The Haunting Season includes eight short stories full of mind-bending haunts and cold winter nights. This was a wonderful read to get me into the spooky mood, and the cold, dark, and snow of Winnipeg was the perfect atmosphere for these wintertime spooks.
Overall, I thought all of the stories were good. I will, however, briefly go through each story and discuss my favorites and least favorites. The short, spoiler-free review will end here with this recommendation: if you want to get back into the spooky mood, this is a great book to read on a cozy winter night.
Discussion of the stories:
Story 1 – A Study in Black and White by Bridget Collins
If you guessed that this story has to do with chess, you would be right. And that premise alone got me into the story. An entire house that is obsessed with chess, even the garden is a giant chessboard. However, I did not like the climax of the story so much. It is indeed a haunted house, with its own chess-playing ghost. But that’s all it does. The protagonist is terrified for his life of this ghost, and all the ghost wants to do is play chess. If the ghost did have nefarious, chess-related schemes, the author needed to expand upon it further.
Story 2 – Thwaite’s Tenant by Imogen Hermes Gowar
This is your classic, gothic haunted house story. A woman and her son have come to an ancestral home to escape her tyrannical husband. But she soon discovers that the ghost of this old house is another tyrannical husband, bent on making all the women in that house miserable. What I liked, though, is that even though things went wrong at every turn, the protagonist knew her own mind and ended up better for it.
Story 3 – The Eel Singers by Natasha Pulley
I loved this story, I think it was my favorite of the anthology. This is a mind bend if I ever read one. A man and his clairvoyant friend (partner?) go to an old village where the clairvoyant is not able to see the future. However, they find out that the reason for this is more sinister than they would have liked. This has elements of folklore that I love – going somewhere where old traditions live on, a Lovecraftian eldritch whatever that is trying to eat them, the bog. What I also liked is that you don’t really know what is going on, you only have hints – to me, the not knowing is the scariest part of these stories.
Story 4 – Lily Wilt by Jess Kidd
You know the story about Carl Tanzler? The guy who was obsessed so with a young woman that he kept her dead body and lived with it several years after she died? This is like that story, but also kind of the opposite? Basically the same sort of plot, except the man meets the woman after she is dead, and the whole thing is her idea. I liked this story because we really don’t know what it is that’s causing the dead woman to remain earth-bound. Is it even the same woman? Is it a demon or some other spirit? Either way, it does not end well for her. I also liked the author’s use of the photographic technology available at the time this story takes place, and the creepy lore of afterimages in old Victorian photographs. I could see this being made into a movie or short.
Story 5 – The Chillingham Chair by Laura Purcell
This story is basically a murder mystery that never gets resolved. Yes, we find out what happens, but the main character is sort of trapped in such a way that she can’t tell anyone, and no one will listen. Think Gaslight meets Crimson Peak. This story was the most nerve-wracking for me because the protagonist was for all intents and purposes trapped. No one would believe her anything, except the ghosts who were trying to help her. Death is almost certain for her, even as she realizes what is going on. The imagery of the rooms and the titular chair is very claustrophobic, but I like it, and I do hope that it was the author’s intention. This atmosphere makes the story that much more frightening.
Story 6 – The Hanging of the Greens by Andrew Michael Hurley
This, to me, was the weirdest story, and the most Christmassy. Think of it as a sort of reverse Christmas Carol, where the past of someone else comes to the protagonist in order to right a past wrong, and the protagonist is only too willing to help. This is one story where I wish the author had described just a bit more of the supernatural phenomena, or the folklore behind the “Greens” of this story. There wasn’t much real fear to be felt, only a lot of sadness. Then again, many ghost stories are just symbols of sadness, and the author does this well.
Story 7 – Confinement by Kiran Millwood Hargrave
This story was very clearly based at least partly on The Yellow Wallpaper, but what’s also cool is that the author based the villain of this story on Amelia Dyer, a notorious historical serial killer. This serial killer, however, is a malevolent ghost in this story, the one driving the protagonist mad during her confinement after giving birth. Unlike The Yellow Wallpaper, this story does not take place in just one room. In fact, the journey from the protagonist’s room, through all of the snow, and to the church a ways away is an important spatial feature. I also liked how we as the reader knew for certain, even if others didn’t, that the protagonist was not mad.
