Transitioning in November and the Winter Months

It is that time of year. It has just started to snow and the days are much darker and colder. This time, while being the coziest time of year, is the beginning of the most difficult time of year for me as well. There will soon be a little less color in the world, and my body and brain will want to go into hibernation mode. But, while I will probably do some hibernating, it is the time in which I will read more, pick up my Winter hobbies, and add more color into my life myself.

I wanted to share with you all what I like to read in Winter, and some of the activities I like to do that may help you through the darker months as well. Winter can really affect mental health, and I know I need to just keep doing things that make me happy to get through it. It doesn’t work all the time, but I always feel a little bit better for trying.

Reading:

Cozy mysteries, of course! How could you have a proper cozy Winter without some cozy mysteries? These books are often like a warm hug, and they are like popcorn, you can read one after another after another, and still want to read more. Cozy mysteries are good ways to fill the time, especially if you need something quiet and relaxing, instead of rushing to do an activity. Many of these books will be middle-grade as well, as I find the best stories with middle-grade authors.

Here are some of the cozy mysteries I’m excited to read this Winter:

The Vanishing of Aveline Jones by Phil Hickes – This is the latest book in the Aveline Jones series, and, though spooky, I feel that these middle-grade books make the coziest mysteries!

The Bookmobile Cat Mysteries by Laurie Cass – Yes, this is your typical series of cozy mysteries in a small town with a bookseller. How many of these have we seen on my reading wrap-ups? So many. How many am I planning to read this Winter? So many more! I just thought this particular series looked cute, and while it takes place in Autumn, I can think of nothing cozier.

Atmospheric books are a must. I like to slow down a bit when I’m reading in Winter, and that means I will often like a slower-paced story with lots of atmosphere. I like to think these types of books help me to embrace the slower and more relaxed days of Winter, even when my mind is telling me to jump up and do do do. Many of the ghost stories I read are very atmospheric, but I also like others. One book I read this year that embodies this type of read is Piranesi by Suzanna Clarke. Most of this book is just atmosphere, one that I was eager to explore. These types of books also explore the feelings that you might have while exploring the space, and that in itself is very important to these types of books. In Piranesi, you are not necessarily supposed to feel lost, but you do feel overwhelmed at times.

Here are a few of the atmospheric books I plan on reading this Winter:

The Silent Companions by Laura Purcell – I have already started this book, and when I say the atmosphere is frosty (both with the landscape and the characters), I mean it is FROSTY. There are sure to be spooks coming up in the plot, but so far the landscape of the large house in the run-down village is enticing.

Underland by Robert Macfarlane – This book literally takes you to all the underground places of the world and the history and landscape behind them. Tunnels, burials, etc. If this is not the perfect book to slow down with and explore, then I don’t know what would be.

While Halloween is the creepiest time of year, I would argue that Winter is the best time to be reading ghost stories. A lot of ghost stories happen to take place in the Winter time, almost as if the living world has gone to sleep, and now the frosty spirits of the dead make themselves known. Perhaps they wish to fill the silence. In any case, it is the perfect time to start a list of spooky books to cozy up with on a frosty Winter night.

Here’s a few of what is on my list of spooky reads this Winter:

Thin Air by Michelle Paver – Just like Dark Matter, Thin Air takes place in Winter in the snow, amidst an almost impossible adventure. And this adventure, daunting in itself, may hold other unknown dangers to the characters, perhaps of supernatural origins.

The Ghost Stories of M.R. James – I have read many of James’ stories before, but this year I downloaded the audiobook narrated by Christopher Lee! I like to listen to audiobooks when I take my pups for their walks, or just as I’m trying to fall asleep. And with Christopher Lee’s wonderful voice? Sleeping should be no trouble!

These are by no means all the books I have on my list, but they are examples of the kinds of mood reading I want to get into.

Activities:

Art:

This is the time when I miss flowers and green things the most. Last year, I began drawing flowers everyday, to give some color to my space in my house. It makes me feel like I have my own little garden. I will be doing the same thing this year, though I am trying different art media to create different styles. Right now, I am using watercolor brush pens, which are so fun to use. Next, I want to try oil pastels.

