Book Review – Slade House by David Mitchell

Slade House by David Mitchell

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


Slade House is a chilling, paranormal story – actually series of short, related stories – about a house and a set of twins who defy the laws of time and decay.

This book is like Coraline for adults, but without any inkling of warmth. Not to say that that’s a bad thing – this book is meant to feel cold, to feel fake and empty, to feel like a void, and it does it well.
I think, however, it was a little too empty and cold for me personally. But it was still a compelling read.

Here’s what I liked:

I liked that each character who gets lured to Slade House is already facing the brink of their own void. They come into this haunting already fragile, and that is why they are lost. I do wish that some of the characters had better qualities about them (I think Sally was the only one I actually empathized with), but that would mean they might not have been ripe for the picking.

I liked the atmosphere. This book is so wonderfully atmospheric, and David Mitchell makes each guest’s experience of Slade House different enough that you feel like you are yourself in a dream with them. The atmosphere of Slade House and its many forms is oppressive, in a way that sucks you in and refuses to let you go.

The biggest complaint that I have is that the book doesn’t go into the hauntings enough. Not of the house or the twins, but of the guests lost to Slade House. In the beginning, we get images of ghosts and their “residue,” but by the last couple of guests, the story has very little mention of these hauntings. I do wish we had seen more involvement from the ghostly inhabitants, maybe find out what happens to them in the end.

Overall, Slade House is a compelling book with a chilling and heavy atmosphere that will leave you wondering if it had all been a dream. I recommend it to those who liked books like Coraline, and other chilling haunts.



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Book Review – The Children of Green Knowe by L.M. Boston

The Children of Green Knowe by Lucy M. Boston

My rating: 4 of 5 stars



The Children of Green Knowe by Lucy M. Boston is about Tolly, a boy who goes to stay with his great-grandmother in the castle-like home Green Knowe, or Green Noah. There, Tolly not only finds a kindred spirit in his great-grandmother, but also in the animals, and actual spirits that reside at Green Noah.

This was such a lovely read, one I know my childhood self would have loved too. I discovered this book when I was reading Wintering by Katherine May. May said that this was a favorite ghost story that she liked to read during the winter months, and so of course I had to read it too. I wouldn’t necessarily call this book a ghost story – the spirits in this book didn’t feel negative or haunting in any way. Rather, I would call this a child’s adventure with a gothic feel. Actually, it sort of reads like The Turn of the Screw but with a lot more adventure and positivity. I very much enjoyed The Turn of the Screw, and I think that, plus the sense of adventure, was why I very much enjoyed Green Knowe.

Tolly is my ideal type of kid: imaginative, playing pretend, with a sense of adventure, and a love of ghosts-that-might-be-friends. He is akin to many of my other favorite literary characters: Aveline Jones, Tilly from Pages & Co., the narrator from The Ocean at the End of the Lane, Hilda, and many others.
His great-grandmother has this sort of spirit and personality as well, and I so want to be like her as I grow through my life.

This book is simply written, but the imagination within is so alive with adventure and stories. I did also like the parts where Tolly’s great-grandmother told him stories by the fire – it made the whole thing so very cozy, especially now in the last of the winter months.

I recommend this book to those who want a quiet and cozy adventure in a gothic setting to bring them back to their childhood.



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Book Review – The Bewitching of Aveline Jones by Phil Hickes

The Bewitching of Aveline Jones by Phil Hickes

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Bewitching of Aveline Jones by Phil Hickes


I am so, so happy that the first book I finished for 2022 was The Bewitching of Aveline Jones! I have been waiting to read this book after I read The Haunting of Aveline Jones last year, and just like that first book, this wonderful sequel did not disappoint.

In this book, Hickes brings back Aveline and her friend Harold into another dark and haunting mystery. However, instead of just an angry ghost to contend with, they have to deal with witches too. Now that was a great combination of paranormal plots!

As usual, I loved the haunting and paranormal elements that Hickes wrote. I also loved the folklore elements that he brought into this sequel – about the witches of England and the ways people used to ward against them (some of which I had only heard about recently from the Lore Podcast!). There are other elements of folklore that are included that I cannot mention (spoilers), but every single bit of folklore adds wonderful things to the story.

As always, I loved Aveline as a character. She reminds me so much of myself when I was around her age – always eager for the supernatural and the macabre. But The Bewitching of Aveline Jones also shows her ability to be the best of friends, and to be compassionate to those who are in need. She is a wonderful character, and I wish I had known about her when I was her age.

I do wish we had seen a bit more of Mr. Lieberman and Aveline’s aunt, I really enjoyed them in the first book. But this book featured Harold a lot, and I quite enjoyed his part in the story. What a knowledgeable lad!

I can predict that this is already going to be my top book for 2022, it was so good. This book and the first are easily two of my favorite books of all time. What a way to start the year!



