Book Review – The Ghost Garden by Emma Carroll

The Ghost Garden by Emma Carroll

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Ghost Garden by Emma Carroll


The Ghost Garden takes place just before the start of WWI. Fran is a young girl working with her father in the garden on the estate where they live. One day, Fran finds a bone in the garden. She thinks this is odd and mysterious, until more odd and mysterious things start to happen around the estate.

I wouldn’t call this a ghost story; rather, it is a coming-of-age story with ghosts in it. I really like how Emma Carroll portrays the mystery and childhood wonder in Fran’s explorations of the gardens and the mysteries they bring to her. There is a sense of whimsy, but also of fear as the mysteries turn into predictions of terrible things to come.

The writing is very beautiful. This is my first book by Carroll, but I am eager to read her other works (of which, I am happy to say, she seems to have many!). In this particular story, I get a lot of Secret Garden vibes, and, especially with the exploration of tombs and ghosts, I have ended up feeling very nostalgic for my own childhood. I usually don’t like war stories, but this one dealt with the impending war in a very healthy and subtle way.

I recommend this book to those who want some nostalgic feelings, and some sense of whimsy.



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Book Review – Stormhaven by Jordan L. Hawk

Stormhaven by Jordan L. Hawk

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Stormhaven (Whyborne & Griffin, #3)



In Stormhaven, the third installment in the Whyborne & Griffin series, the pair are tasked with solving another mystery back in their hometown of Widdershins. This time, however, the aspects of the case hit far too close to home for either of them.

As usual, Hawk does not disappoint. I love the story, the characters, the setting, all of it! I especially liked the imagery of the sea, as that was quite the theme in this book. The story was wonderfully compelling – though, thankfully, I wasn’t nervous about Whyborne and Griffin possibly getting separated or breaking up; this time, I was worried they’d both go insane (they do not, I am happy to say).

We get to meet Griffin’s parents as well, and that brings its own trials and tribulations. But Whyborne and Griffin are always there for each other, and their love continues to make me so very happy.
Christine is also there, though because of the circumstances, her skillset is not used as much. Hopefully she is doing more in the books to come.

That’s about all I have to say about this book. It was brilliant, and I am looking forward to reading more!



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Why Ghost Stories?

As most of you dear readers know, I love ghost stories. About half of my reviews consist of ghost or paranormal stories. They are probably my favorite things to read in the whole world.

You might be asking, A. Siegel, why ghost stories? I often ask myself this question, and upon thinking of some answers, I thought I would share them with you.

First I’d like to answer “why ghost stories?” for me personally.

Most importantly, I think that they are fun! I love reading these stories, imagining I am the one exploring the haunted house or the haunted woods, trapped in the dark with some unknown presence that could end or change my life forever. And that oh so wonderful creepy feeling! It is my favorite feeling reading a book.

Really, though, I think my love for these stories stems back to my love and interest in ghosts in general. I think I always believed in ghosts in some capacity, but I never was truly intrigued by ghosts until I was around eleven years old. I think it must have been an episode of Ghost Hunters or some such show that triggered my hours and hours of researching reported hauntings of famous sites, of ways to tell when there was a ghost, of the scientific proof that evidenced these spirits. Suffice it to say, it had become an obsession that is with me to this day.
As I’ve gotten older, though, the energy that I had to try to find ghosts has calmed down a little. Now, my energy is spent in finding all the great ghost stories ever told! And believe you me, that is the most fun.

Next I will try very hard to answer the other aspect of “why ghost stories?”

Why are ghost stories important?

For a more academic and well-researched answer to this question, I recommend reading The Ghost by Susan Owens, which talks about the history of ghosts in human minds, art, and literature. However, I want to attempt to answer this from my own observations.
Ghosts have been on the minds of humans even before writing was a thing, and, of course, we know that humans have always had a perfectly understandable obsession with what happens when we die. I think the best answer that we have for why it is such an obsession even now is said very well by Susan Owens: “[Ghosts] remain as elusive as ever, and we still have no more idea now of what they are” than people did thousands, even hundreds of years ago. And I think that’s why humans chase ghosts.
Humans are always searching for what they don’t know – hell, people are still trying to figure out what dark matter is, and that is even farther away from us than ghosts are supposed to be. I think ghosts add one more thing on our own planet, even in our own psyches that we still haven’t figured out yet, and I think that is beautiful. I think it’s important that humans keep striving to figure out the mysteries of the world, and part of me is glad that ghosts are so unattainable. The other part of me, of course, wishes that I could have a conversation with a ghost. Maybe someday!
In any case, this elusive mystery to the human species has left us with so much art and literature and creativity, and I think that is the most important result of the (maybe) existence of ghosts.

