Holiday Stories Earn a Special Place on Your Bookshelves

No, it’s not a first Friday. But there’s more to the holidays than A Christmas Story or ‘Twas the Night before Christmas. Some stories cross all the lines no matter the plot, no matter the holiday. Holiday stories earn a special place on your bookshelves. Hopefully, in this list there are first lines from old favorites as well as new and different stories for you to explore.


Image of the cover of Night of the Moon is a colorful drawing of a girl looking up at the moon. It's one of the holiday stories you might like on your bookshelf.

It was bedtime and Yasmine waited for her mom to read her a story as she did every night. But this night was different.

Night of the Moon A Muslim Holiday Story
Hena Khan (Author), Julie Paschkis (Illustrator)

Old Bear awoke from his winter sleep. He poked his nose outside of his den.

Hanukkah Bear,
Eric A. Kimmel (Author), Mike Wohnoutka (Illustrator)

“Really. It’s fine,  honey. You couldn’t have predicted a bird bombing as soon as you stepped out of the house….”

Frisky Connections: A steamy, modern dating, Hannukah,
romcom novelette. (The Frisky Bean) Michelle Mars

One dollar and eighty-seven cents. That was all. And sixty cents of it was in pennies.

The Gift of the Magi, O. Henry

The house is called Enysyule. 

Enysyle. The word lingers on my lips like honey from a spoon.

The Cat of Yule Cottage:
A Magical Tale of Romance, Christmas and Cats, Lili Hayward

It was biting cold, the sort of cold that burns into your bones. It was snowing and so dark that evening before Christmas. 

The Little Match Girl, Hans Christian Andersen

Santa Claus lives in the Laughing Valley, where stands the enormous, meandering aimlessly palace in which his toys are made. 

A Kidnapped Santa Claus, L. Frank Baum

And look at this! A storm system is making its way across the country, and it will bring heavy snow to the Upper Midwest and Great Lakes before wreaking havoc on the East Coast.

The Secret of Snow, Viola Shipman

’Twas the night before Christmas, when all thro’ the house,

Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.

The Night Before Christmas,
Clement C. Moore (Author) and Charles Santore (Illustrator)

Clarification

There are no affiliate links in this post. I don’t make a cent off of the books listed on this page. Usually these titles are pulled at random. They are here for your enjoyment. And to entice you to buy more books.

If you liked those first lines, I hope you’ll love these:

The giant bronze angel of death loomed over Miranda Clarke’s shoulder.

My Soul to Keep, Book One in the Fellowship Dystopia series by Lynette M. Burrows

Fellowship.

Do You Want to Read More?

Did you enjoy this list? Check out previous First Line Fridays. You’ll put another enormous smile on my face if you tell me in the comments below— Which ones spoke to you? Did you buy it?

Does Writing Dark Stories Affect the Writer’s Soul?

Recently I read a fascination discussion on Facebook. A reader wanted to know: does writing dark stories affect the writer’s soul? It’s a question that deserves an answer. I hope you find my answer interesting.

Man in a helmet with pistol in each hand, standing between two trains. An illustration of a dark story. Does writing dark stories affect the writer's soul?

Presumptions

There are several presumptions in this question. The first is that dark stories are bad for or a danger to one’s soul. The second is that fiction can affect one’s soul. The third is that writers have souls. And the final one is that the writer should think about his or her soul while writing. 

Are Dark Stories Dangerous?

To whom? To my soul? Short answer—no. Longer answer… it’s fiction. I’m old enough and wise enough to know reality from fiction. Right from wrong.

Dark stories are dark because we need to deal with the demons of our imagination and our realities. The stories that have a happy ending where good overcomes evil reassures us. Stories that have a not so happy ending show us possibilities. Help us remember that evil is evil and doing wrong has a cost.

Can Dark Fiction Affect Your Soul?

The sun behind a White cloud in a deep blue sky sends rays of light out in a representation of a writer's soul

Everything you do, say, act out affects your soul. If you understand and can differentiate between fiction and reality, your soul is safe. In fact, if you believe that good can overcome evil. That you can overcome evil. That right is right and wrong is wrong. I believe some fiction can help strengthen your soul, your beliefs.

Are there people dark fiction can adversely affect? I don’t believe so. There are people who make bad choices. They already had the ability and desire to make those choices before they read anything. Those choices come from the entire person. From what they were born with and into. If there’s no moral center—all bets are off. But the lack of a moral center doesn’t come from reading dark fiction. It comes from a lack inside and a lack of parents or a loving, caring environment. Maybe he’s an orphan or she had parents also lacked a moral center or they were born into a harsh life that left them with only bad choices. In those cases, the individual is looking for reinforcement of their belief system. Whatever that is.

