Review ~ Ghosts at Christmas by Darren W. Ritson

Ghosts at Christmas by Darren W. Ritson

Cover via Goodreads

Featuring eyewitness accounts, a unique history of how Christmas came to be associated with ghosts, spirits and apparitions of all kinds
From Charles Dickens’ famous A Christmas Carol to Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas, the festive season has long been closely associated with ghostly tales. This fascinating work looks not only at the fictional treatment of Christmas ghosts but also at a host of true-life stories from across the country. Featuring accounts of unexplained phenomena, apparitions, and poltergeists from across the country, and including the stories of Christmas Eve Kitty in Blackpool, the Carlisle Devil Dog, the ghost children of Bramber Castle, and the skulls of Calgarth Hall this book is will delight anyone interested in the paranormal. Drawing on historical and contemporary sources and illustrated with over 70 images, this collection of spine-chilling tales will entertain and terrify in equal measure and is guaranteed to spice up the festive season. (via Goodreads)

I abandoned this book after about 19 pages.

The book starts with Darren Ritson trying to academically answer the question of why ghosts compliment Christmas so well. He gives it a go citing Dickens and pagan roots and mixing in pop culture references including Home Alone and National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, which don’t have much (anything) to do with ghosts. The volume is also padded out with some Christmas quotes at the beginning, which again have little to do with the ghosts.

Ritson is a ghost hunter and the rest of the book is a sampling of ghost tales from around England that occur in December-ish. None of the tales I read were particularly interesting or presented in a creative manner. I lost patience when I encountered as tale introduced as originating from William T. Stead’s 1891 volume Real Ghost Stories. I have no problem with a good story being repeated, but it felt like anachronisms had crept into Ritson’s re-telling. For exmple, were phones so common in 1891 that a employee might call in sick?  This made me curious so I tracked down a copy of Real Ghost Stories. The internet is wonderful place and two minutes on Amazon reaped the public domain volume. Stead’s telling of the same story is leaner in prose, lacking all the details that seemed false. Worse, Ritson seems to miss a key point in the story, overlooking a chilling piece of dialogue. And, at that point, I didn’t see much point in continuing on with Mr. Ritson and his Ghosts at Christmas.

Genre: Christmas horror
Why did I choose to read this book? Christmas horror, maybe a nonfiction slant.
Did I finish this book? (If not, why?) No. Boring and tamed.
Format: OverDrive Read
Procurement: Greater Phoenix Digital Library

Book Tree!

TreeMy old, fake tree is pretty tattered. Until I nab a good half-off tree after Christmas, a book tree will have to do. Featuring lots of Robert Jordan, George Sand, TE Lawrence, and Chelsea Quinn Yarbro.

Review ~ Christmas Tales of Terror

Christmas Tales of Terror by Chris Priestley

Cover via Goodreads

From malevolent snowmen to Father Christmas – with a difference … Chris Priestley is on absolute top form in these atmospheric, clever and thoroughly chilling stories. Add a new kind of thrill to the fluffiest of seasons with seven brilliantly conceived examples of why you’d better be good at Christmas time. For stories which can be enjoyed by the whole family, unwrap these perfectly formed festive tales of terror, each with a gripping yarn and genius twist.Singing carols may never seem quite the same again … especially after dark. (via Goodreads)

One distinct disadvantage of digital books is that it’s hard to immediately tell what you have. This anthology was much shorter than I expected. Seven stories, the longest at 16 pages long and the shortest half that. While these stories are geared toward a younger audience, I think that most of them didn’t need to be as short as they were. There were occasions when background information was introduced in an “oh-by-the-way” matter and I wished that the story had simply been told from the beginning. They weren’t being served narratively by their starting point anyway. I think a young audience could deal with the increased length and the increase in tension.

Conversely, the best of this collection were the shorter stories that were simply told:

  • “Frost” – A young artist sketches out the cold fate of a rich man that ill-used him.
  • “In the Bleak Midwinter” – A group of almost charitable choir boys learn why you should never sing in a graveyard.
  • “Soot” – Two little girls discover that it isn’t Father Christmas coming down the chimney.

