If I had to pick a word to describe Through the Woods it would be gorgeous. I am always looking for new fairy tale and folklore retellings with horrific twists, and this gorgeous book did not at all disappoint. Through the Woods consists of seven tales, each one encapsulating some fear that we all see lurking in the heart of fairy tales.
The first tale simply illustrates the fear of what could be hiding under the bed. The second, a sort of retelling of Little Red Riding Hood, illustrates the harshness of winter and the fear of possibly losing one’s family.
The third could be a retelling of any number of tales, including Bluebeard, The Fall of the House of Usher and the Tell Tale Heart by Edgar Allan Poe, and vampire stories. The fear expressed here is the uncertainty of an arranged marriage – and of course the odd fear of the dead wife coming back for vengeance.
The fourth shows a man’s fear when a seemingly perfect copy of his brother comes back from the dead. Invasion of the body snatchers? Perhaps!
The fifth story is all about ghosts and spiritualism, both the reality and fears that come with it. A young woman who pretends to commune with ghosts. Her friend who can actually see ghosts. Who is more afraid?
The sixth story is similar to the fourth in body-snatching, albeit a bit more gruesome. The creatures featured in this story are what I would associate to the term “skin-walkers.” The fear here is, again, losing one’s family – and perhaps even oneself – and not being able to trust those around you.
he last story, which is not really a story, more of a moral, reiterates one of the big themes of all the stories in this book: getting lost in the woods, and either coming out different, or being eaten by the wolf.
I read this book so quickly, that’s how good the stories were – I didn’t want to put them down for a moment. And Carroll’s illustrations and art in this book had me absolutely entranced. I honestly may go back and just look at the art. It sets the moods of each story so well, readers will be mesmerized and enchanted, just as one would venturing into the strange woods that star in each story. I would love to see Carroll create more tales like this. It is the perfect bedtime story, and the perfect midwinter read. I recommend Through the Woods to those who love fairy tale and folklore, who want to explore fears a bit, and who want to get lost in a good and gorgeous book.
It’s midwinter, which means it’s time to curl up with a good book. For me, this often means curling up with something spooky or scary. While the Autumn months are my favorite in terms of coziness and spooks, there is something about the dark of Winter that makes me want some darker spooks. If you also like to be spooked in the Winter months, or if you’re just looking for something a little more thrilling, here is a list of my favorite spooky books, stories, and authors so far (have I said “spooky” enough yet?).
The Ghost Stories of Edith Wharton
I love Wharton’s short stories because they have such simple plots and not very complex characters, but what is set to be complex is the darkness and looming memories that might just be living ghosts. I love the idea of staying in an old house in the middle of nowhere, and knowing you are in the middle of some terrific secret. Most of these stories were are set during the time Wharton wrote them, maybe a little earlier, which gives much more tangibility to the stories. So, if you like old, gothic houses full of ghosts and distant memories of the past, then this is the spooky collection for you.
The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
The Haunting of Hill House shows the insecurities of a woman, Eleanor, magnified in a house that may be alive, that wants her to stay there forever. Her new companions in the house are trying to determine the supernatural nature of the house, but Eleanor’s connection to the house may tell them all they need to know. This book, and really anything else by Shirley Jackson, are the most subtly spooky stories I have ever, and likely will ever read. Just as with Edith Wharton, Jackson’s stories focus on the mundane, and how the mundanity gets interrupted by something supernatural, or even preternatural. The fact is, though, no one, characters and readers included, are sure whether the supernatural elements are real or merely a figment of the imagination, and, in my opinion, that is the scariest part of all.
Children of the Corn by Stephen King
I am a huge fan of Stephen King’s shorter works, and I prefer them to his longer works. Children of the Corn is no exception. The short story has a more sinister ending (in my opinion) than any of the movies do (in which, oftentimes, the main characters survive the evils). In the story there is a primeval, eldritch being controlling the children of a small town, and feeding on them when they reach the age of 19 – it will also feed on anything or anyone that goes against it. The story ends with the age limit decreasing by one year, so that everyone who was 18 must now be given to the being in the cornfields. What I love about this story is that you don’t really know what is going on, what the being is. All you know is that it is something from deep within the earth, and that fact, the fact that something so evil and terrifying could be lying right under your feet, is utterly horrific and wonderful.
