Book Review – The House with a Clock in its Walls by John Bellairs

The House with a Clock in Its Walls by John Bellairs

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The House with a Clock in Its Walls by John Bellairs


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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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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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 – The Haunting of Aveline Jones by Phil Hickes

The Haunting of Aveline Jones by Phil Hickes

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Haunting of Aveline Jones by Phil Hickes


The Haunting of Aveline Jones by Phil Hickes is a story about a girl, Aveline, who goes to a seaside town to stay with her aunt while her mom is visiting her grandmother. In this town, Aveline, a firm and eager believer in ghosts, finds an old bookshop with a book of local ghost stories. However, this book unearths a mystery and a haunting past that Aveline is not prepared for.

I absolutely loved this book. It’s the type of story I would have loved at Avenline’s age, and that I love now at 28. It has all the combinations of adventure, ghosts, atmosphere, and folklore that keep me enthralled and on the edge of my seat. It is a short and very simple story, which does appeal to me, though I know many people would want something more complex and involved. I’m a simple gal and this story was perfect for me.

The atmosphere was perfectly spooky. Put aside the ghosts, this book takes place around Halloween in a stormy seaside town with an antique bookshop and some dark, local folklore. Can it get any better than that?

The characters were also very well-written. None of them annoyed me, and I only felt endearment towards even the ones that were supposed to be annoying.

I think one reason I related so much to this book is that Aveline reminds me a lot of myself (and several other girls I knew as a preteen). And, while I haven’t been exactly in her shoes, my love of the paranormal is a complete match. Though now that I am very much a grownup, I think I’m starting to relate more and more to characters like Mr. Lieberman, the owner of the bookshop.

Another reason this book was so good, in my mind, is that it reminds me of a lot of well-known ghost stories (Turn of the Screw/Haunting of Bly Manor, The Ghost Stories of Edith Wharton, The Haunted Bookshop, and others), but Hickes makes those ghostly themes entirely his own. And it is no surprise, since Hickes himself grew up the same way and next to a graveyard no less! Hickes is a supremely talented writer and I am looking forward to his next book in this series, which I believe comes out later this year.

The Haunting of Aveline Jones was a wonderful read, and I might just read it again next Halloween! I recommend this book to anyone who loves spooks and a good ghost story.



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Book Review – The Pine Barrens’ Devil by Leigh Paynter

I also reviewed this book for Reedsy Discovery.

The Pine Barrens’ Devil by Leigh Paynter

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The Pine Barrens' Devil by Leigh Paynter


As a lover of folklore, I thought The Pine Barrens’ Devil would be right up my alley. In a way, it was.
Leigh Paynter tells four short stories that take place each in different historical periods, in which the Jersey Devil makes an appearance either as an instigator or one who passes judgment.

The first story, “Where Darkness Lives”, is Paynter’s own version of how the Jersey Devil came to be. Like most other origin stories, this one takes place in colonial New Jersey, and involves an unwanted or transformed child.

The second story, “A Long Walk”, takes place during the Revolutionary War. The protagonist, Whippany, not only gets lost in the Pine Barrens, but in the throes of his own desires.

The third story, “The Game”, very much illustrates the character of both the Pine Barrens and the Jersey Devil. They like to toy with travelers to the forest, especially those who deserve punishment. In this story, that person who deserves punishment is an antisemitic hustler looking after his girlfriend’s son, a chess genius. This story takes place soon after the end of WWII.

The fourth and final story is “Reflection in the Lake”, almost a reverse retelling of The Little Mermaid, though instead of a sea-witch, it is the Jersey Devil that causes the transformations. The protagonist, Emily, does get more than she bargained for when trying to impress her classmates on a camping trip, losing herself to Lake Absegami in the end.


All of these stories have to do with characters wanting more than they have bargained for, and the Jersey Devil is more than happy to comply with their wishes. I was familiar with some of the Jersey Devil folklore before reading this book, though it never occurred to me that the Jersey Devil would act more like the biblical devil, rather than a weird-looking cryptid that eats livestock and frightens travelers. I like this different take on the Jersey Devil, though it does make its character a bit less mysterious. I am eager to do more research about the Jersey Devil and the many versions of its folklore.

Now I want to discuss the aspects of this book that I liked.

Generally the stories are good and entertaining, and Paynter’s use of different historical eras really emphasizes that the Jersey Devil is a constant and frightening force of folklore.

I like that the stories were not too long, and did feel very much like campfire stories, as I believe Paynter had intended. Perhaps she will publish another collection of stories about the Jersey Devil, which I would be eager to read.

Unfortunately, there were quite a few aspects of this book that did not make it a 5-star read.

While the stories were good, the writing style could be improved upon. Paynter tells too much and shows too little, using statement after statement after statement. However, I am happy to say that this got better with each story. I think the stories’ writing style would have been more coherent if she had gone over each story again. Overall, I think Paynter just needs to practice her storytelling, and find the writing style that suits her best.
Grammar and spelling were off here and there, which further reinforces my statement that Paynter should have gone over her stories and writing more before publishing.

Overall, I did enjoy the stories, and I would recommend The Pine Barrens’ Devil to those who love folklore and the many aspects of this American cryptid.



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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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The Cozy Fall Book Tag!

Photo by Stephanie Harvey on Unsplash

It is Autumn! The air is crisp and full of golden leaves, and it is time to snuggle up with a book and a hot drink. To get more into the cozy mood, I thought I would do the Cozy Fall Book Tag that all my favorite Booktubers are doingg, originally created by The Book Belle on Youtube. So, without further ado, let’s get cozy!

