Short Story Review: A Selection of Ghost Stories by M.R. James

For my Halloween Reads 2020, I read four spooky short stories by M.R. James, and although I am going to review each one separately – and briefly – I thought a single post was a more efficient use of time and blog space 😉

Count Magnus

Summary – Mr Wraxhall, a travel-writer, goes to Sweden, where he comes across the interesting character of Count Magnus in the local history. But interest quickly turns into something far more deadly…

Favourite Quote – “…and found myself (as before) turning in at the churchyard gate, and, I believe, singing or chanting some such words as, ‘Are you awake, Count Magnus? Are you asleep, Count Magnus?’…”

Review – It took me a little while to get into this story, but when I did I found the sense of place that M.R. James conjured was captivating.  As the story progressed, it gained momentum and the tension certainly increased. Although there are certainly horror elements to the tale, I think it’s the psychological element of this one that makes it memorable.

Rating

The Mezzotint

Summary – The story of a picture that is so much more than it seems at first glance…

Favourite Quote – “What he saw made him very nearly drop the candle on the floor, and he declares now that if he had been left in the dark at that moment he would have had a fit.”

Review – The Mezzotint was my favourite of the four short stories I read.  It was tense, atmospheric and dramatic. Some paintings do have eerie qualities to them, so for this one to achieve what it did and tell such a sinister story…all I can say is that it was the perfect Halloween Read! Chilling. Highly recommended!

Rating

‘Oh, Whistle and I’ll Come to You, My Lad’

Summary – A college professor takes a short holiday on the East Coast, and is asked by a colleague to check out a site for an archaeological dig. But he finds so much more than he expects…

Favourite Quote – “Few people can resist the temptation to try a little amateur research in a department quite outside their own, if only for the satisfaction of showing how successful they would have been had they only taken it up seriously.”

Review – This story took a little while to get going, but once it did, my! As I mentioned in the previous two reviews, the tension builds quite dramatically, and I must confess, unexpectedly, because at first, I wasn’t quite sure I was that hooked into the story.  There’s an almost nightmarish quality to this one, so if like me, you feel the beginning is too slow, stick with it. I wasn’t disappointed, and I hope neither will you be.

Rating

Casting the Runes

Summary – Mr Karswell writes books on esoteric subjects, but good luck to the reviewer whose finds his writing less than remarkable…

Favourite Quote – “Why, my dear, just as present Mr Karswell is a very angry man.  But I don’t know much about him otherwise, except that he is a person of wealth, his address is Lufford Abbey, Warwickshire, and he’s an alchemist, apparently, and wants to tell us all about…”

Review – My least favourite of the four stories, this one felt it took a great deal of time to get going, and probably suffered for being the last one I read.  I thought it more of a mystery with an almost fantasy bent to it than a truly ghostly read like the other three. The story was interesting, and I was keen to see how the tale was resolved, but I wasn’t particularly drawn to the characters. The locations were interesting too, but unfortunately, this probably wasn’t a good choice on my part for a Halloween Read.

Rating

Book Review: Forever by Maggie Stiefvater

Forever is the third book in The Wolves of Mercy Falls trilogy by Maggie Stiefvater.

Quick Review (read on for full review)

An enjoyable and fitting third book in the trilogy.  I love Maggie’s Stiefvater’s style of writing. 4 / 5

Summary (from Goodreads)

then.
When Sam met Grace, he was a wolf and she was a girl. Eventually he found a way to become a boy, and their love moved from curious distance to the intense closeness of shared lives.

now.
That should have been the end of their story. But Grace was not meant to stay human. Now she is the wolf. And the wolves of Mercy Falls are about to be killed in one final, spectacular hunt.

forever.
Sam would do anything for Grace. But can one boy and one love really change a hostile, predatory world? The past, the present, and the future are about to collide in one pure moment–a moment of death or life, farewell or forever.

Favourite Quote

Overhead, the stars were wheeling and infinite, a complicated mobile made by giants. They pulled me amongst them, into space and memories.

