Book Review: The Mystery of Spring-Heeled Jack by John Matthews

28688069Title: The Mystery of Spring-Heeled Jack

Author: John Matthews

Genre: Nonfiction, Historical

Age Group: Adult

Rating: 3 stars

Purchase: Amazon

Review copy provided by the publisher.

An extensive investigation of the origins and numerous sightings of the mysterious and terrifying figure known as Spring-Heeled Jack
• Shares original 19th-century newspaper accounts of Spring-Heeled Jack encounters as well as 20th and 21st-century reports
• Explains his connections to Jack the Ripper and the Slender Man
• Explores his origins in earlier mythical beings from folklore, his Steampunk popularity, and the theory that he may be an alien from a high-gravity planet
Spring-Heeled Jack–a tall, thin, bounding figure with bat-like wings, clawed hands, wheels of fire for eyes, and breath of blue flames–first leapt to public attention in Victorian London in 1838, springing over hedges and walls, from dark lanes and dank graveyards, to frighten and sometimes physically attack women. News of this strange and terrifying character quickly spread, but despite numerous sightings through 1904 he was never captured or identified.
Exploring the vast urban legend surrounding this enigmatic figure, John Matthews explains how the Victorian fascination with strange phenomena and sinister figures paired with hysterical reports enabled Spring-Heeled Jack to be conjured into existence. Sharing original 19th-century newspaper accounts of Spring-Heeled Jack sightings and encounters, he also examines recent 20th and 21st-century reports, including a 1953 UFO-related sighting from Houston, Texas, and disturbing accounts of the Slender Man, who displays notable similarities with Jack. He traces Spring-Heeled Jack’s origins to earlier mythical beings from folklore, such as fairy creatures and land spirits, and explores the theory that Jack is an alien marooned on Earth whose leaping prowess is attributed to his home planet having far stronger gravity than ours.
The author reveals how Jack the Ripper, although a different and much more violent character, chose to identify himself with the old, well-established figure of Spring-Heeled Jack. Providing an extensive look at Spring-Heeled Jack from his beginnings to the present, Matthews illustrates why the worldwide Steampunk community has so thoroughly embraced Jack.

The Mystery of Spring-Heeled Jack was a different kind of read than I had expected. The book focused a lot on the origins of the creature, and on newspaper reports of that time, which I found difficult to focus on. Spring-Heeled Jack, a paranormal / supernatural creature I had never heard about, or who could be one big, elaborate prank copied time and again – which one is it? I still can’t say for sure.

The myth of Spring-Heeled Jack is apparently well known in parts of the UK, but in Belgium it’s practically never heard of, and overshadowed by other folk characters, like Robin Hood, or real-life murderers, like Jack the Ripper.

I found parts of the book interesting, but other parts dragged on for too long. Had I already known more about the myth, I might’ve been more interested, but as it stands, I found the writing style a little dry. Not a bad book, and if you have an interested in Spring-Heeled Jack, or want to know if he’s real, fake, or something inbetween, I recommend reading it.

Book Review: The Dybbuk and Other Writings by S. Ansky

19120563Title: The Dybbuk and Other Writings

Author: S. Ansky

Genre: Drama, Horror, Historical Fiction

Age Group: Adult

Rating: 4 stars

Purchase: Amazon

Review copy provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

S. Ansky played a seminal role in the establishment of modern Jewish fiction. This generous collection of his work includes the classic drama, The Dybbuk, a haunting tale of ill-fated love, possession, and exorcism in an Eastern European village.

All right, so I’m probably one of the few people who hadn’t heard of S. Ansky before reading this collection. Shame on me, I know. Anyway, The Dybbuk is actual a theatre play based on a folklore story S. Ansky gathered info for during his travels. The story is about a young bride who is possessed by a dybbuk – this can best be compared to an evil spirit, or demon. Her name is Leah’le, and she went to the graveyard before her wedding day, where not only she invited her mother’s spirit to attend the marriage, but also the spirits of a young couple who were murdered before their wedding could be consummated. She’s also drawn to one other grave, that of Hannan, a young scholar who as in love with her, and wanted her hand in marriage, but was refused so by her father.

Leah’le comes back from the graveyard a changed woman. A local sage tries to exorcise the Dybbuk who has possessed her, but fails, and is forced to call in the help of the rabbi. The rabbi decides that Leah’le’s father must appear before the court of rabbis, apparently upon the request of the spirit of Hannan’s father. What follows is a trial half debated in the world of the living, and half in the spirit world.

It’s certainly an intriguing story, and I wished I could’ve seen the actual play. This sounds right up my alley. I enjoyed reading it here though, but it must’ve been even more intriguing to see it on stage.