The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter
This is a short story featured in Carter’s collection, The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories, however, I am only focusing on this one story. Based on the fairy tale of Bluebeard, we get the same amount of terror and gore featured in the original tale. However, Carter features women as characters much more prominently, and also makes these women have connections with each other, connections that ultimately defeat the wife-killer. The main character, who marries our Bluebeard, goes through similar trials to the original tale: she must not go in the forbidden room, but ultimately does, finding within the corpses of Bluebeard’s other wives. The main character is to be killed too, but because of her close connection with her mother, she is saved and she and her mother live well ever after. Carter does a fantastic job keeping the terror of the original story, while giving the women a sense of autonomy and strength. Even if you know the fairy tale well, you will go into this story feeling so much terror and fear for the main character, wondering what she will find in the rooms of the secretive castle.
Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury
This is the most perfect autumnal, spooky story I have ever read. A carnival comes into town, and the kids go see it after hours, but they discover that the people running the carnival are not what they seem. There is something terrifying about the carnival, something primeval and eldritch in the way it causes fear. Can the kids and their allies solve the mysteries of this carnival, and defeat it before it causes any harm? What I love about this book is that it makes you feel Autumn in all definitions of the season. The coziness of reading a book, the crispness of an Autumn night, the spooky feeling that something unknown is lurking. I think the quote below captures the entire feeling of the book: “For these beings, fall is ever the normal season, the only weather, there be no choice beyond. Where do they come from? The dust. Where do they go? The grave. Does blood stir their veins? No: the night wind. What ticks in their head? The worm. What speaks from their mouth? The toad. What sees from their eye? The snake. What hears with their ear? The abyss between the stars. They sift the human storm for souls, eat flesh of reason, fill tombs with sinners. They frenzy forth….Such are the autumn people.”
Frankenstein by Mary Shelly
We all know this classic story: mad scientist creates monster, monster kills, people kill monster, etc.? Well, not exactly in the book. Mary Shelly’s classic horror story is not just creepy, but it is also quite philosophical in the way that it approaches the monster. Victor Frankenstein (not even a doctor yet!) is a college dropout who wants to find the secret of conquering death after the death of his mother. Of course, he creates the monster, but refuses to care for the creature as his own. From this comes a chase and a dialogue between Frankenstein and the monster, with the monster discovering who he is and what kind of person he should be based on his environment, and based on the actions of his creator. This is not a terrifying story, but it does make one think deeply about death, life, and the consequences of playing god. What could be more fearful?
Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
Another classic story, Rebecca is about a young woman who marries Max deWinter, a wealthy man from an old English family, whose wife, Rebecca, died the year before under mysterious circumstances. The young woman enters Max’s life and home, meets his family, friends, and colleagues, but cannot shake the feeling that Rebecca’s never-dying spirit follows and mocks her, as she is compared to the dead woman by everyone she meets. Eventually she solves the mystery of Rebecca’s death, but not without disruption to her whole life. This is a more modern take on the classic, gothic story of a woman who marries a man with a wife in the attic, metaphorically speaking. Regarding Rebecca’s character, we know she isn’t a ghost, we never see her, neither does the young woman. And yet, Rebecca is always there, a lurking memory in the shadows of Manderly. While this isn’t the spookiest of stories, you get a creeping sense of something as you read.
I tend to very much love Stephen King’s shorter works, and Gwendy’s Button Box is no exception. Set in King’s favorite setting of Castle Rock, Maine, this is a story about Gwendy, a young girl who is given a box covered in buttons by a man in a black coat and black bowler hat. The box improves her life drastically, but, as she learns soon after receiving it, the box comes with a price.
What I love about this story is that it is about making mistakes in youth, and making choices as an adult. Through our mistakes and choices, we all find out what is important in life; what we love and what we want to avoid; what we know is best for ourselves. Through Gwendy, King and co-author Richard Chizmar show how such mistakes and choices can affect life, albeit with help from a box bent on destruction. It is definitely a coming-of-age story; a horrific one.
The only thing I would criticize would be the illustrations by Keith Minnion included in this edition. There were not enough of them, and, to be honest, I wasn’t too fond of them. If there had been more I might have appreciated them more.
While this book didn’t scare me, I can tell you right now that if a man in a black coat and black bowler hat came up to me offering a box covered in colorful buttons, I would refuse to take it.