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Book Review and Discussion – Horrid by Katrina Leno

Horrid by Katrina Leno

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Horrid



I will be doing a separate discussion of this book after the review.


Horrid was a book I started reading after being told it was like Gilmore Girls, but dark and scary. And honestly? That’s a pretty good assessment of this book. You get the close mother-daughter relationship, with a shady history with the grandparents and other family. There is even a deep, dark, secret that everyone knows, though, as opposed to Gilmore Girls, our main character, Jane, is not as privy to these secrets as she would like to be. Basically take Gilmore Girls and Jane Eyre and you have Horrid.

I immediately loved Horrid when I started reading it (actually listened to it on audiobook, which was pretty amazing). The writing is gorgeous, and I fell in love with the characters. Leno wrote the supporting characters so well, I almost want a book with just them in it. And the atmosphere of the old house that Jane and her mother move into was perfectly spooky and haunting.

I really did love this book, up until I reached the end, which, I feel was very much ruined by the direction the author decided to take with Jane. I won’t spoil that – that will be in my lengthier discussion on my blog – but I am disappointed because it was such a good book, right up until the disappointing last scene. And this is why I can only give it three stars. That and the fact that the story needed more ghosts (but I always believe stories need more ghosts).

I can honestly recommend most of this book, just be aware that the ending is not what you would expect.

Discussion (for those who have read the book or don’t mind spoilers)

As I said above, I really liked this story, up until the last scene, where Jane gives in to the ghost of her dead sister. The story was going so well, and Jane was actually having a pretty good life: good relationship with her mother, new friends (I loved Suzy and Will, favorite characters hands down), new job at a bookstore (which is totally my dream). The only thing that’s weird in her life is that her family has a shady past and there’s a secret the town knows.

And when she finds out the secret, all of a sudden she decides her life is terrible? I don’t think so. I hate that Leno wrote Jane’s character this way in the end. It was like she changed her whole personality for no reason. And so abruptly too!! Jane is a very nice person, and not bad at making friends. She has no idea about her dead sister, but when her dead sister just suddenly appears and tells her that everyone is terrible, Jane believes it? That’s not at all believable to me. To say I was absolutely shocked that Leno ended Janes character that way is an understatement. And when Ruth, her mother, tells her the truth about her sister, Jane is so uncharacteristically unfeeling.

I really loved this book before the ending. I even liked the subtle haunting, but honestly the ghost of Jemima Rose ruined the whole thing. So it was a disappointment, though I still like the first half of the book. I guess if you did want to compare it to Gilmore Girls again, Jane and Rory having character changes aren’t that far off? Though I would argue that Rory was kind of insufferable the whole time, while Jane abruptly became insufferable.

Sorry, I do know that was a bit rambly, but I have strong feelings about this book! I welcome any and all messages/comments about my discussion and opinions. Did you agree with me, or did you like the ending? Did it make sense to you?

Cheers!


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Why Ghost Stories?

As most of you dear readers know, I love ghost stories. About half of my reviews consist of ghost or paranormal stories. They are probably my favorite things to read in the whole world.

You might be asking, A. Siegel, why ghost stories? I often ask myself this question, and upon thinking of some answers, I thought I would share them with you.

First I’d like to answer “why ghost stories?” for me personally.

Most importantly, I think that they are fun! I love reading these stories, imagining I am the one exploring the haunted house or the haunted woods, trapped in the dark with some unknown presence that could end or change my life forever. And that oh so wonderful creepy feeling! It is my favorite feeling reading a book.

Really, though, I think my love for these stories stems back to my love and interest in ghosts in general. I think I always believed in ghosts in some capacity, but I never was truly intrigued by ghosts until I was around eleven years old. I think it must have been an episode of Ghost Hunters or some such show that triggered my hours and hours of researching reported hauntings of famous sites, of ways to tell when there was a ghost, of the scientific proof that evidenced these spirits. Suffice it to say, it had become an obsession that is with me to this day.
As I’ve gotten older, though, the energy that I had to try to find ghosts has calmed down a little. Now, my energy is spent in finding all the great ghost stories ever told! And believe you me, that is the most fun.

Next I will try very hard to answer the other aspect of “why ghost stories?”

Why are ghost stories important?

For a more academic and well-researched answer to this question, I recommend reading The Ghost by Susan Owens, which talks about the history of ghosts in human minds, art, and literature. However, I want to attempt to answer this from my own observations.
Ghosts have been on the minds of humans even before writing was a thing, and, of course, we know that humans have always had a perfectly understandable obsession with what happens when we die. I think the best answer that we have for why it is such an obsession even now is said very well by Susan Owens: “[Ghosts] remain as elusive as ever, and we still have no more idea now of what they are” than people did thousands, even hundreds of years ago. And I think that’s why humans chase ghosts.
Humans are always searching for what they don’t know – hell, people are still trying to figure out what dark matter is, and that is even farther away from us than ghosts are supposed to be. I think ghosts add one more thing on our own planet, even in our own psyches that we still haven’t figured out yet, and I think that is beautiful. I think it’s important that humans keep striving to figure out the mysteries of the world, and part of me is glad that ghosts are so unattainable. The other part of me, of course, wishes that I could have a conversation with a ghost. Maybe someday!
In any case, this elusive mystery to the human species has left us with so much art and literature and creativity, and I think that is the most important result of the (maybe) existence of ghosts.

