Book Review – The Haunting of Aveline Jones by Phil Hickes

The Haunting of Aveline Jones by Phil Hickes

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Haunting of Aveline Jones by Phil Hickes


The Haunting of Aveline Jones by Phil Hickes is a story about a girl, Aveline, who goes to a seaside town to stay with her aunt while her mom is visiting her grandmother. In this town, Aveline, a firm and eager believer in ghosts, finds an old bookshop with a book of local ghost stories. However, this book unearths a mystery and a haunting past that Aveline is not prepared for.

I absolutely loved this book. It’s the type of story I would have loved at Avenline’s age, and that I love now at 28. It has all the combinations of adventure, ghosts, atmosphere, and folklore that keep me enthralled and on the edge of my seat. It is a short and very simple story, which does appeal to me, though I know many people would want something more complex and involved. I’m a simple gal and this story was perfect for me.

The atmosphere was perfectly spooky. Put aside the ghosts, this book takes place around Halloween in a stormy seaside town with an antique bookshop and some dark, local folklore. Can it get any better than that?

The characters were also very well-written. None of them annoyed me, and I only felt endearment towards even the ones that were supposed to be annoying.

I think one reason I related so much to this book is that Aveline reminds me a lot of myself (and several other girls I knew as a preteen). And, while I haven’t been exactly in her shoes, my love of the paranormal is a complete match. Though now that I am very much a grownup, I think I’m starting to relate more and more to characters like Mr. Lieberman, the owner of the bookshop.

Another reason this book was so good, in my mind, is that it reminds me of a lot of well-known ghost stories (Turn of the Screw/Haunting of Bly Manor, The Ghost Stories of Edith Wharton, The Haunted Bookshop, and others), but Hickes makes those ghostly themes entirely his own. And it is no surprise, since Hickes himself grew up the same way and next to a graveyard no less! Hickes is a supremely talented writer and I am looking forward to his next book in this series, which I believe comes out later this year.

The Haunting of Aveline Jones was a wonderful read, and I might just read it again next Halloween! I recommend this book to anyone who loves spooks and a good ghost story.



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Book Review – The Hobbits of Tolkien by David Day

The Hobbits of Tolkien by David Day

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Hobbits of Tolkien by David Day



I have pretty much all of David Day’s Tolkien guide books, and The Hobbits of Tolkien is the newest addition to my very extensive Tolkien collection. In this illustrated guide, Day gives us the history of Hobbits from their creation by Tolkien, to their own fictional history, all the way up to the Lord of the Rings. It was fascinating to read about the ancient Hobbit races and founders of the Shire and their connections to ancient English peoples, folklore, and cultures, as well as why Bilbo Baggins was THE choice for the role of burglar in The Hobbit.

I expected an extensive and in-depth discussion of Hobbits by Day, and I was not disappointed. What did surprise me, in the best possible of ways, was that most of this book is filled with linguistics and etymology. Day explains how all words stemming from “hob-” (including the word “hob” and its many meanings) play some intricate role in the description and role that Hobbits play in Tolkien’s Middle Earth. In addition, Day teaches readers how various words in ancient and modern Germanic, Norse, Celtic, and English languages all contributed to the naming of characters, places, and races. My absolute favorite linguistic connection that Day makes is the connection between the names Smaug and Smeagol, both coming from ancient Germanic words that have to do with burrowing or twisting or squeezing into holes.


The illustrations are also absolutely gorgeous. My favorite is one of the watercolor paintings of The Shire.


I recommend this to every Tolkien fan, and to all linguists and etymologists, and even to those who just want to learn a bit more about Hobbits.



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Book Review – The Sleeper and the Spindle by Neil Gaiman and Chris Riddell

The Sleeper and the Spindle by Neil Gaiman

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The Sleeper and the Spindle by Neil Gaiman



The Sleeper and the Spindle is a retelling of both Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and Sleeping Beauty. Throughout the land a sleeping spell is spreading, caused by the sleeping girl in the tower of a castle in the next kingdom. The queen of this kingdom (Snow White) and her three dwarf friends must find a way into the sleeping princess’ castle and break the curse.

This isn’t my favorite retelling of either of these two fairy tales, nor is it my favorite Neil Gaiman but it was a fun story nonetheless. The storytelling style reminded me a lot of Susanna Clarke’s writing, and she does fantastic fairy tale retellings.
This story is not that character driven, unfortunately. We don’t get a lot of character from the queen, but we do learn of her relationship with her magical stepmother, and how she used this to overcome another magical woman seeking adoration and power. I thought that was a clever way of handling the hero/villain trope.