With that brief explanation, I would now like to share with you a few of my favorite ghost stories and authors of ghost stories, and why I think they are so successful as ghost stories (I guess the question here would be “why these ghost stories?”).

The Haunting of Aveline Jones by Phil Hickes

In my opinion, middle grade books do some of the best work with regards to ghost stories nowadays. This book is no exception, and has all the classic ghost story elements you could want from a spooky book: a haunted house in a spooky seaside town, a ghost bent on revenge, and a young hero who must face the ghost and win or be taken forever into whatever ghostly realm awaits her. A lot of more adult ghost stories don’t include as likeable a hero as Hickes does in his book, but I think that having such a character is very important. With this protagonist, you get a stronger dichotomy between the living and the dead, so you know where the protagonist stands, which side she is on (that of the living).

An example of a ghost story with a more ambiguous protagonist is

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

This is probably one of the most famous haunted house stories ever told, and it lives up to its reputation. A young woman goes to the purportedly haunted Hill House to help conduct an experiment regarding the existence of ghosts. During her stay, however, her fragile mind traps her on the bring of living and death.
The great thing about this book is what a lot of great ghost stories do: they don’t let you know what’s real and what isn’t. Nor do they let the protagonists know what is real or not, and that is the scariest thing of all. Are there ghosts, or is it just yourself? And if there are ghosts, have you really been one of them all along?
I think these questions that the book poses mirror what we as humans always seek to answer: are we real? Or are we just part of some sordid imagination?

Like The Haunting of Hill House, many ghost stories tend to be very simple and atmospheric, which makes the spooky feeling all the more prominent. Some of my favorite authors that write this way are,

Shirley Jackson

Susan Hill (The Woman in Black)

Henry James (The Turn of the Screw)

Ambrose Bierce (The Moonlit Road)

Edith Wharton (The Ghost Stories of Edith Wharton)

Stephen King (The Shining)

Daphne DuMaurier (Rebecca)

There are so many others that I haven’t named, and many others that are still waiting for me to read!

Now, when you go back a while in history, the way ghosts are presented changes a bit. For those of you who don’t know, my expertise is in classical literature and folklore, including what the Greeks and Romans thought of the dead. We all know that the majority of spirits in these myths are seen in the Underworld – examples include the shade of Eurydice, Orpheus’ wife; the shades of Ajax, Agamemnon, and others who greet Odysseus and tell him what has happened since he left Troy; in a similar vein, the shade of Anchises who leads his son, Aeneas, through the Underworld and tells him of his destiny. However, there are stories from Roman writers that talk of ghosts in a more realistic setting.

Pliny the Younger, whom I have dubbed the silliest of boys, was a Roman political figure. He wrote many letters to his friends, and even the emperor! In one of these letters, he tells a story. Or, rather, he tells his friend that he heard from his friend that his friend’s friend saw a ghost once (yes he writes letters like this ALL THE TIME and it’s GREAT). One of the stories Pliny tells involves a man who buys a large house, but is warned that the house is haunted. So, the man stays up all night working and waiting for the ghost. Sometime in the night, he hears the clanking of chains, and sees a ghost with those chains pointing him to a spot in the house. In the morning, the man digs up the spot where the ghost pointed, and there finds a skeleton shackled with, you guessed it, chains. If that sounds familiar, you would be right, as we’ve seen the same theme of ghosts with clanking chains in such tales as A Christmas Carol.

These all have been done by Western authors, but one last one I want to mention is from Japanese mythology, called Kwaidan. These short stories, which were compiled by Lafcadio Hearn in the late 19th century, are very atmospheric and are very much tied into Japanese culture (I think the majority of it is Buddhist, but correct me if I am wrong). In many of these stories, ghosts are either helpful to our characters, or they offer some sort of warning or premonition of death.
I very much recommend Kwaidan, for not only are the ghost stories fun and spooky, but it gives an insight into how other cultures view the dead.

Ghost stories are so important, personally and to the human species in general, it is no wonder we keep writing them.

I hope this has answered the question “why ghost stories?” thoroughly, and I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about one of my favorite topics!
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New Piece: Why Ghost Stories?

Hi all! I’ve written a new post (article? piece? something) about why I love ghost stories so much, why I think they’re important, and what my favorite ghost stories are and why. 

It’ll be published officially on Monday July 26, but I’ve made it available early on Patreon! 

So stay tuned for this rather fun post I’ve written, or go now to my Patreon to read it sooner!

Thanks, all, and happy reading!

Book Review – Threshold by Jordan L. Hawk

Threshold by Jordan L. Hawk

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Threshold by Jordan L. Hawk



In this sequel to Widdershins, Whyborne and Griffin are hired to look into another case, this time by Whyborne’s father. So, the two men and their friend, Christine, head to the town of Threshold to investigate supposedly paranormal disturbances in the town’s mine. However, even this investigation has its twists and turns.