(From Forever by Maggie Stiefvater, page 85)

Review

It had been a few years since I read and reviewed the first two books in The Wolves of Mercy Fall trilogy (you can read those reviews here: Shiver, and Linger), back in 2017.  So I thought it was about time I got around to complete reading the trilogy.

I like the way Maggie Stiefvater writes.  There is fluidity to passages and the imagery she paints with words is amazing (see Favourite Quote above).  There is just something very simple but full of impact in descriptions like that.

The setting for the story, by which I mean the natural spaces, is stunning.  I loved the descriptions of the woods, and as the story moved towards the final third / quarter, the pacing really picked up.

Grace and Sam were (of course) the stars of story.  Their romance and what it must survive and overcome is quite unlike anything else I’ve read, probably because the forces at work are so beyond either of their control.  Out of the two, Sam was my favourite: he’s got a lot going on but handles the pressure fantastically.  Grace, for all her intelligence, was more self-involved and seemed occupied with a fair few “I want to do / see…” thoughts, some of which didn’t really make sense to me, given the danger that was all around them.

Although it was interesting to see what was going on from Cole and Isabel’s perspective, and they do have their own storylines and parts to play in the overall story, which I appreciated, I sometimes felt they were a little too distracting.  However, that wasn’t the case each and every time the POV switched to them, but on occasion it felt like the story was moving further away from Grace and Sam.  What I learned as I was writing this review, and thinking that their story would have made a great spin-off, is that there is another book in this series, Sinner, that focuses on Cole and Isabel! Woohoo!  Another book added to the ever-growing TBR list…

One of the highlights of the series is how being part-human part-wolf is portrayed.  There are no “werewolves”.  There is no magic.  It’s not even paranormal, at least not in the way we often expect the paranormal to be.  It just is.  It’s more science and biology than anything else, and I think that really sets this story apart from other YA paranormal books that I’ve read.

One thing I didn’t really like about Forever was the ending, by which I mean the final chapter.  Although it completed the narrative of the trilogy, I felt it was left a little too open for it to feel satisfying.  It left me with more questions that I wanted answers to, but, overall, I enjoyed the story and was glad I finished the trilogy. Now I’m looking forward to reading Sinner

Rating

Book Review: The Medium by C. J Archer

The Medium is the first book in the Emily Chambers Spirit Medium trilogy by C. J. Archer.

Quick Review (read on for full review)

An enjoyable, easy to read paranormal story set in a convincing Victorian setting, combined with a solid mystery and a large dose of romance.  4 / 5

Summary (from Goodreads)

Seventeen year-old spirit medium Emily Chambers has a problem. Actually, she has several. As if seeing dead people isn’t a big enough social disadvantage, she also has to contend with an escaped demon and a handsome ghost with a secret past. And then there’s the question of her parentage. Being born an entire year after her father’s death (yes, a year) and without the pale skin of other respectable English ladies, Emily is as much a mystery as the dead boy assigned to her.

Jacob Beaufort’s spirit has been unable to crossover since his death. It might have something to do with the fact he was murdered. Or it might not. All he knows is, he has been assigned by the Otherworld’s administrators to a girl named Emily. A girl who can see and touch him. A girl who released a shape-shifting demon into the mortal realm. Together they must send the demon back before it wreaks havoc on London. It should be a simple assignment, but they soon learn there’s nothing simple when a live girl and a dead boy fall in love.

Favourite Quote

“Tell me you won’t go, tell me you’ll stay forever, tell me you love me.”

(From The Medium by C. J. Archer)

Review

The Medium has been sitting on my virtual shelf for so many years, that I’ve actually lost count how many it’s been.  But, having made sure that I managed to get around to reading the first book in the Glass and Steele series by the same author for last year’s Indie Only Month, (and although that had been on my virtual bookshelf for some time, it hadn’t been as long as The Medium) I was determined to get around to reading this one this year.  And I did!  Woohoo!  On to the review…

The first thing I have to mention is the gorgeous book cover.  I love the colours and the font, not to mention the flourishes, but it is the moonlit, fog-swathed view of the Victorian street that really caught my eye – and my imagination.

