Tag Archives: Historical

Making Things Right: A Review of The Canterville Ghost

Vintage Science Fiction Blog Challenge badge. It shows a rocket ship against a red background. There is a bubble city in the background. 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, let Little Red Reviewer know about your posts if you’d like them to be included in her official roundups. 

Title: The Canterville Ghost

Author: Oscar Wilde

Publisher: The Court and Society Review

Publication Date: February 23, 1887 and March 2, 1887

Genres: Science Fiction, Fantasy, Paranormal, Historical

Length: 54 pages

Source: This review was inspired by Little Red Reviewer’s post about The Canterville Ghost last year. Go to Wilde Online to read this story for free for yourself.

The Canterville Ghost by Oscar Wilde book cover. Image on cover is a black-and-white photo of Mr. Wilde holding a cane as he bends over and gently touches his face. Rating: 4 Stars

Blurb:

Horace B. Otis, a wealthy American, purchases Canterville Chase, an ancient English manor-house, despite warnings that the house is known to be haunted. He moves into the house accompanied by his wife, his eldest son Washington, his daughter Virginia, and his two younger twin sons. Immediately upon arrival, the family is confronted by a bloodstain in a sitting room. The housekeeper, Mrs. Umney, explains that the stain has been there since 1575 and is the result of Lady Eleanore de Canterville having been brutally murdered by her husband, Sir Simon de Canterville.

The Otis family takes a pragmatic perspective and scrubs the stain away; they repeat the process when the stain continues to reappear every morning. The stubborn reappearance of the stain, as well as other strange occurrences around the house, leads them to consider that the rumor of the ghost may not be totally unfounded.

Review:

Content warning: Murder. I will not be discussing these things in my review.

What happens when the ghost haunting your new home might not be as scary as he thinks he is?

I adored the way Mr. Wilde played around with the tropes of the paranormal and fantasy genres. Most character are at least mildly alarmed by the presence of a supernatural being in their home, so I was delighted to meet an entire family who genuinely didn’t care who or what roamed the halls as night so long as they didn’t wake anyone up or make a mess. Honestly, they actually seemed to enjoy playing pranks on their new roommate of sorts whenever he irritated them too much with his various haunting activities. This is so rare for this genre that I can’t remember the last time I read anything like this story.

One of the things I was never quite able to do with this tale was categorize it into one specific genre. It went into far more investigative detail than I’d normally expect to find in the fantasy genre, but it was also more metaphysical than I’d expect to find in the science fiction genre. In my experience, classics science fiction often does this, especially as you read further back into time when this genre was closer to its infancy. I’m the sort of reader who usually prefers harder science fiction, but this was well told once I accepted the fact that the characters weren’t going to perform the same sorts of scientific experiments I would if I were in their shoes. If the writing style had been a little firmer about what sort of speculative fiction this was actually supposed to be, I would have gone with a five-star rating.

The ending threw me for a loop. Normally, conflict between ghosts and humans escalates over time in tales like these. Sometimes it can even do so violently depending on what the author has in mind, so I was thrilled to see how everything was resolved for the Otis family and their resident ghost. It made perfect sense for the plot, but it also gave me a warm and fuzzy feeling inside. Those aren’t emotions that happen very often in stories about the restless souls of murderers of all things, so it was satisfying to have it here.

The Canterville Ghost was one of those delightful pieces of speculative fiction that defies categorization. If you like stories that leap between genres and sometimes swirl them all up together, this classic short story might be right up your alley.

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 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.

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!

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

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

Chasing Victory: A Review of The Sea Witch

Title: The Sea Witch Author: Bethany Hoeflich Publisher: Self-Published Publication Date: February 21, 2021 Genres: Fantasy, Historical Length: 30 pages Source: I received a free copy from the author. Rating: 3 Stars Blurb: For years, Ula has been content to hide behind her reputation as the sea queen’s quirky, loner sister. Isolation and mistrust are… Read More

Second Chances: A Review of The Ghost of Beth’s Mother

Title: The Ghost of Beth’s Mother Author: Twylla Johnson Publisher: Self-Published Publication Date: February 20, 2021 Genres: Fantasy, Paranormal, Historical Length: 12 pages Source: I received a free copy from the author. Rating: 3 Stars Blurb: Beth was a homely little misfit girl who lived at the Maudlin Mary Magdeline Orphanage. She claimed her mother,… Read More

A Muddy Quest: A Review of The Storm

Title: The Storm Author: Alex Cross Publisher: Self-Published Publication Date: January 2, 2021 Genres: Fantasy, Historical Length: 10 pages Source: I received a free copy from the author. Rating: 5 Stars Blurb: A storm rages in the night. A dark and perilous journey through the southern forest. Doran races against time. Will he make it… Read More