Why I Read Ghost Stories At Christmas

Ghosts

Now it is no secret that I read scary things all year around but when it comes to Christmas I just want one thing: ghost stories. Now I know it is a bit odd, images of ghosts really don’t mesh with jolly old Saint Nick and Christmas trees, but is it really that strange? …..Historically no. In fact one of the most popular Christmas songs even references it. In the lyrics of The Most Wonderful Time of the Year it has the line:

There’ll be parties for hosting
Marshmallows for toasting
And caroling out in the snow
There’ll be scary ghost stories

And tales of the glories of the

Christmases long, long ago

Now this song originally came out in 1963 but painted the image of the perfect Victorian traditional Christmas. It probably isn’t a surprise that the Victorians had this Christmas tradition, it was the era of the ghost story, but why at Christmas? Well, that explanation for that is older than the Victorians.

Fact Alert: Christmas originally wasn’t Jesus’ birthday. I am sorry if that bugs some people but it is the historical truth. We don’t actually know when Jesus’ was born. They didn’t have birth certificates back then and they certainly didn’t have Facebook so we cant do a sneaky date check like you do every year when you want to make sure you didn’t forget your mum’s birthday. We just don’t know. The date for Christmas was set at this time to include the various non Christian religions (aka pagan) around at that time. Christians wanted to encourage them to convert so they set their holidays around the same time as theirs, and it isn’t just Christmas, the same goes for Easter and All Souls (aka Halloween). All of those festivals are older than when Jesus popped up.

So, what does this have to do with ghost stories? Well, it is to do with the Winter Solstice. Christmas is close to the darkest day of the year and that was a day when people thought the dead could come back more easily and pay us a visit. Doesn’t that sound a little like another Holiday we all love:

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Naturally this belief started the practice of telling ghost stories during the Christmas period.

Fast forward a few thousand years to the Victorians and their creation of the modern Christmas and you have ghosts worked into almost every Christmas story from that time. It wasn’t just to be creepy either. Christmas is the perfect time to think about dead loved ones and Christmases past, and to the death obsessed Victorians those thoughts led to the creation of more ghost stories.

People would even have parlour games where seances would be held or they would take turns at trying to think up a story and see who can scare their friends the most. This is how Frankenstein was created.

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Sadly the tradition of the Christmas ghost story died out in the modern era. People are only interested in the shiny happy side of Christmas rather than trying to balance it out with a side of scares. It makes me a little sad because on a cold dark night there is nothing better than a good ghost story. The nights in winter are even darker than they are on Halloween so it is a perfect time for it. So this is why I keep the tradition going.

What are your thoughts? Would you like to see this tradition come back? Also I am tempted to write more history based posts like this, what do you think?

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TBR Spotlight: Christmas Edition

It is only 10 days until Christmas! I finally have all of my Christmas shopping done so now I can enjoy the holiday season. Christmas is my second favourite holiday after Halloween. Who doesn’t like presents and an excuse to eat until you explode?

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I was originally going to do a Top 5 Holiday Reads but it has been a long time since I have done a TBR spotlight and I have added so many pretty Holiday reads to my list this week I thought I would share them with you. A lot of these books are either set during Christmas or have a beautiful wintery setting. Perfect for this time of year.

Links to the books are included in the cover images so you can add them to your own TBR list.

The Wolves of Midwinter by Anne Rice

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Summary of The Wolf Gift:
“The place, the rugged coast of northern California. A bluff high above the Pacific. A grand mansion full of beauty and tantalizing history set against a towering redwood forest.

A young reporter on assignment from the San Francisco Observer. . . an older woman, welcoming him into her magnificent, historic family home that he has been sent to write about and that she must sell with some urgency . . . A chance encounter between two unlikely people . . . an idyllic night—shattered by horrific unimaginable violence. . .The young man inexplicably attacked—bitten—by a beast he cannot see in the rural darkness . . . A violent episode that sets in motion a terrifying yet seductive transformation as the young man, caught between ecstasy and horror, between embracing who he is evolving into and fearing who—what—he will become, soon experiences the thrill of the wolf gift.

