Book Review – Where I Ache by Megan O’Keeffe

Where I Ache by Megan O’Keeffe

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Where I Ache by Megan O'Keeffe


First of all, I would like to thank Megan O’Keeffe for sending me an ARC of her poetry collection Where I Ache to read and review! I am quite late in giving my review, due to busyness in my work life, and so I do apologize for that. But I am here now and I am very happy to share my thoughts on O’Keeffe’s collection. I believe this is her second poetry collection, and I am looking forward to seeing her hone her craft.

That said, I did have some issues with this collection, and there are many places where O’Keeffe can improve.

Before I go into the issues, I would like to point out the good parts of O’Keeffe’s poetry.

I love that this whole collection is basically introspection. I think it is this description of self-awareness and introspection that does and will allow readers to really connect with her words. Personally, I have found many of my own feelings in O’Keeffe’s lines of poetry.

O’Keeffe writes in a very straightforward manner, which, while not really my style, is very accessible to those who are either unfamiliar with poetry, or who just don’t get it. She states her meaning plainly and doesn’t disguise anything.

Another thing that O’Keeffe writes very clearly is her social commentary. It’s done in an observer’s, an experiencer’s, perspective, and I think that’s why it works so well for this genre. It’s not hidden, though still leaves room for readers to interpret.

Unfortunately, for me, these positive aspects of Where I Ache do not overpower the negative aspects.

Overall, O’Keeffe’s writing style is very juvenile, and it is reminiscent of the style used by poets like Rupi Kaur and Amanda Lovelace. There is no real craft involved in terms of the verses (I don’t even know if I could call them verses), and O’Keeffe relies a lot on emotion to make these verses poetic.
There are certain poems in which she begins to have a rhyming scheme, but doesn’t stick to it and abandons it halfway through the poem. I understand that this was done for emphasis, but it feels more as if the rhymes are there just to be there, rather than for any other poetic purpose.

The structure and format of the collection is also somewhat juvenile, in that O’Keeffe doesn’t use spacing for emphasis like many more mature poets use. Instead she actually bolds or italicizes the words, which, while very straightforward, doesn’t leave much for the reader’s brain to do or focus on.
Altogether, the structure feels very much like reading a teenager’s diary.

Overall, I think that O’Keeffe has a lot of potential as a poet and a writer, but she needs to work on her craft a bit more, maybe go a bit out of the box next time.
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My many issues with this collection aside, here are the poems from this collection that I thought stood out more than the rest in terms of a more mature composition:

“Please Don’t Sugar Coat this for Me”
“Growth”
“No Evil”
“The Mind’s Maze”
“Bright As Stars”
“It’s All Wrong”
“No One Cries for the Sinners”
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O’Keeffe is not a poet that I would call a “wordsmith,” and while her craft is still very simple, I know that readers are loving and will love this collection for its simplicity and accessibility, as well as for its relatability regarding introspection and mental health.



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Weird Woods – An In-Depth Review

Weird Woods by John Miller

As promised, here is a more in-depth review of the anthology Weird Woods: Tales from the haunted forests of Britain. Below I briefly discuss each story in this collection, and seeing how the forests are portrayed in each, and whether or not I think they were portrayed well.

The first story, “The Whisper in the Wood” by Anonymous, is really one of the only stories in this collection that gives the atmosphere of a haunted forest. Essentially, a man goes into the woods where he hears strange voices on the wind, and a gnarly tree that holds him there in the forest long enough to find the corpse which the disembodied voice belonged to. I think one reason this is very much more of the haunted woods genre than the others is because it was written in the 19th century, when the sublime and the preternatural took up the minds of such authors.

“Man-Size in Marble” by Edith Nesbit is indeed somewhat of a ghost story, but really has nothing to do with the woods, except maybe to establish where the story takes place. However, the antagonizing powers in this story have nothing to do with woods or trees, rather they are involved with statues and graves, the opposite of trees.
To be honest, I am not sure why this story has been included in this anthology all about the woods.