Once again, Jordan L. Hawk does not disappoint. I absolutely loved the second book of this series – either as much or maybe more than the first! As I said for the first one, the characters are brilliant, and the story is compelling. Actually, I might argue that the story is more compelling this time around! The writing, of course, is excellent.

I think my favorite part about this particular story is that it feels like the original Star Trek meets the Twilight Zone meets Sherlock Holmes (three of my favorite pieces of literature and media!). All that was missing was Rod Serling narrating the twists, but Whyborne filled that role very well.

And, of course, the romance between Whyborne and Griffin was just to die for. I am so excited to keep reading this series, and I’m so happy there are many more books in it to come!



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Book Review – Hunter of Demons (SPECTR 1) by Jordan L. Hawk

Hunter of Demons by Jordan L. Hawk

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Hunter of Demons (SPECTR #1)


This first book in the SPECTR series is about Caleb, whose brother’s recently deceased corpse was hijacked by what they think is a demon. But, when an amateur investigation goes awry, Caleb finds himself sharing his body with a drakul (vampire) named Gray. Now the agents of SPECTR, especially John Starkweather, need to find out what is going on, and who the real murdering demon actually is. In the meantime, John and Caleb find they are both attracted to the other, despite their mutual hatred for each other’s situation.

So of course I started this other series by Jordan L. Hawk because he is an amazing writer and I am going to keep reading his work forever! I will say, I still like the Widdershins series best, but this was a fun read. The characters are quirky, and again Hawk’s worldbuilding is really very good. I like the fact that Hawk makes all of the paranormal aspects of his books very matter-of-fact and practical, very normal for the world of his books. This book is no exception. I really want to read more of this series so that I can see if the paranormal aspects are expanded upon – maybe a bit more history of Gray the drakul?

Not much more to say about this book I think. It’s a super fun, quick read, a bit spicy at points, just downright enjoyable.





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Book Review – Twelve Nights at Rotter House by J.W. Ocker

Twelve Nights at Rotter House by J.W. Ocker

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Twelve Nights at Rotter House



Twelve Nights at Rotter House is about Felix, a travel writer who writes about haunted places. His goal is to stay in the purportedly haunted Rotter House, or Rotterdam Mansion, for thirteen nights. He doesn’t believe in ghosts. But when he’s joined by his estranged best friend, and believer in ghosts, Thomas, strange things start to happen in the house that even Felix can’t explain.

This was a very enjoyable read, or I guess listen, as I listened to the audiobook on Scribd. It was really good on audiobook, and I recommend reading the book in that way if you can!
Definitely a suspenseful thriller, playing on my favorite ghostly authors like Shirley Jackson, and other haunted media like Vincent Price films and The Twilight Zone.

Here is what I liked about the book (these definitely outweigh the things I didn’t like):

Really suspenseful, and compelling, I sometimes had to stop what I was doing while listening and just listen, eyes wide and waiting for the other shoe to drop in the story.

I love me a good haunted house, and J.W. Ocker really knows how to write a good and spooky haunted house. Filled with creaks and footsteps, disembodied screams, even a severed arm that seemingly came from nowhere. It’s such a classic haunted house story, but with its own horrifying twist at the end.

I liked Felix, the main character. He was not necessarily likeable, but he is relatable, and you do feel for him, you want him to succeed, and you feel so bad if and when he doesn’t. What Ocker also does well is write the characters that we don’t see: Thomas and Felix’s wives; the ghostly inhabitants of the house. You felt like you wanted to get to know them, but at the same time keep them in the shadows.

Here is what I didn’t like so much, or what I was confused by (warning: some spoilers ahead):

In the end we aren’t sure if there are ghosts in the house or not. While it was a good plot device to make that ambiguous, I do kind of wish, for myself alone, that there were definitive ghosts present. I am just going to believe that the ghosts were in fact there.

The twist in the end was good, but the way it was executed was a bit confusing.
SPOILERS BEGIN HERE:
Felix finds out that Thomas was sleeping with his wife, and kills them both at Rotter House. But, why would Thomas and Felix’s wife be there having an affair when they know that Felix is there writing a book? To me that could have been explained better. Actually, I think it might have also been fun if Thomas’ own wife was the murderer. But, I do understand why Ocker ends the story this way. It was definitely thrilling.
SPOILERS END.

All in all, it was a good haunted house story, perfect for this coming autumn, if you are looking for something thrilling and spooky.



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Book Review – Bulwark by Brit Lunden

Bulwark by Brit Lunden

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Bulwark by Brit Lunden



Bulwark is about a sheriff of a town in Georgia of the same name, named Clay, whose daughter was recently kidnapped, leaving his marriage and psyche in shambles. When a car accident leaves two people rambling about witches and stolen children, Clay starts to wonder if there is a connection to the kidnapping of his child.

