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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Book Review – The Ghost Stories of Edith Wharton

The Ghost Stories of Edith Wharton

The Ghost Stories of Edith Wharton by Edith Wharton

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


I love ghost stories, especially those that border on the gothic. What I consider to be a good ghost story is when the writer takes the mundane and colors it with tiny traces of the supernatural, just enough to make the reader feel uneasy. Edith Wharton is among such writers, writing with such frankness as to lull the reader into a false sense of security. She even seems to add a sort of game for her readers. Going into each of her stories I knew there would be a ghost somewhere, but the fun and mystery is to speculate who the ghost is going to be and where. It could be the old gardener, a woman who died in the house long ago, it could even be the master of the house! After that it’s just a matter of how we the readers and the protagonists of each story choose to deal with the ghost presented to them.

I recommend this book to all who are ready for the spookiest season of the year, and who want some fun and games with the supernatural.




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Thoughts on The Missing Girl by Shirley Jackson (and thoughts on Shirley Jackson in general)

Today I have just added The Missing Girl to my ever-growing collection of Shirley Jackson stories. If you do not know yet, Shirley Jackson is my favorite author. Now that is not to say that she has written my favorite book (that is Tolkien). Rather, I have loved all her work consistently, and the genre she writes in is my favorite: horror/thriller/downright odd. The three stories in The Missing Girl are no exception to my love of Shirley Jackson’s work.

Most of you have probably watched the recent show “The Haunting of Hill House”, based on Jackson’s book of the same name. The book is wonderfully spooky and psychologically compelling, dealing with the main character Eleanor’s neuroses about herself and how she fits into the world, and ultimately how she fits into the scheme of Hill House itself.
Shirley Jackson takes a mundane world and turns it upside down. Often her stories center on a female main character living a normal life – whether as a wife, a secretary, an old woman living alone in her house, friendly to all her neighbors (remember that these books were written from around the 40s to te 60s). These characters step out of their normal routine by doing something that wouldn’t seem abnormal – going on an errand, sending a letter, visiting a friend, getting away for the weekend – and she meets the abnormal on the way, getting lost in some way on the journey. Similar plots happen in the three stories of The Missing Girl.

(Spoilers ahead)

In the first story, “The Missing Girl”, a 13 year old girl goes missing from a summer camp. Her roommate didn’t think anything of it at the time because the girl said she would go out. When the camp realizes she is missing they do what people normally do when someone goes missing: they search. However, as the search goes on longer, the camp and the girl’s family start to realize that the girl may not have ever actually attended the camp as she was supposed to. At the end, the question becomes, did the girl ever exist in the first place?

In the second story, “Journey with a Lady”, a young boy travels on a train alone, when a lady sits down on the train next to him. It turns out she is running from the law. The boy at first does not want anything to do with the lady, but when he finds out she is a fugitive and why, he spends time with her, giving her a sense of normalcy and life before she has to turn herself in.

The last story, “Nightmare”, lives up to its title. A secretary, Miss Morgan is tasked by her boss to deliver a package to someone across town. Along the way she sees advertisements for people to find a “Miss X”, who coincidentally (or perhaps not so much) looks exactly like Miss Morgan. After hours of trying to escape the advertisements and people following her, knowing she looks like their “Miss X”, she succumbs to this new role into which the world has put her. And ultimately, she is very happy with the change.

One of the key points in Jackson’s writings is the stepping over the threshold into a different reality. Sometimes the reality is better than the old one, as with Miss Morgan. Other times it leads to loss and confusion, dealings with supernatural beings, or otherwise, death as in Eleanor’s case. The liminality of these stories makes the reader (i.e. myself) feel so wonderfully uneasy, and has them wondering what threshold they have yet to cross, or what supernatural and odd aspects of life are waiting for them in a version of their own realities.

Book Review-The Curious Case of Benjamin Button by F. Scott Fitzgerald

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button by F. Scott Fitzgerald

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


I read “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” for the first day of the 2019 Reading Rush, for the book to movie adaptation challenge. The short story is very different from the 2008 film, taking place from the late 19th century to the early 20th. The only thing that is the same is the fact that Benjamin Button ages backwards.

Because this book was written in 1922 and takes place first just before the American Civil War, there were some things I as a modern reader had to get used to, like the sort-of-subtle racism and antisemitism that were the norms at the time.

However, psychologically and socially this book was very interesting. First because the anti-aging of Benjamin Button was clearly inspired by the genetic disorder progeria, basically by which a person is born already aging, and these people generally do not live long. With Benjamin Button, though, his disorder or whatever it is also affects his personality, giving the reader a different perspective on the idea of growing up and coming of age.

