ghost story

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Short Stories Challenge 2018 – A Child’s Problem by Reggie Oliver from the collection A Book Of Horrors.

Published March 14, 2018 by bibliobeth

What’s A Child’s Problem all about?:

A Child’s Problem focuses on a precocious young boy who is forced to go and live with his rich uncle and undergoes a rather haunting experience in his efforts to try and get to know his uncle a little better.

What did I think?:

Reggie Oliver is a well-respected British playwright, biographer and writer of ghost stories and has received numerous nominations for World Fantasy, British Fantasy, Stoker, International Horror Guild and the Shirley Jackson awards. Due to these numerous accolades, I found myself quite excited to discover his work, having never come across him in the past so a short story seemed the perfect place to begin. Now I’ve finished it and had some time to mull over it, I find myself in two minds about the story itself. On the one hand, it’s obvious the author can write and he’s excellent at creating an atmospheric narrative that makes you want to keep on reading but for some reason, this story just didn’t have enough bite for me. There was plenty of potential of course, but the direction it ended up taking just left me feeling slightly deflated.

A Child’s Problem follows a young boy, George who at nine years old is told that he must now live with his wealthy Uncle Augustus whilst his parents decamp to India for a while for his father’s work. At first, this seems like a big adventure for George, the house and grounds are large and there is plenty of opportunity for exploring however his Uncle is a difficult, rather sullen character who seems to have regretted agreeing to take George under his wing. On the interactions that they do have, he tries to get rid of him as soon as possible by giving him various quests around the property and puzzles to solve so that he can have a bit of peace. The puzzles that Augustus gives him however are a lot more sinister than first meets the eye and point to a dreadful history that leads George very quickly to be in terrible danger himself. As well as this, George is starting to see strange, shadowy figures under an old oak tree at the front of the house and he starts to wonder about the secrets that his Uncle Augustus believes he will keep hidden.

Interesting premise right? I was certainly intrigued and the writing was assured and captivating to read throughout the narrative. I was quite surprised that it was a bit longer than I was expecting and perhaps it suffered a bit for this length as about two-thirds of the way into it, unfortunately I began to lose interest. There are a host of unlikeable characters to get to grips with, which I always enjoy in a story but for some reason, even when some are in mortal danger, I still didn’t connect with them as much as I would have liked. Reggie Oliver certainly has a gift for writing eerie settings and some of the scenes, in particular when George finds the family tombs are quite chilling but sadly, by the end of the story, I just didn’t feel like I understood properly what it was all about and why exactly everything played out the way it did. This is just my personal opinion, however and I’m sure other readers would love it for the quality of the writing alone.

Would I recommend it?:


Star rating (out of 5):

3 Star Rating Clip Art

NEXT SHORT STORY: At The Mountain Of Madness by H.P. Lovecraft from the collection The Definitive H.P. Lovecraft.


The Coffin Path – Katherine Clements

Published February 8, 2018 by bibliobeth

What’t it all about?:

The Coffin Path is an eerie and compelling seventeenth-century ghost story set on the dark wilds of the Yorkshire moors. For fans of Michelle Paver and Sarah Waters, this gothic tale will weave its way into your imagination and chill you to the bone.

Maybe you’ve heard tales about Scarcross Hall, the house on the old coffin path that winds from village to moor top. They say there’s something up here, something evil.

Mercy Booth isn’t afraid. The moors and Scarcross are her home and lifeblood. But, beneath her certainty, small things are beginning to trouble her. Three ancient coins missing from her father’s study, the shadowy figure out by the gatepost, an unshakeable sense that someone is watching.

When a stranger appears seeking work, Mercy reluctantly takes him in. As their stories entwine, this man will change everything. She just can’t see it yet.