As he resists the paradoxical pleasure and enthrallment of his wolfen savagery and delights in the power and (surprising) capacity for good, he is caught up in a strange and dangerous rescue and is desperately hunted as “the Man Wolf,” by authorities, the media and scientists (evidence of DNA threaten to reveal his dual existence). . . As a new and profound love enfolds him, questions emerge that propel him deeper into his mysterious new world: questions of why and how he has been given this gift; of its true nature and the curious but satisfying pull towards goodness; of the profound realization that there are others like him who may be watching—guardian creatures who have existed throughout time and may possess ancient secrets and alchemical knowledge and throughout it all, the search for salvation for a soul tormented by a new realm of temptations, and the fraught, exhilarating journey, still to come, of being and becoming, fully, both wolf and man.” 

This book is a sequel to Anne Rice’s werewolf series, The Wolf Gift Chronicles. I haven’t read the first one yet but I am a huge fan of her Vampire Chronicles series so I know I will probably enjoy it. It has been a very long time since I read anything with werewolves in it so I am pretty excited to get started on this series. This second book in the series, The Wolves of Midwinter, is set entirely during the Christmas period so I plan on getting stuck into the first and second books before Christmas rolls around.

Ghost Story by Peter Straub

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“For four aging men in the terror-stricken town of Milburn, New York, an act inadvertently carried out in their youth has come back to haunt them. Now they are about to learn what happens to those who believe they can bury the past — and get away with murder.”

A thriller novel with ghosts and set during winter? Sign me right up! Maybe it is just the cover but this book conjures the image of four men held up together during a snowstorm being tormented by their past.  Just the story of story you need to scare yourself with on a dark winter night.

Christmas Spirits by Charles Dickens419dEzSJhIL._SX314_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg

“This elegant edition gathers seven spirited Yuletide fables by Charles Dickens. The heartwarming tales tell of people rescued from their own folly by mysterious strangers — including goblins, ghosts, and other supernatural creatures.” 

Did you know that Charles Dickens wrote Christmas stories other than A Christmas Carol? Well he did, and just like A Christmas Carol they are just as odd and supernatural. I have a personal tradition of reading A Christmas Carol every year so I love the idea of adding more Dickens stories to my Christmas reading list.

The Winter Ghosts by Kate Mosse6450212.jpg

“By the author of the “New York Times”-bestselling “Labyrinth,” a story of two lives touched by war and transformed by courage.

In the winter of 1928, still seeking some kind of resolution to the horrors of World War I, Freddie is traveling through the beautiful but forbidding French Pyrenees. During a snowstorm, his car spins off the mountain road. Dazed, he stumbles through the woods, emerging in a tiny village, where he finds an inn to wait out the blizzard. There he meets Fabrissa, a lovely young woman also mourning a lost generation. 

Over the course of one night, Fabrissa and Freddie share their stories. By the time dawn breaks, Freddie will have unearthed a tragic, centuries-old mystery, and discovered his own role in the life of this remote town.”

I know very little about this book but I have heard it is brilliant, beautiful and a wonderful ghost story. I like a good winter ghost story so naturally it ended up straight on my to read list. I haven’t read any of Kate Mosse’s writing before but I have seen her first novel, Labyrinth everywhere.

Krampus: The Yule Lord by Brom517ojcjfCwL._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg

“Acclaimed author and artist Brom raised eyebrows and pulse rates with The Child Thief, his grim, brilliantly audacious, gorgeously illustrated reimagining of the Peter Pan legend. So what does this innovative fantasist do for an encore? He tinkers darkly with the beloved mythology of Santa Claus. Set in Appalachia, Krampus the Yule Lord is a twisted fairytale about a failed West Virginia songwriter who gets ensnared on Christmas Eve in an eternal war between a not-so-saintly Saint Nick and his dark enemy Krampus, aka Black Peter, an ancient trickster demon. Krampus the Yule Lord is Gregory Maguire (Wicked) meets Susanna Clarke (Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell) in the realm of Guillermo Del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth, as Clive Barker (Mr. B. Gone) works his dark sorcery from the shadows. Once again featuring Brom’s chillingly beautiful artwork throughout, Krampus the Yule Lord is a feast of wonder straight from the kitchen of Sweeney Todd.”