Story 8 – Monster by Elizabeth Macneal
This isn’t really a ghost story, at least I don’t really think so. It’s about a man who wants to discover a new type of dinosaur, but gets a boy killed in the process. He then goes mad, thinking that the dinosaur is the boy, and vice versa. This is a story with a definite unreliable narrator. I think this is my least favorite story, mostly because it’s not very haunted, it’s more like you’re in the mind of an insane person, which can be scary, but it’s not my cup of tea. I did like the atmosphere of the stormy coast though!
And those are my thoughts! I definitely recommend this anthology for a cozy winter night. This book also makes me want to check out the other works of each author.
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Autumn is my favorite time to read. It is the beginning of the cozy season — perfect for snuggling under the blankets with a sweater and a hot cup of something (tea or hot chocolate for me). It is also the time of Halloween, when the threshold of the living and the dead, of stories and reality, gets blurred. It is also a time of learning. School is starting for many, and there is a scholarly air about the place. The possibilities of growth and knowledge begin once more. I wake up craving the written word, and indeed craving to write my own.
It is my favorite time. The stories I read feel more alive, and the possibilities they promise all the more endless.
I wanted to share the types of books I love to read during this season, and what each genre and its books adds to my own Autumnal atmosphere. Perhaps you will find a book or two to make your Autumn cozier, spookier, or to add to your never-ending quest for knowledge.
*Note: many of these genres and aesthetics overlap, so I will cover what specifics I can.
1. The Cozy Mystery
For peak coziness, there is nothing better to curl up with than a cozy mystery. Give me Autumn, small town, unexpected intrigue, and maybe a hint of magic, and I am ready for a crisp Autumn day. There’s something about these types of novels that gives the reader a sense of hope. Often in these mysteries, the protagonist is a young adult who has moved somewhere new, started a new business, started a new school, etc. Someone who has started something new and who, with much trial and error, succeeds in the end. I think this is what we all hope life could be. Add the mystery and the intrigue, and you not only have the start of a new life, but the start of a new adventure. And several of my favorite adventures start off in the Autumn — The Lord of the Rings begins with Bilbo and Frodo’s birthdays, on September 22, the very start of Autumn.
The cozy mystery is not an invitation necessarily to go find your own adventure or mystery (though you may certainly do so!), but an invitation to start off the season with wonder, to see the miraculous in the mundane. Personally, I use these cozy mysteries to inspire a sense of adventure in my own home — when I am not sitting all cozy and reading the mystery, I will be starting new projects or creative pursuits (often trying to emulate the protagonist of the story I’m reading, who might just be a witch or a bookseller or some sort of artist: all things I want to be). I won’t go all out on these projects necessarily, but I will start them one step at a time, enjoying the figuring-it-out stages.
And that figuring-it-out portion is a crucial stage for the protagonists. Not only are they figuring out their new place in life, but also who they are and who they want to be. They are learning to be grounded within themselves, which is an essential part of the cozy season. I would like to talk more about this when I do an essay on reading in the Winter time.
Here are a few cozy mysteries I recommend that make me appreciate the cozy start to the season, with an added anticipation of new beginnings and the start of new endeavors:
— A Dark and Stormy Murder by Julia Buckley
This was my introduction to the bookish cozy mystery as an adult. I read it while I was completing grad school, which was the perfect time for me to need to feel like a cozy mystery protagonist. I was doing my degree in ancient literature, and our protagonist was moving to a new town to work with her favorite author on a new book — if that isn’t the dream of a lifetime! While I was not working with my favorite author on a new book, I was making valuable connections and writing meaningful things, and reading about someone starting a grand adventure helped me to value my own work just as much. All I was missing was the dark and stormy atmosphere of this mystery, though I was happy to do without the murder!