If writing or reading dark fiction has the power to affect us—does other fiction affect us? Are romance writers more likely to have bad romances? Crime writers more likely to commit crimes? Do writers who write about war cause wars? I could go on, but you get the idea.

Do Writers Have Souls?

Some of them. (Hee-hee.) 

Seriously, writers are always people first. If you believe people have souls—then so do writers.

Don’t let yourself forget that writers are people. Don’t put us on pedestals or label us as drunks or wild and crazy. We are individuals. Each with our own beliefs and our own preferences for genre and level of darkness within our stories. And we each have our own preferred topics and taboo topics.

Should a Writer Think about Her Soul While Writing?

I can only answer this one for myself. (See the previous topic.)

One of my mentors told me that every story I would ever write was already inside me and all I had to do was transcribe them. I wish it were that easy. But it’s true that the ideas come from some place inside of me. Every word I write reflects at least a small part of who I am, who I think I could be, or who I wish I were. Beast and heroes that I’ve glimpsed or imagined.

Writing is a part of me. When I cannot write, I am incomplete and unhappy. And unfortunately, I often make people around me unhappy.

A person wearing a gas mask in the foreground. A burning, smoky city in the background. A dark story for certain.

I don’t consciously think about my soul while writing anything. No matter how darkly I view the story world I write, or how dastardly the villain, I always know that it’s a story. Yes, sometimes I am surprised by a dark turn. Sometimes it is difficult to write the level of darkness that will give the story power. And sometimes I grow to understand and maybe even like the fictitious evil or the bad guys I write. It does not change who I am, who I believe myself to be, or what I believe is right and wrong. And no matter what I say here, you’ll make up your own mind.

I believe I have a soul. I believe I’m a mostly good person. Of course, I may be the wrong person to make that judgment. I write some dark stories. I don’t think about what impact it may or may not have on my soul. The stories I write reflect my fears—Everyone can do the wrong or evil thing under the right circumstances. And it reflects my optimism—Most people are mostly good. And the mostly good do mostly good. Finally, they reflect my moral center. When the good don’t win, they tried as hard as they could. And that’s what counts.

Does Writing Dark Stories Affect the Writer’s Soul?

This is the first of a series where I’ll answer reader’s questions. If you’d like to submit a question, use the contact form on this website, leave a comment here, or comment on my Facebook page.

Now you have the long and the short of does writing dark stories affect the writer’s soul? At least from my perspective. And only from my perspective. What do you think?

“The Land of Dreams,” a Story Time Review

This week Story Time Reviews Kate O’Connor’s “The Land of Dreams.” This short story first appeared in August 2013 in the online magazine, The Colored Lens.

Image of a pen writing "Once upon a time" on paper--Story Time Review a blog series by Lynette M. Burrows reviewing audio versions of short stories.

The Centropic Oracle published the audio version of “The Land of Dreams” August 17, 2018. Narrated by Larissa Thompson with music by Kyle Ohori and Ryley Kirkpatrick, this story runs 37 minutes.

The Narrator

Image of Larissa Thompson, actor and narrator of The Land of Dreams reviewed by Lynette M. Burrows' Story Time Reviews

Larissa Thompson is an actor and filmmaker living and working in Vancouver, BC (Canada). She’s a big fan of make-believe and will find any excuse possible to dress up in costume. No stranger to independent productions – or being interviewed on video or audio formats – she has a passion for sharing stories she loves with the world. (Thanks to Larissa’s website for this information and image.)

Larissa does a pretty good job of reading the story. Male voices were a bit similar, but they were never confusing. She did a decent job at a country farmer accent. Though the accent skated toward cliché it was never a turn-off. 

The Author

Image of Kate O'Connor, author of The Land of Dreams, reviewed by Lynette M. Burrows' Story Time Reviews

Kate O’Connor’s website gives this bio: 

Kate O’Connor was born in Virginia in 1982. She graduated from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University-Prescott in 2009 and now lives (and occasionally works) in the New York area.

Kate has been writing science fiction and fantasy since 2011. In between telling stories, she flies airplanes, digs up artifacts, and manages a kennel full of Airedales.

Her books include Mermaid, Salt and Sand, and Better to have Loved.

You can find Kate on goodreads and other social media. Her books are available on Amazon. (Thanks to Kate’s website for her bio and for her goodreads author page for her photo.)

Story Time Reviews

“The Land of Dreams” is a story about dream pigs and a farmer’s daughter, pheromones, and dreams of another life.

The main character, the farmer’s daughter, longs to expand the limits of her world on the farm controlled by her father.

I would like to know more about the dream pigs and the consequences referred to in the story. Those details aren’t necessary to enjoy the story, but I’m intrigued.

