Tag Archives: 2010s

Threatening Forest: A Review of Over the River and Through the Woods

Book cover for Over the River and Through the Woods by Evan Camby. Image on the cover shows a young woman wearing a cape walking through an incredibly dark woods. You can see weak and light green light filtering through the woods at the far end of the path she is walking on. It is barely light enough to make out the outlines of the trees in the rest of the forest, and the effect is of cloying and threatening darkness that threatens to envelop the girl as she scurries towards the light. Title: Over the River and Through the Woods

Author: Evan Camby

Publisher: Self-Published

Publication Date: June 21, 2016

Genres: Horror, Paranormal, Historical

Length: 28 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author.

Rating: 3 Stars

Blurb:

Old Settler’s Woods is haunted. Evil. A place Ellie swore she would never set foot again.

It’s the winter of 1941, and a devastating blizzard has struck her small town. With the roads blocked, the only way to reach her ailing grandmother is to take the trail through Old Settler’s Woods, a place of unspeakable darkness and decay. Faced with losing the only family she has left, Ellie must contend with the evil once more. But will she survive with her sanity–and her soul–intact?

Review:

Content Warning: Hypothermia, mild violence (think ghosts lightly scratching at someone’s arms),  and an implied murder that was never actually described or confirmed.

These woods are dark and deep, but not even Frost would make the mistake of calling them lovely.

The atmosphere was utterly perfect. Anyone who has ever walked in or near a forest on a cold winter day might recognize the uncertainty that can flood the nervous system when one hears something cracking, snapping, or scuffling off in the trees without being able to tell where the sound is coming from or who or what might be making it. Yes, it’s probably just an animal running away or a tree branch breaking under the weight of the heavy snow on it when it happens in real life, but that doesn’t necessarily make the experience any less eerie. My brain was flooded with memories of such days as I read this, and I shivered with delight as Ellie rationalized away what she was hearing and kept walking further into the forest no matter what.

I kept finding myself wishing for more substance to this story. There were brief glimpses of and hints about the terrible things that had happened in Old Settler’s Woods over the years, but none of them were described in enough detail to make them come to life in my imagination. I desperately wanted to give this a higher rating based on everything else I loved about it, but in the end this issue held me back from doing so. Reviews must be completely honest if they’re to be trustworthy, after all.

Ellie was a practical and resourceful woman, so I appreciated the time Ms. Camby spent explaining why Ellie would even think about wandering into a forest that her grandparents had spent years warning her to avoid. Not only that, but she did it during a fierce blizzard when the radio was warning everyone to stay home and off the roads! These are the sorts of scenes that can make or break a horror story, so I was glad to see so much attention spent on Ellie’s reasons for venturing out and why turning back wasn’t an option for her no matter how cold or frightened she was. I understood where she was coming from, and I felt like I got to know her better because of it.

Over the River and Through the Woods made me shudder.

The Dare: a Review of The Toll House

The Toll House by W.W. Jacobs book cover. Image on cover is drawing of a man wearing a top hat standing in the doorway of a house. His body is in silhoulette against the moonlight. The telling or reading of ghost stories during the Christmas season was once a tradition in Victorian England. This series of books seeks to revive this tradition. This will be the last book in this series that I review unless my local library decides to buy more of them. Thank you for reading my reviews of them in 2020, 2021, and 2022. 

Title: The Toll House – A Ghost Story for Christmas (Seth’s Christmas Ghost Stories)

Author: W. W. Jacobs

Publisher: Biblioasis

Publication Date: 1907 and October 31, 2017

Genres: Paranormal, Historical

Length: 42 pages

Source: I borrowed it from the library.

Rating: 3 Stars

Blurb:

The Toll-House has a long and terrible history as a place of death. But Jack Barnes doesn’t believe in spirits. His travelling companions, Messrs. Meagle, Lester, and White, wager that he might be convinced otherwise if they all spend a night together in the house. Four men go in, but will four come out?

Review:

Are ghosts real? Is that your final answer?

The beauty of this story is that how little the initial reactions of the reader to the existence (or non-existence) of the spirits of dead people make a difference. Whether you’re convinced one way, the other, or in no particular way at all, there is food for thought here for every reader. It takes creativity to write for so many different audiences simultaneously, and I commend the author for doing so.

What lead me to go with a three star rating had to do with the lack of character development. Barnes, Meagle, Lester, and White were scarcely described at all, and what little I learned about them in the beginning honestly didn’t seem to matter at all by the end. They could have been replaced by four other characters from any corner of the globe and the plot would have played out exactly the same. While I certainly wouldn’t expect something so plot-driven to dive deeply into characterization or character development, it was disappointing to have such forgettable protagonists in an otherwise thought-provoking adventure.

The plot itself was a clever one, however. I found myself changing my opinion of what was really happening to the characters during the course of the evening as new information was revealed and the stakes of the dare the characters agreed to grew even higher. There were so many different ways to interpret each clue that I could have used most of them to argue for and against just about any perspective.