I liked Emily Chambers for the most part.  Sometimes she came across as too childish for my liking, especially when it came to dealing with her older sister, and I did find that a little off-putting, but it wasn’t enough to stop me reading or make me turn against her character. However, I thought she was terribly dismissive of the sensitivities of others when she decided it was her place to reveal news to a family when a ghost had asked her not too.  And at that point, I didn’t particularly like her so much.

I did like Jacob.  He was convincingly created so you could believe he was this confused, sometimes over-confident, sometimes possibly dangerous young man at a loss as to understand what has befallen him and why he is different from other ghosts.

As for the other characters, they were also very well drawn. I liked Emily’s sister, Celia – she had a lot to put up with from Emily, I thought.  The Chamber’s new maid was amusing.  My favourite character from the whole book though was probably George, the rich, eccentric demonologist. I hope we get to see him make more appearances in later books.

The love story is one I can invest in. There is an instant attraction / connection between the two leads and it works – sometimes this sort of insta-love doesn’t work, but with these character, and in this setting, I found it acceptable.  Also, the romantic plot isn’t perfect, there are plenty of obstacles for them to overcome, which kept me interested.

The mystery aspect of the story was solid, leaving me gripped and engaged enough to need to know how it was going to be resolved.  This resolution did seem a little too easy, compared to the path which them there but by the time we reached it, I was probably more interested in wondering where the next book was going to lead, especially in terms of the romantic storyline.

The descriptions of Victorian London ensured I could imagine each and every setting.  From the Chamber’s home in Druid’s Lane, to the parlours of those they visited for the seances they conducted, then there was George’s library, the dark, dank streets of Whitechapel, the school for domestic servants…I could envisage them all.

The big question I found myself asking whilst reading (and subsequently after) was, is The Medium better than The Watchmaker’s Daughter? (see my review for the latter here). This sort of comparison usually helps me when I’m struggling to rate a book.  I awarded the first book in the Glass and Steele series four out of five stars, and I think The Medium is on a level with that.  I enjoyed them both, very much.

The second book in the series is Possession, and I have added it to my ‘books to be bought’ list.

Rating

Book Review: Wolf’s Wife by Julie Midnight

Summary (from Goodreads)

Alice is twenty-four, far old enough to know that a change of scenery can’t repair the cracks in a relationship long strained. But when her lover insists on a trip to a remote cabin to get away and recharge, Alice agrees…and soon discovers that among the beasts of the forest, there is one that shouldn’t exist and yet does: a wolf that changes into a man and a man who changes into a wolf. He’s savage, suspicious, and feral. And he’s as undeniably interested in her as she is in him…

Wolf’s Wife is an erotic paranormal romance and the first book in the Monstrous Hearts series.

Favourite Quote

Even in a mind worn into paths of silence and appeasement, the urge to snap and claw and kick burns like an ember hidden in the ashes.

Review

Like my previous review, this isn’t the usual type of paranormal book I read.  There is a lot of mature content to be found in the story – so should you go off and read it yourself, you’ve been warned…  Neither is it full of the usual werewolf fare.

I loved the story, but more than that, I loved the characters.  I warmed to Alice very quickly; her relationship with Magdalene was hard to read, so tipped were the scales.  Colton, the werewolf, with his aloofness, his wariness, was very realistic.  He’s gruff and rough and suspicious, almost animal traits that he brings with him into his human form rather than leaving behind with the wolf.  And that makes this werewolf more lifelike than what is usually depicted in supernaturally-themed tales.

There is a complexness in this story that makes this paranormal romance so believable.  The characters are well-crafted and the story well-thought out and well-written.  The author knows how to build atmosphere and tension, and as the quote above shows, there is a beauty to the prose.

There’s also a rawness about this tale.  Colton, as a man/wolf between worlds has to decide whether he can trust this stranger.  And as for Alice, who also finds herself “in between”, between her world and his, between her relationship with Magdalene and her feelings, she’s trying to navigate her way through some pretty difficult territory.

I will certainly be reading the sequel, Wolf’s Bane to find out how the story continues to unfold.