Krampus!! I need to read this book so badly. Brom is one of those authors I have been dying to read books from but I can never seem to find his work anywhere. It is a bit odd. I might treat myself after Christmas and order a copy of this book and The Child Thief from Book Depository.

If you don’t know already, Krampus is the anti Santa in folklore. He is a trickster who punishes bad children by either hitting them with sticks or kidnapping them to eat later. You should look into Christmas folklore, some of it is amazingly dark. Google Perchta if you don’t believe me.

Have you read any of the books mentioned above? If so let me know what you thought of them.

Reads of the Month: November

Can you believe it is December already??

I had a pretty good reading month in November. I read 6 books. Most of which are not relevant to this blog, but I will say this, if you haven’t read The Hobbit go do it.  I am having a bit of a Tolkien reread. Blame D&D.

So anyway, my top three picks for Dark Reads of the Month are…

Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie

The Orient Express is stranded in the snow and a man is found stabbed to death in a bath tub onboard. Detective Poirot has until the snow clears to solve the case.

This is the first Agatha Christie book I have ever read, and even though I solved the case myself only a few chapters in I still enjoyed it. It was darker than I expected, with backstories involving a child murder and of course the dead body in the bath tub.

This is a bit of a stereotypical murder mystery but those stereotypes have to come from somewhere, and Christie started most of them. I am not sure if I will read more of her books but as a fan of detective stories this was very enjoyable. If you like crime novels this would be a perfect quick and fun read.

My Best Friend’s Exorcism by Grady Hendrix

Heathers meets The Exorcist. Abby has noticed that her best friend is acting a little strange. She smells, is suddenly cruel and looks very sickly. Could her friend be possessed?

I absolutely LOVED this book. Set in the 1980s, My Best Friend’s Exorcism reads like your typical 80s teen movie with a side of horror thrown in. Even the chapter titles are the names of 80s songs.

This book also isn’t very scary so if you are easily scared maybe check out this horror novel. I will warn you though, it can be pretty gross in parts due to the whole exorcism thing. If you have seen a film with possession in it you will know what I am talking about. It also has sexual moments, animal cruelty and general 80s attitudes to things.

You can read my full review here. 

Amelia Fang and the Barbaric Ball by Laura Ellen Anderson

Amelia Fang is 10 years old and a vampire. She lives with her parents in monster town (basically diet Halloween Town) and has regular adventures with her friends who are also monsters like her. One day a spoiled prince visits her parents’ house and takes her pet pumpkin, Squashie, from her. Amelia has to come up with a plan to get Squashie back.

It has been a long time since I read a children’s novel but I bought this book around Halloween and it had bright orange pages so it magically ended up in my shopping basket.

This was a pretty cute read. It was very simple and clearly meant for child readers. It wasn’t like other children novels that throw in references or cleverness for adult readers. It was a simple kids’ story about a little vampire and her pumpkin. It even had a pretty decent anti-racism and “don’t judge people who are different” subplot to it. The art work is adorable too because it is fully illustrated.

I might not pick up more Amelia Fang books for myself in the future but if I had kids I would happily give them this to read. Perfect reading for tiny people who are discovering books with chapters.

You can read my full review here 

What was the best book you read this month?

Also don’t forget, I am still open to questions for my upcoming 300 Follower Q&A.

REVIEW: My Best Friend’s Exorcism by Grady Hendrix

Summary:

From GoodReads.com:

“Abby and Gretchen have been best friends since fifth grade, when they bonded over a shared love of E.T., roller-skating parties, and scratch-and-sniff stickers. But when they arrive at high school, things change. Gretchen begins to act…different. And as the strange coincidences and bizarre behavior start to pile up, Abby realizes there’s only one possible explanation: Gretchen, her favorite person in the world, has a demon living inside her. And Abby is not about to let anyone or anything come between her and her best friend. With help from some unlikely allies, Abby embarks on a quest to save Gretchen. But is their friendship powerful enough to beat the devil?”