“The Striding Place” by Gertrude Atherton is not about a haunted forest, but it is about the dangers that the woods can possess. Here the danger is a stream in Strid Wood (Yorkshire Dale), which can be treacherous to cross. In this story our protagonist envisions horrors that have taken place in this wood, the deaths caused by the stream. Whether these visions are of his imagination or are real omens are not specified.
I am happy this was included in the collection, as stories about dangerous parts of nature are often what end up as a major part of folklore.

E.F. Benson takes a more mythological approach to the forest in his story “The Man Who Went Too Far.” In this story, the central character has decided to become one with nature, taking his desire so far as to come close to meeting the god of nature himself, Pan. However, he realizes that meeting and communing with Pan could mean death.
There are so many woodland folktales about goat men, and Benson takes us right to its mythological source. Not so much a haunting of the woods, but a going back to a more primeval version of nature, which is why this story is so apt for this collection.

Have you ever walked in the woods and come upon a tree so unusual and captivating that you must know all about it – every root and twig? W.H. Hudson’s “An Old Thorn” focuses on such a tree that captures the interest, and perhaps the lives, of several different people. It stands in its place forever as a godlike being.
While a tree is the main focus, the descriptions of said tree were a bit lost on me – I could not really picture it, though perhaps that adds more to the mystery.

“The White Lady” by Elliot O’Donnell is indeed a ghost story, but the portrayal of the woods and trees is not really the main focus. A young man sneaks out in the middle of the night to catch a glimpse of a ghost called “the white lady.” In order to see her, he must hide in a hollow tree, which is really the extent that we see any appearance of a forest or a tree.
It’s a fun story, but not really one that I would’ve picked for this collection, simply because the woods are not a focal point.

“Ancient Lights” by Algernon Blackwood is the one story of this collection that feels the most folkloric. In this story, a man on his way to a large house gets lost in the forest on the edge of the property. The thing is, though, this is not a forest one would expect to get lost in: it’s small, and at first glance you can see the house beyond it. But there are powers in the forest, powers of the trees and perhaps of the wee folk, that are determined to turn the man this way and that, making him completely lose his way.
Besides tales of the goat man, fairy stories are at the pinnacle of woodland folklore, and I am sad that more of those were not included in this collection.

Mary Webb’s “The Name Tree” doesn’t focus on a forest, but it does focus on a tree, specifically what she calls a “name tree”, which the main character is drawn to. This tree is also a representation of her life, and when a man desires to have this young woman sexually (and indeed beneath her own name tree!), she refuses, as she nor the tree could belong to anyone. But dire circumstances force her hand, and she submits to this man under her tree. During their sexual encounter, he breaks the tree, thus also ending her life.
This is a piece of folklore I would very much like to know more about, and if there is such a tradition in history. That a tree could be the vital force of an individual, it is almost a fairy story, but somehow seems to go much deeper than that.

Just like “An Old Thorn,” “The Tree” by Walter De La Mare focuses on a single tree that captures the minds of the main characters. This tree seems to bring its own climate, its own ecology, though it all seems alien, even unalive to the protagonist. And yet, he cannot get the tree and its creatures out of his mind.
I think this story would have been more interesting to me if I had understood the philosophy behind it. I like the premise of a sort of alien tree that is its own world, but I need to understand its effects on the characters better.

“He Made A Woman” by Marjorie Bowen is a retelling of a Welsh folktale from the Mabinogion, in which the woman Blodeuwedd is created to be the wife of the Welsh hero Llew Llaw Gyffes. In this retelling, a young man stays at the home of a scholar, who has there also a young woman named Blodeuwedd. The young man falls in love with her, how she connects to the forest, and seems to come from it, like a fairy creature. However, in the end as he tries to embrace her, Blodeuwedd vanishes and all that is left is an oak flower, a twig of broom, and a cluster of meadowsweet, the ingredients used to create her.
I am glad this tale was included in Weird Woods as so much of Welsh mythology has to do with and takes place in the woods. I am reminded of when king Pwyll meets Arawn, the god of death, in the woods, and I am tempted to do a retelling of this myself.