Anyone who loves open-ended stories should give The Toll House a read.

Memories of Evil: a Review of The Empty House

The Empty House by Algernon Blackwood book cover. Image on cover is a drawing of a farmhouse after dark. Only one room in the house has any light coming from it, and it's a room on the second story. The telling or reading of ghost stories during the Christmas season was once a tradition in Victorian England. This series of books seeks to revive this tradition. As I did in 2020 and 2021, I will continue reviewing several of them each December until I’ve reached the end of this series. 

Title: The Empty House – A Ghost Story for Christmas (Seth’s Christmas Ghost Stories)

Author: Algernon Blackwood

Publisher: Biblioasis

Publication Date: 1906 and October 31, 2017

Genres: Paranormal, Historical

Length: 58 pages

Source: I borrowed it from the library.

Rating: 3 Stars

Blurb:

Aunt Julia, an elderly spinster with a mania for psychical research, has the keys to the haunted house on the square. She invites her nephew to accompany her on a midnight investigation into what really happened a hundred years ago when a servant girl fell to her death. But the house may not be as empty as it seems . . .

Review:

Content warning: murder. I will be discussing this in in my review.

As one of the earliest paragraphs in this story says, “certain houses, like certain people, manage somehow to proclaim at once their character for evil.”

Jim and his Aunt Julia were the kinds of characters that make me shake my head. Their courage often crossed the line into foolhardiness, especially when it came to their reactions to a few frightening encounters with what was lurking in this haunted house so late at night. Sensible people would have run away shrieking the first time they encountered something that couldn’t be explained, and yet I did come to admire their stubborn insistence on finding out the truth about why no one could bear to live at this residence longterm. This investigation wouldn’t have discovered anything at all if they’d been quicker to run at the first sign of trouble.

The ending was disappointing to me because of how many unanswered questions it left with the readers. Without going into spoilers here, there was foreshadowing in the beginning and middle of this tale that was ignored in the last scene to the detriment of the plot. It was just starting to get really good when it suddenly ended! I wish the author had wrapped up those subplots the way he so strongly hinted at earlier. If he’d done this, I would have gone with a much higher rating.

With that being said, I did enjoy gleaning the few facts that were shared about the sudden death of a servant girl a century beforehand. This was a part of the storyline that didn’t need to be embellished upon much at all. Violent deaths like these often take on a life of their own – no pun intended – as future generations reimagine what must have happened, so it made sense to me to leave room here for the audience to participate in the retelling of the events of that terrible night.

The Empty House was one of those ghost stories that deserves to be read and discussed in detail with a small group of likeminded fans of these genres. If that’s the sort of analysis you love doing, this might be right up your alley.

Restless History: A Review of How Fear Departed the Long Gallery

How Fear Departed the Long Gallery by E.F. Benson book cover. Image on cover is of a drawing of a frightened woman.The telling or reading of ghost stories during the Christmas season was once a tradition in Victorian England. This series of books seeks to revive this tradition. As I did in 2020 and 2021, I will continue reviewing several of them each December until I’ve reached the end of this series. 

Title: How Fear Departed the Long Gallery – A Ghost Story for Christmas (Seth’s Christmas Ghost Stories)

Author: E.F. Benson

Publisher: Biblioaisis

Publication Dates: 1911 and 2017

Genres: Paranormal, Historical

Length: 32 pages

Source: I borrowed it from the library.

Rating: 4 Stars

Blurb:

Biblioasis is thrilled to continue this series of beautifully illustrated, collectible, classic Christmas ghost stories designed and illustrated by world-famous cartoonist Seth.

In How Fear Departed the Long Gallery, for the Peverils, the appearance of a ghost is no more upsetting than the appearance of the mailman at an ordinary house. Except for the twin toddlers in the Long Gallery. No one would dare be caught in the Long Gallery after dark. But on this quiet and cloudy afternoon, Madge Peveril is feeling rather drowsy . . .

Review:

Content warning: death of children. I will not be discussing this in my review.

The past and present can be connected in more ways than you’d think.

One of the things I liked the most about this story had to do with how the Peveril family reacted to the many ghosts who haunted their family estate. Since they were related to all of the spirits, seeing the vast majority of them was more akin to unexpectedly spending time with an eccentric or slightly irritating relative instead of anything spooky. These relaxed relationships were a wonderful contrast to how everyone reacted to the dangerous toddler spirits who occasionally appeared in the Long Gallery.

It would have been nice to have fewer clues about what was going to happen next. As much as I enjoyed this tale, it was a little disappointing to see how quickly and accurately I predicted what was going on with the ghostly children and why they were the only spirits this family feared. I’m the sort of reader who enjoys being challenged, and I would have given this a higher rating if it had expected more of its audience.

With that being said, the ending was an immensely satisfying and uplifting. Some of the other stories in this series could be fairly dark at times. It was nice to see a haunting that turned out to be surprisingly positive despite its grimmer moments earlier on in the plot. I also appreciated the main character’s ability to think quickly in an emergency. Knowing that she was so smart and capable definitely gave this a lighter tone than it would have otherwise had.