Review:

Heathers meets The Exorcist.

I have fallen in love with Grady Hendrix’s writing. Earlier this year I read his other novel, Horrorstor, and thought it was amazing so naturally I had to pick up his second novel, My Best Friend’s Exorcism. Was it as good as Horrorstor? Yes! In fact it was even better.

The book had all of the charm of an 80s teen movie but with the edginess of a horror film thrown in. Even with the horror aspect this book wasn’t scary, it was just simply enjoyable. It was funny when the moment called for it, it was creepy in just the right places, and all of the characters felt so very familiar. I am starting to think that is a trend with Hendrix’s writing, if you don’t relate to the characters you will know someone like them in real life which makes his novels very realistic, even if it is a high school drama involving exorcism.

I think my favourite part of the story was the friendship between the two main characters. You really felt for Abby while she was desperately trying to save her friend. There is no main romance in the story, it simply focuses on friendship and the power of it. That is brilliant.

Also this was my first time seeing an exorcism in a book. I studied exorcisms in school (I went to an odd school) so it was interesting seeing a topic I knew about being played out in a novel. It was done really well and made for very fast paced reading.

This is the perfect novel for anyone who loves teen dramas, 80s movies and just wants a little touch of horror thrown in.

Warnings:

Attempted suicide, drug use, rape references (no act, just discussion), sexual references, animal cruelty, gore and crude moments. For YA Readers and Adults.

Rating:

 

 

         4 out of 5 Skulls

I gave this book 4 out of 5 stars on GoodReads.com. You are missing out if you haven’t read this book yet. If you are a fan of films like Heathers or The Breakfast Club this is the book for you.

If you have read My Best Friend’s Exorcism let me know what you thought of it or link me to your own review. I would love to read it. Or, if you haven’t read it, tell me your favourite song from the 80s. I want music suggestions. This book has put me in the mood for some 80s music.

Also don’t forget, I am still open to questions for my upcoming 300 Follower Q&A.

5 Reasons Why I Love Horror Novels

This post was inspired by a comment from Beware of the Reader   on my 5 Reasons Why I Blog post last week. She isn’t a fan of horror but was interested in why I found it, not only enjoyable, but enjoyable enough to spend my time reading and reviewing horror novels. Yes, I also review thriller and generally dark novels but horror seems to be the marmite of book genres and the one I get asked about the most. People either love it or hate it, but I don’t think it is possible to hate an entire genre, there is always something for everyone.

So let me try to convince you by explaining why I love the horror genre.

1. Human Monsters

In my experience the best horror novels do not have an entirely supernatural villain. A human villain or a villain with human motives makes the novel relateable. It makes it scary. Human villains are the worst because they could actually exist, or in the case of many “based on a true story” novels like The Girl Next Door, they did actually exist. Ghosts, ghouls and all things creepy are brilliant but there is nothing scarier than a human monster.

2. The Atmosphere

Have you ever spent a cold, dark night with a storm rattling around outside reading a creepy book? No? Then you are missing out. I think as a reader you haven’t truly lived until you have read Frankenstein, Dracula, Poe or some other classic horror novel during a thunderstorm. It is even better if you do it by candle light.

So next time the weather is awful gather your blankets, pick up a classic horror novel, get a cup of tea, curl up and get reading. Also open the window a little so you can hear the storm better. It is one of the best reading experiences.

3. Something For Everyone

People tend to think of horror as a one track pony but that isn’t true at all.

Don’t like ghosts and supernatural things? Ok, find a horror novel based around regular people. Not comfortable with gore? Fine! Research your novel a bit to see if you can handle it or read a psychological horror. Easily scared? Easy! Read a YA horror or find a book about something that doesn’t scare you.