“A Neighbor’s Landmark” by M.R. James is indeed about a haunted forest, though the story tells of it more than tells of an experience within it. Betton Wood is a forest that no one will enter, that carries shrieks and cries on the wind. Even at the end of this story, the woods are still a mystery.
I think with more of an experienced telling this would have been a better story. However, its themes did remind me of stories like Naomi Novik’s Uprooted.

And the last story, “N” by Arthur Machen, explores the liminality that trees provide in so many folktales. It is reminiscent of a sort of NeverNeverLand, exploring the way forests and trees can represent an eternal childhood.
I really only have one comment for this story: needs more trees.

As I said in my initial review of Weird Woods, I was expecting much more folklore than was given. However, as I discussed above, there are individual stories that do exude folklore and the darker aspects of mythology. I don’t know that I would recommend this to anyone for folklore purposes, but to get a sense of how authors, and really everyday people, view nature in Britain.

If, however, you want something more folkloric, check out English Folktales, or any of those that revolve around the wee folk, and Welsh folklore. These are guaranteed to have woodland folklore.

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Book Review – The Canterville Ghost by Oscar Wilde

The Canterville Ghost by Oscar Wilde

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Canterville Ghost



The Canterville Ghost is about an American family in the late 19th century that moves into Lord Canterville’s large and old home. However, the large house is haunted by Canterville’s ancestor, who tries to frighten the family away, or even to death! But this family isn’t to be scared away by a ghost, and is even intrigued by the historical mysteries it still carries.

I had known about this story before I read it, as I had watched a cartoon version of it when I was little, which had very minor differences. The Canterville Ghost is my first full Oscar Wilde reading (I’m still in the middle of Dorian Gray) and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Oscar Wilde and a ghost story is the perfect combination. Using his artful language and wit, he is able to humorously tell the tale of an utter failure of a ghost even among the mysterious and beautifully-described gothic atmosphere of the house. The only thing I would wish to be different, at least a little bit, is the ending, which was nice, but I think I would have liked it to be more than just nice. It didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the story, however.

The Canterville Ghost is definitely up there with my favorite ghost stories, and Wilde’s way of telling ghost stories is wonderfully refreshing. I recommend this story to those who want some wit in a gothic setting.
I listened to this book on Audible, and I very much enjoyed it as an audiobook.



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Book Review – Weird Woods, Tales from the Haunted Forests of Britain

Weird Woods: Tales from the Haunted Forests of Britain by John Miller

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Weird Woods by John Miller


I picked up Weird Woods because, if you do not know already, I am a huge fan of folklore and hauntings. From the description, I had expected to find folktales about Britain’s forests, sort of the origins for all the haunting stories we know and love. Basically I expected it to be more like The Book of English Folktales by Sybil Marshall. Instead, this book is an anthology of short stories that are set in haunted British forests or have something to do with trees, and are written by popular authors of this genre from about the early 20th century (some late 19th).

So, while I did enjoy most of the stories generally speaking, I was a bit disappointed at the lack of actual folklore, and that is why I have given this book only three stars.

Nonetheless I loved the dark atmosphere of all the stories, the gnarly roots of the forest, and the trees that seem to be guiding the protagonists to either happiness or misery, depending on their mood and on the attitude of the hero.

I recommend this book to those who want ghost stories, but, to those who prefer more folklore, this may not be the book for you.

I will be discussing the stories in-depth next week on my Patreon, so please do check it out if you want to see my extra analysis!

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I have a Patreon!

Those of you who have seen this blog when it started may know that I had a Patreon page for all my reviews. That was quite a while ago and I haven’t used it much since. But, I have now revamped my Patreon and it is open for business!

You can click here to see my Patreon, called “A Ghostly Reviewer”, and I’ll also have a link at the bottom.

