On Christmas Eve night I unwrapped a gift that my parents had mailed to me. Usually I go to Calgary the first week of January to have second Christmas with my family and exchange gifts. So, this little present was a surprise. And inside was one of the BEST book covers I’d ever seen.
Hark! The Herald Angels Scream is a short story collection edited by Christopher Golden and put out by Blumhouse. I’ve really enjoyed all the Blumhouse Books Original so far and this one didn’t let me down either.
These are all Christmas horror themed short stories. And genuinely, every single story except maybe one or two were an absolute delight. Which is super rare for me for a collection. I usually enjoy about 50% of them but this one just knocked it out of the park completely.
Let’s jump in and go through each story!
Absinthe & Angels by Kelley Armstrong
I gave this one a solid 5/5. It’s a great start to the book with a short and sweet story set in a cabin in the woods. It’s all about the Mummering tradition which I didn’t know existed and am now terrified of. Also, it’s Canadian! And from Newfoundland! I freakin’ lived there for almost 4 years and not once heard of this spooky Christmas tradition. It has a great ending, really spooky imagery and reminded me of The Strangers.
Christmas in Barcelona by Scott Smith
Scott Smith wrote one of my favorite horror novels of ALL time, The Ruins. So, I was super excited to read this short and it did not disappoint. I gave it a 5/5. A couple with a new born baby decide to go on vacation for Christmas. Their baby won’t stop crying since they step on the plane, their luggage gets lost, and the hotel they booked is small and miserable. Everything’s falling apart. You really feel for the couple and Smith does a great job of putting their emotions on the page. When the father goes for a walk to find groceries, he gets lost and finds a woman who sells him toys that come to life at midnight on Christmas Day. At this point you’re sort of wondering where the story goes but as the finale slowly unravels and you start realizing what’s going on, it’s a drop in your stomach.
Fresh as the New-Fallen Snow by Seanan McGuire
This story broke my heart, so I gave it a 5/5. (Are you seeing a trend here?) A family that lives in a beautiful home and portrays a beautiful life, is dark and ugly underneath. Three children live in this home and are abused mentally and have learned to live in constant fear. One night they get a new babysitter who tells them a harrowing tale.
I actually teared up a little at the end of this. The Snow Maiden is a beautiful figure that bad parents should be really afraid of.
Love Me by Thomas E. Sniegoski
I gave this one 4/5 and that’s only because I wanted MORE! A man fresh out of prison is trying to go down the right path and take care of his estranged family. Unfortunately, it’s Christmas time and he can’t find a job. So, he goes back to his old ways of breaking and entering and stealing. There’s a particular apartment above an old pawn shop that is rumored to have a lot of treasures inside. When the main character gets into the apartment he finds something he didn’t expect….a terrifying little creature that kills people with its love.
Jk. But the little toy is actually terrifying and I just really want this to be made into a movie because it’s kind of perfect?!
Not Just for Christmas by Sarah Lotz
I gave this one 3/5 because I found it kind of boring. It was like a sci-fi horror. A guy whose wife and kids have recently left him is working towards getting them back. He buys them the new robot puppy that’s all the rage. It’s basically an AI dog that acts and feels like a dog but doesn’t grow up and doesn’t die. At first it works and the kids are thrilled. Then the dog gets hacked and a virus etc etc.
This one just wasn’t for me. Though I did like the ending when the real dogs who got abandoned take revenge. I’d rather read more of that!
Tenets by Josh Malerman
I mean…..Josh Malerman can do no wrong. Obviously, I gave this story a 5/5 because it’s Josh Malerman and CULTS!!!!!!!!! A dinner party goes awry when an ex cult leader gets invited. I wish we had more details though…I want to know what the cult leader did, and what kind of cult is was, and all the dirty gross details. And now I also want Malerman to write an entire novel based around a scary cult. JOSH!!! CULTS!!!!!!
Good Deeds by Jeff Strand
Solid 5/5 for this one. It had me cackling! Strand really has a wicked sense of humor. It’s based around a guy who is kind of an egotistical dick like we all are. He decides to give an act of kindness to a young boy, and is so overcome by his own generosity he writes a song about it.
Unfortunately, when he plays the song for his new wife, she’s so depressed by it she kills herself. Thinking it’s a one off, he goes and plays it at an open mic. But nope, it’s not a one off, everyone in the bar starts to kill themselves. But this dude just wants people to hear his song and see how generous he was.
It’s over the top, it’s ridiculous, and I had a hell of a good time reading this one!
It’s a Wonderful Knife – Christopher Golden
Another 5/5. This one is veryyyy topical in this Me Too movement. What if there was a murder weapon that appeared only once a year and disappeared immediately after you used it. Would you murder someone? What if they really deserved it?
A clever tale that has a creepy and powerful guy in the film industry showing off his private collection of strange and morbid film memorabilia to a young actress. It weaves in the story of A Wonderful Life and a made-up tale of someone being murdered on set. Which is not real…I googled to make sure…because weapons that turn invisible are not real Charlotte…you knew that…
Mistletoe and Holly by James A. Moore
As I’m writing the review for this book, I was trying to read the notes I’d left in the book for each story. This one just read, “5/5 sad and also witches”. And it took me about 5 minutes to figure out what the fuck I was talking about. Note to self, take better notes.