Video Games:

While not as active, video games have saved my sanity some Winters. My absolute favorite game in all the world is Stardew Valley. I love everything about it – the art style, the music (one of the best soundtracks ever in my opinion), the gameplay (you get to romance npcs!), and even better, you get to play in all four seasons. It is so nice to see Spring flowers in the middle of Winter! I could play this game forever – and I probably will. I recommend this game to anyone who just wants pure coziness and happiness. It is utterly the happiest game.

Farming sims like Stardew are very fun to play in Winter, especially if you can see the changing seasons. I recommend games like Animal Crossing, and Cozy Grove (think Animal Crossing with better mechanics and also ghost bears). These games actually show the season you’re in in real life, but they add their own special twists with seasonal festivals and decor. If you find, like me, that you don’t have the energy to make your own home look festive, you can at least enjoy the atmosphere of these games.

I’m trying to find more games like these, so if any of you have recs, I will take them!

Keeping it together

This isn’t really a Winter activity, but it’s super important to figure out ways to deal with mental health during the cold season. One thing I struggle with is keeping my house together (clean, happy pups, good food, etc.) because my energy is at its lowest in Winter and because my depression decides to come out and play. But I figure out little ways to keep things together. I don’t do anything all at once because that’s just overwhelming. I recently bought the book How To Keep House While Drowning, which is a self-help guide to keeping house when you are mentally ill or neurodivergent. I have taken ideas from this book and implemented them into my daily life. I suck at keeping a steady routine everyday, but I’ve found that if I give myself options of what needs to be done in the house and I pick one, then I will feel good about having accomplished at least one thing. And if I can’t do anymore that day, then that is fine. If I can do more, even better.

To keep the depression at a good level, I always try to have a balance between rest and activity. Because it’s so cold where I am, it’s very hard to go outside. For now, I am able to walk my pups in the morning, which makes a nice start to the day. But when the days get colder it will be harder to go out. It is important to get some fresh air, so even standing outside for a few minutes helps.

It’s such a hard time of year for those who struggle with depression, etc, during the Winter. All I can say is that it will pass, and Spring will be such a happy time. I know I always look forward to the lilacs of late Spring.

And those are my recommendations for transitioning into the colder months! I hope you all stay happy and healthy this Winter. I will be back with more book reviews and reading wrap-ups soon.

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Book Review – Hither, Page by Cat Sebastian

Hither, Page by Cat Sebastian

My rating: 5 of 5 stars



Hither, Page brings together a spy and a country doctor, both set on discovering who has murdered the village’s nosy charwoman. The spy must find out what happened in order to keep everything low-key. The doctor wants to find out what happened, all the while trying to forget his traumatic memories of World War II. Both doctor and spy want nothing more than peace, and as they are thrown together into this mystery, they find that peace might be possible.

This is my second book by Cat Sebastian, and I am still loving the way that her stories are upbeat and positive, with definitive happy endings for the protagonists. It seems that the struggles and troubles lie mostly with background and supporting characters, and I am fine with this. I loved that the main characters get to be happy – the world needs more happy endings.

I really don’t have anything negative to say about this book, so I will say what I loved most about it.

I liked the way Sebastian wrote the time period. It wasn’t overly emphatic that it was postwar England, but it was also not non-existent. The traumas of the War played an important part in this mystery, but they weren’t presented in a very dramatic way. It is subtle in a way that you know the characters experiencing trauma just want comfort. There are other times where Sebastian lets slip in the peculiarities of postwar England and of England before either World Wars took place. Again, these glimpses are very subtle, but they absolutely work. Sebastian is so good at writing period romances, at least as far as I can tell with the two books I’ve read.

I actually liked the characters a lot. Not just the main characters, but the elderly couple of two old ladies who definitely are not hiding anything; I loved the kind-of annoying teen girl who just wants to be helpful; I even loved the characters whom we only get descriptions of. They all (except for the murderer of course) just want to be happy and want everyone around them to be happy, and who can blame them?

I loved the scenery and the village where the story takes place. It was perfect for this time of year – Winter is just starting, and there are hints of Christmas, but the festivities aren’t quite there yet. I’d never been to the Cotswolds, but I have been to the Lake District, and the little village in this book reminded me of the small villages I saw there.

Not much more I can say except that I loved this book, and that I will be reading more of Sebastian’s books soon.