This collection also features other stories by S. Ansky, but the Dybbuk was by far the most notable one. If you’re a fan of historical fiction, mysticism and paranormal stories, then you’ll probably enjoy The Dybbuk and Other Writings.

Book Review: Company of Liars by Karen Maitland

2761171Title: Company of Liars

Author: Karen Maitland

Genre: Historical Fiction, Mystery and Suspense

Rating: 4 stars

Purchase: Amazon

In this extraordinary novel, Karen Maitland delivers a dazzling reinterpretation of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales–an ingenious alchemy of history, mystery, and powerful human drama.
The year is 1348. The Black Plague grips the country. In a world ruled by faith and fear, nine desperate strangers, brought together by chance, attempt to outrun the certain death that is running inexorably toward them.
Each member of this motley company has a story to tell. From Camelot, the relic-seller who will become the group’s leader, to Cygnus, the one-armed storyteller . . . from the strange, silent child called Narigorm to a painter and his pregnant wife, each has a secret. None is what they seem. And one among them conceals the darkest secret of all–propelling these liars to a destiny they never saw coming.
Magical, heart-quickening, and raw, Company of Liars is a work of vaulting imagination from a powerful new voice in historical fiction.

It’s been three days since I finished “Company of Liars” and I’m still not sure what to think of it. Part of the novel is dark, disturbing and unsettling, and the other part is mostly ‘meh’. In this book, we meet with nine travellers, joined together by fate more than anything else, who try to escape from the Plague wrestling its wray through England. The protagonist, Camelot, a scarred, one-eyed seller of relics, is a cynical, sarcastic protagonist, but nevertheless enjoyable to read about. There’s a bunch of superstitution thrown in as well, folklore, and the presence of an unknown evil, which we never truly meet, but is almost certainly there. Whether it is the wolves of the Bishop, as one of the characters proclaims at some point during their trip, or destiny, or the Plague itself, its chasing them, and sending a sense of dread and foreboding at our little group.

While I generally liked the plot, the references and reimagining of the Canterbury Tales by Chaucer, I wasn’t too impressed by the writing. Some passages were pure gold, with descriptions so masterfully crafted they made me jealous. But the pacing was off sometimes, and generally very slow. It took pages and pages to progress from one place to the other, and we got way too much time stuck inside Camelot’s head, which made me feel claustrophobic.

The ending was a bit disappointing. Up until then, most of the folklore and superstition had been reduced to just that – folklore and superstition. But then, the book takes a complete turn, throw in some supernatural elements and decides to call that an ending. Not that impressive.

Nevertheless, I did enjoy this book. It’s an intriguing mix of historical fiction, mystery, suspense and atmospheric writing. Too bad for the ending and the dragging passages, or it would’ve been an absolutely great read.

Book Review: The Beardless Man of Tornabia & Other Stories

THE BEARDLESS MAN BOOK - BOOK COVERTitle: The Beardless Man of Tornabia and other stories
Author: Bernice Agyekwena
Genre: Folklore and Children’s Tales
Rating: 4 stars
Purchase: Amazon (UK), Amazon (US), The Book Depository, B&N
Review copy provided by Enchanted Book Promotions in exchange for an honest review.

In the grand storytelling tradition of ‘One Thousand and One Nights’ comes “The Beardless Man of Tornabia & Other Stories” by Bernice Agyekwena.

‘The Beardless Man of Tornabia & Other Stories’ is a collection of original African fairy tales rooted in the traditional beliefs, practices, myths and cultural practices of the peoples of Africa. It shares the same characteristics with traditional fairytales from all over the world. These include common themes such as an ordinary girl getting married to a personage of royalty, deprived children finding a benefactor, as well as tales examining the eternal battle between right and wrong, good and evil.

So, re-discover Africa with this vivid and exciting collection of unique African fairy tales, deeply rooted in African myths, folklore and cultural traditions, with the very talented Bernice Agyekwena in her stunning debut work for children and adults of all ages.

When I heard this book was folklore, I had to try it out. I love folklore, children’s tales, fairytales and the likes. The Beardless Man of Tornobia & Other Stories was completely different from the books I’m used to reading. It was refreshing, and at the same time, surprisingly familiar. The stories may be completely different, but they tell us the same cautionary tales as European fairytales, except painted in a fresh, new color, and sketched more vibrantly than ever.

This is a collection of short stories / novellas of original African fairy tales, rooted in traditional beliefs, myths, cultural practices, and so on. Kind of like our tales of the brothers Grimm. They were a delight to read, and will probably be enjoyed by lots of adults – because the stories are new, it feels like revisiting your childhood all over again.