One of the big social aspects in this story corresponds with how people even today treat mental illness, chronic illness, and simply illness in general. Most of those close to Benjamin Button blamed him for his disorder of aging backwards, claiming he was being stubborn in not stopping it, and having no consideration for anyone else in relation to it. Sound familiar? I wish I could say things have changed, but this is a very good representation of how people react to such things.

I thought this story gave an interesting social commentary on life in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and is worth a read even now. It’s no Great Gatsby, but “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” has a depth all its own.



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Book Review: The Merry Spinster by Mallory Ortberg

The Merry Spinster: Tales of Everyday Horror

The Merry Spinster: Tales of Everyday Horror by Mallory Ortberg

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


I am always a lover of fairytale/folktale retellings, especially when the author has decided to focus on the darker, perhaps hidden aspects of the tale. This is how Mallory Ortberg has retold tales in The Merry Spinster. What is really interesting is how Ortberg has chosen to portray human behavior in the characters of these tales, which I find to be the most uneasy and horrifying aspect.

The tales he has written include those inspired by the well-known tales such as Cinderella, The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, and various other tales from the Grimms et al. However, Ortberg has included other well-known stories that do not necessarily fall under the cannon of fairytales we all know, or are else rather obscure. My favorite of these that he has included under this category is The Daemon Lover, which I came to love due to Shirley Jackson, to whom Ortberg has a similar writing style, thereby making me personally love The Merry Spinster all the more. Others include The Velveteen Rabbit, Frog and Toad, and various biblical references. The fact that Ortberg has chosen these other stories instead of just the usual cannon of fairytales makes him quite unique as an author and a storyteller, and I would love to see what other stories he can make into tales of horror.

The only story that really did not meet my expectations was “Some of Us Had Been Threatening Our Friend Mr. Toad”, based on The Wind in the Willows. I felt like the story could be longer, with a bit more explanation, but that simply could mean that this particular tale is not for me. Nonetheless I found it interesting and not out of sync with the rest of the book.

I recommend this collection of stories to anyone who likes a good, twisted fairytale, and to those who, like me, are big fans of Shirley Jackson’s tales of everyday horror.



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Book Review – Six Scary Stories by Stephen King et al

Six Scary Stories

Six Scary Stories by Stephen King

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


Stephen King would know exactly which stories would make the reader absolutely chilled to the bone, and these six are no exception. These stories, each written by a different and talented writer, kept me on the edge of my seat, and I could feel my heart pounding.

“Wild Swimming”, the first story by Elodie Harper, is the perfect story for illustrating the complete uneasiness one feels in a ghost town. There is the sense someone is watching constantly, some part of history (usually a grisly history) peeking out of the shadows to those coming to learn its secrets.

“Eau-de-Eric” by Manuela Saragosa is one of those stories that is themed around living dolls, or rather in this case, living teddy bears. Being a parent in such a situation, knowing that some supernatural, or preternatural, power has more control than you do is horrifying. Even more horrifying is when the child is in on it – and we all know how perceptive children can be.
My only real criticism for this story is that I would have liked to see more about the relationship between the father (i.e. the bear) and the child.

“The Spots” by Paul Bassett Davies was not my favorite story of the bunch, but it gave me chills nonetheless. For some reason I have issues with horrors and thrillers that centre around a fascist state. However, the theme of this story, the leopard’s spots, was very clever symbolism. Here you have a man working for a person he calls “Leader”, who has him trying to count the spots on a hungry leopard, all in vain. The man has conflicted feelings towards the end of the story, making him the leopard whose spots he is trying to count.

“The Unpicking” by Michael Button was beyond disturbing. Think Toy Story meets Lord of the Flies. I will not say too much about this story, except that I will now be very wary of what happens with the inanimate inhabitants of my room at night.

“La Mort de L’Amant” by Stuart Johnstone also did not impress me as much. Though one can’t help but be disturbed when encountering a suicidal man on a bridge who says “everything’s fine!” with a smile on his face.

And lastly “The Bear Trap” by Neil Hudson felt the most like something Stephen King would write. Hudson based elements of the characters on the characters from Calvin and Hobbes – the protagonist of this story being named Calvin. This story is what Calvin and Hobbes would look like in a post-apocalyptic setting.

Overall an intense and enjoyable read. Would recommend to anyone who likes a good chill up their spine.




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