Reading Update: Returning to my Passions

Dear Readers,

You might have noticed that I have not posted many reviews for a while, and that they have been few and far between. I do have an explanation, and that it is all getting better.

The explanation:

For this I need to go a bit back into last year. I graduated from my M.A. program in Classical Studies in October 2020. Up until then I had had no breaks in between my schooling. I had seven years of undergrad (it lasted a while due to mental illness and finding what I really wanted to study), and then another two years of grad school. That is nine years of uni and college straight after high school with no real breaks (I’m not counting summer really). Up until this point, I never really knew what it was like to not be in school. That is what I have been trying to figure out for the last few months. And the pandemic did not make this any easier. I’ve been home almost the entire time – which is not at all a wholly bad thing; I have my partner and my pupper here and I love them both so so much – and have had no real opportunities to experience anything different than what has been going on. I was a research assistant for a while, though it was freelance and all work-from-home, so it eventually became too unstructured and unfulfilling for me. I tried then to do creative things like art, music, and, of course, reading. Eventually though, also because of the lack of structures in my days, those lost interest for me too. Suffice to say, it’s been a hell of a difficult time.

Now, though, I am looking for more rewarding work, and I am trying to create structure at home. So far this has been working, and I have been seeing reading at the end of the day as a rewarding experience. However, I still don’t have the desire to read anything on my TBR. I don’t even have the desire to reread some of the books I liked before. So I had to ask myself going forward: what do I like? I then thought about things I liked as a kid and a teen, things that brought out my passions and obsessions. I remembered what they were and it kindled a new passion and inspiration for me. These passions are Lord of the Rings, folklore, and ghosts. I never actually lost these passions, I just got distracted for a while with things I thought were more important. Now I remember their importance, and have been reading actively books in these genres for the past week or so! I’m looking mostly at Tolkien books right now, as that is my most deep passion.

Thankfully, I have a huge collection of Tolkien literature to read. This past week I’ve read The Hobbits of Tolkien by David Day (you can read my review of it here) and I am now setting out to finish Tolkien’s essays and stories Tree and Leaf and Leaf by Niggle. I am also getting so very inspired by the history, etymology, and folklore of Tolkien’s work that I am considering reading some of the Poetic Edda and Volsung Sagas next!

Now of course I am going to have doubts about these things too: shouldn’t I branch out in terms of literature? Is it stupid to stay with the same genres all the time?

First of all, I know I will branch out when I feel the time is right. Right now is not the right time for me. Second, it is NEVER stupid to stay with your favorite stories or genres. Never dismiss the things you are passionate about, for I am not going to dismiss mine. Staying with my true passions has helped my mental recovery, and may lead me to wonderful things in the future. I am excited to find out where it takes me.

As for ghosts, I am fulfilling that passion with much watchings of Buzzfeed Unsolved Supernatural, and I am slowly listening to Tunnel of Bones by Victoria Schwab on Scribd.

I won’t be doing a lot of book reviews for the Tolkien books I read, unless there is something very particular in them that I want to talk about. You can still keep up with what I read, though, here on my Goodreads page!

But yes, Dear Reader, thank you for reading this long and rambling explanation for where my life has led me. I hope you all are rediscovering passions or finding new ones in this hell of a time. Take care of yourselves, and I shall speak to you very soon!

All the love, and happy reading!

-A. Siegel

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 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 – 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 – 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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Book Review – Kwaidan: Stories and Studies of Strange Things by Lafcadio Hearn

Kwaidan: Stories and Studies of Strange Things by Lafcadio Hearn

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Kwaidan by Lafcadio Hearn



As most of you probably know by now, I am a HUGE fan of ghosts and ghost stories and folklore concerning ghosts. I had heard about this book from YouTuber and author Jen Campbell, who recommended this book about Japanese ghost stories highly. I must say that I was hardly disappointed when I did read this book.

Not only did I get to read about ghosts, but in doing so I got to learn more about Japanese culture and folklore, a subject I wasn’t, and still am not, very familiar with. There were ghost stories regarding samurai, Buddhist ghost legends, and quite a few stories about death and ghosts regarding love and marriage, which I did not even consider could be a category in and of itself!

There are two main reasons I gave this book 3 stars instead of 4 or 5. The layout of this particular edition was only okay – I would have preferred it to be more organized in terms of style and layout. At the end of this book, we get a few essays about insects from Hearn, our early 20th century scholar and translator. I am fine with these sections, but Hearn didn’t relate them to Japanese ghost folklore as much as I would have liked.

In any case, this book of Japanese ghost stories was informative and intriguing. I recommend to all who want to learn more about ghosts in non-western settings.



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Book Review – Through the Woods by Emily Carroll

Through the Woods

Through the Woods by Emily Carroll

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


If I had to pick a word to describe Through the Woods it would be gorgeous. I am always looking for new fairy tale and folklore retellings with horrific twists, and this gorgeous book did not at all disappoint. Through the Woods consists of seven tales, each one encapsulating some fear that we all see lurking in the heart of fairy tales.


The first tale simply illustrates the fear of what could be hiding under the bed.
The second, a sort of retelling of Little Red Riding Hood, illustrates the harshness of winter and the fear of possibly losing one’s family.


The third could be a retelling of any number of tales, including Bluebeard, The Fall of the House of Usher and the Tell Tale Heart by Edgar Allan Poe, and vampire stories. The fear expressed here is the uncertainty of an arranged marriage – and of course the odd fear of the dead wife coming back for vengeance.


The fourth shows a man’s fear when a seemingly perfect copy of his brother comes back from the dead. Invasion of the body snatchers? Perhaps!


The fifth story is all about ghosts and spiritualism, both the reality and fears that come with it. A young woman who pretends to commune with ghosts. Her friend who can actually see ghosts. Who is more afraid?


The sixth story is similar to the fourth in body-snatching, albeit a bit more gruesome. The creatures featured in this story are what I would associate to the term “skin-walkers.” The fear here is, again, losing one’s family – and perhaps even oneself – and not being able to trust those around you.

he last story, which is not really a story, more of a moral, reiterates one of the big themes of all the stories in this book: getting lost in the woods, and either coming out different, or being eaten by the wolf.

I read this book so quickly, that’s how good the stories were – I didn’t want to put them down for a moment. And Carroll’s illustrations and art in this book had me absolutely entranced. I honestly may go back and just look at the art. It sets the moods of each story so well, readers will be mesmerized and enchanted, just as one would venturing into the strange woods that star in each story. I would love to see Carroll create more tales like this. It is the perfect bedtime story, and the perfect midwinter read.
I recommend Through the Woods to those who love fairy tale and folklore, who want to explore fears a bit, and who want to get lost in a good and gorgeous book.



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