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 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 – Beautiful Darkness by Fabien Vehlmann, Kerascoet, and Helge Dascher (translator)

Beautiful Darkness by Fabien Vehlmann

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Beautiful Darkness by Fabien Vehlmann



Beautiful Darkness is a hard book to summarize, as there is so much going on in it, but I will do my best! Aurora is a girl who wants to marry her prince. But when a catastrophe strands her and many other little people in the wilderness, it is up to them to work together to survive. However, whether they will truly work together in harmony would remain to be seen.

I truly loved this book. First because the art is so gorgeous, I could just sit for hours perusing these beautiful illustrations. The characters are drawn such that you would think that this is a book for children, but it is deceiving, making the atmosphere of the story very unsettling.

Second, because of the themes. Picture Alice in Wonderland meets Thumbelina meets Lord of the Flies and you have Beautiful Darkness. And with all of those, there is the underlying question of what happens when we die. All of the little people, Aurora included, are forced out of the body of a dead girl, supposedly the real, human form of Aurora. The question is, do all of our little quirks, our many little personality traits survive after death? They do in this book, as little people with strong personalities, though often not for very long. Aurora, as the main consciousness of this girl, does.

There are some graphic images and themes in this book, so do remember that before going in to read it. However I absolutely recommend this book, for the art, the whimsy, and the dark realities that folk tales bring to everyday life.



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Book Review – Twelve Nights at Rotter House by J.W. Ocker

Twelve Nights at Rotter House by J.W. Ocker

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Twelve Nights at Rotter House



Twelve Nights at Rotter House is about Felix, a travel writer who writes about haunted places. His goal is to stay in the purportedly haunted Rotter House, or Rotterdam Mansion, for thirteen nights. He doesn’t believe in ghosts. But when he’s joined by his estranged best friend, and believer in ghosts, Thomas, strange things start to happen in the house that even Felix can’t explain.

This was a very enjoyable read, or I guess listen, as I listened to the audiobook on Scribd. It was really good on audiobook, and I recommend reading the book in that way if you can!
Definitely a suspenseful thriller, playing on my favorite ghostly authors like Shirley Jackson, and other haunted media like Vincent Price films and The Twilight Zone.

Here is what I liked about the book (these definitely outweigh the things I didn’t like):

Really suspenseful, and compelling, I sometimes had to stop what I was doing while listening and just listen, eyes wide and waiting for the other shoe to drop in the story.

I love me a good haunted house, and J.W. Ocker really knows how to write a good and spooky haunted house. Filled with creaks and footsteps, disembodied screams, even a severed arm that seemingly came from nowhere. It’s such a classic haunted house story, but with its own horrifying twist at the end.

I liked Felix, the main character. He was not necessarily likeable, but he is relatable, and you do feel for him, you want him to succeed, and you feel so bad if and when he doesn’t. What Ocker also does well is write the characters that we don’t see: Thomas and Felix’s wives; the ghostly inhabitants of the house. You felt like you wanted to get to know them, but at the same time keep them in the shadows.

Here is what I didn’t like so much, or what I was confused by (warning: some spoilers ahead):

In the end we aren’t sure if there are ghosts in the house or not. While it was a good plot device to make that ambiguous, I do kind of wish, for myself alone, that there were definitive ghosts present. I am just going to believe that the ghosts were in fact there.

The twist in the end was good, but the way it was executed was a bit confusing.
SPOILERS BEGIN HERE:
Felix finds out that Thomas was sleeping with his wife, and kills them both at Rotter House. But, why would Thomas and Felix’s wife be there having an affair when they know that Felix is there writing a book? To me that could have been explained better. Actually, I think it might have also been fun if Thomas’ own wife was the murderer. But, I do understand why Ocker ends the story this way. It was definitely thrilling.
SPOILERS END.

All in all, it was a good haunted house story, perfect for this coming autumn, if you are looking for something thrilling and spooky.



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Book Review – Bulwark by Brit Lunden

Bulwark by Brit Lunden

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Bulwark by Brit Lunden



Bulwark is about a sheriff of a town in Georgia of the same name, named Clay, whose daughter was recently kidnapped, leaving his marriage and psyche in shambles. When a car accident leaves two people rambling about witches and stolen children, Clay starts to wonder if there is a connection to the kidnapping of his child.

As any of you know, I’m a sucker for a good ghost story, and for witches, so you can understand why I was drawn in by this book. I also love me a good novella.
I would say this book started off very strong. It set a tragic scene, introduced a creepy, mysterious atmosphere that may or may not exist. The characters weren’t the strongest, but they played well in the atmosphere of the place. There was a good bit of folklore as well.

It’s a good, solid story, but I did have some issues:

I do think that the book might have been better if it was longer. Lunden tried to fit a lot into such a little book, and some of the lore and the exposition got a bit jumbled or lost. I know that there is an anthology that follows this novella, so maybe I will check that out and see if Lunden fleshed out any more of the story there.

There were also some tropes and themes in this story that were not bad by any means, but were possibly a little over-used. For example: the father whose child is either dead or missing and the marriage is failing; a witch that kidnaps children (although this I don’t mind, it was a pretty good Hansel and Gretel retelling).

The book has multiple endings, which, while different, both seemed to have been a bit rushed at the end, and the execution wasn’t the best. Again, I think if they had been written longer they would have been better.

All this said, it was a fun thriller, and I did have the creeps when I read it at night. It reminded me of the VVitch a little bit, though, unfortunately (spoilers) the witches don’t win in the end of this one.



