Book Reviews

Review: Secret Santa by Andrew Shaffer

Secret Santa by Andrew Shaffer


The Office meets Stephen King, dressed up in holiday tinsel, in this fun, festive, and frightening horror-comedy set during the horror publishing boom of the ’80s, by New York Times best-selling satirist Andrew Shaffer.

Out of work for months, Lussi Meyer is desperate to work anywhere in publishing. Prestigious Blackwood-Patterson isn’t the perfect fit, but a bizarre set of circumstances leads to her hire and a firm mandate: Lussi must find the next horror superstar to compete with Stephen King, Anne Rice, and Peter Straub. It’s the ’80s, after all, and horror is the hottest genre.

But as soon as she arrives, Lussi finds herself the target of her co-workers’ mean-spirited pranks. The hazing reaches its peak during the company’s annual Secret Santa gift exchange, when Lussi receives a demonic-looking object that she recognizes but doesn’t understand. Suddenly, her coworkers begin falling victim to a series of horrific accidents akin to a George Romero movie, and Lussi suspects that her gift is involved. With the help of her former author, the flamboyant Fabien Nightingale, Lussi must track down her anonymous Secret Santa and figure out the true meaning of the cursed object in her possession before it destroys the company—and her soul.


As a weapon against proverbial 1980s publishing houses, Shaffer designs a paranormal, fun and methodic story about Lussi. She’s looking to get a job in a ol’ rackety publishing firm. Upon her interview with the firm, two things happen: One, the old man croaks and she discovers something very odd about an German artifact that falls out of a box. Distress signals about the way Mr. Blackwood is acting towards her, just before his death, gives her solid hints that something is terribly wrong. This is where the classic horror red flags should lead a person out of a situation. Instead, Lussi proceeds into a dark, nightmareish battle against the evil that holds the Blackwood-Patterson firm together to hold her shaky position in the company.

As some interesting narration at the end of the book states, genres these days are muddy to say the least. Let’s attempt to clear that up. This is fun horror: nothing particularly gruesome or profane, although there was a baby Jesus joke ( I didn’t mind the joke based off of the context ). Aside from that, this is all-out fun with tons of quirky satire and twists and turns that deliver a solid read if you are into getting some scary-ish humor in for the holidays. I think the scariest part for me had to do with an abrupt disorganization of what’s referred to as a slush pile, the stack of manuscripts in the basement, where I end up saying to myself, “Oh my god. Do they need help getting them all put back together in the right order?” Ha, ha.

“She dug her nails into her palms. Her patience had worn thin as the veil between worlds on All Hallow’s Eve. Mercurial artists. Clandestine meetings. Trigger happy receptionists. Small mammals in serious need of house training. Lunch thieves. Pranksters. The more she ran over the past week in her mind, the more she felt herself slipping into the darkness.” – Shaffer, Secret Santa, page 105

I almost complained about there not being any sort of rant ( even though I consider this style of writing a sort of a rant to begin with, but I don’t consider that a bad thing in itself ) through the book, but that was mostly redeemed by the end of the book, albeit in one very short chapter. Paragraph structures did seems slightly recycled at times and the satire was a bit distracting at the beginning almost as if forced, but as Shaffer continued the writing it seemed more natural to me. I did have lots of laugh out louds while reading. The story does feed us some fictional history behind the mysterious relic and everything fell together quite nicely in that regard.

Now, lets talk physicality of the book. This book is of a high-quality with selective glossy coating on the cover, over the title and also over the eyes of the demon in the present. The pages are very soft and easy to the touch and there is a texture image at the beginning of each chapter:

Not much intellectualism in this book, so if you are looking to learn some real-world knowledge, you won’t find it here aside from what I learned about how a pub house might operate in a sketchy situation. I have a hunch that references in the book, which there are quite a bit of, might be a far cry from the truth ( I did not attempt to fact check anything about the writing here ) which I didn’t mind at all. It’s funny stuff. I don’t really at all get the comparison to Stephen King, that might be a joke in itself to the blurby comparisons to other works right now in the industry, as hinted at in the pages that fold in on themselves with writing about writing. These references are not only in the blurb, but are also written as such in the book and I love that.


As a light-horror and funny read, Shaffer delivers almost exactly what I expected with tons of retro, off-kilter satire and culture references that I think a lot of indie authors this day in age can enjoy a bit more than Joe off the street. It’s a light read and perfect for the reality-restricting year of 2020 with lovable characterizations of office staff in a less than favorable setting of sketchy office politics leading to an underlying evil and a fight for standing one’s own ground. ★★★★☆ Four stars out of five for Secret Santa by Andrew Shaffer.

Guys, until next time – may you find all the happiness that your life can fit in it’s happy spot – S.D. McKinley.

By S.D. McKinley

S.D. McKinley lives in the suburbs of Atlanta, Georgia. He was born in the first half of the 1980's and grew up in Wisconsin as a young boy, then moved to Georgia when he turned exactly twelve years old. During teenage years, he raced dirt track go karts and played guitar. He discovered his current love for all kinds of art after his mid-life crisis at 25 years old. S.D. McKinley began writing books in 2017.

7 replies on “Review: Secret Santa by Andrew Shaffer”

This hasn’t shown up in my feed yet. I’m sure you’re tired of hearing that. Let me know and I can stop letting you know.

Is how a book feels, looks, etc a big part of what you look at when it comes to the physical side of books?

Ha, ha. No, that’s okay. I relate it to the crumbling that I see all around me. Although I would be grateful for a fix!

I’ll hit up that corrected URL you just commented as well in a bit.

In regards to the way the book feels and looks – I think it’s important! It’s like these pages have a brushed feel to them, like they took that extra step to make it feel just a little bit different from other books. I get put off for some reason by Times New Roman and things like custom swirly imaging just below chapter headings make the book stand out more in the mind. I have a couple of physical books that are poorly formatted and while it didn’t effect my rating it did make me stutter a couple of times while reading through it. I tend to be forgiving in that regard since I’m sometimes the worlds worst when it comes to publishing something that isn’t quite there yet.

What about you – do you think the intricacies in the book’s formatting and feel matter? I like hearing other’s opinions about this stuff as well. 🙂

For me, the feel, layout and whatnot don’t really matter. I read almost exclusively on my kindle oasis now and besides increasing the font, I simply don’t mess around with the various options. Unless it’s something really bad, I tend to just read the text and ignore everything else.

However. I am also a member over at and there are a LOT of people who spend more time getting their books “just right” than actually reading them. How the percentage plays out in the general readership population I have no idea though.

Nice review! I also gave it four stars and I had a bunch of fun. Lots of laugh out loud moments, and my favorite parts were all the insider publishing scenes.

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