I basically post the same content there that I do on Book Reviews by A. Siegel, except that there will be new bonuses and fun things for my Patrons.

Here is the general breakdown of my Patreon:

Free to the public are my general reviews of the books I have read.

With the lowest patron tier, called the Wharton Tier, patrons at $2 per month get early access to my reviews, so you would see them on my Patreon before I post them here.

With the second tier, called the Poe Tier, patrons at $5 per month get to see longer and more in-depth posts, similar to posts like my favorite genre books posts, my dark academia post, as well as more in-depth reviews with deeper analysis, especially for short stories.

This is the plan for the foreseeable future. I hope you all stay to see my reviews, and if you’d like to support my work further, consider becoming a patron!

And thank you all, I appreciate each and every one of you who reads my reviews.

Cheers!

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My Favorite Dark Academia Books

Dark academia is an aesthetic that has taken over the media of the internet, from books to movies to fashion. And, I must say, it has slightly affected me too. I am a classicist, and that just completely puts me in the realm of dark academia (those who have read The Secret History know what I’m talking about). I am also a huge supporter of the pursuit of knowledge, which is really what dark and all other academia is all about.

And that is what makes all the books on this list dark academia, at least in my opinion. Many of these books are dark in vibe and aesthetic and so just fit the genre much more. So, without further ado and in no particular order, here are my favorite dark academia books.

The Lake of Dead Languages by Carol Goodman

This book does what The Secret History tried to do but better. It is about a Latin teacher at an all-girls boarding school in a remote location in the northeastern United States. As she struggles to have a life at this school, the teacher is forced to reckon with the darker portions of her past when she attended that same school as a student.
This book is full of academics, but also the staple of the dark academia Classics genre: a bacchanale that doesn’t go as planned.

Einstein’s Dreams by Alan Lightman

This book is so much about the pursuit of knowledge and the possibilities it gives us. Picture a young Einstein working at his desk in a dimly lit room having just finished his theory of time, when he starts imagining all the different ways that time can manifest itself. Each short chapter of this book is a different look at time, and the utter possibility that these things could be possible is another staple of dark academia.

Ghost Wall by Sarah Moss

This is a short novel that centers around a family who goes with a professor and his college students to live as Brits did in the Iron Age. That description alone is enough for the dark academia aesthetic, but when you add the darker aspects, it really kicks off.

Warning for this book, however: there are themes of child abuse and attempted murder.

Margaret the First by Danielle Dutton

This book is about Margaret Cavendish, who was an English aristocrat in the 17th century. Dutton tells a fictionalized biographical tale of how Margaret started her pursuit of philosophy and literature, and the struggles she had as a woman trying to be an intellectual in a time when women were really not supposed to be doing that in the view of her male counterparts.

Set in a time when the pursuit of knowledge that filled the Renaissance was still high and mighty, it is the perfect setting for the dark academia, period drama aesthetic.

Paris in the Twentieth Century by Jules Verne

In this more obscure tale of science fiction, Verne imagines what the world will be like in the late 20th century, focusing on a young man in Paris. This young man has just graduated from college with a degree in the almost obsolete field of Latin and Classical Studies. We see the young man struggle to survive in a world that is moving far beyond him, where art and humanities are dwindling out of the public interest.

Almost the complete opposite of Margaret the First, we see what the world could be like when the pursuit of knowledge is no longer useful in such a capitalistic era.

The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón

This rather chunky novel combines the pursuit of knowledge with the compulsion to solve a dark mystery. Set during and just after WWII in Spain, our protagonist finds a book called The Shadow of the Wind in a secret library, and becomes enthralled with the book and its author. But when he realizes that all of the other works by this author have been lost or destroyed, our protagonist goes on a quest for knowledge about this mysterious man.

The aspects of dark academia here include: period drama; the dark and dim aesthetics of the library and the dark places that our protagonist must search for clues; the war and post war setting; and the interest in a single book and its author.