With that brief explanation, I would now like to share with you a few of my favorite ghost stories and authors of ghost stories, and why I think they are so successful as ghost stories (I guess the question here would be “why these ghost stories?”).

The Haunting of Aveline Jones by Phil Hickes

In my opinion, middle grade books do some of the best work with regards to ghost stories nowadays. This book is no exception, and has all the classic ghost story elements you could want from a spooky book: a haunted house in a spooky seaside town, a ghost bent on revenge, and a young hero who must face the ghost and win or be taken forever into whatever ghostly realm awaits her. A lot of more adult ghost stories don’t include as likeable a hero as Hickes does in his book, but I think that having such a character is very important. With this protagonist, you get a stronger dichotomy between the living and the dead, so you know where the protagonist stands, which side she is on (that of the living).

An example of a ghost story with a more ambiguous protagonist is

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

This is probably one of the most famous haunted house stories ever told, and it lives up to its reputation. A young woman goes to the purportedly haunted Hill House to help conduct an experiment regarding the existence of ghosts. During her stay, however, her fragile mind traps her on the bring of living and death.
The great thing about this book is what a lot of great ghost stories do: they don’t let you know what’s real and what isn’t. Nor do they let the protagonists know what is real or not, and that is the scariest thing of all. Are there ghosts, or is it just yourself? And if there are ghosts, have you really been one of them all along?
I think these questions that the book poses mirror what we as humans always seek to answer: are we real? Or are we just part of some sordid imagination?

Like The Haunting of Hill House, many ghost stories tend to be very simple and atmospheric, which makes the spooky feeling all the more prominent. Some of my favorite authors that write this way are,

Shirley Jackson

Susan Hill (The Woman in Black)

Henry James (The Turn of the Screw)

Ambrose Bierce (The Moonlit Road)

Edith Wharton (The Ghost Stories of Edith Wharton)

Stephen King (The Shining)

Daphne DuMaurier (Rebecca)

There are so many others that I haven’t named, and many others that are still waiting for me to read!

Now, when you go back a while in history, the way ghosts are presented changes a bit. For those of you who don’t know, my expertise is in classical literature and folklore, including what the Greeks and Romans thought of the dead. We all know that the majority of spirits in these myths are seen in the Underworld – examples include the shade of Eurydice, Orpheus’ wife; the shades of Ajax, Agamemnon, and others who greet Odysseus and tell him what has happened since he left Troy; in a similar vein, the shade of Anchises who leads his son, Aeneas, through the Underworld and tells him of his destiny. However, there are stories from Roman writers that talk of ghosts in a more realistic setting.

Pliny the Younger, whom I have dubbed the silliest of boys, was a Roman political figure. He wrote many letters to his friends, and even the emperor! In one of these letters, he tells a story. Or, rather, he tells his friend that he heard from his friend that his friend’s friend saw a ghost once (yes he writes letters like this ALL THE TIME and it’s GREAT). One of the stories Pliny tells involves a man who buys a large house, but is warned that the house is haunted. So, the man stays up all night working and waiting for the ghost. Sometime in the night, he hears the clanking of chains, and sees a ghost with those chains pointing him to a spot in the house. In the morning, the man digs up the spot where the ghost pointed, and there finds a skeleton shackled with, you guessed it, chains. If that sounds familiar, you would be right, as we’ve seen the same theme of ghosts with clanking chains in such tales as A Christmas Carol.

These all have been done by Western authors, but one last one I want to mention is from Japanese mythology, called Kwaidan. These short stories, which were compiled by Lafcadio Hearn in the late 19th century, are very atmospheric and are very much tied into Japanese culture (I think the majority of it is Buddhist, but correct me if I am wrong). In many of these stories, ghosts are either helpful to our characters, or they offer some sort of warning or premonition of death.
I very much recommend Kwaidan, for not only are the ghost stories fun and spooky, but it gives an insight into how other cultures view the dead.

Ghost stories are so important, personally and to the human species in general, it is no wonder we keep writing them.

I hope this has answered the question “why ghost stories?” thoroughly, and I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about one of my favorite topics!
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New Piece: Why Ghost Stories?

Hi all! I’ve written a new post (article? piece? something) about why I love ghost stories so much, why I think they’re important, and what my favorite ghost stories are and why. 

It’ll be published officially on Monday July 26, but I’ve made it available early on Patreon! 

So stay tuned for this rather fun post I’ve written, or go now to my Patreon to read it sooner!

Thanks, all, and happy reading!

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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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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