suggestions and unhelpful advice, Dare is left wondering if the isolation of lockdown has finally proved too much.

Struggling to get rid of the bed-tempered toy, Dare has no idea that this not-quite-scary fiend will accidentally change everything.

With a dash of humour, this queer cosy-horror short story is a fun, quirky tale – perfect for readers who like the idea of being scared more than the reality of it.

Review:

Content Warning: One haunted doll. This was also technically set during a Covid-19 lockdown in 2020 or early 2021, but none of the characters were sick or anything during it.

Some problems are much easier to solve than you might think!

Dare was an amazing main character. I will leave it up to readers who have autism to comment on those aspects of this character, but I really enjoyed their matter-of-fact approach to any number of problems, from the sudden appearance of a rainstorm to the probably evil doll that they couldn’t seem to get rid of no matter what they tried. Honestly, Dare was exactly the sort of person I’d hope to have around in an emergency. If only all characters in Horror stories were this sensible and practical!

I would have liked to see the author spend more time on the parody elements of the plot, especially when it came to making fun of how many characters behave at the beginning of horror stories. Those were the best scenes in this short story in my opinion, and I would have loved to have more of them. The author did an excellent job of acknowledging the expectations of that genre while also showing a much more realistic reaction to learning that one’s dog has accidentally brought home a haunted doll. I simply needed more of these elements in order to give this a higher rating due to how important those themes were to the storyline.

The romantic plot twist was as unexpected as it was delightful. I rarely find stories that mix romance and horror together, especially if they’re about Queer characters. This is even more true when I narrow that list down to authors who have done so successfully for me as a reader. They are such wildly different genres that it’s pretty difficult to find the right balance between the lightheartedness of most romance and the heavier themes of most horror, so it was a great deal of fun to see how it happened here.

Dare vs. The Doll made me chuckle.

Top Ten Tuesday: Books With Your Favourite Theme


Hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl

Drawing of a hand holding on a piece of string that’s connected to the letter P in the word Hope. How can anyone only pick one trope or theme? I think I could write dozens of blog posts on this topic and still not run out of things to say.

Over the past two years, hopeful stories have been the ones that caught my attention most often for reasons I’m sure all of you can already guess.

Hope seemed like a good theme for a post, so here are eight hopeful books that I’d recommend from a variety of genres.

1. Becoming  by Michelle Obama

2. The Martian by Andy Weir

3. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (Chronicles of Narnia, #3)  by C.S. Lewis (The rest of this series is pretty hopeful, too!)

4. A Psalm for the Wild-Built (Monk & Robot, #1)  by Becky Chambers

5. Oh, the Places You’ll Go!  by Dr. Seuss

6. The Hobbit, or There and Back Again  by J.R.R. Tolkien

7. The Princess Bride  by William Goldman

8. The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams Bianco

Stay Home, Stay Safe: A Review of The Machine Stops

Vintage Science Fiction month takes place every January, and has a few guidelines:  – read, watch, listen to, or experience something science fiction / fantasy that was created in 1979 or earlier  – talk about it online sometime in January  – have fun If any of my readers are also interested in participating this month,… Read More

Top Ten Tuesday: Bookish Wintry Gifs and Photos

Hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl I’m going to be achingly honest with all of you here. The winter holiday season is hard for me for a few different reasons. One, I have seasonal depression that usually kicks in by early November when Ontario’s days grow short and our sunlight is weak and brief at… 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