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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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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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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Book Review – Trick or Treat by Richie Tankersley Cusick

Trick or Treat by Richie Tankersley Cusick

My rating: 4 of 5 stars



In Trick or Treat, Martha, a sixteen-year-old high school student, moves into a new house with her dad, new step-mom and step-brother. She hates the situation, having been torn from her happy life in Chicago. Matters get worse, however, when she realizes that the house they’ve moved into, with its long hallways and secret passages, has a dark history she must soon contend with. Even worse, she might have to just get along with her new brother to survive.

You all know I love my spooky stories, my haunted houses, and this book had everything I wanted and more.
Here is what I loved about the book:

I loved the way the house is portrayed. You can imagine it as a house like Hill House or Hell House or Bly Manor, not just because the house is imagined so detailed and labyrinthine, but because you can feel the heaviness of its history (whether embodied by a ghost or not). I felt actual fear for the protagonists when they became trapped in the house’s winding passages, stuck in the dark with the evil of that house. I also loved the imagery of the woods surrounding the house, as if not only the house were trapping Martha, but the land as well.

I loved the way the history of the house was written, and how it was reflected in all the important characters of this story. For Martha and Conor, her new brother, it is walking into something dark, evil, and unknown; for Martha’s new friends, Blake and Wynn, it is reopening old wounds, but trying to move on the best they can (or so it would seem). For Martha and Conor’s parents, well, they couldn’t be more thrilled with a haunted house – I could get Martha’s frustration with them as she had her experiences.

There were few things I didn’t get on with in this book, but even these didn’t really affect my enjoyment of it. I didn’t really like how bratty Martha was (and even Conor, though he didn’t seem it). I understand why she was – moving to a new house with a whole new family – but it felt a bit much at times. I also wished that the book’s ending went beyond just the end of the mystery. Lots of horror/thriller books do this, but I do wish we could see their lives getting back to normal, or that we could see them coming to terms with their new life. Again, though, this was not bad enough to ruin my enjoyment.

This is the perfect book to read during the spooky season and Halloween. I know Cusick wrote many other books like this, and I will be checking out more, especially during this coming October!


I read this book on Scribd.



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Book Review – Dark Matter by Michelle Paver

Dark Matter by Michelle Paver

My rating: 5 of 5 stars



Dark Matter is a story about a broke young man in 1937, who joins a group going on an expedition to the Arctic. The trip north is fine, but once they get to their destination, the young man realizes that there are dark forces present there that wish them harm.

As most of you know, I LOVE ghost stories. But what I liked about this one, that I like in other stories like The Haunting of Hill House and The Turn of the Screw, was that we don’t always know what part of the haunting is real or is just in the head of the protagonist. In Dark Matter, there are elements of both. There is definitely some malevolent spirit haunting the shores of the Arctic campsite. However, the polar night and increasing cold do nothing to help the paranoia of our protagonist. And I love this. I love that the protagonist is being haunted by both spirits and himself, and has to contend with the long darkness of winter. And as he says about the darkness:

“Fear of the dark. Until I came here, I thought that was for children; that you grew out of it. But it never really goes away. It’s always there underneath. The oldest fear of all.”

This is a very ruminating book, where the protagonist, writing in a journal, analyzes everything around him, including the behaviors of his companions and of himself. There isn’t a whole lot of action, but neither is the book particularly slow. There’s always something happening, though usually via the perceptions of the protagonist. I love that. I love a ruminating ghost story. It lets you know why there must be a ghost present for the protagonist to perceive. Michelle Paver writes this characterization and atmosphere so well.

I really want to read Paver’s other books now – I love the way she writes horror: it feels very much like the ghost stories written in the early 20th century (which are often my favorites). I recommend this book to those who want a chilling (literally) ghost story. I also recommend listening to the audiobook. Ghost stories were meant to be told aloud, and Dark Matter is great as an oral story. I listened to the fantastic narration by Jeremy Northam.



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Book Review – D (A Tale of Two Worlds) by Michel Faber

D (A Tale of Two Worlds): A Novel by Michel Faber

My rating: 3 of 5 stars



D (A Tale of Two Worlds is about a girl, Dhikilo, who lives in Cawber-on-Sands with her adoptive parents, and goes to school where no one knows anything about Somaliland. One day, Dhikilo finds that all of the Ds are disappearing from words. After much confusion, she finds her old (and apparently immortal) history teacher, who sends her off on a journey (accompanied by a Sphinx named Nelly Robinson) to rescue all of the Ds.

I really liked the premise for this book – a book with a language mystery? Sign me up! It was also hyped up a lot by many book people online, and Neil Gaiman has a blurb on the book. So yes, this book was very appealing to me.

However, this novel sadly did not live up to my hyped-up expectations. Not that I didn’t enjoy the novel, but I felt as though there were things missing.

Some things I didn’t like:

1. The story did not provide any interesting reason for the letter D in particular to have disappeared. Sure it made using words harder for the characters, and it made some D-words disappear, but it didn’t go deeper into “why D?”. I wanted to know, why did the villain hate D? Would it have more of an impact on Dhikilo’s existence? I understand that this would make the story more complicated, but I really wanted those answers.

2. We did not get to know the characters well enough. We know Dhikilo and Nelly very well by the end of the story, which is good. However, we barely get to know Professor Dodderfield, who seems to be pretty important to the story. His role seems very unfulfilled, though. With Dodderfield, and a lot of the other characters, it feels like Dhikilo hasn’t made any real relationships in this story. It all seems to depend on Dhikilo and her position in the world (i.e. how much of an outsider she seems to be), though that theme isn’t developed nearly enough either.

Some things I liked:

1. The writing is beautiful. While the story itself was, at times, unsatisfying, the writing made reading this novel worthwhile. I would very much like to read Michel Faber’s other works now that I know what a beautiful and descriptive writing style he has. It is very much in the style of Gaiman, Anna James, and others who write similar stories.

2. I loved the imagery and the language. I think my favorite part of the story was when the Ds were missing, and I loved how Faber played with words with all of the Ds gone. Made for some challenging, but at times punny reading. I also loved the fantasy world of Liminus (also that it’s named “Liminus”, from the Latin/Greek limen meaning “threshold”). I do wish there was more lore or background with regards to Liminus in this story, and especially regarding the sinister and ever-shifting hotel, Bleak House.

Overall, the writing was gorgeous, but the story and themes were a bit disappointing. I don’t know that I would read this book again, but, as I mentioned, I do want to check out some of Michel Faber’s other works.




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