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Book Review – The Woman in Black by Susan Hill

The Woman in Black by Susan Hill

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Woman in Black by Susan Hill


Susan Hill’s The Woman In Black really is a classic ghost story. The protagonist, Arthur Kipps, prompted by his family to tell them a ghost story, recounts his experiences performing his duties as a solicitor for the dead Mrs. Drablow at the isolated Eel Marsh House. There he sees what is known there as ‘the woman in black’ and learns of her cruel history, and the cruel revenge her spirit takes in turn.

Of course I started reading this because I saw the movie, but if I had known The Woman In Black was a book first, I would have dived right in. This ghost story is up there with stories by Shirley Jackson, and the gothic works of Edith Wharton and Henry James. However, I think this is one of my favorites so far.

It’s such an atmospheric novel, I could feel the cold and wet of the marshes surrounding Eel Marsh House, could hear the squelch of the mud as the horse and carriage were heard by Arthur to sink and die in the marsh over and over, repeating that singular moment in time.
One gets the sense of looking back into the gothic, stepping through the threshold of the present into a past as grey and grim as death.

There are actually only a few differences between the book and the movie. (Spoilers ahead)
Arthur lives past the tragedy of the woman in black and into old age, though still mourning the death of his son.
They do not actually find the carriage and dead son of the woman in black, though Arthur was able to figure out the entire mystery based on papers and the apparitions he saw and heard.

I listened to The Woman In Black on audiobook, which was a wonderful experience. The book was read by Paul Ansdell.

I recommend this book to all who want a classic ghost story, to all who want to step into the past, no matter how foreboding it might be.



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Book Review – The Turn of the Screw by Henry James

The Turn of the Screw by Henry James

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Turn of the Screw by Henry James


I started reading – listening to, rather – The Turn of the Screw for a reason that will probably surprise none of you. I recently watched The Haunting of Bly Manor, and, enjoying it so much, of course I had to read the original work. I was happy to find many similarities and differences that make the book and show respectively unique.

I’m sure you all know this is a ghost story. However, we do not know if the house, Bly Manor, is haunted by the ghosts of Peter Quint and Ms. Jessel, or if the ones haunting are actually the people who live there, Flora, Miles, Ms. Grose, or our protagonist herself. It is this unknowing that makes The Turn of the Screw such a compelling story. I do wish more of this ignorance took place in the show, as there is nothing more terrifying than the unknown.

Right now for me, The Turn of the Screw is right up there with other ghost stories such as The Haunting of Hill House, and the ghost stories of Edith Wharton. There’s something so simple in the telling of the story that makes the reader pay attention to the wonderfully creepy atmosphere of the haunted houses.

I will almost certainly have to read this book again because, while it is a well-written story, a lot of the language is, not unexpectedly, old-fashioned, and so I will just need a second look.

I listened to the audiobook on Scribd, which I recommend everyone gets; it is a thousand times better than Audible, and has much more content (no this is not an ad, but I would certainly not mind working with them!). The audiobook I listened to was narrated by Flo Gibson, but there are many other narrators to choose from.

I recommend this book to all of you who want the creeps and spooks this Halloween!



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Book Review – What the Dead Want by Norah Olson

What the Dead Want by Norah Olson

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

What the Dead Want by Norah Olson


What the Dead Want is the story of Gretchen, who, still mourning the mysterious loss of her mother, is asked by her great aunt to come help her sort out her old house. When Gretchen gets there, however, she is introduced to a world where history and the dead rule.

I was very much interested in the concept of this novel before I started reading it. If you’ve been reading my reviews for a while, you’ll know I’m a big fan of ghosts, ghost stories, and ghost lore. So, when a book gets recommended to me about someone who can capture spirits with a camera, I thought I had met my dream book. It sounded like a Victorian gothic dream come to life.

Unfortunately, however, What the Dead Want did not meet my standards. For one thing, the letters featured in the book that were meant to be written by someone from the 1860s read more like someone writing today. I think the historical additions to this novel needed more research.

The writing and the plot also did not meet expectations. The plot seemed very random, and the use of photographs to see ghosts and solve the mystery really weren’t used until the very end of the story. In fact, most of the plot did not pick up until almost near the end of the book, leaving the structure of the rest of the book feeling randomly written and way too introspective. While I liked the fact that this book includes lots of diversity in its characters, the characters, except for Gretchen, felt very much as only accessories, and the perspective of the book was trying to be like Eleanor’s in The Haunting of Hill House and not at all succeeding in it.

While this book has good representation and covers some of the heaviest topics known (i.e. slavery, war, etc.), the writing was sub-par, and the plot not well-executed. I am sure that there is quite an audience for this book, but sadly I am not part of it.



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Book Review – The Moonlit Road and Other Ghost and Horror Stories by Ambrose Bierce

The Moonlit Road and Other Ghost and Horror Stories by Ambrose Bierce

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The Moonlit Road and Other Ghost and Horror Stories by Ambrose Bierce

picked up Bierce’s collection of ghost stories because I am a huge fan of reading ghost stories written around the same time and style – think Edith Wharton, E.F. Benson, Shirley Jackson, etc.

While these stories were VERY spooky, and definitely enjoyable, I encountered some rather unfortunate mannerisms of the time; that is, sexism, racism, making men either murderers or gamblers. It is unlike Wharton’s stories, which center around circumstances outside of the protagonist’s control – Bierce’s characters often put the supernatural experiences upon themselves while also being kind of horrible people. I didn’t ignore it as I went, nor did I excuse the behavior of the characters, but I did feel these traits were what made the stories so centered upon the characters’ downfalls.

I don’t know if I would recommend this book to anyone who doesn’t like period ghost stories as much as I do.



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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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