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 – 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 – 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 – 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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2021 Reading Wrap-Up

I feel like I have not needed books so much in a long time as I have needed them this year. It’s been a tough, though happy, year – I’m in a period of transition, and lots of waiting for things to happen. But reading many of the books I did has gotten me through the time. I wanted to share with all of you the books that helped me, the ones I enjoyed so fully and made my heart feel warm.

This year I read 40 books for the GoodReads yearly reading challenge, which is a little more than my normal average of about 20-30 books. I wanted to share with you the ones I loved the most, my top 5 I think, maybe with a special mention or two. Now, the ones I loved the most do not necessarily have a 5-star rating from me – some of them have 4 or 5 stars.

The first one I want to mention is The Haunting of Aveling Jones by Phil Hickes. This was the perfect ghost story for me this year: it had an inquisitive bookworm for a main character, a haunted house, a stormy sea where ghosts and deaths repeat themselves. So spooky and fun, Hickes really found the perfect style and atmosphere for a great haunting tale.

Next is Widdershins from the Wyborne and Griffin mystery series by Jordan Hawk. First, let me just say, what an author! Hawk has written so, so many books, probably hundreds as far as I can tell! In addition, he is a trans author who writes mostly lgbt fiction, and it’s all GOOD from what I have read so far. But I digress. Widdershins, the first book in the Wyborne and Griffin series, is probably one of my favorite mlm romances ever, and definitely one of my favorite paranormal romances ever. My friend and I, who are both classicists (she is an archaeologist and I am a philologist), joke that I am like Wyborne, who is a philologist of ancient languages, and she is like Christine who is an archaeologist. It’s so up my alley, and up the alleys of any classicist and paranormal lover. It’s so well-written and fun as well. I could gush over this book forever, and I know I’m rambling, but it’s just so good!!

I read so much lgbt fiction this year, especially mlm fantasy, and Widdershins was only one of them. I think I read at least 10, but I will only mention a few.

The next one I want to mention is Magic’s Pawn by Mercedes Lackey. Not only is the lgbt representation wonderful in this book, but the world-building and characters are absolutely amazing. I also like that she makes the main character grow so much into himself – he’s very unlikeable in the beginning, but grows to be a compassionate and real person. I’m actually kind of afraid to read the rest of the books in this trilogy for fear that they don’t live up to the standard that this one set for me. I am going to read them at some point though!

The last lgbt book I want to mention that I absolutely loved was Seven Tears At High Tide by C.B. Lee. Not only does this story have folklore, the sea, and good lgbt representation (bi characters!), but it is such a wholesome and sweet story, I found myself tearing up multiple times just because the story was so lovely. I love going back and rereading sections of the book that have our two protagonists together being cute. I really want to check out C.B. Lee’s other books. I know she (pretty sure she) has written an lgbt Treasure Island retelling, which sounds really intriguing.

And last, but not least, is the most recent book I’ve read, In The Company Of Witches by Auralee Wallace. This is just the coziest book ever. It has everything I could want in a book: mystery, cute towns with b&bs, witches and magic, ghosts, and just the most loving, if not totally crazy, family. This is a book you read cozied up under a blanket with a hot drink on a cold evening. I really need more books like this.

I just want to list some honorable mentions for books I really enjoyed this year, without getting into detail about them – just know I loved them a lot, and you all should very much check them out.

Beautiful Darkness by Fabien Vehlmann

The Faerie Hounds of York by Arden Powell

The Lost Spells by Robert Macfarlane and Jackie Morris (This one actually got me through the beginning of winter in Winnipeg)