How Fear Departed the Long Gallery is something I’d especially recommend reading aloud tonight or sometime soon. It’s perfectly suited for anyone who likes ghost stories during the holiday season.

Better Days to Come: A Review of The Merry Christmas Ghost

The Merry Christmas Ghost - a Happy Holidays Horror Story by Dennis Warren book cover. Image on cover shows a closeup of a Christmas tree covered in tinsel and various Christmas ornaments. Title: The Merry Christmas Ghost

Author: Dennis Warren

Publisher: Self-Published

Publication Date: December 22, 2019

Genres: Horror, Paranormal, Holiday

Length: 10 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author.

Rating: 3 Stars

Blurb:

A haunted apartment. A very lonely woman. A violent criminal. All three have one thing in common: The Merry Christmas Ghost! Get into the Christmas spirit with this haunting tale of holiday cheer!

Review:

Content Warning: robbery, assault, battery, and loneliness.

Even horror can be wholesome during the Christmas season.

The holidays can be difficult for all sorts of different reasons, so I wasn’t surprised to see things begin on such a dour note. The protagonist had recently found permanent housing after being homeless, but it wasn’t a particularly safe or welcoming place for a single, vulnerable woman to live in. She had no money, friends, family, or hope for a cheerful Christmas. These details alone were enough for me to wish that her luck would turn around very soon, especially once she began showing the audience glimpses of her kind and gentle personality. I think it’s important to take note of why some people struggle even more than usual during the holiday season, and Mr. Warren certainly accomplished that with this character.

This story would have benefited from including more details in it. For example, I would have loved to know the main character’s name and more details about why she’d been homeless before she moved into her shabby apartment. Sharing information like this would have also made it easier on me when the narrators were switched as all of the pronouns that weren’t attached to specific names were confusing at times. With another round of editing and more clarification, I would have happily added at least another star to my final rating.

I loved the messages this tale had to share about the importance of families of all shapes and sizes and of remaining hopeful no matter what one’s circumstances may be. This family was no doubt a little unusual, but the love that shone through it made me smile. These aren’t themes one typically finds in the horror genre, so it was refreshing to be surprised by them here. It’s always nice to see an author take risks with what they write about, especially when they seem to understand why they’re doing so and how it will affect their characters. Good job to the author for doing just that. I look forward to reading more from him in the future.

The Merry Christmas Ghost was a creative take on holiday horror.

 

Changing His Destiny: A Review of Well of Fate

Title: Well of Fate – A When Ravens Fall Short Story Author: Savannah Jezowski Publisher: Dragonpen Press (Self-Published) Publication Date: July 31, 2018 Genres: Young Adult, Fantasy, Adventure, Historical Length: 39 pages Source: I received a free copy from the author. Rating: 4 Stars Blurb: Discontent with his life as a tale-spinner, Ratatosk the squirrel goes… Read More

A Review of Vespasian Moon’s Fabulous Autumn Carnival

Title: Vespasian Moon’s Fabulous Autumn Carnival – A Long Short Story Author: Berthold Gambrel Publisher: Self-Published Publication Date: October 18, 2019 Genres: Paranormal, Mystery, Romance, Holiday, Humour Length: 54 pages Source: I received a free copy from the author. Rating: 5 Stars Blurb: Federal Agent Jane Raczyck is tired of her job. So is Sheriff… Read More

Running to Safety: A Review of One Dark Hallow’s Eve

Title: One Dark Hallow’s Eve Author: Eldritch Black Publisher: Self-Published Publication Date: October 22, 2015 Genres: Middle Grade, Fantasy, Paranormal, Horror, Contemporary, Historical Length: 43 pages Source: I received a free copy from the author. Rating: 3 Stars Blurb: Beware it’s Halloween and the Pumpkin Men are coming. It’s All Hallow’s Eve and Owen Weeks… Read More

Awkward Phases: A Review of The Usual Werewolves

Title: The Usual Werewolves Author: Adam Bertocci Publisher: Self-Published Publication Date: October 1, 2012 Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult, Romance, Paranormal, Satire, Contemporary Length: 39 pages Source: I received a free copy from the author. Rating: 3 Stars Blurb: Finally, a paranormal romance for people who hate paranormal romance. Bookish outcast Serena is in love with… Read More

Canadian Tidbits: A Review of Northern Gothic Stories

Title: Northern Gothic Stories Author: Helena Puumala and Dale Olausen Publisher: Dodecahedron Books Publication Date: December 19, 2012 Genres: Science Fiction, Fantasy, Mystery, Horror, Historical, Contemporary Length: 123 pages Source: I received a free copy from the authors. Rating: 3 Stars Blurb: Do you like stories featuring aliens, legendary monsters, psychic children, mysterious disappearances, gamblers, cheats,… Read More