Tag Archives: Self-Published

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.

 

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

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.

A Review of The Story of Sigurd the Dragonslayer

The Story of Sigurđ the Dragonslayer (Tales From the Volsunga Saga Book 2) Kindle Edition by Liam G. Martin Book cover. Image on cover shows Norse runes arranged in a circular yellow pattern in the centre of the cover. Title: The Story of Sigurd the Dragonslayer (Tales from the Volsunga Saga Book 2)

Author: Liam G Martin

Publisher: Self-Published

Publication Date: January 24, 2022

Genres: Fantasy, Adventure, Historical

Length: 35 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author.

Rating: 5 Stars

Blurb:

The Story of Sigurđ the Dragonslayer is part of The Tales from the Volsunga Saga series which retells some of the stories from the Volsunga Saga. The Volsunga saga is a legendary old Norse text that was written in Iceland around 1250 AD.

In The Story of Sigurđ the Dragonslayer, you’ll read about the early life of Sigurđ, one of the greatest heroes of Norse mythology.

Review:

Content Warning: death of parents and a murder. All of the deaths were described briefly and without graphic details included in them.

Becoming a hero includes plenty of hard work. Nothing is guaranteed for anyone.

Mythology has always expected a lot of its audience. Not only did the author take his time explaining who certain characters were, the narrator shared lessons about perseverance, duty, honour, and vengeance that the audience was expected to digest for themselves. Sigurd had far too much on his plate to spell things out simply for us, but that’s exactly what I always hope to find in the stories I read. If people of different ages can interpret the same scenes in somewhat different ways, that means that it will take a long time for anyone to fully understand the ideas that thrive there.

Like many traditional myths, this one never had a good stopping point. I finished the last page wishing the author had written more even though Sigurd was technically an adult at that point and the narrator no longer had the excuse of describing this character’s early life in order to keep things going. This is the sort of reaction I always love to discover in myself. Leaving the audience yearning for the next scene is an excellent way to keep readers coming back for another instalment, after all.

The conflict and violence was handled beautifully. While this isn’t a sanitized and twenty-first century myth, it also didn’t include any gratuitous violence. The deaths that occurred were necessary in order for the plot to move forward, and those scenes were written tactfully and simply. Sigurd’s adventures were what really mattered, so I was pleased to see how steadily that portion of his life remained the focus of the plot. Creating this balance in retellings of tales from eras of human history when the expectations for family entertainment were quite different isn’t easy, and I commend the author for pulling it off so well.

It’s helpful, but not strictly necessary, to have a basic familiarity with Norse mythology before reading this book. The important stuff will be explained eventually, but recognizing the major gods and other figures in these tales will help to speed up the process for anyone who prefers to figure out who everyone was immediately.

This is also part of a series, but it functioned perfectly nicely as a standalone work.

The Story of Sigurd the Dragonslayer was a wild ride that I wish I’d taken sooner.

Changing His Destiny: A Review of Well of Fate


Well of Fate - A When Ravens Fall Short Story by Savannah Jezowski book cover. Image on cover shows a drawing of a squirrel crawling through a dark corridor with a tiny bit of light streaming through the tree branches above. Title
: Well of Fate – A When Ravens Fall Short Story

Author: Savannah Jezowski

Publisher: Dragonpen Press (Self-Published)

Publication Date: July 31, 2018

Genres: Young Adult, Fantasy, Adventure, Historical

Length: 39 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author.

Rating: 4 Stars

Blurb:

Discontent with his life as a tale-spinner, Ratatosk the squirrel goes searching for the Well of Fate hoping he can change his destiny. But what he finds at Yggdrasil will test the very core of his resolve. When he faces the unexpected dangers beneath the great tree, Tosk will have to choose between saving himself or risking all to do the right thing. Changing his destiny proves harder than he ever imagined.For fans of “When Ravens Fall” and Norse mythology, reunite with old friends and meet new ones in this compelling short story about destiny and hard choices.