Did you ever imagine the ways in which time could be different? Did you ever imagine stepping through time to the past, future, or other version of time out of your wildest dreams? This book brings to life so many concepts of time, as I read them I felt like I was truly inside of Einstein’s dreams. While this book is a work entirely of fiction, one could imagine that these are what Einstein would have dreamt about as he came up with his theory of time. He imagines time standing still, time moving too quickly, time in the form of pictures, time slowing down the higher or the faster you go, time circular and time linear, the consequences of immortality on time, and several others that stir the imagination.
That is what I loved about this book: it stirs the imagination and makes the reader think of all the possibilities the universe could have. Now I must admit that this is the type of book that would mess me up: any philosophy on the nature of time, space, and/or existence makes me think of possibilities, and sometimes what is possible can, shall I say, break my mind.
One other thing I loved about this book is the imagery. Lightman describes Berne and the surrounding areas so well you can imagine being there and seeing the city as Einstein did. You can hear the sounds of the bustling city, see the glow of the sun on the peaks of the Alps, feel it a living, breathing place in time.
The only real criticism I have of this book is that I wish there were more chapters that talked about Einstein himself and his life. There were chapters like this which served as interludes between the dream chapters, but I would have liked to have had more, and perhaps with more speculative analysis of the dreams from Einstein’s character.
I would recommend this book to those who love philosophical science fiction, to lovers of Jules Verne novels, and those who want to experience a different time. I would definitely reread this book again.
Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops by Jen Campbell
This is a book that talks about all the weird and wonderful experiences booksellers have had with their customers. It will make you laugh to no end, and perhaps you will find some cool reads along the way! Or maybe even find out what not to read!
The Encyclopedia of Early Earth by Isabel Greenberg
This graphic novel isn’t really about books, but it is about stories and the way stories shape us. A young man from the farthest reaches of the world travels far and wide from one adventure to another, telling stories of myth and folklore to those he meets. Each tale shows a bit of how each person and culture relates to the stories, and how the young man impacts those who he has met.
Tilly and the Book Wanderers by Anna James
This is a book about people who love to get lost in books. Literally. Tilly lives with her grandparents, who run the bookshop Pages & Co. Her whole life she has been surrounded by books. Then one day, she discovers that she and many others have the ability to travel within books. Tilly starts by traveling into her favorite stories like Anne of Green Gables, but soon finds that bookwandering can be tricky, and gets into some adventuresome trouble! Wouldn’t we all just love to have a short adventure inside a book?
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
This is a book about the importance of books. In a dystopian world where books are banned, and anyone caught with them is either arrested or killed, we remember the importance of the written word. Our main character, a fireman (someone who burns books for a living), realizes there is nothing in the ignorance they’ve all been brainwashed to love. He starts to read the books he’s meant to burn, and his attitude towards books, to life even, changes.
The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George
If you need a remedy for a malady of the soul, this book is for you. A man works on a book barge, prescribing specific books for specific maladies of the customers that come to peruse. When the man, depressed at the loss of his love, realizes that his love has not been lost, merely misunderstood, goes on an adventure to discover the truth. On the way he meets new friends, and new books!
The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
Everyone likes a good mystery, but a mystery about a book? Even better. In this book we read about the life of a young man in Spain who’s sole mission is to find out everything he can about a book he found in the “Cemetery of Forgotten Books”. The young man finds love and friendship on the way, but most importantly, he finds the truth.
These are my favorite books about books so far. I will update the list once I read more!
“Nova Huang knows more about magic than your average teen witch. She works at her grandmothers’ bookshop, where she helps them loan out spell books and investigate any supernatural occurrences in their New England town.
One fateful night, she follows reports of a white wolf into the woods, and she comes across the unexpected: her childhood crush, Tam Lang, battling a horse demon in the woods. As a werewolf, Tam has been wandering from place to place for years, unable to call any town home.
Pursued by dark forces eager to claim the magic of wolves and out of options, Tam turns to Nova for help. Their latent feelings are rekindled against the backdrop of witchcraft, untested magic, occult rituals, and family ties both new and old in this enchanting tale of self-discovery.” – Taken from the summary on Goodreads.
Mooncakes by Suzanne Walker and Wendy Xu has been recommended so much by the internet book communities, and I was not at all disappointed. The artwork is absolutely gorgeous and the story is as heartwarming as any story could ever get. The diversity included in this novel is amazing as well, including diverse characters both real and mythological.