Rating

Book Review: Winter Prey by T.M. Simmons

Winter Prey is the first book in the Northwood Prey series by T.M. Simmons.

Quick Review (read on for full review)

An engaging read, full of vivid descriptions and interesting characters.  I would definitely read this again. 4 / 5

Summary (from Goodreads)

Terrified she will harm hew newly-adoped daughter in the throes of a PTSD flashback, Kymbria James travels to the far Northwood of Minnesota to work with a Native American healer. As the monster captures one after another tribal member and drags each off to its lair, Kymbria is forced into the quest to destroy it. She must confront both her emotional situation and the monster only she can eradicate…if she can find the courage.

Favourite Quote

You are not sure of your own strength.  None of us are.

Review

I enjoyed this book.  Although to begin with I found it to be a slow burn, it gathered pace the more I read, until eventually I couldn’t put it down.

Kymbria is an interesting character.  She is strong and independent, and her determination in the face of adversity is inspiring.  As for the other characters, Caleb’s history makes him the perfect addition to the story, and there is an air of mystery surrounding the Native American healer, Keoman.

The storyline was gripping.  Not only must Kymbria come to terms with the fact that a monster – a Windigo – from her people’s mythology is real, but when it takes an interest in her personally, she must deal with it along with all the other drama going on in her life.

There is plenty of vivid description throughout the story, bringing the landscape in which it is set to life.  I could clearly imagine what was taking place and where as I read.  The dialogue was realistic, and the storyline, even though it contained elements of the paranormal and a mythical creature, was believable.

My only criticism is the ending.  I felt the story ended too abruptly and though one story line was satisfactorily resolved, another was only hinted at.  As it’s the first book in the series, there is a potential for this to be tackled in the next book.

The second book in the Northwood Prey series is Silent Prey.  I’ve added it to my TBR.

A great read, one I would recommend to those who enjoy paranormal mysteries.

Rating

 

Book Review: A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness

A Discovery of Witches is the first book in The All Souls Trilogy by Deborah Harkness.

Quick Review (read on for full review)

A beautifully written paranormal romance for adults that drew me into the story from the very first page.  4.5 / 5

Summary (from Goodreads)

A world of witches, daemons and vampires. A manuscript which holds the secrets of their past and the key to their future. Diana and Matthew – the forbidden love at the heart of it.

When historian Diana Bishop opens an alchemical manuscript in the Bodleian Library, it’s an unwelcome intrusion of magic into her carefully ordered life. Though Diana is a witch of impeccable lineage, the violent death of her parents while she was still a child convinced her that human fear is more potent than any witchcraft. Now Diana has unwittingly exposed herself to a world she’s kept at bay for years; one of powerful witches, creative, destructive daemons and long-lived vampires. Sensing the significance of Diana’s discovery, the creatures gather in Oxford, among them the enigmatic Matthew Clairmont, a vampire genticist. Diana is inexplicably drawn to Matthew and, in a shadowy world of half-truths and old enmities, ties herself to him without fully understanding the ancient line they are crossing. As they begin to unlock the secrets of the manuscript and their feelings for each other deepen, so the fragile balance of peace unravels…

Favourite Quote

There were so many to choose from but I opted for:

“A little book can hold a big secret – one that might change the world.  You’re a witch.  You know words have power.”

Review

“It begins with absence and desire.
It begins with blood and fear.
It begins with a discovery of witches.”

I knew when I read the first words on the back of the book, I knew I was going to love this story.  And I did.  This is the second time I’ve read the book in the past few years, but this is the first time I’ve got around to reviewing it.  Reading it a second time was just as good as reading it the first time, if not better because I managed to pick up on the little things I missed, enriching the reading.

The book is beautifully and intelligently written – the author has a wonderful way with words – and I was drawn into the story from the very first page.  The descriptions of places and people are detailed enough to bring the story to life, but not heavy enough to bog it down.  The pace and flow of the book was spot-on, so the story unravelled seamlessly. The story is rich in science, alchemy and historical references, and when a chunk of the book is set in one of the most famous library’s in the world…well, what’s not to love.