Genre: Horror
Why did I choose to read this book? Looking for genre Christmas books
Did I finish this book? (If not, why?) Yes
Craft Lessons: Stories. It’s okay to tell them from beginning to end.
Format: OverDrive Read
Procurement: Greater Phoenix Digital Library

Christmas Spirit Readathon

e8ea5-christmas2013-3Hosted by Michelle @ The True Book Addict

Time to kick off the holiday season with style…reading style. If you’re joining us, remember these things:

  • You do not have to read Christmas books (I’m not the Christmas enforcer–haha), but if you can squeeze one little one in… *wink*
  • You do not have to have a blog. Join us from Twitter, Facebook or Goodreads
  • Have fun!

If you’re on Twitter, stop by and chat with the hashtag #CSReadathon

WRAP-UP

Didn’t quite get as much read page-count-wise as I would have liked, but I pretty much finished the list of things I wanted to read: holiday goblins, Holmes, and the eighth Doctor celebrating Christmas. It was an appropriately wintery weekend (for low Arizona) and I’ve revved up my Christmas spirit.

Thanks for hosting, Michelle!

GOAL

Read! I’m pretty modest with my goals. 250 pages for the weekend?

LIST

Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins
Read!
The Goblin's Christmas (1908)
Read!
Sons of Moriarty and More Stories of Sherlock Holmes
Finished last 40%
Short Trips: A Christmas Treasury  (Doctor Who Short Trips Anthology Series)
Read a half dozen stories

The first two are children’s books, but I can’t resist getting goblins wrapped up in the holidays. I have one novella left in Sons of Moriarty. The last is just pure, guilty-pleasure indulgence.

Sunday, November 24

Pages Read Today: ~101
Pages Read Total: ~185
Reading Materials:

  • Sons of Moriarty, ed. Loren D. Estleman, 70%-100%, ~65 pages.
  • Doctor Who Short Trips: The History of ChristmasThe Goblins’ Christmas by Elizabeth Anderson – “Ho! Kris!” they cried, “We’ll have some fun, / We’ll bind the old man down, / We’ll tie him up, and toss him o’er / Into our goblin-town.” And…then Kris Kringle turns them into toys. It’s a new one on me! ~5 pages.
  • Doctor Who Short Trips: The History of Christmas, ed. Simon Guerrier. Pg. 179-195, 218-231. Stand out story from the ones I cherry-picked from this anthology: “The Long Midwinter” by Philip Purser Hallard.

Notes: Well, I came in a little short of my goal. 😉 Ended up doing some work Sunday night. That’s how it goes.

Saturday, November 23

Pages Read Today: ~29
Pages Read Total: ~84
Reading Materials:

  • Sons of Moriarty, ed. Loren D. Estleman, 59%-70%, ~22 pages
  • Doctor Who Short Trips: The History of Christmas, ed. Simon Guerrier. Pg. 90-96.

Notes: There was just too much Who…

Friday, November 22

Pages Read Today: ~55
Pages Read Total: ~55
Reading Materials:

  • Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins by Eric Kimmel, illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman – Lovely illustrations. Imp-like goblins. Cute story although the goblins are pretty dim. (Pun intended.) “Now, Hershel, do you know who I am?” “I know you’re not Queen Esther.”
  • Stinky Santa: A Very Smelly Christmas E-book for KidsStink Santa by Otto Fishblanket, illustrated by Gerald Hawksley – And now for something completely different. Easy rhymes, fun illustrations. Not much going on aside from general silliness. “Any similarity to any real Santa is purely coincidental.”
  • Doctor Who Short Trips: A Christmas Treasury, ed. by Paul Cornell. Pg. 205-238. The standout story of the day was Stephen Cole’s “Evergreen”. Creepy, with basis in traditions and superstitions.

Reading Events – November & December

Starting in November

christmas 2013-4Hosted by the fabulous Michelle at her Christmas Spirit Blog

These must be Christmas novels, books about Christmas lore, a book of Christmas short stories or poems, books about Christmas crafts, and for the first time…a children’s Christmas books level! Levels:

  • Candy Cane:  read 1 book
  • Mistletoe:  read 2-4 books
  • Christmas Tree:  read 5 or 6 books (this is the fanatic level…LOL!)
  • Fa La La La Films:  watch a bunch or a few Christmas movies…it’s up to you!
  • Visions of Sugar Plums:  read books with your children this season and share what you read

I’m going to shoot for the Mistletoe level because, well, I have good intentions but I’m also fickle. I’ve love the juxtaposition of Christmas and ghost stories, so there will probably be a lot of that. I’m also always interested in exploring other holiday season holidays. I am, I suppose, holiday greedy. I like that so many cultural and religious holidays are clustered during the darkest time of the year. I see no reason why everyone can’t celebrate everything if they so desire. Some of what I might read:

Charles Dickens' Christmas Ghost Stories Spirits of Christmas Haunting Christmas Tales Let it Snow!  Season's Readings for a Super-Cool Yule!

