Book Review: The Mammoth Book of Ghost Stories by Women

13587206Title: The Mammoth Book of Ghost Stories by Women
Author: Marie O’Regan (editor)
Genre: Anthology, Ghost Stories, Horror
Publisher: Running Press
Publication Date: January 1st, 2013
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Review copy purchased by yours truly.

25 Chilling Short Stories by Outstanding Female Writers

Women have always written exceptional stories of horror and the supernatural. This anthology aims to showcase the very best of these, from Amelia B. Edward’s ‘The Phantom Coach’, published in 1864, through past luminaries such as Edith Wharton and Mary Elizabeth Braddon, to modern talents including Muriel Gray, Sarah Pinborough and Lilith Saintcrow.

From tales of ghostly children to visitations by departed loved ones, and from heart-rending stories to the profoundly unsettling depiction of extreme malevolence, what each of these stories has in common is the effect of a slight chilling of the skin, a feeling of something not quite present, but nevertheless there.

If anything, this showcase anthology proves that sometimes the female of the species can also be the most terrifying.

The Mammoth Book of Ghost Stories by Women is an anthology you have to own. One by one, I found the stories mentioned to be breathtakingly unique, and each of them deal with the subject of ‘ghosts’ in their own, distinct way. Some stories are pure horror, spine-chilling, offering goosebumps. Others are more mundane, and talk about the departure of loved ones. Others are set in a purely fictional world, with necromancers and warlocks.

Because of the length and the diversity of this anthology, it’s hard to say something about it as a whole, apart from the fact the editor picked strong, varying stories with interesting premises. The first story is “Field of the Dead”, which talks about a haunted cathedral and a pack of ghost busters trying to exorcise the ghosts and poltergeists. I thought it was an entertaining read with rather prosaic prose, very descriptive as well. “Collect Call” is the next story and one of the best in the anthology. Lee calls collect, and then makes a phone call to his Dad who promises to pick him up. But the call, and the desolate town Lee sees from across the street, may not be what they seem. This was an absolutely wonderful read, one that gave me chills at the end – I love a story that keeps me guessing, and this one definitely succeeded.

Next is “Dead Flowers by a Roadside”, by author Kelley Armstrong. It’s a short, but intriguing read. I liked “The Shadow in the Corner” better though. That story definitely had me spooked. It’s about a lonely, middle-aged man living in a large mansion where someone allegedly killed themselves plenty of years ago. When a young new maid comes to work for them, she has to spend the night in the room of the suicide…Deliciously creepy! “The Madam of the Narrow Houses” left me more confused than anything else. It’s about a self-proclaimed medium whose visited by spirits. A nice read, but like I said, it was a bit confusing.

“The Lost Ghost” was another awesome, spine-chilling read about a girl who goes to live in a house where a small girl died several years ago. Now the little girl’s spirit inhabits the house. This was my second favorite story in the entire anthology. The writing was not too flowery or descriptive, but it did give off that great, old-fashioned vibe. Next up is “The Ninth Witch”, which was, at least in my opinion not much of a ghost story, but more of a messed up fairytale. A girl is raised in a village where women are considered dirt. All eight of her sisters die, and she’s doomed to die herself, unless she manages to do something about it. It’s all told in a very fairytale-like way, but it’s a dark, wicked story with gore and blood flying off the pages.

“Sister, shhh” had a nice twist at the end, and the premise was highly original as well. It’s about a girl who runs away from a cult, to a new, vibrant city, only to be discovered. While that was a good one, the next story, “The Fifth Bedroom” went above and beyond that. Another nail-biting horror story, this tells us about Chloe Benn, retired supermodel and divorced from a billionaire husband who moves into the room of a former prima ballerina who lost her career when she couldn’t walk anymore. Growing into a bitter old woman, the ballerina occupied the fifth bedroom, a mysterious room Chloe can’t seem to find.

“Scairt” was a bit confusing, but not a very scary story. It was actually more a sweet story, although I didn’t like the prose that much with the Irish sentences here and there – for a non-native English speaker, those were annoying. “Seeing Nancy” was another shot in the rose for me though. The creepiness sipped in slowly throughout that story, about a house where people got murdered, and an author who sees her family change the longer they spend in the house.

“The Third Person” left me wanting to strangle someone. That story just didn’t work for me – what was real? what wasn’t? Usually I’m all for these stories, but at least they have to give me a hint. “Freeze Out” was a lot better – a mother has died, and her family is grieving – especially with the surprise twist at the end, one I didn’t see coming at all. “Return” was an excellent read as well. Not that scary, but touching, heartbreaking. “Let Loose” was nice, but not as good as some of the other stories in the anthology. It was about a guy who went into a crypt, unknowingly releasing an evil into this world. “Another One in from the Cold” had me at the edge of my seat. It was a beautiful, moving story, but deliciously frightening at the same time.

“My Moira” was probably my least favorite story in the entire anthology. It was fantasy, and the ghost only played a minor part. “Forget Us Not” was touching, and brought me on the verge of tears. Definitely an excellent short. “Front Row Rider” left me guessing till the very end, which makes me rank it highly in this anthology. It was a mysterious, but well-executed story, with a fast pace and some nice prose. “God Grant That She Lye Still” once again fell in the ‘scary’ category, and it definitely had me spooked. A Doctor meets a woman he might fall for, but she tells him she keeps on losing herself, and she can’t find the “Me” part of her. “The Phantom Coach” reminded me of many old, urban legends I once heard, when people get lost during the night and stumble upon a place where a terrible accident happened many years ago.

“The Old Nurse’s Story” was an excellent read. Delightfully frightening, the descriptions were so vivid I could practically imagine the ghosts standing in front of me. “Among the Shoals Forever” didn’t do anything for me though. Once again going on the more fantasy-like tour, I didn’t enjoy this story very much. “Afterward” was a nice read, although I figured out early on – as opposed to afterward – what was happening. Even though “A Silver Music” wasn’t scary at all, I did think it was an original story, with an unique premise, some nice protagonists and well thought-through.

All in all, The Mammoth Book of Ghost Stories by Women proved a varying, intriguing read. Of course I liked some stories more than others, but the general quality of stories in this anthology is very high. I recommend it to all ghost stories fans.

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