There isn’t much else to say about the story itself. It’s a simple story, and a great one for kids who want different versions of their classic fairy tales.

The illustrations by Chris Riddell are absolutely stunning, however, and I think that people of all ages should pick up this book if only for the art.



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Book Review – Kiki’s Delivery Service by Eiko Kadono

Kiki’s Delivery Service by Eiko Kadono

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Kiki's Delivery Service by Eiko Kadono


Kiki’s Delivery Service is about a young witch named Kiki who, at the age of thirteen, leaves home for a year to train and come of age. She leaves home with her black cat Jiji and finds a town by the sea, where, after some trials and tribulations, makes friends, starts a business, and leads a happy life.

Kiki’s Delivery Service is my favorite Studio Ghibli film, and it was only last year that I discovered it was based on this book! So of course I immediately bought it, but took my time in reading it. While the film will always be closer to my heart, this book was a cozy and wholesome read.

Some key differences between the book and the film:

The book talks more about the culture of the witches and Kiki’s family, explaining more why the witches have to live away from home after a year.

The book is much more episodic, with each chapter acting as a different sketch during each season Kiki lived in her seaside town. She makes many more friends than are shown in the film, including a girl just her age. I think that was important to include, especially after Tombo tells Kiki, basically, that she isn’t like other girls (and she finds it really weird to say). The other characters are very quirky and fun and give the reader a greater sense of the town’s character.

I am happy to say that Jiji is just as snarky as in the film, and as all black cats should be.

While this book is targeted towards a younger audience, I recommend it to readers of all ages. It is the perfect, wholesome coming-of-age story, filled with magic and learning how to be a person.



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Book Review – The Daughters of Ys by M.T. Anderson and Jo Rioux

The Daughters of Ys by M.T. Anderson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Daughters of Ys by M.T. Anderson


The Daughters of Ys is based on a Breton tale, and includes (at least what I think is) Celtic folklore. In this story, two young women are the princesses of the mythical kingdom of Ys, the daughters of a king and a sorceress. Rozenn, the older daughter, loves solitude and a more wild life. Dahut, the younger, gains the abilities of her mother and craves the power and rule of the kingdom. Both sisters must reconcile not only their differences, but their own lives in order to save their kingdom and their people.

I am a huge fan of Celtic and folklore retellings, and this one was superbly done. Rozenn is not from the original story, rather from the opera by Lalo, but I can see why the authors chose to include her. In the original story, Dahut is lost to the sea, seemingly without redemption for her deeds. Here, at least one daughter gets to live and prosper, though Dahut does get a chance at an afterlife of her own. I love how different the sisters are and why they are made to decide what they decide. Ultimately, they must reckon with powers beyond their control – powers that include references to Faerie, Celtic deities and monsters, and others.
I also liked the portrayal of the liminality between Celtic and Christian mythology, as at the time that this story would take place, Christianity was just peeking its head into a larger world.

I absolutely have to talk about the art. Jo Rioux has a gorgeous art style that reminds me a lot of the art style from the Cartoon Saloon films The Secret of Kells and Song of the Sea, very much in tune with the Celtic and mythological themes, as well as the liminality between the human and the spiritual world.
A lot of this graphic novel has to do with the sea, and Rioux presents even things that aren’t the sea – the shadows and plants and architecture – as a flowing substance that envelops the surroundings and its characters.

I recommend this amazing graphic novel to those who love mythological retellings, and those who like films like The Secret of Kells.



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Book Review – No Ivy League by Hazel Newlevant

No Ivy League by Hazel Newlevant

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

No Ivy League by Hazel Newlevant



No Ivy League by Hazel Newlevant is based on the author’s true story of when they spent a summer as a teenager working at the “No Ivy League”. The “No Ivy League” hired teens to strip invasive ivy from the forests of Oregon. During their time there, Hazel, who had been home-schooled, met other teens who not only had the experience of high school that they did not, but who also came from different, diverse backgrounds that they were not used to. This graphic novel illustrates how much they learned about themself, their privilege, and how to be with other teens.


I picked up this book at Antigone Books when I was visiting Tucson, Arizona. I was first drawn by Newlevant’s art style, which is absolutely beautiful. I really want to check out more of their work, if only to just look at their beautiful drawings. Each chapter has illustrations of the ivy that Hazel had to pull, and most of the book, because it is monochrome, relies a lot on shadows, which I think worked so well for showing the emotions of the characters.