As any of you know, I’m a sucker for a good ghost story, and for witches, so you can understand why I was drawn in by this book. I also love me a good novella.
I would say this book started off very strong. It set a tragic scene, introduced a creepy, mysterious atmosphere that may or may not exist. The characters weren’t the strongest, but they played well in the atmosphere of the place. There was a good bit of folklore as well.

It’s a good, solid story, but I did have some issues:

I do think that the book might have been better if it was longer. Lunden tried to fit a lot into such a little book, and some of the lore and the exposition got a bit jumbled or lost. I know that there is an anthology that follows this novella, so maybe I will check that out and see if Lunden fleshed out any more of the story there.

There were also some tropes and themes in this story that were not bad by any means, but were possibly a little over-used. For example: the father whose child is either dead or missing and the marriage is failing; a witch that kidnaps children (although this I don’t mind, it was a pretty good Hansel and Gretel retelling).

The book has multiple endings, which, while different, both seemed to have been a bit rushed at the end, and the execution wasn’t the best. Again, I think if they had been written longer they would have been better.

All this said, it was a fun thriller, and I did have the creeps when I read it at night. It reminded me of the VVitch a little bit, though, unfortunately (spoilers) the witches don’t win in the end of this one.



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Book Review – The Magpie Lord by K.J. Charles

The Magpie Lord by K.J. Charles

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Magpie Lord (A Charm of Magpies, #1)



The Magpie Lord, the first book in K.J. Charles’ series, is about the reluctant Lord Crane who is the target of a malicious and magical murderer. Stephen Day, a practitioner of magic, is hired to help Crane discover who is trying to murder him and why. Their search takes them to Crane’s ancestral home, where the two discover more about magic and Crane’s ancestry, as well as possible feelings for one another.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It was the perfect balance of paranormal, murder mystery, and romance. Charles is really good at writing atmospheric settings, and I could feel the cold and the dread of Crane’s ancestral home as Stephen and Crane tried to, well, not die.

I liked the way magic is portrayed, and I hope that the magic is explored even further in the next books of this series.

I like the characters. They are simple, but they have a lot of determination and emotion, especially when it comes to one another. The side characters were also well-written, though I do hope we see more of them in the following books.

And the romance, the romance! The lust definitely was not much of a slow burn, but I think the love was. It was completely worth it though, and you could see the characters’ devotion to each other by the end.

The only thing I really would criticize (Spoilers) is the fact that the murderers were people we really didn’t know throughout the story. I think it would have been just a bit cooler if it was someone we knew. But even so, this did not take too much away from the goodness that was this book.

I’m really excited to read the next books in the series!



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Book Review – Widdershins by Jordan L. Hawk

Widdershins by Jordan L. Hawk

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Widdershins (Whyborne & Griffin #1)


Widdershins is the first novel in Jordan L. Hawk’s Whyborne & Griffin mystery series. This book revolves around Whyborne, a museum philologist who is recruited by ex-Pinkerton detective Griffin Flaherty to solve a murder that turns out to be much more involved in the supernatural than either had foreseen. In the course of their time together they form a wonderful romance. Together with their Egyptologist friend, Dr. Christine Putnam, they endeavor to solve a gruesome mystery.

When I say this book had me on the edge of my seat the entire time, I mean THE ENTIRE TIME. The mystery and paranormal had me on the edge of my seat – eager to understand the evil that our heroes were fighting and whether they would make it out alive (I had read the last pages of this book so fast at that point) – and the romance between Whyborne and Griffin also compelled me so much that I feared so much for their safety at the end. Suffice to say, I became quite attached to these two goofballs.

And boy were they goofballs. Hawk could not have written them any better – I kept wanting to knock their heads together and at the same time hug them. I’m sure Christine also felt the same way.

Christine is a great character too: a doctor of archaeology in a time when women could barely do such things, she is strong and independent, but also fiercely protective of her friends. I am very excited to see more of her in the next books of this series.

The supernatural side of the mystery was an interesting choice. I have no idea whether it is based of actual ancient Egyptian mythology and folklore, but its complexity and involvement with death on many levels was very intriguing – definitely one of the reasons I kept reading this book!

I really have no criticisms for this book whatsoever. I loved the characters, as I said above, the book was very well-written, and I loved the setting and background of the mystery. Apart from the romance, what drew me to read this book was the fact that the main character is a philologist of ancient languages – much like myself! – and has to use his skills in language to defeat an ancient, supernatural entity. I hope the other books in this series use philology and ancient history as much as this book did. I know me and my classicist friends love books like these!

This is also a great book/series to start right now during Pride Month (or really any time because it’s so good!), as it is a M/M romance written by a very talented trans author.

I recommend this book to all classicists, and to those who like being kept on the edge of their seats.



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