— In the Company of Witches by Auralee Wallace
It isn’t Halloween without some witches! Even the good kind, like the three witches in this cozy mystery. Think Sabrina the Teenage Witch meets Murder, She Wrote, though the main character in this is not as wise as Jessica Fletcher yet. This is a book about finding oneself again, about going back to one’s roots, and, of course, it’s about communicating with the dead. What better way to go back to one’s roots than to talk to the roots themselves?
— The Haunting of Aveline Jones by Phil Hickes
I know I have talked this book to death, but it remains one of my favorite books of all time! Hickes combines the atmosphere of a cozy mystery with the wonderment of childhood, which I think a lot of other cozy mysteries could use (and I will come back to this idea in the Academia section). Aveline is starting a new adventure, but gets pulled into someone else’s story, and if she does not know herself, and trust her closest friends and family and the knowledge she has gained, then she may not survive the figuring-it-out stage of her own life.
2. Ghost Stories and the Haunted House
The Haunting of Aveline Jones is a good segue into my real favorite genre of the Autumn season: ghost stories! These stories often take the protagonist of the cozy mystery and add danger to their journey. This is where self-reflection becomes crucial to survival, and, while wonderment is encouraged, it does not do to second-guess.
This is where the line between the living and the dead, between stories and truth disappears. It sends the heart racing, makes you feel the most alive. I have talked about ghost stories and their importance so often, as you my readers will know, and I will never stop. Ghost stories are vital. They become fodder in the Winter time, but in this, the Autumn time, they are the gateway into that strange land that Ray Bradbury calls the “October Country.”
The haunted house is that place in which all the terrors and strangeness of the Autumn are kept and maintained. It is where the threshold can physically be seen, and those who cross it do so with warning. But they can’t help it. The sense of wonder, of possibility that there might be something there that we haven’t encountered, is too tempting to resist. Often, the protagonists who enter these houses do so without a proper sense of the self, which is the most dangerous thing to lack for fear of it being stolen away by powers beyond our control. And if they try figuring themselves out along the way, it is often too little too late. But not always!
I love to spook myself with these stories. They make me so curious in ways I would not be with any other type of story — even sci-fi could not spark my sense of wonder like the possibility of ghosts and other worlds within our own. I know I’ve spent a lot of this essay talking about the figuring-it-out part of the self, but sometimes I like to read these stories to get a sense of things outside myself, especially if I am trying to be cozy or if the state of my mental health means that I cannot seek the unknown in all the ways that I want to. Even without a physical adventure, these books are doorways to the unknown, and they are just as real.
Plus, who wouldn’t want to be spooked out of their wits near Halloween? Below are a few books that I recommend with the spookiest of atmospheres, the most haunted of houses, and those protagonists who cross the threshold into the dangers of the unknown. Do they fail on their quests? Read to find out!
— The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
This is a classic, I’ve talked about it lots, and I’m sure most of you have read it. But it is the classic haunted house story for a reason. It is one of those ghost stories that never confirms whether the unknown beyond the threshold is real, which, in my opinion, is one of the truest terrors. Is it the ghosts of this house, or is it the haunted mind of the protagonist? We’ll never know, and the house wants to keep it that way.
— Gallant by V.E. Schwab
Gallant is as if Eleanor from The Haunting of Hill House encountered the haunting force of the house and overcame it. The orphan Olivia finds out she has an ancestral home and goes to live there. But that home has secrets, both about her and that which threaten her very life. Again, the house, Gallant, is the driving force of this story, guiding Olivia through the thresholds into the world unknown, and into unknown dangers. What I love about this particular haunted house story is that it is not only the house that is haunted, but the very land it stands on. The house, it seems, maintains the haunting force (n.b. by haunting force, I don’t always mean ghosts or dead people).
— Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury
Another classic! This story is less about a haunted house, but there are forces that haunt. In this book, Bradbury emphasizes the fact that the Autumn time ushers in the Autumn people, those who live just beyond the threshold of reality, those who might bring darkness to the waking world. I love the way Bradbury illustrates the effects of Autumn and its many forms on his characters — the dangers that can and will follow you, the temptations that come with it, same as any haunted house. The carnival that comes to town promises wonder, but crossing that threshold and mingling with its people may bring terrors that stay with you. I love it. I love how unsettling this book paints the season. No other book illustrates the haunting atmosphere of Autumn as well as this one.