The reason I gave this book three stars really is just because I don’t think I’m the target audience for this book. I did enjoy the story, and it was a neat glimpse into someone’s life and growth. However, I think this book would be great for people just getting out of high school or just starting college or whatever path they choose to take in their early 20s. I’m quite a bit past that age, but I still found this story a deep and meaningful experience.

No Ivy League was a quick and fun read, and I recommend to anyone in their teens/early 20s, or even those who just need to check their privilege.



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Book Review – Silver in the Wood by Emily Tesh

Silver in the Wood by Emily Tesh

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Silver in the Wood by Emily Tesh


I was recommended Silver in the Wood on Likewise when I asked for short books to read. This is quite a short book – I read it in less than two days via Scribd, and on my phone no less.

Silver in the Wood is a retelling of the Green Man folklore, featuring also fairy lore and all other forest and tree aspects of European folklore. Mr. Tobias Finch, the Green Man figure himself, meets the young and inquisitive Henry Silver, and the two form a bond as Mr. Finch seeks to protect him from the wood at Greenhallow. But when Spring arrives, Tobias is afraid for Silver, truly his love, because the Spring and Summer mean the arrival of Tobias’ old flame and the Lord of Summer himself, Fabian Rafela.

The Green Man is one of my favorite pieces of folklore, and Emily Tesh writes about it so well in this folkloric romance. She gives each character so much depth, even when they aren’t connected to the living wood of Greenhallow. My favorite character has to be Mrs. Silver, Henry’s mother, who is spunky, strong, wise, and inquisitive of the folklore that surrounds her. More than that, though, she becomes Tobias’ friend (if anyone was looking for found-family tropes, this is it!).

Also, I must say, it is a fabulous mlm romance.

This novella has what Weird Woods lacked in its storytelling. I cannot wait to read the sequel to this novella, as well as Tesh’s other works of fiction.

I recommend Silver in the Wood to all who seek the oldness and ancient parts of the world, which, in folklore, lie deep in the tales of the forests.



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Book Review – Jewish Folk Tales in Britain and Ireland by Liz Berg

Jewish Folk Tales in Britain and Ireland by Liz Berg

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Jewish Folk Tales in Britain and Ireland by Liz Berg


As a Jewish woman, who also recently found out that she’s 20% British, I thought that Jewish Folk Tales in Britain and Ireland was an amazing find. I love folklore, and I know so little about where the stories of my culture come from. Unfortunately, I ended up being a bit disappointed with Liz Berg’s work.

Jewish Folk Tales in Britain and Ireland is divided by different areas of England, Scotland, and Ireland. Before each story, Berg gives a brief overview of the history of the Jewish peoples that lived in the specific area of Britain. Then she goes on to tell a Jewish folk tale.

I will say, I did enjoy the stories. They reminded me of the stories that the rabbi would tell us every Friday on Shabbat when I was in elementary school. The feeling of nostalgia was a tad overwhelming.

Liz Berg, however, is not really a writer. I tried to find information on Berg, her history, writing career, etc. All I really found is that she is a storyteller and has preserved these Jewish folk tales. Because of this lack of information, I have assumed that this is Berg’s first attempt at writing anything major, but I will take corrections to my assumption.
The little historical overviews at the beginning of each chapter are not written as histories, but more in the style of the stories she’s about to recount. The histories felt flimsy and not very thorough. In addition to this lack of thoroughness, she never explained where each story came from. She would explain her little history, then jump completely to something that is seemingly irrelevant. Here is an example from the historical introduction for Dublin:

“The first Chief Rabbi of Ireland (1921-36) was Rabbi Dr Yitzhak haLevi Herzog, whose son, Chaim, was born in Belfast and brought up in Dublin. Chaim went on to become the sixth President of Israel, while his father was the first Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Israel, having been the Chief Rabbi of the British Mandate in Palestine. Chaim Herzog retained close links with Ireland, presenting a sculpture in honour of the fifth president of Ireland, Cearbhall O Dalaigh, which is in Sneem Sculpture parkk, Co. Kerry.
This story is from Poland, where Rabbi Dr Herzog was born.”

A short history about a well-known rabbi in Ireland, which is fine, but then Berg ends with “This story is from Poland, where Rabbi Dr Herzog was born.” Nothing about how the story came to Ireland, who told it to her, and why it is relevant to Rabbi Herzog, besides the fact that it is from Poland (which, in and of itself, is very irrelevant). Most of the chapters are like this, and because of that, I feel that I haven’t learned anything.