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Book Review – The Widow’s House by Carol Goodman

The Widow’s House by Carol Goodman

My rating: 3 of 5 stars



In The Widow’s House by Carol Goodman, couple Jess and Clare Martin travel from New York City to the New York countryside where Clare grew up, to get away from their troubles and to repair their marriage. Or so Clare is led to believe. They become caretakers of the house of their old, wealthy writing instructor, but are uneasy as ghosts, both real and imagined, start to come out of the house.

This is the second novel I’ve read by Carol Goodman; the first I read was The Lake of Dead Languages. Overall, I very much enjoyed this novel. The atmosphere of Riven House was palpable – you could feel the secrets seeping out of its walls (sometimes literally!). Adding the touch of Winter to the landscape as well made this novel a bona fide ghost story (like in The Children of Green Knowe), even if the ghosts were only in the characters’ minds.

The characters were good, and mostly believable. There were times, however, when their decisions didn’t feel so realistic – though if you are frightened out of your wits, how realistic can you actually be? For Clare, though, Goodman did a fantastic job narrating the mind of someone who is almost certainly paranoid and delusional, but whose delusions are proved to be based in reality more and more over time. By the end of the story, you can’t be certain if Clare has overcome her paranoia or has been more soundly rooted to it. But, after reading her story, you can’t blame her for it, instead you feel empathy, like you feel that you yourself have her wits. And that is why Goodman’s characters are so well-written, even if I very much don’t agree with a lot of their decisions.

These themes, atmosphere, and characters (especially the crazy wife) recall such stories as The Yellow Wallpaper, Dragonwyck, and Jane Eyre, making this book feel wonderfully gothic, and a short version of the Bildungsroman story.

The Widow’s House was a good book to end the Autumn season with. I still like The Lake of Dead Languages much better, I felt it was a more interesting story, but that could just be because I’m biased towards people who study Latin. This story was still very compelling and had me anxious for Clare through to the end.



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Reading in the Autumn Time – Ghost Stories, Dark Academia, and the Autumnal Atmosphere

Autumn is my favorite time to read. It is the beginning of the cozy season — perfect for snuggling under the blankets with a sweater and a hot cup of something (tea or hot chocolate for me). It is also the time of Halloween, when the threshold of the living and the dead, of stories and reality, gets blurred. It is also a time of learning. School is starting for many, and there is a scholarly air about the place. The possibilities of growth and knowledge begin once more. I wake up craving the written word, and indeed craving to write my own.

It is my favorite time. The stories I read feel more alive, and the possibilities they promise all the more endless.

I wanted to share the types of books I love to read during this season, and what each genre and its books adds to my own Autumnal atmosphere. Perhaps you will find a book or two to make your Autumn cozier, spookier, or to add to your never-ending quest for knowledge.

*Note: many of these genres and aesthetics overlap, so I will cover what specifics I can.

1. The Cozy Mystery

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For peak coziness, there is nothing better to curl up with than a cozy mystery. Give me Autumn, small town, unexpected intrigue, and maybe a hint of magic, and I am ready for a crisp Autumn day. There’s something about these types of novels that gives the reader a sense of hope. Often in these mysteries, the protagonist is a young adult who has moved somewhere new, started a new business, started a new school, etc. Someone who has started something new and who, with much trial and error, succeeds in the end. I think this is what we all hope life could be. Add the mystery and the intrigue, and you not only have the start of a new life, but the start of a new adventure. And several of my favorite adventures start off in the Autumn — The Lord of the Rings begins with Bilbo and Frodo’s birthdays, on September 22, the very start of Autumn.

The cozy mystery is not an invitation necessarily to go find your own adventure or mystery (though you may certainly do so!), but an invitation to start off the season with wonder, to see the miraculous in the mundane. Personally, I use these cozy mysteries to inspire a sense of adventure in my own home — when I am not sitting all cozy and reading the mystery, I will be starting new projects or creative pursuits (often trying to emulate the protagonist of the story I’m reading, who might just be a witch or a bookseller or some sort of artist: all things I want to be). I won’t go all out on these projects necessarily, but I will start them one step at a time, enjoying the figuring-it-out stages.

And that figuring-it-out portion is a crucial stage for the protagonists. Not only are they figuring out their new place in life, but also who they are and who they want to be. They are learning to be grounded within themselves, which is an essential part of the cozy season. I would like to talk more about this when I do an essay on reading in the Winter time.