I loved “The Beardless Man of Tornobia”, “The Magic Firewood, The Magic Fan and the Magic Gourd” and “The Last Locust” the most. All stories were intriguing though, but those are my favorites.

If you want something completely different yet refreshingly familiar, this is your book.


Book Review: My Frankenstein by Michael Lee

10775739Title: My Frankenstein
Author: Michael Lee
Genre: Retelling Classics, Fantasy, Gothic Horror, Historical Fiction, Dark Romance
Pages: 408
Rating: 4,5 stars
Review copy provided by Bewitching Book Tours.

In a small village in early 19th Century young Eva is enthralled by the new young baron, Viktor Frankenstein. Viktor promises to transform the traditional little town into a beacon of science and gives the book loving Eva access to his fantastic library. Eva becomes his student and assists him in a secret experiment, though she is kept in the dark about its ultimate aim. Soon after that Viktor introduces Eva to his “cousin” Adam. Adam is horribly disfigured with stitches running across his face. Viktor claims he is mute and simpleminded, but Eva takes pity on him and sets out to teach him to speak.…

What follows is a combination of tragic romance and classic horror as Eva is pulled between Viktor, who grows jealous and takes murderous steps to ensure his secret, and Adam, who possess tremendous strength and rage yet deep inside is innocent and vulnerable.

In his debut fantasy novel, Michael J. Lee retells the classic story by Mary Shelley as a dark romance with steampunk overtones.

In a small village in 19th century England, a young and quite naive girl named Eva has an undeniable passion for science and progress, and she even managed to make a lightning rod. While she is trying to attach the latter to the roof of the inn she’s living in, she nearly falls down, because the scene that’s unfolding in front of her – her best friend kissing the boy she has loved all her life – makes her so upset that she loses her balance. Luckily, two strange men enquire about her well-being before entering the inn. Although she finds the first man to be quite attractive, and he seems like a true gentleman, it takes a while before Eva figures out that this man is Viktor, the new baron of their village.

Much like Eva herself, Viktor is a scientist. Amazed by the girl’s intelligence, he agrees to teach her the sciences, from electricity and mathematics to biology and chemistry, along with the help of his friend, a Russian called Igor. Viktor is a man of progression, and he is determined to bring their village into a new era. What Eva doesn’t know yet, is that her love for Viktor might be dangerous, not only for her, but for her friends and the entire village as well.

Then, one day, Viktor does the unthinkable. He introduces Eva to his cousin Adam, who got horribly deformed in an accident. Whereas Eva is capable of looking past the horrific appearance of Adam, and even manages to teach him something, Viktor could not care less about the young and horribly looking man. But Eva feels like something is up, and Viktor isn’t telling her the whole truth. To protect not only herself, but Adam as well, she is determined to find out what the truth is.

I loved Eva as a character. She is intelligent, but hardly realises she is. She is charming, intuitive and caring, but no one seems to recognise these qualities in her, aside from Viktor then. Viktor is a progressive scientist, too advanced for his era, too innovative, modern and evolved for his century. He is the tragic scientist, the misunderstood genius, the evil mastermind who does evil in the name of progress and evolution. I was secretly hoping that, even when she discovered some of his more evil personality traits, Eva would still be able to love him. To see whether or not she did, you will have to read the book though. I can only say that I still did, that he and Eva are one of the most fitting, tragically romantic couples I’ve come across in literature, and that they really touched my heart. They are both very interesting, relatable and well-described characters. I can understand that not everyone will like Viktor’s personality, but I believe he truly intended to do good, but did everything wrong, and thus was more of a tragic hero than of an evil villain.

I loved the fact that the author takes the original Frankenstein story by Mary Shelley, and adds this darkly romantic twist to it. The idea is both original and interesting, and when pulled off successfully – as Michael Lee absolutely did in this novel – it can change your view on the original Frankenstein story forever. Now I can no longer imagine Frankenstein without thinking about Viktor and Eva and their mutual bond.

I also loved the fact that Viktor Frankenstein isn’t just interested in creating a human being out of corpses and bringing it to life. He brings progression and modernization to Eva’s village, from a coal mine to a hospital, and practically brings the 19th century, filled with scientific research, machinery and evolution, to this village that still seems to be stuck in the dark Middle Ages. I also enjoyed reading about the villager’s reaction to all that, about their rebellion against progress, about their battle for the old and familiar against the new and unknown.

My Frankenstein reads very easily. It’s a fast-paced novel, with a decent story behind it, excellent characterization and it also explores several interesting topics. Michael Lee’s writing style is very fluent, and the story is gripping from the beginning to the end. I would advise My Frankenstein to anyone who enjoys a good classic retold, or to anyone who liked reading the original Frankenstein story.