Overall, there really wasn’t anything I didn’t like in this novel. However, there were elements which I thought could be expanded upon. I feel like some aspects were limited, such as the mythology included in certain parts of the story. We see mythical creatures that live in the nearby forest, though with no explanation as to what they are or where they come from – all we know is that they are friends of the heroes. In addition to this mythology, I would’ve liked to have seen more lore about werewolves, which admittedly the protagonists are not so learned in. This they did a good job with, creating a limited perspective in the narration so that readers are able to learn and go on this adventure along with the protagonists. In any case, I hope perhaps Walker and Xu will go on to expand this universe a bit more, as not only do I want to know more about the mythology of Mooncakes, but I just want to read more of Walker and Xu’s work!
While there is so much explained about Tam’s (the werewolf) fight for self-realization, but not so much for Nova’s (the young witch). We see Nova at some odds with her parents about her not having left home to find herself. In the end she does decide to leave to find herself, but we don’t get much insight into the decision making that went on in her mind. While this isn’t necessarily essential to Nova’s character, I’d still like to have seen some more about her character and personality.
The following are the elements of this book I absolutely loved. One thing this book did phenomenally is portray diverse characters in abundance and depth. Nova Huang comes from a half-Chinese half-Jewish family – portrayed wonderfully by the joint celebration of Chinese New Year and Sukkot. She is raised by two grandmothers. She is also in a queer relationship with Tam Lang who is also, I assume, POC, and is non-binary. Unfortunately we don’t get to meet too many other characters besides Nova’s family and the antagonists, but I have no doubt Walker and Xu would portray them with the same care and depth.
What can I say about Wendy Xu’s art in this book other than that it is amazing. The colors remind me of Autumn (no surprise as it is very themed for Halloween), and while they are simple drawings, they are colored and expressed so vividly. I especially liked the trees and the art of the mythical forest creatures – I just want a whole book of Xu’s mythical creatures!
It is clear from the beginning that Nova and Tam have a history as childhood friends (and perhaps more), and so it was no surprise that they fell together so quickly in the beginning of the book. In addition, the two from the start are willing to work on their relationship, it’s not star-crossed or fated, it’s simply made and worked on by two people who have a lot of love to give. Of course there is a grand kiss at the end, but instead of it being a kiss after a long slow burn, it is a kiss of relief that things can finally settle.
I recommend Mooncakes to anyone who needs a bit of love and magic in their life.
I know this is my first book of 2020, but I can already see it being one of my favorites.
Mooncakes has been recommended so much by the internet book communities, and I was not at all disappointed. The artwork is absolutely gorgeous and the story is as heartwarming as any story could ever get. The diversity included in this novel is amazing as well: you have a non-binary character and their deaf girlfriend who is part of (what I believe is) a part Chinese part Jewish (etc.) family. Not to mention the diverse mythical beings, which I would love to see more of in Walker and Xu’s other works!
Most of all this is a story about love, family, and growing into one’s self. I recommend Mooncakes to anyone who needs a bit of love and magic in their life.
I know this is my first book of 2020, but I can already seeing it being one of my favorites.
This short novel of Stephen King’s was a fun and chilling read. Very easy to get through due to the pacing of the story and entertainment factor, I read Cycle of the Werewolf in about two hours. The story shows a view of how a town might react to the arrival of a murderous werewolf and, in my personal opinion, King got most of it pretty realistic. There are two big reactions to a kind of upset like a werewolf: everyone going completely ballistic, or, as in this novel, everyone doing absolutely nothing until a child takes matters into their own hands.
The illustrations by Bernie Wrightson perfectly captured the grim atmosphere of King’s narration, though I have one criticism (this would mainly be for the editors): a lot of the illustrations were placed a bit too early in the text, and so the reader would know what would happen in the plot based on the picture before the written event ever actually happened.
I recommend this book to those who want a short and chilling read. The gloominess of the art and the fact that the book starts and ends with snow makes it a perfect winter read.
While this book is called The Bookshop on the Shore, it is barely about said bookshop. What it is about is love and family. Set on the shores of Loch Ness, Jenny Colgan has written a beautiful book, where one can see the Loch and the bright autumn colors of the highland landscape. The book has a premise of Jane Eyre, with a young woman going to a strange house to nanny the children of a mysterious (and handsome man). It is this premise that pulled me into this book. The only parts of this book I really would complain about are that there are certain passages that Colgan has written very confusingly. They are hard to understand, and could just be written better.
Overall Colgan has written a charming and vivid story, which I recommend to anyone wanting a trip to Scotland and a fresh start.