Here are a few cozy mysteries I recommend that make me appreciate the cozy start to the season, with an added anticipation of new beginnings and the start of new endeavors:

— A Dark and Stormy Murder by Julia Buckley

This was my introduction to the bookish cozy mystery as an adult. I read it while I was completing grad school, which was the perfect time for me to need to feel like a cozy mystery protagonist. I was doing my degree in ancient literature, and our protagonist was moving to a new town to work with her favorite author on a new book — if that isn’t the dream of a lifetime! While I was not working with my favorite author on a new book, I was making valuable connections and writing meaningful things, and reading about someone starting a grand adventure helped me to value my own work just as much. All I was missing was the dark and stormy atmosphere of this mystery, though I was happy to do without the murder!

— In the Company of Witches by Auralee Wallace

It isn’t Halloween without some witches! Even the good kind, like the three witches in this cozy mystery. Think Sabrina the Teenage Witch meets Murder, She Wrote, though the main character in this is not as wise as Jessica Fletcher yet. This is a book about finding oneself again, about going back to one’s roots, and, of course, it’s about communicating with the dead. What better way to go back to one’s roots than to talk to the roots themselves?

— The Haunting of Aveline Jones by Phil Hickes

I know I have talked this book to death, but it remains one of my favorite books of all time! Hickes combines the atmosphere of a cozy mystery with the wonderment of childhood, which I think a lot of other cozy mysteries could use (and I will come back to this idea in the Academia section). Aveline is starting a new adventure, but gets pulled into someone else’s story, and if she does not know herself, and trust her closest friends and family and the knowledge she has gained, then she may not survive the figuring-it-out stage of her own life.

2. Ghost Stories and the Haunted House

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The Haunting of Aveline Jones is a good segue into my real favorite genre of the Autumn season: ghost stories! These stories often take the protagonist of the cozy mystery and add danger to their journey. This is where self-reflection becomes crucial to survival, and, while wonderment is encouraged, it does not do to second-guess.

This is where the line between the living and the dead, between stories and truth disappears. It sends the heart racing, makes you feel the most alive. I have talked about ghost stories and their importance so often, as you my readers will know, and I will never stop. Ghost stories are vital. They become fodder in the Winter time, but in this, the Autumn time, they are the gateway into that strange land that Ray Bradbury calls the “October Country.”

The haunted house is that place in which all the terrors and strangeness of the Autumn are kept and maintained. It is where the threshold can physically be seen, and those who cross it do so with warning. But they can’t help it. The sense of wonder, of possibility that there might be something there that we haven’t encountered, is too tempting to resist. Often, the protagonists who enter these houses do so without a proper sense of the self, which is the most dangerous thing to lack for fear of it being stolen away by powers beyond our control. And if they try figuring themselves out along the way, it is often too little too late. But not always!

I love to spook myself with these stories. They make me so curious in ways I would not be with any other type of story — even sci-fi could not spark my sense of wonder like the possibility of ghosts and other worlds within our own. I know I’ve spent a lot of this essay talking about the figuring-it-out part of the self, but sometimes I like to read these stories to get a sense of things outside myself, especially if I am trying to be cozy or if the state of my mental health means that I cannot seek the unknown in all the ways that I want to. Even without a physical adventure, these books are doorways to the unknown, and they are just as real.

Plus, who wouldn’t want to be spooked out of their wits near Halloween? Below are a few books that I recommend with the spookiest of atmospheres, the most haunted of houses, and those protagonists who cross the threshold into the dangers of the unknown. Do they fail on their quests? Read to find out!

— The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

This is a classic, I’ve talked about it lots, and I’m sure most of you have read it. But it is the classic haunted house story for a reason. It is one of those ghost stories that never confirms whether the unknown beyond the threshold is real, which, in my opinion, is one of the truest terrors. Is it the ghosts of this house, or is it the haunted mind of the protagonist? We’ll never know, and the house wants to keep it that way.

— Gallant by V.E. Schwab

Gallant is as if Eleanor from The Haunting of Hill House encountered the haunting force of the house and overcame it. The orphan Olivia finds out she has an ancestral home and goes to live there. But that home has secrets, both about her and that which threaten her very life. Again, the house, Gallant, is the driving force of this story, guiding Olivia through the thresholds into the world unknown, and into unknown dangers. What I love about this particular haunted house story is that it is not only the house that is haunted, but the very land it stands on. The house, it seems, maintains the haunting force (n.b. by haunting force, I don’t always mean ghosts or dead people).

— Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury

Another classic! This story is less about a haunted house, but there are forces that haunt. In this book, Bradbury emphasizes the fact that the Autumn time ushers in the Autumn people, those who live just beyond the threshold of reality, those who might bring darkness to the waking world. I love the way Bradbury illustrates the effects of Autumn and its many forms on his characters — the dangers that can and will follow you, the temptations that come with it, same as any haunted house. The carnival that comes to town promises wonder, but crossing that threshold and mingling with its people may bring terrors that stay with you. I love it. I love how unsettling this book paints the season. No other book illustrates the haunting atmosphere of Autumn as well as this one.

3. Dark Academia (and academia in general)

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What better time to start reading Dark Academia (and any literature in the academia aesthetic) than in the Autumn, the start of the school year and the darker months. This genre often uses elements from both our cozy mystery category and the ghost story. The protagonist is in the pursuit of something new, but crosses the threshold into a place that will either take them to some great adventure, or will lead them into danger.

If you have been reading my book reviews, you’ll know that I don’t read (Dark) Academia books in which the protagonists are, to put it bluntly, terrible people (see The Secret History) and don’t actually try to learn anything. In all of the Academia books that I like and that inspire me, the protagonist is working to overcome trials, to gain knowledge, and they usually come out better for it. And many of these trials, of course, are of the spooky or Autumnal variety.

— Equal Rites by Terry Pratchett

Kiki’s Delivery Service meets Monty Python (sort of). If you want cranky witches who criticize the education system of elite wizards, then this is the book for you. This has all the elements of Dark Academia — facing obstacles at a university, overcoming dark academics (in this case, discovering and overcoming an unknown dark magic), friendship, etc. While this book doesn’t make me want to go to Unseen University to study with the wizards, you bet that I want to go study with Granny Weatherwax. She is a witch that takes no nonsense, that pushes for equal education, but who will also tell you to pace yourself so you don’t explode. All Dark Academia books need a Granny Weatherwax.

— The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

This amazingly intricate story does not take place in a school, but has its beginnings in a secret library! Our protagonist goes to this library to choose a book that will shape the rest of his life. The rest of the book is about this young man trying to discover what happened to the author of the book he found. There is intrigue, mysteries, and hidden knowledge, and those who would keep our protagonists from learning the truth. What I love about this book is that the protagonist’s thirst for knowledge is insatiable. Reading this book makes me want to go discover new things, secret things, which definitely aligns with my love of studying folklore.

— Uprooted by Naomi Novik

There is no complete list of academia-themed books that doesn’t include the pursuit of magical knowledge, and that is Uprooted in a nutshell. This book is all about the protagonist, Agnieska, learning about magic, all while trying to figure out a way to deal with the growing threats of the woods (which happens to be very Autumnal!). In this story, Agnieska learns magic, but also learns about herself, what her role in the world is. I can almost think of her story as the origin story of Granny Weatherwax, for they are both no-nonsense witches whom I want to befriend.

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I want to recommend a couple more books that have to do with Academia, but in that they are academic books themselves and are meant for learning and study, but no less share that Autumnal atmosphere.

The first is The Ghost by Susan Owens, which is a survey of the idea of the ghost in many different cultures and time periods. Want to know why the ghost treads that threshold between life and death? The Ghost can tell you why the ancients thought so!

The second is not a reference, but it is an ancient work: The Aeneid by Vergil. This epic poem, through the mythology of their origins, illustrates the cultural and historical aspects that were important to ancient Rome. My favorite is Book 6, in which Aeneas, our hero, must make a journey down to the Underworld. Are there ghosts? You bet! In addition, you will be reading something from the pinnacle of academic cannon that has to do with death in the ancient world, and what could be more Dark Academia than that?! (And if you can read it in Latin, that is even better!)

This is the best time to start with learning something new, so that the momentum of learning stays through the Winter. In addition to reading new books, Academia or no, I also want to learn new things, academic or no. I love taking the Autumn time to learn new recipes, to work on my target language (which happens to be French right now, yay Canada), or to learn a new craft (right now I am working on watercolor painting!). Learning is not restricted to Academia, though it is a nice reading genre to get you in the mood for learning! And if it gets you in the mood to learn about the spooky season, so much the better!