In a short story there isn’t room for a lot of character development so only the protagonist had the feel of a fully realized character. Pop came next but not nearly as well. The other two characters, three if you count the pig, were spear-carriers or place holders only.

It is a simple and mostly well-told story that left me a little unsatisfied. The story kept my interest the entire recording.

No spoilers, but my dissatisfaction comes from a rule laid out by the story and later violated without explanation. Let me know if you agree with me or if this did not affect your enjoyment of the story.

The Podcast

The story appeared on The Centropic Oracle which “publishes and showcases the artistic works science fiction/fantasy short story writers and voice over actors in an audio-only format.”

The Centropic Oracle: Thoughtful science fiction and fantasy short and flash audio stories can be found at centropicoracle.com or on Facebook.

The recording was high quality to my ears. 

Rating

Story Time Reviews gives this story and performance 4 out of 5 stars. 


This is the second Story Time Reviews post. You will find the first one, Story Time Reviews Ray Bradbury here.

Did Story Time Reviews “The Land of Dreams” by Kate O’Connor help you decide if you’d like to read or listen to this story? Is there something else you’d like included in the review? If you have a story you’d like featured in Story Time Reviews, list it in the comments below or email Lynette.

Story Time Reviews Ray Bradbury

Story Time Reviews remembers that special time when an adult reads to a child and recognizes that as a grown-up, we need to reward ourselves with a story time now and then. This blog series will offer reviews of stories read aloud. Today Story Time Reviews Ray Bradbury.

Image of pen finishing writing "once upon a time" the beginning of story time reviews

LeVar Burton Reads

Mr. Burton, an actor, presenter, and author, has long been an advocate of reading. He hosted the long-running PBS show for children, Reading Rainbow (1983-2001 and 2002-2006). He started his podcast, LaVar Burton Reads in 2017. (Read his Wikipedia bio here.)

In every episode of his podcast, he reads a short story aloud. He says the only thing these stories have in common is that he loves them. 

The Author

Headshot of Ray Bradbury.
Photo by Alan Light

Ray Bradbury (1920-2012) was an American novelist, short story writer, essayist, playwright, screenwriter, and poet. Mr. Burton says Bradbury shaped the way we see the world today. Bradbury’s stories, words, and vision definitely influenced many readers and science fiction and fantasy fans. You can read more about Ray Bradbury on his website or in my review of The Martian Chronicles.

Story Time Reviews

“The Great Wide World Over There” is part of the anthology Golden Apples of the Sun. The story was originally published in 1952.

As many of Bradbury’s stories are, this one is deceptively simple. It is not a science fiction story. The time period is a while ago. The story is set on a Missouri farm.

An illiterate farm woman feels she is missing out on the great wide world. When her educated nephew comes for a visit, she sees a way out of her isolation, a way to learn more of the world. 

No spoilers here, it’s a well-told story you’ll want to enjoy yourself.

The story expresses joy and wonder and nostalgia. It’s visual, emotionally evocative, and bittersweet. 

It aired as an episode of “The Ray Bradbury Theater” October 29, 1992.

Words Matter

In this story, Bradbury creates a protagonist who is jealous enough to lie, “It was not Cora herself, but her tongue that lied.”

You feel her joyousness when she greets her visiting nephew, “They ran to each other like partners at a summer dance.”

Her longing for a taste of the greater world is clear when she says, “her horizon was this valley in the Missouri mountains.”

And when she figures out how to get a small taste of that greater world, her joy is contagious. 

There are descriptions that will surprise and delight you. Read or listen to Bradbury for a demonstration on how to use words to visually illustrate a story.

The story’s conclusion is moving and true to the character and her situation. Perhaps it will make you think. It might make you grateful for what you can do to connect to the great wide world.

If you love simple, descriptive prose, you’ll love how every word, every sentence adds to the character, her world, and her plight.

The Podcast

Bradbury’s writing is full of visceral descriptions and relatable characters. LeVar Burton’s narration of this story adds another layer of power to Bradbury’s words. His character voices are spot on and the emotional resonance of his reading will touch you.

The recording was broadcast on the LeVar Burton Reads podcast May 6, 2018.

Rating

Story Time Reviews gives this story and performance 5 out of 5 stars. 

Did Story Time Reviews Ray Bradbury help you decide if you’d like to read or listen to this story? Is there something else you’d like included in the review? If you have a story you’d like featured in Story Time Reviews, list it in the comments below or email Lynette.

What Your Book Review Can Do

You love to read, don’t you? You seek books that will sweep you into another world or time or place. Books with characters you love or love to hate. The rush of reading as fast as you can or the savoring every word can leave you with a thrill. Books that do that for you are precious. And we writers dream of creating that book for you. But do you know what your book review can do for the author, for other readers, and for the book publishing industry?