The Hobbits of Tolkien by David Day

Silver in the Wood by Emily Tesh

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving

~~~~~~~~~~

And those are all the books I loved this year! I can’t wait to find out what next year will bring, both in terms of books and in terms of where my life is headed. I’m hoping the transitional periods end soon, but until then, I have many books on my tbr to keep me occupied!

I hope you all have a wonderful holiday, a happy New Year, and a good start to 2022!

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Book Review – In The Company of Witches by Auralee Wallace

In the Company of Witches by Auralee Wallace

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In the Company of Witches by Auralee Wallace



In the Company of Witches is about Brynn, who, after the loss of her husband, feels she can no longer do magic. However, when a murder happens right inside her family’s inn, she goes to try to solve the mystery of who committed the crime to clear her family’s name. During this harrowing experience, she realizes that maybe she can reconnect with her magic.

I loved this book, pure and simple. It has everything I could want in a story: mystery, magic, witches, ghosts, a loving family in a small town. The writing style is simple, but Wallace really brings each character and place to life with those simple words. I could imagine being in the small town and interacting with everyone that Brynn interacted with.

My favorite part, I think, was that even though they were all a little bit crazy in their own ways, Brynn’s family, the Warrens, were so loving to each other and tried to be supportive when they could. Even the animals, Dog the crow and Faustus the cat, lent their support where they could. That plus the witches and ghosts is everything I could ever want in life, and Wallace portrayed this family so, so well. Also, it brought back some nostalgia as it reminded me a bit of Sabrina the Teenaged Witch (from the 90s)!

The mystery was fun as well. You really could not be sure who did what in terms of the crimes committed, and that kept me on the edge of my seat. A whole family is involved, well, technically two families, and secrets are kept everywhere.

I absolutely recommend this book to anyone who wants a little magic and mystery in their life. What a great book to end my reading challenge on this year!



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Book Review – The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving



I cannot believe how long it’s taken me to read The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. I grew up with the Disney version, which definitely creeped me out as a kid (in a good way), and I watched the tv show (the recent one where Brom is the headless horseman). I was not prepared for how much better the original story was!

Firstly, the characters are so much worse than in any adaptation I’ve seen, and it is marvelous. If Ichabod Crane was alive today, he’d totally be an antivaxxer and use healing crystals. Brom is so much more of an asshole, but honestly he and Katrina Van Tassel truly deserve each other.

What I loved most, though, were the elements of folklore presented in this story. I’d heard of similar legends in many parts of the United States – the ghost of a grey or white woman wailing in the woods or a graveyard; witches in the woods and their ghosts; the ghosts of soldiers trying to find one missing body part or another. These are common stories, but the way Irving told them through the reception of the superstitious Ichabod Crane, made the legends come to life in dark and fastastical ways.

Now (kind of spoilers here but also not cause most know this story), it is very likely that Ichabod’s demise at the hands of the headless horseman were actually carried out by Brom and his friends, but it couldn’t be proved. And, truly, isn’t that how legends are born? Through speculation and superstition.

I really enjoyed this story, and it was very nice to listen to on audiobook – I listened to the narration of Anthony Heald, who did a fantastic job. It really is a story to listen to with a warm drink and under a cozy blanket, and maybe even in front of a fire on a chilly autumn night.



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Book Review – The Ghost Garden by Emma Carroll

The Ghost Garden by Emma Carroll

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Ghost Garden by Emma Carroll


The Ghost Garden takes place just before the start of WWI. Fran is a young girl working with her father in the garden on the estate where they live. One day, Fran finds a bone in the garden. She thinks this is odd and mysterious, until more odd and mysterious things start to happen around the estate.

I wouldn’t call this a ghost story; rather, it is a coming-of-age story with ghosts in it. I really like how Emma Carroll portrays the mystery and childhood wonder in Fran’s explorations of the gardens and the mysteries they bring to her. There is a sense of whimsy, but also of fear as the mysteries turn into predictions of terrible things to come.

The writing is very beautiful. This is my first book by Carroll, but I am eager to read her other works (of which, I am happy to say, she seems to have many!). In this particular story, I get a lot of Secret Garden vibes, and, especially with the exploration of tombs and ghosts, I have ended up feeling very nostalgic for my own childhood. I usually don’t like war stories, but this one dealt with the impending war in a very healthy and subtle way.

I recommend this book to those who want some nostalgic feelings, and some sense of whimsy.



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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!