What did I think?:

First of all, thank you so much to Headline publishers and Caitlin Raynor for allowing me to read a copy of this eerie, fascinating novel, set on the Yorkshire moors in the seventeenth century via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. I love a good ghost story but haven’t read one in quite some time and definitely haven’t read one that gripped me as much as the story of Mercy Booth and her moors filled with sheep did. It’s an incredibly atmospheric novel and I could visualise the moors that Mercy lives on and the sheep that are in her care in full, glorious detail. The house that she lives in with her father and housekeeper becomes almost a character unto itself with the number of secrets it keeps and the strange noises that have started to emanate from a locked bedroom within the house, terrifying residents and visitors alike.

Our story begins with Mercy tearing out into the inclement weather to assist a ewe who is struggling to give birth to her lamb (more on this scene later) and from there we learn about Mercy’s life, an independent young woman who has taken most of the work of looking after her family’s flock from her father as his health, strength and mind begins to fail. She is determined, strong and fiercely loyal to her family’s business and probably knows as much or indeed more about looking after sheep than her head shepherd does. The novel follows her life as they take on a mysterious new worker, stranger to the town Ellis Ferreby, the family start to discover a number of mutilated sheep on the premises, precious things of her father’s go missing and there are aforementioned curious noises from the bedroom where a young boy once died. Meanwhile, all residents at the property are starting to get an odd sense that someone is watching them and wishes them ill. For what purpose? All will be revealed but the journey to get there might make you want to turn the lights back on if you’re reading this just before bed.

This novel has one of the most brutal and graphic beginnings I’ve ever read and although it doesn’t set the tone for what the rest of the book is going to be like (i.e. not so graphic) I’d seriously go into it with your stomach well fortified! Our main character, Mercy is birthing a lamb and in full, gory detail the process is described to the reader as Mercy struggles to save both the newborn and its mother. I’m lucky enough to have quite a strong stomach (must be the huge volume of horror tomes I’ve read in the past?), and as soon as I read this opening chapter I knew I was going to enjoy this book. Not so much for the content I hasten to add, but for the writing style, the setting and how Katherine Clements pulls you into Mercy’s world effortlessly, where not only can you visualise everything around her but you’re fighting her corner completely and hoping that she manages to save the animals from certain death.

The Coffin Path is very much a book that illustrates the sign of the times where poverty, superstition, rumours of witchcraft and fear of religion – that is to say, what would happen if you didn’t attend church are rife. The author portrays these attitudes and worries perfectly and it’s a fine historical account of what it might be like to live in England in these frightening times. Speaking of frightening, there’s passages of this narrative that I think will stay with me for a long time yet, it was incredibly creepy and disconcerting and there’s a particular fire screen that I don’t think I will ever forget! I loved the whole gothic nature of Mercy’s story and not only was her character written to perfection, instantly making me root for her but she was flawed, vulnerable and undeniably human which I adored. I’m not going to talk about the ending too much but let me just say, if you like being shocked you’re in for a treat here. Unfortunately, I kind of guessed parts of the “big reveal,” but luckily, not everything surrounding it and it was a fantastic way to finish off an engrossing and thrilling novel.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):


The Coffin Path by Katherine Clements was the eleventh book in my quest to conquer Mount Everest in the Mount TBR Challenge 2018!

Short Stories Challenge 2017 – The Drowned Village by Kate Mosse from the collection The Mistletoe Bride And Other Haunting Tales

Published June 10, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s The Drowned Village all about?:

This is the story of a young boy called Gaston whom after tragic circumstances in his own life becomes embroiled in a strange ceremony to celebrate the ghostly inhabitants of a village under the sea.

What did I think?:

I love anything with a bit of a ghostly feel, a thrill, something that chills me and makes my heart beat a little faster and when it happens to be a bit fairy-tale inspired also, you can pretty much guarantee I’m going to be a happy little bookworm. I’m not quite sure if The Drowned Village delivered on all of these counts. There were parts of it that were absolutely beautiful and certainly made me (almost) shiver but it didn’t seem to hit the spot in exactly the right way I was hoping.

As Kate Mosse tells the reader in the Author’s Note which she writes after each story (which I love by the way!) this story is based on an old Breton folk tale which of course, with my love of the mythical and other-worldly I was very intrigued by. It is a very fascinating concept, one of tides entirely reclaiming a village and its final stubborn inhabitants who refused to move. However, on certain nights you can still hear the villagers moaning under the water and a dim light under the waves can still be seen if you look very closely.