There are so many different ways to frighten someone so naturally the horror genre has a large variety of fears to choose from. I think a perfect example of this is the short story collection Dark Water. The entire collection is based around the theme of water and covers every possible fear with just water being featured somewhere in the story.

I plan to write guide someday to help people find the right horror novel with recommendations of course.

4. The Backstories

My favourite part of anything horror related is the backstory. What made all of the events happen? What horrible thing is the driving source behind the characters and the story? The explanation is always my favourite. There is usually a brilliant flashback or a plot twist thrown in. I love it and it keeps me hooked.

Also what I don’t understand is that I have seen so many people write “why I love YA/Fantasy/dystopian” lists and have a point on their list about loving the dark moments, and then on another post saying they hate horror. Clearly you don’t hate horror. You are just turning down an entire genre of that thing you just said you love. Maybe you just haven’t found the right book.

5. Morbid Curiosity

Have you ever read a story in the news that is tragic and terrible but find yourself wondering what exactly happened? Sure you will get the jist of it in the news but you just want the gory details. This is what drew me to the world of horror in the first place.

My introduction to the horror genre was when I watched the 1931 Frankenstein film as a small child. My grandfather made horror film props so the only thing to watch in his house was Hammer and Universal horror films. I don’t know how many of you have seen it but there is a scene in Frankenstein were the monster meets a little girl and they spend time throwing flowers into water and watching them float. They run out of flowers and the monster picks up the little girl and throws her into the water to see if she would float like the flowers. She drowns. This scene filled 5 year old me with so much curiosity, so much so that it stuck in my head forever. I learned two things: A little girl like me can die (something which had never occurred to me before) and the monster that did it wouldn’t understand what it did. The monster was innocent. I loved it so much that the following Halloween I dressed up as the Bride of Frankenstein.

I think when it comes to scary stories, especially those with characters similar to ourselves, we can relate so much we end up hooked. It makes us address our own mortality or our own humanity if we relate to the villain.

So these are my reasons for loving the horror genre. Tell me your favourite genre below or, if you are a fan of horror, tell me why you love it. Or heck, tell why you don’t like horror novels. I would love to read your reasons.

Top 5 Tuesday: Top 5 Reasons Why I Blog

Top 5 Tuesday is hosted by the brilliant Bionic Bookworm. Check her out if you are not following her already.

I apologise in advance if I get a little ranty on this topic. I have a lot of feelings behind book blogging. I also apologise if I seem a little mean to the YA genre. I love it really. I just have a lot of feelings about blogging. It’s ok to like popular things, they are popular for a reason.

1.The Lack of Horror Book Blogs

Once upon a time I was a regular book blogger, some of you who have been following me for a while might remember that phase, I posted the same style of posts as everyone else, read the same cheesy YA as everyone else and even used selfies where I tried to look “normal”, but then I got bored.

I was in the mood to read something creepy and scary but no matter how many popular book blogs or booktube accounts I visited I just found the same books everywhere. Everyone read the same books and with the exception of a small handful I couldn’t find any horror novel recommendations. Sure, booktubers had some but they all read that exact same ones, probably ones they had been paid to flog to everyone in October. I was bothered, and the more I thought about it the more I realised that as a book blogger I was only reading what I was being told to read. I didn’t read any classics, except for a small handful, I didn’t know where to start when it came to finding a good horror book to satisfy my urges, but damn I knew the names of probably 100 chosen one, love triangle filled YA dystopian fantasies. Something had to change.

So…I changed my blog. I became a book blog for all things creepy, kooky and ever so ooky, and I haven’t looked back. I now blog to fill that gap that exists in the book blogging world.

Also it lets me be myself a little more. I am a generally creepy person who listens to 80s goth rock and wears black 90% of the time.

By the way, if you have been following me long enough to remember my “normal” phase let me know, you deserve a shout out for putting up with me for this long.

A long time ago this skull infested place was pastel!