So, obviously, I gave this a 5/5. It has a witch. And it’s sad.
BUT – re-reading it because for some reason this one slipped my mind, the notes are not far off. A widowed woman has three kids, she lost her husband in the war. It’s Christmas time and she’s having a rough time of it. Her sister is there to support her and her sister has a new gorgeous girlfriend who is also very supportive. Deanna is missing her husband and having strange dreams about him, but if he does return from the dead…would she really want him to?
Snake’s Tail by Sarah Langan (story consultation by Clem and Frances Petty)
….ready for it? Another 5/5!! This one is about a town that on midnight on Christmas Day, children start to disappear. It’s all about old scary Gods and changelings and human sacrifices. It’s epic for such a short tale and incredibly well written. I really fell quickly into the aesthetic of this one.
The Second Floor of the Christmas Hotel by Joe R. Lansdale
Hooray! A Christmas ghost story! I gave this one a 1/5…JK…I gave it 5/5. I told you guys I liked this book! This is two old men visiting an old hotel because decades ago a young woman was murdered during Christmas in the river behind the hotel. The man who owns the hotel had a ghostly experience at midnight on Christmas Day and he wants to see if it will happen again.
They also invite one of the murder suspects.
This story was superbly creepy and chills you to the bone when you read it. I really adored it!
Farrow Street by Elizabeth Strand
This one is only a 3/5 for me. Unfortunately, I found it a little boring and it didn’t really go anywhere. An American visits London during Christmas Eve/Day and has a terrible time. She has her cellphone nicked, she’s staying in a tiny hotel without WiFi, and nothing’s open. She goes exploring on Christmas Day to try and find some food but instead finds a little old street called Farrow and enters a house. Something strange is going on in the house and she realizes she can’t leave.
It just…it didn’t go anywhere? We spent the whole story listening to the character complain about London and then the last two pages she’s in this creepy house and then it ends. Why not spend more time explaining the house and tells us wtf is going on?
Ah well, they can’t all be winners to me.
Doctor Velocity – Jonathan Maberry
The only one I didn’t finish in this collection. So, it gets a 0/5. It says it’s a story of the Fire Zone, but I don’t know what that means. I’ve never read Maberry before. I had no idea what this story was talking about and it was too specific for me to be able to just read through and figure it out as I go along.
I’m sure for Maberry fans this story is awesome! And I hope you enjoyed it! Unfortunately, for me, it was not great.
Yankee Swap by John McIlveen
My notes for this just read “SAW @ CHRISTMAS!!!” and honestly, that’s what this is. I loved it so fucking much. Solid 5/5. A young pregnant woman gets kidnapped and wakes up strapped to a chair around a table filled with presents and 5 other people also strapped to chairs. A creepy guy in an elf mask comes out and makes them all play Yankee swap with the gifts.
The gifts are things like pills to kill yourself with, a gun, and a knife.
So yeah….IT’S SAW AT CHRISTMAS YOU GUYS!
I fucking loved this story so much, and it has a wicked little twist ending as well.
Honor Thy Mother by Angela Slatter
5/5 for this because ANGEL OF DEATH LIVING IN SALEM! A mother has her sons and their wives and her grand kids over for Christmas. But they’re trying to put her in a group home and sell her house to make some money. Unbeknownst to them, Grandma isn’t an old woman, she’s an angel of death living in disguise.
It’s cruel, it’s terrifying, and it’s completely original. I really love this one!
Home by Tim Lebbon
This one went a little over my head, so I’m giving it a personal 4/5. It’s a man in a post apocalyptic environment who’s been travelling for who knows how long with a strange man-like creature called Old Bob.
The story is a liiiitle too vague for me. And I think this guy is supposed to be Santa? I think? Let me know what you guys thought of this story because I’m a little confused.
Hiking Through by Michael Koryta
One of my favorite subgenres of horror is outdoors horror. So, any stories that are sent on mountains, or in jungles, or hiking. Think The Ritual by Adam Nevill and The Ascent by Ronald Malfi. This story was perfect for that as it’s set on the Appalachian Trail. I gave it a 5/5!
A young guy has had his heart broken and on Christmas decides to go hiking at night. He’s heard a ghost story about a woman that died on the trail and now hikes endlessly never stopping to talk to anyone. While he’s hiking he discovers this mysterious woman and she passes on her curse to him.
The Hangman’s Bride by Sarah Pinborough
I believe this is the longest story in the collection. And it’s also the last. I give it a solid 5/5. It’s an old timey ghost story but the ghost is an Onryo. A young chimney sweep is sent to an old creepy mansion to clean all the chimneys. But when he goes up he encounters a terrifying woman. When he comes to, he learns that two years before a young bride had come to live with her new husband but had been killed. It’s gothic, it’s a mystery, it’s terrifying.
I really loved it and would love to see this made into a film!
I adored this book and it was a perfect read over the Christmas break. But honestly is a perfect read regardless of the season. Check out the book on Goodreads and add it to your “want to read” list ASAP!