Snowball – Gregory Bastianelli

Spoilers Ahead!

How to know if a Christmas horror book is for me in three easy steps:

  1. It’s a Christmas horror book!

2. Include this quote in the first chapter –

The snowman’s head rose, tilted back as its face came into view. Beneath the coal-black eyes and long crooked carrot nose was a black mouth grinning with two rows of sharp teeth.

3. Actually, I don’t need any additional information. Bah humbug!

“What was your worst winter memory?”

This Christmas Eve, during one of the worst snowstorms in New Hampshire’s history, a group of motorists are faced with the nightmares of winters past. Stranded on the highway with the snow building up around their vehicles, these strangers will learn there’s something that connects them. The past is coming back to bite them, possibly literally. Everything got screwed up at Christmastime. Featuring (amongst other creepies) snowmen, Krampus, a snowglobe and a toy maker who wants to play a game, our unwitting players have the odds stacked against them.

Lining up to freeze to death (if something worse doesn’t get them first) …

This is Toby Hodge’s final Christmas with his son, Evan, and his grandkids before he and his wife, Nell, move to Florida. A snowplow driver who’s lplowing his final stretch of highway before retirement, Toby is the first person we meet. The first person introduced in a horror story tends to either be the first victim or the main character. I was veering toward ‘hero’ until I learned he was about to retire.

In his late 40’s, Mason Drake is a parole officer. He and his wife, Joy, have been together for over 20 years. They have teenage children, Duncan and Daria. They have been arguing today. Joy got a tad too friendly with a coworker during an office Christmas party. Their arguing and Joy’s indiscretion may not bode well for them.

A trucker, Tucker Jenks had planned on visiting his sister in Cranford, New Jersey on his way to drop off electronics in Manchester before the storm. Trucker’s friend in northern New Hampshire is letting him stay with him instead, if he can make it there. He smokes a joint but he also loved his Nana, so his chances of survival are fair.

Dean Hagen flew in from Alaska after his mother called to tell him his father was in the ICU after slipping on ice and cracking his hip so he gets brownie points for that. However, he’d “been on a consulting assignment for the past two months there, winnowing out the expendable employees at a manufacturing plant.” The Christmas misery he’s dealt to others may attract some bad karma.

Graham Sawyer picked up his best friend, Clark Brooks, at Boston’s Logan airport. Graham’s wife, Natalie, had wanted Clark to take the bus instead and Graham probably should have listened to her. She’s waiting at home for him with their three daughters. Clark is a divorce attorney from Emeryville, California. They have the potential to be this story’s heroes but not all heroes survive.

Kirk Britton and his girlfriend, Sonya Tackett, are college students with one semester left before graduation. They’re on their way to Sonya’s parents’ home for the holidays. Kirk has a surprise planned for Sonya on Christmas morning but given the horror lore surrounding people who have sex, they’re probably both toast.

Shelby Wallace wasn’t supposed to be driving her two children home from their father’s but he’s drunk. Again. So Shelby is driving Luke (8) and Macey (10) home to spend Christmas with her. Shelby is comfortable in her damsel in distress routine and Macey is kinda whingey so I wasn’t overly attached to their survival. However, I liked Luke; he’s determined and willing to do what he can to be brave in really scary situations.

Werner and Francine Volkmann have been around the country in their RV visiting relatives. They planned to see grandchildren in New Hampshire for Christmas but were behind schedule, so they’re joining the other potential popsicles on the highway.

Finally, Lewis Felker spent Christmas Eve freezing outside a department store ringing his Salvation Army bell, collecting donations. Sure, he stole some of the money to finance his alcoholism but in theory all of that alcohol in his bloodstream should keep him slightly warmer than everyone else. He’s also the one who seems to figure out how dire everyone’s situation is first so maybe he has a chance after all.

I had fun reading this book. I expected more bloodshed and less background information about all of the characters although, to be fair, the relevance of the details of their worst winter memories became apparent as the story unfolded. The reasoning behind why this was happening to this specific group of people seemed a bit flimsy to me but the images of those snowmen helped distract me from most of my lingering questions.

[No, this toothy guy doesn’t line up with the descriptions in the book but I loved him and wanted to share him with you.]

“Things aren’t always what they seem to be.”

The two main questions that are still nagging me:

  1. Why is a Christmas horror story being released in January?

2. What was inside the box in Tucker’s truck?

“Will Santa still come if we’re not home in time?”

Content warnings include mention of death by suicide and alcoholism.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Flame Tree Press for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

A group of motorists become stranded on a lonely stretch of highway during a Christmas Eve blizzard and fight for survival against an unnatural force in the storm. The gathered survivors realise a tenuous connection among them means it may not be a coincidence that they all ended up on this highway.

An attempt to seek help leads a few of the travellers to a house in the woods where a twisted toymaker with a mystical snow globe is hell bent on playing deadly games with a group of people just trying to get home for the holidays. 

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