Those are my favorites from the dark academia genre. Some are more obscure than others, and I highly recommend you check them out if you haven’t already! And I am open to any and all recommendations of dark academia books that you all might have!

Happy reading!

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Book Review – The Woman in Black by Susan Hill

The Woman in Black by Susan Hill

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Woman in Black by Susan Hill


Susan Hill’s The Woman In Black really is a classic ghost story. The protagonist, Arthur Kipps, prompted by his family to tell them a ghost story, recounts his experiences performing his duties as a solicitor for the dead Mrs. Drablow at the isolated Eel Marsh House. There he sees what is known there as ‘the woman in black’ and learns of her cruel history, and the cruel revenge her spirit takes in turn.

Of course I started reading this because I saw the movie, but if I had known The Woman In Black was a book first, I would have dived right in. This ghost story is up there with stories by Shirley Jackson, and the gothic works of Edith Wharton and Henry James. However, I think this is one of my favorites so far.

It’s such an atmospheric novel, I could feel the cold and wet of the marshes surrounding Eel Marsh House, could hear the squelch of the mud as the horse and carriage were heard by Arthur to sink and die in the marsh over and over, repeating that singular moment in time.
One gets the sense of looking back into the gothic, stepping through the threshold of the present into a past as grey and grim as death.

There are actually only a few differences between the book and the movie. (Spoilers ahead)
Arthur lives past the tragedy of the woman in black and into old age, though still mourning the death of his son.
They do not actually find the carriage and dead son of the woman in black, though Arthur was able to figure out the entire mystery based on papers and the apparitions he saw and heard.

I listened to The Woman In Black on audiobook, which was a wonderful experience. The book was read by Paul Ansdell.

I recommend this book to all who want a classic ghost story, to all who want to step into the past, no matter how foreboding it might be.



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Book Review – The Turn of the Screw by Henry James

The Turn of the Screw by Henry James

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Turn of the Screw by Henry James


I started reading – listening to, rather – The Turn of the Screw for a reason that will probably surprise none of you. I recently watched The Haunting of Bly Manor, and, enjoying it so much, of course I had to read the original work. I was happy to find many similarities and differences that make the book and show respectively unique.

I’m sure you all know this is a ghost story. However, we do not know if the house, Bly Manor, is haunted by the ghosts of Peter Quint and Ms. Jessel, or if the ones haunting are actually the people who live there, Flora, Miles, Ms. Grose, or our protagonist herself. It is this unknowing that makes The Turn of the Screw such a compelling story. I do wish more of this ignorance took place in the show, as there is nothing more terrifying than the unknown.

Right now for me, The Turn of the Screw is right up there with other ghost stories such as The Haunting of Hill House, and the ghost stories of Edith Wharton. There’s something so simple in the telling of the story that makes the reader pay attention to the wonderfully creepy atmosphere of the haunted houses.

I will almost certainly have to read this book again because, while it is a well-written story, a lot of the language is, not unexpectedly, old-fashioned, and so I will just need a second look.

I listened to the audiobook on Scribd, which I recommend everyone gets; it is a thousand times better than Audible, and has much more content (no this is not an ad, but I would certainly not mind working with them!). The audiobook I listened to was narrated by Flo Gibson, but there are many other narrators to choose from.

I recommend this book to all of you who want the creeps and spooks this Halloween!



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The Cozy Fall Book Tag!

Photo by Stephanie Harvey on Unsplash

It is Autumn! The air is crisp and full of golden leaves, and it is time to snuggle up with a book and a hot drink. To get more into the cozy mood, I thought I would do the Cozy Fall Book Tag that all my favorite Booktubers are doingg, originally created by The Book Belle on Youtube. So, without further ado, let’s get cozy!