However, before all of this, we meet our main character, a lad called Gaston who is receiving a very coveted scholarship at school to go and study at a boarding school many miles away. We get the sense Gaston has already suffered too much in his young life from his worn clothes, demeanour and difficult relationship with his parents, who also seem to be a clear target for other children to make fun of. When tragedy strikes, Gaston who has no other relatives is sent to live temporarily with a school friend who tells him all about the drowned village and how annually, a festival is held by the believers of the village where the ghostly sea people return to the land for a brief period of time. At first, I wondered how Gaston and this other thread of the story were going to be connected but it does end up merging together near the end when he becomes involved unintentionally in the ceremony.

So there were quite a lot of things in this story that I enjoyed. I really liked the character of Gaston, his vulnerability but also incredible internal strength under adversity and as mentioned earlier, I did appreciate the folk tale aspect of the ghostly village people. There are some quite potentially frightening moments during the annual ceremony at the festival but I can’t help but feeling like they could have been executed slightly better – perhaps with a cliffhanger of an ending that kind of almost happened but didn’t in the end. I think if it had ended in the way I was expecting I would have been left with a better overall feeling of this story and don’t get me wrong, I definitely enjoyed it, just maybe not as much as I was hoping to. That’s not to say that others won’t feel the complete opposite though!

Would I recommend it?:


Star rating (out of 5):

3 Star Rating Clip Art

NEXT SHORT STORY: Alice Through The Plastic Sheet by Robert Shearman from the collection A Book Of Horrors

Short Stories Challenge – The Mistletoe Bride by Kate Mosse from the collection The Mistletoe Bride and Other Haunting Tales

Published September 21, 2015 by bibliobeth


What’s The Mistletoe Bride all about?:

The Mistletoe Bride is the first story in this collection and is told from the point of view of the spirit of a young woman as she recalls her wedding day and a game of hide and seek that went tragically wrong.

What did I think?:

If you hadn’t already twigged from the title that the stories in this collection offer a hint of the macabre the first sentence in this tale might give you another clue: “I hear someone coming.” Of course, this may be a fairly innocent line but the reader has already been primed for something unsettling with the inclusion of lyrics from an old song:

“At length an old chest that had long lain hid, was found in the castle; they raised the lid, And a skeleton form lay mouldering there, in the bridal wreath of that lady fair.”

This was certainly enough to send a shiver down my spine, more so when I reached the afterword written by the author where she explained that this is a very old story (possibly related to a real life event?) although the origins of the specific site of the wedding are slightly murky. Our story is narrated by the unnamed lady in question who tells of her marriage one Christmas time to a man called Lovell whom her parents believe is a great match for her. We sense her anxiety through their wedding feast and her first dances with her husband although she reminds herself that their alliance will be good for their families and that Lovell is a gentle man. These are clearly the worries of a very young woman perhaps not long into adulthood in an arranged marriage where she is not entirely sure how everything works.

Tired and feeling slightly bored of the monotony of the day she suggests a game of hide and seek which is greeted with much enthusiasm. Exploring the many rooms and stairways of what is to be her new home she comes upon a room which looks to have been forgotten holding nothing but a large chest. There she hides herself and waits in anticipation of Lovell coming to find her and being charmed by her maidenly ways. As you might have guessed, she isn’t found but continues to lie there while they search the house shouting her name and then begin dredging the nearby rivers. She sees her husband growing older, dying then successive generations inhabiting the house, none of which open the chest to find her body. She begins to give up hope that somebody will find her and set her spirit free where she can finally lay at rest alongside her husband.

This story had a really cracking beginning and was so deliciously eerie I found it easy to picture a restless spirit forced to re-imagine what should have been the happiest day of her life but instead ended in her untimely death. I was hoping that it might continue in this way but although I did enjoy the description of the events immediately prior to her death I felt that the story lost some of its initial power. Some of its strength returned in the afterword by Kate Mosse (nice touch there, I think I’m going to enjoy these) where she explained how she first came to write The Mistletoe Bride but I was still a teensy bit disappointed overall. That’s not to say it isn’t a good story, it most definitely is and I would recommend it but I would have preferred if it had continued in the same vein as the first page or so.