3. Dark Academia (and academia in general)
What better time to start reading Dark Academia (and any literature in the academia aesthetic) than in the Autumn, the start of the school year and the darker months. This genre often uses elements from both our cozy mystery category and the ghost story. The protagonist is in the pursuit of something new, but crosses the threshold into a place that will either take them to some great adventure, or will lead them into danger.
If you have been reading my book reviews, you’ll know that I don’t read (Dark) Academia books in which the protagonists are, to put it bluntly, terrible people (see The Secret History) and don’t actually try to learn anything. In all of the Academia books that I like and that inspire me, the protagonist is working to overcome trials, to gain knowledge, and they usually come out better for it. And many of these trials, of course, are of the spooky or Autumnal variety.
— Equal Rites by Terry Pratchett
Kiki’s Delivery Service meets Monty Python (sort of). If you want cranky witches who criticize the education system of elite wizards, then this is the book for you. This has all the elements of Dark Academia — facing obstacles at a university, overcoming dark academics (in this case, discovering and overcoming an unknown dark magic), friendship, etc. While this book doesn’t make me want to go to Unseen University to study with the wizards, you bet that I want to go study with Granny Weatherwax. She is a witch that takes no nonsense, that pushes for equal education, but who will also tell you to pace yourself so you don’t explode. All Dark Academia books need a Granny Weatherwax.
— The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
This amazingly intricate story does not take place in a school, but has its beginnings in a secret library! Our protagonist goes to this library to choose a book that will shape the rest of his life. The rest of the book is about this young man trying to discover what happened to the author of the book he found. There is intrigue, mysteries, and hidden knowledge, and those who would keep our protagonists from learning the truth. What I love about this book is that the protagonist’s thirst for knowledge is insatiable. Reading this book makes me want to go discover new things, secret things, which definitely aligns with my love of studying folklore.
— Uprooted by Naomi Novik
There is no complete list of academia-themed books that doesn’t include the pursuit of magical knowledge, and that is Uprooted in a nutshell. This book is all about the protagonist, Agnieska, learning about magic, all while trying to figure out a way to deal with the growing threats of the woods (which happens to be very Autumnal!). In this story, Agnieska learns magic, but also learns about herself, what her role in the world is. I can almost think of her story as the origin story of Granny Weatherwax, for they are both no-nonsense witches whom I want to befriend.
I want to recommend a couple more books that have to do with Academia, but in that they are academic books themselves and are meant for learning and study, but no less share that Autumnal atmosphere.
The first is The Ghost by Susan Owens, which is a survey of the idea of the ghost in many different cultures and time periods. Want to know why the ghost treads that threshold between life and death? The Ghost can tell you why the ancients thought so!
The second is not a reference, but it is an ancient work: The Aeneid by Vergil. This epic poem, through the mythology of their origins, illustrates the cultural and historical aspects that were important to ancient Rome. My favorite is Book 6, in which Aeneas, our hero, must make a journey down to the Underworld. Are there ghosts? You bet! In addition, you will be reading something from the pinnacle of academic cannon that has to do with death in the ancient world, and what could be more Dark Academia than that?! (And if you can read it in Latin, that is even better!)
This is the best time to start with learning something new, so that the momentum of learning stays through the Winter. In addition to reading new books, Academia or no, I also want to learn new things, academic or no. I love taking the Autumn time to learn new recipes, to work on my target language (which happens to be French right now, yay Canada), or to learn a new craft (right now I am working on watercolor painting!). Learning is not restricted to Academia, though it is a nice reading genre to get you in the mood for learning! And if it gets you in the mood to learn about the spooky season, so much the better!
*Also remember that Academia does not have to be dark, it does not have to be hard, or elite. What it does have to be is an interesting way to gain knowledge for everyone.*
And there you have it, these are my favorite genres and atmospheres to experience in the Autumn reading season. These are by no means the limit to what the atmosphere of Autumn should be like, but these are what I like and I feel I come out all the better because of them.