All the characters were well thought out and believable.  Neither Diana or Matthew are perfect – she is wilful (sometimes against all reason) and wants to believe her academic merits were achieved without the help of witchcraft, whilst he is ancient and comes from a world where he is to be obeyed without question.  However, despite this, they are interesting and engaging, and together they have a lot to learn.  As for the other characters – I loved Ysabeau, Sarah and Em, Marcus and Miriam and Hamish.

I thought the world building was fantastic.  The distinctions and attributes of witches, vampires and deamons was cleverly conceived and clearly depicted in the story, especially the fine line between madness and genius in daemons.  Neither does the story shy away from or gloss over the darker aspectss of these creatures.

As the first book in a trilogy, A Discovery of Witches lays a good, solid foundation for the following two books.  I’m excited to read the second instalment, Shadow of Night, to find out where the story takes us next.  If you enjoy paranormal fiction, I recommend you give A Discovery of Witches a read.

Rating

4.5 / 5

Book Review: The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon

The Bone Season is the first book in the series of the same name by Samantha Shannon.

Summary (from Goodreads)

The year is 2059. Nineteen-year-old Paige Mahoney is working in the criminal underworld of Scion London, based at Seven Dials, employed by a man named Jaxon Hall. Her job: to scout for information by breaking into people’s minds. For Paige is a dreamwalker, a clairvoyant and, in the world of Scion, she commits treason simply by breathing.

It is raining the day her life changes for ever. Attacked, drugged and kidnapped, Paige is transported to Oxford – a city kept secret for two hundred years, controlled by a powerful, otherworldly race. Paige is assigned to Warden, a Rephaite with mysterious motives. He is her master. Her trainer. Her natural enemy. But if Paige wants to regain her freedom she must allow herself to be nurtured in this prison where she is meant to die.

Favourite Quote

Nothing’s worse than a story without an end.

Review

Hmm.  I really really wanted to like this book. The truth is I didn’t like the first half but enjoyed the second, and that makes it quite hard to review.  When reading the first half, I struggled to pick the book up, but, for the second half of the book I struggled to put it down.

What didn’t I like about the first half?  There was too much information about the world the story was set it, and that made it clunky to read and slow going.  At times I felt like I was wading through detail, description and definitions to get to the story.

What did I like about the second half?  I’m not sure that the second half of book was any easier to read or any lighter on detail, but the storyline did pick up and that helped both the flow of the plot and its pace.  The characters really came into their own (I especially liked Nick, Liss and Julian), there was a lot of action, and the ending was good and worth the effort of working through the slower passages.

If the world-building information had been lighter and perhaps more subtly incorporated into the story, I think this book would have been fantastic.  I understand that as the first book set in this world enough information has to be offered to the reader so they can understand what is going on but it felt unnecessarily complicated.

There is, however, no arguing with the fact that the author possesses a great imagination.  The parts I enjoyed, I really enjoyed.

Will I read the second book in the series, The Mime Order?  Yes, I think I would.

There is a lot to get to grips with in The Bone Season; the cast of characters is vast and there is a lot of terminology that is used throughout (there is a glossary to accompany the story).  If you like to become completely immersed in a fantasy / future world, then you will enjoy the level of detail in this book.

Rating

As for the rating, I would have given the first half no more than 2 /5, and the second half 4/5, so 3/5 seems like a pretty fair score.

 

Book Review: Listen by Sarah Doughty

Listen is the third book in the Earthen Witch series by Sarah Doughty.

Summary (from Goodreads)

When vampires Liam and Jon go missing, it’s up to Aisling Green and her friends to find them, but doing so and surviving what awaits won’t be easy.

Battling against things she cannot fight isn’t something Earthen witch Aisling Green is used to, but she must act quickly and outsmart the one that wants her dead and save the lives of her friends before it’s too late.

As they follow the trail, they rescue a most unlikely person, and uncover a deeper, more sinister plot. With the lives of the two vampires on the line, they must fight for their lives, try to rescue their friends, and stop the evil plans. In the face of so much danger and uncertainty, they are forced to go to war and make a discovery that will change everything. The question then becomes at what price will they be forced to pay to survive?

