Tag Archives: Paranormal

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.

Home, Sweet Home: A Review of Christmas at Crownthorn Manor

Christmas at Crowthorn Manor - a Yuletide Ghost Story by Chris McGurk book cover. Image on cover shows a black and white photo of snow falling heavily on a cottage in the woods. There is a white car parked in front of the cottage.Title: Christmas at Crownthorn Manor – A Yuletide Ghost Story

Author: Chris McGurk

Publisher: Self-Published

Publication Date: December 19, 2019

Genres: Young Adult, Holiday, Paranormal, Contemporary

Length: 27 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author.

Rating: 3 Stars

Blurb:

Three brothers travelling home for Christmas become waylaid in a fierce snowstorm. Pulling up at an old manor house, they think they are in luck when the owners let them stay the night. But all is not as it seems at Crowthorn Manor on Christmas Eve… Reviving the much-loved tradition of the Christmas ghost story, Christmas at Crowthorn Manor will send shivers down your spine on your journey back home.

Review:

Content Warning: 1918 influenza pandemic, grief, death of children, World War I, prejudice, and suicide. I will mention the 1918 flu and Covid-19 in my review.

Christmas is supposed to be a happy time spent with loved ones. What happens to a Christmas that doesn’t meet these goals?

The 1918 flu is something I’ve been interested in since I was a kid, so I’m always happy to see it pop up in fiction. After the current pandemic began, I understood better why previous generations were often so reticent to discuss such things even years later. It can be painful to remember tragic stories about death, disability, grief, and suffering, and yet I think there’s something to be said for commemorating these topics in fiction when it’s appropriate to do so. Remembering the past is a way to honour the dead and to hopefully guide the decisions we make today to help everyone’s futures be healthier ones. The author sensitively included the societal, emotional, and medical effects of the 1918 flu here. They had excellent reasons for doing so that other readers should discover for themselves. These were some of my favorite passages in this short story, and I would have happily read more of them.

I did find myself wishing that more attention had been paid to how and when the author used the tropes of this genre. Anyone who is familiar with tales about characters who get lost on a snowy night and find themselves seeking shelter at a mysterious, old mansion will be able to figure out just about everything that is to come by the time they finish the first page. Yes, I know this was written for teenagers, but even with that taken into consideration I thought another round of editing would have made a difference. Tropes are good – or at least neutral – things in and of themselves, but they were utilized so heavily here that it negatively affected things like the character and plot development. I so badly wanted to give this a higher rating, and yet the predictability of it all was too much for me to do so.

With that being said, I loved the way the author incorporated modern technology and tools like cell phones, the Internet, and Google Maps into the storyline. It’s trickier for characters to get lost in believable ways these days due to all of the navigation and communication options we have in our phones when a road doesn’t lead to the place we thought it should, but these problems were all solved in logical ways here that worked well with the storyline and with what we already knew about the personalities of the main characters. This is something I always enjoy finding in fiction, and it has encouraged me to keep an eye out for what this author may write in the future.

Christmas at Crownthorn Manor – A Yuletide Ghost Story was a quick and spooky read.

 

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

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… Read More

Looking Back, Moving Forward: A Review of Ghost Stories for Christmas

Title: Ghost Stories for Christmas Author: Shane Brown Publisher: Self-Published Publication Date: December 3, 2021 Genres: Paranormal, Holiday, Historical, Contemporary Length: 105 pages Source: I received a free copy from the author. Rating: 4 Stars Blurb: Five ghost stories set during the Christmas period to add an extra chill to the festive season! In “Houses… 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

Wednesday Weekly Blogging Challenge: Scariest Real Life Ghost Story

Hosted by Long and Short Reviews. Click here to read everyone else’s replies to this week’s question and here to see the full list of topics for the year. Unless you count the loud footsteps that sometimes rumble up and down my in-laws stairs (but that are probably just coming from a noisy neighbour in… 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