I hope you all get inspired to find enjoyment in being cozy, starting a new adventure — whether it is learning something new or starting a new project — or seeking the unknown thresholds of the worlds beyond our world, even if that threshold is simply the written word.
But most of all, I hope you have the best reading season! Let me know some of your favorite books that capture the different atmospheres of Autumn.
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A TBR is not to be completed. All over the bookish community, I see readers rushing to finish their to-be-reads, stressing over what they haven’t read, haven’t accomplished. But a TBR is not something to accomplish. It is not a road marker of achievement or failure. A TBR is a list of dreams of faraway places and wishes of new lives, hopes for the future, and a willingness to try.
That was a bit more poetic than I had originally intended, but you get the idea. I don’t want to think of my TBRs as a future of failure, cause I know I will never complete it, either because it is too long or my reading tastes change. A TBR should be something to look forward to, to think about, and I love thinking about it, even if I never read all (or any) of the books on the list. So, without further ado, I will talk about a few of the books on my TBR this Fall, why they are on my TBR, and whether I think I will actually get to read them.
The first book is What Moves The Dead by T. Kingfisher. I’ve actually already started the audiobook on Scribd, and I am enjoying it so far. I picked this book because not only did it sound super spooky and gothic – which is right up my alley – but it is a retelling of The Fall of the House of Usher by Edgar Allen Poe, one of my favorite Poe short stories.
I started reading it today, actually, to kick off September and the coming cozy month with a spooky read (not that I will ever stop reading spooky books at any given time). And what hopes do I have for this book? Well, I am starting to write my own spooky short fiction, and I am getting inspiration for style and topics. I have a lot of ideas brewing in my head, and reading more spooks only helps to solidify these ideas.
Next are the books in the witches series from the Discworld novels by Terry Pratchett. These books include Equal Rites (which I’ve already read), Wyrd Sisters, Witches Abroad, Lords and Ladies, Maskerade, and Carpe Jugulum. All of these books feature Nanny Weatherwax as a main character, and I will tell you all that I want to be like her as I grow older: no-nonsense, knows how to navigate life and the toughest people, again doesn’t take shit, and is a witch!
I don’t know if I’ll get to all the books in this series in the Fall, or ever, but I know they are there for when I want to dream of being a witch again. I will say, Equal Rites is a good book to read if you like Studio Ghibli, especially Kiki’s Delivery Service or Howl’s Moving Castle. I think at some point we all want to be in a Ghibli Setting, and the Discworld witch series definitely makes you feel like you’re in one.
Coming out in October is The Vanishing of Avenline Jones by Phil Hickes. Readers of my reviews, you will know that I have loved the first two books in the Aveline Jones series, and I cannot wait until the third one this Fall! These books are fantastically spooky, but, personally, they make me think of my childhood and how much I loved ghosts and still do. I poured over every piece of material I could find about ghosts on the internet starting at age 11. I think the only difference between Aveline and 11-year-old me was that she encountered dangerous ghosts, whereas mine were far more subtle or simply not there. Didn’t stop me from looking though, just like Aveline. I want to read more of her story for the nostalgia of my childhood, and the possibility of ghosts that still remains in my sense of wonder. This book I will definitely read. It’s pretty easy to get through with Hickes’ amazing writing style and atmospheres.
And there you have it: these are the books I know are absolutely on my TBR so far. There are others on my radar, but I am not sure I will read them yet. These books promise whimsy and wonder – two things I think everyone needs in life – the imaginings I have of being a witch or a whisperer of ghosts; and something wonderful to look forward to in the coming months. These are not books that I am going to push myself to finish. They are books I think I will love and that I want to enjoy and savor while I read them. And if I don’t like them or feel I can’t finish them, that’s okay. It’s not a failure or a broken dream. It’s just a change, and that’s okay.