Favourite Quote

And then I felt his lips pull back into a smile.  “In order to kill the Earthen you must wear a pink tutu and sing I’m A Little Teacup,” the vampire responded in that same old Romanian accent.

Review

Having enjoyed the first two Earthen Witch novels, Just Breathe and Focus (you can find my reviews for them here, and here), I knew I had to read the third instalment in the series to see how Aisling and Connor and their friends were fairing.

I love this world Sarah Doughty has created.  The unique mythology is detailed and fantastic and just adds richness to this supernatural fantasy series. Witches, vampires, werewolves, shamans and sphinxes, this book series has them all and more besides.  Both the major and minor characters are engaging, each with own background story to tell, adding further depth to an already captivating cast.

Aisling is a great main character.  She is so very strong even though past experiences have left their mark.  With the love and support of Connor, she overcomes, and that is a great message.  It makes her believable…realistic…human, and reminds the reader that anything is possible.

The story is well-paced and there is action throughout, leading to an entertaining, engaging read.  And as for the ending, all I’m going to say is that it sets the story up nicely for the next book.

If you like the paranormal romance genre, you will love this series, but I recommend you start at the beginning with Just Breathe so you can fully immerse yourself in the scope and magic of the Earthen Witch world.

Rating

I downloaded a copy of Listen by Sarah Doughty for Free via Smashwords

Short Story Review: Norfolk Twilight by M.L. Eaton

Summary (from Goodreads)

A short, but magical, haunting tale of country ways, adventure, loss and love.Two friends are sitting, amicably silent, in the dusk of a winter’s day, when the atmosphere around them changes. Soon a story of love, loss and adventure unfolds, with unexpected consequences for them both.

Favourite Quote

Dusk crept in early from beneath the lowering brow of a winter sky.

Review

An enjoyable read that cleverly weaves tales of the past and the present together.  I liked how the stories seamlessly flowed from one to the other.

This is not a ghost story; there are no tense spooky passages that will make you jump.  However, it is a story of ghosts, where memories of what has gone before are remembered by the fabric of the building in which they were made.

The story is rich in evocative description that gently pulls you into the story. My favourite quote (see above) is the opening line of the tale, and illustrates this perfectly.

Norfolk Twilight is an intelligent, beautifully written short story. I would happily read more from this author.

Rating

I found Norfolk Twilight by M. L. Eaton available for Free on Smashwords

Book Review: Torment by Lauren Kate

Torment is the second book in the Fallen series by Lauren Kate.

Summary (blurb taken from back cover)

Love never dies…

It took Lucinda an eternity to find her beloved angel, Daniel.  But he waited for her.  Now they are forced apart again, to protect Luce from the Outcasts – immortals who want her dead.  During their separation, Luce learns about her mysterious past lives.  But the more she discovers, the more she suspects that Daniel is hiding something.

What if Daniel’s version of the past isn’t true?  Is it really their destiny to be together?  Or is Luce actually meant to be with somebody else?

Favourite Quote

Sometimes beautiful things come into our lives out of nowhere.  We can’t always understand them, but we have to trust in them.  I know you want to question everything, but sometimes it pays to just have a little faith.

Review

After struggling to enjoy reading the first book in the series, I don’t know if I would have read the second, Torment, only I had already bought it when I purchased Fallen.  The covers pulled me in and persuaded me to buy them.  And I’m sort-of glad they did, because I enjoyed Torment more than the previous instalment and I wouldn’t have known that.

I’m still not a big fan of Luce – I think her attitude is all wrong and she just comes across as a really selfish person on occasion.  Again, it is her friend who I am more interested in as a character.  In the last book it was Penn.  This time round it is Luce’s hippy roommate Shelby.

Parts of the book were still slow-going in places, and still there is stuff going on which is alluded to but never explained.  It doesn’t make it mysterious, only confusing.  However, it was certainly more enjoyable than Fallen to read, and the end really set up the third book in the series nicely.  So much so, that I’m intrigued to find out what happens next, something which I couldn’t envision myself thinking at the end of book one.

Rating

3.5 / 5