1. What book always reminds you of fall/autumn?

Oh man, I have wayyyy too many. I would say any book that has ghosts or haunted houses. But to be more specific, I would pick Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury. It is so autumnal not only because it takes place during Halloween, but it has one of my favorite Autumn quotes:

“For some, autumn comes early, stays late through life where October follows September and November touches October and then instead of December and Christ’s birth, there is no Bethlehem Star, no rejoicing, but September comes again and old October and so on down the years, with no winter, spring, or revivifying summer. For these beings, fall is the ever 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. In gusts they beetle-scurry, creep, thread, filter, motion, make all moons sullen, and surely cloud all clear-run waters. The spider-web hears them, trembles–breaks. Such are the autumn people. Beware of them.”

2. What is your favourite autumnal book cover?

Definitely the one on the awesome edition of The Haunting of Hill House!

The Haunting of Hill House
Not only is this color full of Halloween colors, but the pages are sprayed black!!

3. What is your favourite autumnal drink to read with?

Either a hot cup of Earl Grey tea with honey, or a hot chocolate!

4. Do you prefer to read late at night or early in the morning?

Actually neither! I like reading in late afternoon or evening because that is when I get done with work for the day, and my mind is ready to settle down, get cozy, and just escape the world a little bit.

5. Halloween is coming! What is your favourite spooky read?

Anything Shirley Jackson! I’m probably going to reread her Dark Tales this year as that is my favorite of her collections. Though I would recommend anything she has written, she is brilliant and spooky, but at the same time kinda cozy!

6. What is the ultimate comfort read for you?

This is a tough one, but I’d probably pick The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman and The Fellowship of the Ring by Tolkien. Both of these books have elements of folklore and fairytale that always make me feel happy and cozy. Also, who wouldn’t feel cozy reading about the Shire and all the food they get to eat?

7. What is your favourite autumnal reading snack?

This changes ALL the time, but right now I am enjoying this amazing beef jerky made by my local meat market. Yes I know it’s not the most autumnal snack, but it is delicious.

8. What is your favourite autumnal candle to burn whilst reading?

Anything vanilla! It’s the coziest scent.

9. When you’re not reading, what is your favourite autumnal activity?

Art! Lately I’ve been painting Autumn trees with my watercolors. I want to capture all of the beautiful colors before it snows!

10. What is on your autumn/fall reading list?

So I actually made a blog post about it here! Got lots of ghost stories of course, but I also have a couple cozy mysteries!

And that’s the tag! I tag all of you to share your cozy autumnal routines and joys.

Happy Autumn! And, if you’d like to support me and my work, consider buying me a coffee!

Book Review – What the Dead Want by Norah Olson

What the Dead Want by Norah Olson

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

What the Dead Want by Norah Olson


What the Dead Want is the story of Gretchen, who, still mourning the mysterious loss of her mother, is asked by her great aunt to come help her sort out her old house. When Gretchen gets there, however, she is introduced to a world where history and the dead rule.

I was very much interested in the concept of this novel before I started reading it. If you’ve been reading my reviews for a while, you’ll know I’m a big fan of ghosts, ghost stories, and ghost lore. So, when a book gets recommended to me about someone who can capture spirits with a camera, I thought I had met my dream book. It sounded like a Victorian gothic dream come to life.

Unfortunately, however, What the Dead Want did not meet my standards. For one thing, the letters featured in the book that were meant to be written by someone from the 1860s read more like someone writing today. I think the historical additions to this novel needed more research.

The writing and the plot also did not meet expectations. The plot seemed very random, and the use of photographs to see ghosts and solve the mystery really weren’t used until the very end of the story. In fact, most of the plot did not pick up until almost near the end of the book, leaving the structure of the rest of the book feeling randomly written and way too introspective. While I liked the fact that this book includes lots of diversity in its characters, the characters, except for Gretchen, felt very much as only accessories, and the perspective of the book was trying to be like Eleanor’s in The Haunting of Hill House and not at all succeeding in it.

While this book has good representation and covers some of the heaviest topics known (i.e. slavery, war, etc.), the writing was sub-par, and the plot not well-executed. I am sure that there is quite an audience for this book, but sadly I am not part of it.



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