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Help Wanted by Richie Tankersley Cusick
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Help Wanted by Richie Tankersley Cusick is about (fyi, the Goodreads description is incorrect) a high schooler named Robin, who answers an ad to work in the old, enormous house of Mr. Swanson, cataloguing books belonging to his late daughter-in-law. Robin goes to work, despite her annoyance at Mr. Swanson’s dashing grandson, and the warnings he made to her about his apparently insane sister, Claudia. Soon, Robin gets pulled into the family’s sordid history, which is rearing its ugly head in the present.
This is my third book by Richie Tankersley Cusick, and I am still having fun with them. I love that they are all about a girl going up against a mystery, and having to learn who to trust along the way or pay. Also the gothic atmospheres are absolutely wonderful. Cusick always provides the spookiest houses.
I thought this particular book was fun, but, again, the plotlines came together way too quickly. There were no little clues that you could follow to unravel the plot, or even to be tricked into predict a totally incorrect plotline. I do realize that because this is basically a murder mystery that Robin gets pulled into, there’s not much time for gradual revealing of the plot; however, how abrupt it all is is not my cup of tea. I like a bit more intrigue.
I wish we had gotten to know the characters a bit more in-depth. I feel like in Trick or Treat we really had an inside look into all of the relevant characters. In this book, it was very minimal – just enough so you know how they fit in with the mystery. It all felt a bit too shallow for me, personally. However, I know a lot of people like more of a crazy plot than spending too much time with characters, and I am sure that’s why many have loved this book.
Overall, a super fun, creepy read. I will be delving into more of Cusick’s books in the future, though, after three in a row, it may be time for a short break.
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The Drifter by Richie Tankersley Cusick is about Carolyn and her mother, who, after the death of Carolyn’s father, find out that they’ve inherited an old house from their old aunt. Carolyn’s mother desires to turn the old house into a bed and breakfast. But Carolyn doesn’t like the idea, especially considering its location – right on the cliffs over the sea in dense fog – and considering is grisly history. Soon, the history of the old house comes out to haunt Carolyn.
This book was wonderfully atmospheric and spooky. I love haunted stories that take place by the sea, spooky or no (see The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, The Haunting of Aveline Jones), and I am adding this book to that list of mine. Cusick has such a talent for making a location – haunted house, haunted school, haunted seaside cliffs – the most frightening place you could ever go. I was on the edge of my seat worried for Carolyn in that old house; I am sure I started hyperventilating at some point.
There were points in the plot and aspects of the characters, however, that I didn’t like as much. For one thing, Cusick really knows how to make a character annoying. This is not necessarily a bad thing, and it makes sense for her stories. But I think I would like to have more chill, reasonable characters sometimes (like the brother in Trick or Treat). Carolyn also seems to trust or distrust other characters way too quickly: she doesn’t take enough time to process anything, but especially people she’s just met. Also, she really, really needs to stand up to her mother more.
The plot felt like things happened too quickly towards the end. I usually prefer very gradual revealings of different elements of a mystery, which is what I liked more about Trick or Treat. In this book, the beginning is slow with lots of atmosphere – this I liked. The end, though, hits you with a bunch of necessary plot points all at once. I would have liked to have gotten to know more in the beginning so that things would connect better later.
All of this said, I really did love the atmosphere of this book. I will definitely be reading more of Cusick’s work, and I am so happy there is a giant backlog of books of hers to read!
I read this book on Scribd
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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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The House with a Clock in it’s Walls is about Lewis, who goes to stay with his uncle Jonathan in his big and mysterious house. There, Lewis finds that there are magical mysteries hiding in the shadows, and that his uncle, and others he meets, are also of a magical and mysterious nature.
I thought it was a fun story! I liked the characters a lot, and the atmosphere was properly spooky. At first I was a bit skeptical of the plot point where the dead come back to life – I was hoping it would just be ghosts! But it ended up working pretty well. The mystery of the clock was very intriguing, though it ended up being a bit less mysterious than I had hoped.
The ending felt very anticlimactic, though I think I probably would have thought so less ten or more years ago. I think, though, that Lewis deserved an anticlimactic, peaceful ending. However, I know that he will have more adventures in the John Bellairs books I plan to read next.
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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,
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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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.
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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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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