Review:

Courage comes in many forms…including small, fuzzy ones!

Ratatosk was a brave and assertive squirrel who refused to take no for an answer. I haven’t read many books that have squirrels as protagonists and so had no preconceptions of what he would be like. It was delightful to get to know him, especially once I realized why he was so eager to find the Well of Fate and what he hoped to accomplish there.  I’ll leave it up to other readers to discover for themselves what he was looking for and if he found it, but his adventurous spirit was perfect for this setting. He might be a little miffed at this comparison since they’re not the same species, but fellow fans of C.S. Lewis’ The Voyage of the Dawn Treader might also be quickly reminded of a character in that book that acts a lot like Ratatosk and would happily go on adventures with him if they lived in the same universe.

It would have been nice to see more attention paid to the conclusion. While I know this was meant to be a teaser for a full-length series, the writing in that scene felt a bit abrupt to me, especially for those of us who were being introduced to the characters and setting for the first time in this short story.  I wanted to give this a full five-star rating and would have done so if this tale had been given a chance to wrap everything up more satisfactorily. Everything else about it was well done!

The world building was handled nicely. Obviously, there wasn’t a lot of space here to explain how everything worked or what was going on with certain backstories, but I received enough information to understand why Ratatosk’s quest was so important to him and what dangers he may face along the way. An air of mystery about the rest of it is a good thing in my opinion. It kept this reader feeling intrigued and asked questions that I can only assume will be fully answered later on.

You do not need to have an in-depth understanding of Norse mythology in order to appreciate this short story, but knowing a few basic facts like the names of their most important gods would be helpful.

Well of Fate – A When Ravens Fall Short Story was a wild ride. 

A Review of Vespasian Moon’s Fabulous Autumn Carnival

Title: Vespasian Moon’s Fabulous Autumn Carnival – A Long Short Story Author: Berthold Gambrel Publisher: Self-Published Publication Date: October 18, 2019 Genres: Paranormal, Mystery, Romance, Holiday, Humour Length: 54 pages Source: I received a free copy from the author. Rating: 5 Stars Blurb: Federal Agent Jane Raczyck is tired of her job. So is Sheriff… Read More

A Review of Samantha, 25, on October 31

Title: Samantha, 25, on October 31 Author: Adam Bertocci Publisher: Self-Published Publication Date: October 12, 2021 Genres: Fantasy, Contemporary Length: 50 pages Source: I received a free copy from the author. Rating: 5 Stars Blurb: Samantha hates her job, her debt and her general circumstances, and if that weren’t enough, her first post-pandemic Halloween isn’t… Read More

Running to Safety: A Review of One Dark Hallow’s Eve

Title: One Dark Hallow’s Eve Author: Eldritch Black Publisher: Self-Published Publication Date: October 22, 2015 Genres: Middle Grade, Fantasy, Paranormal, Horror, Contemporary, Historical Length: 43 pages Source: I received a free copy from the author. Rating: 3 Stars Blurb: Beware it’s Halloween and the Pumpkin Men are coming. It’s All Hallow’s Eve and Owen Weeks… Read More

A Review of Judith – A Triorion Universe Story

Title: Judith – A Triorion Universe Story Author: L.J. Hachmeister Publisher: Source 7 Productions (Self-Published) Publication Date: February 1, 2020 Genres: Science Fiction, Contemporary Length: 19 Pages Source: I received a free copy from the author. Rating: 3.5 Stars Blurb: With a broken heart and the resurgence of cancer, Judith Derns’ life comes to a… Read More

Caution is a Virtue: A Review of Veiled Threats

Title: Veiled Threats Author: Erin Jackson Publisher: Ringtail Press (Self-Published) Publication Date: February 9, 2022 Genres: Fantasy, Mystery, Contemporary Length: 74 pages Source: I received a free copy from the author Rating: 4 Stars Blurb:   This is a short prequel story that takes place before Diabolical Sword, book 1 in The Charm Collector urban… Read More