2. To Rant

The main reason why I started book blogging in the first place was to rant about books I hate. I read a book that made me really mad, so much so that I built a blog just to complain about it. I am pretty sure that book was Divergent. I am not sorry. I love writing positive reviews but it is more fun to write reviews or posts dripping with sarcasm.

3. To Help Others

Like I said in my first point, my current blog was born out of a hunt for a decent horror novel to read so I want to save others the hassle and give them a blog full of dark and spooky recommendations. This is why I read and review Halloween and horror themed books for children. Everyone knows a child who loves vampires and witches, whether it be all year round or just on Halloween, so I want to help parents find perfect reading material for them.

This is also why I give warnings for every book I review. I know people don’t like reading about certain things so I like to give everyone a heads up if anything potentially upsetting is in a book.

4. To Support the Genre

When was the last time you noticed a horror section in a bookshop that was more than 1 bookcase and wasn’t half fantasy? Exactly.

This is another reason why I run a horror themed blog. The genre just isn’t popular any more. In fact the horror section in my local bookshop was taken away to be replaced by more YA shelves. That’s right, Poe, Bram Stoker, Shelley, they were all pushed aside for The Fault in Our Stars and Divergent.

Don’t get me wrong I love me some YA but back when I was considering the future of this blog I watched my favourite authors being removed and was told by a book shop employee that they just weren’t popular any more. My favourites were shoved in a forgotten bookcase in a far off corner in the shop that you have to go on a quest to find.

I want to shine a light on those forgotten books.

5. It is Fun

Book blogging is fun! The community is awesome, the tags are fun and you constantly have an excuse to buy more books. I might complain about it sometimes but I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t love it.

 

5 Short Stories You Need to Read Tonight

So it is a dark deary night in November and you want something to read that fits the atmosphere of the night, you have already read Poe so many times that you can reenact The Pit and the Pendulum with Barbie dolls, but it’s ok, I have you covered.

Here is my, Poe Free, list of 5 dark and atmospheric short stories for you to curl up with this winter.

I have tried to stick to older stories for this list so you can find them online free and easily.

The Dancing Partner by Jerome K Jerome

If you like steampunk this is the story for you. An inventor decides to create the perfect dancing partner for his female friends, and it doesn’t go very well.

This is always held up as a perfect example of less-is-more horror. This story doesn’t have a pleasant ending but leaves your mind fill in the nasty parts. It is brilliantly written and I always love Victorian stories about robotics and automations.

Stanley Fleming’s Hallucination by Ambrose Bierce

Stanley Fleming sees a giant dog sitting at the end of his bed every night so he visits his doctor about the hallucination who agrees to spend the night in his house. I cant say any more about spoiling the story.

I love Ambrose Bierce’s short horror stories. They don’t get enough love in my opinion. I first read this story well over ten years ago and the entire plot has stuck in my head ever since. It ends on a mystery and leaves the reader questioning so many things. What those things are I cant say, just read the story.

The Judge’s House by Bram Stoker

A scholar rents a house that once belonged to a judge with an evil reputation. He soon finds himself tormented by rats and other horrors.

Bram Stoker has always had a way with horror. If you have already read Dracula you need to pick up this short story. It has the creep factor for a modern haunted house film, but with the pacing and bluntness of a short story. A perfect quick and creepy read, with a great ending.

One Summer Night by Ambrose Bierce

A man wakes up to find that he has been buried alive, and believe it or not that isn’t the end of the story.

I am not sorry for putting two Bierce stories on the same list. This story is more of a dark comedy than a horror. Yeah you read that right, a dark comedy about being buried alive. It plays with irony and is full of that twisted Victorian dark sense of humour.

All Bierce stories are available to read online so this one will be easy to find.

Lost Hearts by M.R James

An orphan boy is sent to live with his older cousin in an isolated mansion. Soon he starts having visions of dead children.

This is a story that fits the Crimson Peak trope of being “a story with a ghost in it, not a ghost story”. I LOVED this story when I read it last week. It has some unexpected twists in it and even has elements that I wasn’t expecting from a Victorian ghost story. Give it a read and maybe check out a few other M.R James stories while you are at it.