It is a shame, really, as I haven’t found many other books like this – I only have one other in my library, but it is larger and less focused on one country. If this book could be republished with more thorough historical contexts added in, I would buy it and keep it in a heartbeat.
I don’t know if I will keep this book, if only for the stories. My recommendation is to just go online to find these stories and the history behind them, as I don’t feel that this book is worth it in its present state.



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Book Review – By The Pricking Of My Thumbs by Agatha Christie

By the Pricking of My Thumbs by Agatha Christie

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

By the Pricking of My Thumbs by Agatha Christie


This was my second Agatha Christie mystery ever, and I am so happy I read it. By The Pricking Of My Thumbs is book 4 of the Tommy and Tuppence mysteries, in which Tuppence goes on a journey to a small village to solve the mystery of a missing woman from her husband’s aunt’s retirement home. This mystery, however, unravels more than she was bargaining for.

This is one of her later books, and I very much like the writing style. The fact that it takes place in the 60s, later than her more known books, is actually kind of refreshing. I love the fact that Tommy and Tuppence are solving mysteries even as older folks, and I so want to be like Tuppence as I grow older, though maybe with less murder.

I’m not making this review too long as there is not much to analyze. It’s a fun mystery and I would recommend it to everyone.

I read half of the book in hardback, and listened to the latter half on audio via Scribd, with none other than Captain Hastings himself, Hugh Fraser, narrating.



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Book Review – The Pine Barrens’ Devil by Leigh Paynter

I also reviewed this book for Reedsy Discovery.

The Pine Barrens’ Devil by Leigh Paynter

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The Pine Barrens' Devil by Leigh Paynter


As a lover of folklore, I thought The Pine Barrens’ Devil would be right up my alley. In a way, it was.
Leigh Paynter tells four short stories that take place each in different historical periods, in which the Jersey Devil makes an appearance either as an instigator or one who passes judgment.

The first story, “Where Darkness Lives”, is Paynter’s own version of how the Jersey Devil came to be. Like most other origin stories, this one takes place in colonial New Jersey, and involves an unwanted or transformed child.

The second story, “A Long Walk”, takes place during the Revolutionary War. The protagonist, Whippany, not only gets lost in the Pine Barrens, but in the throes of his own desires.

The third story, “The Game”, very much illustrates the character of both the Pine Barrens and the Jersey Devil. They like to toy with travelers to the forest, especially those who deserve punishment. In this story, that person who deserves punishment is an antisemitic hustler looking after his girlfriend’s son, a chess genius. This story takes place soon after the end of WWII.

The fourth and final story is “Reflection in the Lake”, almost a reverse retelling of The Little Mermaid, though instead of a sea-witch, it is the Jersey Devil that causes the transformations. The protagonist, Emily, does get more than she bargained for when trying to impress her classmates on a camping trip, losing herself to Lake Absegami in the end.


All of these stories have to do with characters wanting more than they have bargained for, and the Jersey Devil is more than happy to comply with their wishes. I was familiar with some of the Jersey Devil folklore before reading this book, though it never occurred to me that the Jersey Devil would act more like the biblical devil, rather than a weird-looking cryptid that eats livestock and frightens travelers. I like this different take on the Jersey Devil, though it does make its character a bit less mysterious. I am eager to do more research about the Jersey Devil and the many versions of its folklore.

Now I want to discuss the aspects of this book that I liked.

Generally the stories are good and entertaining, and Paynter’s use of different historical eras really emphasizes that the Jersey Devil is a constant and frightening force of folklore.

I like that the stories were not too long, and did feel very much like campfire stories, as I believe Paynter had intended. Perhaps she will publish another collection of stories about the Jersey Devil, which I would be eager to read.

Unfortunately, there were quite a few aspects of this book that did not make it a 5-star read.

While the stories were good, the writing style could be improved upon. Paynter tells too much and shows too little, using statement after statement after statement. However, I am happy to say that this got better with each story. I think the stories’ writing style would have been more coherent if she had gone over each story again. Overall, I think Paynter just needs to practice her storytelling, and find the writing style that suits her best.
Grammar and spelling were off here and there, which further reinforces my statement that Paynter should have gone over her stories and writing more before publishing.

Overall, I did enjoy the stories, and I would recommend The Pine Barrens’ Devil to those who love folklore and the many aspects of this American cryptid.



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