Tag Archives: Holidays

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 They could have been replaced by four other characters from any corner of the globe and the plot would have played out exactly the same.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.

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 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… 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

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

The Day Before Christmas Eve: A Review of The Yule Cat

Title: The Yule Cat – a Christmas Short Story Author: Eldritch Black Publisher: Self-Published Publication Date: October 25, 2020 Genres: Young Adult, Fantasy, Holidays Length: 46 pages Source: I received a free copy from the author. Rating: 3 Stars Blurb: Strange, scary rumors are flying about the tiny, snowy town below the mountains. Some say… Read More

Completing the Set: A Review of The Crown Derby Plate

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: The… Read More