Would I recommend it?:


Star rating (out of 5):

3 Star Rating Clip Art

NEXT SHORT STORY: Tell Me I’ll See You Again by Dennis Etchison from the collection A Book of Horrors

The Turn Of The Screw – Henry James

Published December 6, 2014 by bibliobeth


What’s it all about?:

The story starts conventionally enough with friends sharing ghost stories ’round the fire on Christmas Eve. One of the guests tells about a governess at a country house plagued by supernatural visitors. But in the hands of Henry James, the master of nuance, this little tale of terror is an exquisite gem of sexual and psychological ambiguity. Only the young governess can see the ghosts; only she suspects that the previous governess and her lover are controlling the two orphaned children (a girl and a boy) for some evil purpose. The household staff don’t know what she’s talking about, the children are evasive when questioned, and the master of the house (the children’s uncle) is absent. Why does the young girl claim not to see a perfectly visible woman standing on the far side of the lake? Are the children being deceptive, or is the governess being paranoid? By leaving the questions unanswered, The Turn of Screw generates spine-tingling anxiety in its mesmerized readers.

What did I think?:

The Turn Of The Screw was originally published in 1898 and can be described as “a gothic ghost story novella.” The author, Henry James, an American-born author was at the forefront of writing “different” novels in this period where he explored interior monologue, unreliable narrators and consciousness. He is probably best known for this novella and for his novel The Portrait Of A Lady, which I am yet to read. This tale opens on a group of friends who are sharing ghost stories one evening and The Turn Of The Screw is one of the stories which is offered up by a gentleman who promises to chill and delight the group. The story is narrated from the point of view of our main character, a young woman who is taking up the post of a governess to look after two children in a secluded country home. She is interviewed by the uncle who takes responsibility (but not TOO much responsibility, he enjoys his life in London too much for that!) for his nephew and niece, Miles and Flora after the death of their parents.

The governess is quite taken with her employer and is excited, albeit a little anxious to take up her new role. On meeting the children however, it seems she has nothing to worry about. Miles and Flora are angelic, adorable and affectionate children who immediately put the governess at ease as she begins to relax into her position. But of course, all is not as it seems, and strange things begin happening within the property. Miles returns home earlier than expected, expelled from his school with a letter from his headmaster stating that fact. Unfortunately, he will not talk about the reason behind his expulsion and the governess who finds herself utterly charmed by the boy, lets the matter lie. Then she begins to see two strange presences who keep appearing and disappearing in different places in the property. The children claim not to see them when questioned, however the governess begins to find it hard to believe them and incidents occur that leave her wondering if they are quite so angelic as they seem. Who are the spirits and what are their purposes? Is there real “evil” in the house or even in the children? Or is everything a complete figment of the governess’ imagination? The author has us wondering right until the end of the story – which is also completely ambiguous, leaving the reader to make up their own mind.

I was very excited going into this story, having heard it hailed as one of the best (and scariest) ghost stories of all time. Apologies to anyone who loves this book, but I was bitterly disappointed. Sure, there were a couple of eerie moments and I think Henry James drew the reader in with some fascinating characterisation of the children, but I’ve read scarier and better (The Woman In Black by Susan Hill, for example). I found the opening of the story, where friends are telling each other thrilling tales very dull and the entire way through it felt like I was just waiting for it to get better. The rating I have given it is based on the strength of the writing and beauty of the vocabulary alone, I’m afraid The Turn In The Screw just wasn’t for me. This may be because I had already over-hyped it in my own mind, or perhaps I didn’t appreciate the subtle nuances of the tale enough. If you agree or disagree with me, let me know! It’s definitely a good book for discussion if nothing else.

Would I recommend it?:

Probably not.

Star rating (out of 5):

3 Star Rating Clip Art