The Twelve Days of Yule Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins Kwanzaa: A Family Affair The New Year's Eve Compendium: Toasts, Tips, Trivia and Tidbits for Bringing in the New Year

Starting in December

wilkieinwinter-1024x1024I will finish A Woman in White, I swear it.

Book #36

Hanukkah Lights: Stories of the Season from NPR’s Annual Holiday Special

Technology ate a previous draft of this entry and, unfortunately, I haven’t been keen on reproducing it. The attitude does not do this anthology justice.

I was raised Lutheran in Omaha, NE but I seem to have a particular fondness for the writings of Jewish authors.  A few weeks ago, my husband asked me what the attraction is. The thing that I formulated is that Jewish authors seem to bring a certain weight to their tales. It may sound cheesy, but it’s as though Judaism has grounded them with history that is inescapable. Even if you leave the religion out of it, I have the feeling that storytelling is more a part of Jewish culture than Christian culture. All the details of all those tales end up woven into new stories. That’s my take, anyway.

I started this year reading People of the Book; it seems appropriate that one of the last that I’ll probably finish this year is an anthology of Hanukkah stories. I know about Hanukkah in the same manner that I know Norse myths: Not having been exposed to it as a kid, it’s in the back of my brain, details jumbled, until I look them up again. I picked up this anthology due to the inclusion of two of my favorite authors, Harlan Ellison and Peter S. Beagle. In fact, I think I had read the Ellison story before and it was my previous baseline for Hanukkah facts. This book gave me a better understanding of the holiday without being particularly didactic. There wasn’t a weak piece in the volume and, despite my favorite authors, I think my favorite story was Max Apple’s “Stabbing the Elephant.” Stories and people can be flexible, and need to be sometimes.  It’s a good thing to remember during a season that should be marked with caring and merriment.

This book also left me with a craving for potato pancakes. You have been warned.

Format: Hardback
Procurement: PaperbackSwap
Bookmark: Note from the sender. Didn’t much need it since I read it in a morning.

Christmas Spirit Update #3

I meant for this to be a longer entry, posted on Tuesday. December got in the way. I should have a review of Hanukkah Lights next week. In the meantime…

Short Stories

Harnessing the brane-deer by Robert Billing

The headlights picked out something
scarlet in the distance. Something with
runners. Something piled with sacks full
of parcels. Beside it stood a rotund man in
red, his fur-trimmed hood thrown back to
reveal one of those big, greenish headsets
that airline pilots wear, the microphone
boom just in front of his snowy beard.

I’ll admit it, as a kid,  one of my biggest problems with Santa Claus was, how a guy with a sleigh and reindeer managed to visit every house everywhere in only 24 hours. (My other problem was how he’d get into my house since we had a furnace and no fireplace.  Flying reindeer, strangely, weren’t a blip on my radar.) If I’d been given this sci-fi tale, I might have been a believer a little longer.

“Upon a Midnight Clear” by Ian Thomas Healey

“Would you like some music? It’s Christmas back on Earth.”

“Christmas?” repeated Stabler doubtfully. He wasn’t much for holidays. They were wasted on someone like him with no family or friends outside of the cubic meter of Mona’s processor in its armored case just aft of the airlock; but he did like music, and Mona had some five hundred years’ worth of it to draw upon. “Sure, play some Christmas carols or something. Merry Christmas, Mona.”

It’s the night of Christmas, what’s stirring in the asteroid belt?

“Christmas” by Washington Irving

Of all the old festivals, however, that of Christmas awakens the strongest and most heartfelt associations. There is a tone of solemn and sacred feeling that blends with our conviviality, and lifts the spirit to a state of hallowed and elevated enjoyment.

This story led to me realize what I hate about nostalgia. I don’t have anything against looking at the past fondly. I do it. I enjoy reading other’s memories of the past. My problem comes when the person doing the remembering insists that the past is absolutely, positively, without question better than the present. Further, the present utterly lacks, the past is ruined, and the future is utterly dark. That’s the attitude that rubs wrong the futurist in me. In this piece, Irving is too interested  in slamming his present. How, oh how, have we managed to exist in the 200 years since you wrote these pieces, Mr. Irving?