*Also remember that Academia does not have to be dark, it does not have to be hard, or elite. What it does have to be is an interesting way to gain knowledge for everyone.*

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And there you have it, these are my favorite genres and atmospheres to experience in the Autumn reading season. These are by no means the limit to what the atmosphere of Autumn should be like, but these are what I like and I feel I come out all the better because of them.

I hope you all get inspired to find enjoyment in being cozy, starting a new adventure — whether it is learning something new or starting a new project — or seeking the unknown thresholds of the worlds beyond our world, even if that threshold is simply the written word.

But most of all, I hope you have the best reading season! Let me know some of your favorite books that capture the different atmospheres of Autumn.

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Book Review – What Moves the Dead by T. Kingfisher

What Moves the Dead by T. Kingfisher

My rating: 3 of 5 stars



What Moves the Dead is a close retelling of The Fall of the House of Usher by Edgar Allen Poe, though Kingfisher adds to the twist at the end with something dark and alien. This book was delightfully creepy, hitting the reader with that gothic atmosphere that is so enthralling. I loved the atmosphere. Fungi must be popular as a horror element of fiction these days (I know there are fungi in Mexican Gothic too), but the way Kingfisher had this novel’s fungi was wonderfully scientific and anatomical – perfect for the early Victorian setting. That paired with the dead, who seem to not be very dead at all, makes for a good old-fashioned spook.

The reason I am giving this book only three stars is that, for me personally, it could have been creepier, and the twist could have been a bit more mysterious. I find that the more you reveal about a horror, the less horrific it is. The less you know about it, the more unknown it is, the scarier it becomes. Not that the dead walking the earth isn’t scary in itself, but we end up finding out the reason, which took the feeling of dread away from me. In Poe’s original story, we really don’t know why the House of Usher and its inhabitants fell, and that is why the story is so creepy and horrific.

Here are some things that Kingfisher added to the story that I did like:
The narrator, the one who goes to visit the House of Usher, is (I’m pretty sure) transgender, with their country having a separate gender for sworn soldiers in a fictional Galacia. I thought that was an interesting bit of lore for this story’s earth.

I did like the characters, and I think Ms. Potter, the amateur mycologist, is my favorite. I wish we saw more of her, but she graces the story as our resident fungus expert. She also takes no nonsense, and I want to be like her that way. I also liked Denton (sp?), who is, at first, kind of a stupid American, but in the most endearing way.

I recommend this book as a pretty good retelling of Poe’s short story. Now that I have read this novel, I look forward to checking out more of Kingfisher’s work.

*I listened to the audiobook on Scribd*



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A TBR is Not to be Completed – My TBR and what I wish for the future.

A TBR is not to be completed. All over the bookish community, I see readers rushing to finish their to-be-reads, stressing over what they haven’t read, haven’t accomplished. But a TBR is not something to accomplish. It is not a road marker of achievement or failure. A TBR is a list of dreams of faraway places and wishes of new lives, hopes for the future, and a willingness to try.

That was a bit more poetic than I had originally intended, but you get the idea. I don’t want to think of my TBRs as a future of failure, cause I know I will never complete it, either because it is too long or my reading tastes change. A TBR should be something to look forward to, to think about, and I love thinking about it, even if I never read all (or any) of the books on the list. So, without further ado, I will talk about a few of the books on my TBR this Fall, why they are on my TBR, and whether I think I will actually get to read them.

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The first book is What Moves The Dead by T. Kingfisher. I’ve actually already started the audiobook on Scribd, and I am enjoying it so far. I picked this book because not only did it sound super spooky and gothic – which is right up my alley – but it is a retelling of The Fall of the House of Usher by Edgar Allen Poe, one of my favorite Poe short stories.

I started reading it today, actually, to kick off September and the coming cozy month with a spooky read (not that I will ever stop reading spooky books at any given time). And what hopes do I have for this book? Well, I am starting to write my own spooky short fiction, and I am getting inspiration for style and topics. I have a lot of ideas brewing in my head, and reading more spooks only helps to solidify these ideas.

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Next are the books in the witches series from the Discworld novels by Terry Pratchett. These books include Equal Rites (which I’ve already read), Wyrd Sisters, Witches Abroad, Lords and Ladies, Maskerade, and Carpe Jugulum. All of these books feature Nanny Weatherwax as a main character, and I will tell you all that I want to be like her as I grow older: no-nonsense, knows how to navigate life and the toughest people, again doesn’t take shit, and is a witch!