1. What book always reminds you of fall/autumn?

Oh man, I have wayyyy too many. I would say any book that has ghosts or haunted houses. But to be more specific, I would pick Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury. It is so autumnal not only because it takes place during Halloween, but it has one of my favorite Autumn quotes:

“For some, autumn comes early, stays late through life where October follows September and November touches October and then instead of December and Christ’s birth, there is no Bethlehem Star, no rejoicing, but September comes again and old October and so on down the years, with no winter, spring, or revivifying summer. For these beings, fall is the ever normal season, the only weather, there be no choice beyond. Where do they come from? The dust. Where do they go? The grave. Does blood stir their veins? No: the night wind. What ticks in their head? The worm. What speaks from their mouth? The toad. What sees from their eye? The snake. What hears with their ear? The abyss between the stars. They sift the human storm for souls, eat flesh of reason, fill tombs with sinners. They frenzy forth. In gusts they beetle-scurry, creep, thread, filter, motion, make all moons sullen, and surely cloud all clear-run waters. The spider-web hears them, trembles–breaks. Such are the autumn people. Beware of them.”

2. What is your favourite autumnal book cover?

Definitely the one on the awesome edition of The Haunting of Hill House!

The Haunting of Hill House
Not only is this color full of Halloween colors, but the pages are sprayed black!!

3. What is your favourite autumnal drink to read with?

Either a hot cup of Earl Grey tea with honey, or a hot chocolate!

4. Do you prefer to read late at night or early in the morning?

Actually neither! I like reading in late afternoon or evening because that is when I get done with work for the day, and my mind is ready to settle down, get cozy, and just escape the world a little bit.

5. Halloween is coming! What is your favourite spooky read?

Anything Shirley Jackson! I’m probably going to reread her Dark Tales this year as that is my favorite of her collections. Though I would recommend anything she has written, she is brilliant and spooky, but at the same time kinda cozy!

6. What is the ultimate comfort read for you?

This is a tough one, but I’d probably pick The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman and The Fellowship of the Ring by Tolkien. Both of these books have elements of folklore and fairytale that always make me feel happy and cozy. Also, who wouldn’t feel cozy reading about the Shire and all the food they get to eat?

7. What is your favourite autumnal reading snack?

This changes ALL the time, but right now I am enjoying this amazing beef jerky made by my local meat market. Yes I know it’s not the most autumnal snack, but it is delicious.

8. What is your favourite autumnal candle to burn whilst reading?

Anything vanilla! It’s the coziest scent.

9. When you’re not reading, what is your favourite autumnal activity?

Art! Lately I’ve been painting Autumn trees with my watercolors. I want to capture all of the beautiful colors before it snows!

10. What is on your autumn/fall reading list?

So I actually made a blog post about it here! Got lots of ghost stories of course, but I also have a couple cozy mysteries!

And that’s the tag! I tag all of you to share your cozy autumnal routines and joys.

Happy Autumn! And, if you’d like to support me and my work, consider buying me a coffee!

Fall TBR – Spooky, cozy, mysterious!

We are fast approaching the Autumn season – where I am in Winnipeg it seems that Autumn has already arrived! It’s been 6-15 degrees C/45-60 degrees F, and the trees in my neighborhood are changing into golds and oranges.

I am definitely in the Autumn mood which means wearing sweaters, watching spooky movies, and reading Autumnal books! I have a bunch of books I want to read this Fall, some spooky, some cozy, some mysterious!

Taaqtumi: An Anthology of Arctic Horror Stories

The first book on my Autumnal TBR is Taaqtumi, a collection of Inuit and Arctic horror stories by authors like Aviaq Johnston, Richard Van Camp, and others. You all know by now that I am a big fan of horror and ghost stories, and I aim to read about ghosts from all cultures. Ghosts found in the Arctic sound absolutely thrilling to me.

Crooked House

Then we have a couple of short Agatha Christie novels: Crooked House and By The Pricking Of My Thumbs. I have only read one other Agatha Christie (Dumb Witness), but Poirot is one of my favorite shows ever and I want to read more of her works and surround myself with all the Agatha Christie murders! By The Pricking Of My Thumbs sounds especially spooky so I am very excited.

By the Pricking of My Thumbs

The Sleeper and the Spindle

Up next is The Sleeper and the Spindle by Neil Gaiman, illustrated by Chris Riddell. I have been dying to read this book for so long, not only because it is by one of my favorite authors, but because of the illustrations AND the fact that it is based on fairy tale. I got a really cool library copy from a second hand bookstore (Nerman’s Books, if you are in Winnipeg go check it out!) and I absolutely love it.

A Dark and Twisting Path (A Writer's Apprentice Mystery, #3)

Then we have A Dark and Twisting Path by Julia Buckley, which is the third book in the Writer’s Apprentice Mystery series. These are just very cozy, light and lovely mysteries that make me feel all warm and comfy. I love to read these books in my comfy chair with a hot drink and a fuzzy blanket.

The Picture of Dorian Gray

And finally I need to finish The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde. I’m about halfway through this book and I must finish! Dorian is just starting his sinister shenanigans and I must find out how far he will take them. Even though I have a super cool Dover Thrift edition of this book, I might actually finish it on audio, via Scribd.

And those are my planned books for the Fall! I may change some or add some new ones, but you will hear all about that when I do my Fall book reviews.

I hope you are all having a wonderful start to your Autumn seasons, or, if it is still very much Summer, enjoy that sun!