Yes. You, dear reader, have the power to influence a book’s success but only if you review the books you read. What is this power?

Photo of a girl sitting on a bench and reading a book--What your book review can do is powerful.

The Power to Share 

You’ve read a great book. Don’t be selfish. Share it. 

On sites like Amazon or Goodreads, you can give the book a star-rating. 

Your written review spotlights the book for other potential readers. More than 85% of buyers on Amazon check the reviews before they buy. 

You’ll not only point readers like you to the book, but you’ll also thrill the author.

The Power to Spare

You’ve read a not so great book. Don’t be mean about it. Remember how you’d feel if someone made disparaging remarks about the way you talked or dressed.

If there’s something positive you can say, share that information.  

If you couldn’t finish it. Say so. Be honest and helpful. Give a brief statement of why you couldn’t finish (too many spelling and grammar errors, characters weren’t believable, etc.)

You’ll spare other readers from being disappointed.

Your review also gives the author a clue that the ad copy is misleading. Or that the editing or writing needs improvement. Your kind feedback will be appreciated more than you know.

The Power to Boost

Did you discover a great author who isn’t getting the attention you think the work merits? Writing a review will help boost the visibility of the book and the author. No matter if you’re the first or the hundred-first reviewer. Your review could be the one that boosts that book to greater visibility.

The Power to Increase Writing Skills

Analyzing, reviewing and critiquing books are skills. If you want to improve your skill, practice it by reading and writing reviews. 

The Power to Hone Reading Skills

When you read a book with the intent of writing a review, you may read a little slower or pay extra attention to details that will enhance your reading skills. It may mean you get more out of the book. 

The Power to Influence Other Reviewers

Your review may draw the attention of like-minded reviewers. You have the power to show other reviewers your appreciation by clicking the like button under their review. 

The Power to Alter Also-Boughts

Did you know that when you review a book, your book buying history is important? The books you’ve bought before may show as an also-bought under this book you reviewed. It may also list this book as an also bought under other books you’ve read and reviewed. This points potential buyers to the book you reviewed.

The Power to Lure Other Readers

Your review may point out an attraction or feature of the book that the marketing did not. When that happens, you help lure other readers to the book. You also may help the author reach a broader audience. 

The Power of Quality Control

Your kindly worded review may point out flaws that prevent other readers from reading a book of poor quality. If your review is kind and specific, you may help an author improve a weakness. 

The Power to Influence the Industry

The business of writing fiction is changing. The internet, Amazon, digital books, and independent publishing are shaking up the book world. Your likes and dislikes will influence future decisions made by the authors, editors, artists, and publishers.

The Power to Brighten an Author’s Day

Your review can be a gift. It can brighten the days when the words won’t come or the one-star reviews arrive. You can make an author bounce with joy. (Or was that just me?)

Graphic representation of colorful silhouettes of talking heads with blank conversational balloons. What your book review can do is inform other readers.
Book reviews spread the word.

How to Write a Review

If you haven’t written a review for fear of “doing it wrong,” you aren’t alone. But writing a review isn’t hard. And it doesn’t need to be long.

Here are some ideas you can consider including in your review:

  • Book title and author 
  • An overview of what the book was about.
  • What you liked best about the book
  • What you thought could have been better
  • If this book reminded you of another book
  • What type of reader do you think might like this book
  • Would you recommend this book

You don’t have to include all the above ideas. Write your review like you are telling your best friend about it. 

Where to Write a Review

If you purchased the book, consider leaving a review on the bookseller’s site (like Amazon, Kobo, Barnes & Noble.)

If you received a copy for free, it’s a good idea to mention that. Say something to the effect that you received the book for free without obligation. There wasn’t one, was there? A review should never be required to get a free book.

You can leave the review on a book review website (BookBub, Library Thing, etc.) or your own website.

Other places would include newsletters, magazines (online or print) or a review site.

One caution: if you are a personal friend of the author your review may be seen as a type of ballot-stuffing. Write your honest review. A website like Amazon or Goodreads may remove your review because you’re friends with the author. Don’t get mad. Post that review on a different website. 

What Your Book Review Can Do

There are authors who will tell you that reviews are critical to their success. It’s true, reviews have the power to influence the success of a book. More than that, thoughtful reviews are a benefit. They benefit readers, authors, and others in the business of publishing books.

*Shameless plug* If you’ve read My Soul to Keep, have you reviewed it? *End shameless plug*

What your book review can do is amazing, isn’t it? Have a question about writing book reviews? Put it in the comments below. Did you review the last book you read? Tell me in the comments.