I don’t know if I’ll get to all the books in this series in the Fall, or ever, but I know they are there for when I want to dream of being a witch again. I will say, Equal Rites is a good book to read if you like Studio Ghibli, especially Kiki’s Delivery Service or Howl’s Moving Castle. I think at some point we all want to be in a Ghibli Setting, and the Discworld witch series definitely makes you feel like you’re in one.

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Coming out in October is The Vanishing of Avenline Jones by Phil Hickes. Readers of my reviews, you will know that I have loved the first two books in the Aveline Jones series, and I cannot wait until the third one this Fall! These books are fantastically spooky, but, personally, they make me think of my childhood and how much I loved ghosts and still do. I poured over every piece of material I could find about ghosts on the internet starting at age 11. I think the only difference between Aveline and 11-year-old me was that she encountered dangerous ghosts, whereas mine were far more subtle or simply not there. Didn’t stop me from looking though, just like Aveline. I want to read more of her story for the nostalgia of my childhood, and the possibility of ghosts that still remains in my sense of wonder. This book I will definitely read. It’s pretty easy to get through with Hickes’ amazing writing style and atmospheres.

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And there you have it: these are the books I know are absolutely on my TBR so far. There are others on my radar, but I am not sure I will read them yet. These books promise whimsy and wonder – two things I think everyone needs in life – the imaginings I have of being a witch or a whisperer of ghosts; and something wonderful to look forward to in the coming months. These are not books that I am going to push myself to finish. They are books I think I will love and that I want to enjoy and savor while I read them. And if I don’t like them or feel I can’t finish them, that’s okay. It’s not a failure or a broken dream. It’s just a change, and that’s okay.

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Book Review – All the Horses of Iceland by Sarah Tolmie

All the Horses of Iceland by Sarah Tolmie

My rating: 3 of 5 stars



All the Horses of Iceland is a fictional historical account of Eyvind, a man from Iceland who travels all the way to Mongolia and back in search of horses to trade and sell. During this journey, he encounters ghosts, and a magic horse that not only may ensure his survival on his way back to Iceland, but also the survival of the many horses that travel with him.

I went into this book expecting a lot more mythology than history, and so I was a bit disappointed at the lack of fantastical elements. I thought it was going to be a folk tale about the origins of horses in Iceland, which I guess this was, but still not enough mythos. What there was – ghosts and the folklore of lands foreign to the protagonist – I did appreciate. It was a lot of magical realism, which I also appreciate, using the beliefs of different peoples at the time to illustrate a strange happening in this man’s journey. However, instead of feeling like an origin story, it felt more like a short folk tale – unexpected, but welcomed nonetheless.

I did like the historical elements of this novella. I liked the diverse cast of characters that Eyvind meets: Jewish traders, many Khazars (most at war), some Rus (also at war), a Muslim poet, and, of course, a Khan of Mongolia. I thought that was very interesting, and illustrated the possible life of someone who lived during this time (around the Medieval period). I also loved the representation of languages in this novella. Tolmie does not actually write out languages foreign to the protagonist, but the way she has him experience them is a wonderful experience to read. He is appreciative, and not often upset that he doesn’t understand.

I’m glad I read this book, but again the lack of mythology does not make it a favorite. I know many will love it though for its history and characters.




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Book Review – Gallant by V.E. Schwab

Gallant by V.E. Schwab

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


Gallant by V.E. Schwab is about Olivia, who cannot speak, but who can see ghosts. One day, she receives a letter at her orphanage/school from her uncle, asking her to come home to her family estate, Gallant. When she gets there, however, she finds that her uncle did not in fact write her that letter. So what brought her to Gallant? And why had her mother warned Olivia, in the journal she left behind, to stay away?

V.E. Schwab has written the perfect haunted house/gothic tale in Gallant. It has hints of The Haunting of Hill House and Crimson Peak mixed in with Coraline. I loved the juxtaposition of life versus death, of mirrored worlds where the reflection is lifeless. To me, this is true horror, the true fear of what lies on the other side of the threshold – it’s what we see when we think of the Faerie realm, of the place over the garden wall, and Schwab captures that terror so wonderfully.

I really don’t have anything I disliked about this book, so I will talk more about the things I did like. I liked the atmosphere of Gallant, how it was definitely spooky, but also definitely alive with something.
I loved the way Schwab portrayed the ghosts (or ghouls in this book), and the system within which they worked – seen by Olivia, and even able to be manipulated to an extent that made a lot of sense for this story. A lot of ghost stories I’ve read fall short on their representation of ghosts, but this one joins the ranks of Shirley Jackson, and even Edgar Allen Poe.
I liked the characters, too. How Schwab portrayed their pain and grief so well, how she portrayed Olivia’s lack of understanding of this grief in the beginning, and led her to understand it later. The characters (the ones on our side) are warm, are a family, are what you want for the hero who must (very literally) face death.

I don’t want to say any more because that would spoil the story. But this book was nothing short of perfection, and I really want V.E. Schwab to write more ghost stories in this style.



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Book Review – Help Wanted by Richie Tankersley Cusick

Help Wanted by Richie Tankersley Cusick

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


Help Wanted by Richie Tankersley Cusick is about (fyi, the Goodreads description is incorrect) a high schooler named Robin, who answers an ad to work in the old, enormous house of Mr. Swanson, cataloguing books belonging to his late daughter-in-law. Robin goes to work, despite her annoyance at Mr. Swanson’s dashing grandson, and the warnings he made to her about his apparently insane sister, Claudia. Soon, Robin gets pulled into the family’s sordid history, which is rearing its ugly head in the present.

This is my third book by Richie Tankersley Cusick, and I am still having fun with them. I love that they are all about a girl going up against a mystery, and having to learn who to trust along the way or pay. Also the gothic atmospheres are absolutely wonderful. Cusick always provides the spookiest houses.

I thought this particular book was fun, but, again, the plotlines came together way too quickly. There were no little clues that you could follow to unravel the plot, or even to be tricked into predict a totally incorrect plotline. I do realize that because this is basically a murder mystery that Robin gets pulled into, there’s not much time for gradual revealing of the plot; however, how abrupt it all is is not my cup of tea. I like a bit more intrigue.

I wish we had gotten to know the characters a bit more in-depth. I feel like in Trick or Treat we really had an inside look into all of the relevant characters. In this book, it was very minimal – just enough so you know how they fit in with the mystery. It all felt a bit too shallow for me, personally. However, I know a lot of people like more of a crazy plot than spending too much time with characters, and I am sure that’s why many have loved this book.

Overall, a super fun, creepy read. I will be delving into more of Cusick’s books in the future, though, after three in a row, it may be time for a short break.



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Book Review – The Drifter by Richie Tankersley Cusick

The Drifter by Richie Tankersley Cusick

My rating: 3 of 5 stars



The Drifter by Richie Tankersley Cusick is about Carolyn and her mother, who, after the death of Carolyn’s father, find out that they’ve inherited an old house from their old aunt. Carolyn’s mother desires to turn the old house into a bed and breakfast. But Carolyn doesn’t like the idea, especially considering its location – right on the cliffs over the sea in dense fog – and considering is grisly history. Soon, the history of the old house comes out to haunt Carolyn.

This book was wonderfully atmospheric and spooky. I love haunted stories that take place by the sea, spooky or no (see The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, The Haunting of Aveline Jones), and I am adding this book to that list of mine. Cusick has such a talent for making a location – haunted house, haunted school, haunted seaside cliffs – the most frightening place you could ever go. I was on the edge of my seat worried for Carolyn in that old house; I am sure I started hyperventilating at some point.

There were points in the plot and aspects of the characters, however, that I didn’t like as much. For one thing, Cusick really knows how to make a character annoying. This is not necessarily a bad thing, and it makes sense for her stories. But I think I would like to have more chill, reasonable characters sometimes (like the brother in Trick or Treat). Carolyn also seems to trust or distrust other characters way too quickly: she doesn’t take enough time to process anything, but especially people she’s just met. Also, she really, really needs to stand up to her mother more.

The plot felt like things happened too quickly towards the end. I usually prefer very gradual revealings of different elements of a mystery, which is what I liked more about Trick or Treat. In this book, the beginning is slow with lots of atmosphere – this I liked. The end, though, hits you with a bunch of necessary plot points all at once. I would have liked to have gotten to know more in the beginning so that things would connect better later.

All of this said, I really did love the atmosphere of this book. I will definitely be reading more of Cusick’s work, and I am so happy there is a giant backlog of books of hers to read!

I read this book on Scribd



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